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Friday, August 6, 2010

EDITORIAL 06.08.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month august 06, edition 000591, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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










































































In the Kashmir Valley, those aghast at the arson and deaths over the past week describe the street protests and consequent police action as the 'cycle of violence' and lament the Government's failure to break this vicious circle. In theory, this sounds perfectly sensible: If there are no killing of law-breakers by the security forces (whether the State police or the CRPF) then there will be no attempt to break the law to register protest; if there are no protests then the law will not be broken; and if the law is not broken, then there will be no counter-offensive by the security forces. There is a problem, though. And this relates to another exalted theory, which involves a chicken and an egg: Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Or, what should precede the other in the Kashmir Valley: Cessation of strict enforcement of curfew to stop arsonists from running riot or a halt to the violent protests which are part of a dangerous campaign by separatists sitting in the safety of their hideouts and who have no qualms about using innocent youngsters and women as their foot soldiers. If those who have died in the past week are young men and women, some barely out of their teens, it is not because the police have been targeting the youth but the cynicism of those who chant 'Azadi' the loudest. Ironically, the futility of such mindless violence — setting police stations and Government buildings on fire, attacking policemen on duty — has been underscored by none else than Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who heads the hardline faction of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference and has been relentless in demanding Kashmir's separation from India and merger with Pakistan. There is no reason to believe that Mr Geelani has had a change of heart and decided to eschew separatism as a political creed. What is more than likely is that he and his ilk are alarmed that the leadership of the separatist movement in the Valley is fast slipping into hands other than theirs. It would help understand the sudden surge in the violence if the identity of those pulling the strings — apart from the ISI which mentors separatists of all hues — were to be revealed.

Till such time that happens, the Jammu & Kashmir Government must focus on getting a grip over the situation and the Union Government should concentrate on forging an all-party consensus on how best to deal with the crisis. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah may have the right intentions, but he has clearly failed to exercise his authority as well as engage the masses politically. That violence should have erupted in those areas where the National Conference performed the best in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections tells its own story of political disengagement. Toning up the administration Mr Abdullah heads is no doubt required, but more importantly his — as well as his party's — presence in the streets is urgently called for. As for the UPA regime, having failed abysmally to capitalise on the advantage that accrued after two successive elections in Jammu & Kashmir, it should not seek the advice of others. This would be best done through an all-party consultative mechanism, which cannot wait any longer. This is not about the Congress's sense of false prestige and the UPA regime's bogus pride, but about India's national interest. The Congress and the Government it leads cannot be trusted to handle the situation on its own. 







Since it is as difficult as it is important to check population explosion in the country, the Union Health Minister, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad's frustration over the unchecked demographic growth is understandable. Perhaps he believes that he can do little except hope that the din of small-family campaigns launched by his Ministry reaches more receptive ears, especially among those living in the north Indian States that have contributed the most to this menace. It is alarming enough that the country's population has increased five-fold over the last hundred years and that at least 37 crore would be added by 2026. At this rate we shall for sure overtake China in the next four decades. But, much as we may wish no miracle can be expected since there are no quick fix solutions to population control — at least not after the Emergency experience. You cannot any more achieve family planning targets by waylaying people and sterilising them, nor can you expect the masses to suddenly march to the nearest health centre and adopt family planning measures. Publicity campaigns alone will not work since factors like lack of education and poverty are greatly responsible for population growth. It is not a coincidence that some of the country's poorest States like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have witnessed the most spectacular failures in checking population rise. With the total fertility rate in central India at an average of 3.8, which is way higher than the 2.1 fixed by the NDA Government to be met by 2010, hopes of stabilising the population growth in the coming decades have been dashed. 

But that is no reason for the Government to do nothing but lament. While strong arm measures to check population growth are out of the question, one cannot understand why the Government should not implement a policy to provide incentives to have small families. It is an idea that has been discussed and debated in the public domain for some time now. A two-child norm could be the basis for promotion of public servants, for instance. Parliamentarians and legislators, who talk endlessly about the need to tackle the population menace, must set an example by enacting a law that allows only those with not more than two children to contest elections. After all, we need to enthuse the masses. Let the lead be taken by elected representatives and the better off. But for that to happen, the Government will require a "fidayeen-like zeal" the Health Minister so eloquently spoke about in the Lok Sabha on Thursday. Forcible means may be ruled out but targets have still to be met. Mere pious declarations and pointing fingers are no substitute for concrete action. Meanwhile, perhaps the time has come to think of disincentives for those who recklessly contribute to the impending demographic disaster. 







British Prime Minister David Cameron was as good as his word. He promised to enhance the Indo-British relationship, to take it to the next level. Scarred by Mr Tony Blair's poodleism towards Uncle Sam, which has resulted in the draining experience of Iraq followed by exhaustion in Afghanistan-Pakistan, Mr Cameron is keen to explore the emerging realities available to him, to leaven relations with the US and the EU. This is no zero sum game. Key to the new vision is Mr Cameron's readiness to decouple the India-Pakistan Cold War construct for an exclusive partnership with India.

Nothing is as strong as an idea whose time has come. That idea, in Mr Cameron's view, is the "uncaged Indian tiger", which he is keen to embrace in Britain's national interest. The UK wants greater access to the Indian market and desires an increasing contra-flow of Indian investment into Britain. Beyond these are vistas of cultural and scientific co-operation and educational exchanges.

British Indian businessman Lord Karan Billimoria reminded a London television interviewer that Britain is blessed with four of the world's top 10 universities, that the British experience in this and other fields had much to offer India. He did also say that having been a member of previous British delegations to the country under the dispensations of Mr Blair and Mr Gordon Brown, he had no doubt whatsoever that the Cameron party dwarfed them all in size, outreach and ambition. 

Beyond India's economy, Mr Cameron spoke warm words on why India was important to his country: It was India's secular pluralism encompassing a variety of religious faiths, its multitude of tongues and ethnicities within an over-arching Indian identity, which confected with democracy and the rule of law made India a light unto the nations. Western leaders are apt to indulge in such pieties as obligatory ritual. Mr Cameron's tribute, in contrast, carried conviction. He well understands the true significance of the Islamist terrorist goal to traduce the modern global narrative for a bonfire of the medievalist vanities. 

Nothing underlines this more than his robust criticism of Pakistan's export of terrorism to India and countries beyond, and its dualism on Islamist violence, as the WikiLeak revelations demonstrate. The UK's Right-wing broadsheet, The Daily Telegraph, notes in an editorial that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency's links with myriad jihadi groups have long been "an open secret".

Yet Mr Cameron's strictures have provoked a firestorm of outrage in Pakistan, and among British Pakistanis — Labour's Lord Ahmed, a peer of the realm, Mr Khalid Mahmood, a Labour MP, and Yasmin Alibhai Brown, a columnist with the Left-liberal Independent and a loquacious verbalist on radio and television, lead the charge in defence of the land they have chosen to leave for another. They were all primordially unforgiving of Mr Cameron for having spoken as he did on Indian soil. If he had made the offending speech in, say, Antarctica before a crowd of penguins, walruses, seals and polar bears, it wouldn't have rankled nearly as much. Mr David Miliband, the former Labour Foreign Secretary, called Mr Cameron a "loudmouth". Protesters in Islamabad and Karachi and other Pakistani cities followed suit with banners denouncing "Cameroon loos mouth", an engaging variation of jihadi patois, no doubt. 

Mr Cameron's forthright attack made media faint hearts bleat and whimper. Jeremy Page in The Times feared for peace in Afghanistan (and the UK) if the Pakistani authorities were unduly annoyed; the Financial Times was similarly cringing. Maybe this was covert regret at losing the Pakistan card to keep the Indians in check, with bombings and murders such as we witnessed in Mumbai. Old habits die hard.

However, increasing numbers of Britain's great and the good are advocating a bold and resolute line with Pakistan. Seasoned Foreign Office mandarins of yore like Sir Christopher Meyer, a former British envoy in Washington, and Sir Hilary Synott, once his country's High Commissioner in Islamabad, have advised firmness; Mr Cameron had nothing to apologise for, they said.

The veteran Times columnist William Rees-Mogg provided a welcome antidote to the Page poison. Whilst he did not discount the value of Pakistan as a Western ally in Afghanistan, "this does not mean that David Cameron was wrong to speak frankly about the reliability of Pakistan as a partner in the war against terror....It is no use Pakistan taking offence at the Prime Minister pointing out what he and the ISI know to be the truth. What Mr Cameron said was not an indiscretion or a 'gaffe'. It was part of a policy of telling the truth, as a calculated way of bringing awkward issues closer to the point of decision." Straight talk helps "when there is an open sore in existing relations." 

Christina Lamb's headline in The Sunday Times — "Butchers of Mumbai join Afghan battle" — made by far the most significant political equation. She is arguably the best informed foreign correspondent in Pakistan, having acquired experience of the country in three decades as a reporter there.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari has arrived in Britain as part of his wider European tour. He has promised to put the British Prime Minister straight on terrorism, after which he will travel to Birmingham to address a public meeting of Pakistanis, where it is expected, his 21-year old son Bilawal, recently graduated from Oxford University, will be anointed leader of Pakistan's ruling PPP, the party founded by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged by Gen Zia. He was succeeded by his assassinated daughter, Bilawal's mother, Benazir. Centuries ago, Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Today, Mr Zardari fiddles as much of Pakistan drowns, and its commercial hub Karachi burns.

There is a lesson for Pakistani leaders. Kemal Ataturk, addressing the National Assembly of the new Turkish Republic on December 1, 1921, warned: "Gentlemen, by looking as though we were doing great and fantastic things, without actually doing them, we have brought the hatred, rancour and malice of the whole world on this country and this people. We did not serve pan-Islamism. We said we had and would, but we didn't... There you have the problem... we increased the number of our enemies and the pressure upon us...". Two years later, Ataturk developed his theme. "My friends, those who conquer by the sword are doomed to be overcome by those who conquer by the plough... That is what happened to the Ottoman Empire." 

Back to Mr Cameron. His charm and steel make him a leader to the manner born, contradicting, alas, my previous judgement reached in haste. Mea culpa! 






The minority community need not unduly worry about the ramifications of the Right to Education Act on the functioning of madarsas. With even the Ministry of Human Resource Development declaring that it has no intention of bringing madarsas under its ambit, it is time for the controversy to come to a close. The Ministry has a separate scheme for modernisation of madarsas which encourages these units to offer lessons in 'modern and secular' subjects along with deeni talim or religious instruction. 

The origin of madarsas can probably be traced to the Islamic custom of meeting in mosques to discuss societal and religious conundrums. The ordinary people would gather around certain educated persons who could guide them on these matters. In India, madrasa education was fostered by the Sufi order. It was in these Sufi madarsas that grammar, poetry, literature, logic, mathematics and other disciplines were taught. Since most Islamic wisdom was documented in Arabic and Persian, the subcontinent prospered as a place for learning these languages. 

The madarsa curriculum offers lessons in Quran-i-Hafiz (memorisation of the Quran), alim, tafsir (Quranic interpretation), Sharia (Islamic law),Hadith (sayings and deeds of the Prophet), mantic (logic) and Islamic history. There are around 30,000 madarsas functioning in the country.

Hence the primary identity of madarsas is not that of an elementary school but of one that offers religious instruction. Therefore, the RTE Act is not applicable to madarsas and those running these institutions need not meet its stringent provisions for recognition. 

Till date, madarsas have enjoyed a fair amount of freedom with no specific obligation to seek recognition from the Government. This freedom was granted by Article 30 of the Constitution which allows minorities 'the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice'. The RTE Act is not falling foul of Article 30 as apprehended by some Muslim clerics. Even Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs Salman Khursheed has categorically dismissed the suggestion that the Act poses a threat to madarsas.







With China dislodging Japan as the world's second largest economy, we should take a close look at the factors that have made this possible. There's no point in comparing the economies of India and China, but there is merit in learning some lessons

Recently, in terms of Gross Domestic Product, China toppled Japan to secure the second position globally, after the US. In fact, China was very close to achieving this feat in 2009, but fell short at the last moment. As per reports, if China keeps growing at its current pace, then by 2025 it should topple the US to become the largest economy of the world.

Who could have imagined that an economy, which was languishing till about three decades back, would put itself in such a formidable position? What is even more amazing is the fact that while the world economy is still recovering from the global recession, China has kept on growing.

China's growth has been such that in 2005 it overtook Britain and France; then in 2007 it surpassed Germany to secure the position of the third largest economy of the world. It is not that growth has not brought an iniquitous distribution of wealth; but, at the same time, China has managed to pull out a staggering 600 million people out of poverty — a record which no other country has achieved so far.

Going by media reports, it doesn't seem that many experts are appreciative of the Chinese growth. In fact even now, most in the developed world still cannot fathom the fact that China can be a serious contender in the new economic order. Much of this is owing to the fact that irrespective of its Number Two position, China still remains a developing country, as its current per capita is still 10 times lesser of that of Japan.

But then, what most miss out on is the fact that China is in no hurry to prove itself. China has moved step by step in terms of consolidating its position. It has never bothered about the criticism it has faced on humanitarian issues or the kind of global cynicism that it has faced for keeping its currency purposefully undervalued.

China's objective has been very clear — which gets reflected in the manner in which it has planned every step. From the very beginning, China has been extremely scientific and systematic in its approach. And more than that, the growth has come out of great sacrifice collectively made by Chinese citizens.

China has systematically moved people into manufacturing and today it manufactures almost half of the global produce. Thus today, Walmart retains the top position in the Fortune list by selling goods that are made in China. And all this has not come in a day. It has been an outcome of years of planning.

Today China boasts of investment which is a mind-numbing 40 per cent of GDP. Even at its peak, the US managed around 18 per cent. Countries like ours are managing 18 per cent. Additionally, China's investment mobilisation has been far more prudent than any other country's efforts. It has invested in infrastructure, which has not only created jobs but also helped in creating a world class environment for trade.

China's biggest credit has been in terms of the investments that it has made in education. As per reports in 1998, around three million students were undertaking Chinese higher education; this increased to around eight million in a matter of just four years. And investments have just not been in higher education — it has been across the board, starting from English training and vocational training to investments in science and technology.

Such has been the outcome that China's investments in education alone add up to almost six per cent of its growth and this will be sustained over a period of time. Today, China produces patents, the number of which is only second to the US. 

Not just this, China has been severely criticised by all quarters for pro-actively engaging with Iran. It did so not only with Iran but also Sudan, for it knew that energy security is key to its dominance in global trade.

In order to have a better understanding of what China has achieved in the last two decades, we should compare its economy with India's. The Indian economy, which used to be almost 80 per cent of that of China's economy two decades ago, is now a mere 25 per cent of the Chinese economy. While the Chinese feel underachieved at a staggering $ 4 trillion plus economy, we celebrate our $ 1 trillion mark.

China created history by hosting the greatest sporting spectacle, Olympics. We all know what we are doing to the Commonwealth Games. Increasingly, any comparison between India and China sounds banal. It is not that we do not have our own advantages, but the Chinese have gone far ahead and are increasingly going farther.

If reports are to be believed, we too can reach the Number Two position economically by 2040 provided we keep growing between eight and nine per cent, which in itself is a huge challenge. It is foolish to compare India to China. It would be more sensible to learn a lesson or two from the Chinese. Not just for growth, but for the sake of those 300 million Indians who have been languishing in poverty


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







Bhardwaj blocks Bill banning cow slaughter

In line with the Congress' old policy of kowtowing to Muslim sentiments and the butchers' lobby, Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj has decided to reserve the Bill banning cow slaughter for the President's consideration. The reason cited is that certain provisos of the proposed law have inter-State implications. Though passed by both Houses of the State legislature, the fate of the Bill is now dependent on Ms Pratibha Patil's response, which is presumably shaped by her erstwhile party's stance on the issue. And that is well known, given the Congress's antipathy to banning cow slaughter. Though it has been in power at the Centre for the longest period of time, it has not bothered to bring about Central legislation in this regard.

In January this year, religious savants of all faiths, experts, organic farmers and social activists submitted to Ms Patil over eight crore signatures, collected during the 108-day Vishwa Mangal Gou Gram Yatra. The journey had begun from Kurukshetra on September 30 last year, and concluded in Nagpur on January 17, 2010. Their memorandum demanded enactment of a central law for cow protection. VHP president Ashok Singhal recalled that in 1952, anti-cow slaughter advocates had presented about two crore signatures to the then President Rajendra Prasad. What he failed to emphasise was that the campaign had not yielded the desired result. And no positive development has occurred now, with the Congress-led UPA Government unwilling to frame a central law, prohibiting cow slaughter. 

It is worrisome that there has been concerted lobbying by politicos, traders and even a section of the media in Karnataka to scrap the Bill. Janata Dal (S) stalwart and former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda claims that Mr Manmohan Singh, the present Prime Minister, agrees that the Bill is a bad law. But while it may affect the livelihood of butchers, leather workers, traders, and beef-sellers, who could easily be helped by the Government to take up other, less offensive work, it shows a commendable respect for milch animals, which are the staple of our predominantly agrarian economy. Religious sanctity aside, cows and, by extension, cattle are invaluable because they provide milk, dung and urine, used as fertilisers and even medicine, and also plough the fields. They preempt the need for costly agrochemicals in farming, as well as tractors. The worst reward for their efforts is to butcher them, thereby betraying the savagery of arid utilitarianism.

The Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2010, which is meant to replace the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act of 1964, is different from the latter in important ways. The former covers "cattle", defined as "cow, calf of a cow and bull, bullock, buffalo male or female and calf of she-buffalo". The earlier law was against the slaughter of cows, calves of cows and calves of she-buffaloes. It sanctioned the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and buffaloes if they were over 12 years old, or of no use. The penalty for an offence is more severe in the new law. Violating the 1964 Act invited a jail sentence of six months. Under the proposed law, imprisonment extends up to seven years. This should certainly deter cattle smuggling, illegal slaughter and the like.

Is a cartel of beef-traders and compulsions of minorityism responsible for sacrificing the dominant community's belief in the sanctity of cows on the anvil of commerce and politics? This issue has long been debated, as successive decades after Independence have seen the constitutional directive to ban cow slaughter being callously flouted. Article 48, 'Organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry', avers that "The State shall, in particular, take steps for prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch animals". But while most States have instituted laws against cow slaughter, the Centre has been notoriously callous in this regard. Communist-leaning West Bengal and Kerala have also been remiss.

So far as Muslims are concerned, cow slaughter is not a duty, enjoined by Islam. Historical annals relate attempts by Muslim rulers such as Mohammed Bin Qasim, Mughals and Nawab Hyder Ali of Mysore to prohibit such butchery in deference to the feelings of their subjects. In the present instance, Mr KN Anees Ulhaq, State convenor of Karnataka's Muslim Rashtriya Manch, concedes that the Quran does not state whether people should eat beef or not, and that one should go with the majority opinion. But judging by its track record, the Congress clearly would beg to differ.







With the Andhra Pradesh by-polls boosting the Telangana movement and resulting in an indirect advantage for Jaganmohan Reddy, the Congress must get its strategy right once and for all 

All is not well for the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. As a senior Congress leader pointed out, the party is facing two monsters — one created by the revolt of Mr YS Jaganmohan Reddy, son of the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy, and the second in the form of a resurgence in the Telangana movement following Telangana Rashtra Samiti's resounding win in last week's Assembly by-polls.

The recent results are a wake-up call for the party as despite winning a landslide majority in the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls last year, there is no political stability, mainly owing to lack of strong leadership in the State. The Chief Minister, Mr K Rosaiah, has turned out to be a weak leader. There will be a question mark on the Congress majority in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly if Mr Jaganmohan Reddy decides to call off his 30-odd MLAs.

The by-poll results clearly show the strong regional sentiment. The TRS won 11 of the 12 seats while the BJP bagged the only other. All 119 MLAs from Telangana had agreed to resign six months ago, but the Congress and TDP MLAs backed out. Ten TRS MLAs and one each from BJP and TDP, however, stuck to their guns and they have now won back their seats with an increased majority. The TDP seat has been wrested by the TRS. 

The results did not come as a surprise as the Congress and the TDP contested the polls in a half-hearted manner. The Congress has lost the goodwill it earned after the December 9 announcement by the Home Minister that the process for a separate Telangana will be initiated. The local Congress was not in favour of even contesting while New Delhi decided to put up candidates most of whom have now lost their deposits. As for the TDP, its leader Mr N Chandrababu Naidu was busy with the Babhli agitation ignoring the by-polls. Perhaps, he knew that the TDP could not win on its own. In 2009, the TDP, in alliance with the TRS, won 39 out of the 57 seats it contested in Telangana region whereas the TRS could win in only 10 of 45 seats allotted to it. The Congress did well due to the Machiavellian strategies of the late Rajasekhara Reddy. 

The Congress should worry not only about the increased victory margins of the candidates but also about political instability. This is the second time the TRS has performed well on its own. Mr T Harish Rao, nephew of Mr Chandrasekhar Rao, retained Siddipet by 95,381 votes, the kind of majority usually seen in Lok Sabha elections. All other candidates secured majorities ranging from 10,000 to 60,000 votes. The students of the region support the movement. 

If the Srikrishna Commission set up to go into the Telangana issue recommends a separate State in December, there would be bloodshed in Andhra Pradesh. Rayalaseema would seek a Greater Rayalaseema. Moreover, where would Hyderabad go? Billions have been invested in Hyderabad by outsiders as well as industrialists from Andhra Pradesh. 

The future is uncertain if things are not handled politically. First of all, the results have strengthened the case for a separate Telangana. From here onwards, there will be more pressure even from within the Congress now that the people of Telangana have spoken clearly.


Secondly, apart from being a moralebooster for the TRS, the results could influence the Srikrishna Commission. It cannot ignore the voters' desire while submitting its report in December this year.

Thirdly, the results are indirectly set to tilt the balance in favour of Mr Jaganmohan Reddy, who had been testing the waters with his Odarpu Yatra. Mr Jaganmohan Reddy's supporters, emboldened by the by-poll results, have once again stepped up their demand to replace Mr Rosaiah. 

Fourthly, the poll outcome has widened the differences within the Congress. This is evident from the way the MPs from the pro- and anti-Telangana camps have started dinner diplomacy in the capital to strategise how to put pressure on the Centre. 

Fifthly, political instability would increase. There is demand for the ouster of Mr Rosaiah. There is another group, which demands action against Mr Jaganmohan Reddy. 

The Congress leaders have put up a brave face, claiming that losing a dozen seats in the 294-seat Assembly does not mean that things are not well. It is true that the Congress was not holding any of these seats, but the results are a reminder of how much the party stands to lose if it does not get its Telangana strategy right before the next polls. 

If the Congress leadership wants to set right things in the State, inaction cannot be the answer. The division in the party on Telangana does not auger well. The first thing is to bring unity in the party. This will be a difficult in view of the sensitivity of the issue.

