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Thursday, August 5, 2010

EDITORIAL 05.08.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month august 05, edition 000590, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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










































































Nepal is rapidly moving towards a political deadlock that could defy resolution despite the best efforts of those who wish that country and its people well. Ever since Mr Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) resigned as Prime Minister, Nepal has witnessed three elections in the Constituent Assembly to elect his successor. But on each of these occasions, neither Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as 'Prachanda', of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) nor Mr Ram Chandra Poudyal of the Nepali Congress was able to secure a simple majority in the Constituent Assembly. In the absence of any consensus among the three major players in Nepal's politics — the Nepali Congress, the CPN (UML) and the Maoists — a clear mandate of the Constituent Assembly is required for anybody to claim the right to form the next Government. It is unfortunate that Mr Madhav Kumar Nepal, who had done a fair job given the circumstances, has had to step down under Maoist pressure. But the fall of his Government was not entirely surprising: The Maoists have been relentless in their efforts to stall the Constituent Assembly proceedings and thus delay the adoption of a Constitution. When Mr Dahal was Prime Minister, the Maoists did their best to create problems, although their leader was heading the Government, with the sole intention of not letting the Constituent Assembly get on with its task. A crisis was manufactured through a needless spat between Mr Dahal and the Army chief who refused to enrol every Maoist cadre, and rightly so. This was used as an excuse for the Maoists to pull out of the Government. Since then, it has been a series of obstructions raised by the Maoists on one pretext or the other. It would seem that framing and adopting a Constitution is the last thing on the Maoists' agenda. Critics view this as a ploy by the Maoists to prevent the adoption of a constitutional structure that could restrict the lawlessness of its cadre and delegitimise its politics of intimidation through terror.

The CPN (UML), the Nepali Congress and almost everybody else, including Nepal's civil society, have begun to despair about the impossible situation created by the split verdict of 2008 when the Constituent Assembly was elected. Yet, there is nothing that can be done to resolve this issue without holding a fresh election, which cannot be held till a Constitution is in place. Already the tenure of the Constituent Assembly has been extended by a year, with little or nothing to show for that extension. In a sense, the people of Nepal find themselves in a no-win situation: They can neither unseat the incumbent regime, if at all it can be called so since it is headed by a caretaker Prime Minister, nor can they play a pro-active role in installing a new Government. Only the Constituent Assembly can break the deadlock but with the Maoists having a clear numerical advantage over the Nepali Congress and the CPN (UML), even this does not seem likely, unless their leader is allowed to head the new Government. For the moment, this option is not acceptable to either the Nepali Congress or the CPN (UML) who are loath to see a repeat of Mr Dahal's first term as Prime Minister when decisions were bull-dozed and the Maoists ran the show, over-ruling disagreement and dissent. A fourth vote is scheduled for Friday. It is anybody's guess as to what the results will be.







Faced with criticism for halting the revision of the National Register for Citizens that is aimed at identifying illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in Assam, the Congress Government headed by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has resorted to the time-tested delaying tactics of appointing a panel to study the 'contentious' issue. There was no reason for that, since the Assam Accord signed between the Union Government and those leading the anti-foreigners agitation in the 1980s is clear on who is a citizen of India. According to the agreement, those who had settled in the State before March 24, 1971, were to be treated as citizens. The revision process, therefore, had a clear mandate laid down in the accord. However, a section of the population, led by the All-Assam Minority Students Union, has opposed the move to weed out foreigners and indulged in large-scale violence, which left four persons dead, to forcibly halt the revision process. It is apparent that the protesters do not want the illegal immigrants from across the border to be identified and dealt with, and it is equally clear that the Congress Government, which has conducted much of its politics on the support of these aliens, is content with the status quo. Had the Government been sincere, it would not have allowed the pilot project of revising the register in the revenue circles of Chaygaon and Barpeta to be disrupted. It now says that a committee has been set up for wider consultations to ensure the smooth execution of the process. This is ridiculous, not least because the widest and the highest-level consultations had taken place before initiating the process. The decision to revise the citizens register was taken way back in 2005 at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and attended by the various stake-holders. Thereafter, the State Government had five long years to discuss the issue with all parties concerned, including AAMSU, and address their objections and concerns. It failed to do so despite being aware of the fact that the pilot project to weed out illegal immigrants was scheduled to begin on a specific date.

Taking into consideration the State Government's conduct so far, the clear indication is that the Gogoi regime is pandering to the demands of the illegal immigrants who, while having become a vote-bank of the Congress, are also responsible for much of the civil disquiet in the State. Assam has for sometime now been relatively peaceful and the Assam Accord remains a cornerstone for sustaining that peace. Illegal immigrants cannot be allowed to hold policy to ransom. Mr Gogoi, who is known to pander to anybody, including ULFA, who can win him elections, must abandon his ill-conceived policy of appeasing Muslim immigrants who deserve to be summarily deported. If he fails to do so, the Congress should be held accountable for compromising India's security. 








While attention in India has been focussed on China's determination to sell two nuclear power reactors to Pakistan, other developments in the all 'All Weather Friendship' between our northern and western neighbours, having serious implications, have gone unnoticed. For the first time, a Chinese fighter aircraft, the JF-17, set to be assembled in Pakistan and flown by a Pakistani Air Force crew, was displayed at the world's largest air show in Farnborough. Pakistan's Air Force is to be equipped with 250 JF-17 fighters, together with 30 J-10 fighter aircraft designed in Israel. 

Symbolically, China was showing to the world that it could not only provide fighter aircraft at very low costs, but was prepared to do so with Pakistan as a global partner. For over two decades now, India has been trying to produce a 'Light Combat Aircraft', but has been unable to do produce one for induction into its Air Force. The JF-17 is a variant of the MiG-29 and built with Russian collaboration. 

The J-10 is a replica of the Israeli designed Lavi fighter — a variant of the American F-16. Why is it that our worthy defence bureaucracy, which has been fighting shy of following a realistic pattern of weapons development like the Chinese, has not produced a single worthwhile weapons system which we can use and export like the Chinese are doing? Any answers, Mr AK Antony?

China has just supplied Pakistan with two F-22P frigates and is set to supply two more by 2013. Pakistan's Naval Chief, Admiral Noman Bashir (brother of his country's Foreign Secretary), paying his fourth visit to China in the past year, indicated on July 22 that Pakistan hopes to buy bigger ships with more firepower from China, such as, 4,000-ton class frigates. He added, "Pakistan has proposed the development of strategic maritime cooperation with China in both military and commercial sectors."

One of his accompanying officials told the China Daily: "The friendship between Pakistan and China is greater than the Himalayas and deeper than the ocean. Pakistan's strategic location in the Arabian Sea and its long coastline means its contribution to missions of China's Navy. We can provide facilities, ports, logistics and maintenance, among other things, to the Chinese Navy." Shortly after the visit of former Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji to Pakistan in 2001, President Pervez Musharraf had made it clear that in the event of tensions with India, the Chinese Navy would be positioned in the Gwadar Port, being built with Chinese assistance.

These developments are taking place at a time when an assertive China is set to challenge US power worldwide and particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, where the US has alliance relationships with a number of countries, like South Korea and Japan. Not only is China strengthening its Navy to militarily assert its territorial claims on maritime boundaries with Malaysia, Philippines, Japan and South Korea, but it is also challenging the presence of the American Pacific Fleet in the South China Sea and in the Yellow Sea. 

The Chinese have introduced new concepts in international relations by claiming foreign ships cannot enter waters in their neighbourhood, even if they are outside Chinese territorial waters, by describing these areas close to their shores as "waters of China's interests," or as being within "China's sphere of influence". While China's many apologists in India would argue that China's increasing moves in our Indian Ocean neighbourhood are merely to safeguard its energy security, it would be naive for India to ignore the growing Sino-Pakistan maritime nexus and measures it is undertaking for its maritime security.

China's international credibility has been seriously undermined by its efforts to bypass the Nuclear Suppliers Group in its anxiety to sell nuclear power reactors to 'all weather friend' Pakistan. When China joined the NSG in 2004 it declared that it had only one pending commitment contracted before its admission to the NSG. This was to build a second 300 MW nuclear power reactor at Chashma in Pakistan. This reactor has since been commissioned. Its claim that it had "grandfathered" its proposal to sell two more reactors in 1991 totally lacks credibility as no mention was made of this so-called deal in 1991 when it sought and obtained membership in the NSG. 

Moreover, it has now been revealed by American academic Ashley Tellis that during the Bush Administration, China was repeatedly warned that that nuclear sales to Pakistan did evoke concerns about possible diversion of Chinese technology and materials to Islamabad's nuclear weapons programme, while cautioning Beijing not to violate NSG guidelines. Not surprisingly, when the NSG met in New Zealand on June 24-25, China declined to answer critical questions whether, in fact, there was a binding contract in place for the reactor sales it was proposing, when precisely this contract was finalised and what exactly were its terms.

A major reason why there are virtually no takers in the world of China's rather unique nuclear cooperation with Pakistan has been Islamabad's refusal to come clean about the involvement of its military establishment in the proliferation activities of the so-called 'AQ Khan network'. We are all asked to believe that AQ Khan singlehandedly transferred nuclear weapons designs and know-how on centrifuge uranium enrichment technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. Everyone knows that not even a pin can be moved out of Pakistan's nuclear facilities without the approval of its Army establishment. To, therefore, claim that AQ Khan ran a 'rogue' proliferation network selling nuclear secrets without the knowledge of the Army top brass is about as credible as Pakistani assertions that the 26/11 Mumbai outrage was the work of 'non-state actors', carried out without the knowledge of its military establishment. 

It has now been revealed by American nuclear scientists Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman after elaborate deliberations with Chinese nuclear scientists and others that the 35th nuclear test carried out in China at Lop Nor on May 26, 1990, was of a Pakistan-assembled, Chinese designed fission weapon. The design of this weapon corresponded to the nuclear weapons design given by AQ Khan in the shopping bag of his Rawalpindi tailor to the Libyans. India has to realise that while dealing with Pakistan, which is a dysfunctional entity, it really is facing an assertive China, determined on its strategic containment.







Agnel Wilson, the livewire ACP in Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, rues his failure at the end of the film. Had Shoaib Khan, then a maverick don, been killed or incarcerated by him, it could have prevented his blossoming into a trans-national terrorist. Now the writ of Shoaib, laments Wilson, runs over Mumbai although he is outside the reach of India's jurisdiction. The reference is to Dawood Ibrahim, upon whom the character of Shoaib is loosely modelled. 

As Mumbaai hit the theatres, a drama unfolded in real life. The name of a don returned to public discourse which proved that he is even more powerful dead than while alive. Was the promising career of the budding Dawood interrupted by police?

Sohrabuddin Shaikh, once a driver for the Abdul Latif gang, which had connections with Dawood Ibrahim, perhaps, had such dreams. He ran a lucrative extortion racket among Rajasthan's marble miners. There were 27 serious cases pending against him in various courts. Fake encounters and custody deaths are extra-judicial. But there are hundreds of such alleged extra-judicial cases pending before the National Human Rights Commission. Why some lives should be more equal than others as to court the critically overburdened CBI's attention remains a mystery. 

In Dhaka, the Supreme Court overturned the Fifth amendment






Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj's uncalled-for confrontation with the Chief Minister over the Reddy brothers has violated the letter and spirit of the Constitution which does not allow him to recommend dismissal of an individual Minister. Bhardwaj has clearly exceeded his brief

Sir Frederick Burrows, the Governor of Bengal, asked Mahatma Gandhi that with a popular Government in power, what was a Governor expected to do. The Mahatma gave a one-word reply, "Nothing". This advice underscored the fact that even before Independence, a Governor was not expected to interfere with the functioning of a popular Government. After Independence, there was a strong opinion against continuing with the office of Governor. Biswanath Das, who later became Chief Minister of Odisha, during the debate in the Constituent Assembly, stated, "Now we are going to have democracy from toe to neck and autocracy at the head."

While accepting to retain the office of Governor, the Constituent Assembly ensured that that did not happen. The Constitution clearly defines the role of the Governor. On all matters, he shall act on the advice of the Council of Ministers except when selecting a Chief Minister. He can recommend President's rule under special circumstances and, in that event, temporarily govern the State. There is even now a section of opinion in the country which feels that the Governor is an unnecessary relic of the Raj and we could do without this institution. I feel that besides his role defined in the Constitution, a Governor has other useful roles. He is a symbol of the State above the cut and thrust of politics. It is not for nothing that in his address he uses the term 'my Government'. He should equally well use the term, 'my Opposition'. He should endeavour to earn the confidence of both. He should advise and caution the Chief Minister, away from the public glare. As Chancellor of State Universities, he can make useful contribution to the sphere of higher education. He can also perform other constructive social work for the good of the State. 

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

The founding fathers of our Constitution debated at length whether we should have elected or nominated Governors. They ultimately decided on having nominated Governors rather than elected Governors. The latter could become an alternate centre of power, leading to rift between the Governor and the Chief Minister. Things were easier in the early days when the same party was in power both at the Centre and in the States. However, even in those early days, a problem arose in Bihar. Governor Jairam Das Daulat Ram, a veteran and much-respected Congressman, criticised the functioning of Chief Minister Dr Sri Krishna Sinha. The latter took up the matter with the Centre and offered to resign. Both Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel decided to honour the mandate of the people of the State. Jai Ram Das Daulat Ram was transferred to Assam. With different parties in power at the Centre and in the States, governance is now more difficult and the Governor's role more crucial.

The only qualification prescribed for a Governor in the Constitution is that he should be an Indian citizen above the age of 35. During discussions in the Constituent Assembly the calibre of the individual to be appointed Governor and his political impartiality, were discussed at length. Nehru wanted eminent educationists or people eminent in other walks of life, who have not taken too great a part in politics, to be appointed Governor. TT Krishnamachari urged that a Governor should hold the scales impartially between the various factions in the politics of the State. Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer was of the view that a Governor should be a person of undoubted ability who at the same time is not mixed up in party struggle or factionalism. The emphasis by everyone was on the political impartiality of the Governor. Unfortunately, in practice, this requirement has often been ignored. Active politicians from the ruling party are often appointed Governor. We have seen them playing musical chairs between the offices of Governor, Chief Minister and Union Minister. This tends to undermine the impartial image of a Governor.

Some Governors have been notoriously partisan and have been following the dictates of the Centre. At the same time, there have been exceptions where Governors have taken a principled stand. Surjit Singh Barnala refused to go along with the Centre and recommend the dismissal of the first Karunanidhi Government. He resigned as Governor. BK Nehru took a similar stand with respect to the Farooq Abdullah Government. He was transferred to Gujarat. After the Emergency, the Janata Government summarily dismissed all the Congress-appointed Governors. On return to power, the Congress did a repeat for Janata-appointed Governors. In 2004, the UPA Government sacked four NDA-appointed Governors. I was high up on the list to be removed, with my Chief Minister desperately trying to get me out, but I somehow escaped the guillotine. 

The Constitution provides a five-year tenure for a Governor but he holds office at the pleasure of the President. This means at the pleasure of the ruling party at the Centre. The Governor's position is very insecure as compared to other constitutional authorities or Government employees. The former can be removed through impeachment and the latter only after a show cause notice. The Sarkaria Commission report states that between 1967 and 1986, 298 Governors were appointed and of them only 18 could complete their full five-year term. The recent Supreme Court judgement on the tenure of Governors is a welcome development. It should provide security of tenure to Governors just as the judgement on the Kesavanand Bharti case ended the era of arbitrary dismissal of State Governments.

The recent confrontation between Governor HR Bhardwaj and Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa in Karnataka is an example of how a Governor should not act. In his earlier assignment as Union Law Minister, Mr Bhardwaj came in for sharp criticism for being instrumental in defreezing Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi's bank account in London and for letting him off the hook in Argentina. On a complaint filed by a Congress legislator against two Cabinet Ministers, he issued a show cause notice to the Ministers and asked them to appear before him. They declined. He has now been publicly insisting that the Ministers be dropped from the Cabinet and that the CBI should investigate the case. Not only that, he came lobbying to New Delhi under full media glare for action against the Ministers and met the President, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. The Chief Minister has stated that he would ask the Lokayukta to look into the complaint and will not recommend dropping the Ministers until they are proved guilty. The Constitution provides for the Governor to recommend dismissal of the Government but not of an individual Minister. 

There have been numerous cases of Ministers at the Centre and in the States being involved in corruption but no President or Governor has demanded that the Minister concerned be dropped. On the face of it, the Governor appears to have violated the Constitution in letter and spirit. 







India should shun the Generals of Burma

In November 2009, India opposed a resolution on Burma's human rights violations in the United Nations General Assembly. So did China, North Korea, Libya, Iran, Zimbabwe and Belarus. If any of these countries is celebrated for the vibrancy of its democracy or the intensity of its commitment to human rights, then it is as closely guarded a secret as any embarrassment that India might have felt for being in such exclusive company. Judging, however, by its record of fawning over the Burmese junta, it must have felt proud and not embarrassed. That this was so, tends to be further indicated by the warm welcome it extended to Gen Than Shwe during his 'religious-cum-official' visit to this country from July 25 to 29.

The General is Burma's President and the head of the country's State Peace and Development Council, which, in turn, is a reincarnation of the State Law and Order Restoration Council. The SPDC is, as the SLORC was, the principal striking arm of one of the most obnoxious dictatorships the world has seen. The junta that spawned both has been brutally suppressing Burma's movement for democracy ever since it defenestrated the result of the May 27, 1990 parliamentary election, in which the National League for Democracy, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, won more than 80 per cent of the seats.

The junta has been accused, and not without basis, of war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law including the use of child soldiers, the destruction of villages, the displacement of ethnic minorities, the use of rape as a weapon of war, extra-judicial killings, forced relocation and forced labour. Its persecution of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under detention for 14 of the last 20 years, requires no elaboration. Three years ago, it ordered a crackdown on peaceful protests which were joined by Buddhist monks who were ruthlessly subjected to torture, imprisonment and murder. In a supremely ironical act, Gen Than Shwe started his tour of India with a visit to Bodh Gaya and the Sarnath Temple!

Nor is there any indication that the junta will change. The election, expected later this year, is scripted to be a sham. A farcical referendum has approved the Constitution of 2008, under which the election is to be held. It puts the military above the law and gives the armed forces' commander-in-chief the right to appoint members to 25 per cent of the seats in both Houses of the Burmese Parliament. More, the SPDC has enacted five draconian laws which give the junta absolute control over the election process, and bar political prisoners, including Daw Suu Kyi, from contesting. Even campaigning is going to be restricted. On June 21, Burma's Election Commission prohibited political parties from campaigning in a manner that "harms security, the rule of law and community peace". While the reference to "rule of law" sounds like an exercise in black humour by a junta that respects neither legality nor humanity, those familiar with its ways, know what precisely the EC's directive means. Understandably the NLD has refused to contest the election without a change in the electoral laws.

Why is India courting the junta? The standard answer is realpolitik related to countering China's penetration of Burma, ensuring Burma's cooperation against the rebels in north-eastern India, promoting economic cooperation with Burma, particularly in the energy sector, and implementing India's new 'Look East' policy which demands good relations with Burma through which land routes to countries East and South-East Asia, run.

Unfortunately, the junta is playing India and China against each other to serve its own ends. Also, New Delhi will be hard put to catch up with Beijing which has established extensive ties with Rangoon. On the economic front, Burma is receiving more than it is giving. Unlike Bangladesh, which has cracked down hard on India's rebels on its soil, driving some of their leaders into India's custody, there is little tangible evidence of Burmese action against them. Clearly, India's Burma policy is unlikely to have the intended results and is more likely to strengthen an obnoxious dictatorship besides selling Burma's democracy movement down the river.







The Best Defense carried a guest blogpost by Daniel R DePetris on how India and China's increasing demand for energy resources might play out in the Arabian Peninsula and the Greater Middle East (West Asia). The writer asks, how will New Delhi and Beijing's foreign policies be affected by their quest for energy resources in West Asia? Will they seek to assert themselves (thereby helping share 'America's burden') or assume a more passive role?

These are all interesting questions, but also ones that have been largely answered. The broad contours of engagement with West Asia have been laid out by both countries. China, in the past, tended to regard West Asia as too distant for it to actively engage in the muddled politics of the region. Even at the UN Security Council, while China sought to leverage its position to undermine US power, it hardly ever actively brought proposals to the table on resolving the region's long-standing disputes.

China's growing economy and quest for resources necessitated a change in its approach. It has established energy ties with several Arab countries. It has invested heavily in construction projects in the Peninsula. It is engaged (albeit uneasily so) in negotiations on the Iran nuclear issue, while it clandestinely pursued to build up Saudi Arabia's nuclear deterrent via its friend, Pakistan. While China today is engaged in West Asia on several levels, its motivation is primarily economic, and its relations, nascent.

Therein lies the difference between India and China. India's engagement with West Asia goes beyond the economic (although, arguably, energy security today is India's chief motivator). India's historical cultural ties with the region have allowed it to engage with several, often warring, factions in West Asia without being drawn into zero sum equations in the region. Even where economic ties are concerned, India and China differ, with India have contributed substantially to the Peninsula's human capital.

While India's cultural ties with Iran are well publicised, it has also maintained enduring cultural and economic ties with Arab countries. These ties are the reason why a 350-year old Shiva temple stands at the outskirts of Muscat (a fabulous structure, for those who haven't had the opportunity to visit), why over a million Indians live and work in the UAE, and why India is Egypt's fourth-largest trading partner. That India has managed to maintain its ties with Arab countries, while also developing strong ties with Israel is a rare success for Indian foreign policy. Belly dancing on a tightrope can't be easy. And this is something that puts New Delhi at an advantage over Beijing in West Asia.

This is not to suggest that the scope for adjustments in foreign policy, when required by national interest, does not exist. India's relations with Iran, for example, have come under stress recently, with New Delhi's decision to support UN sanctions, twice, against Iran and with its decision to launch Israel's spy satellite, Polaris. However, none of these changes will alter the nature of China or India's engagement with the region. Hopes that either country will offer to share "US's burden" in the region, therefore, are unrealistic.

-- The writer blogs on Indian foreign policy, strategic affairs and defence on the Indian National Interest platform. 







China's Premier cultivates the image of a sympathetic "Grandpa Wen," but a new and unusually critical book claims he should be known as "China's Best Actor" instead. Author Yu Jie said his new book aims to show the vast difference between the prim Premier's image and his hardline policies. 

China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao will be published this month in Hong Kong despite police threats he could be put in prison, the author said. "This is a completely deceptive way to speak to people," Yu said in an interview Wednesday.

The soft-spoken Yu, 36, was a best-selling author before his books were banned in China not long after Wen became Premier in 2003. Yu helped found the Independent PEN Center in China, which fights for freedom of expression, and is a vocal Christian who has angered authorities by outspokenly advocating religious freedom. Yu said he discussed his new book with US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman during a meeting on Tuesday about freedom of expression and other topics, after an invitation from the embassy. "He was very interested in the book and asked detailed questions," Yu said. Embassy spokesman Richard Buangan confirmed the two met briefly but did not elaborate.

Yu said the Chinese-language China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao, will be published on Aug 16 in Hong Kong, a former British colony that enjoys freedom of the Press as part of its special semi-autonomous status. The publisher is Mr Bao Pu, who earlier this year tried to publish a memoir purportedly written by Mr Li Peng, China's Premier in 1989 when authorities cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Mr Bao dropped the memoir because of copyright problems.

"I'm certainly very concerned. I told him I don't want him to get arrested for publishing this book," Mr Bao said of Yu. "But he doesn't seem very concerned." Mr Bao is the son of Mr Bao Tong, a top aide to late Chinese Communist Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang, who was purged for opposing military action in Tiananmen and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Mr Bao Tong wrote the introduction to Yu's book. "The leaders and the led, everyone is passing their days inside a contradiction," Mr Bao Tong wrote in the introduction, titled "The Virtual China and the Real China," saying Mr Wen Jiabao is the best example of that.

In Wednesday's interview, Yu used Mr Wen's response to the devastating Sichuan earthquake in 2008 as an example. Mr Wen was the first top official to arrive at the scene, where he cried, comforted families, and told parents of children who died inside crushed schools that the Government would investigate why buildings collapsed, Yu said. 

"But already two years have passed, and there's nothing," Yu said. "Instead, volunteers who investigated the collapsed buildings have been arrested and sentenced."

Police detained Yu last month after word of his book spread online. Yu said he was questioned for more than four hours, mostly about the book's contents. "The state security people said Mr Wen Jiabao isn't a normal citizen, he's the Premier, so criticising him hurts the nation's interests and security," Yu said at the time. "(They said) I could be given a heavy sentence like Liu Xiaobo."

Liu, also an author-dissident, is serving an 11-year sentence after being convicted of inciting to subvert state power. Yu said China's policies under Mr Wen and President Hu Jintao are more hardline against dissidents than under previous leader Mr Jiang Zemin. Under international and especially US pressure, several political prisoners were released under Mr Jiang, but no one has been released under Mr Hu and Mr Wen, he said. The book comes out as concerns are rising that China is returning to a harsher attitude toward freedoms since 2008, the year of the Beijing Olympics. 

"There has been a palpable sense that earlier progress toward rule of law in China has stalled, or even suffered a reversal, and there is mounting evidence that a crackdown is under way," Mr Joshua Rosenzweig, research manager for the US-based human rights group Dui Hua Foundation, told a US congressional hearing Tuesday. Yu said the book later will be available in English, and he hopes it can be made available for download online after its publication. "If Mr Wen doesn't agree," Yu said of his writing, "he can write an article to disagree."

 Associated Press Writer Isolda Morillo contributed to this report 









FROM the information already available in the public domain, there can no longer be any doubt that serious irregularities have been committed in the preparations and projects for the Commonwealth Games.


Whether it is the Central Vigilance Commission's damning report on 15 Games projects, or the story about overlays being procured at rates far higher than the cost of the items, it is clear that corruption is one of the reasons the Games' budget went up from less than Rs 2000 crore to nearly Rs 12,000 crore now.


However, the only official response to these developments so far is the CVC asking the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe one project involving street- lighting on Delhi's streets. When lodging an FIR is mandatory even in a case of petty theft how come serious irregularities involving humongous sums of public money have not yet set the criminal law system in motion? For instance, it is just not enough for the sports ministry to demand that two tainted officials of the Organising Committee be sacked. If there is prima facie evidence of wrongdoing on their part, criminal cases ought to be registered against them. Where accountability can't be fixed yet, cases should be lodged against unknown persons.


There is no doubt going to be an attempt here by vested interests to raise the bogey of national interest being harmed since the Games are merely two months away, but this is bogus talk. The people who have swindled and wasted public money are the ones who are anti- national, not those seeking accountability.


The investigations can proceed even as India hosts the Games. This alone will assuage public anger over the recent revelations.



BOTH the Indian government and the Canadian telecommunications major Research In Motion are partially right in their respective arguments in the standoff over the interception of the former's BlackBerry services.


India is right in demanding access to Black- Berry services. India faces a serious threat from terrorists and if our intelligence agencies need to monitor the communication effected through BlackBerry devices — especially its highly encrypted proprietary messenger service — then RIM would necessarily have to comply with the laws of this country.


On the other hand, there is much to admire in RIM's stand. It needs to protect the privacy of its customers, and indeed the interests of the telecom service providers.


The two parties need to arrive at a solution pretty soon. India has close to a million BlackBerry users and this number is growing fast thanks mainly due to corporate users that buy these devices in bulk for their employees. They have a legitimate interest in safeguarding their privacy. On the other hand, intelligence agencies, which have been fairly successful in preventing terror attacks since 26/ 11, cannot leave anything to chance.


The solution could be a middle- path, but for that both players, the government of India and RIM, need to work out an effective compromise that will protect the consumer, as well as the country.



THE report of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India on the supply chain management in the Indian army is a stinging indictment of its ration procurement policies.


The soldiers, who defend the country's borders under the most adverse of conditions, are being given food that is unfit for human consumption. Some of the items given to personnel of the army's Northern Command were up to 28 months past their " use by" date.


There is need to overhaul the Army Services Corps which is responsible for the procurement of rations. This is apparent from the revelation that 82 per cent of the procurement contracts were based on less than three quotations, and 36 per cent were awarded to sole bidders. There is no shortage of vendors of food items, so it is clear that the ASC is encouraging cartelisation.


The union defence ministry needs to urgently fix this problem which is costing the country a great deal in terms of money and the health of our soldiers.



            MAIL TODAY





ALMOST everyone is agreed that the United Progressive Alliance II government lacks something as compared to its first avatar. The Left would have us believe that it was the ingredient that provided the effervescence to UPA- I. But that would be too simplistic. There are other factors. For one, everyone is that much older and, hence a certain lack of vigour and cynicism.


The leader of the government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh looks frailer than ever and seems disconnected from the hurly burly of events. The other and real problem is that the issues confronting the government have somehow become more intractable and intricate. But the real problem is the dissonance in the coalition, primarily arising out of the disjunction between the Congress party and the government.




Like everyone else, the government was taken unawares by the unfolding of the economic crisis of 2008- 2009. India managed to keep its head above water in great measure because of the efforts of the PM and his economic advisers. But what did surprise was their inability to get a grip on inflation as evidenced by the numerous forecasts that were somehow never met. There were some things that the government could have done but didn't, particularly on the food front. The shoddy, and perhaps crooked, handling of the nation's food policy, is one such area.


Many see the growing incoherence of the UPA- II as a result of the growing divide between the party and the government.


Some see the diverse voices and views emerging as a strategy of occupying the political space of the Treasury Benches and the Opposition. Others see it as an estrangement between the " neoliberal" Manmohan Singh whose only concern is economic numbers— and, lately, peace with Pakistan— and Sonia Gandhi and the National Advisory Council, who think that service to the aam aadmi ( common man) is the way to go.


Actually the problem is neither a goodcop bad cop routine, nor any kind of an estrangement, but a plain dysfunction of the governance system. Only that can explain the manner in which Digvijay Singh, a quintessential party man, is allowed to openly critique a vital aspect of government policy— tackling Maoists and violent Islamic extremists. Or, the sudden rebirth of the National Advisory Council, which seems determined to bend the government to its will. It has come with the usual cast of characters who, despite all their other good qualities, are singularly lacking in administrative and political experience that abounds in the UPA- II government.


Certainly there is grave disquiet at the widening gulf between Sonia's NAC and the government over the direction of policy, especially social welfare programmes.


The new NAC wishes to universalise PDS, provide the right to education to all, expand NREGA across the country, in addition to continuing with fertiliser and fuel cost subsidies. The government which must execute these tasks finds them simply undoable, not only because of the lack of executive capacity, but because it doesn't have the money.



In the tenure of the first UPA government there was, in the words of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, a " perceptible improvement in the fiscal situation at both the Central and state levels". According to the Economic Survey 2007- 2008 , revenue receipts of the government increased from Rs 230,834 crore in 2002- 03 to Rs 486,422 crore in 2007- 2008. The average annual growth of revenue receipts of the Central Government was of the order of 16.2 per cent.


This enabled the government to undertake vast expenditures related to the NREGA, provide a loan waiver of Rs 70,000 crore for farmers in 2008- 2009 and fund ambitious schemes such as the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan for eradicating illiteracy, the Mid- day meal scheme, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, the National Rural Health Mission and so on.


But in the last three years, the fiscal situation has deteriorated. Where the percentage of fiscal deficit to the GDP ratio was 2.6 in 2007- 8, it ballooned to 6.1 in 2008- 9 and 6.7 in 2009- 10. Though revenue collections have gone up again, India is living off capital— the Rs 106,000 crore collected from the telecom auction have gone into the central revenues instead of being gainfully used to create assets for the future.


But this has not affected the appetite of the NAC revolutionaries who want the RTE, universal food subsidy, expanded NREGA, and a continuance of the fertiliser and fuel subsidies all together. The more enthusiastic members of the NAC — Jean Dreze, NC Saxena, Harsh Mander— are bent on pushing the fiscal envelope to the bursting point.


Each of the schemes— universal PDS or RTE will cost in the region of Rs 1 lac crore per annum. NREGA is currently Rs 40,000 crore, the fuel and fertiliser subsidy of about Rs 1 lac crore. Where is this money going to come from? Money is also needed, for education, health, defence, repaying past loans, more importantly, to invest in the future— for roads, schools, hospitals, power plants, factories and so on.


Who can deny the need to help the poor in a country like India? But, a look at the bottom line will tell you that you can, at most, take up one and a half of the schemes proposed, and that there is need to balance the emphasis on social welfare with policies of wealth creation.


The comrades in the NAC are not political people. They do not know, and probably do not care, about the consequences of failed promises. Given the reports of large- scale fraud in existing social welfare schemes, it is unlikely that the money will reach the intended beneficiaries and all you will get is large- scale resentment.


At this stage it is clear that there is no way in which the government can implement the RTE or the universal PDS scheme, not only because it lacks the money, but also the administrative capacity to execute the projects.




The UPA- II has been functioning in a climate of impunity where allies like the DMK loot the system at will, and others like Mamata run down vital national assets, while Suresh Kalmadi's bill could be tens of thousands of crore. Then there is Sharad Pawar whose handling of the food portfolio has been questionable, to put it politely.


On the political side of the UPA- II governance equation you have the Gandhi family, where Sonia intervenes in a discreet manner, and Rahul in fits and starts. They are the acknowledged leaders of the party, but their involvement in the day- to- day affairs of either the party or the government has been fitful, almost whimsical. While we know, sort of, what Sonia stands for, Rahul's views on many of these issues is virtually unknown. He says and does the right things, seems to have a mature head on his shoulders, but we simply lack adequate data to know what he stands for.


Yet it is in their name that the party is pushing the government to an unsustainable path. The executive part of the team— Prime Minister Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram are doing the best they can, but they cannot defy common- sense and fiscal logic and nor can they stand up to their own party leadership.


For the present, luck favours the UPAII. Mamata Banerjee has single- handedly battered the mighty Left. As for the BJP, it is saddled with two leaders— the irrepressible Nitin Gadkari who models himself on the comedian Dada Kondke, and L. K. Advani who refuses to fade away gracefully. But luck doesn't last forever and it is never proof against a selfdestructive urge.







EVERY time you visit a pediatrician's clinic for a health check up for your kid, you are dished out a colourful brochure about a new vaccine in the offing. In the waiting room, you are surrounded with glossy posters of young mothers and their well-fed children staring it you with catchy slogans.


But you do not realise that behind this gloss is hidden the ugly face of a well-oiled marketing machinery run by multinational drug companies, so-called 'vaccine initiatives' funded by the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organisation (WHO), health ministries and a plethora of powerful 'experts'.


The sole objective of this unholy nexus is to promote costly vaccines through private practitioners and also have them included in national immunisation programmes somehow.


Both are lucrative options. In order to achieve its goal, members of this nexus can go to any extent, even committing horrendous acts like fudging, suppressing or twisting scientific data.


This has been exposed once again with the recent recommendation of an expert panel on introduction of a five- in- one or pentavlent vaccine for prevention of Haemophilus influenzae B ( Hib), DPT and Hepatitis B. While doing so, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation ( NTAGI) has chosen to ignore uncomfortable scientific data as well as field experience from countries where the vaccine has caused deaths of children. The shameful nature of the whole affair is clear from the fact that an activist pediatrician had to resort to the RTI Act to obtain details of an Indian Council of Medical Research ( ICMR) study done in Vellore about incidence of all- cause pneumonia in children under five. Government agencies and NTAGI were suppressing this data because this study showed very low incidence — 50 times lower than projected by UNICEF. Had they included these results, they would not have been able to justify the inclusion of a costly and ineffective vaccine in the immunisation programme.


Two pediatricians from Delhi's St Stephens Hospital, Dr Jacob M Puliyel and Dr Zubair Lone, who have blown the whistle on NTAGI, also question WHO's role in this regard in an editorial published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research . WHO has recommended inclusion of Hib vaccine in immunisation programmes universally, irrespective of an individual country's disease burden, notwithstanding the natural immunity attained within the country against the disease, and not taking into account the rights of sovereign states to decide how they use their limited resources. " The mandate and wisdom of issuing such a directive, for a disease that has little potential of becoming a pandemic, needs to be questioned", the duo notes.



THE SERIAL innovator has done it again. The latest innovation of Pranav Mistry, a PhD candidate at MIT Media Lab, is invisible.


He has made the ubiquitous two- button computer mouse disappear. Over the years, the mouse has been an essential part of the computer despite several advancements in technology. It has changed its shape, size, design and features, it became cordless but it has remained there. Mistry has gotten rid of it altogether. The inventor, who shot into prominence with his ' Sixth Sense' technology, has shown that you can move the cursor on your laptop screen just with movement of your fingers acting as if there was a physical mouse when indeed there is none.


The ' mouseless mouse' consists of an infrared laser beam and an Infrared camera embedded in the computer. The user cups his hand, as if a physical mouse was present underneath, and the laser beam lights up the hand which is in contact with the surface.


The camera detects the motion of fingers using computer vision and interprets the same as mouse cursor movement and mouse clicks. As the user moves their hand the cursor on screen moves accordingly. The prototype costs just 20 dollars.


Clearly, big pharma, WHO and national agencies are acting in unison.



TILL a few years ago, you would have associated hookah and Gutkha with traditional dhoti- clad villagers in their 60s and 70s sitting under a tree or a chaupal. But now it is no more so. You can find young kids and yuppy adolescents belonging to rich and middle class families thronging plush hookah bars and emptying a pouch of gutkha with the same ease as lighting a Marlboro.


These are not children whose grandfathers smoked hookah or fathers consumed tobacco. This is gen next, yet it is at ease with any form of tobacco. This has been worrying public health experts. Slowly it is becoming clear that globalisation — and its cultural effects — is becoming a critical health determinant.


A group of American and Indian researchers have tested this hypothesis in a study among children in Delhi.


Specifically, they wanted to explore if young people's identification with Western culture is related to tobacco use and if Indian ways of living provided any protection. Preferences of children in four domains of culture — language, media, food and use of consumer goods were measured. The study included 3,512 students in eighth and tenth grades in 14 private and government schools.


The results suggest that identification with Western ways does increase young people's risk for tobacco use, while traditional Indian ways of living confers some protection.


" The results are surprising since all types of tobacco products like bidi and gutkha — and not just cigarettes were studied", pointed out Monika Arora, one of the authors of the study. Similarly, greater identification with traditional ways of living was associated with less tobacco use among boys, but not girls.


Dineshc. sharma@ mailtoday. in









The blatant corruption in the preparations for the Delhi Commonwealth Games is astounding even from the point of view of a public that is inured to corruption. The audacity of the involved parties in fudging contracts, forging documents and manipulating prices to loot public funds is truly shocking. 

Unless a miracle happens, the infrastructure planned for the CWG will not be completed on schedule. Norms of transparency and accountability have been thrown to the winds as organizers shopped for equipment and goods as varied as air conditioners and treadmills to toilet paper and soap dispensers. This newspaper has found that contrary to claims made by the CWG Organising Committee officials, treadmills, which have been rented at Rs 9.75 lakh per piece for three months, could be purchased for less than half that price. Its been reported that liquid soap dispensers have been rented at Rs 3,397 per unit when they cost just Rs 460 in the market. The fraud doesn't end with the purchases. The Indian high commission in London has accused the Organising Committee of tampering with e-mails to cover up a case of suspected money laundering. 

The massive escalation in the budget for the CWG must be attributed to ineptitude as well as corruption. The government has diverted funds meant for SC/STs to CWG-related projects. Its likely that Delhi will impose swingeing taxes to fund the cost of the Games, adding to the travails of an inflation-hit public. This corruption, if unchecked, will lead to a loss of public trust in state institutions and public officials. It was presumed by many that hosting international sporting events would push the country to develop quality infrastructure. Increasingly, that argument is losing ground to the view held by sceptics that state officials bid for international events not to promote public good but for pecuniary personal gains. 

The CWG, instead of giving a fillip to Indian sports, could add to the stench of corruption that pervades this sector. And that will extract its political cost sooner rather than later. The Congress may hope the mud will stick only on Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the CWG Organising Committee and party MP. But the public is unlikely to spare the Sheila Dikshit government or even the sports ministry if the Games come a cropper. The government at the state and the Centre can't evade responsibility for shoddy civil works and misappropriation of public funds. It has no option now but to own up its mistakes and take charge of the Games.







As the constituent assembly of Nepal prepares for a fourth vote on Friday to decide who will head a new majority government, there is a sense of pessimism in the air. So far three previous votes have failed to produce a winner and unless something dramatic happens between now and the next vote, the result is unlikely to be any different. At the heart of the deadlock is the fact that neither of the two candidates in the fray - United Communist Party of Nepal leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Nepali Congress vice-president R C Paudel - inspire confidence across the Nepali political spectrum. In fact, there is reason to believe that their candidature has been grudgingly accepted by certain sections of their own parties. It is precisely because vested political interests have replaced more pressing considerations such as Constitution formation that Nepal finds itself in a political void today. 

Unless the current trend is reversed, there is a real possibility that the fruits of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that brought the decade-long civil war in Nepal to an end will be frittered away. The lasting development and economic investment that ordinary Nepalis seek will remain elusive. Ominous signs are on the horizon as both the Nepal Army and the Maoists' People's Liberation Army have announced fresh recruitments. It is imperative that the political parties set aside their differences, form a unity government with a consensus prime minister and expedite the process of writing a new Constitution. Otherwise, it would be a terrible price to pay if Nepal were to plunge back into chaos.








The over 90,000 classified US military papers released by are apparently intended to unveil what was unknown about the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. To those who have followed that war closely, theres not much that is strikingly new. Nevertheless, the expose is significant on at least two counts. 

First, within hours of their publication, they strengthened US anti-war sentiment among those who were against the war from the start as well as those who were watching and waiting but growing increasingly skeptical of a costly exercise in a faraway wilderness. Such sentiments are gaining strength on Capitol Hill. And, frankly, we cannot be certain where exactly the US president stands on the issue. 

His press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said the day after the papers were published that the US wanted to ensure that there is not a safe haven in Afghanistan by which attacks against this country and countries around the world can be planned. 

On the one hand, there are statements like the press secretarys, the measured views expressed by the secretary of defense and the secretary of state, and the resolve of candidate Barack Obama to restore US attention to Afghanistan from which concentration and resources had been unfortunately deflected to Iraq by the Bush administration. On the other hand, there has not really been any FDR-like rallying of the American people to the cause of a necessary war, the importance of which is seemingly understood only by policy wonks. Plus, there is that tactically troublesome matter of Obama announcing a date July 2011 for starting a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. 

Waging war is not the same as it used to be. When FDR and Churchill led war efforts, they did not have to follow daily tracking polls; television as raucous public town square had not been invented; and the depth of democratic dissent did not extend too far beyond national shorelines. Today, national leaders have to look constantly over their shoulders, especially when a complex war drags on and victory is hard to define. 

But imagine a scenario in which President Roosevelt, on the eve of D-Day, announces that Allied forces would begin to withdraw from, say, June 1945. Something akin to such a scenario is developing in Afghanistan. 

Negotiations have begun at various levels to jockey for position in a post-US withdrawal situation. And, as the leaked papers reveal, the smartest player in the field is the Pakistani ISI which helps the hare to hide while pretending to hunt with the hounds. 

That is the second significance of the revealed documents. If a hasty winding down of the war effort in Afghanistan is forced by public opinion, the real victors in the struggle would be the ISI and Pakistans military. 

For, it is likely that if a chunk of southern Afghanistan were to be handed over to the Taliban after extracting a promise that al-Qaida would not get shelter there, and the remaining part parceled out among other factions, Afghanistan would return to more or less what it was before September 11, 2001. Hamid Karzai might continue for a while as the landlord of Kabul but the tyrannical, anti-female fanatics of the Taliban would hold sway over much of the land under the manipulative gaze of the ISI, which would bide its time for Karzai to plan his retirement. Pakistans military would gain the strategic depth it seeks against India and reinforce its stranglehold over the polity and economy of Pakistan. 

But surely the Taliban would not allow al-Qaida to re-enter Afghanistan, right? Ah, and the ISI can be relied on to ensure that the Taliban stick to that promise! The trouble is that al-Qaida notables, including chairman Osama bin Laden and CEO Ayman al Zwahiri, live right across a hallucinatory border with Pakistan, which has not been able in nine years to deliver these worthies from within its borders. How can we expect that terrorists of all hues will not again be free to prowl that area? 

In 2001, before 9/11 happened, the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan, allowed the al-Qaida free play, took guidance from the ISI and General Hamid Gul. Their opponents were the Northern Alliance, led by the charismatic Ahmad Shah Massoud. On September 10, 2001, Masood was assassinated, probably by al-Qaida. The next days happenings in the US were the prime cause of war being declared against the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. After nine years, will the world go back there once again by patching together a hastily crafted peace? 
The good news is that Wikileaks has put such questions out in the open. 

The writer is a FICCI-EWC Fellow at the East West Center in Washington, DC







The recent visit to New Delhi by Myanmar's military ruler, Senior General Than Shwe -- and the administration's continued engagement with his government -- has occasioned a rebuke from Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. To hear him tell it, a democracy like India has no business interacting favourably with a government that has been internationally condemned for human rights abuses and suppressing democracy. But that is a standpoint that fails to take into account the realities that dictate New Delhi's foreign policy. 

We have seen this debate between idealism and realism played out on the global stage in the twentieth century. From Woodrow Wilson to Jawaharlal Nehru, the limitations of idealism as the guiding principle of foreign policy have been laid bare. In India, Nehruvian idealism led to New Delhi's frittering away various opportunities and advantages in the post-independence decades, digging India into a hole that not even Nehru's personal standing could rescue it from. The eventual tilt towards Moscow, which subverted non-alignment, showed up the unsustainability of such a foreign policy. 

New Delhi has limited power to engage in democracy building projects abroad. That is not to say that it should turn a blind eye to the junta's sins. But refusing to engage them on ethical grounds will achieve nothing save handing Beijing exclusive access to Myanmar. We have seen from the US approach to Iran under George Bush that democracy evangelism has the reverse effect, leaving the evangelising country little real leverage. A pragmatic foreign policy of engaging Myanmar and subtly influencing it to shift towards democratic norms is a far more realistic approach. From both the standpoint of national self-interest and of encouraging the growth of democracy, a pragmatic foreign policy is by far the most effective tool.