Secondly, PCC chief D Srinivas has cut a sorry figure, as he could not get elected in the by-polls despite spending huge amounts of money. A package deal to replace the PCC chief as well as the Chief Minister should be worked out before the Srikrishna Commission report is submitted. 

Thirdly, Mr Jaganmohan Reddy should be tackled immediately. If the Congress is complacent that there are three-and-a-half more years for the next Assembly polls, things may go out of control. 






Thirty-five years ago, on August 1, 1975, nearly all the Old World countries, plus the US and Canada, managed to reach political consensus on all key issues and signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. 

The conference involved every European country except Albania, which had opted for self-isolation since the early 1960s, but all the other States, both "capitalist" and Communist, preferred compromise to confrontation. 

It was the Soviet-led Communist bloc that had initiated the Helsinki conference as part of the policy of détente, or the "relaxation of international tensions," to quote the Soviet Press. In fact, détente was one of the most important trends to emerge during the Brezhnev era, now primarily referred to as an "epoch of stagnation". However, Soviet foreign policy of that time was more dynamic than stagnant.

The Helsinki Final Act did not end the Cold War. In 1978-1979, Nicaragua was torn apart by a civil war indirectly involving both the Soviet Union and the US. That same year, the USSR invaded Afghanistan. And the US invaded Grenada, a Caribbean island, in 1983. However, the Helsinki conference did manage to stabilise the situation in Europe and preserve the regional status quo.

Each conference participant managed to gain at least something. Notably, the Helsinki Final Act formalised the inviolability of post-war European borders. This benefited the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries to a greater extent than the West. Moreover, the document formalised Germany's division into West and East, both of which signed the Act separately, as well as what at the time seemed to be the permanent inclusion of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia into the USSR.

In response, the Western European partners hoped that the document's principle of non-interference in domestic affairs of other States, including not using military force for such purposes, would be implemented, and that this would prevent a repetition of the events of 1956 and 1968, when Moscow sent military contingents to Hungary and Czechoslovakia in order to quell anti-Communist dissent.

When a serious political crisis erupted in Poland in 1980, it was not the Helsinki agreement that stopped Moscow sending in the troops, but the timely action by the then Polish President, Gen Wojciech Jaruzelski, in declaring a state of emergency.

Nevertheless, the Western European delegations there to sign the Act did not leave Helsinki empty-handed. The US and their partners obtained long-term gains, while the Communist bloc derived instant benefits. The West sowed the seeds of future internal strife that was to completely demolish the Communist bloc and the USSR in the not too distant future.

These were contained in the so-called "third (humanitarian) basket," namely, the Final Act's Chapter VII "Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief." After reading that chapter, the leaders of the Soviet Communist Party and Government had every right to exclaim "So that is where my demise was concealed!" quoting Prince Oleg of Novgorod, who had ruled Russia from 882 to 912.

It appears that, through sheer intuition, members of the Soviet delegation foresaw a similar outcome because a long and exhausting behind-the-scenes struggle raged around the clauses of precisely that chapter. However, not signing under the following correct sentences was not an option: "The participating States will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion."

"They will promote and encourage the effective exercise of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and other rights and freedoms all of which derive from the inherent dignity of the human person and are essential for his free and full development."

In effect, these seemingly innocent and eloquent phrases were a time bomb planted under the global socialist system. Doubtless, the Helsinki Final Act was a fine-sounding and even hypocritical document. Not a single state planned to implement it in full. This primarily concerned the situation with human rights and freedoms in the USSR. Nevertheless, Soviet dissidents found in it substantial grounds, as established in international law, for their activities. Western Governments also obtained powerful leverage in putting pressure on Moscow and its Eastern European satellite states.

This is what physicist Yuri Orlov, the founder and first head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, an influential human rights monitoring non-governmental organisation, wrote on this score: "Technically speaking, the Helsinki Accords removed human rights from the sphere of good wishes and 'our domestic affairs' and put them firmly in the arena of specific international politics, although the Soviet regime did not recognise this in reality, and the West did not take immediate advantage of this. I thought that mere appeals to the Western public would not help, and that it was necessary to establish our own commission to carry out expert monitoring of Soviet violations of these international commitments, and to communicate this to interested states."

Slowly, but surely, the dissidents, like moles, destabilised the pillars of the Soviet system and eventually demolished one of the world's two superpowers. Although the significance of this factor should not be overestimated, neither should it be underestimated. Consequently, it can be said that a "liquidation commission" for the abolition of the Soviet Union had begun its work in the Finnish capital in August 1975.

The Helsinki Accords held out for just 15 years, and the principle of the inviolability of borders subsequently became eroded. The established order began to be violated so often and regularly that the Helsinki Final Act, which currently remains in force, was quietly forgotten. However, its validity is a mere formality without any political influence. 








THE debate on price rise in Parliament has yielded little of any value. The entire exercise was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing with the government and the Opposition nitpicking over whether the term used in the joint resolution should be " price rise" or " inflationary pressures," and the " common man" was affected or not.


The strategy of the various Opposition parties seemed to be determined by their respective vested interests, rather than the need to bring the government to book. This was evident from the confusion in the Opposition ranks over whether or not there should be a vote on the floor of the Lok Sabha on the issue.


The sole aim of the Left, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Janata Dal ( United) was to score political points over their regional rivals.


The Bharatiya Janata Party could have used the opportunity to show itself as a viable alternative to the UPA by putting forward concrete policy measures and making common cause with fellow Opposition parties. But it couldn't even formulate a common strategy with its own allies, as was apparent from Sharad Yadav and the JD( U) going in the opposite direction on the issue of a vote.


The finance minister's statement that price rise is a consequence of growth shades the truth. The main issue of concern for the public has been the rise in the prices of food.


When we have widespread instances of hoarding and foodgrains rotting in warehouses, a Pranab Mukherjee apportioning blame on larger economic forces is nothing but a red herring.


The most telling outcome of the debate was the deal struck between the government and the Opposition. Though it enabled Parliament to resume functioning, it also reflected the consensus across the political class to reduce the debate to a formality.


Dredge up the truth


THE Central Bureau of Investigation's First Information Report against Ashok Leyland for colluding with the Central Institute of Road Transport ( CIRT) on charges of fraud and corruption makes for shocking reading.


The allegation is that the company bribed CIRT officials to give a fitness certificate to its low floor buses whose plywood floors did not meet fire safety requirements.


If this is true, it reveals a criminal level of callousness towards human lives.


That the company was allegedly able to bypass the stringent means adopted by the Delhi Transport Corporation to ensure that the test results could not be tampered with, shows the extent to which even a reputed company like Ashok Leyland will go to make a quick buck. The company says that a mix- up in the packaging of the sample had led to the defective material being used in some buses.


It is therefore important for the authorities to get to the bottom of the matter because not only is the reputation of Ashok Leyland at stake, but that of a reputed central institute as well. More important, is the need to get to the bottom of an issue that could have led to the loss of human lives.


The gorier the better


ONE look at the pictures of an Australian cigarette pack published by MAIL TODAY on Thursday is enough to give you an indication of all that's lacking in our policy in this connection.


As the news item states, the gory pictorial and verbal warnings issued by the Australian department of health occupy 85 per cent of the space on the two sides of the cigarette pack.


Compare that with the rather innocuous looking and smaller warnings that you see on tobacco products in India and you will know why they have not had the desired impact.


This issue makes for a classic case of an industry lobby influencing government policy.


After delaying and diluting the implementation of the government decision to warn consumers of tobacco through pictorial warnings on such products, the tobacco lobby has again got a reprieve as far as the June deadline for coming up with more graphic warnings is concerned.


It is obviously not a matter of chance that there are ministers in the Union government with bidi workers' interest to protect or bidi empires to manage.



            MAIL TODAY





ONE million users in this country subscribe to BlackBerry services which refer to the handheld device manufactured by the Canadian firm Research in Motion ( RIM) and allow mobile and internet connectivity including secure emails in both enterprise and personal versions. All the major mobile operators in the country today offer BlackBerry services and the number of users has been growing since it started with Airtel in 2004 simply because of the ease of remaining in touch over all possible media while on the move.


A BlackBerry device thus facilitates telephone connectivity, short messaging service ( SMS), internet browsing, chat and email communication in both consumer and enterprise versions provided through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server ( BES). BES allows corporations to have the mobile email server located in their premises under their password control, not even accessible to RIM, and all email and chat traffic travels in a secure and encrypted mode.




However the connectivity of the device remains through the mode of the cellular access provider and the licence conditions therein and is thus subject to the requirements of the law enforcement agencies. Under the existing licence conditions every such operator must make available the contents of the communication, whenever asked for by designated security agencies, and this has been complied to by all operators.


In the case of BlackBerry, the security agencies are capable of accessing traffic for calls, SMSes and consumer emails, but not the heavily encrypted BlackBerry to BlackBerry messenger services. In March 2008, the Department of Telecom ( DoT), under directions from the Ministry of Home Affairs, approached RIM to obtain the encryption code to read and monitor all emails and chat conversations.


Since then RIM has had discussions with DoT and other government agencies and some of the concerns have been answered.


During the last round of discussions in end July this year, RIM agreed to provide access to all consumer emails with the remaining operators within a fortnight, and also offer a solution for chat room monitoring within the next 6 to 8 months.


Corporate emails through the BlackBerry server remains the bone of contention since RIM says it cannot comply with the government requirements. Communication via BES is most secure, and it provides a great deal of privacy and RIM is guided by normal business practices in these relationships.


Indian officials say that an India- based BES can solve the problem. But RIM says that BlackBerry's security system is designed as a global system. Providing security code access for all the servers to the security agencies is a complicated affair since there is not just one simple key. Symmetric codes are generated by the corporate concerned in the respective BES and these are not generated at RIM simultaneously. RIM cannot simply demand that key from the corporate under the agreement it would have with that user. In addition, the physical locations of these servers across the globe would be guided by the legal requirements of those nations.


While security agencies here want constant access to BES, there is no practical way for RIM to make a special case for


India, at variance from the practice it follows in countries like the US and Canada which also have security concerns with telecom operators. While countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia have recently gone in for the easier route of banning BlackBerry services, it will be more prudent to explore a more practicable solution.




The security of the telecom infrastructure and networks has very much been a focus area for sometime now and the fears around Chinese telecom equipment have already led to the government coming up with some stringent changes in the licence conditions for all operators. The overall focus of the government in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008 has been to bolster security in all forms of connectivity.


Thus cellular and internet connectivity became a focus area and regulatory and legal mechanisms were strengthened.


The Information Technology Act ( IT Act) was amended with stringent provisions for monitoring and interception of all networks and cellular phones that come under the ambit of the Act.


As for BlackBerry connections, they are nothing but another form of existing cellular connections which have a system of verification when the connection is made.


If the verification exercise is made more stringent and subjected to a direct vetting by security agencies, then a great many of the security concerns can be filtered out. Along with the one time verification, a yearly audit of the connection can be made mandatory and conducted so that the user remains identifiable.


For individual users of the BlackBerry, the existing facilitation offered by RIM is enough to go a step beyond the genuine identification process. But for corporate connections and the corresponding users, the process of identification and accountability is much easier and secure.


The corporations should be held responsible for their networks and the amended provisions of IT Act clearly lay down the terms of responsibility and liability. Likewise the same Act lays down the liability of the individual users and service provider and, under Section 69 and the sub- clauses, also allows the competent authorities to monitor and intercept internet traffic under clearly defined guidelines.


The recently amended licence conditions for all forms of telecom service providers including cellular operators have brought in a strong telecom infrastructure identification and verification process.




All these should reasonably enable the security agencies to keep an eye on the telecom traffic. But the security agencies should also concentrate on building a proper law enforcement infrastructure and ecosystem so that a greater understanding of network related issues can percolate down to their rank and file. In our democratic set- up it is more important for traffic to flow, albeit under moderate watch, rather than trying to throttle operators with stringent conditions which would be practically difficult to implement in many cases.


The whole issue of BlackBerry monitoring also has some confusing aspects for which we need RIM's clarifications. It is widely reported that RIM has accepted terms and conditions on monitoring and access set by many countries including Russia and China and thus has got the nod from those countries to start the BlackBerry services. Is this true? If so, then why can't similar conditions be agreed to with India as well? While digital communications have come up with a forest of regulations, they also provide the great advantage of tracing the footprints of users. Innumerable criminals and terrorists have been nabbed by law enforcement authorities because of the ease of interception.


India is a country that has suffered a great deal because of terror activities. It is unlikely to compromise on the issue of being able to intercept BlackBerry messenger services. No security official can take the chance of the service being misused by terrorists and criminals. So it would be to everyone's advantage if the issue was sorted out in a manner that enables us to use the best BlackBerry has to offer, as well as ensures that the security of the country is not compromised with in any way.


comment@ mailtoday. in







PAKISTAN has been swamped by the worst floods in living memory. So far over 20,000 villages have drowned in water, 1500 people have lost their lives and over Rs 10 billion worth of assets have been wiped out. Over 2 million people are displaced or stranded across the country, many more than during the earthquake in Kashmir some years ago or the army action against the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan last year. By the time the worst comes to pass in the next week or two, the human and material losses are expected to multiply.


The worst hit are areas in Swat, Charsadda, Nowshera, Kohistan, Mardan and Peshawar in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa ( KP) and FATA; Bhakkar, Bahawalpur, Rajanpur, Mianwali, Muzzafargarh and Laiyah in Punjab; Kashmore, Ghotki and Sukkar in Sindh have been evacuated and are bracing for the wave that is swelling in the lower Indus; and Kohlu, Sibbi, Naseerabad and Loralai in Baluchistan have been swept away by flash floods from the Suleman Range mountains.


The last big floods were in 1992 when over 13000 villages were destroyed and over 1000 people were killed. The Federal Flood Commission was set up in 1976. It has spent about Rs 90 billion so far on various projects, though it is hard to see its " good work" on the ground. Is this a flash in the pan? Or should we brace ourselves for more devastating natural disasters in the future and plan accordingly?


ENVIRONMENTALISTS have consistently warned that climate change, especially global warming, is increasingly going to grab disaster headlines across the world.


Action Plans are needed to cope with this new phenomenon. In our own region, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka all have concrete Action Plans that are being implemented more or less.


But Pakistan has only barely mustered a preliminary report on climate change which has neither been made public nor imbibed by planners or policy makers. An Action Plan is nowhere on the horizon.


Meanwhile, future doomsday scenarios resound with " water wars" between upper and lower riparian states and countries. Pakistan is now sparring with India over clauses of the Indus Waters Treaty that relate to the building of reservoirs and dams upstream of the rivers that flow into Pakistan even before these have been broken by India.


The reason is simple: It is India's " capacity or ability" to break the Treaty — much like India's " Cold- Start" war doctrine — that now counts with Pakistan's national security establishment and not its " intentions" because these can change at any time.


Worse, there is passionate disagreement among the provinces of Pakistan over the need and location of big dams and reservoirs and the distribution of financial, irrigation and power rights that go with them, with the proposed Kalabagh Dam overflowing with provincial hostility and distrust.


The worst, however, is that even where there is no controversy — as in the need to build the Munda Dam on the Swat river or the Bhasha Dam on the Kabul river — successive governments have been too lazy or too mired in their own incompetence and corruption to go ahead with such public works. Reservoirs and dams may not eliminate floods forever but they would be a core element of water management — the other climate change elements being depleting forests, eroding top soils, sea level rises, lack of hurricane shelters, rising black carbon emissions — in a country that depends critically on water for survival and growth.


When we have water scarcity we risk food shortages; when we have too much water we are swept away by it. If we had built the Munda and Bhasha Dams, Swat and KP would have been largely spared; and if we had built Kalabagh ( with consensual design and management procedures), Punjab and Sindh would have been lush with prosperity.


There are three dimensions of the current situation that cry out for comment.


First, the lessons of the earthquake tragedy of some years ago seem largely unlearnt. Despite a high profile Disaster Management Force lorded over by a military general, there is no visible public strategy to prevent the loss of lives or even to salvage them with timely intervention in the event of massive flooding such as the one we have seen in the last ten days or so.


S ECOND, civilian governments can be let off the hook of responsibility for not launching great public sector works because they have rarely lasted for more than three years, and that too in a state of besiegement. But military regimes have lasted three decades in Pakistan's turbulent history and must bear the brunt of both praise and condemnation.


The major water works and dams — no less than the Indus Waters Treaty with India — were built during General Ayub Khan's " decade of development" in the 1960s and have served Pakistan well. But Generals Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf did not add a single kilowatt of power or a single major canal or reservoir or dam to the national grid. The tragedy is that US aid was non- existent during civilian regimes and overflowing during military regimes but was wasted on military hardware and foreign adventures.


Third, and this is inexcusable, twothirds of Pakistan's strapped budgets have mainly gone towards the growth and welfare of the military and foreign debt payments for loans for military hardware bought previously. The tragedy is that Pakistan's national security doctrine, while paying lip service to the notion of a robust economy as an integral element of National Power, is unable or unwilling to sanction resources on infrastructure in the public interest. That is why Pakistan is woefully amiss in public health, education and welfare services.


The greatest irony is that in the midst of the worst floods in memory, Pakistanis are racked by the greatest existential threat to their country by religious terrorists nourished or borne of the same national security doctrines that have laid civil society, economy and political development low. The hapless government of KP had begged a ceasefire or truce with the Taliban during its hour of natural calamity. In response, the Taliban have bombed and assassinated with impunity.


The writer is Editor, The Friday Times




Also, he is leader of Commonwealth. You know why it is called " Commonwealth", hain ji? Because there are goras in it and kalas too. Kalas are " Common" and goras are " wealthy". So, it is Commonwealth, hain ji? I also went to Commonwealth meeting when I was Prime Minister.


After meeting, we all stood behind Queen to get our photo taken and Nelson Medallion who was then President of South Africa, asked President of Gambia that what's far lunch. Gambian replied, " The Duchess of York". On that President- for- Life of Botswana said, " that's not fair. She's lost so much weight." I asked Inder Kumar Gujralji, who was also posing for photo as India's PM, that what they are saying Gujralji. Gujralji said, " Ignore them. They are canimals." What is canimal, hain ji? Anyways, what David Cameroon has said that is not nice? Faujis and their spoons are criticising him. Don't come in their talks.


Unki baaton mein na aana. I know I have said something like that too, and also Altaf Bhai who is holding British passport. We are only saying this from above, above. Ooper, ooper say. We do not mean it. Because we all know that Cameroon is saying what every body in the world is thinking, including our best friend USA. Cameroon must have picked up these wibes when in America. This is a new word I have lunt, wibes.


It is not the same as wives but quite close. It is also not like wines which are haram, but again close. So it is dangerous word, WIBES, like wives and wines. Suffice it is to say it. That's a new phase I have learnt. A phase is a saying, not crunt of bijli which is face. Face is not coming, as electrician says.


Anyways, I love Britain and Britishers. In fect, when I was PM, Tony came to Pakistan and I had a big reception for him in Lahore Fart. At dinner I told him, " Dearest Tony Blair Saab, this is the famous fart of Mughal emperors. It is a fart fit for kings. In Britain, you have lots of kings and queens but no farts. Here we are having only farts, no kings. If you like, I can dismantle this fart and expote it to beloved London, hain ji?" Tony did not answer. Rather, he changed subject.


" Have you met Prince Charles?" he asked me. " No, Mr Tony, I have not" I said. " He's the heir apparent you know". I said, " I know, I know. It is very nice that he is hair apparent. Can you tell me which shampoo he is using, hain ji?" Gaye gi dunya geet meray NS









The recent spate of murders and physical assaults involving Right to Information activists in the country there have been eight murders and 20 serious attacks so far this year including the brazen murder of RTI activist Amit Jethwa highlights the need for a strong law to protect whistle-blowers and deal with complaints filed by them. In the US and other western countries there are specific laws to protect whistle-blowers. They are all the more necessary in India where corruption is endemic and whistleblowers have little protection. 

It is imperative, therefore, that Parliament should immediately pass the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Informers) Bill, 2009, to protect whistle-blowers and activists. 

Jethwa was murdered by gunmen outside the Ahmedabad high court a few days after he filed a PIL there naming an MP allegedly involved in illegal mining in the reserved Gir Forest area. Prior to Jethwa, National Highway Authority of India's Satyendra Dubey and Indian Oil Corporation's Manjunath Shanmugham were killed because they exposed corruption. These murders highlight the dangers to those who unearth the rot in the system. The RTI whose whole objective is to impart greater transparency to the system has little meaning if those who seek information under it cannot be protected. The same goes for whistle-blowers inside organisations where there is corruption. That's why legislation with some teeth is needed. 

The proposed law appears to fit the bill, as it seeks to empower any person to file a complaint of corruption or disclosure against any central, state and public sector employee to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). Further, as the nodal authority, the CVC would have powers of a civil court to summon, order police investigation and provide security to the whistle-blower. Also, under the law, if a whistle-blower's identity is compromised or if he is victimised, the individual's superiors will be held liable. Moreover, to handle frivolous complaints, there are provisions for penalties in the law. 

While the law doesn't specifically mention RTI activists, it should nonetheless take care of their long-standing demand for such safeguards. In the law, the public interest disclosure has been defined as any information that indicates misuse of public money or authority and the persons providing such information are defined as whistle-blowers. However, more could be done in this regard such as incorporating similar provisions in the RTI Act. A multiple system of vigilance authority is also desirable. In addition to the CVC, the government should aggressively push for the appointment of lokayuktas with real powers to act as a check on state governments.






In a welcome step towards greater gender equality, a parliamentary standing committee has strongly backed the Personal Laws Amendment Bill, 2010, which seeks to give women equal rights as men in guardianship and adoption of children. 

There are two legal Acts that govern adoption in India the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 (applicable to Christians, Muslims, Parsis and Jews) and the Hindu Adoption Maintenance Act, 1956 (applicable to Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs). Both the legislations are skewed against women. 

For example, under the Guardians and Wards Act, if a couple were to adopt a child, the father would be the natural guardian. This is not only uncharitable towards adopting mothers but has also led to complications in cases where the couple has gone on to divorce or the father has passed away. Similarly, married women separated from their husbands face hurdles in adopting a child under the Hindu adoption law. 

These biases do not reflect present-day realities where women are increasingly becoming financially independent. One doesn't need to cite the case of celebrities to affirm that women are more than capable of adopting and raising a child on their own. Thus, there is an urgent need to reform adoption laws and make them less cumbersome. 

Thousands of children in orphanages across the country are in need of homes. But the present laws, instead of facilitating the adoption process, are needlessly complicated. They create serious impediments for willing individuals and couples. The proposed Bill is a laudable attempt towards rectifying the situation. We should eventually move towards a uniform adoption process that isn't bogged down by legal technicalities. The primary aim should be to find families for all orphans.








With under 60 days to go and stinging criticism emanating from all quarters at the continued state of under-preparedness and financial mismanagement, the only way forward for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) is a successful attempt at community integration. Unless the average Delhiite feels a part of the Games experience, the atmosphere of negativity will only deepen. 

Delhi, with two months to go, is best compared to Athens before the 2004 Olympics. With a change in government just months before the Olympics came back to Olympia, no one had given Athens a chance some six years earlier. Ultimately, however, it was the sense of pride the ordinary Greek felt about hosting the Olympics that ensured the Athens legacy was positive, that the infrastructure created was well harnessed and the Olympics were reasonably successful. In Delhi, however, nothing like this is yet on the horizon. 

Studies around Delhi and the NCR region reveal that the average Delhiite hardly feels a sense of pride at the Games coming to their city. Rather, the CWG is considered a case of misplaced priority, an exercise in opulence and an attempt at nurturing a fragile sense of national pride. That the Games can advance India's quest for soft power is gradually beginning to sound hollow. It is imperative that the ordinary citizen takes over and launches what can be termed a 'Save the Games' campaign. 

It is the common man on the street who will make or break the event. If he decides to embrace it in the last leg of its journey, the CWG can still withstand scrutiny. If the hotels aren't built on time, Delhiites will have to sacrifice and play host to visiting tourists by having them in their homes, taxi drivers will have to give up the urge to make a fast buck and transport foreigners to their destinations at best rates and regular commuters will need to stay off spitting on the roads for a good two weeks. 

India, with its true working democracy that distinguishes it in the eyes of the world, needs to put its best foot forward. A handful of corrupt and inefficient officials cannot be allowed to spoil a national mission, one that is significant enough to shape opinions about the country across the global sporting fraternity. 

It is time we spare a thought for our athletes. Except the handful of stars who have made the grade in terms of sponsorship, the majority of India's athletes have looked at the CWG for years now as their moment in the sun. They have prepared under adverse conditions and strived, day in and out to stand up for the country. This is their only crack at stardom, the opportunity to make it to the Olympics, perhaps, and ensure that a comfortable livelihood is assured. 

Athletes from the north-east who came out in huge numbers to support the Queen's baton relay when it made its way there in the course of the last few weeks, serve as evidence that we need to take the Games seriously. These Indians, ones hardly spoken about amidst all the talk of modernity and superpower status, need the Games. 

It is India's final crack at having some kind of a sporting culture of its own, failing which the sordid tale of Indian sport will need an epitaph. And it is time we realise that our sportspersons can still make the Games their own if the citizens of Delhi come forward in support and offer them the encouragement they so badly need. 

Do these Games belong to Delhi or to India at large? The London Olympics, for example, belong to the entire British Isles. With the pre-Olympics congress to be held at Glasgow just days before the Olympics and with the entire country playing host to visiting teams, the UK and not London will be on show come 2012. 

Delhi, by contrast, stands isolated. For the average Kolkatan or Keralite, the Games don't seem to have any resonance. It is here that we Indians can do much better. Why can't we, in these final two months, just give up on the Organising Committee and take matters in our hands? Why can't we just decide to buy tickets, which are affordable, and stand up to cheer for Saina Nehwal as she starts her quest for gold at the Siri Fort arena? 

Gagan Narang, having missed out on the Khel Ratna yet again, would love to see fans cheering for him as he steps up to shoot for the prestige of the tricolour at the Karni Singh shooting range. Finally, why can't we decide to visit Delhi in October as part of our annual holiday and make common cause with the suffering Delhiite? 

While some of this may sound utopian, acts like these by the Spaniards made Barcelona 1992 the best Olympics ever and the Greeks were able to prove the world wrong in 2004. It is time we realise that the answer to the question, "Will Shera roar?" no longer resides with the Organising Committee or the sports ministry or even the members of Parliament. Rather, it is for us, proud Indians, to protect the endangered Shera. 

The writer is senior research fellow, University of Central Lancashire.






Ashutosh Gowariker's track record stretches from the forgettable, and forgotten, Pehlaa Nashaa, to that rare successful costume drama Jodhaa-Akbar. His latest venture is a slice of the freedom movement that not too many Indians know about. Thereafter he moves to a project on Buddha. Gowariker speaks to Subhash K Jha : 

Is there a market for period films? 

Audiences are interested in something new. They don't go by the genre. Thankfully the failure of my last film What's Your Raashee didn't affect my plans to make Khelenge Hum Jee Jaan Se (KHJJS). PVR Pictures backed me all the way. I was lucky that the project happened so quickly after Raashee. 

Why make a film on a forgotten chapter of the freedom movement? 

We've always known about the sacrifices of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev etc. We know nothing about Surya Sen and the Chittagong Uprising. I came across the book Do Or Die by Manini Chatterjee. That's when I realised the importance of this uprising. It is an important slice of the freedom movement, undertaken by teenagers, in our history of independence. I felt an intense desire to bring this story to screen. Set in 1930, it's a slice of history. But the sub-genre of Khelenge Hum Jee Jaan Se is thriller. While my Lagaan was a period drama, this one is period thriller. 

You are barely out of directing one film Khelenge Hum Jee Jaan Se and you're in pursuit of Buddha? 

I was utterly fascinated by a prince's journey into monkhood. I always have overlapping stories in my mind. While I was doing Lagaan, I had Swades in mind. While doing Swades, I was thinking of Jodhaa-Akbar. While doing KHJJS, I was researching Buddha. My producer B K Modi wanted to make Buddha for quite some time. He approached me with the script by David S Ward who had won the Oscar for The Sting, when I was doing Jodhaa-Akbar. I'm not a writer. But I've contributed to David Ward's script. I put the Indianness in the script like a creative blanket. Ward's script is different. It's more about Prince Siddharth who chose the path of monkhood. It was Ward's script that made me interested in Buddha. 

Have you found an actor to play Buddha? 

I need the compassion of the monk and the elegance of the prince. It's a rare combination. I also want the world to adopt my Buddha. From Korea to Japan to Tibet to India... every South East country and even the West should feel it's their Buddha. So it has to be a face that's pure and life defining. I'm still looking. But if I don't get my Buddha, i'll drop the project. 

You put your hunt for Buddha on the internet. 

I'm not rushing it. We've paused pre-production. This is my only chance to make Buddha. I can't afford to mess it up. It's for posterity. I should be able to feel the grace and divinity of the actor every time he comes on the sets. I'd rather not make the movie than compromise. I feel my Buddha is out there. The challenge is I'd be dealing with a God. I've to understand Buddha before making the film.






When I got to Stockholm, all of Sweden seemed closed. It was June 23, the day when Sweden goes on holiday to celebrate the summer solstice, when the sun is at its zenith and daylight lingers like a persistent lover all through the night. From this day on the sun will begin its decline into the long, bleak months of winter melancholy which has inspired both the austere minimalism of Ingmar Bergman's films and one of the highest suicide rates in the world.


But right then, the sun was shining in its full glory and all the Swedes had gone off to their summer cabins in the deep pine forests that cloak the countryside or to their sail boats moored in marinas which dot the blue-green coastline of the Baltic. The only people to be seen were the tourists, wandering around with cameras and street maps like extras in an art movie of which both the scriptwriter and the director have suddenly gone missing. Yet, curiously enough, this absence of Swedes seemed to make Sweden more accessible to discovery, in a textbook case of less being more.


Even when it's not on national holiday, Sweden's underpopulation helps to show the country, and individual Swedes, to advantage. The fifth biggest country in Europe, Sweden has a population of just 10 million, of which Stockholm accounts for 1.8 million, which is less than that of Gurgaon. In India, with its teeming 1.2 billion people, it's often difficult to see India, as a cohesive design or purpose, for us Indians.


In Sweden it's the other way round. The comparative lack of Swedes seems to make Sweden, and individual Swedes, more visible in the eyes of the world. And Sweden, and its capital city of Stockholm, have quite a lot worthy of visibility. Fronting the Baltic, Stockholm is built on 14 of the islands, interconnected by bridges and ferries, of the 24,000 islands that make up the Swedish archipelago. While the original settlement of what was to become Stockholm was founded in the 13th century in what is now called Gamla Stan, or Old Town, the Baltic itself was created some 300 million years ago when a three-km-thick ice cap melted, creating a body of water out of which thousands of islands erupted like an outbreak of granite pimples.


Though in a misguided access of 'functionalism' in the 1950s and 1960s the authorities tore down the old buildings in downtown Stockholm and replaced them with featureless high rises which have all the charm of concrete matchboxes, the city has much to offer the footloose sightseer. Unabashedly touristy though it's become its souvenir shops selling plastic Viking helmets and moose antler skullcaps and its boutique restaurants serving the Scandinavian speciality of roast reindeer meat with its winding, narrow alleyways (one of which is just 36 inches wide) Gamla Stan invites exploration. As does the Royal Palace, which is six times the size of London's Buckingham Palace, its grand size belying the purely ceremonial role the monarchy plays in a society where the communists demanded that all working-class citizens be entitled to a second, summer home.


Despite its minimal population — or because of it? — individual Swedes have often gained world fame: Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite and the international prizes named after him; Greta Garbo; Ingrid Bergman; August Strindberg; Gunnar Myrdal; Dag Hammarskjold; Abba; Bjorn Borg; and Steig Larsson, author of the posthumously best-selling Millennium trilogy. Perhaps nothing exemplifies the Stockholm syndrome of less is more than the Vasa museum, which the Swedes take pride in. The Vasa was a wooden warship built in 1628 and launched with great fanfare. It sailed for precisely 1,300 metres before sinking into the Baltic. It was salvaged in 1961 and is now housed in a special museum which is billed as the biggest single tourist attraction in the country. Take a monumental failure and turn it into a huge success? How cool is that. How Swedish. Will we be able to do that with our Commonwealth Games? Go figure.







Charges don't amount to guilt until they are proven. But they also don't go away until reasonably explained. Till now, Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (OC) Chairman Suresh Kalmadi has done a terrible job of answering the charges of corruption and malpractices among various officials of his team. In an interview to this paper yesterday, Mr Kalmadi, unsurprisingly, spoke about his innocence. At best, what his basic defence was amounted to ignorance, at worst, a passing the baton mentality.


Mr Kalmadi's anger at what he may deem as 'media overkill' may be valid. But the interest of the media and its consumers, the public, about what he has to say about allegations of OC officials is valid — especially considering the responses and the quality of defence Mr Kalmadi has given till date. Stating that the OC has nothing to do with tenders, for instance, does little to comfort anyone, as does the reported damage control exercise he will be undertaking to remove 'tainted' officials from the OC. His explanation of the OC framing out a tenderless 'contract' — the qualifier on the term as there was, in Mr Kalmadi's own words that there was no written contract — during the Queen's baton relay function in London last year because of the paucity of time enhances, instead of reduces, suspicions.


Going by the state of play now, with less than two months to go for the Games and the incompleteness of many projects, time is even shorter than ever before. Will that mean cutting of more corners, doling out of more 'tenderless' verbal contracts to get the job done? There may be rotten eggs down the line within the OC who have conducted their affairs without Mr Kalmadi knowing. But it would be disingenuous on the part of the chairman to plead innocence for his ignorance. It would also be wrong for Mr Kalmadi to accuse the media of a witch-hunt. Considering the alleged facts tumbling out every day, anything short of a hue and cry would be a cover-up. It is the same concern that the prime minister is reportedly showing with reports of the likelihood of him summoning the sports minister soon and subsequently seeking a status report from the cabinet secretary on the progress of various Games-related works. Mr Kalmadi has stated that he is willing to face a Comptroller and Auditor General's or judicial probe. That will be helpful. Especially in an atmosphere in which the country's reputation, not to mention its ability to pull off an international sporting event where the non-sporting events make bigger news, is at stake.







We've been racking our brains over how to make ourselves more relevant in theatres of conflict where the Americans have been engaged for some time now. Now perhaps we won't have to put up with the American 'don't call us, we'll call you' attitude. A University of Pennsylvania study has been examining the effects of meditation on post-traumatic stress disorders among soldiers in Iraq. The technique based on mindfulness is aimed at finding peace within and clarity to see that you are not the thoughts that bind you and so on.


Now this sounds like a piece of cake given our expertise in the field. But we'd like to go one further. Not only would we like to impart our de-stressing techniques to soldiers, we would also like to involve the other side, the fundamentalists. Imagine the scenario if a potential suicide bomber were to practise, say Baba Ramdev's breathing methods. A couple of deep inhalations and exhalations and it is likely that the abdominal activity will result in the bomb's wires becoming loose. Even Osho's teachings could be wheeled out. With all that loving being advocated, it will be while before old Ahmed has time to pop around and ambush the nearest humvee or for that matter, GI Mike to round up the usual suspects. Many of our desi techniques could also lull the enemy's suspicions. "Ahmed, what is that buzzing sound I hear? Could it be an oncoming drone?" "No, Sheikh, that is just the morning yoga class practising its collective om." Before you can say Jack Robinson, you're on the militants and om becomes kaboom.


For those who might want a taste of these methods, let it be known that it will come with a price. And merchandise. But let us assure you, the results will take your breath away.






Mani Shankar Aiyar has probably not read Dale Carnegie's best-seller, How to Win Friends and Influence People. A few years ago, in a St Stephens alumni register, former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh wrote, "I am what I am because of  the college". Prompt came Aiyar's rejoinder: "Why blame the college!"

Politics though is not a college campus. The ready wit and pungent sarcasm which might earn applause in a debating society is deemed as offensive in the real world. Lost in the process is the bank of knowledge that often informs Aiyar's writings and speeches. Which is why when he chose last week to express the hope that the Commonwealth Games would collapse with the rains, there was instant anger at what was deemed as an 'anti-national' remark, especially coming from an MP who is still a member of the ruling party and was sports minister not too long ago.


Ironically, a few days later, the tables have rather dramatically turned. Aiyar is now a chuckling soothsayer, Suresh Kalmadi is seen as a bumbling villain. As a slew of corruption allegations hit the Games, there is almost a self-congratulatory note among the nay-sayers for whom the event is a waste of tax-payers' money. That with less than 60 days to go for India's biggest sports competition, there is still a fierce debate over the necessity for it to be held in the first place only confirms our status as the world's premier squabbling democracy. Could anyone imagine a similar debate in China ahead of the Beijing Olympics?


Unfortunately, the debate itself has been wrongly posited as 'national pride' versus 'national shame'. Tying up the successful organisation of a sports event to 'nationalism' has a distinct Soviet-style ring to it. Cold War Soviet Union could see staging the Moscow Olympics in 1980 as symbolic of their 'superior' ideological system. Communist China perhaps viewed the Olympics as a 'coming of age' party. Even South Africa, a republic which is still less than two decades old, could view the soccer World Cup as an opportunity to parade its credentials as a 'rainbow nation'. But why does a nation with a million-year history need a sports spectacle invented by our colonial masters to reaffirm its 'nationhood'? In any case, true sporting nationalism lies in winning medals, not in staging high-profile tamashas.


The debate, therefore, needs to be shorn of the 'Games as nationalism' tag. A high-pitched battle between those who see every stadium leak as a disgrace and those who believe that a beautified national capital will be a source of pride will serve little purpose. Instead, we need to focus on what is the root of the controversy: a prevailing culture which is rooted in sloth, corruption and opacity. The Commonwealth Games are not the problem; they are only a symptom of the wider crisis that confronts new India.


In the euphoria over 8 per cent growth, we sometimes forget that we are still ranked a lowly 84th in the Transparency International corruption index. When a society is steeped in corruption, it would be unrealistic to expect that a R40,000-crore event will be above it all, especially when its organisational set-up is a hydra-headed monster led by babus and multiple authorities. We may appear surprised that the corruption extends to even the pricing of tissue paper and umbrellas, but whoever suggests that corruption only involves million-dollar contracts forgets the R500 'baksheesh' that is still handed out to the policeman who stops you for breaking a traffic signal.


Moreover, the belief that the end of the licence-permit raj would usher in 'transparent' procedures has long since been proven bogus. Instead, it has only bred a form of crony capitalism that revolves around handing out largesse to friends and relatives. Sports has been a particular sufferer in this regard. Every sports federation is run like a mini-empire by warlords and their henchmen, with virtually no checks and balances. Kalmadi has been heading the athletics federation for more than 20 years, the Indian Olympic Association for 14 years. In the process, Olympic sport has become Kalmadi's playground, an event like the Games providing the perfect stage for him to distribute patronage to the chosen few.


But why single out Kalmadi? What is the accountability of the government of India whose bureaucrats are on various Games' panels? The PM appointed a core group of ministers to supervise the Games, should they not take some responsibility? The Central Vigilance Commission report is a damning indictment of every civic authority in the urban development ministry and Delhi government, should they not be also brought under the scanner?


In a sense, the parallels between the Games and that other sporting circus, the Indian Premier League (IPL), are uncanny. In the IPL, the sleaze showed up the frailties of corporate India which tried to run the event like a private members' club. In the Games, it's the soft underbelly of the State which is being exposed. In the IPL, a single individual, Lalit Modi, has been held responsible for the corruption even as the other board and governing council members appear to have got away. In the Games too, the focus seems to be on Kalmadi when it should be on every government department that has benefited from the bonanza. Maybe, that's why its called the Commonwealth Games: the wealth has been commonly shared!


Post-script: question for Mani Shankar Aiyar: how does he reconcile his hatred for mega sports events with the fact that Rajiv Gandhi's original showpiece project was the Asiad 1982? A supplementary question: would Aiyar have shown similar antipathy towards the Commonwealth Games if Rahul Gandhi had been organising committee chairperson?


Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network


The views expressed by the author are personal.







Remember Amar Akbar Anthony? Three tragically-separated brothers grow up following different faiths  after being taken in by kindly souls who bring them up as their own. Nearly a quarter-century later, its idealism seems grossly out of place as current adoption laws in India continue to give more credence to religious beliefs over the secular right of every child to grow up in a loving home.


Only Hindus were allowed to legally adopt till a decade ago, under the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956. Even now, if non-Hindus wish to adopt from within the gene pool, they can't. Till 2000, non-Hindus could only become guardians of a child under the Guardian and Wards Act (Gawa), 1890, which also applies to all foreigners wishing to adopt an Indian child. The lesser-known Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 (JJA) plugged a vital gap by allowing anyone to legally adopt any number of abandoned or destitute children, but still not from within the family.


Under Gawa, the adoptive parents are only guardians and the child has no automatic legal rights, unlike Hindu adoptees who are treated on a par with 'biological' siblings. Also, the guardian-ward relationship ceases to exist once the child turns 18, and any inheritance claims must be explicitly willed. Passports and visas are difficult to obtain since they carry no provision for a guardian's name; family insurance covers are tricky to negotiate and school admissions become tougher than they already are.


 Continuing opposition from various religious communities — who view any proposed changes in the current laws as a Trojan trick to ease in the Uniform Civil Code — often forces prospective parents to sneak around under the radar. Pushing many adoptions underground, this has also opened the floodgates for predators looking to make a quick buck, spawning transnational adoption rackets.


The logic of demand and supply creates its own opportunities and pitfalls but, despite this, feels Bharati Dasgupta, managing trustee of the Pune-based Catalysts for Social Change, "even though we have a good system of checks and balances, the biggest problem today is the lack of imaginative interpretation of existing laws like the JJA, which prevents the State from reaching out to those that are already in its care."


The proposed Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010 seeks to correct a long-standing anomaly, by finally allowing married women to adopt, give up a child for adoption, and become guardians (albeit with consent from their husbands). For now, a woman can adopt only if she is single, divorced or widowed. But any legislation is bound to fall short unless there's a level playing field for all — potential parents and children alike.


The equal measure of desperation and hope that mark every parent-in-waiting's quest for a child, as well as the psychological impact of rejection and abandonment on children, make adoption a highly emotive issue. Heart-rending stories of babies dumped in trash-cans, abandoned at hospitals or sold for paltry sums of money vie with tales of the decrepit conditions in our State-run homes, even


as there are couples desperately seeking that one child to complete the family portrait. Why can't the twain



Says Vinita Bhargava, author of the pioneering book, Adoption in India (and an adoptive mom herself), "The lack of a special, uniform law, coupled with corruption at several levels, political appointments of non-experts in regulatory bodies and the paucity of both funds and sensitivity have ensured that our approach to adoption is far from being child-centric." Previous attempts to introduce a common law have only raised religious red-flags but then as long as a law does not challenge a faith's core beliefs, why shouldn't the State's edicts apply to all?


Parents may get to choose which boxes they tick when seeking to adopt, but the child has little choice in deciding his/her future. By taking a long, hard look at our laws and ensuring that a child's welfare precedes all else, it's time to give these invisible children at least a fighting chance.







The modern twin-coil electromagnetic tattoo needle was patented in 1891 by one Samuel O'Riley, an Irish-American tattooist. It worked – and, for that matter, still works — essentially like a doorbell, with two coils of wire wrapped around an iron core, two points, and a bar across the top that plunges down when power is applied to the coils, breaking the circuit, then springs back up again to recommence the cycle.


What this means now for Will Wright, a 30-year-old landscape gardener, is that three fine steel needles are puncturing his skin roughly 150 times a second. That's just for the initial scratch outline of the red kite Wright is having across his stomach. "It does hurt," he says. "I do it because it looks cool, full stop". Tattoos, suddenly, are everywhere. According to one survey, a fifth of all British adults have now been inked. The celebs, of course, are there in force: Wayne Rooney has 'Just Enough Education to Perform' (the title of a Stereophonics album), his wife's name and a Celtic motif on his right arm, a flag of St George and 'English and Proud' on his left, and a pair of clasped palms and angel wings across his back. David Beckham, Robbie Williams, Amy Winehouse and Angelina Jolie are also converts.


Once, this was a class thing: tattoos were for soldiers, sailors, bikers and criminals. Borderline deviant behaviour. Now the PM's wife has one. For this is, many feel, a popular artform, and people are only now beginning to realise what it can bring to their lives. "A tattoo gives you something to live for," says J. Woody, tattooist. A tattoo offers you something personal and fun and exciting in a world that can be drab and grey. A work of art, in progress."


Because the other thing that's changed about tatts, Woody says, is that these days "people no longer talk about getting a tattoo, they talk about 'tattooing': a themed, long-term, coherent piece of artwork on their bodies. Something with direction. Something that's been thought about."





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






Every great civilisation or historical epoch, at some point in its decline, witnesses the burning of its books and thereafter an erasure of or irreversible damage to the intellectual life and character of its survivors. That may sound like a sweeping universalisation, but Heinrich Heine, with the poet's simplification of things forbiddingly complex, was blindingly correct in saying, "Where books burn, people burn." The burning of books signified the fall of Granada and the end of Moorish Spain. The Nazis made bonfires of Thomas Mann, Sigmund Freud, et al. It is said that when the great library was set on fire after Nalanda's sacking, it burnt for months.