Nobel laureate Amartya Sen's disapproval of the Indian position of engaging with Myanmar's military junta is a principled stand. It vindicates a legitimate concern for human rights violation and the necessary restoration of democracy in Myanmar. There is a large section of the Indian intelligentsia which shares Sen's viewpoint. Even though the Indian position on the restoration of democracy in Myanmar has become muted now, the fact is that it had been the official policy of the Indian government till the other day. 

In the name of realpolitik, India is ostensibly trying to secure its strategic and commercial interests to counter growing Chinese trade, energy and defence ties with Myanmar. However, what our policymakers fail to understand is that India's best bet in Myanmar lies with supporting pro-democratic forces, just as China's interests lie in supporting and perpetuating totalitarian regimes rather than democratic ones. Instead of isolating the junta with a coalition of like-minded countries and the West, we are giving legitimacy to a brutal dictatorship. The junta has no mandate to rule Myanmar and eventually democracy will be restored. But it continues to remain in power due to the endorsement coming from bigger countries or economic blocs like India and ASEAN. 

Besides, by reducing such views as Sen's to an idealist position which limits the practice of a realistic foreign policy, we are denying the role of morality in diplomacy. It can't be said that the idealist principles espoused by Woodrow Wilson or Jawaharlal Nehru failed because of their intentions. They did not work because of their implementation, which fell short. There are certain values and principles which remain intrinsically higher than others. By upholding the cause of democracy, India enhances its soft power. And soft power is real power, just as effective - and a good deal more elegant - than hard power.






Which controversies will win the gold, silver and bronze in the pre-CWG events?  

So, sport is the biggest spoilsport. So, we have again ended up as India Whining when a crouching Shera is poised at the starting blocks? So, national pride has been sold to the highest bidder. So what? The CWG's serial controversies have led to parliamentary wrestling, all-round boxing and a media-indignation which has pole-vaulted to new decibels. But that's no reason to hang our heads and our officials, or even to shrug and say,'We are like that con-ly.'


On the contrary, all the tarnished run-up to the Commonwealth Games is  shining evidence of the average India's inborn ability to gain from pain. See, without even buying a ticket, we have grabbed a ringside seat to a spectacle featuring the CWG's most sought-out events.


The 400m hurdles has raised the biggest roar, uproar, and downroar. Forget Australia's Brendan Cole and Tristan Thomas, or our own Joseph Abraham (not to be confused with John, who too scorches the tracks).The record set by the pre-CWG  hurdles has posted a challenge that the world's star athletes will find difficult to match.


These hurdles have varied from the tardy to the shoddy. Tender-loving contractors have been lavished on the venues and the routes to them. In suspense, we wait to see who will make it to the finishing line. And, when they march up to the podium for their spoils, will it withstand the weight of their pockets. Sheila Aunty says that the money spent will provide long-term sports infrastructure. Others say that the stadia are not built to last; they are just the last to be built.

If hurdles get the gold for pre-event paisa vasool, then the silver must surely go to track and field. Contractors with the worst track record are having the biggest field day. Usain Bolt will not be there, but hopefully all the other ordinary bolts will be. No doubt prevails over the presence of nuts or of those determined to screw the games. They range from Mani Shankar Ire to T. S Darbari.


The former minister is in line for a medal in the shooting-mouth-off event ever since he declared that he would be most unhappy if the Games were a success. The latter gentleman is deputy director of the Organizing Committee itself. He has made his mark in two categories: a variation of Roman rings and the 170,000- km relay. The sports ministry has sought Darbari's ouster from the OC because, one, he is allegedly the undeclared owner of a Rs 28-lakh, diamond-studded platinum ring seized by the Kerala Customs, and, two, he is linked to the Queen's Baton Relay scam, the first big-ticket money-spinning event of the 2010 Commonwealth Games.


The ED later sniffed out the dope on two other shady payouts of over Rs 50 crore , but the 450,000-sterling pound deal between a bantamweight UK company and the OC retains top billing.This quicksilver game, in which a two-bit van-hire operator turns into a right royal video-filmmaker, has become so riveting that the International Olympics Committee is said to be making a frantic bid to include it in the 2012 London Olympiad.
The bronze medal for pre-CWG paisa vasool is in dispute. Rugby is a strong contender, with stunning displays of passing the buck and free kick-backs. However, under-the-table tennis and bad-men-ton are giving it a run for, and with,  its money.


Of course my list for the pre-CWG medalists is not the last word. It has already been gunned down by those who say that the Games-to-be have become a full-bore event. 








In the whirl of unsettling domestic developments and the perennial bad penny of Indo-Pak tensions, momentous events in another strategically important neighbour, Nepal, seem all but forgotten. The resolution or otherwise of the ongoing crisis in the mountain nation will have a profound impact on Indian foreign policy, if New Delhi is interested that is. Nepal has bucked the trend of third time lucky in its efforts to elect a new prime minister with a fourth round scheduled tomorrow. It is a clear indication of the political confusion that has reigned for over two months that the 599 lawmakers have been unable to give a majority to any of the candidates, notably Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) or Nepali Congress vice-president Ram Chandra Poudel.


But as the next round is upon the country, Mr Prachanda seems to have an edge with some smaller parties aligning with the Maoists. Irrespective of the outcome of tomorrow's poll, what is significant is that two months have been lost with virtually no governance. The country only has 10 months left to frame a new constitution, failing which it will be plunged into further turmoil. No party, Mr Prachanda's included, seems to have any positive agenda for the impoverished nation once a famed tourist magnet. It has become routine, especially for the Maoists to be suspicious of any effort by India by way of investment to shore up its economy. While decrying what it sees as Indian hegemonistic ambitions, politicians like Mr Prachanda have tried to woo the Chinese. Beijing too seems a little wary of rushing in to invest time and money in what has become a chronically unstable country.


The tragedy of Nepal is that it does not have robust democratic institutions that can run on auto pilot while its politicians feud for power. The great red hope that the Maoists were supposed to represent has come to nothing when, in his maiden stint as prime minister, Mr Prachanda did little more than seek greater power with little to show for it. The present crisis originated in the inability of the Maoists to make any compromise with those who are not ideologically compatible with them. This kind of rigidity cannot work in a democracy. Even if things are resolved tomorrow, it will take some vision and effort to get things back on an even keel in a country that has been virtually left to its own devices with even foreign aid agencies giving it a wide berth. A cruel joke on the people who fought so hard and paid so much for this flawed democracy.







For most of us, family always comes first. So it was not surprising to see Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's nattily dressed son, Bilawal Bhutto, in the same frame with his father and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at an official do in Paris on Tuesday. Later, we figured out that Bilawal was not the only one on the all-expenses paid trip. Dad's army also included one of his two daughters, Asifa. Now, in case you think the Bhutto lad is a freeloader, perish the thought. He is, after all, Mr Heir Apparent and is supposed to make his debut political speech in Birmingham on August 7. The Paris detour was possibly a part of the 'learning' process.


This is not the first time that Zardari has used family diplomacy to disarm his hosts. During his last trip to China, he strode into the Great Hall of People in Beijing to meet his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, firmly holding the hands of his two daughters. Hu Jintao, we were told, was sufficiently puzzled at this departure from protocol. "They wanted to see you in person," Zardari apparently told him. The next day the local media described the meeting between the two Heads of State as "a rarely seen introduction". Rare indeed.


Now Zardari may have got the hosts to cough up for his family. We believe in paying our way. So when our netas and extended families go on a jolly and a jaunt, the loving Indian taxpayer coughs up. We realise that man lives by brood alone and the more the merrier. Our hardworking leaders need a touch of home away from home when on strenuous foreign tours. That's why our netas have such straying, sorry, staying power. And it's not that they are trying to sell us a bill of goods, just the plain old bill.







'Liberty has never come from the government,' observed Woodrow Wilson, the 29th US president, sometime before World War I. "Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance."


If you were to consider the true meaning of liberty, you cannot fault the angry young men — and now women — rampaging through the streets of Kashmir. It is a truism that this Kashmiri generation has known only conflict, and it's quite obvious they believe freedom, azaadi, cannot be bestowed, that it must be achieved, that the time is now. And so they burn police stations, government offices and frighten security forces with a hate so deep and a fury so intense that even the separatists and India are stunned.


Not in the worst days of militancy has Srinagar seemed so distant from Delhi, now witnessing the consequences of an era of duplicity and dishonesty. When school students as young as eight, but mostly in their teens, die every day — 27 people are dead since Friday alone — it's hard to believe the sops that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah now seeks from Delhi will do anything to calm the rage.


It wouldn't make a whit of difference if the UPA government were to pardon young men who crossed over to Pakistan, allowed more trade and people across the Line of Control, took away the sweeping powers that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) offers the army, and discussed the autonomy resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir assembly in 2000.


These are yesterday's concessions that might have had appeal when Abdullah took office nearly 19 months ago. These should have been delivered then and built upon by a government committed to the quick integration of the Kashmir street with the Indian dream. That it never happened only reinforces what Kashmiris know: Over the decades, offers of talks have been a method for stalling progress and increasing militarisation.


Conversations with Kashmiris — something most of us don't have — reveal how the simmering resentment of the past 62 years was dramatically compounded by the deep frustration and humiliation forced on them by the daily curfews of the last month. "After 20 days indoors, even I went out and threw stones," said one mild-mannered colleague — he moved to Delhi from Srinagar to get on with life — stuck indoors during a visit back home last month. He narrated how he and a journalist friend displayed a curfew pass when stopped by a paramilitary trooper, who simply tore it up and said: "Kahan hain pass? (Where's the pass?)"


UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi reflects a government in denial when she says in the Congress mouthpiece Sandesh that "elements with ulterior motives were instigating these attacks". In Kashmir's always-on-the-boil cauldron, this is partially true. Mustafa Alam, an aide of the most hardboiled separatist, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has gone underground. Like other faceless new coordinators, Alam urges young men to the streets day after day, armed with nothing more than stones and their convictions.


Like her government and India at large, Gandhi ignores the other truth: the frustration of the Kashmiri has now transcended the separatist, and for the first time a stunned India is watching women and children spontaneously pouring out of homes after every teenage death, hurling stones, brandishing sticks and screaming for azaadi.


Tragically, azaadi is an impossible dream.


It is a dream sold to Kashmir's new generation by separatists, some of them murderers who smoothly garbed themselves as freedom fighters. In their drive for power, they spoke in varying tongues to Islamabad, Delhi and their own people, and they condoned an ethnic cleansing that drove their Hindu cousins, the Kashmiri Pandits, from their homeland.


Last month, I heard former Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig say this: "We have been telling our young generation that you deserve independence, that India is a Hindu country… these young children are the products of violence. Born after 1989, they have seen only violence, gore, blood and betrayal. Whether separatist or mainstream party, we don't have the collective wisdom, the collective courage, to tell them the truth."


The truth is Kashmir will not get azaadi — for the same reason the Muslim Kurds will not get their homeland from Turkey, itself a Muslim-majority nation; for the same reason the Chechens, or the Nagas, will not be a country.


The future is bleak for Kashmir's GenNext because it finds no support across India, even from fellow Muslims, many of whom still struggle with acceptance. As one of my best friends put it: "As an Indian Muslim, I am still paying the wages of Partition."


There are no easy solutions to Kashmir's rage. In the short term, the government must urgently fix its ill-trained security forces. It is inexcusable that every dead teenager has been shot above the waist during the rioting, sparking new frenzies. It is inexcusable that some paramilitary forces, in response to teens shouting the Islamic war cry 'Nara-e-takbeer, Allah-o-Akbar', are responding with the Hindu war cry 'Har, Har Mahadeo!'


For the long-term, India has to stop stalling, reveal some honesty, offer some grand gestures of reconciliation — that's inescapable now — and get the slovenly government to work. Delhi is mistaken in thinking Abdullah's failures alone are the reasons for Kashmir's uprising, but he could be critical to implementing concessions, if it provides any. If change does not begin now, Kashmir's long, bloody night will only get longer and bloodier.







For more than two years, Indian security agencies have been engaging with Research in Motion (RIM), the manufacturers of the BlackBerry mobile system, to work out an arrangement by which the former can get access to the communications — particularly e-mails and chats — that are transmitted in an encrypted form from such handsets. But little was achieved and pressure was building up on both sides due to the increasing fears of usage of such handsets by terrorists and other fissiparous groups. Notwithstanding the fact that there was a verification process in place for the provision of any mobile connection, the agencies were adamant to gain access to the traffic flow through the BlackBerry mobile handsets.


RIM was given the final notice to allow such access by the end of July, failing which operators were asked to shut down the services. After the July 30 meeting, RIM issued a press statement — and also comments from the Department of Telecom, which has been negotiating with RIM on behalf of the agencies — that they have arrived at a solution and services will not be disrupted. All this comes at a time when United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced its decision to disallow BlackBerry services from October; Saudi Arabia and few other Gulf countries may follow.


It is pertinent to understand where the problem with BlackBerry communication lies. A typical BlackBerry handset allows voice calling, SMS, chat, internet browsing and e-mail communications. Its greatest advantage has been the encrypted e-mail communication. BlackBerry also supports other popular e-mail services like Gmail and Hotmail.


So far security agencies, under the existing telecom laws and the licence conditions for telecom providers, are able to access communications for law enforcement purposes. They also have the technology and capability to monitor calls and SMSes on BlackBerry handsets. A few selected operators can also access regular emails. This will be possible for remaining operators too.


However, Blackberry corporate emails and chats are encrypted as they leave the handset and get decrypted when they reach their destinations, which is not possible for the law enforcement agencies to decipher with their present capabilities. As the encryption levels are high and, thus, secure, business corporations have been using the platform effectively for email communication. Typically, such emails are directed via a Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES), located at the respective corporate premises. It is only at this server that messages are available in a decrypted form. Also, such servers are secured (password protected) and not even accessible by RIM as per current commercial and security practices. So the agencies could only read the messages at the BES server if access code and decrypted content were provided by the corporate concerned. This will have to be harmoniously achieved. More than the interception and monitoring capabilities, such a move will help in investigations.


Since RIM has had the experience of working with various nations on enhanced security issues, it will be worthwhile to consider how it has been harmoniously achieved in a few selected countries like the US and Canada, where there is a precedent and also experience for the law enforcement agencies while gaining effective access. India's case is undoubtedly very critical as terrorists and individuals with vested interests, with the guidance of State and non-State actors, are trying to misuse technology for terror activities. But rather than getting paranoid, it is important to consider how much can be achieved effectively.


*Subimal Bhattacharjee writes on issues of technology and security


( The views expressed by the author are personal. )




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

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

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

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






Azadeh Moaveni, an Iranian-American collaborator on Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi's memoir, refers to a survival technique most Iranians have internalised. Besieged by the regime's dos and don'ts, they adopt "as if" parallel lives within their homes. Here they assert their individual freedoms by acting as if senseless restrictions were not there. Yet, they know that at any time whatsoever the authorities can invade their privacy and shame them for letting down the Revolution.


You would have thought it would be different in India, a proud democracy founded on a liberal reading of individual freedoms. Think again. In Pune, young people out for a "Friendship Day" party this weekend, after dutifully obtaining permission from the college authorities to stay out beyond their gate-time, may not have thought they were on the other side of the law. But around 11 pm, the police gatecrashed the get-together, claiming to be acting on complaints of loud music disturbing the peace. And in the words of Pune's superintendent of police (rural), they seized the offending music system as well as hundreds of litres of alcohol. Soon "medical tests" were conducted on the 489 "youths" and the 80 deemed to have consumed alcohol were held. The Bombay Prohibition Act 1949 puts anyone having a drink without a licence in violation of the law; and the young people being herded away were seen covering their faces, "as if" they had been shamed.


There is some outrage that stigma should be attached to students on the charge of simply partying. But it needs to be louder. The Maharashtra police are known to play to the local gallery, enforcing an outdated and unreasonable law to feed responsive pools of conservatism. They are at it again. And it is time the law was stripped of its sillier provisions, so that the police are equipped to enforce order and not a bizarre sense of morality.






The government and the Reserve Bank of India say that India can take in $150 billion of capital inflows every year without capital controls. To the extent that this indicates increased confidence in the Indian economy to absorb tens of billions of dollars more in its trillion-dollar economy, it is good. However, the framework in which India operates is inadequate for a growing and maturing economy. Comparable countries like Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and South Korea have moved away from capital controls to a much greater extent. The framework that has guided India's opening up has been to first think of an acceptable figure for the amount of capital inflows that, given the GDP and size of trade, the RBI feels the country can absorb — and then to think of a hierarchy of capital flows. In this hierarchy India has treated FDI as better than portfolio investment, with debt coming third. Within debt, long-term debt is preferred to short-term debt. These preferences are implemented with a framework for capital controls set up through the Foreign Exchange Management Act and circulars from the RBI.


Experience suggests that opening up rapidly when financial markets are underdeveloped carries the danger of firms and households acquiring high levels of foreign financial liabilities. There could be currency mismatches exposing agents to movements in currency.


If incomes are in the domestic currency, then sharp movements of the exchange rate can make firms and citizens go bankrupt as they could then be unable to pay back the loans whose value has increased. The danger, in other words, is not the size of the debt but the denomination of the debt. Indian policy-makers still see things differently. If anything, the position is the opposite. Foreign purchase of rupee-denominated bonds is more restricted than external commercial borrowing in dollars.


Another important issue is the implementation of the limit of $150 billion of capital inflows. Capital controls are distortionary and people find ways around them but incur a cost in doing so. Unless the government stops thinking of an acceptable figure and gives up trying to implement it, we will be hampering growth and investment.






Jammu and Kashmir crawls closer and closer to a dangerous tipping point — where the hard-won electoral success and sense of a provisional peace now looks like yesterday's story. After a series of covert killings and open clashes between security forces and stone-pelting protesters, the Valley has been engulfed in violence, a situation that was sharpened by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's slow reflexes at the start.


Mosque loudspeakers, many of them calling up memories of 1990, are now summoning people to the barricades. The state's police are being beaten on the streets, and two senior officers including a senior superintendent of police recently refused to be moved to Baramulla district. Some even use civilian ID cards in the evening to get by without harm. Meanwhile, though the government emphasises that the CRPF and police have exercised maximal restraint, all too many young protesters have been killed, each death provoking more anger and confrontation. The state's hold looks increasingly feeble, its political authority almost bankrupt. As Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in Parliament, there have been 872 stone-pelting incidents in June and July 2010 and 1,456 security personnel were injured, and indeed, security forces have shown "great fortitude" this time.


But Omar Abdullah finds himself walking a delicate tightrope, with no real channels of communication with this tired and disillusioned citizenry. And those channels will not be obtained before a semblance of quiet is restored. The political opposition, the PDP, and the Hurriyat are themselves trying to assess the situation for its political drift. Even a hardliner like Syed Ali Shah Geelani has appealed to the people to abjure from violence. The state government is faced with inchoate discontent, with no interlocutors of substance. For all the scare talk about a new intifada, there is reason to believe that Kashmir's current crisis is resolvable, and different in character from the rage and resentment of the '90s. This is a specific, locatable grievance that is being adeptly channelled along tired anti-India lines, and it is crucial that Omar Abdullah rescue it from spinning into more lethal hands. He has indicated that he knows his mission — to first restore some calm in Kashmir's seething streets, and then to do what he has failed to do so far, work on the administrative instruments and political imagination needed to solidify the peace.









 The sense of crisis brewing across the nation now requires us to ask some graceless questions about political responsibility in the current government. In Kashmir, the government has irretrievably squandered an opportunity for real political progress; instead of hope, the stench of violence, intimidation and resentment again dominates the air. In the Northeast, the era of damaging blockades and political deadlocks is back. In Andhra Pradesh, the success of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi casts a shadow not just on the future of the state, but also on the ability of the Congress to sustain its momentum. Our neighbourhood is in disarray. Although the challenges posed by Pakistan are beyond the control of this government, its inability to swiftly take advantage of the propitious political circumstances in Bangladesh is sending disastrous signals: India is a power that cannot be respected. The modest gains that resulted from welfare outlays have long been dissipated by inflation. There is an odour of corruption and callous squandering of resources on so many fronts. Despite an opposition teetering on the brink of ideological and political bankruptcy, the government seems to be unable to muster confidence, resolve or far-sighted imagination.


There are many sources of discontent. But the structure of government is adding considerable fuel to the fire. A lot of attention has been focused on the fact that the prime minister has very little authority to deliver on any promises he makes. The elements of his larger vision for the region have much to recommend them. But there is not a single serious political promise on which he can deliver. Take a series of examples that have a direct bearing on the current crisis. The Muzaffarabad bus service, which was meant to lift a sense of siege in Kashmir, has backfired because its implementation makes it more a token gesture than a real promise. Bangladesh has taken great political risk to put momentum in the bilateral relationship. But the Indian government conveys no ability to settle outstanding issues. Indeed, most of our neighbours assume, not without justification, that the ability of government to negotiate even small concessions is almost non-existent. No wonder we are the object of contempt. Even Andhra was a case of the government not delivering what it promised, and then not having the courage to back off from a promise it did not want to deliver.


The prime minister had a vision of looking at India's challenges through a lens that was larger than the narrow-minded and self-defeating vision of security specialists. But the opposite has happened. There has been virtually no movement on that single most visible symbol of the oppression and marginalisation of Indian citizens: the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Instead, the prime minister's vision now lies buried under the dominance of a paranoid security state that may allow us to win small tactical battles against terrorists, but at the cost of making us feel more insecure and vulnerable at the hands of the state.


The promise of a liberal India is slowly dying. How much authority do you think the Indian state will carry, how will it be distinguished from two-bit authoritarian regimes, if its citizens have no privacy rights whatsoever, if BlackBerry, Facebook and mobile services are denied to millions of its citizens, if its visa policies get more draconian by the day? There is a need for intelligent security interventions. But the government gives an impression that is debilitating on two fronts. First, the securitisation of discourse signals that the state is weak, not strong; it is indiscriminate because it cannot improve. Second, it conveys the idea that the prime minister's dreams of a more humane and liberal Indian state have no political traction. His party and colleagues either don't understand, or don't care. This is just one example of the more general message: the central ideas the prime minister touts have no political backing; and what the real political powers think remains obscure. This prevents the government from taking any political risk that could bring long-term dividends.


Good politics is the art of conflict management; good politicians are masters at reconciling differences, inspiring trust. You often see the spectacle of the indefatigable Pranab Mukherjee fighting one fire after another. But it points to a deep problem the Congress has: it has no genuine politicians left. Sonia Gandhi has authority. But it has to be said that this is an authority studiously cultivated by distance and by avoiding issues that truly matter; its sole concern seems to be that no shadow is cast on her power. But this is not political capital that is ever used for resolving tricky national issues.


If you were in Kashmir or Nagaland, you must wonder who you could trust at the Centre to deliver on a promise. The prime minister will take you only up to a point. The Centre does not carry any credibility, because there it has no genuine interlocutors. There is no other leader who can carry the imprimatur that they are acting on behalf of the nation, who can provide a healing touch when needed. More and more of our conflicts will require this kind of constant political engagement. Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, in political terms, carry that mantle as much as anyone does; but they steadfastly refuse to risk it on anything other than politically easy welfare schemes. The scandal of Indian politics is not simply that the prime minister is politically weak; it is that those who are politically strong are constantly running away from political responsibility.


This is diminishing the ability of the government to do anything imaginative. It is also founded on the illusion that politics can be detached from policy. Andhra should have taught the Congress the lesson how quickly it can become vulnerable because of casual political judgments. But exempting Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi from serious political responsibility is beginning to extract a toll. It is letting the Congress get away with the illusion that the hubris, callousness, even charges of corruption that are now sullying the party will somehow not affect its core image. It is as if in case the Commonwealth Games turn out to be a bit of a financial scandal, it has nothing to do with the party as such. Second, it has created a political culture where Congress politicians always seem stuck in a nether zone: many are smart, have independent ideas, but are simply unable to move. And it has sent a message: the purpose of politics is not solving problems; it is the evasion of responsibility.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi







 It is curious that, despite the intense interest and debate around the world regarding global warming, now recognised as a menacing and negative factor in world affairs, there is hardly any mention of the burgeoning population in developing countries — which surely constitutes a major source of pressure on our resources, as well as on our environment. Starting with a population of 33 crore when we became independent over 60 years ago, our population has tripled and is well over 115 crore today. Surely, the pressure upon food resources, employment opportunities and, inevitably, on our natural resources must be taken into account. Whole forests are disappearing due to a combination of the population explosion and the timber mafia. We are beginning to run dangerously short of water, and despite our heroic kisans in Punjab and Haryana, a time will surely come soon when our population will outstrip our capacity for foodgrain production. Despite breakthroughs in science and technology, the inexorable expansion of our population will sooner or later lead to a major crisis.


I will not go into the unhappy history of the population and


family planning programme since I introduced the National Population Policy in Parliament in 1976. One of the great tragedies of the Emergency was the fact that the family planning programme got totally derailed. As a result of the debacle of 1977 the whole issue became politically radioactive, the name of the ministry itself was changed from "Family Planning" to "Family Welfare", and "population" seems to have disappeared from the lexicon of political leaders across party lines. The word was not even mentioned in the last President's Address, or by the prime minister when he replied to the debate. It is as if we have buried this factor so deep in our subconscious that we are unable to bring it out into the open and deal with it purposefully and effectively.


I was astounded some months ago when I mentioned this to a senior political leader and he replied that I should not bring this matter up as it would upset women's organisations. In fact, it is women who have to bear the major brunt of unplanned population growth, including physically during childbirth where maternal and post-natal mortality is still unacceptably high — in rural areas particularly, where proper maternal facilities are few and far between. Indeed I would expect women's organisations to be in the forefront of demanding a clear-cut population policy to ensure that contraceptive facilities become available to every woman in India and her reproductive rights safeguarded.


A theory that is fashionable in some academic circles is what is known as the "demographic dividend". The argument is that with the population in the West declining, and India and China growing rapidly, one day through sheer demography we will dominate the world. I do not accept this; we are still producing children who are malnourished, ill-educated and, therefore, unable to really contribute towards building a strong and vibrant nation. Certainly our young people are our hope for the future, but unless we are able to ensure at least the minimum inputs necessary during pregnancy and early childhood for the full development of body and mind, we are doing them a great injustice. A vast army of unemployed and unemployable young people will hardly be an asset for the nation.


Population has, in fact, become the forgotten factor. But I would suggest that if we link it to our environmental problems, including global warming, it would return the issue to the centre of national consciousness, there to be dealt with in an imaginative and creative fashion. Take foodgrain; by 2020 it is estimated that we will need 260 million tonnes as against about 190 million today, without any substantial increase in agricultural land. Despite our rapidly growing economy, we are in danger of running dangerously short of foodgrains and pulses. Again, our water resources are rapidly depleting.


We have succeeded in polluting the holiest of our rivers, and with the Himalayan glaciers steadily receding, the water situation can become critical in the years to come.


We must recognise that there is a clear and direct link between population increase and environmental degradation. There is a view that our birth rate will automatically come down to replacement level by 2050. But by then the situation could well have become irretrievable. What is needed is a National Population Mission which would deal imaginatively with the wide variety of issues involved — contraceptive technology, a massive condom distribution campaign, girls' education, non-coercive incentives, an effective maternal and child healthcare programme and, above all, educating society at large of the urgent necessity to adopt the two-child norm — by linking this with our environmental crisis.


The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP







 On August 15 this year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can feel pleased that his government has begun delivering on plans to guarantee work, food and health to a large swathe of the Indian population through NREGA, the National Rural Health Mission and the food security bill. It is a politically brilliant position — but it must be combined very soon with the withdrawal of cast-iron labour laws from all sectors of the economy. The space created by the PM for a safety net for the families of unorganised labour must now be filled with the scope to make the optimal use of that labour, or else we'll be faced with a first-class disaster in our economic policy.


This is because we now have an opportunity that will not soon come again. Not grabbing it will create problems for India of the sort that Europe has run into with its overpaid labour market. While India's per capita GDP is far below Europe's, short-circuiting the logic of constructing a social security net that's comparable with economic growth rates will pitchfork us into a Europe-style "costly labour zone", pricing us out of markets for labour-intensive goods. The gap will be gladly filled by our nimble Asian competitors. Then the iron bowl of security that the government has crafted, riding the fast growth rate will begin to hurt rather than help.


The Indian economy's greatest potential for a long time has lain in the availability of relatively cheap labour and the competitive advantage it could create in any sector. This has been frittered away over decades by overprotective government policy which benefited only those who had employment, and equally short-sighted industrialists who replaced labour with capital to get around the hassle. The iron bowl is going to make this worse.


Given the absolutely sub-human conditions in which a huge percentage of families below the poverty line live, there are few arguments against these pillars of social safety the government is creating. But having created them, it is equally essential to use the pillars as a foundation for the development of a strong productive economy on top. This means giving the entrepreneurs in every sector, the freedom now to deploy labour rationally. This could sound ruthless, but it's essential. The alternatives which have been posited are too devoid of hard choices and so "cuddlesome" in their approach.


The food security bill when passed will provide an assured quantity of rice or wheat free to the lowest rung of the population. This, allied with within-village employment support, is a deadly combination in the sense that it can and will cripple labour supply to contract agriculture, and to those sections of industry which need that supply to remain competitive.


From a labourer's point of view, moving away from a village where he earns NREGA support to work in the fields of other states is becoming more and more absurd. It can be argued that agricultural jobs in states like Punjab and Haryana are seasonal and so do not clash with the earning season in the labourers' home villages. But the seasonality is only in the crop cycle. The demand for labour is round the year, as one crop follows another.


Evidence is already mounting from those pockets of rural India where NREGA has been a success about the withdrawal of labour. This has affected the construction industry too, the bedrock of the infrastructure sector. Just one illustrative figure is revealing: bookings on the special trains that transported labour to Punjab and Gujarat from labour-rich states like Bihar and UP have begun to plateau.


Once large farmers realise they cannot depend on labour to work their fields, a most unusual pattern will develop in agriculture. They will shift to a far deeper use of machinery — basically making agriculture quite capital-intensive. The same thing happened in India's large-scale manufacturing. The reason for the poor employment growth in large firms despite the high growth they've witnessed over so many years is the highly capital-intensive nature of production. Here, as well as in the urban centres that depend on a large supply of labour like gems, jewellery and textiles, we need to change the labour laws.


To hire labour, entrepreneurs and farmers have to offer a better salary and possibly stronger employment benefits. But that process will be scuttled if the labour laws tilt so heavily to one side. Those jobs will then, inevitably, migrate outside the country, in a process known as contract manufacturing. Where that is not possible, machinery will replace labour, defeating the very rationale for the iron bowl. The rise in the bargaining power of labour with the available safety net will not happen as the number of jobs will fall.


For far too long the Indian state has played around with the need to amend the labour laws. The present government does not even seem to consider it a possibility. But the entire rationale for the troika of support must be to make the Indian worker better fed, healthier and more able to bargain with employers. To instead take away that very possibility, by exporting jobs across the Himalayas or replacing them with machines, seems a fabulous contradiction for policymaking.


A postscript to the story is in order. The fungibility of food stamps make them far more useful products than the awesome piles of rice and wheat the government plans to carry across the country as part of the food security plan. It has huge inflationary and black market potential, not to mention that it commandeers the freight-carrying capacity of the railways and the roadways . Food stamps can eliminate all that — and, as an additional benefit, develop a first-class free market in foodgrain.


The writer is Delhi Resident Editor, 'The Financial Express'








 What would Indian television do without Bollywood? Invent it. Not an hour goes by without Hindi cinema starring on channels as different as Aaj Tak and Discovery. Remember, the latter took us into Shah Rukh Khan's home, sat us down beside him and let his life unspool before us in Shah Rukh Khan Revealed.


Last week, news channels took out precious time from the latest leak sprung at the Commonwealth Games, the violence in Kashmir, to inform us that Vivek Oberoi has finally met his match. And it is on Hindi news channels like Star News, Aaj Tak, India TV that you hear the latest songs sung by young contestants on the new season of Chhote Ustaad, Star Plus (more of that a little later).


But the influence is far more pervasive. Look at what they've done to Swaroop Khan. When he made his first appearance on Indian Idol (Sony), he looked like he belonged to the place he had come from: the outback of Rajasthan. He had a shy innocence about him, a lack of urban sophistication — and we're not saying this just because he came dressed in dhoti-kurta-pagdi. For all his gentle mien, there were rough and rugged edges to him which made him unique for the show. When he opened his mouth to sing, it was a folk song from Rajasthan.


Last week, he was wearing a sequinned jacket and yodelling a Hindi film song, with a swagger to his movements that reminded one of Shammi Kapoor. This is what three months of the show has done to him. This week, he has been eliminated from the contest but now he is no longer the Khan we were introduced to. He has travelled so far from his village that going back will be well-nigh impossible. His future lies in a different direction.


Onto the next victim. TV serials. Watching Baat Hamaari Pakki Hai (Sony) was like watching Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. The entire episode was a film wedding song-and-dance sequence. First, the guys danced to 'Desi Girl'. They were joined by a lady who swung her hips like a trapeze from left to right. She was replaced by women swaying to 'Dhoom Macha Le'. On Colors, they were telecasting repeats of Uttaran: in one episode, the entire sequence seemed to have been conceived and staged so that 'Maa' from Taare Zameen Par could play in the background. You will find similar scenes in almost every single serial — like a jukebox, you just take your pick and a Hindi film song will pop up with a TV soap.


On the weekend, on the entertainment channels, you will find yourself right in the middle of another Bollywood film, or the same one that you have watched every weekend since the year began: Jab We Met, Bhootnath, Hera Pheri being all time favourite repeats. But gone are the days when Amitabh Bachchan cast his shadow across the screen; he's still around but now we're seeing more recent releases. A fortnight ago, 3 Idiots made its TV premiere on Sony; last Sunday it was Raavan on Colors. And that's really recent. As for the music channels, barring VH1, they're film music video channels, when they're not Splitsvilla or Roadies. That leaves only cartoon networks, sorry, kids channels, to wage a lonely war against Bollywood domination.


Back to Chhote Ustaad: it is different. Here's how: it has Omi 'Chatur' Vaidya as a host behaving rather like an idiot, the least you can expect from the actor who made a name for himself with 3 Idiots. It's got 10 kids each from India and Pakistan. It's got Rahat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan as a judge alongside Sonu Nigam's magnificent locks. You should see them (the locks): springy coils on either side of his head. Can't take your eyes off them. Wonder if it's distracting the contestants too.







There are several reasons why I don't object to a mosque being built near the World Trade Centre site, but the key reason is my affection for Broadway show tunes.


Let me explain. A couple weeks ago, President Obama and his wife held "A Broadway Celebration: In Performance at the White House," a concert in the East Room by some of Broadway's biggest names, singing some of Broadway's most famous hits. Because my wife is on the board of the public TV station that organised the evening, WETA, I got to attend, but all I could think of was: I wish the whole country were here.


It wasn't just the great performances of Audra McDonald, Nathan Lane, Idina Menzel, Elaine Stritch, Karen Olivo, Tonya Pinkins, Brian d'Arcy James, Marvin Hamlisch and Chad Kimball, or the spirited gyrations of the students from the Joy of Motion Dance Center and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts performing 'You Can't Stop the Beat' — it was the whole big, rich stew. African-American singers and Hispanic-American dancers belting out the words of Jewish and Irish immigrant composers, accompanied by white musicians whose great-great-grandparents came over on the Mayflower for all I know — all performing for America's first black president whose middle name is Hussein.


The show was so full of life, no one could begrudge Elaine Stritch, 84, for getting a little carried away and saying to Obama, seated in the front row: "I'd love to get drunk with the president."


Feeling the pulsating energy of this performance was such a vivid reminder of America's most important competitive advantage: the sheer creative energy that comes when you mix all our diverse people and cultures together. We live in an age when the most valuable asset any economy can have is the ability to be creative — to spark and imagine new ideas, be they Broadway tunes, great books, iPads or new cancer drugs. And where does creativity come from?


I like the way Newsweek described it in a recent essay on creativity: "To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result)."


And where does divergent thinking come from? It comes from being exposed to divergent ideas and cultures and people and intellectual disciplines. As Marc Tucker, the president of the National Centre on Education and the Economy, once put it to me: "One thing we know about creativity is that it typically occurs when people who have mastered two or more quite different fields use the framework in one to think afresh about the other. Intuitively, you know this is true. Leonardo da Vinci was a great artist, scientist and inventor, and each specialty nourished the other. He was a great lateral thinker. But if you spend your whole life in one silo, you will never have either the knowledge or mental agility to do the synthesis, connect the dots, which is usually where the next great breakthrough is found."


Which brings me back to the Muslim community centre/mosque, known as Park51. It is proposed to be built two blocks north of where the twin towers stood and would include a prayer space, a 500-seat performing arts centre, a swimming pool and a restaurant. The Times reported that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim leader behind the project, who has led services in TriBeCa since 1983, said he wants the centre to help "bridge and heal a divide" among Muslims and other religious groups. "We have condemned the actions of 9/11," he said.


I greatly respect the feelings of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 — which was perpetrated in the name of Islam — and who oppose this project. Personally, if I had $100 million to build a mosque that promotes interfaith tolerance, I would not build it in Manhattan. I'd build it in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. That is where 9/11 came from, and those are the countries that espouse the most puritanical version of Sunni Islam — a version that shows little tolerance not only for other religions but for other strands of Islam, particularly Shiite, Sufi and Ahmadiyya Islam. You can study Islam at virtually any American university, but you can't even build a one-room church in Saudi Arabia.


That resistance to diversity, though, is not something we want to emulate, which is why I'm glad the mosque was approved on Tuesday. Countries that choke themselves off from exposure to different cultures, faiths and ideas will never invent the next Google or a cancer cure, let alone export a musical or body of literature that would bring enjoyment to children everywhere.


When we tell the world, "Yes, we are a country that will even tolerate a mosque near the site of 9/11," we send such a powerful message of inclusion and openness. It is shocking to other nations. But you never know who out there is hearing that message and saying: "What a remarkable country! I want to live in that melting pot, even if I have to build a boat from milk cartons to get there." As long as that happens, Silicon Valley will be Silicon Valley, Hollywood will be Hollywood, Broadway will be Broadway, and America, if we ever get our politics and schools fixed, will be OK.


Thomas L. Friedman/NYT






The RSS believes that the Omar Abdullah-led NC-Congress coalition government is largely responsible for the turmoil in Kashmir. It says that although the chief minister did realise that certain vested interests were behind the violence in Kashmir, he did nothing to isolate and book them. "If booked for some time, they were treated with kid gloves and kept in beautiful rest-houses located in the highly salubrious Chashma Shahi. He did try to act, but he acted when the damage had already been done and the whole of the administrative edifice collapsed for all practical purposes," says an article in the latest edition of RSS mouthpiece Organiser.


The RSS was critical of Abdullah's sympathetic approach towards the stone-pelters — the announcing of jobs and easy loans for the trouble-making youths, etc. — and quotes senior officials of the union Home Ministry to claim that the stone-pelters are often not booked under serious charges.


The article says that the chief minister, instead of trying to pacify or rein in the rioters, blamed the CRPF in very harsh words amounting to desperate threats, and thereby depicted his own helplessness which emboldened the rioters to defy curfew. "The failure of the Abdullah government is universally acknowledged as the single biggest factor responsible for the present mess," it concludes.


Gujarat envy


Behind the arrest of Amit Shah, the Sangh sees a "larger conspiracy" to stall the "fascinating pace" with which Gujarat has left behind other states in inclusive development. Interestingly, the same allegation was levelled some days ago by Chief Minister Narendra Modi as well.


An article in the Organiser says that encounter killings by police are a "fact of life" in most states. "If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was at pains to explain that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was not the Congress Bureau of Investigation, the truth was not lost on anyone."


"The political mechanisation became clear when the charge-sheet against Amit Shah made by the CBI was available to the media and not to the accused. It has become a vogue, especially in the case of Gujarat, that media is used widely to create a skewed public opinion and authorities, however high, play hand in glove. "The shamelessness of the government coupled with a pliable CBI make it conducive for a grand plan to derail a state which has been recognised by global multilateral agencies as one of the best in the world," it alleges.


Left with no excuse


Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan's comments against the radical Popular Front of India may have created a furore in Kerala, but the RSS says that at last, he seems to have realised the grave threat Muslim fundamentalism poses to nation's territorial integrity and democratic polity.


But while it is an "honest admission" of the grave situation that prevails in the state, the Sangh was of the view that the timing of the chief minister's comment is suspect, as it appeared to be a belated attempt by the CPM-led government to distance itself from homegrown jehadi elements.


A piece in the Organiser says that the chief minister's attack on Islamists was a bit surprising given the party's track record of colluding with Muslim extremist outfits in search of votes in election after election. "Marxist-Mullah nexus is no secret. Communists are as responsible for the growth of Islamists as the Congress party whose soft policy towards terror is too well known," it says.


"However, the unexpected support he received from his bete noir CPM state secretary Vijayan leaves one with the impression that the party as a unit has realised the gravity of the situation.... One would like to believe that the CPM has realised the horrible consequences of its political support to Islamist groups to divide the Muslim vote and would now change tracks," it says.


Compiled by Manoj C.G.








RBI deputy governor KC Chakrabarty has a penchant to speak his mind on a range of issues. He may have, however, overstepped the line of propriety by some distance when he told a group of select reporters, soon after RBI hiked the repo and reverse repo rates in its July 27 credit policy, that the central bank was 'behind the curve' on monetary policy and that a more aggressive monetary policy was necessary to rein in inflation. Chakrabarty is a very senior official of RBI and he cannot and should not have expressed a view, in public, that ran so completely contrary to the view taken by RBI at its credit policy. Incredibly, monetary policy and macroeconomic assessment don't even fall into the domain of his portfolio. In any case, senior central bankers should at the best of times choose their words very carefully, given the instant impact anything they say can have on key markets. Incidentally, the 10-year bond market took a beating in the aftermath of Chakrabarty's ill-thought-out comments, precisely the kind of impact the deputy governor should have been well aware of. In any case, it is not for the second rung leadership of RBI to make statements to the public on policy matters, not at any rate without the express permission of their boss, the governor. In this case, Chakrabarty clearly spoke out of turn. He has since been made to pay a heavy price by being divested of most of his key portfolios, all of which have now been transferred to other deputy governors. Another person may have offered to resign rather than be stripped of all his substantive work.


Needless to say, the entire incident is detrimental to the reputation of India's central bank, which is generally well respected for its competence and institutional strength. This is a pity. RBI governor D Subbarao had, from all accounts, taken a giant step forward by being more consultative with a broad section of stakeholders before arriving at key monetary policy decisions. That is without doubt one of Subbarao's strengths as governor. And indeed, a strength of the monetary policy announcements he made. There is no doubt that he would have also heard Chakrabarty's opinion very carefully before taking a final call. But the final call is the governor's to make, not Chakrabarty's. In our view, governor Subbarao has opted for the right exit strategy by only gradually raising interest rates. There still remain considerable risks to growth, not least from an uncertain global economic environment. And this is also a view that has been expressed by the finance ministry. Under the circumstances, Chakrabarty's comments were completely unwarranted, in bad form, lacking propriety and largely hollow in content.







The broad trend from the corporate results for the first quarter of the current financial year indicates that the rise in commodity prices and withdrawal of the stimulus package are affecting the bottom line of companies. An FE analysis of 791 companies, excluding oil, banks and financial services, shows that net profits are up just 12% year-on-year, compared with an increase of 50% in the March 2010 quarter. The slow growth in net profits despite the fact that revenues have been fairly robust—they increased by 26% from the same quarter in the last financial year—is an indication that companies will now have to trim costs in the next few quarters to grow their net profit. A sharp increase in prices of raw materials and an increase in employee expenditure have resulted in a fall in the operating profit margins, leaving operating profits flat. Companies in auto, cement, steel and FMCG segments are reporting stagnant or declining net profit margins as they could not pass the entire rise in the input cost to the consumers. Going ahead, the recent rate hikes will also further affect the operating profit of companies and they will have to look at innovative ways to reduce their input costs. Even for the IT sector, the slowdown in Europe is showing on the volume growth, but a strong recovery in outsourcing in the US in the last quarter and even encouraging initial trends of continuing volume growth in the ongoing September quarter from the US will bode well for technology companies.


Interestingly, the strong credit growth in the last quarter, mainly led by telecom companies, saw banks posting robust results. Both public and private sector banks have benefited from low-cost wholesale deposits as the cost of funds remained stable in the quarter. The growth momentum in fee-based income too remained healthy because of the pick-up in retail and corporate borrowing. After almost two years, real estate companies are also reporting pick-up in sales of new projects, especially in metros. However, it is too early to call it a revival of growth as the pick-up in sales is not uniformly distributed. Some amount of transparency in data reporting will come once the National Buildings Organisation announces the housing start-up index, which will also work as a lead indicator of economic activities because of their strong forward and backward linkages with other sectors. For corporate India, going ahead, the easing of commodity prices in the current quarter could moderate margin pressures but the execution of capex plans and cost optimisation will be crucial for growth.








The government of India is an interesting creature, possessed with an impressive posse of clever people and interesting ideas, but woefully inadequate when it comes to actually getting things done. The shambolic preparations for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi are a most startling (but hardly only) example of how badly the government and its affiliated agencies execute key projects.


What the government really needs are people in the top echelons who can be efficient project managers. Politicians don't perform this role in any country and generally restrict themselves to policymaking. In India, unfortunately, because of the attraction of pecuniary gains from project execution, politicians do often jump into a domain that doesn't belong to them. Senior administrators from the civil bureaucracy who ought to be responsible for project execution have proved to be inadequate at the task, distracted by turf wars, satisfied with penning lengthy policy notes, and usually attempting to appease their interfering political masters.


One man in UPA-2, though, has emerged to defy the stereotypes, and is growing nicely into the role of the government's project manager-in-chief, the man who can actually get things done: Nandan Nilekani.


Nilekani is, of course, the chairperson of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), an agency set up by the government to provide unique identity numbers (with biometric checks) to each of India's 1.2 billion people. That in itself is a massive project, unprecedented in scale by any global standard. But just over a year into that office, Nilekani's services are being sought by various arms of the government to assist with the execution of other crucial projects. Three of his forays outside the strict boundaries of the UIDAI, in particular, deserve a mention.


The former Infosys co-chairman, in a lesser known avatar, is also the chairman of the government's Technology Advisory Group for Unique Projects (TAGUP), set up to recommend roadmaps to roll out five key government projects, including the struggling New Pension Scheme (NPS) and the much awaited GST. In fact, the existence of credible IT system to administer GST can actually help the finance minister in his political battle with the states who remain suspicious about the revenue collection potential of GST and the fair distribution of the revenues between Centre and states. A credible IT system can ensure efficient collection, minimise compliance costs and ensure an uncontroversial sharing of revenues even if the tax (Centre + state) is levied at just one point.