The idea and ideal behind a new university near the ruins of Nalanda are about to ensure at least three things — a quality centre of higher learning in a country in desperate need of good institutions to meet the needs of its growing number of higher-education seekers. Second, a retrieval of roots — a connection to the soul of Indian learning, at least symbolically, at almost the exact physical location of the ancient university. Third, Nalanda of yore was a global brand, where scholars came from as far as China, Greece, Persia. Given the collaboration with several nations and interest groups with a stake in this ancient seat of learning, there's every opportunity for the new university to make itself a signature of the new India in a globalised world.


The inaugural vice chancellor has been determined; and as a postgraduate institution initially, the university will have seven schools of study. The challenges of conceptualising and negotiating are apparently over. Once the Nalanda University Bill is cleared by Parliament, it will await the East Asia Summit's approval. Attention should be paid to the "soft", real construction thereafter — determining course particulars, recruiting faculty, etc. This is tricky ground, where institution-building in India usually slips up. If anything, the spirit of Nalanda should help.






Nineteen years after his wild-card takeover from J.R.D. Tata, Ratan Tata's stint as chairman of Tata Sons — the holding company of the highly diversified Tata Group — has been acknowledged as wildly successful. Taking a $4 billion group into the $70 billion bracket, he spun yarn into gold — converted an essentially Indian brand into a name that the world has to reckon with. Whether it was overhauling internal management at Tata, or packing a punch into the world's cheapest car or buying up luxe brands like Jaguar, Ratan Tata has steered the Tata Group with admirable confidence and panache. The person who takes over from him must possess at least a part of that drive.


The succession strategy at Tata Sons looks heartening — begun a good two years before Ratan Tata retires, it appears impeccably professional with a five-member search committee (with board representation, but not Ratan Tata himself) that includes members from two key Tata family trusts and an outsider.


In India, it is taken for granted that the top seat in many businesses will be filled by the next member of the promoter's family. But succession planning is a delicate affair — look at Reliance, or even the tension over continuity at Apple when Steve Jobs lets go (despite it not being a family-controlled corporation). Tata Sons could become India's own case study of how to do the handover right. Most of its substantial shareholders are not even part of the family (Ratan Tata himself owns about 1 per cent in stake). More than 66 per cent of the equity is held by philanthropic trusts endowed by different members of the Tata family. This dilution of ownership by the promoter family ensures that they are less invested in transition decisions, allowing it to be managed professionally. Given Tata's symbolic and real importance to Indian business, the search should be interesting.







In an absorbingly layered debate, this week, Parliament has debated issues related to price rise. There were the predictable barbs to make a political point, provoking Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to revisit his childhood adversities while taking exception to the charge of official insensitivity to the common person's troubles. But the back and forth in the two Houses yielded a clarity on how political parties see inflation that was not exactly evident a week ago.


A week of charge and rebuff had given the impression of an opposition determined on little more than a number count to scare the government, and of a government reluctant to be held to account. In the course of this week, both rectified that impression considerably. The opposition, with the array of speakers reflecting their ideological diversity, brought to the discussion nuance and a clear understanding of what the government is up against. And the government, through the closing remarks of the finance minister, reached out to the opposition for steps needed to make economic management more robust. Saying that inflationary pressures can only be tackled by cooperation between states and the Centre, Mukherjee sought cooperation in simplifying tax administration by introducing the goods and services tax. There is no silver bullet in the government's arsenal, was the underlying, and honest, message. With high growth comes the challenge of inflationary pressures. The debate concluded, as had been pre-determined, with a resolution asking the government to take "further effective action" to contain the effect of inflation.


Fragments of a roadmap may be had from the interventions and the spirit of the resolution will be tested by how political parties in government and in opposition proceed. But the discussion begs some questions. It clearly was well within the ability of the treasury and opposition benches to rise to the occasion and articulate issues behind the hollow-sounding slogans and assurances on, in this instance, price rise. If Congress speakers managed to respond with care to these issues, the problem had first been skilfully and humanely laid out by opposition MPs. This is the give and take of parliamentary chatter that we should expect as a matter of daily occurrence when Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are in session, should we not? Must there be strenuous negotiations to begin each debate? Why would parliamentarians like Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Mukherjee, to name but just three, hush their competence in discharging their duties to hold the government to account (or to give the government's account) in responsible debate? Especially now when a dangerous anti-politician wind blows too often.









 A somewhat different perspective on the global financial crisis was recently articulated by Raghuram Rajan, a reputed economist who also formally advises Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He has argued that greedy bankers and lax regulators were not necessarily the root cause of the US financial meltdown. Growing income inequality was perhaps a deeper problem which persisted for a long enough period to eventually cause an organic crisis. There is a big lesson in this for India.


Income inequality within middle America became very acute through the '80s and '90s. According to Rajan, the wages of the median worker at the 50th percentile, such as factory workers and office assistants, have not grown relative to the wages of office managers at the 90th percentile. No wonder, the real median wage in America today is possibly not much higher than it was a decade ago. Mind you, this problem had been developing through the '80s, which was seen as a high growth phase in the US economy.


The stagnating wages of large sections of industrial workers created a new political consensus for delivering housing loans on a massive scale to the poor without looking at their repayment capacity. Therefore, it is quite possible that both bankers and regulators had a tacit understanding that there was a sort of licence, through broad political consensus, to do the kind of bank lending and trading in derivatives that was going on.


The median wages of workers has been stagnating in real terms even in some of the advanced EU economies like Germany. This has been causing some fragmentation in the German polity, reflected in the relative decline of the two-party system there.


Two broad lessons can be drawn from the US and German experience. Earlier, Indian policy-makers generally believed that high GDP growth sustained over several decades would eventually reduce income disparities. When China had embarked on its market-based growth path in the late '70s, Deng Xiaoping had declared it was natural that some people will get rich faster than the others during the initial phase of capitalist development. India has also experienced massive wealth creation in the past two decades, though it has been considerably skewed in favour of the top 10 per cent of the population. The UPA had coined the "inclusive growth" slogan precisely to address this skew in income growth.


However, the US and German experience shows that incomes can get skewed very badly even in an advanced stage of capitalist development. This is what has come as a bit of a surprise to many. The political establishment's response to this income skew has varied in the US and Europe. The American political class chose to deliver massive housing credit to the lower income groups through the banking system whereas EU nations relied more on direct government borrowings and higher taxes to take care of the lower income categories.


India's per capita income, currently about $1,000, will also double in a decade from now as we get an average GDP growth of 8 per cent plus. Overall, there will be a lot of wealth creation but there is a flip side to this growth story. The political class will face a serious backlash if this growth is accompanied by a big skew in income distribution. The American experience shows that sustained capitalist development alone is not good enough to guarantee social and political harmony. Our political class has figured this problem but no one yet has any clue as to how a more broad-based and inclusive market-based growth strategy can be put in place.


At present, Indian policy-makers are merely doing some firefighting operations by putting more money in the hands of the poor through various economic programmes such as rural employment guarantee, farm loan waivers, pay commission awards, etc. But these are not long-term income and productivity enhancing exercises.


Of course, there are some long-term productivity enhancing strategies being worked out through the financial system. The government is embarking on a massive financial inclusion programme by taking banking access to the bottom 400 million poor. This is an ambitious plan to create 100 million new bank accounts in rural India over the next five years. The finance ministry is committed to taking banking access to 72,000 new villages with a minimum population of 2,000. Rural incomes have indeed gone up in the past decade or so. However, high cost of penetration has deterred banks from reaching out to the scattered villages to collect deposits from small depositors. This is being attempted through the banking correspondent model where individuals acting as extensions of bank branches reach out to smaller villages and deliver financial services with the help of mobile and other technologies.


Therefore, in the Indian context, the meaning of financial inclusion has also undergone a fundamental change. It is as much about garnering the dormant savings of the self-employed in rural India as about lending to them. If implemented well, the banking system could easily garner an additional 4-5 per cent of GDP as savings in the form of rural deposits. This is important from a macro perspective too. An additional $40-50 billion of savings could come in handy for India at a time when capital flows from the West are becoming somewhat uncertain. There are signs that the stringent financial regulation bill passed by Obama will reduce the quantum of free cash that financial institutions and hedge funds are able to leverage for global investments.


Consequently, India needs to make its own financial system far more robust so that optimal savings are garnered from every possible source. Rural savings will indeed play a big role in filling the demand-supply gap. Equally, banks will have to shed their elitist lending habits. Today, since banks do not penetrate rural India beyond a point, micro-finance institutions are lending to rural customers at 25 per cent annual interest rate. This is untenable, especially when urban dwellers get loans at 10-13 per cent for housing and other purposes.


Only a rational financial inclusion programme will ensure that income disparity in India does not exacerbate over the next few decades, causing a US- or EU-type crisis at a later stage. This must


be done through an astute mix of market and state-led initiatives.


The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'







 No good deed goes unpunished," journalist and diplomat Clare Boothe Luce once famously declared. In a related context, one could say, "Every whistleblower eventually gets his just desserts." In India we receive ample evidence, on a daily basis, to corroborate this unconventional wisdom, but it seems equally valid even in a notionally open and law-abiding society like the US.


Take the strange case of Richard Barlow, a brilliant CIA analyst and counter-proliferation expert. As Barlow painstakingly pieced together the byzantine contours of Pakistan's covert nuclear weapons programme during the late '80s, he was alarmed enough to energetically seek opportunities to expose them; including at crucial congressional hearings.


Barlow did not realise, till it was too late, that he was being naive and that it was dangerous to sail against the wind in Washington. For acting as whistle-blower about the administration's false assurances to Congress over Pakistan's nuclear programme, he was hounded out of the CIA. After two decades of persecution and harassment, he was finally vindicated; but his marriage was destroyed, and pension denied, Barlow now lives in penury.


At least five successive US presidents, Republican and Democratic, turned a blind eye to reliable intelligence that Pakistan was not only acquiring forbidden nuclear weapon material and technology, but also selling it to the putative "Axis of Evil": Iran, Libya and North Korea. Each president incorrectly certified to Congress that Pakistan did not possess the "bomb", conveniently omitting to mention that it had all the components of a nuclear weapon in place.


Against this backdrop, there is an all-round sense of deja vu about the recent WikiLeaks expose of classified US army war logs. While the American public focus is currently on allegations of brutality, and revelations regarding civilian casualties and collateral damage during Afghan operations, there is much in these leaks for them to learn about their nation's "indispensable" ally, Pakistan.


The reports reconfirm what India has been shouting from the roof-tops, and what the US has studiously ignored for years. That the Pakistan army's duplicitous conduct and the ISI's Machiavellian endeavours to betray American interests have been consistently rewarded by US largesse in arms that are irrelevant to counter-insurgency.


The reports reveal that ISI representatives regularly meet with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organise networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and hatch plots to attack Indian aid personnel and assassinate Afghan leaders. Former ISI chief Hamid Gul has been named as a go-between for the agency and the Taliban, and reported as regularly meeting Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders to order suicide attacks.


Perhaps the Americans are right in ignoring India's advice and warnings. After all, we ourselves have consistently underestimated the Pakistan army's ability to manipulate events and policies; or External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna would not have stumbled into the ambush laid for him by the wily former ISI boss, and current army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.


The general, who promptly rewarded himself with an extension of service, has been instrumental in perpetuating two completely self-serving myths. First, that India has not reconciled to Partition, and continues to pose an "existential threat" to Pakistan. And second, that Afghanistan must remain firmly in Pakistan's sphere of influence because of the mystical "strategic depth" it provides.


Paradoxically it seems that, at one level, the Pakistan military is capable of immense cunning, guile and foresight; the ISI plans as much as 10-15 years ahead, and meticulously hatches plots for subversion, sabotage and economic warfare in the neighbourhood. On a different plane, the Pakistan army's operational planning in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999 were lacklustre, and appeared to be guided more by the wishful thinking of its mediocre military leadership, and the "hope-like-hell" factor, than by professional staff-work.


A common refrain that runs right through the history of Indo-Pak conflicts is the Pakistan army's underestimation of India's responses to their blatant transgressions, and overestimation of international sympathy for their own actions. This flawed logic is incomprehensible to Indians who have seen periodic replays of Pakistani aggression with consistently disastrous consequences for that nation.


With India's economy buoyant and military strength growing steadily, one wonders why Pakistan persists in its endeavours to change the status quo in the subcontinent when it clearly has inadequate tools with which to accomplish this daunting task. Many of the fundamentalist outfits created by the ISI during and after the Afghan war have now turned on the Pakistani state itself. Ethnic fissures are showing up, and a bitter internecine conflict could rend Pakistan. Under these circumstances, it is time the Pakistan army stopped using Kashmir as an emotional and military rallying point for Pakistanis, and accepted a subaltern role commensurate with the country's size, population and economic strength. Only then might this troubled subcontinent see some peace and stability.


But first, the US must be persuaded to shed its blinkers.


The writer, a former Chief of the Naval Staff, is currently Chairman of the National Maritime Foundation







 Shyam Saran last visited Nepal in April 20, 2006, along with Congress leader Karan Singh, as special envoy of the prime minister. India's popularity in Nepal was then at its peak. Its lead role in the restoration of democracy — its mediation in bringing the Maoists to the peace process and within the democratic fold under the much-discussed 12-point agreement, and its support for Nepal's shift to federalism, republicanism and secularism — had positioned India as a country that recognised the need for radical changes in the neighbourhood. In that euphoric moment, India was accepted as a "friend in need" rather than a big bully. And Shyam Saran, who had been ambassador here before moving to Delhi as foreign secretary, was perceived as India's most visible face in Nepal during that phase.


But four years later, as he visits Nepal again as a special envoy, the country is in deep trouble and turmoil. The peace process has made little headway, except that the Maoists have not raised arms yet. The constituent assembly has failed to deliver the constitution on the rigidly prescribed deadline of May 28, and its credibility is so low that people do not even expect it to craft the constitution in its extended one-year tenure. The failure to elect a prime minister in the last three exercises in the house has further discredited the three major political parties — Nepali Congress, Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) — as well as the constituent assembly. With so much uncertainty, and the parties' failure to institutionalise the changes of the 2006 movement, Nepal's political actors are now a discredited lot. And India is also seen as a failure, in equal measure if not more so. So Saran's image — as arguably the best known Indian in Nepal — is also not what is used to be.


Through his meetings in Nepal, Saran emphasised that peace, political stability and economic prosperity were vital for Nepal, and India was willing to contribute in the realisation of these goals. But with the UCPN-M, NC and UML as well as the United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF) failing to come together to form a national consensus government, none of these aims can be achieved. The country now reels under a daily eight-hour power cut, foreign investors do not see it as an attractive destination, and more than 300 industries (mostly small and medium ones) remain closed because of strikes, mostly by Maoist-led trade unions. The economy is at its worst point yet.


The Madhesh groups largely see Saran as an ally and supporter of their demand that Nepal's plains — around 23 per cent of the total area with 48 per cent of the country's population — be an autonomous single province within federal Nepal. This is something all the three major parties have refused to concede. The day Saran was to arrive, Abisekh Pratap Shah, who was one of the 11 MPs to vote in favour of UCPN-M chief Prachanda in the prime ministerial race on August 2, said that "India was interfering in Nepal's internal affairs" and that the Terai parties would not mortgage their nationalism and pride.


India's rise in Nepali esteem for a while after the 2006 changes, its increased presence and support to the abolition of the monarchy had a direct impact on the Chinese outlook on Nepal. For China, the monarchy's exit meant the loss of an ally that it had worked with, in close cooperation and trust, for more than half a century. That, along with the fact that the void created by the monarchy's abrupt end was too big to be exploited by India and the European Union, caused it to enlarge its presence in every sector in Nepal, from tourism to hydro-power, defence and development. As uncertainty and chaos loom large in Nepal, China is keen to have the same set of treaties that India has signed so far. China is also believed to have resented the Terai region's demand for autonomy, as a move to create a "buffer within buffer".


In the current context, the intensified Maoist attack on the Indian state and their suspected proximity with Nepali revolutionaries is understandably a matter of concern for the government of India. As a key actor and mediator, Saran would want the Nepali peace process salvaged, and the Maoists, as the largest party in the constituent assembly, given their due. It will be equally tricky for him to reassure Terai groups. They demand not only a province in federal Nepal that would dominate national politics, but also mass entry into the Nepal army (in proportion to the Terai population). No other political party will accept that demand. Such unbridled aspirations and demands from organised groups and regions have sprung up regularly in Nepal's recent politics. The state's authority has been eroded by the casteist, ethnic and other rights-based movements funded and supported by the international community.


Saran may not have much to contribute beyond sincerely assessing where India went wrong in Nepal, like the actors in its north. It will be easier for him, more than anyone else, to gauge the changes between his two visits to Nepal.







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 agonising at-bats separated that homer from the one before it, but the moment the ball sailed over the centre 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 Sosa and 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 Mays at 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 OK. Red Sox fans are nothing if not good sports. Which is why, 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.








 The Indian government, at the last round of commercial negotiations with Russia for the supply of four additional reactors at Kudankulum, had wanted the contract to include a clause allowing for the "right of recourse" to NPCIL to sue the Russian supplier for any nuclear liability that may arise as a result of a nuclear accident due negligence on the part of the Russian supplier.


The Russians have, apparently, refused to accept the Indian suggestion, citing article 13 of the India-Russia Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) of 2008, which stipulated that "the Indian side and its authorised organisation at any time and at all stages of the construction and operation of the NPP power units to be constructed under the present agreement shall be the operator of power units of the NPP at the Kudankulam site and be fully responsible for any damage both within and outside the territory of the republic of India caused to any person and property as a result of a nuclear incident occurring at the NPP."


Although the IGA is not a public document, like all India-Russia nuclear agreements, analysts had already concluded that the IGA would have included a clause in the agreement similar to article 13 in respect of supplier liability in case on nuclear accidents, since the Russians themselves had agreed to a similar clause in their nuclear agreements with the French and German suppliers. So the existence of article 13 was no great surprise.


What was surprising was the fact that the Indian side had wanted the Russians to accept the "right of recourse" at all. It was surprising on many counts: the first being the demand by India to include such an article in the contract when (i) the earlier Kundankulum contract had no such clause and was, in fact, identical to the IGA formulation; (ii) as far as known, no international nuclear supplier has ever included such a clause in any of the various supplier-operator agreements that had been concluded so far in international nuclear commerce; (iii) even the current Indian nuclear liability bill under consideration by the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology only gives the operator the "right of recourse" in case of a nuclear incident resulting from " the willful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier" and not a blanket "right of recourse" in case of negligence; (iv) no known non-Russian foreign supplier is ever likely to agree to such a clause in their contracts with India and in fact, now that the terms of the IGA are known, are likely to demand similar clauses in their own contracts with the Indian operator thereby nullifying the effects of article 17 (a) and 17 (b) of the Indian nuclear liability bill; and (v) finally and most importantly, the grave consequences for India-Russian nuclear commerce if the Russians insist on negotiating a new agreement in line with their current domestic nuclear export control laws.


It is not well known that during the Yeltsin presidency, the Russians had amended their domestic nuclear export laws to require IAEA fullscope safeguards from non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) such as India as early as March 1992, while the NSG itself adopted the fullscope safeguards requirement only at the 1993 Lucerne plenary. Also, while the 1993 NSG guidelines did allow for exports to NNWS without fullscope safeguards in "exceptional circumstances", the Russian export laws were amended only in May 2000 to allow such exports and even then, only to facilitate nuclear fuel exports from Russia to India for Tarapur operations, in the face of stiff opposition from other NSG members, who had held that such exports did not fall under the "exceptional circumstance" exemption. The Russians once again made another such shipment of fuel for Tarapur in 2006, in violation of NSG guidelines, again despite disapproval from other NSG members.


In addition, the 2008 IGA allowed for the transfer of reprocessing technology from Russia to India. So far, this is the only such reprocessing technology transfer that India has been able to negotiate with any other country among the many nuclear cooperation agreements that India has so far negotiated with a large number of countries. The 1998 IGA would thus have enabled Russia to supply such reprocessing technology even if, in future, the NSG amends its guidelines to prohibit such transfer in view of the "grandfather" exemption allowed under NSG guidelines. And in January 2009, the Russians amended their nuclear export laws to make an exception for India to allow such reprocessing technology transfers.


However, in December 2009, the Russian government issued a decree to implement the declaration on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, adopted at the 2009 L'Aquila G-8 summit, to establish that the export of Russian units of isotope uranium enrichment plant, chemical reprocessing of irradiated nuclear fuel as well as information relating to such installation of equipment and technologies to any state that is not a nuclear weapon state is only to the extent necessary to carry out surveillance or to ensure their construction and operation, without disclosing the key elements of technology associated with such facilities.


Therefore, given the fact that, at the most, India will be only able to include in any contract a "right to recourse" for the operator to the extent specified by article 17(b) of the Indian nuclear liability bill, but such a renegotiation of the IGA in turn will have to conform to current Russian laws in respect of nuclear exports and would, therefore, automatically exclude any reprocessing technology, the net result of such a renegotiation would result in loss to India of any access to reprocessing technology. It makes very little sense for India to insist now on a revision of the IGA. It is an altogether different matter that India should have included in the IGA a clause to the effect that article13 of the IGA will hold only till such time as India enacts a nuclear liability bill in accordance with the international conventions. A similar clause was included in the Russia-Germany agreement and Russia should have had no difficulty in accommodating such an Indian request at that time. India did not do so then and it is too late now unless, of course, the Russian federation agrees to the Indian proposal as a gesture of goodwill.


The writer is visiting fellow at IDSA








 Two talented, glamorous and feisty Bangalore-based athletes, who have retired from competitive athletics, are fronting a campaign to rid Indian sport of that dreaded, ten-letter word called — no, not corruption, p-o-l-i-t-i-c-i-a-n. Ashwini Nachappa, who sensationally outran star Indian sprinter P.T. Usha on several occasions, and fellow Arjuna awardee and heptathlon champion Reeth Abraham, are spearheading Clean Sports India. Along with a handful of other peers, they want to get sports management in the country in the hands of former sportspersons.


Indian sport tallies more scandals than medals, so the clean-up could not have come at a more opportune time. India's reputation as the host of the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games lies in tatters, with corruption charges and delays. Recently, Indian women's hockey and weightlifting have been hit by sexual abuse outrages involving team coaches. The group says its ultimate goal is to make young Indians take to sporting careers. "Right now, parents don't want their children to risk it because they feel it is too murky, there is no future," says Nachappa.


When a country of a billion people has only a single individual Olympic Gold, it is time people became aware of why India cannot do well in sports, says Ashwini Nachappa. The outspoken Nachappa made news during her competitive career for confronting and telling off the all-powerful Suresh Kalmadi.


The answer lays in the management of the various sports federations in India, they say. "The average person thinks India does not win because we have lousy athletes. Nobody realises it is because we have suspect sports administrators," says Abraham. A roll call of the various federations, as compiled by Clean Sports, is revealing.


At the head is Congressman Suresh Kalmadi who has been heading the Indian Olympic Association for over a decade-and-a-half. "He was IOA chief when we entered competitive athletics," says Abraham. "We have retired and he carries on." Kalmadi is the chairman of the upcoming New Delhi Commonwealth Games Organising Committee.