In yet another avatar, Nilekani was invited by roads minister Kamal Nath to head a committee on Electronic Tolling Cards for national highways. The energetic Kamal Nath has given a fillip to the building of highways and has stuck to the principle of enforcing user charges. But he encountered one practical problem: toll booths manned by fee collecting attendants at periodic intervals on highways were slowing down traffic and leading to congestion, defeating the very purpose of new highways. Nilekani's committee quickly zeroed in on a relatively cheap and easy to implement technology that can eliminate manual toll collection with a completely automated system that would be acceptable to an array of private road operators. It is now set to roll out across India in two years, by 2012.


Aside from heading committees on the execution of projects in taxes, pensions and road tolling, Nilekani has also been doing his bit for financial inclusion, by leveraging the potential of the future database of the UIDAI to facilitate mobile banking. The roll-out of mobile banking is caught between two sets of turf battles: between telecom companies and banks and between the telecom regulator and RBI. Nilekani and his team at the UIDAI are staying out of the turf battles and working out practical solutions (particularly on verification and safety but also on how best to actually open bank accounts) that address the concerns of all the involved parties and the final consumer.


What explains his success? Of course we know that he is a man of considerable ability and intellect—he has, after all, been a successful entrepreneur, manager, techie and writer. But that isn't enough to guarantee making any headway in a government system that is generally wary of lateral entrants.


Two things explain his success. The first was given to him by the government in the form of the rank of Cabinet minister. This automatically lent him more weight in the system than a bureaucratic level appointment would have. And yet, being firmly on the outside of the Cabinet, lent him immunity from the political process that often hobbles even the best of men. The second is a favour Nilekani has wisely extended to himself. He has kept a low profile, staying away from turf battles, commenting only on matters that fall strictly within his limited portfolio of responsibilities, and focusing on getting the job done. That has likely helped him earn the trust of a number of senior ministers who are now leaning on him to get their key projects off the ground.


The UPA, always ambitious in rolling out government programmes, desperately needs a few more good men like Nilekani who can get the job done efficiently, without fuss and certainly without the shambles the Commonwealth Games have become.








Accurate forecasts of Indian growth are important not just to help policymakers and companies in the country make the right decisions, but increasingly for predicting the course of the global economy. There are two notable features of India's growth experience over the last dozen or so years. First, twists and turns. While there were no outright recessions, there have been a few growth slowdowns, often reflecting the effects of economic and financial turmoil outside India. This was particularly the case between 1997-98 and 2002-03. The second feature: likely a trend increase in growth. For five years in a row, from 2003-04 to 2007-08, growth was strong.


How well were forecasters able to predict these turns and trends? Here's the bottom line. Forecasters over-predicted growth in the first half of the period, particularly the years that were marked by growth slowdowns. And they under-predicted growth in the five record-breaking years from 2003-04 onwards. These conclusions hold as much for leading Indian forecasters as for multilateral agencies such as the IMF—a finding that should help debunk the notion in some circles that the IMF is always too pessimistic about India's prospects.


Our conclusions are based on a detailed study of forecasts for Indian growth. The forecasts are reported in Asia-Pacific Consensus Forecasts, a publication that provides a rich data set of forecasts made by leading Indian think tanks and academic institutions, Indian corporations and international banks.


It turns out that the magnitude of the forecast errors for India is quite similar to that for other emerging markets. And while it's higher than the magnitude of forecast errors for industrialised economies, the range of variation in India's growth is also much larger than that for industrialised economies.


Multilateral institutions also make growth projections. How does the performance of Consensus Forecasts compare with that of the IMF? The average absolute forecast error made by the publication between 1997-98 and 2009-10 was 0.9 percentage points compared to 0.8 percentage points for the IMF forecasts, a virtual statistical photo finish.


Are the forecasts biased? At one level, the answer is 'no'. The sum of forecast errors over this period is 0.25, essentially zero in a statistical sense. But it is evident that this result comes from the cancelling out of two errors, namely, the over-prediction of growth in the first half of the period and the under-prediction of growth in the second half.


The first error is not particularly egregious by the standards of economic forecasting. It represents the failure of forecasters to predict the slowdowns in India's growth over this period. This inability to predict turning points is not specific to forecasts for India—it's a ubiquitous feature of growth forecasts, even those made by renowned pundits.


These errors occur despite a heroic effort by country analysts at the IMF to project the evolution of real GDP by tracking data both on how output is produced (from agriculture, industry or services) and by how it is used (consumption, investment or net exports). At the IMF, we use an eclectic approach to forecast these components of GDP. For production side forecasts, we use indicators such as industrial production, vehicle sales, cement production and freight volumes, as well as surveys of forecasts by purchasing managers in industry and services.


These production side forecasts are then cross-checked against forecasts for the uses of output. Net exports are forecast taking into account demand growth in India's major trading partners, and also the expected evolution of prices of India's main exports and imports. Despite all this, growth slowdowns in India have proved difficult to predict, partly because they have arisen from unforeseen developments in other countries or unforeseen shocks.


Now let's consider the second error: the under-prediction of India's growth in the years since 2003-04. Quite possibly, this is due to difficulties in estimating India's potential output growth. At the IMF, potential output is estimated using structural models that account for the growth in its components—the labour force, capital stock and productivity—as well as simpler models based on statistical history.


Of the components of potential growth, productivity growth is the hardest to forecast, relying as it does on a vast array of factors and policies.


In sum, this has been a challenging period over which to forecast India's growth—a challenge compounded by large revisions in the GDP data and the long time period over which these revisions are carried out. Forecasters need to keep working hard to improve their performance, but the government too could help out by improving the process of the provision of GDP data.


Kalpana Kochhar is deputy director in the IMF's Asia-Pacific Department and Prakash Loungani is an advisor in the IMF's Research Department. Views are personal








Sebi's recent efforts to make MF investors' complaints public have helped highlight common grouses like non-receipt of dividends and account statements. In many cases of unclaimed dividends, MFs say the investors are not traceable. But the required effort has also been missing. That is probably why a 2000 Sebi circular said, "the AMC should make a continuous effort to remind the investors through letters to take their unclaimed amounts." For investors, the best way forward is to go for ECS facilities, whereby dividends are credited directly into bank accounts.


Non-receipt of account statements is also a perennial problem. Many investors don't get account statements if they have registered their e-mail with the fund house. This is despite the fact that the investors prefer communication in hard copy. Plus, all the fund houses continue to charge the maximum permissible expenses—at least for equity-oriented schemes.


It is interesting to note how some fund houses differentiate between investors. Investors are categorised as 'dormant' and 'active' based on the nature of investing. Why the bifurcation? This is to let the 'dormant' folk sleep over the investments, which enables the fund houses to earn easy management fees year after year. 'Active' investors are regularly prompted about making further investments. Investment performance is regularly communicated to them. The MFs logic: why wake up the dormant investor with details concerning investments when these details may make him reconsider the investments?


All said and done, Sebi's new disclosure norms are welcome even though they could do with some tweaking. For instance, Sebi could have its own grievance redressal mechanism, which would be independent of MFs and akin to what Irda has done. A tight redressal deadline could be set to ensure that issues don't remain inordinately pending. Current data show that 96% of complaints are addressed within 90 days. Also, the category of complaints needs to be widened as far as reporting formats are concerned. Currently, Sebi mandates only 13 categories as compared to Irda's 50. Almost 49% of the MF investor complaints fall under the 'others' category, which needs proper unpacking.








London is ready to host mini Olympics-style games right now, two years away from the Olympics. Delhi, with less than two months to go for the opening of the Commonwealth Games, is in a mess, literally and figuratively. To the formidable technical and logistical challenges of getting the facilities ready in time has been added the task of cleaning up the financial act, with scams and scandals tumbling out every other day. As if the unedifying sight of the leaking stadia roofs was not enough, the charges of corruption and 'doctored' e-mails against the Organising Committee (OC) officials have started flying thick and fast. The public authorities have not been spared either for some shoddy work in building stadia and beautifying the city. The so-called 'world-class' facilities are still incomplete and have been found to be sub-standard or lacking in several respects. At least one of them, the swimming pool, has come in for adverse comments from the international federation's delegate. Low quality material and poor workmanship stick out at many a venue.


Extravagance had been the striking feature of Delhi's bid to host the Games. At the 2003 bid in Kingston, from offering free air passage, accommodation, and local transport to every member of a delegation to promising $100,000 to each participating country for training their athletes, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was set on a splurging spree. The overall costs shot up from an original estimate of Rs.655 crore to the present Rs.11,490 crore, with the Delhi government expected to spend another Rs.17,000 crore. The promise of the OC to reimburse the government the organisational expenditure that could cross Rs.2,400 crore sounds rather hollow. The projected revenue is nowhere in sight, though IOA President and Chairman of the Organising Committee Suresh Kalmadi is sticking to his optimistic calculations. Even allowing for some cutting of procedural corners in the hurry to complete the facilities, the outlandish figures being quoted as hiring charges for air conditioners, treadmills, and chairs can only heighten the revulsion among the tax-paying public. Attempts at damage control through the new enquiry committee notwithstanding, with every passing day Mr. Kalmadi's position is becoming more and more untenable. With the deadlines long past, the government needs to show a greater resoluteness in the task of completing the facilities in the very short time left, and in starting enquiries to bring to book the perpetrators of the multiple scams, evidence of which is pouring out. The present Organising Committee has shown itself to be unequal to both these tasks







The European Parliament's decision to end the import of illegally harvested timber and timber products into EU member countries from 2012 is a welcome step towards better protection of the world's forests. Considering that an estimated 20 per cent of the wood coming into the European Union is felled in violation of the laws of the source country, the new rules that require the importers to document the chain of supply and the authorities to conduct periodic inspections are a major improvement on existing regulations that rely on certification in the country of origin. The importers will now have to identify the source of supply at every level. This provision ensures or enables transparency, traceability, and verification. The move to ban illegal timber could not have come sooner. There is grave concern for the forests in the Amazon, in several African countries, in Asia, and also in Russia, as rising consumption has contributed to massive deforestation. It is worth recalling that the State of the World's Forests 2009 forecast continuing deforestation in Asian countries, in Africa, and in Latin America owing to pressure for agricultural land, cultivation of biofuel crops, and higher consumer demand. It is significant, therefore, that the EU has struck a blow for forest protection with a law that makes import of timber obtained illegally a punishable offence. The national governments have been given time to legislate penalties for violations of the law.


A more aggressive international regime to save old-growth, biodiversity-rich forests from environmentally unsustainable logging is top priority. United Nations estimates put the share of industrial wood coming from illegal sources in the range of 20-40 per cent of the total. In some countries such as Liberia, the proceeds of such destructive commerce have been used to fund armed conflict. In the case of Madagascar, the military-compelled resignation last year of President Marc Ravalomanana has exposed pristine forests to felling. It is encouraging that the United States, which receives a lot of the illegal wood from this naturally unique island, has used the Lacey Act (which has objectives similar to the new EU measure) to prosecute importers. Preservation of forests is also central to the campaign against climate change. Here, the U.N.-mediated effort to create a compensation mechanism for countries that adopt conservation measures is a good way forward. With sufficient international legal cooperation to curb unlawful trade and a parallel mechanism to reward sincere national governments, it should be possible to make destruction of forests less and less attractive.










Whatever his other failings, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah deserves praise for acknowledging that the protests which have rocked the Kashmir valley these past few weeks are 'leaderless' and not the product of manipulation by some hidden individual or group.


This admission has been difficult for the authorities to make because its implications are unpleasant, perhaps even frightening. In security terms, the absence of a central nervous system means the expanding body of protest cannot be controlled by arresting individual leaders. And in political terms, the spectre of leaderless revolt makes the offer of 'dialogue' or the naming of a 'special envoy' for Kashmir — proposals which might have made sense last year or even last month — seem completely and utterly pointless today.


Ever since the current phase of disturbances began, intelligence officials have been wasting precious time convincing the leadership and public of India that the protests are solely or mostly the handiwork of agent provocateurs. So we have been told of the role of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and ISI, of the 'daily wage of Rs. 200' — and even narcotics — being given to stone pelters. A few weeks back, an audio recording of a supposedly incriminating telephone call was leaked to the media along with a misleading transcript suggesting the Geelani faction of the Hurriyat was behind the upsurge. Now, our TV channels have "learned" from their "sources" that the protests will continue till President Obama's visit in November.


Central to this delusional narrative of manipulated protest is the idea that the disturbances are confined to just a few pockets in the valley. Last week, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters the problem was limited to Srinagar and two other towns. No doubt, some areas like downtown Srinagar, Sopore and Baramulla were in the 'vanguard' but one of the reasons the protests spread was popular frustration over the way in which the authenticity of mass sentiment was being dismissed by the government. For the women who came on to the streets with their pots and pans and even stones, or the youths who set up spontaneous blood donation camps to help those injured in the demonstrations, this attempt to strip their protest of both legitimacy and agency was yet another provocation.


In the face of this mass upsurge, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has two options. He can declare, like the party apparatchiks in Brecht's poem, that since the people have thrown away the confidence of the government, it is time for the government to dissolve the people and elect another. Or he can admit, without prevarication or equivocation, that his government has thrown away the confidence of the ordinary Kashmiri.


This was not the way things looked in January 2009, when Omar Abdullah became chief minister. Assembly elections had gone off well. And though turnout in Srinagar and other towns was low, there was goodwill for the young leader. Of course, those who knew the state well had warned the Centre not to treat the election as an end in itself. The 'masla-e-Kashmir' remained on the table and the people wanted it resolved. Unfortunately, the Centre failed to recognise this.


It is too early to gauge the reaction to Mr. Abdullah's promise of a "political package" once normalcy is restored. But the people have thronged the streets are likely to ask why this package — which the chief minister himself admitted was "long in the pipeline" — was never delivered for all the months normalcy prevailed. What came in the way of amending the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act? Of ensuring there was zero tolerance for human rights violations? Of strengthening the "ongoing peace process both internally and externally", as the all-party meeting in Srinagar earlier this month reminded the Centre to do?


At the heart of this missing package is the Centre's failure to craft a new security and political strategy for a situation where militancy no longer poses the threat it once did. The security forces in the valley continue to operate with an expansive mandate that is not commensurate with military necessity. Even if civilian deaths are less than before, the public's capacity to tolerate 'collateral damage' when it is officially said that militancy has ended and normalcy has returned is also much less than before.


The immediate trigger for the current phase of protests was the death of 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo, who was killed by a tear gas canister which struck his head during a protest in Srinagar in June against the Machhil fake encounter of April 30. Many observers have blamed his death — and the deaths of other young men since then — on the security forces lacking the training and means for non-lethal crowd control. Tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon are used all over the world in situations where protests turn violent but in India, live ammunition seems to be the first and only line of defence. Even tear gas canisters are so poorly designed here that they lead to fatalities.


Whatever the immediate cause, however, it is also safe to say that young Tufail died as a direct result of Machhil. Though the Army has arrested the soldiers responsible for the fake encounter, the only reason they had the nerve to commit such a heinous crime was because they were confident they would get away with it. And at the root of that confidence is Pathribal, the notorious fake encounter of 2000. The army officers involved in the kidnapping and murder of five Kashmiri civilians there continue to be at liberty despite being charge-sheeted by the CBI. The Ministry of Defence has refused to grant sanction for their prosecution and has taken the matter all the way to the Supreme Court in an effort to ensure its men do not face trial. What was the message that went out as a result?


Had the Centre made an example of the rotten apples that have spoiled the reputation of the Army instead of protecting them all these years, the Machhil encounter might never have happened. Tufail would not be dead and angry mobs would not be attacking police stations and government buildings. Impunity for the few has directly endangered the lives of all policemen and paramilitary personnel stationed in Kashmir. There is a lesson in this, surely, for those who say punishing the guilty will lower the morale of the security forces.


Mr. Abdullah may not be the best administrator but his biggest handicap as chief minister has been the Centre's refusal to address the ordinary Kashmiri's concerns about the over-securitsation of the state. Today, when he is being forced to induct an even greater number of troops into the valley, the Chief Minister's ability to push for a political package built around demilitarisation is close to zero.


At the Centre's urging, Mr. Abdullah made a televised speech to his people. His words do not appear to have made any difference. Nor could they, when the crisis staring us in the face is of national and international proportions. Today, the burden of our past sins in Kashmir has come crashing down like hailstones. Precious time is being frittered in thinking of ways to turn the clock back. Sending in more forces to shoot more protesters, changing the chief minister, imposing Governor's Rule — all of these are part of the reliquary of failed statecraft. We are where we are because these policies never worked.


The Prime Minister can forget about the Commonwealth Games, AfPak and other issues. Kashmir is where his leadership is urgently required. The Indian state successfully overcame the challenge posed by terrorism and militancy. But a people in ferment cannot be dealt with the same way. Manmohan Singh must take bold steps to demonstrate his willingness to address the grievances of ordinary Kashmiris. He should not insult their sentiments by talking of economic packages, roundtable conferences and all-party talks. He should unreservedly express regret for the deaths that have occurred these past few weeks. He should admit, in frankness and humility, the Indian state's failure to deliver justice all these years. And he should ask the people of Kashmir for a chance to make amends. There is still no guarantee the lava of public anger which is flowing will cool. But if he doesn't make an all-out effort to create some political space today, there is no telling where the next eruption in the valley will take us.









Presented with a chance to make history, the Press Council of India has made a mess instead. The PCI has simply buckled at the knees before the challenge of "Paid News." Its decision of July 30 to sideline its own sub-committee's report — which named and shamed the perpetrators of "paid news" — will go down as one of the sorriest chapters in its history. A chapter that will not be forgotten and the impact of which causes immeasurable damage to the fight against major corruption within the Indian media. A chapter that saw the PCI back down in the struggle against the suborning of the media by money power; though its "final report" pretends to fight it in a flood of platitudes. And a chapter that does grave damage to the image and credibility of the PCI itself. Leave aside for the moment the harm it has done to the public interest. Or to the future of the Indian media as a free and honest institution.


Tragically, the Chairperson of the Press Council who firmly supported the exposure of the paid news offenders was outgunned by a very powerful publishers' lobby. The latter had its way by a slim majority. Justice G.N. Ray was all along for the sub-committee report (which named and shamed the guilty) being annexed to the "final" one. He now finds himself saddled with an "official" position that was not his but which he must defend as his own.


No scandal has rocked the Indian media more in recent decades than that of paid news. Most of all when it emerged during the last Lok Sabha and subsequent Maharashtra polls that hundreds of crores of rupees had been spent to buy "news" in large dailies and television channels. Major parties and candidates overshot poll spending limits many times over on this one expense alone. It was and remains a nauseating form of corruption. As Vice-President Hamid Ansari so succinctly put it, paid news not only undoes the basis of a fair and balanced press, it undermines the democratic electoral process in a profound way.


Outrage grew over the idea of the media acting as extortionists — the very term that many a candidate used to describe the practice of "paid news" during the last Lok Sabha polls. Indeed, a few top politicians complained of it in those terms. The political class did not, as some imagine, go out and "seduce" the media. The media went out and sought "package deals" with them whereby they forked out huge sums of money — or were simply blanked out of the coverage of the paper or channel. The "selling" points were: this way, you can spend as much as you like and not get caught by the Election Commission of India for mocking the spending limit. This way, you are able to take your campaign to millions of voters — for millions of rupees. You can also have your opponent blanked out — or trashed, if you pay that little extra. And neither you nor we attract the taxman's knock on this all-cash transaction.


Acting promptly at the time, the Press Council of India suo moto set up a sub-committee to probe the phenomenon of paid news. The two-member sub-committee of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K. Sreenivas Reddy produced a devastating report (see The Hindu April 22, 2010). One that observed all the norms and ethics you could demand of such an exercise. It did not carry a single allegation without full attribution. It took no recourse to "sting" journalism, going for a thorough inquiry instead. It spared no effort to obtain the responses of the groups accused of playing the paid news game. Laying the charges squarely before them, it gave them ample right of — and space to — reply. It recorded depositions from scores of individuals. In one instance, a media organisation apologised for what it had done. In another, a candidate from Andhra Pradesh placed on record the results of his own "sting" operation against a major media group. Some of these depositions were in the form of affidavits.


The sub-committee finds passing mention in the "final" report. Its outstanding effort stands reduced to a footnote (yes, a footnote) in that report. The footnote says the sub-committee's report "may remain on the record of the Council as a reference document." That's right. It goes to the archive. There is no sign of this "reference document" on the website of the Press Council. This is the standard the PCI sets for the Indian media?


And so a "full" drafting committee got to work on a "final" report. Over the months since the scandal hit the fan, some members of the PCI — mainly those representing media owners — worked to scuttle the explosive original report. They had two basic issues with it. First: Why name names? Why get into the ugliness of that? Fascinating, at a time when the media are baying for names and blood on the corruption in the Commonwealth Games scam. So firstly, we now have a double standard: exposure for corruption in the Games, privacy for it within the media. Secondly, they fiercely opposed any reference to the Working Journalists Act. In this, they acted as owners and employers. Not as members of the PCI guarding the integrity of the press and its standards.


Both these issues have been ruthlessly purged from the final report. And one more has been gutted. So, there is not a single name of any of the known offenders. The practitioners of paid news get away without public exposure. Secondly, all references to The Working Journalists Act have been erased. This despite the fact that the sabotage of that Act by the use of the contract employment system has played a major role in curbing the independence of journalists, forcing them to toe the management line. Again, reduced to a footnote — the only other one in the report. This reads: "It also decided that the issue of strengthening the Working Journalists Act be taken up separately."


Thirdly, the system of "private treaties" is dismissed in two sentences. Never mind their role in setting the stage for paid news. One of those sentences simply says this was "brought to the notice" of the PCI by the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI). Private Treaties were the subject of discussion long before SEBI's excellent letter to the PCI (see The Hindu June 19, 2010). Surely, the SEBI letter ought to have been an annexure to the report?


The authors of the sub-committee report were willing to have their extraordinary effort attached as an annexure to the "final." However odd the idea, at least that way it could see the light of day. But even that was quashed.


The differences between the full report of the sub-committee and the "final" report of the Press Council are many. The first (36,000 words) was based on painstaking investigation, inquiry, research, interviews and depositions. The second (less than 3,600 words) was based on hot air. In fact, little more than a group of people gutting an inquiry they did not work on and did not want. Any substance it has is drawn from the original. For instance, the section on recommendations. The rest is a heavily-watered down, crudely amputated version of the real thing. Worse, this censorship carries the stigma of a very questionable vested interest: to conceal the names and identities of the main practitioners of paid news from the general public. Thus a body entrusted with "Preserving the freedom of the Press and improving the standards of press in India" has set an appalling standard. The guardian of press freedom stands as an arbitrary censor of truthful journalism. It has acted less like the "watchdog of the press" that its ideals call for. And more like the lapdog of the powerful media owners who stood to be exposed by the report of its own sub-committee. Indeed, the first signal of the PCI's action is to those powerful forces: don't worry, you're safe. We've fixed that.


To say we have not suppressed the sub-committee's report, we have merely relegated it to our archive for reference, is to add infuriating insult to injury. To praise the authors of the original (as happened in its July 30 meeting) for their effort and then gut the result of that pioneering work, was hypocrisy of a high order. To then present the mangled remains as a guide to fighting paid news eclipses even that benchmark of insincerity. The public surely deserve better. Those publications and channels that were not part of this ugly enterprise of paid news ought to act. For a start, they can put up the "reference" document on their websites and call public attention to it with headlines, not footnotes.









Reprising a legendary 1985 National Geographic cover, this week's Time magazine cover girl is another beautiful young Afghan woman. But this time there is a gaping hole where her nose used to be before it was cut off under Taliban direction. A stark caption reads: "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan". A careful editorial insists the image is not shown "either in support of the U.S. war effort or in opposition to it". The stated intention is to counterbalance the damaging WikiLeaks revelations — 91,000 documents that, Time believes, cannot provide "emotional truth and insight into the way life is lived in that difficult land".


Feminists have long argued that invoking the condition of women to justify occupation is a cynical ploy, and

the Time cover already stands accused of it. Interestingly, the WikiLeaks documents reveal CIA advice to use the plight of Afghan women as "pressure points", an emotive way to rally flagging public support for the war.


Misogynist violence is unacceptable, but we must also be concerned by the continued insistence that the complexities of war, occupation and reality itself can be reduced to bedtime stories. Time is not alone in condensing Afghan reality into simplistic morality tales. A deplorable number of recent works habituate us to thinking about Afghanistan as what the U.K. Defence Minister Liam Fox called a "broken 13th-century country", defined solely by pathologically violent men and silently brutalised women.


While Afghans have been silenced and further disempowered by being reduced to objects of western chastisement, a recent judgment against Asne Seierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul has raised the possibility of challenging distortions. Based on her stay in the eponymous protagonist's home, Ms. Seierstad's memoir uses offensive commercial language to describe ordinary marital negotiations and refers to female characters as "the burka". The tone implies even the most anti-Taliban Afghan men are irredeemably vicious patriarchs. Predictably, some critical reaction deemed Afghanistan a "horrible society".


While there exists a colonial tradition of relegating the non-West to the past of the West — and some suggest leaving it to rot in hopelessness — the trendier option involves incorporating Afghans into modernity by teaching them to live in a globalised present. In non-fiction bestsellers such as Deborah Rodriguez's Kabul Beauty School, an American woman teaches Afghan women the intricacies of hair colour, sexiness, and resisting oppression. "To all appearances, there is no sex life in Afghanistan," writes Ms. Rodriguez, obsessed — like Ms. Seierstad — with the nuptial habits of Afghans. Sex and the City in the Middle East may have tanked as a movie, but as ideology it has displaced meaningful global feminism.


Acceptable Afghan-American voices such as Khaled Hosseini ( The Kite Runner) and Awista Ayub ( Kabul Girls Soccer Club) reiterate the notion that suburban America can "infuse" Afghans with freedom. Formulaic narratives are populated by tireless western humanitarians, sex-crazed polygamous paedophiles (most Afghan men) and burka-clad "child-women" who are broken in body and spirit or have just enough doughtiness to be scripted into a triumphal Hollywood narrative. The real effects of the Nato occupation, including the worsening of many women's lives under the lethally violent combination of old patriarchal feudalism and new corporate militarism are rarely discussed.


The mutilated Afghan woman ultimately fills a symbolic void where there should be ideas for real change. The

truth is that the U.S. and allied regimes do not have anything substantial to offer Afghanistan beyond feeding the gargantuan war machine they have unleashed. And how could they? In the affluent West itself, modernity is now about dismantling welfare systems, increasing inequality (disproportionately disenfranchising women in the process), and subsidising corporate profits. Other ideas once associated with modernity — social justice, economic fairness, peace, all of which would enfranchise Afghan women — have been relegated to the past in the name of progress. This bankrupt version of modernity has little to offer Afghans other than bikini waxes and Oprah-imitators. A radical people's modernity is called for — and not only for the embattled denizens of Afghanistan. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010


(Priyamvada Gopal teaches postcolonial studies at Cambridge University, England.)








Earlier this week, the census of marine life was published, concluding that there are more than 230,000 species in our oceans. And for every marine species known to science, at least four have yet to be discovered.


For the layperson, two questions spring to mind. First, how on earth do you count all those fish? Second, how

can scientists put a number on what Dick Cheney would call the "known unknowns"? Dr. Tom Webb, a marine ecologist at the University of Sheffield, northern England, who worked on the census, says different methods are used to count marine species, but that it "often will come down to some poor bloke in a lab counting things" — molluscs in mud samples, plankton in seawater samples. "For species in the North Sea we will use trawl surveys from the fishing industry," he says. "With coral reefs in, say, Fiji we will use visual surveys conducted by divers, who simply count what they see in front of them. Scientists might also conduct their own fishing expeditions to collect invertebrates. And we might even use a sieve to sort through samples of mud from the sea bed. We then extrapolate from this tiny portion of the sea what the whole ocean might contain." When it comes to estimating how many species are yet to be discovered, Dr. Webb says scientists use a technique called "rarefaction": "Imagine a garden pond. When you first put the net in everything will be new to you, but the second time you do it, you will have already seen some of the species from your first trawl. Your rate of discovery will keep on declining over time. In the deep oceans, we still have a one-in-three chance of discovering something new, whereas in the North Sea we are close to having a full understanding of all the species it supports." Perhaps that is because we have battered and served with chips just about everything we have found in the North Sea? — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








Two pedals, centimetres apart — one for acceleration and the other for brakes. For years, a Japanese inventor has argued that this most basic of car designs is dangerously flawed.


The side-by-side pedal arrangement, the inventor says, can cause drivers mistakenly to floor the accelerator instead of the brakes, especially under stress. The solution? A single pedal that accelerates the car when pressed with the side of the foot. More to the point, when the pedal is pushed down, it always activates the brakes.


"We have a natural tendency to stomp down when we panic," said the inventor, Masuyuki Naruse, who owns a small factory in southwest Japan. "The automakers call it driver error. But what if their design's all wrong?"


Mr. Naruse (74) is one of a handful of people who have designed combined brake-accelerator pedals in an effort to prevent accidents caused by unintended acceleration, which has come under a spotlight since charges that some Toyota vehicles accelerate without warning.


Regulators in Sweden are testing a single-pedal prototype by the inventor Sven Gustafsson. In Japan, about 130 cars equipped with Mr. Naruse's pedal, mostly owned by friends and acquaintances, have been declared street-legal, including Mr. Naruse's own Mitsubishi Diamante sedan. He holds patents for the Naruse (pronounced NAH—roo—say) Pedal in Japan, the United States and six other countries.


Toyota, which attributes reports of unintended acceleration to accelerator pedals that stick or get caught under floor mats, has recalled 8.5 million vehicles worldwide to address the problems.


It has also gently suggested that in some cases the driver might have been at fault.


Last month, it said that an internal investigation of 2,000 vehicles reported to have accelerated unintentionally found "pedal misapplication" in most cases, with drivers mistakenly pressing the accelerator instead of the brakes.


Ririko Takeuchi, a Tokyo-based spokeswoman for Toyota, said the company could not comment on Mr. Naruse's pedal design. But she said Toyota "listens to ideas we receive from the public, because we believe there's always room for improvement."


In 2009, nearly 6,700 traffic accidents involving 37 deaths and more than 9,500 injuries were thought to have been caused by drivers in Japan mistakenly pushing the accelerator instead of the brakes, said the Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis, a government affiliated group based in Tokyo.


Car safety specialists say it is likely that tens of thousands of crashes in the United States have also been caused by pedal errors. In an accident in Santa Monica, California, in 2003, a driver believed to have hit the wrong pedal killed 10 people when his car plunged into an outdoor market.


Since at least the 1980s, researchers have pointed to the propensity for drivers to press the accelerator instead of the brakes. In a 1989 study, Richard A. Schmidt, a psychologist now at the University of California, Los Angeles, described how disruptions to neuromuscular processes can cause the foot to deviate from the intended motion, even slipping from the brake to the accelerator. And when the car accelerates unexpectedly, Mr. Schmidt said, even experienced drivers can panic, "braking" even harder.


In experiments in Japan by Katsuya Matsunaga, an engineering and psychology specialist at Kyushu Sangyo University in Fukuoka City, drivers were asked to switch feet from the accelerator to the brakes on cue, at times while accompanied by startling noises. Subjects under stress sometimes hesitated or found it difficult to switch from one pedal to the other, he said.


The current standard pedal arrangement is a function of automotive evolution.


Drivers of Ford's 1908 Model T manoeuvred an accelerator lever on the steering column and three pedals: for shifting gears, reversing and braking. Over time, the advent of various manual and automatic transmissions has required different footwork.


Mr. Naruse's design is a unified pedal, shaped to accommodate the entire foot. On the right side is an accelerator bar. At any point, the driver can push down on the pedal to activate the brakes, while automatically releasing the accelerator bar. — New York Times News Service








The world of philanthropy got a huge financial boost on Wednesday as more than 30 American billionaires pledged to give away at least half of their fortunes to charitable causes, signing up to a campaign launched by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.


In an unprecedented mass commitment, top figures including New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg, the hotel heir Barron Hilton, CNN media mogul Ted Turner and the Star Wars director George Lucas lent their names to the "giving pledge", an initiative founded last month to encourage America's richest families to commit money to "society's most pressing problems".


The pledge is not a legally binding contract but is described as a moral commitment. Mr. Buffett, the legendary Nebraska-based financier known as the "sage of Omaha", welcomed the influx of support: "At its core, the giving pledge is about asking wealthy families to have important conversations about their wealth and how it will be used. We're delighted that so many people are doing that." He added that many of those involved were committing sums far greater than the 50 per cent minimum. Mr. Buffett himself is handing the vast bulk of his $47 billion fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is largely orientated towards tackling disease in developing countries.


Among those committing to give away money are the Oracle software tycoon Larry Ellison, the banker David Rockefeller and oilman T. Boone Pickens. The media entrepreneur Barry Diller is on the list along with his wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg.


There are also names from Wall Street and the hedge fund industry including David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle private equity group, and the financier Julian Robertson, plus a former Citigroup boss, Sandy Weill.


The pledge does not define any specific causes that the billionaires will target with their fortunes, and it does not involve all the individuals pooling their money. Instead, it will be left up to each individual to determine which endeavours they wish to fund.


The Hollywood director George Lucas said his chosen cause would be education: "My pledge is to the process; as long as I have the resources at my disposal, I will seek to raise the bar for future generations of students of all ages." New York's Mayor, who made his fortune in Bloomberg financial information terminals, said: "By giving, we inspire others to give of themselves, whether their money or their time." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









The ongoing spat between the home ministry and the Canadian company Research in Motion (RIM), the makers of the BlackBerry devices, throws up two disturbing issues. One, it exposes the limited capability of Indian government agencies in technology; and two, it raises the age-old issue of privacy versus security and the misuse of power. As the sovereign authority, there can be little doubt that the government has the right to eavesdrop to ensure public safety if the latter becomes a concern. Governments all over the world exercise this right. The Indian authorities invoking jurisdiction in this sphere suggests that the government will get to monitor BlackBerry devices, and if due access is denied by the company, RIM will have to wind up its Indian operations. It is unlikely that RIM will abandon the world's second largest telecom market completely. The likelihood then is that the company will be inclined to reach a compromise with the government.
But the question is why the government needs to approach a corporate entity in the first place. After all, governments in the United States or Britain have not sought to similarly pressure telecom companies although they are also targeted by terrorists and are just as security conscious as we are. The all-too-evident answer is that the US and Europe possess sophisticated infrastructure and the capability to monitor communications, with only minimal assistance needed from service providers for a wiretap. In India, even if the government gets its way with BlackBerry now, this might not always turn out to be the case. As companies grow and technology advances, the power of a government to enforce its writ by force reduces. Consider, for instance, the US government's response to 90,000 classified documents recently put up on the Internet by WikiLeaks. It could do nothing to check the whistleblower platform. The kind of issue that has cropped up with BlackBerry today can easily surface in future with newer technology. Force will not always be an option, and banning a new technology won't be a solution. The only long-term answer to such a conundrum is for the Indian government to develop its own dedicated cyber capabilities to tackle security-related imperatives that may arise in future. A nation that claims to be an IT superpower would do well to sharpen its response technologically.
An issue of no less significance is that of protecting individual privacy. There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest frequent unauthorised wiretapping by official agencies in India. Media offices and other entities are often targeted by these agencies that like to listen in on private conversations. Prosecution for illegal tapping is almost non-existent in this country. Indeed, even the legal phone-tapping process leaves much to be desired. A clearance from the home ministry is all that is needed to tap phones. While this may be fine for a totalitarian regime, the world's largest democracy needs to be conscious about the need for a more robust protection of individual rights. In the United States, for instance, judicial clearance is required for such an operation. This crucial aspect is absent in India, permitting official agencies too great a latitude even in the exercise of their legitimate functions if they choose to listen in on conversations of ordinary citizens, inconvenient political functionaries, or business figures. It does not take expertise in cyber laws to demand that special courts need to be set up to vet government authorisation for whimsicality or foul play. A mandate to ensure public safety can never be permitted to be an excuse for the government to become an intrusive Big Brother. India then needs to develop appropriate legal mechanisms to ensure safeguards for its citizens while it develops technological capabilities to monitor telecommunication networks in the interest of public safety.








It is a cliché to say that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is complex and that Kashmir is burning. But this is true also. The situation today is the result of political mismanagement, indifference and lessons not learnt over past few years after the security forces had brought the situation under control.

The troubles that erupted during the 2008 Amarnath yatra should have provided some lessons, but these were lost in the congratulatory mood that followed the largely successful state elections in early 2009. The fact that the separatist was alive was reflected in the low turnout in Anantnag, Sopore and Srinagar, but was glossed over. Hartals and infiltration increased immediately after the elections.

What is happening today is the result of political naivete, inexperience and indifference in Srinagar, accompanied by complacency and indecision in New Delhi, with Pakistan taking advantage of this without having to reveal its hand. Today it has become a people's protest movement using stones, insults and anti-Indian slogans as weapons, with separatists operating alongside. The protest movement is not like Gandhian civil disobedience. It is against a constitutionally elected government and is not non-violent. Omar Abdullah, the young chief minister, is considered remote and aloof from his people, and thus unable to strike a chord with the ordinary Kashmiri. New Delhi has been reading the signals of increased tourist traffic and declining rates of terrorist attacks as a sign of an improving situation.

The basic lesson is that sometimes the number of terrorist attacks decline because the terrorists choose not to attack and not necessarily as a result of counter-terror efforts. Yet it was apparent that from early this year that the tactics had changed. Aware that terrorist tactics were becoming increasingly unacceptable in the West, a people's revolt led by unarmed locals (with Pakistani agents provocateur lurking in the background) was the answer. This would bring the Kashmir issue back to the frontburner without resorting to terrorist violence.
Possibly the intention is to continue the protests until the government caves in and the CM has to go. Then the tactics would be repeated with the next CM, until the state becomes ungovernable. In many ways, we have a more sympathetic response from the West today on the issue of terrorism. But this needn't necessarily translate into total support on how we handle the Kashmir issue. We must not forget that the United States needed Pakistan when it began its campaign in Afghanistan in 2001, and needs it more now that it plans to leave.
The questions then are: what next, and how?

New Delhi has to ensure the continuity of the present elected government, with the present CM in position. It must be seen to be supporting the CM to ensure that his authority or that of the State in Srinagar does not get eroded. Judging from the unhelpful attitude of the other main party in Kashmir, People's Democratic Party, there is little hope that it will place long-term national interests above short-term narrow electoral gains.
The most difficult problem is how to douse the flames in the context of large angry protesting crowds. A mere show of force or its use will produce some results, but this is not the only solution. India cannot afford a Tiananmen Square. The protesters' tactics must be turned against them. Their means of communication, propaganda and incitement should be disrupted. Take pre-emptive measures to prevent the assembly of large gatherings. It is a war of attrition that has to be fought, not simply one set-piece battle. And none of this is easy, nor can it be achieved overnight.

The battle for hearts and minds is very complicated and nuanced. The terrorists, who never fully went away from the Valley, have used ideology, fear and coercion to win support for their cause. The paradox is that for the security forces to win hearts and minds, there has to some stability and the area liberated of malcontents and insurgents. Force is required to restore order, which will ine vitably draw am adverse reaction from the local population. This in turn will be exploited by the terrorists. This vicious circle needs to be broken now.
Force has to be used to control the situation in the short term, but there is no magic formula to determine exactly how much force is required. Much depends on the nature and availability of the force in question, on how well trained and equipped it is, and above all on the ingenuity of its leader. Troops coming face to face with angry mobs always mean a hair-trigger situation: the forces will only be able to answer with its weapons as it has no other mandate. Yet, having failed to control the situation itself, the political class and civil administration invariably seeks to blame the forces for the deaths that follow their deployment. Suspensions, transfers, courts of inquiry are announced in the heat of battle damage morale like nothing else can. It is far better at such moments to observe public solidarity and resort to private reprimand. Besides, an outside force will always have the disadvantage of lack of knowledge about the population, its customs and traditions. The state police is on the other hand usually far too frightened to take on locals for fear of reprisals.

Finally, we must treat Pakistan differently from how we treat Kashmiris. The latter perceive they have a problem while the former intrudes as the problem. Pakistan is the adversary, Kashmiris are not. Pakistan as a self-imposed interested party will seek to prolong and not solve the problem, just as it has not helped the Americans in Afghanistan. If we keep saying this is an internal matter, then we must engage Kashmir's elected representatives in a continuous dialogue, listen to what they say and not just hear them out. We must make people like Ali Shah Geelani irrelevant, and refuse to give importance to those like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq who say openly on television that they are scared of the consequences of talking to New Delhi. Unless these elements are put to pasture, they will keep reinventing themselves under guidance from Pakistan.
There are no easy options and no quick solutions. Above all, what must be done is to restore the authority of the state government. It will not happen overnight; it will need a lot of patience, fortitude and luck to restore normality and then begin to address grievances — some real, and some not so real.


Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency








Despite the India Meteorological Department's br ave pronouncements, the monso on this year is looking to be as dist u rbed as it was last year. A disturbed mo nsoon has a direct correlation wi th a deficit in food production. Th is happened last year and in all li kelihood will happen again this year unless the monsoon in north India picks up immediately. These weather uncertainties are being attributed to climate change, a result of an t h ropogenic or manmade factors. The anticipated changes in climate and its impact on agriculture and food production are of great concern to tropical countries like India. The developing countries in the tropics are less able to adapt and are more susceptible to climate ch a n ge damage than the temperate cou n tries, many of which will be beneficiaries.

There is a broad consensus that tropical areas are slated to see an expansion of arid zones. This will be accompanied by a contraction of 31-51 million ha of favourable cultivation areas and a significant reduction in food production in the most vulnerable areas where population density is high and food already scarce. Nearly one billion affected people live in these vulnerable environments, dependent on agriculture. These vulnerable populations have limited capacity to protect themselves from the environmental hazards that will accompany climate change, like drought and floods, and will suffer most from land degradation and biodiversity loss.

The Polluter gets Paid

Climate related impacts on food production will be geographically unevenly distributed. In a perverse irony, the developed (industrialised) countries will experience an increase in agriculture productivity potential as temperate regions get warmer. The regions which because of their industrialisation and huge emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are responsible for the climate change phenomenon will actually end up being its beneficiaries with respect to food production. On the other hand, today's developing world in the tropics, which has not contributed to creating this climate hazard, will be its worst victim, and will suffer a loss in agriculture prod uctivity, with serious consequences for food availability and hunger.

About 40 poor and food-insecure countries, with a projected total population (in 2080) of one to three billion, will lose 10-20 per cent of their cereal-production potential. Of these, Africa will be the worst affected followed by South Asia. Crop production losses as a result of climate change could further worsen the prevalence and depth of hu n g er. This burden will fall disproportionately on the poorest. To compound the damage, the overall trend of reduced food production will create market imbalances, which will push up int e rnational prices, making it even mo re difficult for governments of food scarce countries to access food for their poor.
According to estimates, a little less than half the production potential in certain developing countries could be lost. In South Asia, the biggest blow to food production is expected to come from the loss of multiple cropping zones. The worst affected areas are predicted to be the double and triple cropping areas like Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh from where the surplus grain for our buffer stock comes. This means areas where two to three crops are produced in a year and which are predicted to turn into single crop zones, where only one crop can be taken in a year because the rest of the season will be too hot and dry for cultivation.


Coping with wheat loss

For South Asia, particularly India, one of the most serious impacts is anticipated in wheat production. Wheat is the single largest winter crop of north India and states like Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh produce the surplus wheat that goes into the PDS. Wheat is a particularly temperature sensitive crop and it has been estimated that for every one degree rise in temperature, wheat producing areas in India and South Asia will lose about four to five million tonnes of production. This will have a cascading ef f ect on food for the poor.
The immediate challenge is to find a substitute for wheat as the dominant winter crop for north India and other parts where wheat is cultivated. Tubers like potato, can be part of the solution. These could fill the shortfall to some extent but the cereal deficit will have to be made up by some other cereal. Corn could be suitable as a supplementary crop and a partial wheat replacement. Millets are as yet an unexplored option and have not been assessed for potential. Although millets typically grow during the summer in Asia, there are also several millet types which are cultivated at high altitude. Such millet germplasm could form the basis of developing new varieties suited for cultivation during the winter season of a changed, warmer climate regime.

The ability of a country to cope with the impact of climate change on agriculture will depend on a number of factors. The total amount of arable land and available water resources will be critical determinants of the ability of regions to adapt to the changes brought by a warming world. Apart from land, the availability of water could bec o me a critical limiting factor. For ins t ance, the impact of global wa r ming on the Tibetan plateau and Him al a yan glaciers will affect the 10 or so main rivers like the Indus, the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Br ahmaputra that come out of there and flow into China, India, Paki s t an, Bangladesh and Burma. Harne s s ing these river waters as the ice ca ps and Himalayan glaciers recede and the water flow in rivers di m i nishes, will need skilful diplomatic negotiations so that river wat e rs can be shared in such a manner as to en s ure that requirements of agricultu re are met in all affected countries.

India has technical skills in agriculture and a sophisticated farming community capable of combining indigenous knowledge with recent scientific advances. The country is rich in biodiversity and community experiences from div e r se agro ecological zones offer a nu m ber of options to find solutions. All this would enable the agriculture of the region to cope with clim ate change impacts provided a comprehensive and effective policy res ponse is put into action right away.


n Dr Suman Sahai, a genetic scientist who has served on thefaculty of the Universities of Chicago and Heidelberg, isconvenor of the Gene Campaign








It's not clear why Indians lose all sense of proportion when they play to the gallery.


One such unseemly pow-pow happened in Mumbai on Tuesday, when builder-educationist Akhtar Hasan Rizvi piled into president Obama's special envoy to the Organisation of Islamic Conference, Rashad Hussain.


Rizvi lambasted the US for everything under the Sun — from the birth of terrorism to the Palestinian crisis to nuclear weapons.


He concluded with this bombast: "First, right the wrongs that


you have created if you want to establish peace in this world."


The audacity of his observations and discourteousness to a guest is truly staggering. Sure, the US has committed many sins during its rise to sole superpower status, but surely this is not unheard of in the world of power politics. In the heyday of Islamic power and the caliphates, the rulers must have committed their share of sins. Nobody, not least Mr Rizvi, will be calling them to account for that. But the US is everyone's favourite whipping boy.


It is particularly unfortunate since Rashad Hussain's mission is to reach out to Muslims all over the world and establish the Obama administration's efforts to open a dialogue and end misunderstandings.


Rizvi has done this country a disservice by his discourteous behaviour. His captive audience may have clapped, but Rizvi hasn't achieved much with his boorish belligerence.







The skeletons are tumbling out of the Organising Committee (OC) of the Commonwealth Games faster than one can count them.


It has been found that an Indian-owned London organisation was paid an indecent amount for the Baton relay function in which president Pratibha Patil and Queen Elizabeth participated.


OC chairman Suresh Kalmadi tried to shrug it off saying that they followed the suggestions of the Indian high commission there. It turns out that the e-mails meant to back his assertions were doctored. Then there is also the infamous case of treadmills being hired at 10 times the price at which you could buy them at the local fitness equipment shop.


The amount spent in renovating stadia in New Delhi is astronomical. It would seem that with a few thousand crores of rupees you could build new, state-of-the-art stadia, instead of making over existing ones.


The distressing fact is that in spite of the spendthrift ways of Kalmadi and his colleagues, much of the work remains to be completed; what has been done is shabby.


Kalmadi has assumed, the practised impresario that he is, that this is not the time to count pennies and that things have to be done in a grand manner.


Money does not matter as long as the show dazzles. That's what he has been promising, but a look around the national capital does not inspire much confidence. It is this expensive and expansive shoddiness that is riling people more than anything else.


Some people argue that it is more important to ensure that the games are conducted successfully. If there have been instances of corruption and mishandling, there is time enough to look into them after the event.


India's prestige in the international arena is at stake and, therefore, the accusations being hurled all round about malpractices is ill-timed. This is a bad argument.


The games should go on and those who have messed it all up should be taken to task immediately. They are two different issues and can be pursued simultaneously.







There has been outrage over the raid on a farmhouse party conducted by the Pune district police last Sunday.


Almost 500 young people were detained overnight and 81 arrested. Their crime: attending a party. To make the raid legitimate, the party-goers were accused of drinking without a permit.


While there is no question there is a legal violation here, one wonders if this is not another case of moral policing gone overboard. A permit may be needed to drink, but this is a requirement honoured more in the breach.


Our policemen seem to be more conscious about curbing minor transgressions by students than violent crimes happening elsewhere.


Senior retired police officers and lawyers have protested the actions of the police, who seem to have tried to kill a cockroach with an AK-47 in this case.


Readers will remember the case of a woman in Mumbai who was arrested from her house late in the night because she was listening to music and drinking a glass of wine a few months ago. That the police should invade a citizen's private space on some spurious suspicion is dangerous and some checks and balances are necessary here.


Of course, the Pune raid really begs the bigger question: is this the most pressing problem the police have to deal with? Young people having a party to celebrate Friendship Day? If the music was too loud, they could have asked them to turn it down.


Dragging them all to jail for a night is not just excessive, it is ridiculous. The police found no evidence of drugs at the site so they cannot even pull that chestnut out of their bag of excuses. Only last week, one woman was discovered murdered in a Pune suburb - one more in a string of such incidents targeting working women. Surely some perspective is needed here?


Unfortunately, the laws being what they are, the police in Maharashtra and elsewhere will continue with these "raids" and impose their idea of morality on an unsuspecting populace.


With a rising crime rate, increasing incidences of rape, and the constant threat from terrorists, raids such as these are just smoke and mirrors to deflect the attention of the people from what they are not doing: their job.









There is a certain irony to the problems that the makers of the smart phone BlackBerry face with security agencies in India, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.


Governments in all three countries have invoked, with varying degrees of modulation, the prospect of a ban on some or all of BlackBerry's wireless communication services unless the company addresses their national security concerns.


Evidently, BlackBerry's end-to-end security in data transmission, including its use of elliptic-curve cryptography, is considered so foolproof that governments fear it could pose a serious security threat if anti-nationals sign on for BlackBerry services while planning and perpetrating their dark deeds.


These governments are now pressing for access to BlackBerry customers' encrypted messaging and email data as the price for the company operating in their rapidly growing telecom markets.


The irony is this: until a few years ago, BlackBerry faced a ban by some national security organisations on the grounds that its data transmission services were not secure enough!


Indicatively, the French defence secretariat banned BlackBerry use in the offices of the president and the prime minister because, it argued, there was a risk of interception of emails and voice calls routed through BlackBerry servers in Canada and the UK. French oil giant Total too 'banned' the BlackBerry, noting sniffily that there were plenty of perfectly good alternatives.


BlackBerry makers Research In Motion endeavoured valiantly to establish that their encryption technology was of a vastly superior order. So persuasive were they that they won over many customers — including, significantly, US government departments (including the FBI) and politicians — who were entirely convinced of the robustness of the platform's security.


BlackBerry's biggest break-out moment came at a time of national crisis in the US following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Cellular phone services in the lower Manhattan area were knocked out or were jammed following the attack on the Twin Towers; and of those trapped in the buildings, only those with BlackBerrys could contact their relatives — and, more importantly, rescue workers — using the messaging service.


It was, again, the strength of its security platform that enabled it to become the world's most preferred corporate communication device, used by virtually all of the Fortune 500 companies. Over time, the device came to be identified as the ultimate office perk. Studies claimed that BlackBerry usage enhanced productivity —although it was also open to the criticism that it intruded on employees' downtime and kept them digitally tethered to the workplace.


Today, however, BlackBerry's security platform may have become too good for its own good. The very same failsafe security that counts as BlackBerry's core strength has become a 'liability' insofar as it's become the focus of attention of governments with a wary eye out for national security challenges. And by making some concessions earlier to Russia and China following similar articulations of concern from them, the company may now be on a slippery slope where it cannot brush off similar demands from other thriving telecom markets, including India.

BlackBerry today juggles three somewhat conflicting interests — protecting customers' data confidentiality, accommodating genuine national security concerns of governments, and its business compulsion to expand into new markets. Anyway you look at it, it's a tough call.








It's good to think green. For one, it's a pleasing colour. For another, it will help us lead better lives.


But thinking green has its costs. It has become a fad, with newspapers and TV channels devoting full pages and airtime to hector us on it. Green has, in short, become a religious belief system. If you are an environmental skeptic — as I am — they may not burn you at the stake, but that's only because it will contribute to global warming.


To be an eco-skeptic is not the same as being opposed to ecological sensitivity. But there is a difference between having sensible laws for ensuring clean air and water and trying to legislate changes to reduce global warming.


The former directly affects us. If we don't stop emptying putrid wastes into our rivers and water sources, our children will fall sick or even die. If we don't reduce automobile pollution, we are going to choke and fall prey to lung diseases. But if we hasten slowly on climate change, we are only going to get better solutions.


We need a two-speed ecological roadmap — a quick one for issues that directly affect us, and a slow one for problems that we can't possibly understand right now. I can't work up a lather over global warming. Even the eco-nuts haven't a clue on what to do about it.


There are four fundamental points to consider before we abandon eco-skepticism on issues like the hole in the ozone layer. First, evolution, and the role technology has played in it. Homo sapiens rose to predominance primarily by defying nature and harnessing technology. The ascent of man was predicated on the belief that nature can be tamed and forced to serve human ends.


Technological progress — from the invention of stone-age tools to agriculture to space missions and nuclear fission — has surely contributed to environmental degradation, but the same technology can be used to reverse the process.


So rather than ask humans to go back to the stone age to prevent ecological damage, we need to invest in technologies that can rectify this.


If greenhouse gases are causing a hole in the ozone layer, surely we can invent technologies to patch it up?


Second, the sheer growth of human population will not allow us to return to nature — however romantic the

idea sounds. With a population approaching seven billion, and with significant billions teetering on the edge of poverty in Asia and Africa, the green approaches of well-to-do Scandinavians will be completely different from that of dirt-poor Indians. We cannot feed our millions without some ecological damage. The focus should be on technology-driven solutions.


Example: we can't have another green revolution without genetically-modified (GM) seeds — howsoever risky that may be. We need fast agricultural growth in the shortest possible time, and we cannot afford to delay decisions on GM crops endlessly. We need to set up a transparent mechanism to do pilot projects, learn from them, and expand quickly once the results are acceptable. India can't be fed through organic farming alone. Sure, GM crops may have their downside. But so does eco-farming. Millions will die before we reach anywhere near self-sufficiency on the organic food front — assuming it is at all possible.









Headlines in newspapers these days portray a very dismal story. Whether it is illegal mining, the padayatra the Congress has undertaken to demand a CBI inquiry, a counter padayatra by the mining lords to shore up support.


Whether it is the story of a mining company giving licence to mine on the very day it was formed by the Chhattisgarh government or whether it is the manner in which sports administrators have dipped into the funds meant for Commonwealth Games, due to be staged in Delhi a few weeks from now, the sordid story is the same.


Everyone, whether it is a pure-play politician, a politician-businessman or a politician-sports administrator, seems to have made dipping into public money a full time occupation. Nothing unusual, one might argue. Corruption, after all, has been part of the mainstream in India for as long as one can remember. That is true but the scale to which this has risen, still has the capacity to shock.


Take, for instance, the stories one hears about the preparations for the Commonwealth Games. The extent of gold plating in every conceivable work for which tax payers' money was to be used is truly astounding. A treadmill rented at Rs10 lakh, chairs rented at Rs9,000. God knows what else was to be bought or rented out at an exorbitant price.


The casualty, of course, is not only the tax payer whose money was surely diverted; it is also the image of the country. The image that stays in the mind, like the discarded chewing gum that sticks to footwear, is that this country is incapable of doing anything right.


That may not be true at all. Many things get done in this country and it still has decent guys that are involved in governance.


However, the current political environment in the country has created a class of operators who know no rules and who, in any case, care little for rules.


If there was even an iota of self respect, then a Suresh Kalmadi would have at least offered to step aside and let someone else run the show until the truth was found out. Elsewhere in the world, anyone in his position would have been sacked by now. Not in this country because there are too many powerful people involved. The under preparation, not in the sports arena but in putting up the required infrastructure is a national shame of the first order.


Given these circumstances, Mani Shankar Aiyar seems to have been very mild in what he said about the preparations. It was known for sometime that our babus built world class infrastructure exactly like they build tenements in jhuggi jhopri colonies and the facilities for the games were no exception. Aiyar, seems to have raised the pitch at the right time and what we now have is a long list of what was never right so far as the Commonwealth Games are concerned.


Whether it is the CWG or the mining issue in states like Karnataka, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, the underlying message is that if there is money to be taken, it shall then be taken, as always, by the powerful. After a bit of shouting and screaming by the media, the political establishment will quietly put aside such embarrassing episodes and move on in life. The Kalmadis of the world will survive no matter who wields political power. A badly organised Commonwealth Games is only a minor set back for them.


The spectacle you see in Karnataka is equally unedifying. Road shows, instead of a proper and thorough investigation, seem to be the political response to an enormous scandal in which all political parties seem to have a hand. There is no sense of urgency to address the core issue — of halting illegal mining — but an unseemly hurry to score political points. What is forgotten is that while politics may be a game of one-upmanship — rallies by the ruling party to counter padayatras by the Opposition — governance is not.


The resources that are being mined illegally or the political muscle that is used for this purpose are all at the cost of the people. These issues ought to be addressed from that perspective and not as a political strategy to counter the Congress. Even that seems to be somewhat unimaginative because chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, it appears, wants to go on his own padayatra in the middle of August and, not to be left behind, JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy also wants his own road show.


That is what happens when one fails to make a distinction between a Walk and Walk the Talk. Meanwhile the plunder will continue in one form or the other and at all levels because those who are supposed to govern us and protect our interests have no sense of shame at all.









A bare two months before India's biggest-ever sporting event, there is defeatism and skepticism over how the Commonwealth Games will play themselves out in New Delhi from October 3 to 14. The media is working overtime to unravel horrendous corruption scandals and fears over the state of preparedness have led to widespread despair. An event that should have been seen as an opportunity to showcase the country as an emerging power is increasingly being perceived as one that would bring disgrace to the nation.


It is indeed time we stopped predicting Doom's Day and pulled up our socks to fight the inadequacies on a war footing. Yes, we have erred in leaving so much for the last minute. But this is hardly the time to raise bickering and politicking to a level that affects the morale of the country as a whole. Clearly, those who have bled the country white through corrupt deals or those that are responsible for shoddy construction material that has led to leaking roofs and cracking walls need to be brought to book and deterrent punishment meted out to them, but right now all concentration should be on upholding the country's dignity and pride. It is nauseating to see the Union Sports Ministry and the Indian Olympic Association at loggerheads, a former sports minister going so far as to say that he would be very unhappy if the Games were to be a success, and the whole edifice of the IOA beset by factionalism. It is disconcerting that, worried about how its money will be used by the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, the Indian Railways — a key sponsor for the big event — has hinted that it may back out of its Rs 100 crore commitment. The railways' objection could lead to a string of similar rigid approaches from other public sector sponsors, including the Central Bank of India, Air India and the National Thermal Power Corporation, who have promised to pay Rs 50 crore each for the Games.


It is imperative that the Central government steps in to bolster confidence in the conduct of the Games. A firm message must go out that all infighting must stop forthwith. Be it the finishing touches to the stadia, the provision of fool-proof security and the positioning of vital equipment and facilities, there must be a huge thrust to retrieve lost ground and streamline things.









AFTER wasting much of Parliament's time on insisting on a discussion on price rise to be followed by a vote, the Opposition finally relented but it hardly had anything substantive to say on the subject. Playing with public sentiments on the emotive issue of price rise is one thing, tackling the vexed issue quite another. All that Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj had to offer was the suggestion that the government should charge a flat rate of Customs duty on imported oil. She, however, needs to be better informed about the financial condition of the government oil-marketing firms as well as the global oil price, which now rules at $81.78 a barrel (Tuesday).


The rollback of the oil prices may not be in order as the global prices are high and still rising. There is merit in the proposal about charging a flat tax rate, which the Centre should consider seriously. What about the state taxes on oil? Why can't the Opposition-ruled states cut the taxes and show the way? On Wednesday Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee sought Opposition cooperation in rolling out the goods and services tax (GST), which he felt could help in price control. Opposition MPs, however, justifiably took the government to task over food rotting in granaries. According to reports, 7 per cent of food grains procured go waste due to mishandling and poor storage facilities. A quarter of fruits and vegetables are lost before these reach consumers. It is reported that the government spends Rs 7 to make a benefit of Re 1 available to the poor. Such massive waste and misappropriation of subsidies have to stop.


A rise in the population and middle-class incomes is driving up prices. High growth would result in price rise unless agricultural and industrial production keeps pace. The RBI is trying to squeeze money supply to suppress demand. Food prices are declining as the monsoon proceeds on expected lines. In the long run agricultural productivity has to be raised if India is to register double-digit growth without being bogged down by inflationary worries.









TO those who cannot afford it, air travel is a big luxury. But ask a frequent flier and he will tell you that it is anything but that. Indeed, air travel is often an ordeal. There are long delays, sudden cancellations and wrongful denial of boarding. In short, passengers are taken for a ride. This situation may change for the better soon because the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is coming up with rules under which airlines will have to compensate passengers for such harassment. Powerful airlines put up stiff resistance, but the DGCA got the draft civil aviation rules (CAR) issued last month for public comments, which proposed three slabs of compensation (along with a full refund) in cases of forcible denial of boarding to passengers who have confirmed tickets and report to airport in time. Compensation will also be given for sudden cancellations without prior intimation. The other option for the passenger would be to opt for alternate transport arrangements.


The DGCA will have to be on guard that the airlines do not circumvent the passenger-friendly move by quibbling about what caused the delays and thus trying to pass the buck. If the scheme is sincerely enforced, it will keep the airlines on good behaviour. Another equally positive development is that the Supreme Court has expressed concern over the frequent loss of baggage of air passengers and has said that carrier companies must pay for such losses.


Air travellers deserve a good deal not only from airlines but also from airports. There should be a mechanism in place under which they can get compensation in case the service they get is deficient. After all, they are making a hefty payment for certain facilities, which they cannot be denied. The paying passenger has been treated badly for far too long. It is high time he was made to feel somewhat like the king.

















WHILE much is being said of China's decision to supply two more nuclear power reactors to Pakistan, one has to look at this development as a continuation of the long-standing nuclear nexus between our northern and western neighbours. The Director of the Wisconsin Project of Arms Control, Gary Milhollin, has aptly commented: "If you subtract China's help from the Pakistani nuclear programme, there is no Pakistani nuclear programme."


It is now acknowledged that by 1983 China supplied Pakistan with enough enriched uranium for assembling two weapons, together with the designs for a 25-kiloton bomb. China thereafter provided Pakistan with ring magnets and reengineered, more efficient inverters for uranium enrichment. More significantly, this cooperation continued even after China signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT). During the past two decades, China has collaborated with Pakistan in the construction of plutonium reactors and reprocessing plants in Khushab for manufacturing lighter and more lethal nuclear weapons. These weapons are designed for delivery by ballistic and cruise missiles of Chinese origin, capable of targeting population centres all across India.


There is evidence to establish that with the passage of time, China has supplied Pakistan with a range of nuclear weapons designs. We are all asked to believe by the Americans that Dr A.Q. Khan single-handed transferred nuclear weapons designs and knowhow on centrifuge uranium enrichment technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. This happened despite the fact that not even a pin could be moved out of Pakistan's nuclear facilities without the approval of its army establishment. To, therefore, claim that Dr Khan ran a "rogue" proliferation network, selling nuclear secrets without the knowledge of the army top brass, is about as credible as Pakistani assertions that the 26/11 Mumbai outrage was entirely the work of "non-state actors," executed without the knowledge of its military establishment.


It has now been revealed by American nuclear scientists Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman, after elaborate deliberations with Chinese nuclear scientists and others, that the 35th nuclear test carried out at China's nuclear test site at Lop Nor on May 26, 1990, was, in fact, a Pakistan-assembled Chinese-designed fission weapon. The design of this weapon corresponded to the nuclear weapons design given by Dr Khan in the shopping bag of his Rawalpindi tailor to the Libyans!


China's strategic relationship with Pakistan has not only included supplies and knowhow for enabling Pakistan to build weapons of mass destruction, but also their means of delivery. China supplied Pakistan with M-11 missiles by 1990 which, it was claimed, had a range of less than 300 kilometres. This was followed by assistance to Pakistan to build DF-15/M-9 missiles (Christened as Shaheen-1 by Pakistan) capable of carrying nuclear warheads up to an estimated range of 800 kilometres. The Shaheen-2 missile, with a range of around 1800 kilometres, is a replica of the two-stage solid-fuelled Chinese DF-21 missile. More recently, China again violated the provisions of the Missile Technology Control Regime by supplying Pakistan with cruise missiles, with a range of around 500 kilometres.


When will this Chinese game end? It will end only when the Agni-5 missile capable of targeting Chinese urban centres and a small fleet of nuclear submarines armed with nuclear missiles are developed and deployed by India. With its own heartland vulnerable, there will be little purpose in China using its "all- weather friend" Pakistan for nuclear containment of India.


China's international credibility has been seriously undermined by its efforts to bypass the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in its anxiety to sell nuclear power reactors to Pakistan. When China joined the NSG in 2004, it declared that it had only one pending commitment contracted before its admission to the NSG. This was to build a second 300 MW nuclear power reactor at Chashma in Pakistan. This reactor has since been commissioned. China's claim that it had "grandfathered" its proposal to sell two more reactors in 1991 lacked credibility, as no mention was made of this so-called deal when China sought and obtained membership of the NSG. Moreover, it has now been revealed by American academic Ashley Tellis that during the Bush Administration China was repeatedly warned that nuclear sales to Pakistan did evoke concerns about possible diversion of Chinese technology and material to Islamabad's nuclear weapons programme while cautioning China not to violate NSG guidelines.


Not surprisingly, when the NSG met in New Zealand on June 24-25, China declined to answer critical questions on whether there was, in fact, a binding contract in place for the reactor sales it was proposing when precisely this contract was finalised. As the links with Pakistan's military establishment come more and more under international scrutiny, there is going to be little international support, or even tolerance, for China's efforts to build up its nuclear and conventional military ties with a country that has provided nuclear weapons designs and knowhow to Libya, Iran and North Korea.


It is not just Pakistan's military establishment but also its nuclear scientists who are known to harbour extremist Islamist leanings. Pakistan's nuclear scientist Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood was, along with his colleague Chaudhri Abdul Majeed, detained shortly after the terrorist strikes of 9/11. They were both charged with helping Al-Qaeda to acquire nuclear and biological weapons capabilities. Mehmood, a close associate of Dr A.Q. Khan, openly voiced support for the Taliban and publicly advocated the transfer of nuclear weapons to other Islamic nations. He described Pakistan's nuclear capability as the property of the whole "ummah" (Muslim community). Two other Pakistani scientists, Suleiman Asad and Al-Mukhtar, wanted for questioning about suspected links with Osama bin Laden, disappeared after it was claimed that they had gone to Myanmar, bordering China. Mehmood and Majeed are reported to have acknowledged that they had long discussions with Al-Qaeda and Taliban officials.


A "Fact Sheet" put out by the White House stated that both scientists had meetings with Osama and Mullah Omar during their many visits to Kandahar, with Al-Qaeda seeking their assistance to make radiological dispersal devices. Documents recovered by coalition forces in Afghanistan also reportedly establish that the two scientists were active members of a radical Islamic organisation, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), which was engaged in securing information on biological weapons. What is, however, really shocking is the pusillanimity of successive governments in India in taking up the dangerous Sino-Pakistan nuclear relationship with Chinese interlocutors at the highest level and the absence of any serious parliamentary debate on the issue.


The writer is a former Ambassador of India to Pakistan.








SHIMLA is the place of my genesis, graduation, growth and graying. So I sing "Ilu, Ilu, Shimla, Ilu, Ilu". I was joyous when I saw a Palika Bazaar type of market developing in Shimla. Fruit and vegetable, clothes and cloth, shoes and socks, home decorations and CDs — all are available under one roof. I wish the Food and Supplies Department starts a ration depot there and lo! Palika Bazaar of the Queen of Hills is full and complete. Don't tell me that you are not aware of such bazaar. It is the cross-ventilated Rivoli-Lower Bazaar Tunnel. Ilu, Ilu.


I go for morning walks; the road passes through the villages Dudhli and Kamyana that fall in Bhont Panchayat that has recently received an award for being nirmal, i.e. Open Defecation Free Panchayat. But during early hours when I see dozens of people, each carrying a bottle of water in hand, going towards the jungle, I believe that they were not going for purpose other than Deodar tree worshipping. Increasing tribe of nature adulators pleases me and I start whistling merrily — "Ilu, Ilu".


We have heritage and heritage buildings of the British times in Shimla. I am proud of these buildings and so is the electricity board. The board shows, by deeds, how a century merges with the other and presents a fusion of past and present. The two attractive buildings on the Mall representing the 19th century architecture are the Town Hall and The Gaiety. The board has saved money on the poles and fixed the 21st century LED lighting on the walls of these two buildings — the cheapest available meeting point of the two centuries.


Some say it is like fraternity without absorption, union without fusion but I say, "Worry not, centuries do not matter; these are government buildings and the lights are also of the government, a (con)fusion of the public properties, so sing heartily — "Ilu, Ilu".


I am happy that a cinema hall here got burnt and the other has been declared unsafe and locked. After all, what do they show in cinemas — Indian heroes almost licking the gori mems and gory violence! But kudos to the government, it has declared Rivoli, without a crack, as unsafe and Bantony, with cracks on cracks, safe for the police department. The government architects call these as 'sympathetic cracks' that are likened to wrinkles on the face of an old but 'safe' man. All men are equal here but some are more equal than others and so I croon "Ilu, Ilu, Shimla, Ilu, Ilu".









THE 'single' woman has always existed in our society. In Hindu mythology there are a host of single women headed perhaps by none other than Sita. In fact the story of Sita mirrors the lot of the Indian woman starting with an attempt at infanticide, then being a pawn in the war between Rama and Ravana. Accused of infidelity she is made to undergo the ordeal by fire and yet deserted and left alone to bring up her two children.


Although the emergence of the single woman as a socio-political group to be reckoned with is very recent and Punjab, where the well being of women is far below acceptable levels, is yet to rise up to organising single women as has been done in Rajasthan or Himachal Pradesh.


I glance at my childhood and there in the midst of Punjabi households I can recount many a story of courage by single women. My nani, my mother's stepmother, was the daughter of wealthy landlords and my nana was equally well-off.


However, he died a few years before the Partition of the country. One unfortunate circumstance followed the other and at the time of the Partition she crossed the border with two small sons and just what they were wearing. She reached Shimla where my parents were and was allotted a big room and kitchen in evacuee property called Fay Lodge: There began her story of resilience.


She had studied only up to Class V. She used the little education that she had to become a teacher in a literacy project run in Shimla's Ladies' park for adult women learners. She knitted sweaters and brought up her two sons and one of them became the Vice-President of a leading media group.


Poet Sylvia Plath says: 'Widow. The word consumes itself.' But my experience of widows is not one of consumption but of nurturing and amazing courage. My mother was left a widow without a penny and five children. I was seven when my father died. She got some help from the older children but I have seen her endeavour.


When the fees would be difficult to pay, I would tell her: "Send me to a government school." But no, it had to be the best convent. She would sell something, borrow or even earn by knitting or stitching to fulfil our needs. I recall her selling the brass parat in which she kneaded flour to get me the girl guide's uniform and send me to a camp in the hills.


This was the courage that I found in the many Kaurs in the cotton belt of Punjab, where men had buckled under pressure and ended their lives. But the women could not indulge in the luxury of suicide because they had children to bring up. The way they have kept the kitchen pot boiling and their children in school is a tremendous feat. Let me share a story of a farmer's wife who not only educated her children but also brought her family out of other economic crises. Kuldip Kaur of Kot Shameer village in Bathinda block was devastated nine years ago when her husband Sukhminder Singh, owning four acres of land, could not pay back his mounting debts and committed suicide by drinking pesticide spray at the age of 36.


Kuldip never thought that she would be able to educate her nine-year-old daughter Mandeep or her six-year-old son Amandeep. Some quick decisions had to be taken to sell the tractor as well as two acres of land to pay off a chunk of the loan. The remaining two acres were rented out and Kuldip started with spinning yarn and rearing cattle. Next she learnt to weave and her daughter has now completed Plus II and her son Class X.


However, to every success story there are hundreds of abject misery. When we say single woman, the reference is broad and it includes, widows, abandoned, divorced and unmarried women. Often social and political disasters bring attention to such marginalised groups.


In the eighties some 3000 women were left widowed in Delhi alone. Women groups involved in the rehabilitation took special care that in the difficult times it was essential for these women to have their communal identity protected. However, one had to address also the oppression that they were facing within their own families and society.


Two years later when Shah Bano, a Muslim woman, demanded maintenance from her husband, communal leaders and the government twisted the case in such a manner that legal maintenance to Muslim women was denied for all times. In September 1987, 18-year-old Roop Kanwar, was burnt on her husband's pyre as a practice of the long-abolished sati. All single women these.


Back home in Punjab, the apathy of the government and social welfare organisations hurts one so much. Punjab, being a man's world because it is a macho agrarian state, has been very unfair to its daughters. What is required are empowerment programmes for women, a honing of skills and income-generating projects.


Sadly, the people of the state are busy eliminating daughters in the wombs and making it a state with the lowest sex ratio. Punjab too must follow states like Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh to organise single women, help them to get what is rightfully theirs, if nothing else, a widows' pension of Rs 200 a month. Many are without even that.


Society must facilitate a Shanti Devi teaching in the Ladies' Park, a Kusum who felt flour can be kneaded even in a plastic plate because a girl guide's camp is more important or the resilience shown by Kulip Kaur in a remote village in Punjab.


The writer is a freelance journalist and editor TSI Punjab









WHEN you think of a 'single woman', chances are you imagine an empowered, educated alpha female who has chosen to remain single. No doubt, a fair percentage of single women would include those who have consciously decided to edge out men from their domain.


Yes, there is a tribe of single women even in rural India who stand out by virtue of their own grit.


The 36 million single women in India (according to the 2001census) represent those who are legally divorced, separated and widowed. If women are the marginalised sections of society, single women are doubly so. At a huge disadvantage, they are vulnerable in so many ways and need, pressure groups to fight their cause and active support from the government.


Realising the unenviable plight of single women, in 2000, Dr Ginny Srivastava, a social activist from Rajasthan, started Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan. The base widened when single women from Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Bihar formed similar organisations. More than eight months ago National Forum for Single Women's Rights was formed.


While Rajasthan has taken the lead in picking up cudgels on the behalf of these women who have nowhere to look to, closer home in Himachal Pradesh also commendable work has been done to help the cause of single women.


Subhash Mendhapurkar, Director SUTRA, that has been providing pivotal support to Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan, HP, formed in 2005, takes pride in the fact that he is in the business of gender and governance.


They have managed to convince the government to concede on two fronts, namely ration cards for single women and Rs 2000 allowance for education of children of single women of BPL families.


Kishwar Ahmed Shirali, consultant Nishtha, an NGO based in Kangra district, punctures the notion that single women are alone. She points out that not only do most single women have children but they often have their maternal families to look after.


The NGOs in Himachal Pradesh are pressing, among other things, for universalisation of social security pension for women above 60 years, and medical cover for OPD expenses. Mendhapurkar is particularly worried about single women above the age of 60. Land rights which single women, especially divorcee and widows, are often denied is another aspect that he is working on. But is the government listening to their pleas?


Soffs Shirali, "After all the efforts and the hullabaloo over the march that we led, the state government has increased the social security pension by a meagre Rs 30 per month." Interestingly, when the Centre doubled up its share from Rs 100 to 200, the state government instead of matching it, increased the pension only by Rs 30.


Whether the onus rests with the Centre or the state government, Mendhapurakar feels that both must come forward. Says he, "A nation that can spend billions of dollars on defence purchase can certainly shell out money for these women."


He argues that if sending children to school is government's business, so are the issues of single women. Gender-just governance, he reiterates, is guaranteed in the preamble of the Constitution. Of course, ensuring it, he and Shirali know, would be a long haul, especially in times when "Society has become dysfunctional and consideration for collective well-being lost in the race to ensure individual's rights."


But the NGOs have kick-started the process and are trying to focus attention on a section that has not only been ignored but denied a voice so far. Now, many such women are finding a voice. That there is light at the end of the tunnel is evident in examples like that of Nirmal Chandel, state co-ordinator Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan, HP.


Nearly 20 years ago when her husband passed away, she thought life had come to a dead end. Today she offers support and strength to others caught in a similar predicament.


At the state-level meeting recently held in Shimla, issues like linking of ration-card provisions with the size of single women's family were deliberated upon. In Dharmshala, Kangra district, Nistha that lays emphasis on self-reliance and self-esteem, is also offering among other things training in self-defence through workshops.


While sexual exploitation of single women is an area of concern, Shirali is equally perturbed over denial of their sexual needs. Says she, "We have turned a blind eye to this ticklish issue without realising that suppression of body's natural desires causes many psychosomatic illness."


Brushing aside studies that suggest single women in India are happier than in the US, she questions, "Who are they talking about?" Indeed, it's about time we stopped romanticising and deifying the image of single women and redressed the genuine concerns of a sizeable percentage of population that outnumbers the population of Canada.









Alot has changed since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, says Fenella Baptista who teaches yoga in Berlin. "These days the East looks no different from the Western part of the city. The fact that Berlin was the capital of the German Democratic Republic meant that it remained the centre of culture and politics as it was before the war. Because it was a divided city, it had two or more of many things: parliament buildings, people's theatres, state opera and symphony houses. So when the Wall fell, a whole new side of German culture was opened up to the Westerners and vice versa." 


 Recently, Fenella moved to an area called Neukölln in the former west central city. It's the kind of area in which you have a Turkish grocery next to an Arabic news kiosk, a Vietnamese flower shop, an African goods stores. "It's a nice mix for someone like me," Fenella says, "from the culturally diverse milieu in Canada. My parents are of Indian origin." It is a very large, poor neighbourhood with low rents and rundown buildings. The rise in rents in the rest of the city led the latest influx of youngsters to Neukölln, Fenella says. "With their arrival they have brought a whole new cultural scene including bars, clubs, shops, projects, activism. It is great to see this lively interest in the social and cultural sphere never dies out, but changes with the times, and always has something for everyone." 


 This sort of cultural colonisation of neighbourhoods, by burgeoning subcultures was typical of Berlin even before the Wall fell, Fenella adds. When there was a wall around West Berlin, the city attracted a lot of misfits, artists and musicians who could do their thing there without too much of a clash with conservative views of what art is or isn't. David Bowie and Iggy Pop lived here for some years, as did a whole lot of other very well-known artists and musicians. In 1989, a whole half of a city was opened up to people of this kind and they made East Central Berlin their home. They moved into long-abandoned, unmodernised fivestorey walk-ups. They started Do-ityourself bars, underground clubs. The first commercial retail endeavours started here. This creative and fun milieu attracted people with money to spend, and this was the beginning of gentrification. They had buying power and upscale tastes in food and clothes. They made it too expensive for the young, active, creative people, and finally merely wanted a clean, quiet neighbourhood. 


 In view of the fact that in India the media suffers from literary drought, I found it interesting that authors are featured regularly on radio and in the local press. We like to babble about our ancient literature and ancient culture, but pay scant attention to it. Modern writers feature only if there is a money or love angle. "The literature scene has expanded from a few public readings by authors or presentation of their works in bookstores into a vibrant scene," Fenella says. "This includes poetry festivals, poetry slams in which equal attention is paid to words and performance, and the contestants are judged by the audience." 


 In general, the literary scene reflects the mix in Germany. The material presented is not always German or in German. One of the writers from Berlin is Vladimir Kaminer who is a Russian-Jewish immigrant. He writes humorous portraits of Berlin. Then there's Judith Hermann, a native East German who writes fiction about the generation which came of age with the reunification of Germany. 


 Fenella visits India occasionally to refresh her yoga, particularly in the Iyengar institutes. And, of course, to tuck into Indian food. And yes, visit relatives.





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With a minimum of fuss and fanfare, the deputy governor of the People's Bank of China informed the international press on the 1st of August that China had dislodged Japan from its position as the second-largest economy in the world. China's gross domestic product (GDP) at the end of 2009 stood at roughly $4.99 trillion compared to Japan's $5.04 trillion. However, with the 11.1 per cent growth that China saw in the first half of 2010, its GDP has already reached $5.54 trillion. Even if Japan were to achieve its growth target of 2.6 per cent this year, it would end the year with $5.2 trillion, considerably behind China. Incidentally, in purchasing power parity terms, China has for a few years occupied the second spot in the global ranking after the US.


The fact that Chinese officials are not quite shouting from the rooftops about this achievement perhaps reflects the myriad problems that confront the economy and that could potentially slam the brakes on growth. For one, China's political establishment is all too aware of the fact that despite its size, it is way behind Japan or the western industrialised economies in terms of standard of living. For instance, China's per capita income of $3,600 is still a fraction of Japan's $37,800. Rapid growth has bred galloping inequality that has brought its share of social tension. Besides, in its quest for maintaining its spectacular growth rate, China has flouted many a textbook rule and canon. Its labour markets have been heavily controlled, banks have been directed to lend to projects that have bred excess capacity (saddling banks with over 20 per cent in non-performing loans) and its central bank has kept monetary policy extremely slack, inflating bubbles in China's property markets in the process. Doomsayers have been predicting a sharp slowdown if not a collapse in China's growth rates for at least a decade now but have had to eat crow. However, now there seems to be a niggling fear among the Chinese authorities that they cannot get away much longer with their idiosyncratic ways.


There are two specific issues that are top-of-mind for China's policy-wallahs. The first is the fragility of China's banks that have lent rather recklessly both to industrial projects and residential housing. As far as mortgage loans are concerned, some analysts are now pointing out to the risk of the next sub-prime crisis occurring in China's overheated property markets. Thus, China's banks are making a mad scramble for capital to plug solvency and liquidity gaps — the behemoth China Agricultural Bank made an initial public offer of $20 billion in July to shore up its capital base. They are also cutting back on lending. The second problem is that of rapid wage escalation, particularly in the interior provinces that have emerged as the new growth engines for China. Wages for garment workers in China, for example, went up by as much as 14 per cent in 2009.This could blunt China's edge in manufacturing exports and stifle growth. China's policy-makers are wise enough to know that becoming number two is no guarantor of further growth, as stagnating Japan has shown for the past two decades! China has many developmental challenges to face and it will remain focused on them, even if the hubris of some hotheads makes its political leadership become excessively assertive at times.







As the monsoon crosses its mid-way mark, two of the season's four months (June to September) are over, the prospect of this year's south-west monsoon being better than last year's have gone up, despite last month's weak performance. After a lull, the monsoon has seen a spectacular resurgence in the past week or so, with 38 per cent excess rainfall registered in one week. Heavy rains in most parts of the country in the last 10 days have already reduced the annual deficit from a worrisome 16 per cent at June-end, and equally discomforting 14 per cent even till July 21, to a mere 3 per cent by the beginning of August. If the weather office's forecast of copious rainfall in the rest of the season holds true, even this shortfall may be fully made up and the rainfall numbers may turn positive. A significant reassuring factor on this front is the dissipation of the dreaded El Nino (warming up of the Pacific Ocean), which often weakens the monsoon, and the emergence, in its place, of La Nina, the opposite of El Nino, which invariably bolsters the monsoon. Luckily, most global weather models project La Nina to endure at least till the end of the current monsoon season. It is, therefore, possible that the India Meteorological Department (IMD) may prove right this time with its optimistic forecast of 102 per cent (± 4 per cent) of the long-period average.


The belated arrival of the monsoon and low rainfall in most parts, barring south peninsula, before the recent revival of the monsoon, had not affected the kharif sowing adversely. Crop planting had gone on normally, thanks largely to a few spells of good and well-spaced rainfall which kept the soil adequately moist to allow seeding and sustain the emerging seedlings. However, the real worry, right from the beginning of the monsoon season, had been regarding the replenishment of water reservoirs, which had been drawn down heavily in the wake of last year's drought. Adequate restocking of dams is vital not only for irrigating the crops in the post-monsoon period and in the subsequent rabi season, but also, importantly, for the generation of hydel power which is necessary even for non-agricultural economic activities, including manufacturing. However, the concern on that count has also waned considerably as the deficiency in the total water stock of the major 81 reservoirs, which had worsened to nearly 35 per cent by the third week of July, has since improved and was below 19 per cent at the end of July. More showers in August and September would, hopefully, improve the situation further, contributing to improved performance of both the agriculture and power sectors. However, while all this sounds reassuring, one should keep one's fingers crossed and continue to pray to the rain gods like so many policy-makers, including, as we now know, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, do!








The opportunities and threats relating to China are an unending source of discussion and debate. How do we move beyond, to grasp the nettle of practical considerations and undertakings? What emerges is India's need to strategise its commercial interests and execute projects in terms of clear objectives. One aspect is related to internal coordination: getting our act together, e.g., in domestic manufacturing. A second aspect has to do with external orientation, and engaging with China.


In a previous article*, I had suggested the need to orchestrate supportive policies for domestic manufacturing, to capitalise on India's growth. The central idea: emulate China's approach in areas where it has successfully established policies that yield scale economies with appropriate financial and commercial linkages, to result in high-quality products delivered at low cost. An instance discussed was the power sector, where China has coordinated its state and central taxes, picked favoured locations which have good infrastructure (energy, transport, communications…), subsidised land, managed favourable exchange and interest rates (i.e., cheap finance), given preferred access to its domestic markets, and deployed barriers to unfair competition, like import tariffs not below the WTO floor.


 Another dimension that also needs to be explored is positive, constructive engagement with Chinese enterprises. The potential for engaging in a number of areas with the scope for mutually beneficial participation may exist. This kind of collaboration could mitigate risk by enhancing access to raw materials as well as to expanded markets for finished goods, while reducing capital investment through equity participation.


Take sectors like energy and metals. Both provide tremendous opportunities for mutual benefit. One dimension is joint bidding for projects for exploration and development in sectors such as oil and gas, instead of competing bids. (The Sudan venture doesn't count, because India and China became partners by default, and not by conscious choice.) Another is joint participation in projects in both countries, e.g., for aluminium. China itself is guarded about FDI in strategic sectors, so such ventures will require significant efforts and accommodation from both countries.


Although more opportune several years ago, it is still possible that there is scope for an aluminium smelting joint venture in India because of the availability of bauxite, coupled with back-to-back joint ventures in India and China for finished products. The potential benefits to Indian companies such as Nalco are access to substantial capital for expansion, as well as increased access to markets. A Chinese partner like Chinalco would also gain significantly by access to its share of low-cost raw materials as well as to a more diversified market, in return providing access to Chinese and international markets to its Indian partner.


China has for years acted decisively on setting up joint ventures in its overall interests. In the early 1990s, I saw a phosphoric acid plant in Florida, where China had a 50-50 joint venture with a US company, Seminole Fertiliser Corporation. This enabled Chinese phosphoric acid imports at favourable prices, circumventing cartelised export restrictions by US producers. (China and India have been and are major importers of phosphoric acid for phosphatic fertilisers.)


More recently, Huawei's efforts in breaking into the US telecommunications market show the same decisiveness, e.g., in hiring the former chief technologist of BT for its operations in the US. Huawei has been a leading supplier to BT. This is an instance of how China strategises its approach to be an acceptable partner.


While breakthroughs in information and communications technology (ICT) with India may be more difficult in

the near term, because of mutual wariness as well as the need for complex structuring, mainstream ventures in sectors like steel, aluminium, copper and energy (oil and gas, coal) may be more easily structured and executed, provided there is mutual (a) reciprocity and (b) transparency. In this, our decision-making and delivery processes must keep up with the required pace. This major change in approach between the two countries, open reciprocity with no game-playing, and in India's own methods, are necessary conditions for major commercial developments that lead to optimal economic engagement.


One difficult aspect is the inevitability of dealing with China's state agencies for core projects, often affiliated with the PLA. However, it is a reality that has to be included in the final solution, just as major energy ventures that India participates in are likely to be driven by state-owned enterprises like ONGC, Indian Oil Corporation, or GAIL.


A possible way to achieve a first step may be to structure a venture that is in a third country, with substantive contributions from both India and China, with benefits to all three. An example could have been (could be?) a very large copper and gold mining project in Mongolia, close to the Chinese border. The Oyu Tolgoi ("Turquoise Mountain") project is currently being developed by Ivanhoe Mines, a Canadian company, and Rio Tinto, the mining giant in which Chinalco is the largest shareholder, with the Mongolian government as the third partner (for details, see, and b2065990-8ddf-11df-9153-00144feab49a.html ). The two external shareholders reportedly have differences about Rio Tinto's enhanced acquisition of Ivanhoe and thereby of Oyu Tolgoi. A possible solution, provided India perceives this as beneficial (as must Mongolia, Ivanhoe and Rio Tinto) and Delhi acts decisively, may be the induction of Indian equity into this project.


This can only happen if there is a national initiative to evaluate and act on the opportunity, with a concerted bid in a manner that all parties — the Mongolian government, Ivanhoe Mines, Rio Tinto, and the Indian government — can have a meeting of minds on valuation and direction, with an open, collaborative approach.


Other potential areas for participative ventures could include logistics and transportation, including airlines and freight/shipping. While the possibilities are open-ended, the actual unfolding of promising pathways may require success with simpler "asset-plays" like metals or energy projects, to establish what is pragmatic and feasible. These could provide substance to what is currently just talk of a strategic partnership with China.









Harshad Mehta, Rajan Pillai, Ketan Parekh, Kenneth Lay, Bernie Madoff all faced the law courts and, in some cases, served jail stints for breaking the law. Mehta and Pillai died halfway through investigations into their dealings — securities fraud that brought down the stock markets in Mehta's case and cheating in Pillai's case.


 Lay and Madoff presided over corporate empires that duped a range of people, from shareholders to investors and employees. Lay was found guilty within four years of the collapse of Enron but died before he could be sentenced. Bernard Madoff is languishing in a fairly luxurious prison for white-collar criminals in North Carolina having been sentenced to 150 years after pleading guilty (and enjoying a certain notorious popularity, according to latest reports).


Meanwhile, in India, the jury of public opinion is still out on the question of Keshub Mahindra's responsibility as chairman of Union Carbide's India subsidiary when the Bhopal disaster took place (had the tragedy occurred in the US, the issue would have been legally settled years ago), even though shareholders recently voted to retain him as chairman of Mahindra & Mahindra.


The point here is that all of these people have paid in some way for their errors of omission and commission. Cynical as this may sound, the Mehta, Bhopal, Enron and Madoff debacles were reprehensible and morally indefensible but their negative impact was, ultimately, limited. They do not begin to compare with the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest accidental oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, in April this year.


But Tony Hayward, the faux pas-prone CEO of the corporation responsible for this environmental disaster, has been allowed to exit with a £1 million payoff and a £10 million pension pot. Nor has he faded into jobless anonymity. Despite his spectacularly poor management of the crisis (at its height he famously said, "I want my life back"), he's been appointed non-executive director of a Russian joint venture, TNK-BP.


Meanwhile, the company he has exited has had to set aside £20.7 billion to meet clean-up costs and has put up for sale $30 billion worth of assets to pay for it. It's not just British Petroleum's (BP's) over 2,000 employees worldwide and shareholders who are paying the price for the disaster. All along the coast where the Deepwater Horizon rig spewed out 5 million barrels of crude oil, thousands of people are losing their livelihoods in an area that thrived on tourist dollars, not to speak of the long-term ecological damage.


Legal culpability is one thing, moral culpability quite another. No laws or corporate governance rules can address the latter adequately. Yet it is becoming an increasingly critical issue as global business integrates the world more closely than ever before. It is no longer far-fetched to say that every craftsman or textile worker laid off from the diamond-cutting shops of Gujarat and garment factories of Tiruppur can trace her job loss to the slowdown in global demand precipitated by the decisions of investment bankers in Bear Stearns, Merril Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Citigroup. Like BP's Hayward, each of the CEOs who presided over these institutions was eased out with millions of dollars in pay, pension and benefits.


To take just one example. The board of Citigroup forced CEO Charles "Chuck" Prince out for plunging the world's largest bank into the sub-prime crisis. But his job loss still earned him almost $30 million in benefits. Like him, the CEOs of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Merril Lynch all took home multi-million dollar "rewards" in pay and benefits.