The BJP's V.K. Malhotra has been the president of the Indian Archery Federation for 31 years. Congress's Priyaranjan Dasmunshi had been heading the Indian Football Federation for several decades. He has been in a coma for over two years but continues as the president while another minister took over as acting president. Congressman Jagdish Tytler is president of the Indian Judo Federation. At the regional level, things are no better. In Assam, two ministers hold five positions each in local sporting federations. Politicians have converted Indian sporting bodies into personal fiefdoms with zero accountability; say the duo from Clean Sports. "Politicians think of sports as yet another photo-op," says Abraham. The national elections in any sport have been converted to drawing room affairs by politicians, Nachappa says. Himachal Pradesh Congresswoman Vidya Stokes, 83, a Kalmadi nominee, has won this week's election for the Indian Hockey Federation against former hockey Olympian Pargat Singh. "She has probably never held a hockey stick," says Abraham. "This is frustrating, we have to question this," fumes Nachappa. Clean Sports is demanding that politicians make way for sportspersons and former national and international competitors in managing local sports organisations. It also wants to purge Indian sport of the influence of drugs. And it has already scored its first win. Last week, the group mounted a vehement campaign opposing the candidature of the minister of state for defence Pallam Raju for the Equestrian Federation of India. "He may never have got on a horse," Nachappa said. Fazed by mounting criticism, Raju withdrew his nomination.Clean Sports hopes to convert its fight against corruption into a national people's movement. Runs are being conducted in different cities to enlist members and solicit funding. Right now, the group functions out of Abraham's residence with funds pooled in by the former athletes themselves. "We want to create an environment where erring administrators should be held accountable," says Abraham. You are taking on powerful politicians, aren't you scared for your life, is the question they are frequently asked. "Sport is our passion, we are not afraid to fight for the cause," says Nachappa forcefully.








When Ratan Tata took over as chairman of Tata Sons—the holding company of the widely diversified Tata Group—from JRD Tata in 1991, the entire group was worth around $4 billion. Now, almost two decades later, as the search for Ratan Tata's successor gets underway, the group is worth around $71 billion. Interestingly, at the time of his appointment, not many would have predicted Ratan Tata's remarkable performance trajectory over the next two decades—then, Indian industry was just about to get its first dose of superior global competition, the 53-year-old Tata hadn't been a star manager in his previous assignments, and perhaps the biggest hurdle of all was the resistance to change put up forcefully by JRD Tata's old guard. In the end, none of these factors proved to be a handicap in the least as Ratan Tata repeatedly defied conventional wisdom—whether it was removing the old guard, pressing ahead with Indica, choosing the inorganic route to growth via global acquisitions, or launching his dream Rs 1 lakh car—to convert what was an India business giant into a truly global company. His successor, come 2012, will have to fit into some giant size boots. It is particularly important, therefore, that the right man or woman is selected for the job.


Fortunately, there is much merit in the manner in which the succession issue is being handled. For one, the search for a successor has begun well in time, over two years before Ratan Tata actually steps down. Second, the group has opted for the right institutional mechanism to conduct the search—a five-member committee that does not include the incumbent, but will have representation from the board, from two key Tata family trusts and include an outsider. In sum, a thoroughly professional exercise, not usually the practice in India Inc. But then, Tata Sons is a very different company from other top Indian firms because the main shareholders are not members of the family. More than 66% of the equity is held by philanthropic trusts endowed by different members of the Tata family. And the biggest individual shareholder, Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry (with 18.5% stake) is not a Tata family member. Ratan Tata holds just about 1% in stake. That perhaps allows more professionalism in the appointment of the top boss unlike in other companies where succession works by simply handing over the reins to other members of the promoter family. In the latter, succession can be troublesome and indeed value-destroying if competing members of the family fight for management control—the Reliance empire, for example, had to be split into two. Over time, in the interest of best practice corporate governance, we hope that promoter shareholding in major Indian companies are diluted enough to allow greater professionalism in succession decisions, just like we are about to witness in the Tata group.







The debate on capital controls has certainly not ended with the passing of the financial crisis. In their latest discussions around the subject, the government and RBI have come to the conclusion that the Indian economy can tolerably absorb up to $150 billion of net capital inflows without the need to resort to capital controls. This is a significant revision from the $110 billion that the government had informally set until now. According to the government and RBI, India's fast growing economy, which is being driven more by domestic growth than growth in exports, can absorb increasing amounts of foreign capital. In fact, the government feels that there will be a real need for more foreign capital to finance a growing current account deficit that is estimated to be close to 3% in 2010-11. On the whole, this seems a reasonable line of argument. In any case the Prime Minister's economic advisory council only expects $73 billion of inflows in this fiscal and $91 billion of inflows in 2011-12, both of which should be entirely manageable.


But beyond the near future, there is a serious need to rethink the entire discourse on capital controls in India. Even though India desisted from the idea of imposing a Tobin Tax on foreign capital flows, something at least some countries did during the course of the financial crisis. But we are still rather old-fashioned while thinking about capital flows. Apart from continuing to impose controls, India also places a subtle hierarchy on different types of capital flows—FDI is considered superior, followed some distance behind by portfolio capital, which is then trailed by an even greater distance by debt. The latest research in macroeconomics is increasingly suggesting that such hierarchies (particularly between FDI and portfolio flows) may not have a firm analytical basis and in any case serve little purpose. Of course, the financial crisis has proved that it can be potentially risky to take on too much foreign-denominated debt when incomes are in the local currency—any fluctuation in the currency can then lead to serious debt crises. But the real problem is the denomination of the debt, not the size of debt. In India, incredibly enough, there are greater restrictions on foreign purchase of rupee-denominated bonds than there are on dollar-denominated external commercial borrowings. So it's not just our thinking, but also our practice which is out of date. The government and RBI need to revise their thinking as the country eventually moves towards a full convertibility regime.








The Reserve Bank of India, on August 4, placed on its Web site the draft report on introduction of Credit Default Swap (CDS) for corporate bonds for public comments. RBI has been considering introducing credit derivatives since 2003 so as to provide market participants with an effective tool to manage credit risk. It issued the first draft guideline in 2003. However, considering the risk management practices in domestic banks way back in 2003, it decided to defer the issuance of the final guidelines to a later date.


Then, while it was deliberating on launching credit derivatives again in 2007, the subprime crisis had set in. The subprime crisis was, in part, attributed to this asset class because lenders and credit risk takers could be segregated using credit derivatives, which caused lending to get lax and reckless. RBI had to place the introduction of credit derivatives on the back burner, till such time it wasn't clear if, and in what measure, credit derivatives contributed to the crisis. There is a developing consensus currently that credit derivative per se wasn't at fault, but the lack of regulation around credit derivatives was the real culprit. It seems RBI is confident that it would be able to get the regulation right unlike other central banks, and is therefore initiating the process of introducing the most basic credit derivative instrument called the CDS.


CDS serves a similar purpose like that of insurance. One of the reasons why insurance is useful is it helps an individual or an organisation hedge against extensive loss. For instance, I don't mind spending on home insurance because if my house gets damaged, it would have a substantial impact on my financial well-being. Moreover, buying insurance gives me peace of mind for a certain cost, which I am happy to pay even though I wish that the eventuality when I receive anything back from the insurance company does not arise in the first place. CDS works similarly. Consider a mutual fund that has a sizeable amount of corporate bonds in its portfolio. CDS allows the mutual fund to insure against possible default of corporate bonds. Consequently, investors in mutual funds would not lose money if those corporate bonds default. Thus, a CDS could help in hedging credit risk.


It is not difficult to appreciate that CDS is a useful hedging tool. However, if not properly regulated, it can become an instrument for unbridled speculation. According to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, the amount of CDS outstanding as of the beginning of this year was $30.4 trillion. Compared to this, the US Treasuries market is $4.4 trillion and its corporate bond market is $3.6 trillion. The world's richest person has a personal net worth of $53 billion and one of the most cash rich corporations in the world, Apple Inc, has a cash pile of $46 billion. For sure, there isn't $30,400 billion of money out there that needs to be hedged, which is what the current size of CDS market is. Quite evidently, a loosely regulated credit derivatives market has allowed market participants to indulge in rampant speculation.


If inadequately regulated, CDS may not be as benign as insurance. For instance, insurance is regulated in such a way that I can insure for my own house, but I cannot buy insurance on my neighbour's house, because I don't own that asset. Moreover, I cannot sell insurance unless I satisfy a specified set of stringent criteria. However, the way CDS market is currently regulated makes it possible for a large number of market participants to speculate by being able to buy or sell CDS contracts. For instance, a hedge fund can agree to provide protection against credit risk by posting a small collateral. If it indeed had to pay up on the CDS in case of a default, there is a pretty high chance that it won't be able to make good the payment. AIG, when it was bailed out in September 2008, was holding CDS position worth $441 billion, which is quite high compared to the kind that cash corporations normally hold. If AIG had not been bailed out, all the entities which bought protection on the CDS from AIG would have been left high and dry. Loosely regulated credit derivatives market can allow market participants to become overly levered. To get the valuable benefits from this asset class, it needs to be regulated effectively.


RBI needs to be commended for taking this bold step to introduce the product, because post-crisis the popular sentiment is that all derivatives are weapons of mass destruction. An easy approach would have been to defer the introduction of credit derivatives indefinitely. RBI is steering a difficult course in that it cannot afford to run the risk of being too lenient, which could result in a purely speculative market, while ensuring that it is not too strict either. If RBI is able to regulate in such as way so as to facilitate a deep and liquid credit market, it would set a good example for other central banks in the region. Regulators indeed walk a fine line and this is a confident step in the right direction.


The author, formerly with JPMorgan Chase, is CEO, Quantum Phinance








In the first place, RBI deputy governor KC Chakrabarty shouldn't have shot his mouth off. Whatever his views on how inflation should be tackled and at what pace interest rates should be raised, they should have been aired within the walls of RBI. A senior regulator cannot afford to be so indiscreet as to vent to a group of reporters. The move to strip him of his key portfolios and leave him with a few relatively insignificant responsibilities doesn't seem out of place because Chakrabarty was clearly wrong in speaking up on such a sensitive issue—his comments were heeded by the bond markets—in public. But questions can also be asked about the manner in which the deputy governor has been cut to size.


Was there really a need for a hurried late evening press release? Indeed it's rather uncharacteristic of the governor Duvvuri Subbarao who usually does things more quietly. In fact, it's somewhat disconcerting that not so long ago, another senior regulator CB Bhave, chairman, Sebi, acted the way he did when he shot off orders to 14 life insurance companies barring them from selling Ulips. To be sure, there was a case for debating who should be regulating Ulips and Bhave certainly had a point when he pointed out that these products were nothing but mutual fund schemes with the added protection of an insurance cover. But he could have done it differently. The short point is that regulators need to be far more restrained even if they are in the right.


For some reason it would seem that the governor believes he needs to be seen as more assertive and effective. Of late, there is a feeling that he hasn't been so. In the context of inflation, Subbarao has been seen as not having done enough to bring down prices. Even the recent hikes of 25 basis points in the repo rate and 50 basis points in the reverse repo have been considered inadequate by some. Also, RBI clearly feels its autonomy is being eroded and the finance ministry wanting to assume the role of a 'super-regulator'. The recent Ulip ordinance passed by the government allows for a committee that will be headed by the finance minister to sort out any disputes between regulators in the financial sector. The governor is reported to have requested the finance minister to allow the ordinance to lapse because it would have reduced RBI's status among financial markets regulators. The current mechanism of the High Level Committee on Capital Markets (HLCC) is chaired by the RBI governor. The governor is probably right and it's clear the finance ministry does want greater control. With the Bill having been passed in the Lok Sabha, it appears RBI will lose its status as primus inter pares among financial markets regulators such as the Sebi, Irda and PFRDA. The HLCC hasn't been much of a success and watched almost helplessly as Sebi and Irda squabbled. Even if it doesn't have executive powers, there could have been some attempt to thrash out a solution but it didn't really come up with any ideas on the supervision of Ulips. If it did, these were not made known. Nevertheless, clearly, laws should be amended only after debate and all regulators have a right to autonomy, if not actually independent.


However, what has happened in India is that more often than not it's the bureaucrats who find their way to the regulatory bodies, either while in service or after retirement; coincidentally, or perhaps not really so, the RBI governor, the Sebi chairman, the Irda chairman, the Trai chairman are all from the IAS. And since these officers owe their jobs to the government, especially if it comes post-retirement, they find it difficult not to toe the government's line. RBI, which has been around for much longer than any of the others, has always exhibited a predilection for greater independence or autonomy when non-IAS officers such as IG Patel, Manmohan Singh, C Rangarajan and Bimal Jalan have been governors. Of course, there have been exceptions but, in a sense, often the heads of various regulatory bodies are themselves undermining their authority. Subbarao, for his part, has stood up to the government; he has questioned the need to amend the RBI Act in a rush, without any debate, since it has worked well enough all these years. But he has erred in the manner in which he has chosen to discipline the 18th floor's loose cannon. It should have been done with more finesse and less noise. Lost authority isn't re-established by drama and fireworks. It is quiet firmness that delivers the goods.








As the new Irda guidelines for Ulips come into effect from September 1, insurance companies will have to tweak their distribution models. Estimates suggest that these companies will have to reduce their distribution workforce around by 20-25%, as their margins are going to shrink substantially. The new norms make it mandatory for insurers to increase the lock-in period for Ulips from three to five years. During the five-year period, there would be no residuary payments on lapsed, surrendered or discontinued policies. Agents' commissions will be spread out—they currently get around 40% commission of the total premium in the first year itself. Small wonder, agents are making frantic calls to investors, saying that the best time to buy Ulips is before September 1.


Irda has also increased the minimum sum assured in case of Ulips, with a regular premium payment option of 10 times the annualised premium—up from five times at present. An increase in sum assured means a larger amount of the premium will be deducted towards mortality charges; this will lower the allocation of premium to the investment fund and will further reduce the commission of distributors.


As 80% of insurance products in India are sold through distributors and Ulips account for around 40% of the total insurance policies currently sold, insurance firms will now have to look at alternative distribution models like the online platform and also focus more on traditional products. They will have to look at markets where there is an assured potential. Simply cold-calling investors will not work, as anecdotal evidence suggests that for every 4,000 calls a distributor makes, he is able to strike just two deals.


Insurance companies will have to spend more money on consumer awareness, making their products more pull-driven than push-driven. Some experts suggest that insurance companies must go for fee-based models for distributors, as is being tried with mutual fund distributors. But in a country like ours, with low financial literacy levels, fee-based systems will not work. The costs associated with customer acquisition and servicing here are among the highest in the world and an advisory model may not do sufficient justice to the agent's efforts. Unless insurance firms come up with viable alternatives, they will be looking at the same fate as the one facing mutual funds after the ban on entry load last year.








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


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







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


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










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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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









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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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




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


Urban poor


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

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


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


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










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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







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


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


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


A variety


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


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


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


They suggest solutions


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


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


Issues before society


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


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


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


Strengthening the bond


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









The announcement from Bombay House, headquarters of the Tata group, that a five-member team had been formed to find a successor to Ratan Tata, the group's current chairman, is not really a surprise. It is nevertheless welcome, and will be avidly watched by India Inc with much curiosity, awe and scepticism. The succession issue is a tremendous challenge in India, with the available pool of chairmen and chief executive officers rather shallow and short of talent when it comes to running a global conglomerate. Throwing the succession open to the world is something that has not been done before in this country. While the first formal announcement of a search team was made this week, it was known for some time that the House of Tatas was informally on the lookout for a new chief. Mr Ratan Tata is not due to retire till December 2012, so there is a long lead time. In fact, the group's stipulated retirement age of 70 had to be tweaked up to 75 as no suitable successor could be identified to take over from Mr Tata, who has proved a visionary — taking the Tatas to new global heights, both in reach and complexity. While the name of the chairman's step-brother Noel, also a Tata, has been floating as a possible successor every time he is elevated to a new position in the group, there has never been any finality. There is also one sensitive issue involved regarding Noel: that he is also the son-in-law of the group's single largest shareholder. It is presumed this can only weigh in his favour, also his choice would carry forward the Tata name. It will be the search team's task to finalise the criteria on the basis of which the hunt will be conducted, both within and outside India. While the choice of someone currently working for the group is not ruled out, Mr Tata himself has stressed time and again that the group could be headed by an outsider, and even by a foreigner — now that it was a truly global conglomerate encompassing diverse nationalities.
Wednesday's announcement has nevertheless sent ripples across business circles in India. The country's biggest corporate groups are mostly family owned: succession, therefore, is usually not an issue or at least not visible in public. Family members usually take crucial decisions behind closed doors, as evident in some of the best-run groups such as Mahindra, Godrej, the Birlas and Bajaj. In cases where a founder-promoter does not anoint a successor, there can be mammoth problems — as evident in the case of Reliance, where Dhirubhai Ambani had not chosen an heir and his two sons did not see eye to eye on how to run the business. The one time a family promoter tried to get in a professional, the move did not last too long. Parvinder Singh, Ranbaxy's promoter, appointed a professional D.S. Brar to head the corporation, which the latter did with great success, making Ranbaxy what it is today. He then appointed another professional as his successor, but this was not liked by the original promoter's sons, who then took over. Among professionally-run companies, Infosys has seen the mantle of leadership pass seamlessly from N.R. Narayana Murthy to Nandan Nilenkani, and onward... but this is more an exception than the rule. The Tatas' move is not that rare in international business circles, but almost never heard of in this country. It would be interesting to watch if in the long term it proves to be an inspiration for Corporate India.








In the aftermath of last month's foreign minister-level talks between India and Pakistan, there has been some understandable concern expressed by Indian commentators and Opposition politicians about whether we should be talking to Islamabad at all. We are talking, the critics say, to a civilian government that is either unable or unwilling to restrain the terrorist attacks upon us. Why waste time on a government hamstrung by its own weakness in the face of an implacable military — a military long accustomed to calling the shots in Pakistan? Such a government, the critics say, is hardly a valuable peace partner.

There is no doubt, of course, that a climate of peace can only be built on a foundation of trust, unimpeded by the use or the threat to use terror as a means to achieving narrow ends. British Prime Minister David Cameron recently reminded Pakistan that it could not win the respect of the world so long as it condoned the export of terror to India. To acknowledge that trust does not exist right now, however, is not to suggest that trust can never be built.

The differences that bedevil our relations with Pakistan can be surmounted if we can arrive at mutually acceptable parameters that can define our relationship in the future. Terrorism is certainly not one of those parameters. The terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 were a great setback on the path of normalisation. It will take concerted and credible action by Pakistan on two fronts to set things right: action to bring the conspirators and perpetrators of this dastardly attack to justice, and action to begin dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism, the platform from which so many attacks have been launched against our country in the last two decades. If these are done, India will respond; as our Prime Minister has said in Parliament, if Pakistan takes the first step, we will meet them more than half way. But only credible action by Islamabad will instil a modicum of confidence in the people of India that dialogue is worthwhile and that our neighbours are as determined as us to give peace a chance. If such action is taken — for instance, against individuals and organisations known to be fomenting violence against India — the basis for building trust again can be laid.
The UN Secretary-General's spokesperson recently came in for some opprobrium in India for suggesting that the "composite dialogue" should be revived. It was following the commitment made by Pakistan in January 2004, that it would not permit territory under its control to be used to support terrorism against India in any manner, that a composite dialogue process was resumed at that time. The dialogue covered eight subjects: peace and security, including confidence-building measures; Jammu and Kashmir; terrorism and drug trafficking; friendly exchanges; economic and commercial cooperation; the Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project; Sir Creek; and Siachen. That six-year-old commitment by Pakistan is in shreds, given the overwhelming evidence of the involvement of elements in Pakistan in executing the Mumbai terror attacks, and in the conspiracy that planned, funded and launched it. Besides, an increase in ceasefire violations, continued infiltration across the Line of Control and the attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008 and October 2009, as well as the murderous assault this year on a residence housing Indian aid workers, have also placed immense strain on India-Pakistan relations in general and on the dialogue process in particular. Pakistan's evasive responses and denials in response to our requests for cooperation in exposing the conspiracy behind the Mumbai terror attacks and bringing all its perpetrators to justice have led to a sadly evident deterioration in bilateral relations. That is why there has been a pause in the composite dialogue process.

In recent months there have been high-level statements from Pakistan seeking the resumption of the dialogue process and about Pakistan itself also being a victim of terrorism. Our position, first articulated by our Prime Minister in Parliament a year ago, is that we can have a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan only if they fulfil their commitment, in letter and spirit, not to allow their territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India. The inability or unwillingness of the Pakistani government to prevent its soil from being used to mount attacks on another state seriously undermines its own sovereignty, not just its credibility.
As good neighbours, Indians should be saddened by the continuing incidents of terrorist violence in Pakistan; we must wish Islamabad well in its efforts to repel militancy and fanaticism within its own borders. We would welcome indications that Islamabad shares our view that the forces of terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil are indivisible and that those plotting attacks on India from Pakistani territory are as much the enemies of Pakistan as they are of India. From such a diagnosis, the only possible prescription is that of co-operation, to build peace and security together. We hope that those who rule that country will make that diagnosis, and share the same prescription.

It is frankly preposterous to hear Pakistanis arguing that their actions are impelled by an "Indian threat". To put it bluntly, th e re is no Indian threat. Pakistan has nothing that we want to wr e st by force. India does not covet any Pakistani territory. Because we wish to focus on our own pe ople's development and prosperity in conditions of security, we remain committed to long-term peace with Pakistan. If the civilian government in Islamabad sees that the need is for concerted action against terrorists wherever they operate, whether in Pakistan, in India or in Afg hanistan, we can find common ground. Our willingness to talk will best be vindicated by their willingness to act. Trust can be earned, which is why peace must be pursued. But we must pursue peace with our eyes wide open.


Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency








Ninety per cent of India's commerce is by sea. At present, 60 per cent of our seaborne trade moves (and comes from) Westwards to Africa, Europe and the US, while 40 per cent moves Eastwards (and comes from) across the Asia-Pacific region. Hence, maritime developments impacting seaborne trade (e.g. Gulf of Aden piracy or the rising maritime tensions in the Asia-Pacific region) need to be monitored closely, and counter measures taken to safeguard our national interests, keeping in mind that sea power takes generations to build up and is directly linked to our national prosperity and security.

The recent spate of events in the seas bordering China and its neighbours (US-South Korea Navy exercises in the Sea of Japan, and the Chinese Navy weapon firing exercises in the South China Sea) have once again highlighted the importance of sea power in the Asia-Pacific region. A few weeks earlier, the US Navy conducted large-scale exercises with other Asia-Pacific regions, and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton sought to internationalise the South China Sea territorial disputes because global commerce flows through it.
Conventional wisdom lists seven "essentials" for a nation to become a great sea power. These are, large size of country, large population, geographic location to dominate sea trade routes, at least two coasts, science-technology-industry, seafaring tradition, and political will of the government to exploit sea power in the national interest.