None of these CEOs wilfully broke the law. Sub-prime mortgages and the dodgy financial instruments they spawned were all the outcome of regulatory weaknesses, just as much as BP's oil spill was the result of cost-saving negligence. Yet, these corporate chiefs oversaw operations in their mammoth global corporations that virtually brought the global economy to a standstill in 2008 and the impact of the sub-prime debacle is still being felt worldwide.


Naturally, it would be difficult for governments to legislate against bad corporate decision-making, but there is surely something morally out of sync in rewarding top management when things go wrong, especially in trans-national corporations in which decisions can have global implications. It is possible that the time has come for corporate boards to insist on checks and balances so that tarnished CEOs do not become the beneficiaries of golden parachutes.











Tariff liberalisation, most trade negotiators will agree, is no longer a difficult area for trade negotiations. The increasing number of free and preferential trade agreements has ensured that bargaining in tariff negotiations is limited to select list of products which are sensitive to the economy.


The biggest barrier to global trade that needs immediate attention, however, is the issue of non-tariff barriers (NTBs). There is very little to show in terms of progress in addressing NTBs in international trade. Interestingly, the issue of slashing tariffs and non-tariff barriers under the WTO negotiations is discussed by the same committee on NAMA (Non-Agricultural Market Access) which is chaired by Ambassador Luzius Walecha of Switzerland.


 The negotiations at the WTO for identifying a mechanism to deal with NTBs are woefully slow and incomplete and the free trade agreements do not pay anything more than lip service to this important aspect for global trade liberalisation. India has been at the receiving end of many such non-tariff barriers in several sectors, especially the food sector. From arbitrary maximum residue levels of pesticides on products like rice and grapes to confiscation of drugs at airports in the guise of IPR protection, the list of NTBs faced by Indian exporters has been long in the last 12 months.


Importantly, NTBs are not region- or country-specific, and nearly all countries have their own set of NTBs to protect domestic industry and trade. They cut across developed and developing economies while the impact on the developing economies is far more severe when faced with an NTB in an important market in a developed country since most developing countries concentrate on just a few markets for exports.


It is not just the NTBs developed by governments that impede trade but several private standards emerging in global markets are also aimed at helping a particular country or producer over another. While governments have to provide scientific backing to create non-tariff barriers, though they are in many cases arbitrary, in case of private standards even the pressure of building scientific reasoning to introduce a standard is not needed.


The need to address these issues was identified in the Doha Round and the negotiators at Geneva have been attempting to find a way forward on this issue though they have been moving very slowly on the negotiations. In the last few weeks, there has been an attempt to find a horizontal mechanism by four countries — Colombia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand — that call themselves the "middle grounders" to find a horizontal mechanism that will help countries resolve the issue of NTB without going for the time-consuming dispute settlement mechanism at the WTO.


This proposal will now need to be studied in detail by countries before it can move forward. However, it is an important step forward as there is a need for a critical mass of proposals on the table to ensure that this critical area of trade liberalisation moves ahead. There have been a few more areas discussed under the issue of NTBs at the WTO.


The first is the issue of international standards and harmonisation of standards across countries based on global standards so that there is transparency for companies on standards that would be used in countries. However, this may not be fully possible as members are at differing levels of development and it would be difficult to expect that standards across all countries will remain the same.


Various factors would have to be taken into account for developing countries, for instance, before adopting standards. This would include issues such as the cost of adopting a standard, the environment for setting a standard, etc. However, what would be important is to ensure that there is transparency by the standard-setting agencies across the globe when standards are at variance with the internationally accepted norms.


Given this backdrop, it is important that industry in India takes a lead in ensuring that NTBs become an important component of discussions at both WTO and for the FTAs. First, there is a need for a comprehensive document that lists out the various NTBs that sectors face across the globe. This document will have to spell out in numbers the loss of business because of an NTB or lack of transparency in setting standards by countries. Such exercise would goad negotiators to move ahead in the area of discussing ways and means of tackling NTBs. Without a comprehensive document that is constantly updated, it would be difficult to achieve the objective of targeting NTBs.


Second, there has to be a global dialogue among industry to identify issues such as private standards which are hurting trade. Open trade would benefit all countries and it is important that NTBs do not replace tariffs as impediments to global trade.


The author is principal adviser at APJ-SLG Law offices









Sometimes the most important news is what is not happening. This summer has given us one such example: the climate-change Bill, for which US President Barack Obama had been pushing so hard, will not even be presented to the US Senate, because it stands no chance of passage.


This means that the US is about to repeat its "Kyoto experience". Twenty years ago, in 1990, the US participated (at least initially) in the first international talks aimed at achieving a global accord to reduce CO2 emissions. At the time, the European Union (EU) and the US were by far the greatest emitters, so it seemed appropriate to exempt the world's emerging economies from any commitment. Over time, it became apparent that the US would not live up to its commitment, owing, as now, to opposition in the Senate. The EU then went ahead on its own, introducing its path-breaking European Emission Trading System in the hope that Europe could lead by example.


 Without the American climate-change package, the promises made by the US administration only seven months ago at the Copenhagen summit have become worthless. The European strategy is in tatters — and not only on the transatlantic front.


China's commitment to increase the CO2 efficiency of its economy by about 3 per cent per year is of no help, because annual GDP growth rates of close to 10 per cent mean that the country's emissions will soar during this decade. Indeed, by 2020, Chinese emissions could be more than triple those of Europe and even surpass those of the US and Europe combined. Exempting emerging markets from any commitments, as the Kyoto Protocol sought to do, no longer makes sense.


Why has every attempt to set prices for global carbon emissions failed? The answer can be found in one word: "coal" — or, rather, the fact that coal is cheap and abundant.


Burning hydrocarbons (natural gas and petrol) yields both water and CO2. By contrast, burning coal yields only CO2. Moreover, compared to natural gas and crude oil, coal is much cheaper per tonne of CO2 released. This implies that any tax on carbon has a much higher impact on coal than on crude oil (or gas). Owners of coal mines and their clients are thus strongly opposed to any tax on carbon. They constitute a small but well organised group that wields immense lobbying power to block efforts to limit CO2 emissions by putting a price on them, as the planned US cap-and-trade system would have done.


In Europe, indigenous coal production no longer plays an important economic role. It is thus not surprising that Europe could enact a cap-and-trade system that imposes a carbon price on a large part of its industry. Indeed, the tax seems to fall mostly on foreign suppliers of coal (and to a lesser extend on foreign suppliers of hydrocarbons in the Middle East and Russia). By contrast, opposition by US states whose economies rely significantly on coal production proved decisive for the fate of Obama's climate-change Bill.


The US experience has wider implications. If it proved impossible to introduce a moderate carbon tax in a rich economy, it is certain that no commitment will be forthcoming for the next generation from China, which remains much poorer and depends even more on indigenous coal than does the US. And, after China, India looms as the next emerging coal-based industrial superpower.


Without any significant commitment from the US, the Copenhagen Accord, so laboriously achieved last year, has become meaningless. Business will now continue as usual, both in terms of climate-change diplomacy, with its wandering circus of big international meetings, and in terms of rapidly increasing emissions.


The meetings are aimed at creating the impression that the world's leaders are still working on a solution to the problem. But rising CO2 emissions constitute what is really happening on the ground: a rapidly growing industrial base in emerging markets is being hard-wired to intensive use of coal. This will make it exceedingly difficult to reverse the trend in the future.


A planet composed of nation-states that in turn are dominated by special interest groups does not seem capable of solving this problem. Unfortunately, there is enough cheap coal around to power ever-higher emissions for at least another century. The world will thus certainly become much warmer. The only uncertainty is how much warmer that will be.


Determined action at the global level will become possible only when climate change is no longer some scientific prediction, but a reality that people feel. But, at that point, it will be too late to reverse the impact of decades of excessive emissions. A world incapable of preventing climate change will have to live with it.


The author is director of the Centre for European Policy Studies.


Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.  









 LESS than a week after RBI deputy governor K C Chakrabarty told some journalists, off the record, that the RBI should be more aggressive in raising interest rates to combat inflation, he has been stripped of key portfolios. The RBI governor, apparently, did not take kindly to his deputy going public with his views and has reshuffled the portfolios of the central bank's deputy governors, leaving his 'errant' deputy with just four relatively-minor departments and loading more on to the already-full plates of the other deputy governors. This is most unfortunate. Not only because Chakrabarty, as the only deputy governor with practical knowledge of commercial banking, brings a wealth of hands-on experience, but also because it marks a departure from the RBI's democratic style of functioning. Given how notoriously difficult it is to formulate monetary policy in increasingly uncertain times, differences of opinion among the top echelons of the RBI are not only inevitable but, perhaps, even desirable as they promote healthy debate. Chakrabarty is known to speak his mind. He had, for example, contradicted the then-finance minister P Chidambaram on the future trajectory of interest rates, without ministerial wrath descending on him. Far from suppressing dissent — the central bank is not the Army! — a discreet airing of dissent would stand the RBI in good stead. It would allow it to test the waters; a much-needed test given how much the dice is loaded against the central bank in its regular battle with the finance ministry on tightening monetary policy. 


 In any case, it is time to review the consensus-style decision-making of the kind favoured by the RBI, as distinct from decision-making by voting, favoured by the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England monetary policy committee. In the US Fed, board members routinely air their different views and no one would say US monetary policy is any the worse for it. In the UK too, details of the way members of the MPC vote are made public, albeit after a lag. Gag orders belong to the Gulag; they have no place in a modern-day central bank.






 THE government's supplementary demand for grants, seeking authorisation to spend an additional amount of Rs 68,294 crore, shows an inclination to spend a large part of the Rs 70,000 crore it had received from spectrum auctions over and above the Rs 35,000 crore it had budgeted. True, the additional spending authorisation now need not necessarily translate into an addition to the fiscal deficit of an equivalent amount by the end of the year — there could be considerable underspending in several areas. Defence, for example, is unlikely to spend its sanctioned amount, with minister A K Antony's single-minded focus on keeping scandal out preventing a lot of needed hardware from getting in. More savings will accrue, thanks to the quarterly expenditure targets and improved rigour in spending that have by now replaced the earlier system of most ministries spending most of their sanctioned budget in a lastquarter rush. Such savings would be offset, in part, by some expenditure that spills over from the previous fiscal year but have not been taken into account in the annual budget, such as unpaid subsidy bills of the oil companies. Even so, the net year-end additional expenditure is quite likely to fall short of the sum of all supplementary demands for grants. However, the proclivity to spend additional amounts, clearly, is not matched by the will to cut waste in the system. That flab permeates the government system has never been in question. But how much has always been a matter of speculation. Mr Suresh Kalmadi has boldly come forward to demonstrate how fat fiscal fat can really get, under appropriate conditions of generous, unquestioning nurture. 


 Removing diesel subsidy would be a no-brainer. The political heat this generates would make inaction on cutting other kinds of non-controversial waste look positively criminal. The Comptroller and Auditor General can play a very useful role in identifying layers of politically non-controversial waste. What can trigger such a waste-led march to fiscal consolidation is political will at the head of the government and of the ruling party.







 HOLLYWOOD has a teaser trailer for the next sci-fi disaster movie, well in time for Bruce Willis, Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, Keanu Reeves, Angelina Jolie et al to manoeuvre for a meaty role. This week, as the 'Sun Tsunami' hit the earth ostensibly causing nothing more earth-shattering than a really spectacular display of the aurora borealis, news surfaced of a potentially more dangerous occurrence. Nothing as mundane as asteroids and meteorites on a collision course with the Earth, or a starship carrying a marauding army of aliens from outer space, but a super-salvo from the Sun. Nasa has warned that, come 2013 — that's a year after the Doomsday predicted by the ancient Mayans but given the technology of those times, a slight deviation is forgivable — the Sun will be in the throes of a periodic storm that happens every 11 years as its magnetic energy cycle peaks. The fallout on our blue orb of such superpowered sunspot activity could be nasty. But the scientists' equivocation on the after-effects of this bout of celestial indigestion has led to a rash of disaster scenarios worthy of at least a medium-budget blockbuster. 


From fried satellite systems disrupting communications worldwide and triggering off a nuclear crisis — besides shutting down TV networks! — to mutant creatures arising from the sea as a result of being zapped by ultraviolet solar beams, the extent of the mayhem is hard to determine. If computers are affected, everything from financial records to social networking accounts could disappear, if the magnetic poles are knocked askew, the earth's chronobiology could go for a six, not to mention our own Circadian rhythms… As scientists do not seem to be inclined to be definitive about the extent of the destruction and disorder, Hollywood has three years to come out with some really creative storylines — and solutions too, in case Nasa is willing to listen.








THE divergence between macroeconomic policies in India and those in the advanced economies in recent months has been striking. Fiscal tightening has been under way since fiscal 2009-10 itself. Monetary policy too has been progressively tightened in recent months although it is not as tight as some would like. 

In the advanced economies, talk of exiting the fiscal stimulus has not been matched by strong action everywhere. There are serious doubts as to whether this is the right time to begin a big exit despite the fact that public debt has reached its highest levels in years. Monetary tightening is not happening. In the US, the Fed is expected be accommodative in its forthcoming monetary policy announcement. 


The divergence in policies between India and the advanced world reflects divergences in underlying economic conditions. In July, the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook revised its forecast for world economic growth from 4.2% in April to 4.6%. 


 But this is based largely on expectations of high growth in emerging markets. There is not the same optimism about economic prospects in the advanced economies. Nouriel Roubini, who is credited with having the forecast the global financial crisis, maintains that a double-dip recession is very likely, especially in Europe and Japan. 


The global financial crisis drew a massive and concerted response from governments in the advanced economies. A massive fiscal and monetary stimulus was adopted. The stimulus worked. It helped a slide into another protracted depression. The world economy recovered and then it appeared to gather steam. 


 So what has gone wrong with the script in recent months? Well, Greece was undoubtedly a big shock to the world economy. Not because Greece in itself poses a problem for the world economy but because it was a symptom of a broader malaise: fiscal overstretch. 


We have known that governments can spend their ways out of trouble in a recession, but economists insist this is possible only so long as government borrowing does not breach certain limits. There is a sense that once government borrowing reaches 90-100% of GDP, markets will become averse to supporting further government borrowing. 


When Greece happened, people started looking closely at fiscal deficit projections, public debt-to-GDP ratios and current account imbalances in the advanced economies and were horrified at what they saw. They concluded that there was no choice but to cut back on the fiscal stimulus. 


Unfortunately, it appears that the recovery is not strong enough to withstand a big exit. Governments in advanced economies are in a fix as to how fast to move in respect of exiting the fiscal stimulus. There is not much that monetary policy can do to provide more stimulus when interest rates are as low as they are today. 


 It is not just the absence of freedom of action in respect of fiscal and monetary policy in the present conditions that worries markets. There have been renewed concerns about failures in the banking sector. Banks in the advanced economies hold large amounts of government debt, so the Greek debt crisis revived fears of another banking crisis. 


 Regulators in the EU ran stress tests on 91 banks. They claimed that the tests showed that the banks could withstand a setback to the world economy except for seven small banks. But the tests have been criticised as being not adequately stringent. Whether there is an implosion in banking again or not depends on whether the EU economies can muddle through long enough without a major default. 


 THE Indian situation presents a refreshing contrast. Most forecasts for Indian economic growth have been revised upwards and the revisions are seen as credible despite the uncertainties in the world economy. Growth is expected to be anywhere in the range of 8.5-9%. There is a clear roadmap for an exit from the fiscal stimulus. Monetary policy has become tighter with fighting inflation the priority now. 


 The PM's council of economic advisers thinks the projected rise in the savings and investment rate in 2010-11 and 2011-12 provides a firm basis for a return to growth of 9%. In 2007-08, our savings rate was 36.4%. It declined in 2008-09 and 2009-10 thanks to government dis-savings caused by the need to provide a fiscal stimulus. Thanks to the fiscal corrections introduced subsequently, the savings rate is expected to rise to 35.5% in 2011-12, enough to finance an investment rate of 38%. An investment rate of this order, in turn, can easily deliver growth of 9%. 


 But this begs the question: what happened to the coupling thesis? In 2008-09, we found that we were far more dependent on global economic conditions than we had supposed. As the global crisis peaked, our growth rate dropped to 6.8%. Why should things be any different if the advanced economies were to go through another recession? 


 There are reasons to expect a different outcome now. We were coupled with the world economy not so much through trade as through our dependence on capital flows. In a time of financial crisis, there is a flight to safety and out of emerging markets. This impacts domestic interest and exchange rates. It also impacted corporate investment in India as corporate investment had been financed by foreign borrowings to a greater extent than suspected. 


In the months ahead, these adverse factors may not come into play. A setback to global growth is unlikely to translate into a financial crisis. Investors are bullish about growth prospects for India and are unlikely to exit en masse if the world economy falters. Indian companies unwound much of their exposure to foreign debt during the crisis and will not have run up similar exposures again. 


These propositions will be tested if there is a double-dip recession in the advanced economies. If they hold up, that would give us a new basis for confidence as to India's growth prospects. Unlike in 2003-08, growth of 9% would be less vulnerable to the vagaries of the world economy. It would be more investment-driven with infrastructure as a key driver. We would then be having the best of both worlds: the benefits that go with integration and the lack of vulnerability that comes with being driven by domestic demand and financed by a high savings rate.






 YOUR first assignment is to challenge your beliefs right now, by listing in order of significance the top five things in your life that you have simply failed to fully and completely admit or acknowledge to yourself. This requires some new thinking. You may think, "If I know it, I'm not denying it," or "If I'm denying it, how can I know it to write it down?" I said new thinking. Ask yourself some of those questions about what you would rather not think about. Write them down, because you'll be referring to them later. What is it that you know in your heart is a problem not acknowledged or at least so painful that you avoid it? 


 Be advised that you are going to be writing down a lot of things as we progress through the rest of the book. I recommend that you get some type of journal where you can do all of the 'homework' that arises as we move forward. I recommend a spiral notebook, where the pages are attached and can, therefore, be kept together. This journal is highly confidential and should be for your eyes only. Treating it as such will allow you the freedom to be totally honest. 


 I would wager that whatever made your list is at least in part a product of your own behaviour. I also suspect that the main difference between your problems and the more terribly tragic situations we hear or read about is the result, not the behaviours that led up to it. For, aren't the patterns in your life…very likely the same? The world has changed; it is tough out there, of that there can be no doubt. I am sorry to sound like a cynic, but you now I'm right.







 EVERYONE dreams. Dreams, for some, are the wispy fragments of reality and unreality that swirl around in the complicated circuitry of the brain when the body is not conscious. In dreams, one deals with the present and, if the brain is truly manic, with dystopia and utopia. A bloody fight in a snake pit or a raunchy night with a porn film star can subsume your brain when it follows the circadian rhythm of sleep. 


 But how many of us, cosseted in the sleepy shelter of unconsciousness, dream of corruption? A corrupt reality being dreamt while the body enjoys a cool, pillowed sleep. Money exchanged, favours done, information revealed. Does a businessman dream about stashing the pockets of a pol? Does a bureaucrat dream of handing out an unscrupulous favour? Does a spook dream of letting on secrets? A corrupt reality that obtains in the conscious world doesn't pervade, in its full and devious force, the subconscious world. Why does the dark and deep subconscious blackball corrupt dreams? Our soiled consciousness refuses to put its smudges on our unblemished unconsciousness. As the id becomes ego, virgin becomes vile. 


 Now do all Delhiites dream about what's going on at the Commonwealth? As false ceilings and astronomically-priced treadmills make splashy headlines, our heads, in their soporific state, don't have any line of communication to the spreading scandal. In sleep, they are absolutely numb to the mindnumbing figures that circulate as digital and printed data. The gamed system would make a felicitous playground for the British-American film director Christopher Nolan to make a sequel to his dreams caper The Inception. Imagine, in someone's sleepy conscious, the hero is bounding ahead on a floor that giveswayanddropshim,itssuddennessswifterthanacinematicjumpcut,toanotherlevel that might be a swimming pool full of debris under which lie gleaming marble tiles, their luminosity almost blinding, on which the hero, already at his third level, willy-nilly has to moonwalk to avoid slipping. From leaping to moonwalking, in 100 quick frames, the hero jumps three levels without the aid of a scriptwriter or director or special effects. 

 Three layers of accursed corruption, easily permeable in their profaneness. If a stadium under construction has so many levels of corruption, we can only shudder — in our catatonic insomnia — at the thought of venal acts that a society commits in the pursuit of its greedy goals. A covetous community is bound to carry corruption in its ravenous veins. Avarice actuates attrition: rapacity always puts consciousness on the razor's edge. 


 Corruption, in many artful ways, is a conscious task done unconsciously. So used are we to this deep-seated ineradicable menace that we don't even think before transacting a deal that is not above board. When underhand gains the upper hand, the brain, a restive register of quotidian reality, thinks its everydayness can be casually discarded in the almost dehumanised present. The brain distills all our daily drudge of 24x7 reality and transmits only moments of dynamism to the dream world. Only dynamic and magicallydancing moments light up a dreamscape. A blessed bit of commonplace reality that gets transfigured into something uncommon in both dystopian and utopian ways: one is killed in a heist or one just hits it off. 


 Somebody's dystopia can be somebody's utopia. Dreams can mean different things to different people. In the collective subconscious,theyarealwaysfungible.Intheindividual subconscious, they are like the stub of a cinematicketthatcan'tbeinterchangedwithanother.Individualactsofviolenceandloveand bestiality remain inviolable as long as they stay in the individual subconscious but when they enter the collective subconscious on the disintegration of the individual, they become apart of the brutal common template. 

 PerhapsonlyAdamandEve,intheirEdenic purity, would have had corrupt dreams. That was the only reality available to them. That was all that constantly came to their pristine brains, leaving nothing to distill and purify. An extraordinarily empty sieve of consciousness. Sending corrupt signals — that was where, as we all know, it started — into their tabula rasa subconscious and, then, their vacant unconsciousness. Purity is purloined always by impurity. In the beginning was the word and the word was corruption.







 THE Holy Lord, a last-minute miraculous falling in place of things, a big stick, generous money flow and the rare coming together of the 'world famous in India' babudom will probably scrape us through the Commonwealth Games (CWG). The tragic, 'unHindi' movie ending to the tale is that India is unlikely to emerge the undisputed winner even if she successfully manages to wave off the last athlete into the final departing flight of an A-380 from the hopefully stillswanky T3 terminal. 


 But why then would India still be a loser? The answer will be clear to those who saw the organisation of CWG in the country as the opportunity to start transforming the way India works. CWG presented India the great opportunity to overhaul its urban work processes and the way its big cities live and grow. This was the big takeaway from the Games. More flyovers, stadiums, wider roads and better pavements are the body, not the soul. 


 By now, we know that many big athletes will be skipping the meet. But then, they were just an excuse to begin with. The idea was to use the event to transform the Capital into a modern, organised city that announces to the world that it is prepared to receive, assimilate and make fruitful use of the influences and investment that a fast-growing country like India will attract. The lessons of Delhi could then have been applied to other big and emerging cities. 


 The way Delhi has gone about it shows how we have, once more, failed to catch the proverbial bus. Hopelessly-delayed construction projects show how the city has failed to adopt modern project management practices and technology that monitor and ensure timely execution of projects. It is absolutely clear that local bodies will continue to face delays in project execution even in works they undertake after the Games are over. So, did the city become efficient? Certainly not. 


 This was also a golden opportunity for the Delhi government to reorganise, revitalise and rework its arms — get various urban municipal bodies in sync with each other's plans and projects. 


 CWG was the just the perfect excuse to make our municipal bodies self-sustaining, citizen-friendly urban development centres. Without that, post-CWG, one arm of the Delhi government will continue to cut up a new road built by another arm to implement a project local people will find little use of. And, all of them will continue to beg the government for money for salaries even in 2011 and thereafter. Did we create a sustainable, mutually-beneficial municipal ecosystem? Doesn't seem so. 


The software industry has given the country the image of an efficient, low-cost executioner of hi-tech projects. The Nano, on the other hand, has surprised the world with extraordinary innovation at a low cost. But Delhi has failed to imbibe the spirit. Ballooning Games bill is only indicative of how inefficiently money has been spent on projects with low RoI. Have we ensured that future projects in the city will balance development needs with aesthetics, environment friendliness and with cost? You know the answer. 


 The callousness towards public safety is an indicator of another task left unaccomplished. Dug-up roads, with pedestrians and traffic jostling for space is indicative of the current municipal mindset. Do we really implement city projects in a way that it doesn't affect the ecosystem of the rest of the city? Have we institutionalised the process that lets us successfully integrate an existing, living, breathing city with the growth needs of a decade later? I wouldn't even venture near answering that. 

 Will illegal constructions stop? Will there be a structured response to labour migration into the city? Can we now swiftly respond to natural and manmade calamities? Can the Capital boast of something as basic as 100%-sanitation toilets? Should the city need these big, expensive jumps every few years or should it be able to stealthily add capacity each year? And, a question no one is really asking: will the CWG imbibe the culture and spirit of sport among young Indians? To be fair, answers are not a resounding no, but, not many are likely say an emphatic yes either. 


 Finally, if creating physical infrastructure was the sole objective of the games, has Delhi developed enough to easily hold an equally-big global meet? Will some organiser in some part of the world tell thousands of participants and hundreds of thousands of delegates that, hey, let's hold our meet in Delhi? Let alone that, is Delhi prepared for the next Auto Expo?







THE small black granite idol of Lord Ayappan riding a tiger juts out of the hillside overhanging the national highway. It's customary to make an offering of a coconut to it before proceeding to Coimbatore from Palakkad. The location of the idol, openness to the elements and notable lack of ritual remind your columnist of a site nearby at Ochira, where the landscape itself (Kavu) is venerated as the supreme shrine. 


 That's how the all-pervasive Parabrahman was supposed to have been worshipped in Kerala for centuries. Even today, the 'priests' of Ochira have to stand all day long because there's no other infrastructure except for railings around banyan trees and some oil lamps and metal bells hanging down from the leafy branches. 

 Is this a relic that goes back to, say, the hoary days of Mohenjodaro and Harappa? Before we can speculate on this and other intriguing possibilities, a travelling companion begins to narrate stories of Lord Ayappan/Murugan to your columnist. 


These turn out to be most thought-provoking: one centres on the divine fruit of knowledge that Sage Narada brought one day to Mount Kailasa. 


 The first recipient is Siva who gives to his spouse Parvati. She, in turn, wants to split the fruit of knowledge between her two sons, Skanda/Murugan and Ganesha. Since the fruit cannot be divided, a contest is set up: the first one to circumambulate the universe is the winner. 


 While the martial artist Murugan goes around the world on his peacock, the roly-poly Ganesha tiptoes around his divine parents! 


 His logic proves to be unbeatable: Siva and His Consort are the ultimate source of reality. Ganesha gets the mango of divine knowledge and his disappointed brother leaves his snowbound home to settle down on Palani Hill. 


One moral of the story is to think smart and fast before acting. 


 But there is also another deeper, and a far more subtle, lesson: the ever-loving divine parents pacify Murugan who is told that He Himself is the fruit of wisdom (Pazham-nee); what good would dining on a mere mango do to such a person who's himself knowledge incarnate? 


 Lesser mortals are enjoined to remind themselves of their own luminous miracle: this is done through the Mahavakya, which simply states Tat tvam asi (you are That). Is there a better validation for the 'no-shrine' tradition of Kerala, which places a mirror in lieu of a deity in the sanctum sanctorum?






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The ongoing spat between the home ministry and the Canadian company Research in Motion (RIM), the makers of the BlackBerry devices, throws up two disturbing issues. One, it exposes the limited capability of Indian government agencies in technology; and two, it raises the age-old issue of privacy versus security and the misuse of power. As the sovereign authority, there can be little doubt that the government has the right to eavesdrop to ensure public safety if the latter becomes a concern. Governments all over the world exercise this right. The Indian authorities invoking jurisdiction in this sphere suggests that the government will get to monitor BlackBerry devices, and if due access is denied by the company, RIM will have to wind up its Indian operations. It is unlikely that RIM will abandon the world's second largest telecom market completely. The company will be inclined to reach a compromise with the government. But the question is why the government needs to approach a corporate entity in the first place. After all, governments in the United States or Britain have not sought to similarly pressure telecom companies although they are also targeted by terrorists and are just as security conscious as we are. The all-too-evident answer is that the US and Europe possess sophisticated infrastructure and the capability to monitor communications, with only minimal assistance needed from service providers for a wiretap. In India, even if the government gets its way with BlackBerry now, this might not always turn out to be the case. As companies grow and technology advances, the power of a government to enforce its writ by force reduces. Consider, for instance, the US government's response to 90,000 classified documents recently put up on the Internet by WikiLeaks. It could do nothing to check the whistleblower platform. The kind of issue that has cropped up with BlackBerry today can easily surface in future with newer technology. Force will not always be an option, and banning a new technology won't be a solution. The only long-term answer to such a conundrum for the Indian government is to develop its own dedicated cyber capabilities to tackle security-related imperatives. A nation that claims to be an IT superpower would do well to sharpen its response technologically. One more issue is of protecting individual privacy. There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest frequent unauthorised wiretapping by official agencies in India. Media offices and other entities are often targeted by these agencies that like to listen in on private conversations. Prosecution for illegal tapping is almost non-existent. Indeed, even the legal phone-tapping process leaves much to be desired. A clearance from the home ministry is all that is needed to tap phones. While this may be fine for a totalitarian regime, the world's largest democracy needs to be conscious about the need for a more robust protection of individual rights. In the US, for instance, judicial clearance is required for such an operation. This crucial aspect is absent in India. It then needs to develop appropriate legal mechanisms to ensure safeguards for its citizens while it develops technological capabilities to monitor telecommunication networks in the interest of public safety.








It is a cliché to say that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is complex and that Kashmir is burning. But this is true also. The situation today is the result of political mismanagement, indifference and lessons not learnt over past few years after the security forces had brought the situation under control.


The troubles that erupted during the 2008 Amarnath yatra should have provided some lessons, but these were lost in the congratulatory mood that followed the largely successful state elections in early 2009. The fact that the separatist was alive was reflected in the low turnout in Anantnag, Sopore and Srinagar, but was glossed over. Hartals and infiltration increased immediately after the elections.


What is happening today is the result of political Naivete, inexperience and indifference in Srinagar, accompanied by complacency and indecision in New Delhi, with Pakistan taking advantage of this without having to reveal its hand. Today it has become a people's protest movement using stones, insults and anti-Indian slogans as weapons, with separatists operating alongside. The protest movement is not like Gandhian civil disobedience. It is against a constitutionally elected government and is not non-violent. Omar Abdullah, the young chief minister, is considered remote and aloof from his people, and thus unable to strike a chord with the ordinary Kashmiri. New Delhi has been reading the signals of increased tourist traffic and declining rates of terrorist attacks as a sign of an improving situation.


The basic lesson is that sometimes the number of terrorist attacks decline because the terrorists choose not to attack and not necessarily as a result of counter-terror efforts. Yet it was apparent that from early this year that the tactics had changed. Aware that terrorist tactics were becoming increasingly unacceptable in the West, a people's revolt led by unarmed locals (with Pakistani agents provocateur lurking in the background) was the answer. This would bring the Kashmir issue back to the frontburner without resorting to terrorist violence.


Possibly the intention is to continue the protests until the government caves in and the CM has to go. Then the tactics would be repeated with the next CM, until the state becomes ungovernable. In many ways, we have a more sympathetic response from the West today on the issue of terrorism. But this needn't necessarily translate into total support on how we handle the Kashmir issue. We must not forget that the United States needed Pakistan when it began its campaign in Afghanistan in 2001, and needs it more now that it plans to leave.


The questions then are: what next, and how?


New Delhi has to ensure the continuity of the present elected government, with the present CM in position. It must be seen to be supporting the CM to ensure that his authority or that of the State in Srinagar does not get eroded. Judging from the unhelpful attitude of the other main party in Kashmir, People's Democratic Party, there is little hope that it will place long-term national interests above short-term narrow electoral gains.


The most difficult problem is how to douse the flames in the context of large angry protesting crowds. A mere show of force or its use will produce some results, but this is not the only solution. India cannot afford a Tiananmen Square. The protesters' tactics must be turned against them. Their means of communication, propaganda and incitement should be disrupted. Take pre-emptive measures to prevent the assembly of large gatherings. It is a war of attrition that has to be fought, not simply one set-piece battle. And none of this is easy, nor can it be achieved overnight.


The battle for hearts and minds is very complicated and nuanced. The terrorists, who never fully went away from the Valley, have used ideology, fear and coercion to win support for their cause. The paradox is that for the security forces to win hearts and minds, there has to some stability and the area liberated of malcontents and insurgents. Force is required to restore order, which will inevitably draw am adverse reaction from the local population. This in turn will be exploited by the terrorists. This vicious circle needs to be broken now.


Force has to be used to control the situation in the short term, but there is no magic formula to determine exactly how much force is required. Much depends on the nature and availability of the force in question, on how well trained and equipped it is, and above all on the ingenuity of its leader. Troops coming face to face with angry mobs always mean a hair-trigger situation: the forces will only be able to answer with its weapons as it has no other mandate. Yet, having failed to control the situation itself, the political class and civil administration invariably seeks to blame the forces for the deaths that follow their deployment. Suspensions, transfers, courts of inquiry are announced in the heat of battle damage morale like nothing else can. It is far better at such moments to observe public solidarity and resort to private reprimand. Besides, an outside force will always have the disadvantage of lack of knowledge about the population, its customs and traditions. The state police is on the other hand usually far too frightened to take on locals for fear of reprisals.


Finally, we must treat Pakistan differently from how we treat Kashmiris. The latter perceive they have a problem while the former intrudes as the problem. Pakistan is the adversary, Kashmiris are not. Pakistan as a self-imposed interested party will seek to prolong and not solve the problem, just as it has not helped the Americans in Afghanistan. If we keep saying this is an internal matter, then we must engage Kashmir's elected representatives in a continuous dialogue, listen to what they say and not just hear them out. We must make people like Ali Shah Geelani irrelevant, and refuse to give importance to those like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq who say openly on television that they are scared of the consequences of talking to New Delhi. Unless these elements are put to pasture, they will keep reinventing themselves under guidance from Pakistan.


There are no easy options and no quick solutions. Above all, what must be done is to restore the authority of the state government. It will not happen overnight; it will need a lot of patience, fortitude and luck to restore normality and then begin to address grievances — some real, and some not so real.


- Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency








Manipur is crying for help. There is a sense of utter hopelessness and fatigue in the state. Administration is almost non-existent. We find instead the heady and dangerous mix of insurgency groups running a parallel administration, flourishing extortion rackets, corruption, extra-judicial killings, threats to life and assets, and frequent violation of human rights.


Salam Ajit Singh, Okram Ranjit Singh, Md. Taslimuddin, Laishram Dipson and Ningthoujam Anand were killed in encounters. They were very ordinary citizens of the country — auto drivers, daily-wage workers and small businessmen. The families of four of the above have approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). NHRC has is making enquiries.


Manipur police commandos have claimed that these individuals are insurgents/terrorists. They were extortionists, they claim. Perhaps all this is true, who knows? Very similar to Sohrabuddin, wouldn't you think? In 2008 alone, there were 27 recorded cases involving the Manipur police. The Gujarat police can be no match to them.


The killing of Chongkham Sanjit in broad daylight inside a pharmacy was captured frame by frame by a candid camera and published. About the same time that Sanjit was subjected to an "encounter", another suspected youth was chased and killed as police opened fire. In the process, an innocent pregnant woman too was killed. As innocent as Kausar Bi, can't we say? It is intriguing why human rights activists have not approached the Supreme Court with a petition, which could then have at least sent a Special Investigating Team "to look" into the matter, as in Gujarat. It is established that Sanjit was a member of an insurgent outfit and had left the organisation on health grounds two years before his death. In Andhra Pradesh, such "reformed" Naxalites receive an extent of land, business start-up money, and probably even a flat to live in.


Manipur chief minister Ibobi Singh had stated in the Assembly that there was no other way but to kill insurgents. (Tehelka, August 31, 2009). However, he has never been called, "Maut ka saudagar". No one should be. Let the courts clinically scrutinise facts, call witnesses, examine them without duress, and pass a verdict.


Are comparisons odious? But citizens' rights are comparable, surely? Let it be said here that Manipur's insurgency problem is complex. No attempt is being made here to simplify it. But human rights are basic for our citizens, whether in Gujarat, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra or anywhere else. If our investigating agencies are professional enough to do what they claim is a meticulous job in Gujarat, why are they comatose in Manipur? Why aren't juicy selective leaks available for daily TV discussions?


Ved Marwah, the retired police officer and former governor of Manipur was quoted by a magazine as saying: "No police in the country has a worse record than the Manipur police. There is an allegation that they shot one of their own officers in a fake encounter. The force is completely divided along ethnic lines and functions like the armed militia of the ruling party. That place is like the Wild East." The Congress has been in power in Manipur continuously since 2002 with Mr Singh as its chief minister all the while.


The media too has failed Manipur. Most Manipuris feel that the local media is sold out to the militant outfits. But what about the national media? A cynical friend suggested that Gujarat's Narendra Modi gives the channels a Television Rating Points (TRP) advantage, which Mr Singh in Manipur does not.
Manipur and Gujarat are both states with international borders — Burma and Pakistan respectively. Gujarat, due to its trade and commerce, has been economically strong. Manipur has excelled in sports and culture. Mary Kom, champion boxer, and nine out of the eleven Indian women football players, are from Manipur. Theatre and art stalwarts Ratan Thiyam and Aribam Shyam Sharma are from this state. If we analyse contemporary affairs pertaining to the current decade, I feel a chill running down my spine. In Manipur, one can find more of what the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Congress, the human rights activists, and the media put together can find in Gujarat. Let me hasten to add here that the investigations should go on in Gujarat. But the Congress — in Manipur and at the Centre — should say why the CBI is hibernating in Manipur.


The leadership in Gujarat is accountable for its brilliant performance in agriculture (beating the national average), industry, equitable and inclusive growth (see Sachar Committee report on per capita income data for the minorities), and the education of the girl child. Does this not show it is alive to its responsibility to its citizens, all its citizens? In the event if there are omissions and commissions, let these be tried in the courts. However, if the Manipur government has few claims to make for doing good, let the state's Congress administration be tried for its claims on encounter killings.









Both sides were to blame for the blocking of Parliament last week. Any government worth the name should be prepared for a vote. It is only when a government is not confident of itself that it fights shy of a discussion under Rule 184, for example, which entails voting. There have been several occasions when even the adjournment motion has been admitted on urgent public issues, and discussed, and voted upon. The government should never give the impression of not being prepared for a debate under a substantive motion.


On the other hand, the Opposition should not give the impression of merely embarrassing the government and making political capital on issues like price rise that affects people all over the country. At least some issues which genuinely concern public weal should be taken out of party politics, and the forum of Parliament used for hammering out viable solutions to difficulties faced by the people through discussion and debate.


Indiscipline in the House, obstructions in proceedings, and not allowing the House to function, cannot be defended under parliamentary culture. Unfortunately, the culture we have developed over some time is that those in government preach to the Opposition the principles of parliamentary decorum, but when they are on the other side, they engage in the same conduct.


In some states, where the Congress is in the Opposition, they have indulged in the most indefensible conduct. Look at the way their legislators conducted themselves in Bihar only recently. A peaceful walkout is a form of protest which is recognised in parliamentary culture, but our parties don't consider this to be any more relevant.


There has occurred a tremendous disconnect between the people and the politicians in general. There has been unprecedented erosion of respect for the representatives of the people by the people themselves. Because of systemic problems, 70 per cent of those elected had more votes cast against them than for them. Yet such people are in the House, thanks to our faulty system. Since they do not really represent the majority of the voters, they display a cavalier attitude toward the functioning of Parliament and to giving primacy to issues concerning public interest.


The second fundamental problem because of systemic failure is that when the government is weak, Parliament also becomes weak. It is only a strong and stable government that can tolerate or promote a healthy Opposition.


Jawaharlal Nehru once said in the Lok Sabha, "I don't know after all that's happened in the past few months, how I and my government are being tolerated. If I was in the Opposition, I would have never tolerated it".


— Subhash Kashyap, former secretary-general, Lok Sabha


Silent protests can have no relevance


Raghuvansh P. Singh


It would be absolutely wrong to say that verbal spats in Parliament and disruptions of proceedings have no place in our democracy. Of late, people have developed the habit of criticising only the behaviour of the Opposition, which at times resorts to disruptions to make the government listen to them. I find this an unhealthy trend.


In modern day politics death-like silence cannot fetch the desired results, and one will get nothing out of it. India's Parliament is a perfect mirror image of the country's villages and its fields. If there exists chaos and unrest among the people on the street, and among the farmers in the fields, this is bound to be reflected in Parliament. And if MPs do not give voice to this sentiment, they would not be doing justice to their job, and this will be seen as blatant betrayal of trust.


To breathe life into the proceedings of the House, it is necessary that members raise their voice vigorously. There are hundreds of occasions when the government takes an unreasonable stand and shows its stubbornness. Such circumstances warrant unruly behaviour from the members to make the government listen to them. To my mind this serves a great purpose in helping people in general.


On many occasions, it has been seen that the government avoids discussion even on important issues merely on technical grounds. But by using satyagraha (the pursuit of truth through disobedience), it has been seen that on several occasions members have succeeded in getting the government to accede to their demands. This has helped to focus attention on people's problems and solving them.


If the government becomes insensitive to an issue of public concern, then nothing can be achieved through the use of means that appear logical and technically valid. In such a situation, members have no option but to bypass the rule book, which to some looks like defying the codes of decorum. However, the rules of procedure have provision for punishment and members are perfectly aware they are courting penal provisions. Knowing, this when they still defy procedure, they offer themselves up for punishment and happily accept being penalised as people appreciate them for taking up their cause.


Therefore, criticising unruly behaviour of members in the House is not good for the existence of a healthy and vibrant democracy. People should know why acrimony was created in the House and we should leave them to make the final judgment.


Nevertheless, nothing in the House should go beyond a certain limit. While keeping this in view, members should resort to any means to address the problems faced by the people whom they represent.


— Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, deputy leader of RJD in Lok Sabha and former Union minister








 "Cain, where is your brother Abel?" (Genesis 4:9) is God's probing question that sounds strikingly similar to the one God asks Adam in the same verse of the previous chapter: "Adam, where are you?" (Genesis 3:9). While the latter question evokes a confession of sin against God by Adam and Eve, the former causes Cain to cheekily counter God with an "Am I my brother's keeper?" query. Notably, the 3rd and 4th chapters of Genesis describe two transgressions — against God and against one's brother, respectively — that are equal in magnitude and incur equal punishment: expulsion.


The Bible is a story of God's human family, which makes Cain's rejoinder "Am I my brother's keeper?" sound outrageous. Of course, he is! There's no woman who is not my sister and no man who is not my brother. Injuring anyone, therefore, is terrible; and killing a brother or sister is not only a crime against humanity, but against God. Therefore, though Cain cleverly conceives and conceals the slaying of Abel, it is God Himself who imputes guilt and insures justice.


As individuals, Cain and Abel represent two types of people. Cain, the elder, is a farmer, while Abel, the younger, is a shepherd. This not only indicates the existence of division of labour from earliest times, but that there's also the possibility of inequality, and, consequently, of jealousy between siblings.


In the Biblical world, Cain would be the favoured one since he is the first-born son; thus, his name appears in the clan's genealogy. Moreover, possessing the land, Cain had more power than his kid brother. By contrast, the name "Abel" means "breath" or "nothingness".


Besides seeing their roles as rivals, some interpret Cain and Abel as symbolising civilisations. Cain represents the advanced, settled, agricultural civilisation, whereas Abel, the backward, nomadic one. Thus, Abel is the prototype of disabled human beings; and, the "might is right" law of the jungle seemed to motivate ancient society much as it moves the modern, today. Interpretations apart, the fact of premeditated fratricide remains: "Cain rose up against Abel and killed him" (4:8). Grandmas often add mirch-masala to Bible stories to have kiddies wide-eyed with wonderment. Grandma said that Cain was a miserly man who offered rotten fruits to God while Abel sacrificed his loveliest lamb; thus, the smoke of Abel's sacrifice wafted heavenward to God, while that of Abel descended into dust. Nothing of this is in the text, which says: "The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard" (Genesis 4:4-5). God's choice differs from ours. God says: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways" (Isaiah 55:8).


God gives Cain a chance to defend himself by inquiring: "What have you done?" (4:10a). When Cain pretends that he knows not where his brother is, God exposes his lie: "Listen, your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground!" (4:10b). Throughout history, men have secretly murdered their sisters and brothers, perhaps escaping the punishing arm of law. However, even if no one witnesses the crime, the bloodstained earth cries out for vengeance. "You are cursed from the ground", says God, "that has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood" (4:11).


No, it's not God, but the blood-bathed earth itself that curses Cain. "When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength"; consequently, Cain is expelled from his land and branded a "fugitive and wanderer" (vv. 12, 14). Doesn't mother earth seem endowed with the power to ensure that no fratricide goes unpunished? The Bible is explicit and uncompromising in matters of murder: "You shall not kill!" declares the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:13), and, "whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death" (Exodus 21:12).


The Cain-Abel passage concludes with the severest punishment: "Cain went away from God's presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden" (4:16). Castaway Cain is expelled from God's circle to dwell in Nod, the "Land of Misery". All "dishonour" killings end that way; since I am my brother's keeper, and everyone belongs to God's gotra.


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







Despite the India Meteorological Department's brave pronouncements, the monsoon this year is looking to be as disturbed as it was last year. A disturbed monsoon has a direct correlation with a deficit in food production. This happened last year and in all likelihood will happen again this year unless the monsoon in north India picks up immediately. These weather uncertainties are being attributed to climate change, a result of anthropogenic or manmade factors. The anticipated changes in climate and its impact on agriculture and food production are of great concern to tropical countries like India. The developing countries in the tropics are less able to adapt and are more susceptible to climate change damage than the temperate countries, many of which will be beneficiaries.


There is a broad consensus that tropical areas are slated to see an expansion of arid zones. This will be accompanied by a contraction of 31-51 million ha of favourable cultivation areas and a significant reduction in food production in the most vulnerable areas where population density is high and food already scarce. Nearly one billion affected people live in these vulnerable environments, dependent on agriculture. These vulnerable populations have limited capacity to protect themselves from the environmental hazards that will accompany climate change, like drought and floods, and will suffer most from land degradation and biodiversity loss.