China does not meet three of the seven "essentials" for sea power, but is striving to overcome these handicaps. Firstly, China has historically not been a seafaring nation, but is learning fast and today its sailors are sailing the world's oceans on merchantmen, fishing trawlers and warships.

Secondly, though sea commerce flows through the China and Yellow seas, China cannot completely dominate the sea trade routes due to the presence of other modern littoral states.

Thirdly, China has just one coast facing Eastwards, and its exit to the Pacific Ocean "can be blocked" by South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. Its exit southwards towards the Indian Ocean requires it to pass close to Vietnam, and then through the choke points of the straits of Singapore-Malacca, Sunda and Lombok. Almost 90 per cent of China's oil requirements are imported from West Asia and Angola, and these move by ship through the Indian Ocean choke points which can be blocked in the event of war.

But China has taken the following measures in an attempt to become a global sea power:


w A combination of technology and innovation is being used by China in an ongoing experiment to detect and target "enemy" warships at sea, at long ranges using the 1,800-km range land-based DF-21 ballistic missile, with terminal homing. If the DF-21 experiment succeeds, the concept of sea power will change globally since a similar experiment can later be attempted with the 8,000-km range DF-31 and the 14,000-km range DF-41. The target data for the missiles could be provided by a combination of long range "over the horizon radars" using high frequency "sky waves" along with indigenous satellites for surveillance, communications and navigation data.

w Ongoing attempts to make the South and East China seas its territorial waters, and thus attempt to control international shipping movement, while exploiting the mineral, oil and fishing wealth. On May 16, 2009, China imposed a "summer fishing ban" in the South China Sea and sent ships to enforce this ban, overriding Vietnamese protests about traditional fishing rights. On January 5, 2010, China announced tourism packages to some disputed and uninhabited islands in the South China Sea. On February 9, 2010, China announced new oil and gas fields in the South China Sea, while its similar "finds" in the East China Sea led to Japan appealing to an international maritime court. On April 13, 2010, a flotilla of 10 Chinese warships and submarines passed between the international waters of Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa to exercise in the South East Pacific (On July 4, 2010, two Chinese warships repeated this deployment). On June 30, 2010, China announced a six-day live ammunition firing exercise by its Navy in the East China Sea.

w China has financially, militarily and technologically supported two nuclear armed nations (Pakistan and North Korea) to act as its proxies which will, respectively, "distract and engage" India, Japan and South Korea.
w After the failure of half-a-century of coercive diplomacy, China has set out to woo Taiwan. The recent June 29, 2010, ECFA (Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement) to reduce or eliminate tariffs on 539 Chinese items and 267 Taiwanese items, is financially advantageous to Taiwan, but if China eventually achieves reunification with Taiwan, than it removes one strategic geographical obstacle for its Eastwards move to the Pacific Ocean.

w Flush with over $2.5 trillion foreign exchange reserves, China has invested in South Asian and African littoral states so as to secure its sea lanes of commerce and to avoid sending its oil ships through the straits of Malacca, Sunda and Lombok. In pursuance of its "strings of pearls policy", China not only gifted and built the Gwadar Port for Pakistan (which will unload West Asia oil, to be moved by Chinese-gifted roads and pipelines to China through the proposed Karakoram highway), but is now building ports in three countries which are India's neighbours. In Sri Lanka the Chinese are funding and building the $9 billion Hambantota seaport (three times larger than Colombo) and the nearby Mattala International Airport, both to be ready by 2015. In Bangladesh the Chinese are funding and building two deep water terminals at Chittagong and a brand new seaport nearby. Both these terminals and the new port will be linked by road and oil pipelines to Kunming in China, and will pass through Burma. Similarly Sittwe deep water port in Burma is being funded and built by China, and will also be connected to Kunming by road and oil pipelines. China has also invested in similar facilities in Tanzania and Angola.

w In 2009, Chinese think tanks suggested that once China gets its own aircraft carrier by about 2015, the US Navy should "look after" the sea area east of Hawaii, while the Chinese Navy would "look after" the rest of the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. Chinese investment in nuclear submarines too, will aid a "two ocean deployment capability" in the future.

Strategically-located peninsular India, with 1,197 islands, meets six of the seven requirements of sea power. It only needs to augment its sea power and display palpable political will power to use that sea power in its national interest.


Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam








Clothes maketh the man, goes the old dictum. And in corporate India, that often seems to be the case.


According to a Reuters-Ipsos poll, Indians are the smartest-dressed office goers on the planet — 58% said they would dress smart for work compared to only 12% Hungarians. The general feeling in India is that the better you dress, the better you do at work.


Of course, we know that when we think we look good, we tend to act that way. But is there something else that the poll, conducted in 24 countries across the world, is trying to say about Indians? Perhaps that we are very formal when it comes to business or that we are extremely conscious that well-dressed people do better in life. Indian life is traditionally hierarchical, with several rules that determine our social status.


It could also mean that we are very fashion conscious and all this explosion of big-brand, high-street stores has had an effect on us. At least it has taken us away from terrible fashion faux pas like safari suits.


Of course, polls, like statistics, do not always fill in the big picture. Employers might, therefore, just be a bit wary of well-dressed employees and remember the other old dictum — appearances can be deceptive!







Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad finally said it on Wednesday, more than three decades after Sanjay Gandhi's policy of forcible sterilisation made family planning a dirty phrase. We are once burnt, twice shy, he said.


However, that is no reason for inaction. With our population continuing to grow at an unsustainable rate — we are already close to 1.2 billion — there is need for drastic action in terms of policy and propaganda.


Azad believes that getting rural girls to marry later is one part of the solution, but if he really believes this, the health ministry should be incentivising late marriages and penalising large family sizes more strongly.


The Hum Do, Hamare Do campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s are much derided today, but who can fault them for the simplicity with which they got the message across.


As things stand, only nine Indian states and Union territories have managed to reach replacement rates (the degree to which a population replaces itself based on the ratio of the number of female babies to the number of women of child-bearing age) of 2.1. The central Indian states are the laggards here.


After the sterilisation fiasco of the Emergency, the government attempted to rebrand family planning as family welfare to control the negative public perceptions in this regard. This has had the positive effect of safeguarding the health of mother and child, but, on the downside, it reduced the sense of urgency around family planning. Over the last 10 years, we have in fact started celebrating high population growth rates as some kind of demographic dividend — which it certainly is — but this does not take away from the need to bring overall numbers under control.


What we need is a nuanced, integrated policy that includes region — and demography-specific incentives and appropriate propaganda to bring the message of family planning to sections that are still resistant to it.


It could include better education for the girl child, improved health facilities and social security nets for the vulnerable sections, and a wider choice of contraceptive methods. Without a multi-pronged attack, our demographic dividend could turn into a demographic blowout.







The Tata Sons' announcement that a five-member committee has begun the search for a successor to Ratan Tata has not come a day too soon.


The current chairman, who has taken the group from strength to strength in the last 20 years that he has been at the helm, is fighting fit in terms of his ability to lead the group. But age is clearly not on his side.


Tata will be 73 this December, and having a younger successor take charge when he is still there to guide him, would be a great advantage.


The big question, though, is whether the committee and Ratan Tata will finally settle for someone with the family name or look wider for a new head.


The late JRD Tata, after dithering over his successor for years, finally came around to the view that someone with the Tata name would have greater acceptability than someone without it.


However, the difficult time Ratan Tata had in asserting his authority in the initial years shows that even the name did not carry much weight with the group's powerful satraps. Luckily for the group, Tata was not only upto the job, but was more than a match for the rest of them in terms of his personal capabilities and vision.


But what if he was not? What if he had been an average performer, whose only qualification for the job was the Tata name? We do get into speculative waters here, but a few points need to be made.


In the semi-feudal Indian business ethos, carrying the family name is a definite help for anyone who wants to establish his authority in the beginning. However, it is foolish to pretend that talent is the sole preserve of the family.


As shareholdings get diluted — this hasn't happened much in the Indian scenario so far — it is necessary for the family to recede into the background and let talented professionals take over.


The Tata group has always been run by professionals, but it has also been headed by someone with the Tata name. Over the last decade, the brand has spread far beyond Indian shores, and today two out of every three rupees earned comes from abroad.


The search committee should certainly look at candidates who bear the Tata name, but it needs to remember that Tata is not just a name. It is an identity, a mission, an idea that represents trust and probity in business.


These values are important, and not just the name. There is no harm in looking beyond the family for Ratan Tata's successor.








It is a pity that Jairam Ramesh's rebellion of flinging away the mandatory all-enveloping gown at a convocation because of the sizzling daytime heat remained a storm in the teacup for the Indian media.


The fundamental logic of the action holds good for a wide spectrum of occasions where we bow to the tyranny

that alien clothing dictates.


This servility is one of the side-effects of Macaulay's ingenious education Trojan Horse, introduced in the late 19th century, which converted our erstwhile royalty and a large section of the urban middle class to faithful collaborators and functionaries of the British Raj.


For, what was imbibed then was not just the norms of British rules and law but also the social etiquette of the rulers. The logic then was that the more you ape them, the higher up the echelons of power you rise.


That reasoning still holds good in the educated Indian psyche, three generations after the exit of the British as rulers. One has only to look at the dress code of corporate India to realise this. On the face of it, the donning of suit and tie in hot and humid Indian cities seems a travesty of reason.


But, like the mandatory caste mark of yore, Indian managers blindly ape their Western counterparts in the matter of attire although the local climate demands a very different form of clothing. And then they demand energy-guzzling air-conditioning to counter the cloistering confines of a suit and tie. Nothing could be more graphically descriptive about the garrote-like effects of a tie than the Hindi term for it — kantha langot.


The funny thing about this penchant for Western working attire among our corporate crowd is that the British managerial expats themselves, in the old days when they were controlling the sterling companies, chose to don attire more suited for the local climate. Starched khaki shorts, a comfortable half-armed cotton shirt open at the throat and a sola topee (the best headgear for outside work in an Indian summer), was the preferred uniform for summer. It may surprise many of today's generation to know that this very sensible ensemble was de rigeur as summer wear for Reserve Bank of India officers in Bombay, back in the fifties. I know because I used to see my uncle attend office togged in that fashion. The Aussies, who also face torrid summers, have no problem taking to similar office attire. For the life of me, I do not understand why we should dress up in suits and ties for our climes.


This misbegotten equating of formal western attire as a mark of having reached an exalted station in life has had comic as well as adverse effects. On the one hand, there has been the development of the hilarious hybrid of coat and tie donned over a dhoti among south Indian gentry.


The veneration accorded to the suit and tie by Indians who are looking at upward mobility by dressing up, howeverunsuitable and badly stitched, was wonderfully lampooned in a song and dance routine — Gentleman — by the versatile Dilip Kumar in thefilm Gopi.


This reverential attitude to the suit has also resulted in the rather bizarre custom of the groom being gifted an expensive suit in Indian marriages and, whether he likes it or not, the poor chap is supposed to deck himself in it during the hot, humid and crowded "reception" post the marriage. Of late, some dress sense has crept into the current generation of middle-class young men and the more appropriate kurta-pyjama is replacing the "suit-boot" in marriage dos.


The most unfortunate victims of the tyranny of the tie culture are our school children in the so-called "English" schools.


The tortured tots are forced to wear throat-constricting clipped ties as part of their uniforms throughout the day, which the delusional school authorities, usually of money-gouging private schools, consider a mark of "smartness". There should a countrywide ban on such school uniforms which need to be promptly replaced by climate-friendly, parent-friendly and comfortable tees and shorts, at least in summer.


The IT sector employees, with their jeans, tops and tees, are perhaps the most aptly dressed lot in India. I am not very gung-ho about our politicos but have to acknowledge that the ethnic wear they sport is far more sensible than that of the honchos of the business sphere with their dark suits.


I suspect one of the reasons why P Chidambaram keeps his cool is not just because of his legal background but because of his culturally cool attire which has been honed over the millennia in his native Tamil Nadu. And talking about legalese, isn't it about time we gave our members of the bench a breather and relieved them of the burden of their uncomfortable dark robes?








The British always took liberties with our names, abbreviating Chattopadhyay to Chatterjee, as though the clan were talkative and entitled to some mocking respect, or Bandhopadyay to Bannerjee, like someone advertising themselves. And then there were the distortions of Mumba Devi to Bombay, Kanpur to Cawnpore and even, quite absurdly, 'Chennai' to 'Madras'! I ask you!


Pronunciation was never their forte. It's only recently after hundreds of westerners have been killed by them that the British have learned to called the pathans 'pathans'. For centuries they called them 'pay-thnz'.


And now, as the feeble playwrights of the Indian diaspora say, The Empire Strikes Back! David Cameron, British PM, recently made it to India to meet Manmohanji and other luminaries in policy and business. He took the opportunity to issue a sideswipe at the Pakistanis, calling that nation an exporter of terror and saying that the ISI, a state within a state, 'faced both ways' in the Afghan conflict and the war on terror.


What he meant was that the ISI publicly wanted the world to know that the army was keeping the Taliban at bay, but in reality had parts of the army supporting, arming and even controlling Taliban activity in Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pak itself.


His words brought mobs out in demonstration on the streets of Pakistani cities carrying banners which said "Kamrroon is Lyur" and "David Cammroon must Death". Some of the banners I spotted on TV were in perfect Urdu, but the ones composed in English, presumably for the consumption of the international community, took their revenge on both the prime minister and the spelling and grammar of his native tongue.


After meditating on it, I came to the conclusion that these misspellings and enthusiastic mispronunciation of Cameron's name were not deliberate stratagems to belittle the man. They were the difficulty we subcontinentals have with the names of British politicians.


My first real awareness of this came in the late 1960s — in 1968 to be precise. I lived in Leicester at the time, doing a post-graduate thesis on Rudyard Kipling. I lived in the Indian part of the town — Narboro Road — because through a subtle racist bias, no landlord would have Indian students as tenants in the non-Indian part. I used to frequent a pub on the corner of my road and there met with a jolly bunch of Indian workers whom I befriended. As a super-literate member of this community, I was soon asked to write letters to factory managements, and then progressed to writing leaflets for the Indian Workers' Association to which they belonged and thence to being an honourary secretary.


As such I was party to organising a demonstration against the then home secretary James Callaghan's denial of British citizenship and entry to the Ugandan Asians who had been expelled by Idi Amin and against another politician called Enoch Powell, who had delivered an inflammatory speech against immigration. The demonstration was to bring together thousands of members and make known our opposition to Powell and Callaghan.We marched, maybe ten-thousand strong, carrying banners which misspelt their names and shouting "Chall-aa- ghun Hai Hai!" and "Eenuk-a-pole Out out!"


It was a heartening demonstration, but I was convinced that the good citizens of Birmingham were perplexed as to what this mob of angry Asians was shouting about. But we knew!








INDIA'S most daring attempt at tax reform appears to be in jeopardy. The latest buildup of confrontation between the Congress and the BJP over price rise and the arrest of former Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah is likely to delay the rollout of the goods and services tax (GST) from April 2011. To meet the deadline the Bill must be introduced in the present session of Parliament so that a standing committee could examine it. The government does not have the required numbers to have its way. Before being passed into a law, the Bill has to be ratified by 15 states. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday sought Opposition cooperation in passing the law, stressing the GST's importance in price control. The 13th Finance Commission's calculations are the GST can cut retail prices by 1.22 to 2.53 per cent.


When introduced, the GST would turn India into a single market with a uniform tax regime and end the country's complicated tax structure. People would benefit as taxes would fall. The governments too would gain by earning higher revenue since tax evasion would be difficult, if not impossible. The Centre has promised to compensate the states for revenue loss, if any. The new tax regime was originally expected to be in place by April this year. In the current Budget Mr Mukherjee shifted the deadline to April next year. However, in the given political scenario the tax reform may get further delayed.


At a meeting of the empowered group on Wednesday, some of the state finance ministers played hardball. While the hardening of attitude by representatives of the BJP and Left-ruled states is understandable, even those from some Congress-run states like Haryana and Andhra Pradesh joined their camp. These states fear a loss of financial autonomy. Their main objection to the draft GST Bill is the Central Finance Minister having the veto power over the state GST. The states' sentiments on the possible loss of financial autonomy are reasonable, no doubt. But given the level of populism and protection to interest groups in certain states, some Central control has to be there. The sooner the gridlock is broken the better for everyone.









LIFE is hard in the Army. It is even harder when serving in the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro Ridge region – the world's highest battle ground. The least the soldiers serving there deserve is wholesome, nutritious food. Instead, they have been fed rations unfit for human consumption, according to the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) of India. There cannot be a more damning indictment of the Army. Rattled by the report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, the army has ordered an inquiry. That may identify the real culprits – although even that is doubtful, given the experience in such incidents in the past — but the facts of the case are indisputable. The soldiers, part of the Northern and Western Commands, were supplied atta, rice, dal and edible oil 28 months past their expiry date.


A food item remains fit only during its estimated storage life (ESL). According to the instructions of the Director-General of Supplies and Transport, the ESL may be extended to a maximum of three months subject to clearance from the Central Food laboratory (CFL). While the CFLs in Mumbai and Delhi adhered to the DGST instructions, the CFL, Jammu, granted extensions in some cases up to 28 months.


Apparently, there is widespread corruption and existence of cartels. According to the CAG, the main villains of the piece are the Army Service Corps and the Army Purchase Organisation. Corrupt officers are making a quick buck at the cost of the health of the soldiers. After all, the Army procures dry rations worth more than Rs 1,440 crore a year. Many ASC generals have faced court martial for irregularities in the purchase of rations such as meat, eggs and cereals. Such is the lure of the lucre that the large-scale pilferage continues regardless. What a crying shame! General V. K. Singh had publicly acknowledged corruption in the Army the very day he assumed charge as Army Chief and had promised "operation cleanup". Now is the time to use the broom ruthlessly.









NEPAL'S parliamentarians are working overtime to find a leader suitable to become the country's Prime Minister. The 601-member Constituent Assembly has undertaken the exercise of electing a leader to run the government thrice but without success. The fourth round of polls for the coveted position is scheduled for today (Friday), but the situation remains as hazy as it has been so far. Though the Maoists have the maximum number of MPs (259) with them, they need support from other groups to get their candidate, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda, elected for the Prime Minister's post. They have not been able to get allies to hold the reins of government mainly because no one is sure of their real intentions, though they are believed to be more interested in power than anything else.


Efforts are on by the Maoists to rope in the Madhesi parties, which together have 82 MPs. The problem, however, is that the constituents of the United Democratic Madhesi Front are divided over the question of extending support to the Maoists. The Maoists have reached a clear understanding with one of the Madhesi groups, the Madhesi Janadhar Forum-Nepal, which is busy convincing the leaders of the other parties in the Madhesi Front about the advantages of siding with the Maoists. If the Madhesi parties finally agree to share power with the Maoists, Nepal's search for a Prime Minister may end today. The situation is such that no government can last longer without the Maoists being part of it.


If things happen on these lines, the Constituent Assembly, which has got its tenure extended by 10 months, can easily go ahead with the most important task of Constitution drafting. But there are dangerous turns ahead. The Maoists have their own specific agenda, which they may like to implement through the new Constitution. This is besides the induction of their armed cadres in the Nepal Army. This factor may scare the Madhesi parties away from the Maoists. The cause of peace and progress demands that the Nepalese parties must find a way to come out of the political morass in which the Himalayan country is stuck today.

















HOW things change! Only 14 months ago the Congress had routed the Telangana Rashtra Samiti in its stronghold within Andhra in the parliamentary election. Now the TRS and its chief, K. Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR), have turned the tables decisively by making a clean sweep of all the 12 seats in Telangana for which byelections were held. The defeat of Andhra Congress chief D. Srinivasan at the hands of the BJP, an ally of the TRS, is particularly humiliating. One of KCR's acolytes has won with the largest ever margin in assembly polls in Andhra.


What has caused this jolt to the Congress in a state that was its bastion for three decades in the past and has been so again in recent years? The high sentiment for Telangana is, of course, a factor. But that, too, is a consequence of the Congress' bigger drawback: its inability to take a firm and coherent decision in good time. It bumbles instead into acting in haste and then regretting at leisure. Nothing underscores this more vividly than the ruling party's twists and turns over the Telangana issue itself. Since 2004 when it included a commitment to carve out a separate state of Telangana in its manifesto, the Congress has been repeating this promise loudly without actually doing anything about it. In its euphoric and super-confident mood after the 2009 parliamentary poll, it blandly assumed that KCR was now a spent force and, therefore, the Telangana demand could go back into the deep freeze.


The rude awakening came in the winter of last year when the TRS chief went on an indefinite hunger strike and tension in Andhra became alarmingly high. On December 9 — after a meeting of the Congress Core Committee when both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were present — Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram announced the "initiation" of the process of the formation of Telangana, adding that the state assembly would pass the necessary resolution. What followed demonstrated that the Congress leadership in New Delhi was out of touch with ground reality. MLAs from the non-Telangana regions, most of them Congressmen, vehemently opposed the bifurcation of Andhra. Forced to retrace its steps, the government resorted to the familiar device of appointing a committee to report on the statehood issue in "all its aspects". Headed by eminent Justice Srikrishna, the committee has to submit its report by December 31. But is there a guarantee that before then the streets of Hyderabad and other Andhra towns would not again morph into a political battleground?


Its dilemma over Telangana, however, is not the only problem the Congress faces in Andhra. In this state that has sent the largest Congress contingent to the Lok Sabha, the party is in double whammy. It has to deal also with the challenge that Jaganmohan Reddy, the young son of the late Chief Minister, YSR Reddy, has so brazenly posed to the party's top leadership. In clear defiance of the Congress president's directive he embarked on his yatra, and used it to demonstrate his strength all the way. The 28 Congress MLAs accompanying him repeatedly stated that Jaganmohan be given "greater responsibility" in Andhra, whatever that might mean. Chief Minister Rosiah's refrain all the while has been that the ambitious young man wants his job. It might be added that like his father, Jaganmohan is a staunch champion of "united Andhra".


Nor do the Congress' woes end with Andhra. The only other large and populous state that the Congress rules, albeit in uneasy partnership with Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party, is Maharashtra. Here the two coalition partners are constantly at loggerheads. NCP members are proclaiming loudly that they made a "big mistake" in conceding the office of Chief Minister to the Congress. For his part, the Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan, has not covered himself or his party with glory. At first, to appease Marathi chauvinism, symbolised by Raj Thackeray, he issued the directive that no one would be given a licence to drive a taxi unless he spoke Marathi. Only when New Delhi conveyed its displeasure did he make the necessary amends.