The Polluter gets Paid


Climate related impacts on food production will be geographically unevenly distributed. In a perverse irony, the developed (industrialised) countries will experience an increase in agriculture productivity potential as temperate regions get warmer. The regions which because of their industrialisation and huge emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are responsible for the climate change phenomenon will actually end up being its beneficiaries with respect to food production. On the other hand, today's developing world in the tropics, which has not contributed to creating this climate hazard, will be its worst victim, and will suffer a loss in agriculture productivity, with serious consequences for food availability and hunger.

About 40 poor and food-insecure countries, with a projected total population (in 2080) of one to three billion, will lose 10-20 per cent of their cereal-production potential. Of these, Africa will be the worst affected followed by South Asia. Crop production losses as a result of climate change could further worsen the prevalence and depth of hunger. This burden will fall disproportionately on the poorest. To compound the damage, the overall trend of reduced food production will create market imbalances, which will push up international prices, making it even more difficult for governments of food scarce countries to access food for their poor.


According to estimates, a little less than half the production potential in certain developing countries could be lost. In South Asia, the biggest blow to food production is expected to come from the loss of multiple cropping zones. The worst affected areas are predicted to be the double and triple cropping areas like Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh from where the surplus grain for our buffer stock comes. This means areas where two to three crops are produced in a year and which are predicted to turn into single crop zones, where only one crop can be taken in a year because the rest of the season will be too hot and dry for cultivation.


Coping with wheat loss


For South Asia, particularly India, one of the most serious impacts is anticipated in wheat production. Wheat is the single largest winter crop of north India and states like Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh produce the surplus wheat that goes into the PDS. Wheat is a particularly temperature sensitive crop and it has been estimated that for every one degree rise in temperature, wheat producing areas in India and South Asia will lose about four to five million tonnes of production. This will have a cascading effect on food for the poor.

The immediate challenge is to find a substitute for wheat as the dominant winter crop for north India and other parts where wheat is cultivated. Tubers like potato, can be part of the solution. These could fill the shortfall to some extent but the cereal deficit will have to be made up by some other cereal. Corn could be suitable as a supplementary crop and a partial wheat replacement. Millets are as yet an unexplored option and have not been assessed for potential. Although millets typically grow during the summer in Asia, there are also several millet types which are cultivated at high altitude. Such millet germplasm could form the basis of developing new varieties suited for cultivation during the winter season of a changed, warmer climate regime.


The ability of a country to cope with the impact of climate change on agriculture will depend on a number of factors. The total amount of arable land and available water resources will be critical determinants of the ability of regions to adapt to the changes brought by a warming world. Apart from land, the availability of water could become a critical limiting factor. For instance, the impact of global warming on the Tibetan plateau and Himalayan glaciers will affect the 10 or so main rivers like the Indus, the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Brahmaputra that come out of there and flow into China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. Harnessing these river waters as the ice caps and Himalayan glaciers recede and the water flow in rivers diminishes, will need skilful diplomatic negotiations so that river waters can be shared in such a manner as to ensure that requirements of agriculture are met in all affected countries.


India has technical skills in agriculture and a sophisticated farming community capable of combining indigenous knowledge with recent scientific advances. The country is rich in biodiversity and community experiences from diverse agro ecological zones offer a number of options to find solutions. All this would enable the agriculture of the region to cope with climate change impacts provided a comprehensive and effective policy response is put into action right away.


Dr Suman Sahai, a genetic scientist who has served on thefaculty of the Universities of Chicago and eidelberg, isconvenor of the Gene Campaign









"AN ARMY", Napoleon had averred, "marches on its stomach". Like so many other military "basics", that truism has been cynically ignored by the scamsters in uniform who have been party to the soldiers of the Northern Command being supplied with foodstuffs ~ atta, sugar, dal, rice, tea and edible oils ~ more than two years past their best-before date. That no procedural wrangle is responsible for shortchanging the soldier is confirmed by the Comptroller & Auditor General; the CAG has also pointed out grave irregularities in the procurement of fresh vegetables etc. The blatant violation of the army's own regulations cannot be explained away as "aberrations", and this time around the CAG's findings cannot be ridiculed as the handiwork of a nit-picking accountant ~ as the military tends to do when the audit body slams certain hardware purchases. As disturbing as the CAG's conclusions, actually even more scary, has been the line taken by a number of now retired senior officers: that there was little "news" in the report just presented to Parliament, it was common knowledge that the purchase/supply system was corruption-ridden. Complaints about the poor quality of what they were eating have been made by the troops serving on the Chinese and Kashmir frontiers in recent times, now there is hardly refutable authentication. It requires little reading between the lines of the CAG report to identify the cause of the problem ~ just consider the large number of top officers facing graft charges. But while "doing the fiddle" in the purchase of weapons, clothing and other stores is criminal, cheating on the food front is sinful. And amplifies how the army has done little to thwart the sustained erosion of the qualities that had marked it distinct and elevated.  


No doubt some kind of in-house probe will be conducted, perhaps  the  guilty  will  be  punished.  But  what  must  exercise right-thinking minds is how the army (the navy and air force too) will set about re-creating the sense of honour and the working environment in which such despicable loot will cease. Of course there are several upright officers who uphold noble traditions, the lament is that they have little exemplary impact. The army chief had listed restoring "inner health" as one of his priorities: it is now apparent even surgery won't deliver. Would an exorcist help?




From natural disasters to man-made tragedies, West Bengal has a record of putting inquiry reports in cold storage. This may have been due partly to the Left's clout, unhindered for long by any serious opposition, and partly due to public memory that is proverbially short. If there is more attention focused on the report submitted by the Sourin Roy Committee on the Stephen Court fire, it is because the political scene has changed to the extent that the government has been compelled to release "extracts'' three weeks after it was submitted. This concession may have been unthinkable in the past but has come after sustained pressure from the opposition now in control of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and a communication from the Governor. Why the government needs to play hide and seek over the report till pressure is exerted is a question the chief minister may not want to answer. If he is deafeningly silent on the Singur agreement with the Tatas, his party colleagues have proceeded to confuse the issue with selective disclosures. Much the same strategy is now being applied to the Park Street fire for reasons that may not be difficult to fathom.  

If an inquiry into a disaster that claimed 43 lives is to serve any purpose, it needs to be acted upon. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's dilemma could well be that while committed departments proceed cautiously till the next election, it is a different story with a Trinamul-controlled KMC. From taking action on irregular constructions to sanctioning trade and other licences, the municipal body is obliged to act on the basis of the findings. To that extent, there could be valid questions on why it has been presented with "extracts'' and not the full report. That may fuel suspicions that the probe team headed by a former chief secretary has come up with disclosures that are best kept concealed. The Left cannot afford any damaging reflections, more so from an independent source. But the fire remains a live issue, with many knots still to be untied and victims yet to get back to normal lives. While a government-KMC tussle can only delay the process of taking action and prolong distress, another attempt at a cover-up will become only too glaring because there is so much at stake.




WHEN former Nagaland chief minister SC Jamir said in Guwhati recently that the Centre must change its attitude towards the ongoing Naga peace process by involving all the three rebel groups, tribal and political leaders and civil society, he was merely iterating what he has all along maintained. Not many Nagas may endorse his views, but if this question were to be posed in the open, many sections of Naga society would echo his sentiments. New Delhi's policy of indulging only the NSCN(IM) is the main reason why the 13-year-old peace talks have failed to make any significant headway. In 2004, Jamir said as much: "Greater Nagaland is only a secondary issue, the real one is about finding a political framework that is acceptable to all Nagas".  The NSCN(IM)'s claim that it is the only group mandated to talk, the others being non-existent, can be questioned. A mere handful cannot be representative of all Nagas and there can be no two opinions about an honourable settlement hinging on a collective burying of the hatchet. 

The NSCN(IM), known for its intolerance of any dissent, reacted with customary promptness, describing Jamir's Guwahati remark as being "done deliberately to damage the very essence of the Indo-Naga talks". This was to be expected because there is no love lost between Jamir and NSCN(IM), although the former met Th Muivah in Delhi during his last visit and is reported to have forgiven the outfit for its four attempts on his life. Reconciliation and unity alone can turn things around to build a Naga society free from hatred and mistrust. Significantly, this month the NSCN (Khaplang) and the Federal Government of Nagaland ~ armed wing of the Naga National Council ~ united and the NSCN(IM) repealed its ban on the Sumi Hoho, imposed in 2008. This is in the spirit of a desired bonhomie, so might we ask if things are changing in that troubled state?









THE Himalayan lands on either side of the great mountains are in the process of being transformed by massive road and rail projects that have already had a vast impact. For millennia, these areas remained isolated, free to develop their distinctive way of life without interference from outside. But now the modern world has caught up with them and is no longer to be kept at bay by problems of distance, terrain, or an inhospitable environment.
The most spectacular and far-reaching development is the Chinese railway line to Lhasa, traversing the roof of the world in a feat of engineering that binds Beijing more firmly than ever to this most distant part of its domain. Migration from central areas of China into Tibet, which has been taking place for many years, is being accelerated by the rail link. Four trains a day, by some accounts, bring a stream of new immigrants, who are expected to remain in what is their new home, to work on the numerous development projects taking shape, and in the process bringing rapid modernization to what is still a largely traditional society. All of China is on the move, and after the coastal and other more easily accessible regions, it is now the turn of the less approachable parts of that vast country. The outlying regions seem to be receiving special attention.

Stakes in Tibet

OF course, when it comes to Tibet, much more is at stake than balanced development across the nation. Tibet is the biggest of China's problems of integration and reconciliation, the stubborn Tibetan minority having clung to its ways, its religion, and its leader, despite much oppression. Yet reports suggest that the Tibetans, especially the new generation, are no less ready to enjoy the advantages of material advancement than anyone else, even while holding fast to their traditions. The complaint they voice is not against modernization as such but about its uneven impact, the fear being that the real benefits are going not to the indigenous people but to the newly arrived immigrants who have the skills that get them the best jobs while the others have to be content with lower paid employment.

As a result, Tibetans feel discriminated against by the dominant Han, though more than ethnicity, it is cultural and religious identity that is important here, and the source of political differences that persist and remain unresolved. Nearby, in the contiguous Xinjiang, another large and sparsely populated province, the native Uighur have experienced comparable Han immigration for a longer period, without losing their distinctiveness or their readiness to assert themselves when the situation so demands.

Not all the opening up of the borderlands between India and China is the result of infrastructure development from the Chinese side: India, too, has been active, though on a lesser scale. The border between the two countries is tranquil but remains edgy, and each side keeps a watchful eye on the other's activities in the frontier zone. India too has built a number of roads and has undertaken many development projects on its side. Now work has commenced on a major new project to tunnel under the Rohtang Pass for year- round access to the strategic region that lies beyond.

In culture and religion, this part of India is virtually an extension of Tibet and is the seat of some major Buddhist monasteries whose importance has only grown with the eclipse of the great centres of the faith in Tibet. Though well established and flourishing, even these centres of religion and learning may well look at encroaching modernity with some trepidation. As new ways enter these shangrilas isolated in their mountain retreats, traditional ways of life are bound to get disturbed, and traditional avocations like that of the monkish life become harder to sustain. The pressures of modern ways may be inadvertent, but can be damaging nevertheless.
Left to themselves, border areas would perhaps evolve according to their own innate and well-established qualities, assimilating whatever they found relevant and rejecting what went against the grain of their traditions. But to be left alone is not a luxury the people of the region can expect to enjoy. Given the nature of their contact over the last half century and more, India and China are bound to be wary about developments in the border regions. 

China's road network

THE military and strategic implications of their infrastructure projects are never left out of the reckoning, and China's immense development effort in Tibet has much to do with the pacification of that territory. Extension by China of its rapidly expanding road network in Tibet into the border areas could complicate India's defence task and place India at a disadvantage so far as logistics are concerned. Hence it is felt that India must not lag behind, and it is against this background that projects like the tunnel at Rohtang are taking shape. The road now being bored through the mountains will improve supply lines to both Siachen and Aksai Chin, where disputes respectively with Pakistan and China have necessitated Indian troop deployments. While the military necessity may be the paramount reason for the ambitious tunnel project, opening up access in this fashion will at the same time greatly affect the trans-Rohtang communities in a number of ways.

The militarized frontiers in the Himalayas are unlikely to disappear at any early date and all parties show every intention of keeping up their armed defensive postures. However, even though problems linger, there is no Himalayan Armageddon looming ahead. The pattern of past conflict in the mountains with the neighbours is highly unlikely to be repeated. So while guard must be maintained, it is also necessary to look to alternative ways of maintaining peace and tranquility in the region.

It is worth recalling that there are two important force reduction agreements between India and China, respectively of 1993 and 1996, that provide for an improved border regime but have not been properly implemented in the years since they were concluded. These agreements provide for mutual and balanced force reductions that would benefit both sides without compromising the security of either. In speaking not so long ago of a possible military stand down between India and Pakistan, the Prime Minister invoked President Reagan's dictum on force reduction: 'trust but verify'. This could be a most suitable watchword for giving effect to the India-China agreements of the 1990s. A less heavily armed border is obviously in mutual interest. And not least among its benefits is that a lighter military presence would give more scope to the border population to maintain and preserve their threatened way of life.


(The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary)







West Bengal has made quite a habit of generating bad news. It has managed to come third in the race for the state most unsafe for women. That is quite a fall — or should it be called a climb? — from its rank of 22 in 2000. Since decline and failure have begun to mark West Bengal in almost every sphere, practice has made the chief minister cue-perfect. Unacquainted with shame or sensitivity, he has quickly pointed out that there has been a marginal rise in crimes against women all over the country, so there is nothing to worry about. This cosy little evasion ignores the fact that Bengal has risen to third place, just after Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in such crimes. Last year's figures showed that the state led the country in the number of recorded rapes, and was second only to Andhra Pradesh in the number of tortured women, presumably including both victims of routine domestic violence and women victimized for dowry. It is only recently, after years of repeated warnings from various non-governmental agencies, that West Bengal is trying to look proactive in its measures against trafficking. But that crime has grown to such enormous proportions that checking it would not be easy for any state.


West Bengal's decline demonstrates the consequences of lax, or even deliberately perverse, administration and the flourishing of a culture of political patronage. But it is necessary to examine the causes of the countrywide rise in crimes against women too, with a distinct space given to organized crime, such as trafficking. Maybe both women and crimes are more visible. Not only are the traditional barriers between the home and its surroundings breaking down in the face of economic and educational compulsions — thus widening the space for criminal acts — but women are also more vocal about crime, more willing to risk the public gaze, while the media are more responsive. But the actual increase in crime cannot be wished away. Does this inevitably accompany a country's growth, as it creates larger gaps, however temporary, between different social units, and a culture of increasing impatience and greed? Whatever the reasons, something is seriously wrong if a country going from strength to strength keeps weakening its women. The West Bengal chief minister may choose to snuggle deeper into comfortable indifference; other states, it is hoped, will have more sense. They usually do.








Only in a democracy, minority voices can hope to be heard. There is thus nothing wrong with the West Bengal government talking to smaller parties in order to end the stalemate in Darjeeling. So long have the hills been in turmoil that any move to involve more players should add to the search for a political consensus. Both the Centre and the state governments erred in the past by talking only to the dominant political force in Darjeeling, ignoring other voices. This happened while Subash Ghishing's Gorkha National Liberation Front was the main player in the hills. The same thing happened with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which is unquestionably the leading player in Darjeeling now. Neither New Delhi nor Calcutta can hope to find a solution to the Darjeeling imbroglio without taking the GJM into confidence. That does not mean, however, that other voices should not be heard. The GJM, too, should not see the state government's parleys with other parties as a threat to its supremacy in Darjeeling. The murder of Madan Tamang, the former president of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League, sometime back, pointed to the dangers of the politics of intolerance and violence that had prevailed in Darjeeling for long. Darjeeling needs pluralist politics as much as any other place.


However, the important question for the common people in Darjeeling is not which party rules the place but how soon a solution to the problem is found. And it should be clear that the problem is primarily one of identity politics and not of development. Since the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, both the Centre and the state governments have given it a considerable amount of funds. Mr Ghishing may not have done enough to ensure that the funds were properly utilized. But it was the cry for a separate state that led to his downfall, just as it had once made him popular. The GJM leaders clearly want everything to stop in Darjeeling until a separate state is formed there. But they have made things more complicated by wanting parts of the Dooars and the Terai to be included in their proposed state. In doing so, they have actually added unclear dimensions to their identity politics. For there are other contestants for this brand of politics in the Dooars and the Terai. Uncharted boundaries for an expanding Gorkhaland may not be a workable idea.









The Central Bureau of Investigation is making a new submission about Bhopal. This breaks a month-long silence on all fronts. Yet only two months ago, the nation had professed outrage at a judgment that, disturbingly tenable in law, sent out a worldwide message that India allows 25,000 people to be killed with impunity, and untold generations to be maimed in mind and body, provided they are sufficiently poor and disempowered.


Six weeks ago, a group of ministers submitted their damage control report. The damage in question was clearly not to the Bhopal victims but to the rulers who betrayed them. That problem taken care of, we have heard no more about implementing the report at the human or environmental level. We learn of these things through the media, and the media, too, have shifted sights. Once the drama and scandal had been milked, and file pictures of old horrors recycled to optimal point, infotainment had no further stake in the business.


Bhopal was a disaster. The Right to Education Act, launched four months ago, should be an unmixed blessing. Here is a historic measure that could revolutionize our society and economy. At the same time, the nation is singularly ill-prepared to implement it. Had we taken the act seriously, the country should have been caught in a tide of activity. Yet Kapil Sibal is uncharacteristically silent. As for the states — who play the lead role in the next stage of planning — they seem preoccupied with attacking the act and diluting its implementation.


Now for the uncomfortable part. Few of us live in Bhopal. As a TV programme demonstrated, even the affluent young who do care little about the slums surrounding the Union Carbide factory. As for the right to education, it is already secure for anyone even remotely empowered by money or class. Extending it to the rest might actually threaten the former — as symbolized by the unconcealed resistance of elite schools to admitting less privileged children, as enjoined in the act.


This is the factor linking Bhopal to the RTE Act. Both situations illustrate an indifference if not opposition — of the State, and the empowered classes upholding the State — to the full and equitable welfare of all Indian citizens. The State gets away with it because, deep down, we want it to.


So what's new? Not only the ruling but the conniving and attendant classes have always customized our democratic polity to their own ends. If the rest of the nation benefited, that was a happy side-effect. Despite a heroic agenda of hypocrisy and subversion, the democratic welfare State could not quite be reduced to a rhetorical sham.


What's new is that the rhetoric has changed. It is less hypocritical, but not therefore more honest. There are worse sins than hypocrisy, which at least professes the ideal it subverts. We cannot ensure equal justice for all, but it would clearly be wrong to expunge the principle from the Constitution. Today, we are becoming an alarmingly candid nation. Our lies are intended more and more to be seen through.


Hence the rhetoric of democracy has been recast to ensure power and gratification in newly brazen and divisive style. Autonomy equals pay-your-own-way; empowerment, fight-and-get-it; the pursuit of excellence, grotesquely selective nurturing of the favoured.Janata-level benefits become a compensatory ritual for those who, by systemic fiat, do not qualify for the real thing.


However chimerically, the old political rhetoric talked of prosperity for all. The new reality show frankly admits exclusion, discrimination and unequal competition. The new order may or may not be impoverishing more people; this may or may not be econometrically possible; but we are accepting it as a morally admissible scenario. The nation is splitting in two, the beneficiaries and the rest, by its declared process of uplift. There is a huge blurred tract in between (which is why the model can be touted at all), but once the process is complete, the division may get sharper. The crucial divide will be something as simple as the price rise: on one side, those who can afford more and more of everything; on the other, their fellow-citizens — however productive, provident and indispensable — whose vision, and still more damningly their children's, cannot look beyond a sketchy meal and a hovel, at most the ritual social support that actually entrenches inequality: the village primary school, the rural health centre, the jobs at such venues at wages in three figures.


I once discussed equal educational opportunity with that bizarre new functionary, a commission agent recruiting students for private and foreign universities. "Oh, you mean the social obligation quota," he said. "You can factor it in by charging the others ten per cent more." This could actually be good socialist strategy if it wasn't bad arithmetic: ten per cent must suffice for seventy per cent of the people. Primped up with such ideological fibre, the RTE Act might self- destruct before it takes off.


So might the nation, through what we have allowed to become (as two years ago it was not) the biggest perceived threat to the nation's security: the Maoist challenge. Most of us would abhor violence and consider the Maoist strategy misguided and doomed. But it is further argued that any reference to the root causes, endemic deprivation and misgovernance, is unpatriotic or even anti-national. Yet these causes are admitted, in different keys, not only by Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy but also by the army and air force chiefs; E.N. Rammohan, the forthright BSF ex-chief appointed by the Union on a fact-finding commission; Swami Agnivesh, the home ministry's appointed emissary; indeed, by their repeated statements, Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. But the so-called two-pronged strategy, development alongside deterrent action, has failed on the first count or, more accurately, never taken off. How much will be achieved by the sops now held out by a beleaguered State proposing too little too late?


When home minister, P. Chidambaram, visited West Midnapore by helicopter, anadivasi woman asked him an awkward question. Herself with little or no education, she had supported her daughter's studies up to Class XII; in that virtual war zone, she had insisted that the girl sit her finals; but on exam day, there was no transport to take her there. Far from being a Maoist, this woman was clearly staking on the establishment. The establishment failed her, because she and her daughter were not its accredited members. How much schooling can a tribal girl-child want?


This educationally deprived region has suffered immeasurably — not, one hopes, irremediably: by police occupation of schools, the dearth of teaching materials, the collapse of communications. Older children are missing out on their slender chance of higher studies; younger ones are scarcely learning their letters. Rice supplies for school meals have stopped. Yet provisions for police camps are transported under special escort. That may be right and necessary; but the contrast confirms the stereotype of governance.


A smug-cat school of thought would argue: if poverty bred Maoism, why haven't all poor people turned Maoist? No thanks to their rulers, for sure. Combine this argument with another, that development is impossible till the violence is curbed. Fair enough, but it leaves some questions unanswered. What was being done till the violence broke out? If enough had been done, would violence have broken out? Most crucially, what is being done where there is no violence?


A classic instance would be the Aila-hit Sunderbans. There are no Maoists in those parts. Here was the State's great chance to demonstrate its commitment to the welfare of a shattered community. But 16 months later, most victims have not received their relief money; not a kilometre of permanent embankment has been built; and thousands of people are braving out their second monsoon without shelter.


Delhi and Calcutta will bicker endlessly on fixing the blame. So will the state's chief opposition party, which runs the concerned zilla parishad. All parties concur in the us-and-them divide between the people who must profit from the system and residuary beneficiaries who may possibly do so by default. The old order of feckless inaction connives with the slick new productive model, the babu in cahoots with the MBA. They are both on 'our' side of the divide.


So are all readers (and columnists) of The Telegraph. Even the meanest of us are secure in a milieu that should haunt us with entirely selfish fears: retaliation by the deprived, or attacks by enemies of society masquerading as or manipulating the deprived; more basically, the unviability of a humming economy, a 'shining' example to the sahibs, that would write off three-quarters of its human resources.


For the moment, we are doing quite well on tax breaks and trendy gadgets, with guards for our condominiums and corporate billets or green cards for our offspring. In our puny way, we are mimicking the life-cycle of the obscenely rich and terrifyingly powerful. We can share in the fiction that India belongs to us. The only problem is, it doesn't —not really and entirely.


The author is Professor Emeritus, Jadavpur University








High food prices are forcing small businesses to close down. Take the case of Gao Li. This 30-something lost his job as a driver in a multinational when his boss left. Thanks to the global recession, multinationals in China are no longer giving their employees personal drivers, and, after scanning the internet for jobs (that's how he'd got the driver's job), Gao thought it best to set up his own restaurant. That had been his dream for years; he was a good cook, having trained under a Taiwanese friend when he finished middle school.


Gao had hoped to set up the restaurant in his hometown, but rentals were too high in this fishing village-turned-SEZ. So he shifted base to an adjoining city, leaving his wife and little son behind. There, he set up a modest 25-seater eatery in an industrial area. Keeping prices minimal, Gao found he'd hit the right market. Business was so good that it left him no time to breathe. He would buy the food himself, supervise the two cooks he'd hired, and then deliver lunch boxes to the adjoining factories on his cycle.


Dinner was less frenzied; he didn't have to deliver food, but his eatery was always full. Soon his wife and son joined him — the three of them living on the floor above. His wife pitched in; his son made new friends and Gao got him enrolled in a nearby school after having to pay an additional fee for being an outsider to the city.


This idyllic situation, however, didn't last more than 10 months. Food prices started going up, but Gao couldn't afford to raise prices at his restaurant. Earlier, he was breaking even; now, he began to lose money. Finally, he thought it best to cut his losses. Handing over the running of the restaurant to his wife's brother, he moved back to his hometown. Today, the restaurant set up with such enthusiasm has become a small take-away place; Gao is jobless.


Hit hard


Inflation has reached such proportions that the minimum expenses for a family of three in urban China today are not less than 3000 yuan, says Gao. Prices of grains, vegetables, fruit, meat and oil compare with those in India; but salaries of working class people are higher in China. Migrant labour, often single, start work at 800-1,000 yuan (one yuan = Rs 7.7), and get dormitory accommodation near their workplace and one meal.


It's middle class people like Gao, whose wives don't work and who have a child, who are hit hard. All over the coastal cities, which had been at the forefront of the post-Mao liberalization, small shops and restaurants have disappeared, to give way to fancy mobile/ electronic stores. Rentals are just too high.


Even an international supermarket chain like Carrefour has rented out an entire floor to expensive clothes wear shops, restricting its USP — row upon row of cheap, good quality readymades.


What will Gao do now? Originally, he had planned to shift to Macau, where his parents stay, and open a restaurant there. He even underwent the 1,500 yuan DNA test necessary to take up residence in Macau, to prove he was his parents' son. But having moved back to his hometown, Gao has rediscovered its charms. Trees still line its avenues; while skyscrapers are gobbling up open greens, huge parks remain untouched. The housing colony where he has always lived, one of the first to be set up, is ideal for children. Now Gao doesn't want his son to grow up in treeless Macau, where looking out of one's apartment, all you see is another wall.


So the Gaos won't leave this city. Instead, this never-say-die Cantonese plans to take a four-month course in basic plumbing and electrical repairs and then get attached to one of the swanky hotels that keep coming up.








Like everything else surrounding the Commonwealth Games, the Delhi government's beggar eviction drive has also fallen victim to corruption and ineptitude. Beggars are ubiquitous in Delhi; this despite a year-long drive by the city government and its police to banish them from the streets in an effort to dress up the capital for the Games. Beyond the usual administrative failures, the drive has raised basic questions: what defines a beggar? Is every destitute or street vendor a beggar? And is begging a crime or a socio-economic problem?


Since 1961, Delhi and 17 other states have been administered by the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959. The law makes begging in public places a punishable offence attracting a jail term of three years. This is seldom invoked. Beggars are generally sent to one of the 12 city-government-run 'homes' with a cumulative capacity of 2,200 inmates. Estimates of the number of beggars on Delhi's streets vary from 60,000 to 100,000. Thirty per cent of them are below 18, nearly 70 per cent are male, and 90 per cent migrants, mostly from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.


In Delhi, the law is implemented by the department of social welfare and the police. They conduct raids, mostly in 'no tolerance zones' like Connaught Place and other tourist spots, to pick up beggars, who are then tried in two special courts and, if convicted, sent to one of the homes. Last year, the government also constituted 12 mobile courts. Harsh Mander, a former officer with the Indian Administrative Services, now turned activist, has challenged the statute. In a public interest litigation which is being heard in the Delhi High Court, Mander has asked for the decriminalization of begging.


He argues that collecting alms has been part of the Indian tradition, adding that the law criminalizing begging, first put in place in the 1920s, smacks of a colonial hangover and that the problem needs socio-economic solutions. The act puts street performers, mendicants and small vendors, who may solicit alms "indirectly", in the category of beggars. It describes beggars as people "having no visible means of subsistence and wandering about or remaining in any public place in such condition or manner [that] makes it likely that the person doing so exists by soliciting or receiving alms". Thus, anyone who looks unwashed or is penniless or is a destitute can be arrested. So, often a homeless migrant labourer or rag-picker, who may have never begged in his life, is sent to a home.


Mander labels the act as the most anti-poor law. "It makes the poor not only responsible for their situation, but criminally responsible for it." Indu Prakash Singh of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan, working with the homeless, calls it a war against the poor. But the pressure on agencies to rid Delhi of its beggars is increasing with barely 60 days to go for the opening ceremony of the Games. The city government has even asked the states for help. It recently submitted an affidavit asking resident commissioners of the states to take back "their" beggars.


The traffic police has made giving of alms a punishable offence under the Motor Vehicles Act. The police has brought out an order stating that anyone caught giving alms can be fined Rs 1,000. Last year, an advertisement put up by the Delhi government pointed out that those who give "alms may cause traffic jams, accidents, illiteracy, inconvenience, unemployment, biri, cigarette, alcohol, bhang, ganja, charas, heroin… mandrax, robbery, rape, sex, theft, murder, prostitution, handicapped, assault, hooliganism... slums, poverty, debt, ignorance, aggression, encroachment, molestation, mugging…"


Officials claim that begging is controlled by mafia groups that force children into the profession. Official surveys have found many beggars to be graduates or high-school dropouts. So the problem isn't just about people getting pushed into begging due to poverty or lack of jobs. "It is an easier life. What other profession can offer up to Rs 400 daily for doing nothing?" says an official.


Activists dispute the surveys but do not entirely deny the possibility of mafiosi at work. "There is no empirical evidence to prove the presence of mafia, something the government conceded in the court as well," says Singh, adding that officials are passing off stray cases as evidence. Officials say their job is to enforce the law, not to interpret it. They cite a 2008 Delhi High Court order which directed the city government to clear Delhi of beggars and hawkers as they "obstruct the smooth flow of traffic", and devise a rehabilitation plan for street children affected by the order. The order came in response to a PIL moved by a group of lawyers that described beggars as the "ugly face of the nation's capital", as people who, among other things, caused "road rage".


As the former chief of Delhi traffic police, Maxwell Pereira was one of the first to ask his men to arrest anyone found begging on city streets. He continues to believe that beggary is bad advertisement for India, making it look like a "land of beggars". The drives led by Pereira and others have been largely ineffective. Raj Mangal Prasad of Pratidhi, an NGO working with destitutes and juvenile criminals, says that the problem is not just with the formulation of the law, but with its implementation as well.


Using the Right to Information Act, Pratidhi has exposed rampant corruption in the way the social welfare department runs beggar homes. As many as 12 officials had to serve sentences after the RTIs became the basis for inquiries by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the city government's anti-corruption branch. Beggars living in these homes are let out in the morning to beg, only to return in the evening with their collection, part of which goes into the pockets of the officials. Other irregularities abound. In 2007-08, an anti-corruption branch raid revealed how officials claimed ration funds for 1000 inmates when the home had only 500. In an RTI reply, the department confessed that a cashier in one of the homes had decamped with lakhs collected from the beggars during jaama talashi or search. Then there are issues of hygiene. A few years ago, inmates at a home died of cholera.


"The government is more concerned about the visibility of these beggars and the city's image than actually treating the problem," says Prasad. Officials concede that removing beggars from Delhi streets would be a tall ask. "We may teach them skills like gardening or washing clothes but these are of little value to someone used to earning several times more through begging than through the minimum wage," says an official. A study shows that nearly all beggars come to Delhi to escape poverty, and that a beggar earns Rs 50-60 on a daily average. As Prasad says, "The Centre has initiated employment guarantee schemes. In Delhi, we have Aap ki Rasoi, which offers food to the homeless. And yet, we round up the homeless and put them up in poorly-maintained homes."


For the time being, it seems that shoddy preparations for the Commonwealth Games threaten to cause the elite of Delhi more embarrassment than the city's beggars.







An international sporting event is a collective experience; it connects a large number of people — players, coaches, organizers and most importantly, spectators and fans. Perhaps more than any other form of cultural activity, sport is capable of bringing the whole world together. But here a question arises — at what cost? In an effort to expand its influence, sports have drawn upon many features of modern society — some of which can also be labelled as vices.


Before the recent Fifa World Cup in South Africa, it was predicted that around 40,000 women would be brought to the country from all over the world, mainly from East Europe, to work as sex workers during the event. It was also conjectured that rural children would be lured to join the sex trade during their month long vacation at the time of the World Cup.


Rise in prostitution during a sporting event caught the public attention during the 2004 Athens Olympics and then during the Fifa World Cup in Germany in 2006. There was an uproar in Europe when Greek officials decided to expand brothels in Athens in 2004 to meet increased demands during the Olympics.


The number of sex workers working near the 2012 Olympic site in Stratford, East London, has reportedly doubled since work began on the stadium. But should we be bothered with what is happening elsewhere? Well, let's not forget that brothels in our own capital are gearing up for the Commonwealth Games to be held in October this year. The brothels on G.P. Road are reportedly being renovated to attract foreign tourists. Sex workers are being given English lessons to help them communicate with clients from abroad. Escort agencies are putting up advertisements illegally using the Commonwealth logo and inviting tourists to contact the "CWG Delhi Escorts". Escort agencies from all over India are focusing on Delhi, expecting a considerable increase in business during the Games. The sex market in Delhi is expected to boom like never before.


But our concern here is not the increase in the number of sex workers, but rather the rise in human trafficking. It is feared that young girls from West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka will be trafficked to the capital before the Games. It has been estimated that more than 2.3 million girls and women work in the sex industry within India at any given time, and more than 200,000 people are reportedly trafficked into, within, or through the country. Girls from neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh are also brought to India. One can safely guess that human trafficking will increase considerably during the Games. All host countries of recent international competitions have experienced an influx of sex workers during these events. Activists have also expressed concern over the concomitant increase in substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.


Hosting the Commonwealth Games is a much bigger challenge for India than many would have thought. This is partly because sports carnivals have not changed much in essence since the ancient Olympics. A victory banquet is still an event meant to cater to male tastes. In ancient times, merchant ships from the Asia Minor and Egypt used to carry cargoes of women to work as pornai, prostitutes. In modern times, women are still trafficked. It seems that human nature has not changed at all.





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





Preparations for the Commonwealth Games, to be held in New Delhi in two months, have turned out to be arrangements for private wealth gains with increasingly murky revelations coming out every day about corruption, incompetence and delays. The revelations not only point to dubious deals between the organisers and providers of equipment and services but also show the resort to lies, misrepresentation and brazenness on the part of the Games' Organising Committee in defence of its actions. It was bad enough that treadmills that cost only Rs 4 lakh were being taken on a rent of about Rs 10 lakh for 45 days. It is worse when middlemen pocket huge sums for arranging their supply. Surely there must be a huge commission that reaches the decision-makers too. A London firm with unacceptable credentials was engaged on a high remuneration on dubious considerations. Organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi defended the deal on the ground that the firm was recommended by the Indian High Commission in London. The high commission has denied the claim and it has now come to light that the e-mail produced by Kalmadi to support his claim was fabricated. Fraud and forgery, to boot.

This takes the scandal to Kalmadi's door. Two members of the Organising Committee are being dropped and a three-member committee is investigating the charges of irregularities. The Central Vigilance Commission and the CBI are also probing various charges. But it is clear that Kalmadi was in full charge of the corrupt and criminal activities all these years. It is hard to believe that he did not know about them or was not involved in them. If he was unaware he is unfit to hold the position he holds. Either way he should not continue at the helm and should be made to pay for his lapses of commission and omission. Sports minister M S Gill and Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit must also be made answerable.

The Prime Minister's Office has intervened in the matter now. Things would not have reached this shameful pass if it had acted when the first reports of irregularities, delays and tardy construction had surfaced last year. It may still not be too late to throw out the present organisers and get things organised under a new leadership. The image of the country is set to suffer badly if it presents a mismanaged and disgraceful show to the world in October.







The Indian Army has begun taking a long overdue step towards ensuring gender parity in the treatment of its officers. It has agreed to extend permanent commission to its women short service commission (SSC) officers in the legal and education wings. A Delhi high court ruling in March this year had got the Indian Air Force to extend permanent commission to its women officers. The army resisted the order. Its excuse was that women SSC officers had not been given adequate training and that granting permanent commission to women SSC officers in combat units such as the infantry and artillery was fraught with problems. The supreme court has rejected these explanations saying that this discriminatory attitude towards women is untenable. Armies in other countries are allowing women to participate in all units of their countries defence. So what is holding back the Indian army?

This is a victory for women. Another male bastion has fallen. However, the decision will immediately impact only a small number of women. Thirty-three women currently in the SSC will be considered. Those released from SSC service even recently will not. Only those women who are found eligible will be given permanent commission. How objective will the male officers be in their assessment of the women's eligibility? It is well known that male officers are vehemently opposed to women being allowed in on equal terms. It would be a pity if after winning this hard-fought right, the women SSC officers are defeated in their eligibility tests. No one is asking for concessions. The women must meet the exacting conditions that permanent commission in the army requires. But they must be given a level playing field, one that is not dented by age-old prejudices.


The extension of permanent commission to women in legal and education wings of the army should be the beginning of a series of decisions the army takes to shed its outdated, gender insensitive image. A small step has been taken but it could become a giant leap in the long-run. A handful of determined women officers who have fought the case through the courts have pried open a door that was shut for decades to other women. They must overcome entrenched prejudices in the services through their performance to push the door wide open.







We must prioritise the reform of the administration, agricul-ture, education and health, besides enhancing opport-unities for the marginalised.



Like the BJP that thought it had made India shine, the Congress thinks it has created an incredible India. Also in the 1990s, many had predicted that by 2010 India would be a superpower.

For three centuries or so, Britain commanded the world. After the  World War II, the Soviet Union and the USA were competing superpowers. The remnant, Russia, is now a developing economy, with many nuclear weapons and large oil and gas reserves, but little else. The USA is now a static economy with an increasingly impoverished middle class.

The empire strengthened the British economy; but in the case of Russia, it ultimately ruined its economy and inflicted deprivation on its people. The USA is a declining power but it can still influence the world.

A superpower is "a country that has the capacity to project dominating power and influence anywhere in the world, and sometimes, in more than one region of the globe at a time". High GDP growth for many years gives us the conceited notion that India is on its way to becoming a superpower.

This growth has consistently come principally from services (trade, hotels, transport, communications, finance, insurance, real estate, business services, and community, social and personal services including government). Since 2004 to now, the growth in services growth has ranged from 12.79 per cent to 19.13 per cent. Agriculture and industry have lagged far behind, and agriculture's share has been declining.

Services dominate the American economy. America is a highly productive manufacturing and agricultural economy. Almost everyone has high levels of consumption of products and services, unlike in India. Almost 500 million Indians have no access to electricity and live on the margin of starvation.

Consumption of manufactured goods and of food grains, sugar, pulses, edible oils, milk, etc, apart from fast moving consumer goods and durable consumer goods is very low in relation to the population size. So is the access to sanitary facilities, proper housing, health care, and a good education. The real economy of goods and services consumed by the majority of the people is pitifully small.

China as the world's largest exporter, with the USA heavily indebted to it, is able to deflect international odium for supporting rogue regimes like Pakistan and North Korea with nuclear weapons, missiles, and money. India is by no means a major factor in international trade, is a net importer of goods, with deficits in the balance of payments. China attracts substantial foreign direct investment while India has had uncontrolled inflows by foreign institutions that escape the short term capital gains tax, resulting in volatile rupee exchange value and share prices.

Neglect of infrastructure (power, roads, ports, airports) has held back industrial and agricultural growth. Restrictive labour laws have restricted labour intensive product exports to a fraction of China. Procedure ridden and largely corrupt bureaucracy, has little individual accountability, and is unable to deliver social services to the poor.

Negative investment

Agriculture has had negative government investment growth in real terms. It is heavily dependent on declining ground water. There is no national programme for watershed development, check dams, irrigation canals, and rational water pricing. Productivity for most crops is falling and effects of climate change will make matters worse.

Government deficits, encouraged by subsidies on fertilisers, food, petroleum, electricity, kerosene, gas, etc, besides inefficient and wasteful expenditures, have risen sharply and are met by asset sales than more efficiency in spending. All these have perpetuated inflation, high interest rates, kept industrial growth low, and severely hurt the poor.

On the positive side, a growing youthful population, and a large population enables even an inadequate and variable quality educational system to produce a rising output of qualified technical and trained people in a variety of disciplines. The 'software' of industry is well developed: management, advertising, market research, economic forecasting, design capability, etc.

We can leapfrog technologies as we have done with mobile telephony, biotechnology, stem cell research. We learn from others and easily adapt to the latest innovations. Climate change and the thrust for renewable energy will increase innovation.

But we must prioritise the reform of the administration, agriculture, infrastructure, education and health, besides enhancing  opportunities for the poor and the marginalised. Reform of administration includes specialisation in functions, reduced numbers, and higher work expectations.

Performance evaluation, rewards related to performance, individual goals and accountability for achieving them, severe penalties for corruption, will reform the management of government's human resources. Change in systems and procedures, with much more use of information technology and modern communications, with transparency in administration are essential.

Stakeholders' involvement requires decentralisation to enable local communities a greater role in services delivery. To take most local decisions, urban and rural local bodies must have the authority, funds, capacity and training to deal with teacher attendance, teaching quality, health centre functioning, expenditure on facilities, distribution of cheap fertilisers, electricity, etc.

We must achieve inclusive growth to counter threats from terrorism, hostility from Pakistan, neighbouring China that has Pakistan as a surrogate against us, climate change and its effects, the Maoist insurgency, competition for global resources and other major challenges.

We have too many things to correct and do. We should not fool ourselves into dreaming of becoming a superpower.








The Sudanese govt deliberately created conditions of life that made it impossible to survive.


Fifteen years after the worst war time massacre in Europe since World War II and now a second arrest warrant issued for the architect of this century's first genocide. Srebrenica and Darfur. Both genocides, each carried out in very different ways and each orchestrated by notorious thugs who remain free.

I was in the former Yugoslavia 15 years ago when Bosnian-Serb leader Ratko Mladic marched his troops into the small Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica and annihilated 7,000 Bosnian men and boys. Ten years later, I sat in front of a UN supplied blue canvas tent in a refugee camp along the Chad-Sudan border documenting the systematic destruction of lives and livelihoods in Darfur, Sudan.

There I listened to a frail, elderly farmer named Nourein tell me how his village was destroyed by eight months of aerial bombardments followed by a ground assault. He described the loss of his home, his camel and his cows. His crops had been burned, his well had been poisoned and the village medical clinic had been looted.

Conditions of life

Nourein's story, and the hundreds of others I gathered, highlight what the Genocide Convention calls the inflicting of 'conditions of life' calculated to bring about a group's demise. In Darfur, this meant the systematic plundering and destruction of houses, wells, crops, livestock and assets, combined with restricted access to humanitarian aid. The cultural ties to villages and the fabric of the former residents' social structures were virtually eliminated.

Consider the plight of Nurein's village, Furawiya. To see the devastation first hand, I travelled to his village in a windowless, brakeless Land Rover that was shot at by rebels. In spite of the risk involved, it was important to witness the destruction of Nurein's life and livelihood with my own eyes.

Furawiya and its outlying settlements were once productive and intensely interdependent. Families farmed their own fields, which were handed down generation to generation. Through financial exchange and pooling of resources, they built and maintained mosques, clinics and schools. Livestock — sheep, goats, cattle, camels — was the main measure of disposable wealth. He proudly told me that he once had 15 camels, 10 cows, two donkeys and more than 150 goats and sheep. Two years prior to our meeting, he was able to pay two camels and 10 sheep for a medical operation.

When the government sponsored forces entered his village, all their herds disappeared. This wholesale robbery of livestock destroyed the ability of the villagers to return and rebuild their lives. For them, losing even a donkey was like bombing the family car. Without it, transport and access to food, water and safety become impossible.

With the elimination of access to all that sustained life, the Sudanese government deliberately created 'conditions of life', making it impossible to survive. Each and every person I interviewed said both they and their attackers were well aware that death from starvation, thirst or disease was a looming possibility. One woman described being captured. A soldier was about to shoot her until she overheard another soldier tell her attacker, "Don't bother don't waste the bullet. They've got no food and will die from hunger."

When I returned to Washington, I and others documenting the devastation of lives and livelihoods called for the protection of Darfurians who remained vulnerable to attacks. At the same time, we emphasised the need to hold perpetrators accountable for these heinous crimes. We wrote about Sudanese proxy militias carrying out a "systematic campaign of destruction against specific populations". They obliterated thousands of villages, killed, pillaged, plundered, and forced men, women and children to flee into a 'no man's land' amounting to an

"all out assault on the very survival of a population".

In issuing the arrest warrant on July 12, the ICC now recognises what others documented years ago: Bashir's campaign against the civilian population of Darfur was genocidal.

Whether it is the wholesale assault on the survival of hundreds of thousands of Darfurians or the massacre of Bosnians at Srebrenica, those most responsible for such acts need to be held accountable. Robert F Kennedy once wrote, "Let's dedicate ourselves to what the ancient Greeks wrote so many years ago, to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that."

In the case of Sudan's Bashir or Bosnian-Serb leader Ratko Mladic, the actual apprehension of these genocidal architects will help us get a little closer toward taming the savageness of man.








I listen to a running commentary covering a wide spectrum of subjects.


I'm walking at a sedate pace in the park when I notice a flash of colour to my right. It's a young woman wearing red sweat pants and a T-shirt soaked in sweat. I recognise the walking Usain Bolt of the morning walking brigade. Predictably as I move ahead a few yards, she has already walked a full circle in the park, with the precision of a military general, neatly squeezing into the open spaces between slow walkers.

While busy applauding her technique, I unwittingly stumble onto a couple in front of me. When they look at me in consternation, I feel like an interloper. Muttering apologies, I give the cozy couple a wide berth as I determinedly sprint ahead, all the while keeping my eyes on the she-Bolt.

"Today the coffee was so bitter — but I dare not complain otherwise I will not even get my usual cuppa!" The remark is followed by loud guffaws and back slapping. When I look back I see a group, pot-bellied to the last man, dressed in black. Their black pants and shorts makes me stop for a moment.  I'm not sure if they are colour coordinated by intent but they certainly represent a show of unity. All that's missing are peace bands on their wrists.