Thereafter, without inviting any censure from the Central leadership, he announced that he did not accept the Supreme Court's judgment lifting the ban on American scholar James Laine's book on Shivaji. He added that he would enact a law sustaining the ban within Maharashtra. Almost immediately, he beseeched the apex court to decide the petition on the future of Belgaum in Karnataka in favour of his state. That Karnataka could take a leaf from his book evidently did not occur to him. His confrontation with the Telugu Desam Party leader, Chandrababu Naidu, over the Babhali Dam was both unseemly and avoidable. The pusillanimity that the Congress-led Central government has shown towards the most dishonorable demands of the khap panchayats of Haryana, Punjab and western UP is shocking beyond words. The gravest crisis with horrendous ramifications is, of course, in Kashmir but its tardy and inadequate handling must be discussed separately. Not a pretty picture this, compared with the shining visions of May 2009.


One more point needs to be made. The Congress general secretary and putative Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi, has done the party service by trying to win back the states of UP and Bihar, once upon a time Congress bastions. But this is not enough. The moribund Congress needs to be rebuilt and reinvigorated across the country. Neither the young man nor his mother has hitherto shown any signs of doing this.


This said, one must hasten to add that however unflattering the Congress-led government's record, there is no threat to its existence. It can draw comfort from the fact that the plight of the Opposition parties, especially the BJP and the Left, is much worse. Doubtless, for its survival the Congress may have to enter into dubious deals such as the one it struck with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati during the voting on the BJP-Left cut motion in the Budget session.


But the government would not fall and would complete its five-year term. In fact, no one wants to bring it down for the simple reason that, given the present configuration of political forces, no alternative government can be rigged up in the 15th Lok Sabha. An accidental collapse would be a lot worse for all concerned, for that would mean a fresh election that is a nightmare of every single MP.








LONG ago great professionals in the fine arts were considered patently dumb in maths and science. High-tech advancement has had its toll, and those regarded higher than the artists are made judges of reality shows to prove this age-old dictum wrong.


I notice gleefully that these judges have forayed into maths—they can even write the digits correctly on the judges' slates, even though their range is limited to a few numbers no higher than 10. They display their scientific temper when they append to the adjective "mind-blowing" the phrase "perfect chemistry" in adjudicating dance performances in which there is a pairing of boys and girls. I have for long contemplated this queer expression and come to figure out the full spectrum of sciences which these judges know but never reveal.


'Chemistry' is a metaphor for absolute 'compromising' compatibility. It means that the pair has entered into a chemical reaction from where they must enter the field of physics. Here everything physical is put to a gruelling, but pleasant, test entailing weird moves, spins, twists, shoves, climbs, et al. And before you realise what you have done, a new sadasya enters your lives as the triumph of biology.


This little one, with its incredible lung and bladder power, soon upsets the acoustics of your master-bedroom and makes it water-logged until you realise you are in sociology and must restrain your household from disturbing the neighbours' peace. Sociology pushes you into economics where you have to struggle to earn an honest livelihood.


Soon honesty is discovered to be the 'worst' policy and you resort to anything to keep up with the Joneses anyhow. While all this may seem quite natural, the growth of the sadasya, which is directly proportional to the growth of your tensions, puts you in touch with psychology in the form of self-help books and the holy, or is it hollow, harangues of TV gurus.


You take to "positive thinking" and pop it up voraciously like sleeping pills and tonic capsules. The effectiveness of such treatment is illusory because deep within your condition is moving from bad to worse. Soon the time is ripe for the appearance of the psychiatrist: the fellow who has never had any 'tryst' with his own 'psyche' but professes to cure you of your mind's diseases. So long as he doesn't send you to the mental asylum you are a healthy person provided you pay his heavy bills promptly.


Whatever may be the outcome of this adventurous journey from chemistry to psychiatry it is not without its own unique thrills such as you never can get from watching Fashion TV, not even the reality show that got you started in the first place!








AROUND 150 students from various government schools and MCD Primary Schools in Jehangirpuri Resettlement Colony gathered and wrote postcards addressed to the Chief Justice and sought your lordship's intervention for realisation of their rights.


The campaign was organised by Social Jurist, a civil rights group in collaboration with an NGO 'Chetnalaya'.


Although the historic Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 which came into force on April 1, 2010 ensures that all children between 6-14 years have access to free and quality elementary education, legislating laws is only half the work done.


The government has made a promise to millions of children and it is necessary to ensure that concerned authorities constantly assess the factors that go into preventing children from attending school. The government and local authorities are obligated to provide schools, set benchmarks, rules of implementation etc regarding various provisions of the Act.


It is understood that the Act aims at those who are not privileged enough to exercise their 'right' to quality education. It has become crucial to inculcate equality in our society where large scale disparity prevails. Therefore, every child is equal before law and all of them should have access to the same quality of education.


The responsibility of the concerned authorities does not end at bringing such children to school, the essence of the Act is that they actually attend school and complete their elementary education.


It is submitted that many children had problems with lack of infrastructure. Most of the government schools still do not have the most fundamental requirements like fans, furniture, doors, clean bathrooms etc.


The cases of the students surveyed are telling testimony to this lack of essential facilities.


Mustaq appreciates that his school has continuous water supply; but he complains that his school environment is unhygienic since garbage is rarely cleared.


Neha complains that their bathrooms are very dirty. It is extremely crucial to maintain hygiene in a study environment; children should not be ill and falling behind their attendance. It is relevant to submit that one of the major causes of large scale drop-out of the girl students is lack of hygienic toilet facility in the schools.


Shaheen attends classes which are carried out on the ground.


Jehangir complains that there are as many as 115 students in his class.


Another aspect that requires attention is the quality of the teachers being recruited by these schools.


The concerned authorities should have certain standards and norms for recruitment. Although a large number of teachers will be required to cater to the growing demand, it certainly does not mean that anyone who is qualified will or can become a teacher.


Teachers should be an ideal role model for their students. Teachers should be punctual and encourage curiosity. It is unfortunate that the teacher of Surraiya, Class VII, beats and hits her students.


Pravesh Kumar speaks of the indifference of teachers to gambling and bullying other students. One of the teachers of Shehnaz is always on the mobile phone while a teacher of Poonam makes them clear the garbage in school.


Every child should be encouraged to indulge in co-curricular and extra curricular activities regularly. This gives them the opportunity to develop their interest and take their mind off academics.


But it is unfortunate that the school of Kamal Hassan does not have a playground and Aslam cannot play because his playground is too dirty to use.


Another problem that requires immediate attention is provision of food at these schools. Priyanka and Firoza complain of the lack of food in their schools; they further say that those who distribute the food end up consuming more.


Many schools still do not have access to water and electricity.


Grave violations of the Act are taking place everyday. Shahnawaz was asked to take an admission test, which according to Section 13 of the Act cannot take place. He was deprived of admission in spite of having cleared the test. School authorities asked the parents of Sanjana to pay for her admission to class VI. There are many children like Rabri, Musharraf and Shahana who have constantly attempted to get admission in government schools but failed in their endeavour.


Access to education has been a constant struggle for the unprivileged and the disempowered. The State, it is worth recalling, was expected to bring all the children into school within ten years of the commencement of the Constitution but failed.


What ails government schools


 Many of the postcards were illegible and some were returned without anything written on them-proof that students are not being groomed properly and are not acquiring the required skills.


 Infrastructure remains a major bottleneck. Students ought to have access to clean water, toilet and regular electricity.


 A proper student-pupil ratio is neither determined nor maintained.


 Benchmarks need to be fixed, monitored and reviewed for evaluation of students and performance of teachers.


 Some teachers discourage students from raising questions.


 Some teachers physically abuse and mentally harass students.


 Some teachers insult the students.


 Teachers must stop using mobile phones in classrooms.


 Some teachers force children to clean the garbage.


 Some schools arbitrarily deny admission to the children.









IN Nilgiri district of Andhra Pradesh stands a school that can barely be called a school under the provisions of the 'Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009'.


It doesn't have most of the infrastructure the RTE Act prescribes as a "must" for elementary schools – a specified area, classrooms and playgrounds; it does not have qualified teachers as young tribals teach students in the local Gondi dialect ; it doesn't follow standard texts which RTE Act mandates to ensure uniformity in education across India.


Yet, located in a dense forest, Vidyodaya School attracts 100 adivasi students who daily walk around 16 kms to get here. Most of them have dropped out of government schools where they received free food, clothes, books and everything else they needed to get schooled. But what they missed was "education".


But now, under the Act, these children must get back to the system which has so long failed to deliver. Never mind consistently poor learning outcomes of government school children, the RTE Act depends heavily on these schools to achieve the entire goal of universal elementary education.


In the new system, Vidyodaya and thousands of other alternative schools working for marginalised communities across India, have no space despite the fact that they have thrived on innovation and produced the finest school education models for the never-served students. These schools have truly protected the child's right to not just get "schooled" but "educated".


The RTE Act, however, ignores the latter right. It is severely limiting in that it doesn't recognise home-based education, alternative education or any other form of education at a place other than neighbourhood schools defined in the Act.


The law, therefore, is more like a "Right to Free and Compulsory Schooling' rather than the right to education.

This limitation of RTE was recently acknowledged by Vinod Raina, member of the Central Advisory Board of Education (the highest decision making body for education in India) who was among the drafters of the Act, which now bars all education through open schooling system.


Until now, alternative schools like the ones being run by the Krishnamurthy Foundation in South India, were flourishing under the open schooling norm that provided external certification to educating 6 to 14 year olds, whether they are in school or not.


Since RTE Act replaces board examinations by Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation (CCE) in this age group and makes education in neighbourhood schools of minimum standards compulsory, open school certification will no longer be admissible. The National Institute of Open Schooling has already withdrawn its certification process for the 6 to 14 years group though the Government has decided to extend the certification period for some time.


 Eventually, the RTE Act would sound a death knell for alternative schools including the much-respected Rishi Valley of Andhra Pradesh, whose activity-based learning kit for students is in use in 7,500 schools across India. Under the law, schools need to hire teachers with D Ed, B Ed. or whatever certification is prescribed by the Government.


 Most alternative schools have teachers from the community who don't possess certificates but know the local language and produce children with better learning outcomes than those from government schools where only 54 per cent of 11 to 14 year olds were enrolled until last year.


Half of the primary students in rural government schools are three grades behind where they should be. Percentage of children in Class V in government schools who can read Standard class II text has been stagnant at 50 for the last four years. This is evidence enough that school buildings alone can't guarantee education.


 That's why India remains at the 105th position among 128 nations in the UNESCO's Education Development Index 2010 – the position it held nine years ago! Clearly, 10 years of World Bank funded District Primary Education Programme and SSA involving Rs 20,000 crore of expenditure has failed.


Last fortnight when HRD Minister Kapil Sibal during his Tamil Nadu visit was appreciating the Rishi Valley-crafted activity based learning kits for schools, one of the Valley's schools was facing closure notice from National Institute of Open Schooling's Open Basic Education Department which said RTE mandated that students be admitted only to the formal system. No longer can these schools function despite their contribution in terms of evolving new teaching methods, developing new curricula inspired by local cultures and employing local communities as educators


 With its over-emphasis on uniform teacher qualification through teacher training institutes whose quality remains suspect and on curriculum standardisation, the RTE Act, despite appearing child-friendly is actually promoting standard text book teaching. Such rigid interpretation of curriculum can cut at the root of genuine efforts at innovation in curriculum – the kind Gandhi stressed through "nai taleem".







The aviation minister lashed out at him in public. Others – the editors of a national daily; the Governor of Maharashtra – have waded in. They accuse Jairam Ramesh, the Environment Minister of State, of kowtowing to the "greens", an apparently brainless group that conveniently excludes local citizens, in their opposition to the Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA) project. Both green and brown must be sacrificed for the greater good of the airborne. 


CIDCO has produced a massive fivevolume Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report stuffed with a dizzying mass of data. In substance, the EIA report tells us three things: first, that Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) cannot handle future traffic; second, that Navi Mumbai is the only available site; and third, that the environmental damage here is insignificant. 


Each assertion is wrong. True, CSIA is the busiest in the country. But with growth in air traffic has also come a diversion of international flights direct to Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Kochi and elsewhere, all earlier routed through Mumbai. Though clearly relevant, this information, available with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, finds no place in CIDCO's EIA Report. 


The environmental impacts at the NMIA are anything but insignificant. The EIA report says that mangroves cover only 9.29 per cent of the project site's enormous 20.54 sq kms. This works out to a huge 477 acres under mangroves. This loss is to be compensated by mangrove afforestation. Where? In Dahanu, 140 kms to the north-west. Over a quarter of the site is mud flats. This is an ecologically fragile area and its destruction affects bird life and marine life, including fisheries on which much of the local population depends. Over 1800 ecologically sensitive acres are to be destroyed. 


Five rivers criss-cross the site. One has to be "trained", another diverted. When they "trained" and diverted the Mithi in Mumbai, the first thing that went underwater was the airport. 


The area is surrounded by hills. At least one hill (Ulve) is to be flattened entirely. But also mentioned are Matheran and Elephanta. The latter, a mere 13.5 kms to the west, is directly in the funnel of aircraft taking off and landing. Matheran, a notified Eco-Sensitive Zone, and the Karnala Bird Sanctuary are within a 20-km radius of the site. Aircraft will be as low as 2,200 feet above Elephanta, perhaps even less over Matheran. We are not told if this meets international air safety norms. It's as if Mangalore never happened. 


The report claims that a public hearing was conducted as mandated by law. It was not. The report itself was not made available before the date of the hearing, only the executive summary (a masterpiece of subterfuge) was. The hearing was completely boycotted by the local citizenry. Present were only CIDCO representatives, consultants and the press. The hearing is supposed to be public, not a tea party for friends and admirers. 


This is a monster project, and it is a greenfield project. That means everything must be built from scratch: the terminal, all facilities, parking aprons, runways, taxiways, the works. A fourth of the site is "non-aeronautical": hotels, warehouses, banks, offices, housing, shopping malls, convention and exhibition centres, and leisure and entertainment areas. 


Two thousand of the 2,054 ha need to be acquired. Ten settlements of 7 villages will be displaced. The EIA Report studies only two sites: the present location and the Rewas-Mandwa site that was formally abandoned years ago (the disused pre-War airfield at Kalyan is said to be too far, which is clearly untrue; it's only 15 kms further). Ignored is the one site that should have been considered, if Kalyan isn't an option: the Mumbai airport itself. Why is CSIA incapable of expansion? The answer suggests itself: because the government has allowed nearly 250 acres to be encroached. Who would want to risk lose the vote banks those encroachments represent? It is a cheaper, faster and more cost-efficient solution. No land needs to be acquired. It all belongs to the government. Rehabilitating encroachers on 247 acres is less expensive than acquiring 5,135 acres and resettling seven villages. CSIA does not need facilities and services to be newly built, merely expanded and renovated. 

Resettlement of encroachers on government land is not considered. Instead, the "public interest" lies in uprooting ten settlements somewhere else, pillaging the environment, risking damage to a world heritage site and an eco-sensitive zone. 


This much is true: a new airport is much sexier. So what if it is inconvenient and causes far more social and environmental damage? At over Rs 9,600 crore, it's enough to make any politician praful.



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The current situation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is a reminder, if such reminders are needed at all, that political initiatives need more than just cleverness to succeed. No one will deny that state chief minister Omar Abdullah and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram are among the cleverest and the most talented of Indian politicians. Yet, the reach of their heart is not as wide as the grasp of their mind. Between Mr Abdullah's nonchalance in office and Mr Chidambaram's penchant for resolute action, a five-year record of relative peace and gradual progress, during the term of UPA-1, has been wasted. Mercifully, in Kashmir, the "have-quote-will-shoot" Union Home Secretary G K Pillai has not confounded the confusion. Sadly, the state's Governor N N Vohra, who was the Government of India's special representative under two successive governments, and who stepped in to restore peace to a disturbed Jammu several months ago, has remained behind the scenes and has not been able to play a more helpful role in recent months. Perhaps the time for blame-game is long past. There is no point in asking who is responsible for the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Why was all the good work of six annual visits to the state by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, between 2004 and 2009, of the three Roundtables, of the development package, of the cross-LoC initiatives, of the dialogues with the Hurriyat, and of the conversations with the state's intellectuals, allowed to go waste? The Union government and indeed the state government are today paying the price of prevarication. Mr Abdullah and his swashbuckling father, now a Union minister, have not exactly been helpful in taking the process of reconciliation forward. Worse has been the role of Mr Abdullah's two predecessors, Congress party Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who put as many spokes as he could find in the wheels of reconciliation and empowerment that Prime Minister Singh tried pushing forward, and of the state's "elder statesman" Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and his irrepressible daughter Mehbooba Mufti — both beneficiaries of their party's tenure in office but now playing a dubious role.


With such allies and colleagues, why does the prime minister need any enemies or foreign hands to undo the progress he had made in his first term in office? Recall that fateful day in April 2005 when Dr Singh inaugurated the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service hours after cynical terrorists had attacked the bus station and tried to scare people away. People lined the route in thousands and cheered the first bus as it made its journey across the Line of Control. Then came local elections and provincial elections, and the great turnaround in public sentiment. When the development package was announced, it was received well, but the people of the state reminded the Union government that it was not by financial packages alone, nor by infrastructure schemes, that the issue of Jammu and Kashmir would get finally resolved. On top of this foundation of investment must come the edifice of empowerment and reconnection. Ideas to take these initiatives forward have been around for a long time. Yet, UPA-2 has been inert and disengaged. The few initiatives taken have not touched the hearts of the people. The time has come for the prime minister, who enjoys even now great popularity among the common folk of Kashmir, to speak to them in their language. Yes, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act may be difficult to repeal, but withdrawing the forces so that the Act has no jurisdiction is an option. Replace the armed forces with other security forces that can maintain law and order, and protect life and property. Undo the damage done by a series of security-obsessed orders that have come from the home ministry. Involve the separatists and all political parties in the dialogue with Pakistan.


The prime minister must go to Srinagar and walk its streets, and visit homes and meet people, even if they be angry and abusive, and seek to reach out to the youth of Kashmir, to Kashmir's mothers who mourn, to its traders and workers, farmers and students, and spell his vision out — the vision of "Naya Kashmir" — which is the only way to go. His plan must be out there in the open. It may well be attacked by opposition parties in India, by politicians in Pakistan and by hate-mongers on both sides. But the people of Kashmir will know that they have a future that will not only empower them politically, but also give them a great share in the prosperity of India. The Congress party underestimates the appeal of its prime minister in Kashmir. He is the first prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru who has been able to speak to the people of Kashmir in their language. His transparent sincerity and openness in dialogue have been greatly appreciated. Yet, unfortunately, Dr Singh has shied away from doing what he can and must. Perhaps there are some in the Congress party who think that a problem created by a Nehru that could not be solved by his daughter and grandson can only be solved by the scion of a new generation. That would be a pity, for the people of Kashmir are not going to wait endlessly for a new sun to rise. The time is here and now, and the prime minister must visit Kashmir before Independence Day and spell his vision for the state, unilaterally, without fear or favour. It is true that it takes two hands to clap, but sometimes there is merit in just raising one's hand in assurance and showing one's willingness to clap.


The people of Kashmir battle against an assortment of villains. The tragedy is that they have no heroes. Prime Minister Singh can be that hero, if he is willing to stand up and be the leader that he must become. India's prime minister is not just a CEO, not a mere executive head of government. He is the institutional expression of the nation's sovereignty, of the hopes and aspirations of all Indians, he is and must always remain the last word in government. If Dr Singh stands up and speaks to the people of Kashmir as the leader of the Indian people, he will be listened to with respect and trust. He has a message in his mind that must capture the hearts of the people of Kashmir, of India and, indeed, the sub-continent as a whole.







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.








Yellow Pages in New Zealand invited people to come and build a house out in the wilderness on a tree. One — Tracy — of 200 applicants was selected and her story of building the house using 65 suppliers off the Yellow Pages was followed on a regular basis as the campaign idea to promote Yellow Pages and its usefulness. Tracy's story was followed avidly on both traditional and new media as viewers got involved with her tears and joys of getting her tree-house restaurant going. The story made waves and, not surprisingly, the restaurant opened to full house in its initial weeks. But the brand — Yellow Pages — got so much mileage that both its awareness and usage jumped up exponentially. The Yellow-Tree house campaign went on to win a medal at Cannes.


Burger King asked its aficionados to sacrifice 10 friends on Facebook to get a Whopper free. In one week, the news spread like wild fire, two hundred thousand friends were sacrificed and the brand got millions of page views and eyeballs. The programme stirred a debate on the "ethics" of such an activity and Facebook had to finally take the offer off its pages. But with the sacrifice of the idea, the Whopper Sacrifice had established how tasty its burger was that 20,000 lovers were willing to give up friends for it; and many others had to think more than twice whether to join in. The campaign demonstrated insightfulness into Facebook — many of us just enjoy collecting friends and increasing numbers against our name even when we don't feel anything towards them.


 T-Mobile organised a flash mob in a London metro station at peak hour on a working day. Hundred dancers came together, all of a sudden, just as a flash mob, to dance uninhibitedly in the foyer of the station. Spectators around shot pictures of the dance and sent them to friends; others called friends to share what was going on and many others just joined in the madness and had moments of fun. All this was captured by cameramen and edited into a film that was later telecast as a T-Mobile film, capturing the brand's philosophy of joy of sharing. The event itself created a buzz and had media talking about it; the audio-visual kept the momentum going on the Web and traditional media. The advertising kept the media-editorial buzz going.


Finally, IKEA leveraged the tagging practice on Facebook to circulate, through a store manager's account, pictures of new furniture in its store. It ran a contest that said the first person who tagged an item could take it away free. Not surprisingly, friends shared the contest amongst themselves, alerting each other to claim an item fast. And, at no cost — beyond the costs of the items — IKEA spread the news of its promotion.


What's particularly fascinating about these four ideas is that besides being unconventional and using new media innovatively, they are ideas that scale through the buzz they create and are able to seamlessly use multiple media without having to actually execute them and pay for them. There is no new news in the product — except maybe IKEA — but the idea is so exciting that multiple media, including consumers themselves, pick it up and spread it. Controversy is part of only one of them — Whopper Sacrifice — the rest are just insightful of human behaviour and stories that have human interest that get people to be engaged and talking.


As we move into more cluttered media and commoditised brands, the challenge for communicators is to create ideas that build momentum for themselves. Stories have to be told in a way that gets viewers and readers to track them. Innovation is the name of the game. However, innovation needs to go beyond "gimmicks" that get you noticed but forgotten… very often noticed by only a few. Doing a live hoarding — having a catwalk on hoarding — or an innovative layout in press, or placing brand in programme is a step but a small one with no scale and hence little impact. Innovation is needed in thinking the idea itself rather than innovation in the execution of the idea.


There is much buzz about how Aamir Khan promotes his films and the blockbuster success of his last three films is partly attributed to innovative marketing of the films. There is no doubt that his films come with very interesting marketing ideas — Ghajini haircuts in salons, ushers with the same hairstyle, dolls and mannequins; his incognito visits to small towns to promote his film Three Idiots. All make for nice innovations in media. However, it's debatable how much these activities did go to create impact beyond salience — did they actually help persuade viewers to go and see the movies? Aamir Khan as a brand has enough equity and intrigue to get viewers to see the movie — such innovations helped break clutter to keep the new film top of mind.