The men are shadowed by three ambling women carrying on an animated conversation. Their neatly plaited hair and starched sarees appear to practically slap my face. Here I am in a crumpled Tee and pants fraying at the edges while these ladies appear immaculately attired and plaited to boot. When one of them loudly gesticulates to the others, I slow down to catch a bit of their conversation.

"She keeps demanding more and more." Now I am all ears. Who was demanding more? A whiny daughter or a dominating mother-in-law? "Last month I had increased her salary but she takes leave for the flimsiest excuse."

Ah! It is maid-bashing time. What follows next is like a script from a movie. When the Men in Black take a breather after lamenting over the metro construction everywhere, the amblers ruminate over maids, in-laws and shopping maladies. And circumscribed by the relentless pacing of the she-Bolt. On and on it goes. I listen to a running commentary covering a wide spectrum of subjects in my morning walk at the local park. It certainly saves me the bother of reading the newspaper.








UNIFIL proved impotent to stop Tuesday's clash on northern border.


The IDF on Tuesday gave the Lebanese army the benefit of the doubt and retaliated only locally against provocative sniper fire that killed one officer and seriously wounded another. It's far from certain, however, that this was exclusively a local initiative. What is certain is that an ambush was prepared, with members of the press invited in advance to view the attack.

Such malevolent planning was made possible by the fact that Israel had coordinated with UNIFIL that it was going to carry out routine pruning of shrubs and trees near the border – overgrowth that could provide cover to terrorists. UNIFIL requested a two-hour delay. Israel agreed, the Lebanese were apprised of Israel's plans, and they exploited the notice to orchestrate a surprise attack.

The location of Israel's security fence afforded the pretext.

The fence isn't constructed directly on the border but inside Israeli terrain. The overgrowth that was to be cleared lay beyond the fence but not outside the Blue Line international border.

Lebanese officers – whether locally or higher in the chain of command – unilaterally and arbitrarily decided that the fence constitutes the border and that any movement outside it constitutes infiltration of Lebanon. In any case, the fire wasn't directed at the crews that ventured beyond the fence but at officers clearly on the Israeli side of it. UNIFIL personnel shouted at Lebanese marksmen to stop but their entreaties were ignored.

Though called "peacekeepers," the UNIFIL forces did not raise, much less use, their weapon to foil what was obviously outright aggression.

For Israel, this still further undermines UN Security Council Resolution 1701, adopted to end the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The resolution utterly failed to prevent Hizbullah rearmament, which has been achieved openly via the border from Syria, but Israel has taken comfort in the fact that both a much-enlarged UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces are deployed in south Lebanon.

But on Tuesday, UNIFIL proved impotent. And the LAF was far worse than useless. The hope was that its units would restore order in what had become Hizbullah's dominion. But instead of central government control over Hizbullah-land, we witness growing Hizbullah control of both the central government and its army.

Lebanon's military is increasingly Shi'ite (including the command of the southern region) and overtly sympathetic to Hizbullah, if not actually in active cahoots with it.

Hence sporadic attacks are only to be expected from the very force Israel wanted to believe would stymie such attacks. This is all the more so given the turmoil in Lebanon ahead of the report due from the international tribunal appointed to investigate the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri, father of current Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Syria and Hizbullah, together the prime suspects, have served notice that the entire Lebanese state would suffer dire consequences were they to be accused of the murder.

Syrian-proxy Hizbullah and/or its allies are highly motivated to divert attention from the upcoming report. So is Saad Hariri, who has become Damascus's lackey. Caught in a vise, his governing coalition – which includes Hizbullah – promulgates particularly vicious anti-Israel propaganda.

ALL THIS, moreover, may reflect a wider problem than Lebanon's internal turbulence. The quiet along Israel's other borders has also been violently disrupted in recent days. From Gaza, rockets have been fired at Ashkelon and Sderot. Eilat was targeted from Sinai. This, too, wasn't unexpected. Ironically, in our region each renewal of the moribund negotiation process with the Palestinians is invariably accompanied by terror and warfare.

The very talk of again kick-starting direct contacts between Israel and the PA may well have inspired Hamas and assorted Islamist allies in the south. Since this is likely encouraged by Teheran, Iranian-surrogate Hizbullah and its sidekicks may be just as eager to stir trouble.

In all these incidents, not a shred of doubt exists about the aggressor's identity. Yet, particularly regarding the Lebanese ambush, the reaction of the UN, US, EU and Russia has been implausibly "evenhanded."

Israel, in fact, was cautioned not to "overreact."

Were there even a fraction of a pretext to lay blame on Israel, we can be sure that this would have been done with extraordinary vehemence. The reaction from abroad, therefore, is hardly an expression of neutrality but obfuscates the truth. Rather than promote peace, it underscores Israeli apprehensions regarding international guarantees and international peacekeeping.

The international community cannot feign ignorance of incontrovertible evidence of Lebanon's status as a Syrian vassal. Yet Lebanon's military is directly and massively underpinned by the US and France. Both need to reassess their aid to what has become an arm of the Iranian- Syrian axis.








For much of his improved relations with the Obama administration and EU, Netanyahu is indebted to hyper-cautious Mahmoud Abbas.


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has done what Prime MinisterBinyamin Netanyahu could never do for himself – transform the Israeli leader's image from hawk to dove. And he had help from American, European and even Arab leaders who are urging Abbas to quit dawdling and meet the Israeli prime minister at the peace table.

The Obama administration weighed in Monday with State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley publicly warning Abbas "there are consequences to failing to take advantage of this opportunity."

That came after he seemed to ignore private messages from US peace envoy George Mitchell that President Obama is running out of patience with his playing hard to get.


Crowley said Palestinian reports that Obama threatened to break relations if Abbas didn't act soon were absurd, but he reminded the Palestinians that "you gain leverage inside a direct negotiation," not by standing outside making demands, and "we do not want to have preconditions to the start of negotiations."

Even the Arab League appeared to side with Netanyahu; it urged Abbas to move quickly to direct talks and put no conditions on that advice, saying only the decision was up to the Palestinian leader. That infuriated Hamas, which warned direct talks "will seriously damage the interests of the Palestinians."

Hamas sees any movement toward peace as a threat, which may explain the increased incidents of rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel recently. The Telegraph of London aptly summed it up in a headline: "Hamas has no interest in anything except dead Israelis."

Netanyahu has deftly outmaneuvered Abbas and scored major public relations victories. In subtle signals to the Palestinians, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders have met publicly in the past week with Netanyahu in the wake of his successful fence-mending White House visit. Obama has urged European and Arab leaders to join him in urging direct negotiations. That alone should disabuse Abbas – who has complained he's never experienced such widespread international pressure – of any hopes that he could stall long enough for the administration to get frustrated with the lack of progress and push an American peace plan.

Abbas has no shortage of preconditions before he'll sit down with Netanyahu. He started out demanding a total settlement freeze, including in east Jerusalem, and has steadily added to his list. Talks must resume where they left off in late 2008 under Netanyahu's predecessor, Israeli must agree that borders will be based on the 1949 Armistice lines, an international force must enforce the borders and there must be a deadline for completing negotiations.

THE LATEST development, reportedly, is a three-way meeting of US, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators as early as next week to set the agenda and timetable for direct talks. That comes as Netanyahu told his Cabinet this week that negotiations could begin this month and called on Abbas to "take a brave decision" – suggesting the Palestinian leader lacks the courage to negotiate with him. (Can you imagine the international outrage if the proverbial shoe was on the other foot and Bibi were the one using every imaginable excuse to avoid meeting Abbas?) 

Abbas insists Netanyahu's 10-month partial freeze on West Bank construction, which expires next month, be renewed and expanded before he will agree to a sit-down. The PM says that would be political suicide and, besides, he won't do anything until Abbas meets with him.

Abbas and Netanyahu will continue playing the Alphonse-and-Gaston routine, each refusing to make the first move. Each is commitment-phobic. Abbas wants guarantees of the outcome before he goes in, and Netanyahu is more anxious to talk than deal and has spoken of dragging things out for a decade or so to implement any agreement they may reach.

But, so far, Netanyahu has the upper hand, and that, along with his reluctant and delayed decision to go along with a UN investigation of the May 31 Gaza flotilla incident, have done much to repair his relations not only with the Obama administration but with European and even Arab leaders as well. For much of that he is indebted to hyper-cautious Abbas.

Netanyahu's claim that extending and possibly even expanding the construction freeze would be political suicide is an exaggeration, says Gilbert Kahn, a political science professor at Kean University.

"Netanyahu is actually in a strategically no-lose situation but in a critical one politically. It remains to be seen if he has the political courage and statesmanship to confront his own political viability," he said. "There are really no political leaders – or opponents – to challenge him in any direction."

Netanyahu is riding high today – he has the Americans, Europeans and even Arab leaders backing his call for the reluctant Abbas to join him at the negotiating table. But once those talks begin, he will have to make some very difficult – and historic – compromises and decisions. He will have to live up to his own rhetoric and show that he is ready to make peace, not just talk about it endlessly. He can't keep depending on Abbas and the Palestinians to keep missing opportunities to make peace.








The UN, US and EU should tell Lebanon the truth – that it was the aggressor and Israel the defender in Tuesday's bloodletting.


The Lebanese don't want a war and neither do we, yet we came pretty close to one a couple of days ago. Another deadly exchange along the border like that and we could have the Third Lebanon War on our hands. So here are a couple of suggestions on how to prevent it – how to lower the tension on the border.

First, the international community, such as it is, has to tell the Lebanese Army to back off. Instead of timidly calling for restraint on both sides, which does nothing to prevent the next clash, the UN, US and EU should tell Lebanon the truth – that it was the aggressor and Israel the defender in Tuesday's bloodletting. Such a message might have a chastening effect on the folks up north.

The Lebanese admit they fired first. As far as I'm concerned, that's the bottom line. Even if the tree that the IDF was cutting down for visibility's sake had been on Lebanese territory, as Lebanon and much of the Arab world claim, there are other ways of dealing with the issue. A little strategic landscaping on a minute patch of disputed territory doesn't justify shooting at Israeli soldiers.

The admission in Lebanon's Daily Star: "Fighting broke out near the village of Adayassah, close to the Blue [border] Line, after an Israeli Army patrol attempted to cut down a tree in Lebanese territory, prompting fire from nearby Lebanese Army positions."

Reuters quoted a Lebanese Army statement that after IDF soldiers defied UNIFIL requests by crossing the border, "A Lebanese Army force then repelled it using rocket-propelled grenades."

By admittedly firing first, that makes the Lebanese wrong, in my book, even if an IDF cherry-picker did cross two feet into their territory. It was those first shots – into Israeli territory that is not in dispute – which killed Lt.-Col. Dov Harari and severely wounded Capt. Ezra Lakia, says the IDF. Wrote Reuters: "The Israeli Army showed reporters blood stains outside a bunker some 100 meters inside its side of the border fence where it said the colonel was shot in the head and another officer was shot in the chest and seriously wounded."

BUT NOW we even have UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) backing the IDF's claim that the cherry-picker was on Israeli territory when the Lebanese started shooting. Milos Strugar, UNIFIL's senior political adviser, told IDF Radio yesterday that while the cherry-picker had been "on the northern [Lebanese] side of the border fence," the ground on which it stood was still "south [on the Israeli side] of the international borderline."

And contrary to Lebanese claims that UNIFIL troops were trying to stop the IDF from cutting down the tree, Strugar said UN forces were trying "to calm the situation and allow the IDF to work."

So I think the question of who was in the wrong and who in the right is clear enough. By the time the shooting stopped, the IDF had wreaked the greater amount of damage and bloodshed, killing three Lebanese soldiers and a journalist, but I don't think anyone can say this response was disproportionate.

Before Tuesday, Lebanese soldiers on the border had been pushing Israeli troops all the time, pointing their rifles at them and such. This time it went beyond provocations to the killing of Harari, the severe wounding of Lakia and the near-touching- off of a war, the war that people have been predicting, and now more than ever.

If this is not the time for Ban Ki-moon, Barack ObamaNicolas Sarkozy and other world leaders to speak out clearly and decisively, then when is? 

BUT WORLD leaders like to be even-handed, so here's another suggestion: Let them also tell Israel to stop flying spy planes over Lebanon just about every day. That is also a provocation – not a lethal one, but an invasion of airspace that we would never tolerate from any country, which makes it completely wrong for us to do to Lebanon.

Worse, these flights could set off a war – and in that case the war would be at least partly Israel's fault. In the past, the Lebanese Army fired at our spy planes evidently just for show. Yet in recent months, according to Yediot Aharonot's military commentator Alex Fishman, the Lebanese have been "firing at Israeli Air Force piloted vehicles to an unusual extent."

It seems that ordinarily, neither the Lebanese Army nor Hizbullah would want to shoot down an Israeli spy plane, or otherwise cause it to crash, for fear of what Israel would do in response. But when the bullets are flying and the blood is spilling, as they just did, rationality can go out the window.

If a Lebanese Army or Hizbullah soldier caused an Israeli spy plane to crash in Lebanese air space, a war would likely ensue – and while we would not have started it, we would have provoked it.

So enough with the spy planes. The mission they're flying is too risky, it creates a lot of bad blood on the Lebanese side, and it's wrong. Not as wrong as killing Israeli soldiers, but wrong.

And to those who say the spy planes are justified by Hizbullah's arms build-up, which is likewise a violation of the UN's cease-fire that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, I say Hizbullah, twisted as it is, does have the right to stockpile arms – and the West tacitly agrees. Officially or unofficially, Hizbullah is one of Lebanon's armed forces, and Lebanon has no less a right to armed forces than does Israel or any other country. What Lebanon doesn't have is the right to shoot at Israel, and what Israel doesn't have is the right to fly spy planes over Lebanon.

And if the world makes those two points absolutely clear to them and to us, I think the chance of steering around the next war might get a little healthier.








No better way to divert the world attention from the UN report on Hariri murder than to kindle some bloody gunplay.


Two days ago, Lebanon deliberately lit a match that threatens to engulf the entire region.

In a wanton act of murder, Lebanese military snipers pointed and aimed their rifles at IDF soldiers on a routine operation to clear away bushes along the fence on the Israeli side of the border.

With their prey in their sights, the gunmen pulled the trigger, killing IDF Lieut. Col. Dov Harari and badly wounding Capt. Ezra Lakia.

Israeli forces quickly returned fire, reportedly killing two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist, in what is perhaps the worst incident between the countries since the 2006 Lebanon war.

Make no mistake – this was not one of those periodic incidents which occasionally take place between countries where it is hard to ascertain the who, how or what that occurred.

As OC Northern Command Maj.- Gen. Gadi Eizenkot made clear in remarks to reporters, this was nothing less than a premeditated and belligerent act by our northern neighbors.

Employing unusually blunt language to describe the incident, Eizenkot said that, "It was a planned ambush by a sniper unit…this was a provocation by the Lebanese army".

Indeed it was. And what is particularly worrisome is the peril that it portends for the Middle East as a whole.

This sinister and cynical episode may or may not spiral out of control. Either way, it demonstrates that some nefarious forces are at work, and that conflict may very well be in the offing.

AFTER ALL, it could hardly have been a coincidence that just four days previously, on Friday of last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad paid a dramatic visit to Beirut, marking the first time he set foot in the Lebanese capital in eight years.

Accompanied by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Assad attended an urgent summit with Lebanese leaders to discuss an upcoming report by a UN inquiry into the 2005 assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

The report is said to implicate Hizbullah in Hariri's murder and may even include indictments against senior figures in the terrorist movement, such as its secretary-general, Sheikh 
Hassan Nasrallah.

Since Hizbullah is closely allied with both Syria and Iran, this will necessarily incriminate Damascus and Teheran, if only by association.

And if the report does tarnish Hizbullah, it will be a blow to the two countries' interests in Lebanon, where both have sought for decades to assert their influence and create some strategic depth.

Undoubtedly, therefore, Nasrallah, Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are all of one mind on how best to deal with this rather sticky situation.

And what better way is there to divert the world's attention than to kindle some bloody gunplay with the Jewish state? 

Even if Tuesday's clash proves to be an isolated incident, it nonetheless advances Syrian and Iranian interests.

By demonstrating that they can easily spark a conflagration at will, Damascus and Teheran are sending a timely reminder to Israel and the US that they won't hesitate to turn up the temperature in the region to forestall a possible future military raid against Iranian nuclear installations.

And if the message wasn't clear enough, the dictator of Damascus and the tyrants in Teheran made sure to emphasize their point by getting their Hamas comrades in Gaza to launch a spate of new rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns and cities.

Not surprisingly, the Obama administration's initial reaction was mealy-mouthed and uninspiring. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a press conference on Tuesday that, "We deeply regret the loss of life; we urge both sides to exercise maximum restraint to avoid an escalation and maintain the ceasefire that is now in place".

That's fine and nice, but wouldn't a condemnation of Lebanon and its allies have been more appropriate?

IT IS precisely this kind of Obama-style moral relativism and diplomatic naivete that threatens to push the region still closer to anarchy.

Instead of holding the bad guys to account for their actions, Washington seems more inclined to coddle them in the vain hope that this will foster a change in their behavior.

Ironically, rather than reducing the likelihood of war, this unsophisticated approach only serves to boost its chances still further.

After more than a year of reaching out to Iran and Syria with the aim of improving relations, it is time for Washington to view this week's incident as a tangible sign of the futility of its efforts.

The administration needs to change course, and to stand firmly behind Israel at this hazardous juncture.

The dangers of a regional flare-up are hovering in the air, and they are real. Some observers believe that war may be just around the corner. Hopefully, it won't come to that.


But while Washington fiddles, the arsonists of the Middle East are busy lighting fires, attempting to set the whole neighborhood ablaze.

Now more than ever, strong and determined US leadership is what is needed to forestall the possibility of confrontation, if only because it is difficult to understate the seriousness of the present situation.

Similarly, Israel must not allow this provocation to go unanswered. Lebanon and its government, as well as Iran and Syria, must be held accountable and made to pay a price for their devious deeds.

Weakness on our part will just invite further aggression. The only way to stop the bullies from terrorizing us is to stand up to them rather than slinking away.

When and how – and even if – the next war will start is of course anyone's guess, so the Jewish state and its citizens must be duly prepared.

Israel may not start the fight when it comes. But this time around, our enemies need to know that we will most certainly be the ones to finish it.








How the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel has shifted its priorities from Jerusalem to the Palestinian cause.


The northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, headed by Sheikh Raed Salah, has long been considered an organization that puts the issues of Jerusalem and the defense of the Al- Aqsa Mosque at the forefront of its activity. Recently, however, the movement has expanded its ideological and political focus to the Palestinian cause as a whole – including the Hamas- Palestinian Authority power struggle, the right of return, and negotiations with Israel – and in the process it now embraces and openly supports Hamas's perception.

In an interview last month with the Islamic Web site Islamonline, Salah described the expansion of the Islamic Movement's activity from the local level to the overall Palestinian level, and to the global level, saying: "The Islamic Movement and its leadership played a prominent role in the issue of occupied Al-Quds [Jerusalem] and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. [This role] began to expand from the local level to the overall Palestinian level, and then to the global level – more precisely, in the matter of occupied Al-Quds and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. [The movement's engaging in the issues of] Al- Quds and Al-Aqsa has opened doors for [the Islamic Movement] to create a global connection in all matters in which the Islamic Movement frequently engages," which, he says, are Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa, the right of return, breaking the Gaza siege, and "creating a connection with the Arab and Islamic [world] and with humanity in general [in order to] present the just Palestinian position to all people on Earth, and in an attempt to expose the false claims of the Zionist discourse."

In the same interview, Salah spoke of the pressing need for involvement for the sake of the Palestinian cause, and called for an acknowledgment of the failure of the negotiations with Israel: "The Palestinian cause is currently in a state of regression – which, if it continues, will not bode well.

Therefore, it needs every honest person to act to rescue it from its current distress, and for every honest and ambitious idea to push it forward toward actualizing Palestinian rights, and to help all the principles in the Palestinian cause. Personally, I do not think that I am the one who can implement this, but I do aspire to take part in the collective effort that is now required, with the aim of healing the internal Palestinian fractures and uniting the Palestinian leadership with the Palestinian factions and with the Palestinian public...

"In my opinion, today we need the Palestinian leadership, which has itself chosen the option of negotiations, to boldly come out and say that these negotiations were an illusion, and that although they have continued for two decades they have only set back the Palestinian cause... and that we must go back to the beginning, to collective thought and a collective vision that will unite the leadership, the factions, the Palestinian public, and the various institutions."

SALAH STATED that the Oslo Accords have led to tragic results for Jerusalem and to Israeli preparations for expelling the "Palestinians of '48" i.e.

the Palestinians living in the 1948 territories, which is to say the Israeli Arabs, and that this means the revocation of the right of return for refugees: "The Oslo Accords bound the hands of the Palestinian side in all things concerning Al-Quds [Jerusalem], claiming that this issue would be postponed [to the end of the negotiations]... At the same time, it gave the Israeli occupation a free hand to continue its unceasing Judaization of Al-Quds and its holy sites, headed by the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque. It also opened the door to the expulsion of the Palestinians of '48, and I am not exaggerating – even if this was found out late. That is, one of the long-term ramifications of the Oslo Accords is that the Israeli side has begun to talk about the state as a Jewish [state], and this means two things: First, the closing of [the door] to the right of return and the refugees' right, and second, the view of the existence of the Palestinians of '48 on their land, in their homes, and in their holy places as temporary."

He also said that Israeli moves against the "Palestinians of '48," such as the seizure of lands and the destruction of homes, are "preludes to expulsion."

Salah expressed similar positions in an article titled "The Palestinian Cause Is in Danger," published in May in the movement organ Sawt Al-Haq Wal-Hurriya, and on In the article, Salah called for renewing the Palestinian cause, and for deciding whether it is strictly a Palestinian cause, a general Arab cause, or an Islamic cause. He also discussed the Palestinian leadership's proposal to hold PLO elections and to allow all Palestinians, including those living in the diaspora, to directly elect the organization's leadership – a proposal that corresponds with Hamas' demand for Palestinian Legislative Council elections and for reorganizing the PLO to represent all Palestinian elements.

In the same context, Salah discussed the conflict between the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip and the Fatah government in the West Bank, and the issue of extending the term of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 'Abbas. He wrote: "If we look at the situation since the current schism, we will find that there are two governments and two prime ministers.

There is prime minister Isma'il Haniya, who came after the recent Palestinian elections, and there is Salam Fayyad, who came after the Palestinian schism – and there is the Palestinian constitution. What is the legitimacy of each of these? What is the legitimacy of the decisions that were made and the posts that were distributed? And what is the legitimacy of extending the term of President Mahmoud 'Abbas?... And what about the legitimacy of the current negotiations, whether direct or indirect, without taking into account [our] fundamental position on these negotiations?..."

While Salah was mildly critical of Abbas's extended term as Palestinian Authority president, Hamed Aghbariya, editor of the Israeli Arab newspaper Sawt Al-Haq Wal-Hurriya, openly attacked Abbas.

In response to statements Abbas purportedly made at a June 2010 meeting with representatives of the Jewish lobby in the US, in which he said that he did not deny the Jewish people's right to Israel, Aghbariya wrote: "[Abbas] is not the president of the Palestinian people, not even of part of it. At most, he is chairman of a wretched authority, and his term there ended long ago, but he is still 'hanging' from it by a line [thrown him] by the Israeli establishment, by America, and by several Arab regimes.

Therefore, Abbas has no right to speak in the name of the Palestinian people about others' rights to Palestine – especially after he has so far failed to remove [even] a small military roadblock at the entrance to Ramallah, let alone to actualize any of the rights of the people he claims to represent."

An example of Salah's close relationship with Hamas can be seen in Hamas' reaction to his arrest on charges of attacking an Israeli policeman.

The Hamas-affiliated website devoted an entire special section to the matter, publishing statements of condemnation of the arrest by Hamas officials, and also articles praising Salah. Hamas prime minister Haniya depicted Salah as "someone who bears the honor of the Palestinian people, of the [Arab] nation, of the [Islamic] ummah, and of Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa."

THE ISLAMIC Movement's support for Hamas is not only ideological, but political and practical as well. One salient example of this is Salah's participation in the Freedom Flotilla that sailed from Turkey, with the aim of breaking the Gaza siege which, according to the Islamic Movement, had been imposed "merely because [the people of Gaza] had exercised its free democratic choice."

Prior to his departure for Turkey, Salah said at an event in Kfar Kanna commemorating what the Palestinians call the 'Nakba' [Israel's establishment in 1948] that the flotilla participants "will come to break the siege on the noble, free, brave, and steadfast Gaza, where [even] the smallest child has succeeded in trampling the American and Zionist terrorism beneath his feet.

Allah willing, in another few days we will see how this siege is broken..."

Salah played a central role in the flotilla, even delivering sermons in support of jihad, according to several people who were also aboard the ship.


For instance, Kuwaiti MP Walid Al- Tabtabai said, after he returned to Kuwait, that Salah had been the "star" of the convoy and had made enthusiastic statements on the trip.


Muhammad Al-Baltaji, deputy secretary- general of the Muslim Brotherhood faction in the Egypt parliament, reported that on the night that Israeli forces raided the ships, several clerics delivered sermons that fired up the passengers. Salah, he said, related a hadith in which Muhammad explained the virtue of jihad and of the ribat [a border region of the Islamic world where Muslims set out to fight non-Muslims] in Ashkelon. Al- Baltaji added that Salah considered Gaza to be part of Ashkelon.

The writer is a research fellow at MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, for whom this article was written.

It is printed here by permission.








Nuclear threshold gives Iran the opportunity to enjoy advantages that come with nuclear weapons without paying the full price.


Last week, former CIA Director Michael Hayden referred to the Iranian nuclear issue saying that Iran, left to its own devices, planned to "get itself to that step right below a nuclear weapon, that permanent breakout stage."

This appears to be the first time a current or former senior administration official pointed to the option where Iran would stop or slow down before crossing the nuclear threshold and to the serious implications of doing so for the international community.

A "threshold state" is one that has mastered most of the components of the nuclear fuel cycle, has an advanced scientific-technological infrastructure, has a reserve of fissile material, and is capable of fitting a nuclear warhead on a suitable delivery platform. A state's status in this regard is a matter of choice; all that separates a threshold state from a nuclear weapons state is the strategic decision to cross the threshold.

Does Iran fit this definition? It has frequently announced that it is not developing military nuclear capabilities. Nevertheless, its leaders have been adamant, at least so far, about rejecting any compromise on the issue of enrichment in its territory, and their statements appear to be aimed at bolstering the image already taking hold in the international community that Iran already is or is close to becoming a threshold state.

Supporting this image is the assessment that the Iranians have solved the basic technical problems associated with developing nuclear weapons. Iran is building a broad-based nuclear infrastructure with redundancy, geographic dispersal, and various defensive measures at a variety of sites – open and hidden, civilian and military. Iran has been accumulating fissile material in the form of low enriched uranium while concurrently developing components connected to the military dimension of the nuclear program as well as surface-to surface missiles capable of carrying nuclear payloads.

MUCH HAS been written in recent years about nuclear proliferation and the ways to address its challenges, especially with regard to Iran, and considerable thought has been devoted to the ramifications of a nuclear Islamic Republic. However, there has never been a deep, searching (open) discussion about the possibility and implications of an Iranian slowdown or cessation of nuclear development before crossing the threshold, thereby providing the country a permanent breakout capability.

The threshold option gives Iran the opportunity to enjoy most of the advantages that come with nuclear weapons capability without having to pay the full price of actually joining the nuclear club. Hayden was right in saying that reaching even that level would be "as destabilizing to the region as actually having a weapon." Iran would be granted considerable "immunity" regarding military attacks on its nuclear facilities, because under these circumstances some may think that it is either too late or too costly to stop Iranian nuclear efforts, and that it is essential to come to terms with a threshold Iran, a process that already is taking place in some quarters.

Israel would find it difficult to justify an attack on Iranian nuclear installations in a situation like that, especially when and if Iran would provide appropriate guarantees, that at least for the time being, it was willing to remain a non-nuclear weapons state.

Doing so would provide Iran with regional and international prestige and much of the status that comes with having nuclear weapons capability and would strengthen the regime's grip on power. From the perspective of Iran's leaders, this latter could be the most important achievement of the country's nuclear program.

A threshold Iran would be able to leverage its almost-nuclear status by exerting its influence on the greater 
Middle East and by more aggressive involvement in different arenas – Lebanon, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula and Afghanistan – free of the restrictions it might incur should it cross the threshold.


Furthermore, Iran would preserve the option of arming itself with nuclear weapons when it sees right and with relatively little warning, forcing Israel to invest in improved intelligence and the development of mechanisms that will sound the alarm when Iran takes the irrevocable step toward military nuclear capability and/or proliferation of technology or nuclear materials.

As a threshold state, Iran's deterrence could grow stronger because of the persistent concern and fog surrounding its capabilities and intentions. This will force Israel and other states to treat it as a de facto nuclear power.

Stopping Iran before it crosses the threshold may slow down a nuclear arms race that in many ways already is taking place in the region, because states that feel threatened by nuclear weapons in Iran are likely to be less committed to developing their own nuclear programs – as some have already declared they intend to do. Second, the sense of immediacy of the threat of a nuclear attack in the region would be somewhat mitigated, along with public concern about living in the shadow of an Iranian bomb.

Despite the advantages of being a threshold state, Iran nevertheless might seek to promote its ideological and strategic ambitions at any cost, and therefore choose to continue its drive toward nuclear weapons until it "breaks out" as a nuclear weapons state. Though either case has severe implications for Israel's strategic environment, we might need to think how to contend with a nuclear threat that is maybe just a decision away.

The writer is a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University.








Why have we become so content at being the people of the poll?

Here's a tip for the budding social scientist looking to strike funding gold – examine the attitudes of young American Jews. As any Jewish foundation worth its endowment salt is eagerly funding those attempting to peer into the minds of Jewish youth. Indeed, the resulting stream of survey data, focus groups and research studies tells a seemingly unequivocal story. Jews under the age of 35 are less traditional and more estranged from the Jewish establishment and Israel than their parents and grandparents.

Yisrael Wolman, for example, wrote recently on Ynetnews that "young Jewish Americans today are free of their parents' and grandparents' primeval fear of the 'gentile' environment, great caution and, of course, of the axioms regarding the State of Israel as a substitute for religion, a home for the Jews, or a doomsday shelter."

There is, of course, a caveat to such a neat conclusion. Other research points to the increasing weight of young Orthodox and conservative Jews who vote Republican (largely due to the Republicans supposedly better position on Israel) in contrast to an aging and liberal older generation which remains steadfastly Democratic. In other words, many commentators take the BP gambit toward the oil spill – they explain exactly what is happening, except in those cases where they cannot.

I, for instance, am under 35, consider myself a Zionist, am Orthodox by practice and work professionally in the field of Israel education to boot. Yet I am liberal by political belief, ambivalent about the role of most established Jewish organizations and voted forPresident Barack Obama. To which trend line do I belong? 

This research, however, is only symptomatic of a general proliferation of statistics about the American Jewish community. Do you want to know the intermarriage rate? Voting patterns? Levels of Jewish institutional giving? Don't worry, as to borrow from Apple's line, there is a survey for that. 
President Bill Clinton was criticized for maintaining a poll-driven administration, yet increasingly we are content to be a people-of-the-poll.

I AM not saying these figures are not interesting, factual or make for ideal water cooler discussions. What disturbs me is how such descriptive data has become a prescriptive recipe for institutional decision making, with policies toward the next generation being only the most egregious example. Statistics point to declining affiliation among younger Jews with the community? Okay, let's dumb down the content and focus on the low hanging fruit of throwing them parties! 

Statistical trends are a numbers game, but if there is one data set that has defied probability and the logical extrapolation of trends it is the Jews. Our history is replete with, excuse the pun, countless examples of how the marginal triumphed over the majority. For instance, little more than 100 years ago the bulk of world Jewry were resolutely non- or anti-Zionist. Similarly, it was an outside sect, the Pharisees, who after the destruction of the Second Temple developed the rabbinic framework that enabled the last 2,000 years of Jewish history. Of course the best indicator of quality over quantity is the State of Israel itself, which was established with a population barely larger than that of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Jewish tradition also has a long-standing suspicion of numbering. From God punishing King David for conducting a census to Hosea's thundering declaration that the children of Israel cannot be measured or counted, we are a people that often stand up, but prefer not to be counted while doing so. My interpretation of this stance is that Judaism emphasizes the power of the contrarian individual even, and especially, when he or she is part of a larger grouping. If anyone personified the term "statistical outlier" it would be Abraham and Moses.

Surveys tell us everything we need to know, except what is most important – our meaning and our vision. That is to say, why and how do we continue to cultivate excellence? We can start by worrying less about the numbers of kids in Jewish schools than what they learn there; less about how many students travel to Israel than teaching about Israel's significance; and less about how much Jewish organizations fund-raise than what is the purpose of their and our existence. Statistics are not destiny, and thank God for that.

The writer is the Director of New York Operations for the David Project. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization.








The government and IDF must understand that not every time is right for demonstrating Israeli sovereignty right up to the last millimeter, certainly not when tension is rising on both sides of the northern border.

Haaretz EditorialTags: Israel news IDF Lebanon Hezbollah


The serious firefight that developed Tuesday between Israel and Lebanon is like a match that can ignite a blaze. Lt. Col. Dov Harari was killed and Capt. Ezra Lakiya was seriously wounded, and three Lebanese were killed. That is a serious outcome in and of itself, but the incident had the threatening potential of widespread deterioration, and even war.


There's no dispute, even according to the United Nations, that Israel was operating on its own territory. If Lebanon disagreed with the way the area was marked, or opposed Israel Defense Forces operations there, it could have contacted UN liaison officers. In contrast to other IDF operations in Lebanese territory, it appears that this time there was no violation of UN Resolution 1701, as claimed by Lebanon, which does not strictly adhere to the resolution itself and appears to be unable to carry out all its provisions.


At the same time, the government and the IDF have for several months been preparing the Israeli public for the possibility of a war in the north. They are aware of the tremendous political tension in Lebanon, of the struggle Hezbollah is waging against accusations of murdering former prime minister Rafik Hariri more than five years ago, and of the massive diplomatic effort by Saudi Arabia to steady the situation in Lebanon.


This awareness should have led the government and the IDF to consider more carefully when to cut down a tree near the border. Operation Exposure, as the army is calling the tree cutting, may be necessary to give IDF troops a good view of what is happening in Lebanese territory, but when such an operation can trigger a war, the benefits must be weighed against the risks.


It is hoped that the Lebanese government and army will not draw the wrong conclusions from the incident, or from the words of support and praise they received from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.


At the same time, the Israeli government must act to strengthen the liaison arrangements with the Lebanese government and the United Nations, and most of all understand that the Israel-Lebanon border is like no other. This is a border that does not forgive mistakes or rash considerations.


The government and the IDF must understand that not every time is right for demonstrating Israeli sovereignty right up to the last millimeter, certainly not when tension is rising on both sides of the border. Employing restraint and waiting at such a time are not an expression of weakness, but of wisdom and political sensitivity.










At first glance, these were four good years. After the Second Lebanon War a quiet prevailed over the north the likes of which it hadn't known since the 1960s, and Operation Cast Lead brought a calm to the south the likes of which it hadn't seen since the first intifada.


The architects of the 2006 Lebanon war may claim criticism of that campaign was overblown, while those of the Gaza campaign may claim that criticism of theirs was self-righteous. The bed and breakfasts in the north were fuller than they had been in decades, and the south flourished as never before. The economy bloomed and tourism boomed; Tel Aviv's beaches became known as among the finest in the Mediterranean. Israelis finally felt content. Despite the corruption, the economic concentration and the criticism abroad of Israel's actions, the last four years were good to us.


The calm, however, was deceptive. Had the Israel Defense Forces not subdued Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War it would have grown into a monster, and an Iranian rocket base would have sprouted up across the scenic northern border. Tel Aviv's beaches would have come under Iranian missile threat from both north and south. Thanks to the diplomatic fallout of Olmert-era policy and the hard-line stance of his successor, Israel's very legitimacy has been eroded, and with it the IDF's ability to respond to looming threats with disproportionate, devastating force.


The future is clear: The Israel of the last four years was living on borrowed time. Israel's diminished strategic potency led it to launch diplomatic initiatives, and the prevailing calm allowed it to do so. And still, Jerusalem dragged its heels. Realizing the calm was deceptive, the government destroyed it while failing to take advantage of it.


In Ehud Olmert's defense, he did try. In the wake of the Second Lebanon War he abandoned his convergence plan, which called for withdrawal from much of the West Bank, and tried instead to conduct negotiations with both the Palestinians and the Syrians. But no diplomatic vision lay behind Olmert's pragmatism. That's why he extricated Syria from attempts to isolate it before he managed to wring any real concessions from it toward a peace deal. That's why he tried to reach a final-status agreement with the Palestinians that they didn't even want. The diplomatic moves made by the Kadima government were all in vain. They gave Israel a period of quiet, but didn't use that calm to effect any real change.


Benjamin Netanyahu says he's trying. He says Olmert's Lebanon war has made life difficult for him. He says Mahmoud Abbas, Haim Ramon and Tzipi Livni are making life difficult for him, as are Barack Obama and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And in a way, he's right. After his predecessors allowed the creation of Iranian bases in Lebanon and Gaza, one can understand why Netanyahu feels apprehensive about an Iranian base in Syria.


But the prime minister has yet to demonstrate that he has turned over every stone to make diplomatic progress, that he understands the significance of Israel's current predicament, or that deterrence for its own sake is no longer a tenable strategy.


The Lebanese sniper bullets that killed Lt. Col. Dov Harari and seriously wounded Capt. Ezra Lakiya on Tuesday did not spark a war. They didn't shatter the calm, but merely splintered it. This week's isolated border clash is reminiscent of similar ones on the Syrian frontier in the 1960s. Then, as now, troops engaged in planned ambushes over land squabbles in the context of a broader arms race.


The border incidents of that decade ultimately led to the Six-Day War, and those of the last 10 years could well lead to another military conflagration. It's time Netanyahu realizes the good years are coming to an end. Unless the prime minister acts at once to change Israel's strategic landscape, the quiet will not last.









Those bastards, the Lebanese, changed the rules. Scandalous. Word is, they have a brigade commander who's determined to protect his country's sovereignty. Scandalous.


The explanation here was that he's "indoctrinating his troops" - only we're allowed to do that, of course - and that this was "the spirit of the commander" and that he's "close to Hezbollah." The nerve.


And now that we've recited ad nauseum the explanations of Israel Defense Forces propaganda for what happened Tuesday at the northern border, the facts should also be looked at.


On Tuesday morning, Israel requested "coordination" with UNIFIL to carry out another "exposing" operation on the border fence. UNIFIL asked the IDF to postpone the operation, because its commander is abroad. The IDF didn't care. UNIFIL won't stop us.


At noon the tree-cutters set out. The Lebanese and UNIFIL soldiers shouted at them to stop. In Lebanon they say their soldiers also fired warning shots in the air. If they did, it didn't stop the IDF.


The tree branches were cut and blood was shed on both sides of the border. Shed in vain.


True, Israel maintains that the area across the fence is its territory, and UNIFIL officially confirmed that yesterday. But a fence is a fence: In Gaza it's enough to get near the fence for us to shoot to kill. In the West Bank the fence's route bears no resemblance to the Green Line, and still Palestinians are forbidden from crossing it.


In Lebanon we made different rules: the fence is just a fence, we're allowed to cross it and do whatever we like on the other side, sometimes in sovereign Lebanese territory. We can routinely fly in Lebanese airspace and sometimes invade as well.


This area was under Israeli occupation for 18 years, without us ever acknowledging it. It was an occupation no less brutal than the one in the territories, but whitewashed well. "The security zone," we called it. So now, as well, we can do what we like.


But suddenly there was a change. How did our analysts put it? Recently there's been "abnormal firing" at Israeli aircraft. After all, order must be maintained: We're allowed to fly in Lebanese airspace, they are not permitted to shoot.


But Tuesday's incident, which was blown out of proportion here as if it were cause for a war that only the famed Israeli "restraint" prevented, should be seen in its wider context. For months now the drums of war have been beating here again. Rat-a-tat, danger, Scuds from Syria, war in the north.


No one asks why and wherefore, it's just that summer's here, and with it our usual threats of war. But a UN report published this week held Israel fully responsible for creating this dangerous tension.


In this overheated atmosphere the IDF should have been careful when lighting its matches. UNIFIL requests a delay of an operation? The area is explosive? The work should have been postponed. Maybe the Lebanese Army is more determined now to protect its country's sovereignty - that is not only its right, but its duty - and a Lebanese commander who sees the IDF operating across the fence might give an order to shoot, even unjustifiably.


Who better than the IDF knows the pattern of shooting at any real or imagined violation? Just ask the soldiers at the separation fence or guarding Gaza. But Israel arrogantly dismissed UNIFIL's request for a delay.


It's the same arrogance behind the demand that the U.S. and France stop arming the Lebanese military. Only our military is allowed to build up arms. After years in which Israel demanded that the Lebanese Army take responsibility for what is happening in southern Lebanon, it is now doing so and we've changed our tune. Why? Because it stopped behaving like Israel's subcontractor and is starting to act like the army of a sovereign state.


And that's forbidden, of course. After the guns fall silent, the cry goes up again here to strike another "heavy blow" against Lebanon to "deter" it - maybe some more of the destruction that was inflicted on Beirut's Dahiya neighborhood.


Three Lebanese killed, including a journalist, are not enough of a response to the killing of our battalion commander. We want more. Lebanon must learn a lesson, and we will teach it.


And what about us? We don't have any lessons to learn. We'll continue to ignore UNIFIL, ignore the Lebanese Army and its new brigade commander, who has the nerve to think that his job is to protect his country's sovereignty.









A national plan was launched this week to reimburse living organ donors, with the goal of encouraging Israelis to donate a kidney or liver lobe. By the end of this year, donors will receive a total of some NIS 4 million, consisting of compensation for missing 40 days of work, travel expenses, a week's recovery period and five meetings with a psychologist.


But will knowing one could receive NIS 500 per day of recovery for kidney donation actually increase the number of organs donated in Israel annually?


Some 700 Israelis are waiting for a kidney transplant, but fewer than 80 such transplants have taken place since January, and about half of them were from deceased donors. Because a lot of people are waiting for a transplant and few agree to donate, the average waiting period for receiving a kidney transplant in Israel is 4.3 years.


This is a difficult situation. Relatively few Israelis agree to donate their organs, whether after they die or while they are alive. The transplant law enacted some two years ago and the financial reimbursement to living donors have failed to induce the Israeli public to donate organs.


A study conducted by researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Hadassah Medical Center found that a financial reimbursement (to a person or his relatives ) is not a high-priority consideration in the decision to donate an organ, either in life or after death. National Transplant Center officials don't sound especially optimistic either. The center's chairman estimated this week the compensation will increase the number of live donors by only about 20 annually.


Even if this prediction can be questioned, another interpretation of the plan's results is also troubling. Presumably, people whose financial situation is fine will not give up a kidney, but there is a certain danger that people who need money desperately will agree to undergo hospitalization, suffer pain and take a risk in exchange for a few thousand shekels.


In that case, if we assume - and perhaps even hope - that a financial compensation will not increase the number of living donors, what other means are at our disposal? One approach advocates giving priority to people who sign a donor card if they need an organ transplant. One of the main problems in this approach is that it would encourage mainly people who need donations to sign the card.


Another, more practical, approach is to change the default option. In other words, consenting to post-mortem organ donation would become the national default option. International surveys show that in European countries practicing this method - including Austria, Belgium and France - the public rate of consent to donating organs is about 100 percent. That is, less than 1 percent of the public refuses to donate organs after death, even though all it involves is a visit to the nearest post office branch to sign a refusal card.


Obviously, part of the reason for the high response in European countries is that not many of their citizens obey the Chief Rabbinate's edicts, which demand adding a rabbi to the team determining brain death. But even in Israel, changing the organ donation default from refusal to agreement would dramatically alter the situation of those waiting for an organ transplant. The benefits of such a change would certainly outweigh a plan to fund five meetings with a psychologist.









PRINCETON, New Jersey - The day after Chelsea Clinton's marriage to Marc Mezvinsky, the Tikvah Fund's annual seminar opened at Princeton University. There, Prof. David Novak talked about a different era, in which even the son of a former secretary of the treasury, Henry Morgenthau, had trouble getting accepted to that university because he was a Jew. And when he was finally accepted, he was rejected by all the eating clubs, Princeton's equivalent of fraternities - an important part of American student life and the key to social and economic status. Today, a seminar at which Jews discuss how to integrate Jewish thought into the study of the humanities is taken for granted on this campus.


Aside from its religious ramifications, the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding highlights the enormous sociological changes, whose impact can scarcely be overstated, that have taken place here in the decades that culminated in the marriage between a daughter of the group that discriminated against others and a son of a group that was discriminated against. For many Jews, Mezvinsky's acceptance into the bosom of this high-toned WASP family seems to set the final seal on the sociological process that the Jews, and especially Reform Jews, have undergone in America. From now on, the fantasy goes, we are all Mezvinskys.


On the other side, for those who have been fearfully following the process of assimilation and disappearance that the Jewish people has undergone in America, and on other continents, this "culminating event" poured salt on open wounds. Some 90 percent of young Jews, according to recent polls, do not rule out marriage with a non-Jew. And the results are easy to see: Due to intermarriage, the number of Jews in the United States has fallen by more than a quarter since the 1960s.


Only 5 million Jews (a number that includes about 1 million Israelis and immigrants from the former Soviet

Union ) live today in the world's second-largest Jewish population center. The numerous intermarriages attest to a desire to shake off the burden that Jewish identity entails - even in its minimalist Reform version - and assimilate into the American melting pot. (Note that the American melting pot is not the same as the American dream. The original American dream allowed people to continue adhering to their own religion and nationality, viewing this as legitimate and even desirable, not something that impedes realization of that dream. )


More than a few Jews, including Reform Jews, were hurt by the inclusion of ancient Jewish symbols, like the breaking of the glass, alongside Christian ones at Saturday's wedding. Rabbi James Ponet, who officiated over this mishmash, displayed radical conformism. That is apparently linked to the dream some Jews have of pleasing the ultimate WASP, and thereby trying to solve the identity problem that lurks deep in the recesses of the Jewish soul. But it seems doubtful that they will find peace and belonging by making like Ionesco's rhinoceroses.


On the other hand, there are a growing number of kippa-wearing Jews on American campuses. And this development evidently does not stem only from the growing strength of the Orthodox movement and its increasing interest in academic studies (a trend also observable in Israel ). Rather, there is a demonstrative element to this behavior, an element of protest. The message is that the Jewish people and Jewish civilization are alive and well, and will continue to exist despite assimilation.


We, they say, are the proof that it is possible to be an integral part of the new American collective without conceding - as the weaker souls among us have - our uniquely Jewish national identity. We do not owe our national identity, and certainly not our religious identity, to America; the Jews have contributed no less, and perhaps even more, to America than America has contributed to the Jews.


Mazel tov, Chelsea and Marc. You are not just symbols.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Until Wednesday, the thousands of same-sex couples who have married did so because a state judge or Legislature allowed them to. The nation's most fundamental guarantees of freedom, set out in the Constitution, were not part of the equation. That has changed with the historic decision by a federal judge in California, Vaughn Walker, that said his state's ban on same-sex marriage violated the 14th Amendment's rights to equal protection and due process of law.


The decision, though an instant landmark in American legal history, is more than that. It also is a stirring and

eloquently reasoned denunciation of all forms of irrational discrimination, the latest link in a chain of pathbreaking decisions that permitted interracial marriages and decriminalized gay sex between consenting adults.


As the case heads toward appeals at the circuit level and probably the Supreme Court, Judge Walker's opinion will provide a firm legal foundation that will be difficult for appellate judges to assail.


The case was brought by two gay couples who said California's Proposition 8, which passed in 2008 with 52 percent of the vote, discriminated against them by prohibiting same-sex marriage and relegating them to domestic partnerships. The judge easily dismissed the idea that discrimination is permissible if a majority of voters approve it; the referendum's outcome was "irrelevant," he said, quoting a 1943 case, because "fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote."


He then dismantled, brick by crumbling brick, the weak case made by supporters of Proposition 8 and laid out the facts presented in testimony. The two witnesses called by the supporters (the state having bowed out of the case) had no credibility, he said, and presented no evidence that same-sex marriage harmed society or the institution of marriage.


Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in their ability to form successful marital unions and raise children, he said. Though procreation is not a necessary goal of marriage, children of same-sex couples will benefit from the stability provided by marriage, as will the state and society. Domestic partnerships confer a second-class status. The discrimination inherent in that second-class status is harmful to gay men and lesbians. These findings of fact will be highly significant as the case winds its way through years of appeals.


One of Judge Walker's strongest points was that traditional notions of marriage can no longer be used to justify discrimination, just as gender roles in opposite-sex marriage have changed dramatically over the decades. All marriages are now unions of equals, he wrote, and there is no reason to restrict that equality to straight couples. The exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage "exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage," he wrote. "That time has passed."


To justify the proposition's inherent discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation, he wrote, there would have to be a compelling state interest in banning same-sex marriage. But no rational basis for discrimination was presented at the two-and-a-half-week trial in January, he said. The real reason for Proposition 8, he wrote, is a moral view "that there is something wrong with same-sex couples," and that is not a permissible reason for legislation.


"Moral disapproval alone," he wrote, in words that could someday help change history, "is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and women."


The ideological odd couple who led the case — Ted Olson and David Boies, who fought against each other in the Supreme Court battle over the 2000 election — were criticized by some supporters of same-sex marriage for moving too quickly to the federal courts. Certainly, there is no guarantee that the current Supreme Court would uphold Judge Walker's ruling. But there are times when legal opinions help lead public opinions.


Just as they did for racial equality in previous decades, the moment has arrived for the federal courts to bestow full equality to millions of gay men and lesbians.







The National Health Service is the third rail of British politics. Britons cherish the historic achievement of bringing decent medical care within everyone's reach, while complaining regularly about the bureaucratic rigidity — and bristling at any suggestion of change.


Now the new coalition government is proposing a sweeping round of reforms intended to eliminate layers of bureaucracy and deliver better, more personalized care by giving primary care doctors more power over treatment decisions and referrals to specialists. That makes sense. There also are risks, particularly for people living in poorer areas with fewer medical resources.


Thoughtful debate will be needed as these proposals are fashioned into detailed legislation — more thoughtful, we can only hope, than the recent highly politicized debates here over health care reform.


Britain's nationalized system is, of course, hugely different. But the basic issues are the same everywhere: ensuring the widest possible access to care; encouraging innovation to improve care and reduce costs; making sure that profit-making parts of the system do not sacrifice patient health to the corporate bottom line.


The coalition has wisely shielded the National Health Service from the excessive austerity cuts it has prescribed for every other government department. Parliament must still make sure that decentralization does not create a socially divisive two-tier system that leaves areas with greater medical needs and fewer physicians unable to provide the same care as better-off areas.


To prevent this, extra resources must be directed to medically needy areas. Decentralized decision-making must not become an excuse for diverting the public health care system's limited resources into boutique treatments for the affluent at the expense of more basic procedures like childhood immunization.


The boldest new proposal would put most treatment decisions, including referrals to specialists, into the hands of new panels made up of local primary care doctors. They can be strong advocates for their patients' interests, but many will likely hire outside management companies to help handle the additional paperwork and administrative demands.


Giving doctors more power over referrals and introducing for-profit health care management companies will introduce some American features to the British system. That will bring potential risks as well as potential benefits. Experience in the United States — where patients' interests are too often shortchanged — shows that strong regulatory safeguards will be needed to make these reforms work.







House Republicans are chortling over the Democratic majority's troubles with ethics allegations, but they also are ominously signaling their distaste for the Office of Congressional Ethics — the one new player on Capitol Hill with a clear determination to do something about the morass.


The Republican minority leader, John Boehner, said he wants to "take a look" at the office if his party regains majority power — a reminder that his members fiercely opposed the quasi-independent office when it was created two years ago by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.


Mr. Boehner wondered aloud how effective the office really is, ignoring its considerable record for discreetly investigating alleged misbehavior on both sides of the aisle and letting the chips fall where they may. It was the ethics office that did the initial investigatory work prompting (forcing might be the more apt description) the House ethics committee to order a public hearing into whether Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat of California, committed a conflict of interest by intervening on behalf of a bailout for a bank in which her husband owned stock.


The ethics case against Representative Charles Rangel, a Democrat of New York, predates the creation of the ethics office, but he ran afoul of its investigators more recently in being admonished by the House committee for leading a group on a Caribbean junket paid by corporate favor-seekers in violation of House rules.


Grumblers on both sides want to gut the ethics office. That is because it has been fulfilling its mission to put life into the lawmakers' own stultified ethics process, to penetrate the murk of misbehavior and keep the public better informed. Republicans would be the ultimate hypocrites to subvert the ethics office while campaigning as the all-new party of reform that, ah, yes, learned its lesson after the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal.







Elouise Cobell's longstanding lawsuit against the Interior Department was settled in December. The settlement brought victory — and, she thought, $3.4 billion — to half a million American Indians who had been cheated of proceeds from lands that had once been theirs.


The suit took 13 years. The injustices it sought to remedy stretched back for more than a century. The question now is: How long will it take the Senate to actually appropriate the $3.4 billion? It has failed to do so twice, once when a filibuster killed a bill it was attached to in June and again in late July when the Senate voted to strip it, along with other domestic programs, from an Afghanistan war appropriations measure.


The settlement arose out of a lawsuit in which Ms. Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in northern Montana, was the lead plaintiff. The suit charged that the federal government, through mismanagement and malfeasance, had shortchanged accounts it had held in trust since 1887 when Indian lands were placed in federal hands. The lands were then leased for mining and other purposes, with the proceeds going to the trust accounts.


The cumulative shortfall over the years undoubtedly exceed $3.4 billion, which means the settlement is a bargain. The Obama administration would like to see the money paid out. Even so, the Senate balks, in part because a few Democrats aren't happy with the settlement, partly because of delaying tactics from Republicans.


One critical stumbling block has been an amendment from Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, who wants to cap lawyers' fees at half the amount approved by the court.


Whatever the reasons, the delay has compounded a historic injustice. The settlement is the best deal the Indian trust holders will get and is Congress's best chance to right this wrong. The Senate must make it happen.











Missouri just went to the polls! Perhaps some of you didn't notice because you were on vacation this week. Or watering your hydrangea. This is a tough time of the year for hydrangeas. Their little leaves begin to shrivel, and before you know it, there's a large wilted bush studded with pompons and you've missed the Missouri primary.


One thing we learned this week was that people in Missouri are crazy about insiders.


This was a surprise. In the big, much-anticipated race for an open U.S. Senate seat, Missouri Democrats overwhelmingly voted to nominate Robin Carnahan, the secretary of state whose father was governor, whose mother was a U.S. senator and whose brother is currently a congressman. The Republican nominee is Roy Blunt, who has served seven terms in Congress and is the father of a former Missouri governor. In the House, Blunt was the interim majority leader between the disgraced Tom DeLay and the disgraceful John Boehner. Also, his wife is a lobbyist. This man is so far inside he could be a coal miner.


So are insiders back in? This would be shocking news to all the politicians who have been running around acting as if they'd spent less time inside than a Bedouin camel herder.


Actually, the message from Missouri was a little opaque.


In a hard-fought House race, an auctioneer named Billy Long beat two state senators for the Republican nomination with his "Fed Up?" campaign that involved running around the district announcing he was fed up with, um, "insiders." He also ran ads telling people that he was fed up and handing out much-publicized "Fed Up" yard signs.


Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of Missouri voters endorsed a measure that would wipe out the part of the new federal health care law that requires people to have insurance. They were unswayed by the fact that the proposition was almost certainly unconstitutional and unenforceable. This was a chance to send a message that voters are fed up! With government and insiders — unless they're running for the Senate.


But it also seems fair to interpret the vote as a ringing endorsement of Americans' inalienable right to avoid buying private health insurance and instead get medical care from public emergency rooms where the cost will be passed on to the taxpayers. Maybe it's time to rethink the single-payer plan now that we have evidence that 71 percent of Missourians support the concept of socialized medicine.


Finally, Missouri voters have probably buried a popular 2010 political strategy — the one that holds you can get elected to high office by filming a wild and crazy ad, putting it on YouTube and waiting for it to become as popular as a piano-playing dog or the guy who throws a brick into a clothes dryer.


The Tea Party candidate running for the Senate against Roy Blunt, Chuck Purgason, had pinned a lot of hope on this tactic. In a late-breaking coup, Purgason received the endorsement of "Joe the Plumber," the conservative Ohioan who became a Republican icon after he dissed Barack Obama during the presidential campaign. And who, of course, is actually a guy named Samuel Wurzelbacher.


Joe the Plumber and Friends put together an ad that used a fairy-tale motif to blast Blunt as a guy who hangs out with — yes! — "insider friends" as opposed to Purgason, a "regular guy" who, for purposes of carrying out the theme, was armed with a really big sword.


The sponsors did not have enough money to put the thing on television, but they posted it on the Web and hoped that it would go viral. Which it didn't. Maybe someone's invented an antidote.


Even the people who did manage to make their videos hits in the Web world came to grief. In Alabama, Rick Barber, a right-wing pool-hall owner, became famous for an ad in which he sat around haranguing George Washington about the income tax and health care reform, until the father of our country announced himself ready for a new revolutionary war. In a whole new standard for over-the-topness, this one was denounced as too extreme by Glenn Beck.


Barber lost big to a normal Republican who had never conversed on camera with the founding fathers.


Also defeated: Tim James, a candidate for governor who made a splash with an ad in which he spoke to an invisible immigrant and sternly announced: "This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it."


So was Dale Peterson, a candidate for Alabama agriculture commissioner, who went viral with an ad that showed him tromping around the farmyard brandishing a rifle, yowling about immigrants, "thugs and criminals" and somebody stealing his yard signs. (If nothing else, I think this can be designated as the Year of the Yard Sign.)


So, to summarize our lessons learned:


Insiders are O.K.


Yard signs are better.


Go public option!


If you want your video to go viral, hire a dancing cat.


Nicholas D. Kristof is off today.








Traverse City, Mich.


IT'S strange having your own oil spill.


What we have, of course, is a blip compared to the one in the Gulf of Mexico, which this week formally broke all records for offshore spills. But after watching the gulf catastrophe unfold from afar, the news that oil was gushing from a pipeline just three hours south of here into a small creek that flows into the Kalamazoo River and, eventually, into Lake Michigan, came as a surprise.


Until last week, I wasn't aware that a pipeline even existed, though I must have driven over or past it hundreds of times. The leak is now under control, but a good storm could still blow some of the estimated one million gallons of spilled oil into the lake, and maybe even north along its sandy coast, past numerous resort towns and into the Grand Traverse Bay, to a place called Clinch Park, where I've been swimming most mornings from June to October since I was kid.


It's hard enough to try to capture oil floating in an ocean. But oil moving downstream in a swift river? Forget about it. As the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus said, you can't step into the same river twice.


But despite the danger to the lake, many people here, busy enjoying their summer vacations, haven't paid much attention to the spill. After all, Lake Michigan has lived through worse. It may be near the center of the continent, but it's not immune to the outside world, as we've learned over and over.


First there were the invasive Asian carp, swimming around the Chicago River a mere six miles from the mouth of the lake. These voracious eaters get excited by the sound of boat motors and can leap by the hundreds into the air all at once, in some hellish version of a water ballet. An oil spill seems almost benign in comparison.


We've also had to contend with an invasion of gobies — small, bug-eyed fish you're supposed to kill if you catch. They disrupt the food chain that normally supports native lake trout, perch and bass. They entered the lake in the ballast water of international shipping traffic, along with zebra mussels, which filter micro-organisms — also food for native fish — out of the water.


As a result of the zebra mussel infestation, the lake, several summers ago, was often as clear as a Bahamian bay. When I swam, I could see 50 feet in any direction. This extra sunlight fed more algae at deeper depths, which created algal blooms that floated up on the beach in smelly heaps. Now that the mussels have died off, the lake has returned to something like normal.


So for now, I swim. Winters are so long in northern Michigan, nearly nine months of gray skies and deep snow, that summer comes as a fresh burst. Amnesia sets in — you forget that winter will ever return. Friends from other parts of the country descend. The days ripen perfectly, the air no warmer or colder than your skin so that the edges of your body seem to extend beyond you, up and down the tree-lined streets.


Traverse City sits halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, and our summer days are long. The light seems to take forever to vanish from the sky and, when it does, it goes out like someone folding a white sheet in the dark. A flare on the horizon. Then a rustle: Goodnight.

I swim in the midst of bad news to stay sane. I crawl over the sand bottom in six feet of water, which is cold and green, and nothing has changed in my life — I'm a kid again. No zebra mussels, no carp, no oil spill headed my way. No politicians, no bloggers. Every day I step refreshed and clean from the water, and go up to the bookstore, Horizon's, and order a coffee and stand on the street in flip-flops in the chill air, feeling the hot cup in my hand, the fine texture of its paper, feeling as if I've just come awake from a dream.


And what I carry around in my head is this, the image of the water, of looking around 20 feet in any direction, and beyond my periphery the lake darkening to the color of light in a storm. Sometimes I see fish slicing around my field of vision — silver missiles headed to deeper water.


The work day is about to begin; traffic pours past on the four-lane parkway. I wonder what the people driving by think of me, when I'm swimming out there along the buoys; and in a time when there is too much news to think about, I hope they think nothing at all.


When the oil spill in Michigan began, I heard about a memorial service for Paul Miller, a 22-year-old Marine corporal from the nearby village of Lake Ann, who was killed on July 19 in Afghanistan. Later in the week, I stood in the funeral home, not far from the beach where I swim, and stared at Corporal Miller's flag-draped coffin.


I thought this: that the world's troubles can be nearer to us than we think, flowing in our direction, flowing toward home.


And while it's true that we used to live in Lake Ann, and our son may have played summer baseball with Corporal Miller years earlier, I don't remember meeting him. Maybe I passed him on the street, a tyke headed over to the ice cream shop with his parents, where we were standing in line, too, with our children, all of us oblivious to the news to come, the depth and coldness of the water ahead.


Doug Stanton, founder of the National Writers Series, a book festival, is the author of "Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan."








Cambridge, Mass.

THE Boston Red Sox haven't given their fans much to cheer about this summer so we've had to take our pleasure where we could find it, for example, by watching Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees struggle to hit his 600th career home run — again and again and again.


Rodriguez hit his 599th home run on July 22, bringing himself and his fans to the brink of celebration. And then, for 12 long days, he not only failed to drive the ball out of the park and into the history books, he also went hitless for 17 consecutive at-bats. This wasn't the first time Rodriguez has stood at the precipice, and then stood there some more: after hitting his 499th home run in 2007, he came to the plate an excruciating 28 times before finally hitting his 500th.


What made all this so frustrating for New Yorkers (and so delicious for Bostonians) was that everyone felt certain that Rodriguez would have slammed several homers in the past two weeks if only they hadn't mattered so much. Watching him struggle to break the numerical barrier was like watching a man frozen with fear on the last step of a tall ladder: we knew, and he knew, that the last step was exactly the same as all the steps before it — so why couldn't he just take it?


One of the ironies of human psychology is that desperately wanting something can make attaining that thing all the more difficult. When stakes go up, performance often goes down. In one study, subjects practiced sinking a putt and got better as they went along — better, that is, until the experimenter offered them a cash reward for their next shot, at which point their performance took a nosedive.


This is because we pay close attention to what we're doing when what we're doing matters, and though close attention is helpful when our task is novel or complex, it is positively destructive when our task is simple and well practiced. Golfers in another study were told either to take their time and think about their stroke or to step up and swing as quickly as possible. Although novice golfers did better when they took their time, expert golfers did worse.


The lesson from the laboratory is clear: thinking about tasks that don't require thought isn't just pointless, it's debilitating. It may be wise to watch our fingers when we're doing surgery or shaving the family dog, but not when we're driving or typing, because once our brains learn to do something automatically they don't appreciate interference. The moment we start thinking about when to step on the clutch or hit the alt key, our once-seamless performance becomes slow, clumsy or impossible.


That's why milestones can be millstones. When Rodriguez stepped to the plate in recent days, he may not have heard the roar of the crowd as much as the sound of a record book opening and a pencil being sharpened. The more important his next homer became, the more he probably thought about how to hit it. The more he thought, the less he hit; the less he hit, the more he thought, and the cycle spun on.


Until Wednesday, that is, when Rodriguez finally hit his 600th home run. Forty-six agonizing at-bats separated that homer from the one before it, but the moment the ball sailed over the center field fence, Yankee fans knew that a great burden had been lifted, a great slugger had been liberated, and that a great bat would once again be free to find the ball — naturally, effortlessly, and in its own sweet time.


Or maybe not.


After all, 600 is an important number only because it's round, and several of the numbers that follow are much more significant. For instance, Rodriguez is the seventh greatest home-run hitter of all time and hitting 600 didn't change that. But hitting No. 610 will, because it will push him past the retired Sammy Sosaand into sixth place; hitting 631 would let him overtake Ken Griffey Jr. and put him in fifth place. Should that happen, there are a few more legends whom Rodriguez must lap on his way to supremacy: Willie Maysat 660, Babe Ruth at 714, Hank Aaron at 755 and the reigning champion Barry Bonds at 762.


Rodriguez won't get any competition from a Red Sox hitter as he works his way up the list, but that's O.K. Red

Sox fans are nothing if not good sports. Which is why on Friday, when the Red Sox play the Yankees, we will applaud Alex Rodriguez — not just to acknowledge his new achievement, but also to remind him of the unbelievably, incredibly, really very large historical significance of each and every one of his future trips to the plate.


Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, is the author of "Stumbling on Happiness" and the host of the television series "This Emotional Life."








Russellville, Tenn.


ALMOST all the signs I pass on the road, faded in the August sun and half buried in honeysuckle, concern East Tennessee's most controversial election — the race for Hamblen County sheriff, between the sitting sheriff and the deputy he fired because of a law saying a state employee can't run for office. Given people's focus on that contest, it's been strange to see the national news media going on about Thursday's gubernatorial primary and about our lieutenant governor, Ron Ramsey, who suggested Islam might be more of a "cult" than a religion.


In my town, no one's had much to say about Mr. Ramsey or his gaffe. He's a non-factor in the Republican race, trailing behind Representative Zach Wamp of Chattanooga and far behind Knoxville's mayor, Bill Haslam — two men who have, to a troubling degree, made Christianity a keystone of their campaigns. In one of the ads running, it seems, around the clock on my local television channels, Mr. Wamp says, "We must restore America to its Judeo-Christian roots." In another, we're assured that Mr. Haslam has "Bible study every week."


As the daughter and granddaughter of preachers, and as someone who has lived in the hills of East Tennessee all my life, I know what a driving force faith is here, as necessary as food and water. Appalachia, don't forget, is a land where homes were once miles apart and church was the only gathering place.


Some of my first memories are of sitting in my grandfather's church, a little cinder-block building tucked in a thicket, listening to his voice ringing in the rafters. After my grandfather died, my dad took over as pastor. I never heard either of them mention politics from the pulpit, even though at home, in a family that has been divided between Democrats and Republicans going all the way back to the Civil War, there were some heated discussions. My dad always said that it was biblical to pray for our leaders, but not to campaign for them in a house of worship.


As an adult, I visited other churches in the valleys and hollows of my community. One in particular stands out in my mind, because it reminded me so much of my grandfather's church. It was nestled in a copse of shade trees beside a creek, its frosted windows shining. Going into the vestibule was like coming home. I knew the words to every hymn the congregation sang.


But this was in 2008, with the presidential election around the corner; when the preacher took the pulpit, he admonished his flock to remember their Christian values and vote Republican. I haven't gone back since, but I keep encountering the same kind of religious lobbying. Not surprisingly, the only enthusiasm I've seen for the primary is a lone Zach Wamp sign sunk into the weedy lawn of a church near the highway.


This is the opposite of what my grandfather and my dad and Appalachian preachers of their ilk tried to teach — a devotion that is as much a part of our mountain heritage as the land, that can't be reduced to campaign propaganda, that shouldn't be exploited for one vote or one issue. It's way too big for that. I just wish politicians and pastors would stop making it so small.


Amy Greene is the author of "Bloodroot," a novel.









We Americans do love our dietary supplements," says the watchdog publication Consumer Reports in its latest issue. And indeed we do: The craving for pills, potions and powders as a quick fix for myriad concerns about health and well-being has created a $27 billion industry. That's roughly as much as the nation spends each year on shoes.


And, as Consumer Reports points out, while many users believe that sale of unsafe or ineffective supplements must be illegal, it is not. The public has little protection from useless, fraudulent, dangerous or even deadly products, thanks to special protectionCongress gave the industry in 1994.


Want to ease your aches and pains? Lose weight? Improve your prowess on the athletic field or in the bedroom? The supplements industry has something for you, even if it has never been subjected to any credible scientific testing, even if tests that have been conducted show it to be useless, even if it has ingredients that might come from tainted sources or uninspected factories in China, even if it's touted as "natural" but in fact includes undisclosed chemical ingredients, including some that have been banned by law because they are dangerous and others that could mix badly with other medications you're taking.


The Consumer Reports analysis spotlights a list of 12 widely used supplement ingredients linked to serious health risks, including cardiovascular, liver and kidney problems


Little of this is new. Congress' Government Accountability Office and studies ordered by congressional committees and various private organizations have shown repeatedly that ingesting supplements can be a game of chance. Though in some cases, a supplement could help, in others its only visible impact will be on your wallet, and in a few instances it might have dire consequences.


On top of the litany of supplement-use horror stories recorded over the years, many of which we've cited in previous editorials on this subject, Consumer Reports offers more:


•A Tennessee man who took a health supplement developed diarrhea, joint pain, hair loss and lung problems, and lost his fingernails and toenails. The distributor eventually recalled the product but is fighting its former customer in court.


•A student-athlete who bought a performance supplement online that claimed to be "legal" wound up in the hospital with liver failure due to the illicit steroid it included; the illness caused him to lose an athletic scholarship.


•An Oklahoma woman bought a supposed treatment for Lyme disease that turned her skin blue.


Spokesmen for the self-described "responsible" part of the industry claim that the limited powers given the Food and Drug Administration are adequate to protect the public. But the record says otherwise. It's so hard for FDA to ban a product that only one such case has ever succeeded. That effort, involving ephedrine alkaloids, dragged on for years while weight-loss products that included ephedra were implicated in thousands of illnesses and some deaths.


Unfortunately, in the present anti-government climate, there's little stomach in Congress for improving consumer protection. Thus Consumer Reports advises the public to be skeptical of claims made for supplements in ads, on TV and by pill-store sales staff. But people will always yearn for a magic elixer, which is why supplements, like drugs, shouldn't be allowed on store shelves till they've been proven safe and effective.








The media circus surrounding the latest issue of Consumer Reports implicates the entire aisle of mainstream dietary supplements based on 12 ingredients that combined make up less than 1% of the marketplace. Yet given the attention, one would think these 12 herbs represent the mainstream dietary supplement aisle at your neighborhood pharmacy. They do not.


Consumer Reports even identifies 11 products consumers should consider, including vitamin D, fish oil, cranberry and calcium. More than 65% of American adults take dietary supplements — from multivitamins to fiber to glucosamine — because strong science demonstrates their healthful effects.


Industry critics are quick to call for new laws. Why are these suspect ingredients still on the market? Truth is, the Food and Drug Administration already has ample authority to regulate this industry. What it needs to do is use it. Look how quickly it removed a popular weight-loss product last year, and how aggressively it targeted false cures for H1N1 influenza. FDA can seize adulterated supplements, detain questionable ingredients at the border, ban products that pose significant risks of injury or illness, and use criminal sanctions of the Food Drug & Cosmetic Act to prosecute those who market unsafe supplements.


If any of these 12 ingredients is truly unsafe, then FDA should ban its use. There may be reasons why FDA has issued advisories but stopped short of pulling products — but it's not because FDA lacks the ability to do so. FDA doesn't need new laws, just more resources and political will.


The dietary supplement industry has been a strong supporter of more resources and muscle at the agency. We were the primary advocates for the adverse event reporting law in 2006. We prodded FDA for 14 years to get higher manufacturing requirements for our products, and we strongly support mandatory recall authority for the agency.


Calls for pre-market approval show a disregard for consumers who want access to a wide variety of supplement products. What FDA needs from Congress is more funding, not new laws. Meanwhile, consumers should talk to their doctors or other health care professionals about any of the supplements they use to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That's good advice regardless of the law.


Steve Mister is president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association for the dietary supplement industry.








What's the most powerful, arrogant and dangerous corporation in the world?


BP, the much reviled energy company, isn't even close: With just 80,000 employees, it boasts a mere fraction of the more than 4 million workers and contractors that the biggest, baddest corporation commands. The investment bankers at Goldman Sachsenjoy enormous influence and prodigious profits, but their gross revenue in 2009 of $51.6 billion was dwarfed by a far more formidable operation that took in more than $2.1 trillion.


No corporation on the planet comes close to the United States government in sheer magnitude, or unimaginable, unprecedented power. The nation's top 100 corporations combined still fall far short of the behemoth inWashington, D.C., which conducts extensive operations in agriculture, weapons production, medical care, housing, real estate, education, mail delivery, policing, resource development, banking, the arts, security services, food provision, transportation and much, much more. Within five years, federal spending will consume 25% of every dollar generated by the private economy.


Every American feels the dramatic, relentless growth of federal power, but a dwindling minority — less than one-quarter, according to pollsters — wants Washington to do even more.


Most citizens recognize that government does play a necessary and useful role in our lives: We rely on federal highways, for instance, enjoy national parks, and feel grateful for inspections that keep our drugs and food supply relatively safe. Nevertheless, an emerging consensus suggests that bureaucrats already command more than enough resources — financially and legally — to allow them to perform the tasks that matter most to the public.


Constant craving


In part, the sharply reduced support for the Obama administration stems from the impression that an unpopular craving for ever-increasing intervention in the private sector constitutes its driving passion. This push for centralized power reflects the traditional populist faith that only idealistic bureaucrats in Washington can wield sufficient clout to protect the vulnerable public from the depredations of private business interests. The president tells the people that their only hope for dealing with unscrupulous oil companies, insurance firms and bankers is to rely on the federal government to defend them. He regularly attacks leading companies, suggesting that he will work against their interests and rein in their profits and growth.


This line falls flat with most people for two reasons. First, they understand enough about business to realize that any crackdown that damages major firms won't help to fuel a recovery. Hitting struggling corporations with more taxes, regulation, lawsuits and rhetorical abuse can hardly assist them in their all-important mission of job creation.


Moreover, Obama fails to recognize what Matt Bai properly designates as "an underlying shift in the meaning of American populism."In an insightful New York Timescolumn, Bai suggests that " today's only viable brand of populism" shuns ancient tropes about "the struggling worker vs. his corporate master. It is about the individual vs. the institution — not only business, but also government and large media and elite universities, too."


This new brand of populism, crystallized most forcefully by the "Tea Party" movement, doesn't see government as the necessary counterweight to business excesses, but rather views "business and government as part of an interdependent system," blaming that fearsome combination for most of the nation's ills. Fearful Americans don't trust business to serve the national interest, but they trust government even less. As Bai notes, they focus on the federal deficit "not because it presents an imminent crisis of its own, necessarily, but because it signifies a kind of institutional recklessness, a disconnectedness from the reality of daily life."


The public also understands that such recklessness, such unsustainable spending, would bring individuals or small businesses to rapid financial ruin; only the largest corporations, and the federal government itself, can get away with long-standing patterns of irresponsibility. The contrast raises the painful issue of double standards: the application of different rules for the people and the powerful (a designation that includes both governmental and corporate elites).


Little recourse


Of course, government carelessness threatens the populace even more fundamentally than corporate malfeasance. If you want to boycott a major company, you can make the choice do so — even if that choice requires sacrifices of money and convenience. If you want to boycott government, however, and refuse to do business with Washington, the feds may ultimately imprison you — for non-payment of taxes or an array of other charges.


When big companies disregard the interests of the general public, the members of the public still get the final decision on their level of involvement with any private enterprise. The government alone possesses authority to force every citizen to cooperate, and to bend to its will.


When Tea Party enthusiasts talk about "taking our country back," they dream of a mass movement that can enforce a new sense of accountability on powerful private companies as well as the Washington-based monstrosity that constitutes the most abusive, rapidly metastasizing and out-of-control corporation of them all.


Michael Medved, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, hosts a nationally syndicated, daily radio talk show.









When school bells ring in several weeks, they may be tolling a dark era in American education. Across the country, teacher layoffs are on the table.


Recession-drained state and local coffers can support few alternatives for cash-strapped school districts. The challenge, driven by laws requiring states to balance their budgets, is to protect students' learning interests and to be fair to teachers.


Washington, D.C., is front and center taking on the challenge. For decades here and in school districts coast to coast, seniority provided what seemed to be a fair, transparent and moderately efficient layoff strategy. Years in the classroom can be counted with little dispute. Districts viewed teachers as largely interchangeable, and students were presumed to be largely untouched by personnel matters.


If anything, more experienced teachers — those protected by seniority — were assumed to be better than younger instructors. Meanwhile, greater employment security rewarded loyal employees, no doubt fostering good management and teacher relations. It all worked smoothly.


Shift in approach


That was then. Today, things are different. Thanks to more and better data about individual students and teachers, we can base policies on a truer understanding of what goes on in schools.


We know, because of research from the federally funded National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) — and elsewhere, that the differences in teacher effectiveness, as measured by tested student achievement gains, are huge. Strong teachers get nearly triple the results that weak teachers get with their students.


So which teachers stay and which leave matters.


Surprisingly, our research also shows that job experience relates only weakly to teacher effectiveness, again as measured by student achievement gains, and the overlap between experienced and inexperienced teachers in effectiveness is considerable. In fact, many rookie recruits outperform their veteran counterparts.


A different measure


Why not base teacher layoffs on effectiveness? Opponents claim that student achievement tests are faulty. The beefs are that they don't capture all that students learn and don't perfectly measure what they do capture. True enough, but does that mean the detractors should rule the day? Or just that the measures could be better, but are still far superior to flying blind?


In an empirical showdown, CALDER investigators (working with New York City data) compared the result of a seniority-based layoff policy with a teacher-effectiveness layoff policy. They found that a teacher-effectiveness policy led to a more successful workforce — as evidenced by greater student gains — in subsequent years.


For sure, we can learn more about how to measure teacher performance. Out of fairness to both teachers and students, we should. Meanwhile, student test results should be used jointly with other measures, such as ratings of classroom practice by administrators and third-party observers, for a fuller, more reliable performance picture and sounder personnel decisions.


This is the way Washington is deciding which teachers stay and which go. If the lessons spread, maybe, when bells ring again, they can herald brighter days for our schools.


Jane Hannaway directs the Urban Institute's Education Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and CALDER, one of the new federally funded National Research and Development Centers









Behind this summer's hot weather lie lessons that both electricity consumers and power producers should take to heart. Among these, there's the irony of the myth that the future lies with nuclear power. There's the quite stunning value of the innovative Smart Grid that Chattanooga's EPB is putting into place. There's the distortion of TVA charging more for green energy. And there's the neglected payoff of a concerted conservation, power-load-management ethic.


Each of these pieces, and the interplay among them, would make good sense if the pieces of our energy puzzle were put together in a cogent public policy that would give the public the information and price incentives that are necessary to close the loop. Problem is, there is no comprehensive plan in place to keep consumers aware of the forces that determine their energy bill and, more importantly, that should shape their energy future.


When nuclear tapers off


We can dive into this energy thicket on the news that TVA cannot use a large portion of its nuclear power to cope with the season's highest air conditioning peak demands — precisely at the time when TVA and ratepayers would most want to benefit from peak nuclear production.


TVA cannot run its nuclear plants full throttle, officials say, because the water-cooling loop for its nuclear boilers and steam-driven turbines would discharge such a torrent of hot water to the Tennessee River that it would cause massive fish kills and damage the river's ecological health.


That's a further irony on the notion of that nuclear power is a painlessly cheap power to produce. Nuclear power is the cheapest power to produce, but only if we discount nuclear's gargantuan multi-billion-dollar-per-unit construction costs, its environmental impact, and the still unsolved riddle of safe disposal of nuclear waste with a half-life of thousands of years.


Dirty, costly alternatives


Since TVA has to cut back energy production this week at its three nuclear units at Browns Ferry by one-third to one-half of capacity, for example, it is being forced to use dirty coal units; and/or to spend millions of dollars a week more on expensive peak power turbines fired by natural gas; and/or to purchase more expensive power from neighboring utilities with high-cost, surplus peak power.


Several ironies attend this dilemma. TVA's use of its older coal-fired plants involves plants that have never been fitted with sulfur dioxide scrubbers (never mind the long-neglected 1977 amendments to the Clean Air Act that require scrubbers under New Source Review standards for such retrofitted old plants). These dirty old plants are cheaper only because their vast, lung-and-plant damaging pollution is simply shifted to the public's health cost, rather than paid upfront out of TVA's and ratepayers' pockets.


If these plants properly had the legally mandated pollution scrubbers, they — like the nuclear plants whose construction and waste disposal costs and risks are not adequately considered — probably would cost about the same, if not more, than the green power for which TVA charges voluntary consumers a premium.


The dumb irony of this upside-down financial and environmental equation is mind-boggling. Why charge consumers more for using clean, green power than for dirty power or risky nuclear power. That makes no sense. The price incentive should be to purchase green power at lower costs, thus increasing its economy-of-scale factor, and accounting for the presently displaced costs for coal and nuclear. That that does not seem financially feasible is emblematic of this perverse paradigm, one built into the system simply by wrongly shifted environmental and public health costs.


The larger dynamic, fostered by EPB's game-changing Smart Grid, makes it clear that the dawn of green power and small-generation/co-generation partners, where every consumer can use solar power and peak-power-use shifting strategies, is on the near horizon.


The Smart Grid future


The Smart Grid, a national model now nearing completion of the fiber-optic cable, Internet-connected infrastructure, will allow every EPB customer to remotely program and schedule energy-using systems and appliances in homes and businesses. We then will quickly learn to shift or cycle significant volumes of energy use to off-peak or interruptible hours, at new rates that reflect the lower cost at off-peak times to produce and purchase power. That will spur more focused energy conservation as well.


TVA plans to aid the Smart Grid — the EPB will be the largest utility in the country to introduce it — through parallel upgrades to the agency's transmission system to smooth out energy-using bumps and peaks on a gridwide basis.


The convergence of these systems will jump-start time-of-use energy rates to smooth expensive power peaks, and reinforce the overall value of conservation basics, from insulation and high-efficiency appliances to advanced consumer co-generation strategies (i.e., solar and small-hydro interchange).


This won't alter the current dilemma with summer air-conditioning, winter heating peaks, and the soon-to-arrive plug-in electric cars. But in just a few years, energy efficiency and green energy should assume a much more meaningful position, and more personal control of energy costs.







Thursday, August 5, 2010

This is the big day! Voters today will nominate candidates in primaries for the November state and federal general elections, and they will select winners in the Hamilton County general election.

Eligible voters in Hamilton County may vote today in either the Republican or the Democratic state primary election, but not both. In addition, all eligible voters may vote in the county general election.

The Free Press makes these recommendations for the state primary elections, followed by recommendations in the Hamilton County general election.



* For governor, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp.

* For Tennessee's 3rd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Robin Smith.

* For Tennessee's 11th Senate District, incumbent Sen. Bo Watson.

* For state House District 26, incumbent Rep. Gerald McCormick.

* For state House District 27, incumbent Rep. Richard Floyd.

* For state House District 28, challenger Teresa Wood.

* For state House District 30, incumbent Rep. Vince Dean.

* For state House District 31, incumbent Rep. Jim Cobb.



* For state House District 28, incumbent Rep. Tommie Brown.

* For state House District 29, incumbent Rep. JoAnne Favors.



* For county mayor, incumbent Republican Claude Ramsey.

* For sheriff, incumbent Republican Jim Hammond.

* For chancellor, Division 2, independent Art Grisham.

* For County Commission District 1, incumbent Republican Fred Skillern.

* In County Commission District 2, both Republican James Fields and independent David Cantrell are fine candidates. Voters should be well served no matter which man is elected.

* For County Commission District 3, incumbent Republican Jim Coppinger.

* For County Commission District 4, incumbent Democrat Warren Mackey.

* For County Commission District 5, incumbent Democrat Greg Beck.

* For County Commission District 6, Republican Joe Graham.

* For County Commission District 7, incumbent Republican Larry Henry.

* For County Commission District 8, we recommend either Republican Tim Boyd or Democrat Kenny Smith. We believe that either candidate would perform capably on the commission.

* For County Commission District 9, Republican Chester Bankston.

* For school board, District 3, incumbent Everett Fairchild.

* For school board, District 5, incumbent Jeffrey Wilson.

* For school board, District 6, Joe Galloway.

* For school board, District 8, David Testerman.

* For school board, District 9, Mike Evatt.

* For trustee, Republican Bill Hullander.

* For Circuit Court clerk, incumbent Democrat Paula Thompson.

* For Criminal Court clerk, incumbent Democrat Gwen Tidwell.

* For Juvenile Court clerk, incumbent Democrat Ron Swafford.

* For county clerk, incumbent Democrat W.F. "Bill" Knowles.

* For register of deeds, incumbent Republican Pam Hurst.



* There is no apparent reason why Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Gail Lee should not remain in her position, so we recommend that voters vote to retain her.

* Neither does there seem to be any reason why Judge John McClarty should be removed from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Division. Therefore we recommend that voters retain him as well.

Now it's all up to you, the voters!







The Obama administration keeps trying to convince the nation that we are in an economic "recovery."


Well, decide for yourself:


* Unemployment remains in the very painful 10 percent range — and even top administration officials, such as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, quietly admit that joblessness is likely to remain high or get even worse in the coming months.


* Neither consumer spending — which is crucial to recovery because it accounts for 70 percent of economic activity — nor personal incomes rose in June, according to the Commerce Department. Consumer spending has been weak for three months now, and the report on personal income was the worst in nine months. Consumers seem to doubt that the administration has a plan to help the economy. Most people consider unemployment and the economy the biggest issue facing our country, according to a recent Gallup poll, yet only 46 percent approve of the president's job performance.


* What economic growth there has been is "just about half the pace normally seen coming out of a deep recession," The Associated Press noted — which raises serious questions about whether we are in a genuine "recovery."


* Manufacturing is slowing further, as orders by factories have now fallen for a second straight month.


* Contracts for the purchase of homes dropped by nearly 3 percent in June, which does not bode well for the deeply troubled housing market.


But as hard as things are now, we have this unhappy reminder: "Many analysts believe growth will slow further in the second half of the year as high unemployment, shaky consumer confidence and renewed troubles in housing weigh on the year-old economic recovery," the AP reported.


It is also likely that Congress is going to raise taxes at the end of the year by failing to renew at least a big part of the Bush tax cuts. There is never a "good" time for tax hikes, but raising taxes in a time of economic crisis will only deepen that crisis.


We'd love for our economy to experience a genuine, durable recovery, but the evidence is pointing in the other direction.







We are sadly accustomed to almost daily reports of mass deaths and threats in many parts of the world — but not so often here in the United States.


On one page of Wednesday's paper, there were these headlines:


* "Car bomb kills 15 in Iraq"


* "4 killed in clash near Israel-Lebanon border"


* "4 die in Kashmir protest"


* "Taliban directive targets civil servants"


But we were shocked by a news story from Manchester, Conn., with the headline, " 'Cold as ice' gunman kills 9 in shooting spree."


We don't routinely expect such horrible things in our country.


The news account said a truck driver who was accused of stealing beer from a warehouse was told he could quit or be fired. He chose to quit — but then went on a shooting spree among his former fellow employees, killing eight people, wounding two others, and then committing suicide.


We can never know for sure what evil emotions may lurk within some minds, and what stress may trigger.

In this case, many innocent lives were snuffed out, surely inflicting further pain among many members of their families.








We have not been without differences over policy with Alparslan Korkmaz, the departing head of Turkey's investment promotion agency. But we are frankly sad to see him leaving.


For in a globalizing economy, a key scorecard in recent years has been foreign direct investment, or "FDI." The money foreign investors bring is nice, of course. But more importantly, if managed well, FDI brings technology transfer, access to new markets, R&D, even improved personnel standards (assuming cheap labor is not the investor's main goal). China has led the world in recent decades. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland had a few heady years in the mid-1990s. Brazil and India have taken their share. But for many years, Turkey was the laggard.


Not that FDI is especially new here. The oldest investor in Turkey who has stayed put is the German electronic/engineering giant Siemens. The company first arrived in the 19th century to install the signalling for the "Berlin to Baghdad" railroad. But for the most part, inbound investment was a trickle.


Turkey first began keeping track of FDI in 1953. From that date until about 2001, the total aggegrate investment was just $18.5 billion. Mainly it came from automotive and pharmaceutical investments in the late 1950s and early 1960s with a second spurt of interest in energy in the 1990s.


But now that has all changed. In 2007, Turkey drew $22 billion, which now stands as the record. The reforms of economy czar Kemal Derviş after the 2001 banking crisis, Turkey's negotiation accord with the European Union in 2004, the explosion of liquidity in the Gulf were all factors. But a degree of credit must go to Korkmaz, who like today's Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek or EU negotiator Egemen Bağış, was recruited from abroad by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to come home. Korkmaz has always struck us as straight shooter. How well he has resisted pressure from companies allied with the AKP may be debated. But he seems to us to have done an admirable job of keeping his head and his wits above partisan politics. No easy task in Turkey. We know he has battled valiantly with the bureaucracy's dinosaurs who often regard foreign investment with misplaced suspicion.


Yes, we found ourselves at sharp odds with Korkmaz last January, when it was revealed that he was negotiating leaseholds for government-held farm land, a practice that has been widely criticized in other countries.


But by and large, we think he deserves a great deal of credit for the FDI turnaround. That it has declined to

something on the order of $7 billion last year and will probably be in the neighborhood of $5 billion this year is hardly a decline we can place at his feet. Given global realities, these are still healthy numbers.


We doubt his professionalism can be easily replaced. His departure is a loss for the Turkish economy.







Turkey is a most fascinating country. It is impossible to get bored with the country's unrivaled pace. Everything happens so quickly that it is very hard for me to write about current developments in a weekly column. Let's just wrap up the past seven days.

On Wednesday, July 28, a new legislation about the rights of end users of telecommunication industry came into force. The new legislation replaced the one that was accepted in 2004 and is far more satisfactory than the former. With the new legislation, end users are given many rights that are on par with European Union standards.


The end users' rights had always been a big issue in telecommunications industry in Turkey. Due to the fast growth of service providers and the fast pace of the technologies used in the industry, the responsibilities against the users were not up to date. Many terms like personal data, value added services, data transfer and so on weren't even identified in the 2004 version because there was no need to do so.


However, with the increasing penetration of broadband, the meaning of personal data and information and the ways in which these data would be stored and used became important issues. The authorities deserve congratulations for addressing this pressing problem.


But unfortunately, they are a bit too late.


On exactly the same day, another news broke through. A gang of information thieves was caught. The gang had a database of ID information of all Turkish citizens and were selling the rights to search in the database for 275 Turkish Liras to anyone. I am so very surprised that this issue wasn't even addressed by the ministers. I am also very surprised that no one has resigned. It seems that no one really cares about our personal information.


The search in the database allowed people to see everything about any Turkish citizen from our date and place of birth to our current address. So the people who purchase the database can very easily call any bank, say that they forgot the password to their account and answer all the security questions without hesitation and transfer all of somebody else's savings to their accounts. Also they can learn all other information that should be kept as a secret, such as how much tax we pay or how long we have been insured etc.


It is said that two engineers working in the Central Civil Registration System "Mernis" project helped the gang. It is a shock that the Mernis IT architecture doesn't have an ID Management component. Usually government projects are protected much better than this.


So, ironically, on the day we learned that all of our personal information was stolen, a new legislation that aims to protect our personal information came into force.


Another interesting issue was the introduction of "ADSL without the telephone line" Internet service to the market. This is a very progressive move as it enables Turkish customers to get broadband connection without the need to sign up for a landline first. This is a very important step for the country because there is a Türk Telekom monopoly over fixed lines. The company had been enjoying the ease of extending its fixed line monopoly to broadband services. With the introduction of the new technology, users could have enjoyed some competition. I say "could have" because they will not. The Information and Communication Technologies Authority, or ICTA, announced the prices along with the service introduction. With the prices, the authority announced the new service is exactly 0.14 lira cheaper.


So, ICTA announces a new technology