Mainstream brands need to do more to engage and persuade viewers — many don't have Aamir Khanesque equities. There is need to develop new metrics to measure the effectiveness of ideas — beyond reach, comprehension and likeability. It's about the buzz power of the idea, the ability to get media and consumers talking and writing about it, either in the traditional editorial space or the new media space. It's about the engagement power of the idea — the ability to get consumers to track the story over a period of time.


A few years ago, Hutch, to promote a theatre festival — Rangshankara — in Bangalore, got actors to perform drama in youth hangouts. On the premises, a boy fought with another who he alleged was eyeing his girlfriend. It all appeared real — till it was revealed — to see more drama come to the theatre festival. The festival was sold out before it opened. It was bold, it was different and, not surprisingly, won all the awards in India and abroad — acknowledgement of its lateralness.


India is a different market. To get buzz and engagement on scale in a market of size 1.3 billion and as heterogeneous as India, is a challenge. But given the creative minds available in this country, it's certainly not insurmountable — go beyond gimmicks into impact.


Something worth thinking about.


The author is country head, discovery and planning, Ogilvy and Mather India. The Views expressed are personal. Contact at: 









Many years ago, when I was in graduate school, I remember carrying on a loud argument with someone in the college cafeteria, which ended when I said, "I don't believe in empirical evidence!" Later that evening, as I thought about the conversation, I realised that the research I was doing towards my PhD was all about collecting, collating and analysing empirical evidence.


 This conflict was certainly one of the seeds that led me to drop my research project, but as I moved on to other things — and, I might add, as I graduated from academics to reality — I learned that, whatever you feel about it philosophically, you can't hide from empirical evidence; you use huge amounts of it virtually every moment of your life.


And, of course, you can — sometimes — use empirical evidence to make money from markets.


Back in March 2009, I had noticed that the volatility of copper had risen substantially (8 per cent) above that of nickel. This was clearly an anomaly — the volatility of a material is an intrinsic property and on a long-term average basis, nickel volatility was nearly 15 per cent higher than that of copper. Again, every time the spread had turned positive, it reversed within a few months. Clearly, it was a good empirical bet to sell the spread, and, sure enough, in two months, it had returned to 16 per cent, which, with only modest leverage (5X), provided a wonderful annualised return of 85 per cent.


Unfortunately, that was a very exotic trade, extremely difficult to execute since the LME does not trade volatility independently (of options). I explored different ideas, but the huge volatility of both underlying assets made the basis risk much too high. So, it was just a good idea, but no cigar.


Today, however, there is another volatility-spread anomaly, which is much easier to express and could also result in some nice gains.


Since the middle of May this year, the volatility of the Sensex has been unusually holding a few per cent below that of the Dow. Now, emerging economy equity markets, like India, are usually more volatile — and sometimes much more volatile — than developed economy equity markets. Indeed, since the start of liberalisation of the Indian economy (in 1991), the volatility of the Sensex has been higher than that of the Dow for as many as 83 per cent of total trading days.


In fact, the spread (between Sensex and Dow volatility) has been negative only twice before. The first time it went negative was in July 2002, and it stayed negative for over a year (till August 2003). This was likely because the Indian market was in the earliest stage of development, when, amongst other limitations, foreign investment into equities was severely constrained. In other words, it hadn't really become a market yet — indeed, the four-week average of gross FII inflows crossed $500 million for the first time ever only in September 2003. As it turns out, if you had bought the Sensex (or the Dow) on each day that the spread was negative and held it for a year, you would have had an average return of 55 per cent (17 per cent)!


The second time the spread became negative was during the recent global crisis. Sensex volumes fell below Dow volumes in November 2008 and the spread stayed negative till March 2009. The reason for this deviation from the norm was quite obvious — with the epicentre of the crisis in the US, it was hardly surprising that the volatility of the Dow rose much more sharply than that of other markets (including India). Again, if you had bought either market on each day when the spread was negative and held for a year, your return would have been 83 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively. Incidentally, the default return since July 2001 — where you bought the index every day and held for a year — would have been 26 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively.


Now, here we are again — the volatility spread is negative, and, indeed, has reached its lowest level since 2004. So, does this mean that both markets are going to rally by substantially more than the default return of 26 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively, over the next 12 months?


Well, empirical evidence — admittedly a little thin — does point in that direction, even though it is hard to understand what the structural reason for this anomaly is. However, common sense suggests that there may be more causality for the Sensex than for the Dow.


So, depending on your belief level and your trading capabilities, you could a) go long Nifty futures; b) go long Nifty VIX and short US VIX, this would, of course, require an off-shore play; c) buy out-of-the-money Nifty calls.


And, send me a cheque in August 2011.










There must have been many things that prompted V Vaidyanathan to give up his cushioned existence at the ICICI Group, one of them being the challenge of a start-up kind of a job at Future Capital Holdings (FCH). Also, at 42, he was already the MD of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, but going up the ladder — that is moving to the corner office at ICICI Bank — would have been a very long wait.


Future Group Founder and CEO Kishore Biyani knew it would be tough to convince Vaidyanathan to shift base to FCH. So, apart from the job profile, his hard sell included a sumptuous sign-on bonus, also known as golden hellos — something that has made the 42-year-old Vaidyanathan the highest-paid non-promoter CEO in India.


He got two million warrants (convertible into FCH shares 18 months later) worth over Rs 47 crore. FCH allotted him shares at Rs 237 each and Vaidyanathan can convert them into equity shares 18 months from now. For the record, FCH shares have already risen 17.4 per cent to Rs 278.25 since the shares were allotted three days ago. And the value of those allotted to Vaidyanathan has appreciated to Rs 55.65 crore.


Golden hellos or compensation to prompt a critical talent to jump ship is nothing new. But they are making a huge comeback after a brief lull when companies applied brakes on their compensation budgets due to the economic slowdown.


HR consultants say, apart from retail, financial services and consumer goods companies, those in the new ICE sector — infrastructure, construction and engineering — are offering handsome golden hellos to prospective employees in senior and mid-level positions. "Getting a key employee in the door is becoming increasingly difficult, specially in industries that do not have enough talent bank. A salary of a few crores is suddenly looking like chump change in these companies, as their competitors can often pay more. What can often make a difference is a great sign-on or retention bonus," an HR consultant says.


Companies are obviously aware of that. LG, for example, has devised a retention bonus scheme for its middle and top management whereby a person can receive 100-150 per cent of his basic pay annually for three years. Dabur is offering additional stock options as retention bonus to a core team of senior employees.


Some companies such as Accenture offer graduates a large golden hello in two instalments, one smaller instalment at the start of their graduate scheme, and one larger at the end. Golden hellos have trickled down to the top B-schools as well. While no such data are available about Indian business schools, students from the London Business School topped the sign-on bonus chart by averaging $23,500, followed by IMD at $20,000 and Harvard at $15,000.


And executive search firms say golden hello-type packages are here to stay as the talent shortage in India is again so severe that only one in three vacant top slots can be filled. Even the time taken to fill senior positions has doubled to 120 days.


It's not India alone, companies all over the world are now willing to go that extra mile to attract key employees. Three months ago, Marks & Spencer (M&S) paid £15million (one of the biggest golden hellos in corporate history) to lure its new boss Marc Bolland away from Morrisons, which under his leadership became the fastest-growing supermarket in the UK.


Bolland got this amount despite the growing demand for more restraint in boardrooms amid the furore over bankers' bonuses. But M&S couldn't care less as the day Bolland's appointment was announced, M&S shares rose 6 per cent, while Morrison's sank 5 per cent.


Unilever, for example, paid its Chief Financial Officer Jean-Marc Huet a bonus of £3.28 million in cash and shares to compensate for the loss of incentives at his previous employer, Bristol-Myers Squibb. The cash award was paid when Huet joined the company, while the share award will vest over the next three years.


Stock options are considered the most effective component of golden hellos as there is invariably a lock-in option. Typical vesting periods range from one to three years and they are tied to the performance of the organisation. If executives leave before becoming fully vested, they would have to kiss every rupee of the hello goodbye — a reason why golden hellos are often referred to as golden handcuffs.


Some companies also use other forms of stock such as phantom stock under which employees do not get actual stock or stock options but credits an account with units of such stock for which the employee receives a certain payout if he stays for a certain period.


Planning a full-proof golden hello package is important. Vedanta learnt it the hard way when its ex-chairman Brian Gilbertson made merry with golden hellos. Gilbertson, who received a £7million golden hello from Vedanta, which was then planning a float in the UK, left in just six months. Reason: he keenly responded to another gilt-edged "hello" from Russia's leading aluminium producer, Sual.









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.


 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.








STATES are threatening to derail the rollout of the goods and services tax (GST) from April next year, if the Centre infringes on their rights. Any further delay in implementing GST is bad news. However, states cannot be blamed for wanting to safeguard their powers of taxation. They must retain the flexibility to change GST rates if they want to. The Centre should, therefore, drop the proposal to amend the Constitution to grant itself a veto on rate changes made by states. The proposal is tantamount to the Centre taking over the states' fiscal powers. This is unacceptable in a federal structure. The concerns voiced by states, including Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh and Haryana, over the proposed constitutional amendments, should be addressed. The rollout of GST can start only if states come on board, willingly. In fact, the remarkable distance the federal polity has travelled on GST is thanks to the good work done by the empowered committee of state finance ministers, ably chaired by West Bengal's Asim Dasgupta. Let that spirit of cooperative federalism prevail in the rest of the GST rollout as well. 

The Centre and the states have already reached a consensus on a dual GST, comprising a central GST and state GST. The agreement is welcome. The three-year plan to move to a single rate of 16% — 8% each for goods and services — is also a pragmatic step. Improvements can always be made in the design. However, multiple rates are not necessarily inimical to GST — tax credits will be available across the value chain and on inter-state transactions. Value-added tax in the European Union works well without uniform rates in member states. States that levy higher rates will only persuade manufacturers to locate themselves elsewhere. And states would restrain one another from a race to the bottom. A GST Council, with a majority representation from the states, would be a useful forum for the Centre and the states to collectively imbibe fiscal sense from amongst themselves. Democracy works on the strength of constant dialogue, and mutual give-andtake, not by enhancing the level of centralisation in an already over-centralised polity.







THE most exciting ferment to stir up rural India after Amul cheese has been business process outsourcing (BPO). Wednesday's feature in this paper on rural BPOs paints a picture of a dynamic segment of the fast-growing BPO industry, slated to scale up to 1,000 centres employing 1,50,000 people, from the 50 centres employing 5,000 people now. What drives this scorching pace of growth is the self-same combination of enabling technology and cost arbitrage that created the BPO industry in the first place. After high costs — rents, wages, attrition — forced BPOs to look at tier-II towns, a few of the more enterprising among them started setting up centres in rural areas, where all costs are significantly lower. Skills are available in smaller concentrations at each location, but technology can allow many such small locations to be coordinated to create virtual large centres, at a fraction of the traditional cost. Hundreds of thousands of rural youth would find organised sector work, even larger numbers of indirect jobs would be created. To begin with, simple activities such as data entry, data and bill processing, and document verification can be entrusted to those who have completed high school. Labour costs are just about half (`4,000-4,500 per month) of what would have to be paid for the same job in an urban centre. Freed of some routine tasks that can be handled by the rural centres, BPO companies can then focus on higher-value work, leveraging the analytical and processing skills of urban employees. 


 Cost advantage is not enough to encourage companies to venture into smaller towns or semi-rural areas. For the rural BPOs to effectively function as spokes of a hub in an urban centre, high-speed data connectivity and power supply will be critical. Incentives provided by state governments too can accelerate the process. Karnataka, for instance, gives 50% rebate on internet connections and 10,000 per candidate to the entrepreneur who plans to set up a rural centre. Tamil Nadu may follow suit. More significant, however, would be infrastructure inputs.








ACLEVER bit of lexpionage has revealed a cache of nonversational English words that are just waiting to enter common parlance. It is not inconceivable the 6 lakhodd words that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says comprise the gamut of English wordage cannot encompass the entirely of human expression; more so since the inclusion of new words depends not on their existence but on the frequency of their usage. Hence, there is a vast bunch of words-in-waiting that, for want of more extended usage, languish, awaiting their call to arms. We can only thank the persistent researcher who discovered them in the exalted OED's vaults, for so many of these words do indeed beg a wider audience. It is not clear whether the few words that he has extracted from the huge reserve are spontaneous originals or inventions of some clever wordsmith. Either way, the quirky, liveliness of the words effectively belie their depiction as dead, and of the vault, as a tomb. If anything, they are word-embryos in suspended animation in a womb and certainly deserve a birthing. After all, isn't lexpionage an apt description for the act of sleuthing around for new words and/or phrases? As for nonversation, for anybody who has been an unwilling party to an obtuse interlocution, there could be no better word. Whinese is exactly what plaintive children express themselves in and optotoxical are the resultant looks that the whiners get from their parents. The perishable items that people place on the very top of shopping baskets are indeed smushables, everyone hates griefers who prowl around on the internet harassing others, and most Indian drivers are guilty of pregreening when they inch forward before the traffic light changes from red. 


 Instead of secreting these words in some subterranean cave, the OED could perhaps consider doing the language a service and put likely candidates up for adoption within a stipulated time. If they are taken up, then English speakers can only benefit. If they are rejected, they can be safely buried, rather than kept in indefinite limbo.






 THE Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once said that the Palestine-Israel conflict was also important in what it revealed about Israeli society, about what Zionism had done to the Jewish psyche. It is, without doubt, in times of extreme stress and conflict that a people, a nation, or just even a political system, both manifests its deepest urges, its driving forces, and its core aspirations. Taking that piece of historical wisdom, the current strife in Kashmir is, at heart, also about the battle over the content and essence of Indian polity and democracy. Without much hyperbole, India is facing an uprising in Kashmir. Or, at least, the latest outburst in Kashmir's contemporary narrative of rage and resistance. And, like before, like always, the state has so far responded with brute force. The sole departure from the past being that both the sheer intensity of the protests and the exceptional brutality of the response — given that it is mostly children and teenagers who have been gunned down — seems to have taken even certain sections within Indian society by surprise. The big question, however, is whether New Delhi realises that something new, a potent political challenge, has arisen in Kashmir, and whether the response now will be political or, in continuing mutilation of Indian democratic principles, purely based on disciplining and punishing Kashmiris. 


 For that, in effect, is what the situation is on the ground. If one were to take the eruption of the militancy in 1989 as the starting point, through the years of the armed forces re-establishing and asserting their supremacy, and the gradual shifting of Kashmiri resistance on to a political terrain, New Delhi's overall response could well be termed one of the longest pacification campaigns of the century. But that has certainly not lessened the political reality, the political problem, which lies at the heart of the Kashmir issue and is one of the main reasons for the emergence of the phenomenon of an intifada-like situation in the Valley. Indeed, recent events have highlighted the limitations and sheer myopia of total and utter reliance on force to deal with protests in Kashmir. Despite thepresence of overwhelming force and coercion, Kashmiri protestors persevered. This not only threw the state government into crisis, but also forced a virtual closing of ranks among the separatist leadership, while firmly bringing back the sentiment for azadicentrestage. Now that that slogan is once again the main rallying cry in the Valley, New Delhi must ponder just what two decades of a massive counter-insurgency effort has yielded. 


 Of course, the protests have an immediate catalyst. The unabated killing of civilians has been fuelling the rage in the streets on a day-to-day basis. And it's not even as if bullets and teargas canisters aimed at the upper part of the body are the sole methods of causing fatalities. A few days ago, a seven-year-old boy was bludgeoned to death by the police and paramilitary forces in Srinagar — literally pulped to death by lathis and rifle butts. Faced with that sort of savagery, with not much by way of condemnation or concern expressed by Indian civil society at large — leave alone a state government seen as the instrument of a wider policy to curb protests and dissent at all costs — vast sections of Kashmiris seem to have relapsed into a firm belief that only by continuing such protests, despite the enormously high costs entailed, can they force some sort of political breakthrough. 


THAT desperate thinking and situation is also a manifestation of a wider failure to actually try and comprehend contemporary Kashmir. The security paradigm in the state operates on the principle of force and fear, the belief that a Kashmiri can neither understand any other language nor be controlled by any other means. This wholly negates or prevents the state from realising that the years of strife and violence have bred a generation of Kashmiris that is politically aware, conscious of the rupture between the state's discourse of rights and citizenship and the daily violence and denial of those rights in their own lives. This generation, weaned on a constant state of violence, also seems to have internalised it, and somewhat transcended the elementary fear it normally generates. Their desperate fight, as it were, isn't merely against that violence. The stone-pelting isn't just a reaction to the structural violence that permeates their lives. The protests aren't only about staking claim to the rights that a professedly democratic entity offers its citizens. Rather, they are also about the deep-rooted desire of the Kashmiris for a resolution, a political resolution, for their long-festering problems. 


The protests are also about resisting the obfuscations, the dissembling that accompanies the denial of that political reality in Kashmir. The new generation of Kashmiris is perfectly aware of how official narratives, ably assisted by an overtly nationalistic media, twist and distort their realities, of how there is a constant delegitimisation of the causes, means and forms of expression of their political reality. 


 For them, the insanity of the police or the CRPF repeatedly, day after day, shooting to kill — even as the most basic of security doctrines and methodologies would aver that the sort of protests seen in Kashmir do not warrant firing bullets — isn't some temporary, aberrant reaction. Rather, it is seen as the official, sanctioned, and thought-out reaction by a state out to wholly suppress them. That awareness or line of thinking has also peculiarly, though not un-understandably, led to a stiffening and hardening of their will to resist. 

Given all that, it is a moot point whether the strife and violence in Kashmir will end. It certainly may happen, given the overwhelming nature of the security apparatus, that the protests are quelled for now. But that will again prove a temporary measure, an enforced peace waiting for the next event to rupture it again. Any incipient moves to break this cycle also cannot realistically emerge from Kashmir. That responsibility lies primarily with the state. With the elements within the political class which, aware of the depth of the problem, might genuinely seek a political resolution, some form of a dialogue. 


Elements who realise the mutilation of democracy, of the very fabric of Indian society, that is entailed in using such force upon a population. The results of a genuine effort on that front might be surprising. For, one of the best-kept secrets is that were such a process to emerge, with real intent, the average Kashmiri would probably prove to be far more flexible in seeking political solutions that what the images of an enraged mob suggest.








Director, Institute of J&K Affairs Decentralisation will reconcile aspirations 


WHETHER it is Omar Abdullah's government or it is replaced by Governor's rule, it is important to know that the present revolt is essentially of the teenagers against the leaders — both separatists and mainstream — armed with stones. They use Internet, Twitter, Facebook, etc, to mobilise support and spread their message. The only model that seems to inspire them is that of Itafada in Palestine where youth used stones as their main weapon of revolt with which they are in touch through modern technology. Some - ed with the leaders of the teenager movement instead of dialogue offers to all leaders of older generation to understand the causes of their frustration and desperation. 


 The way the movement grew from a small group of teenagers into a mass upsurge has its own lesson. Tuffail Ahmad, who was not part of a small procession, was killed when a teargas shell fired on the procession was hit. Then a vicious circle started of protest against killing being fired upon killing another boy followed by further protest. 

 First of all, police and CRPF should be equipped with modern techniques of dealing with crowds to disperse them without killing anyone. An independent enquiry should be held soon after every incident. Supporters of Azadi, the popular slogan in Kashmir, should be allowed to hold demonstrations as long as these are peaceful as Ali Shah Geelani, the so-called leader of the hardliners, has advised the youth. 


The present centralised and regimented system is a major source of discontent in one region or the other. A federal and decentralised system alone can reconcile aspirations of all regions and ethnic identities of the most diverse state of the country. The power to take decisions about relevant matters at all levels will also satisfy the urge of Azadi to a great extent. Similarly, the state government should consider allowing the jurisdiction of the National Human Rights Commission, RTI Commission, National Women Commission and other Union institutions that protect Azadi of the people in their respective fields.







AS ASIA rebounds from the global economic crisis and resumes rapid economic growth, a big question will be whether Asia will lead the world in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — a set of eight broader development goals for 2015 to which world leaders signed on in 2000 at the United Nations. At a meeting held in Jakarta on August 2-3, Asian ministers and experts discussed the region's progress and strategies to accelerate it. Progress on the MDGs can be described as uneven — some good, some bad and some ugly. 


First, the good news: Asia has succeeded in the aggregate in reducing poverty since 1990 by some 500 million people. The global crisis of 2008-09 has halted this progress and may even increase the number of poor by 30-40 million people. As growth is restored, poverty reduction will resume although with a lag and those that fell back into poverty will need greater support to climb back. 


Asia has also made good progress on education: particularly on enrolment, and quite noteworthy is the increase in girl enrolment. Infant mortality has also declined and helps explain the rise in life expectancy in the region as immunisation programmes have been successfully rolled out in many parts of Asia. More than half of Asia's population now has access to safe drinking water. 


Now to turn to the bad, much less progress has been made on health indicators such as maternal mortality, as well as on sanitation and environmental goals. In many Asian countries, well-organised health systems, especially in rural areas, did not exist. 


Even in those that did, like China and Vietnam, they had deteriorated and out-of-pocket expenditures rose to amongst the highest in the world. Basic sanitation has also not been accorded the highest priority in many parts of Asia, leading to greater propensity of health epidemics. While per-capita carbon footprint in many parts of Asia remains small because of low incomes, the carbon intensity of development in Asia remains high and China is now the largest consumer of energy in the world. Degradation of land and water systems also has a worrisome trajectory. 


Growth has helped reduce poverty but rising inequality in almost every country in Asia has enhanced social tensions and reduced the potential impact of growth on poverty reduction. Had inequality remained the same as in 1990, another 300 million people could have climbed out of poverty for the same level of growth. 


Incomes at the top of the distribution have grown faster than those at the bottom. Though reasons behind rising inequality are complex, some broad themes emerge. First, there has been a relative neglect of the agriculture sector by the development community both at the national and international levels. Second, globalisation processes favour skilled labour against unskilled labour — leading to slower growth of wages among the poor. 


There is also the ugly side to the Asia story: that of hunger and malnutrition, with almost 600 million people going to bed hungry everyday. The irony is that over this period, Asia has eliminated the scourge of famines and per-capita food grain availability has increased, yet hunger affects millions. Asia's social assistance programmes and food subsidy systems have not succeeded in reaching these hungry people. 

 The massive rise in food prices in 2006-08 had a hugely-disproportionate effect on the poor, with the bottom quintile seeing a decline in purchasing power by 24% versus only a decline of 4% of purchasing power for the top quintile. Well-targeted conditional-cashtransfer programmes, such as those in Latin America, and cash-for-work programmes, such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme in India, could help the hungry get the minimum needed to avoid hunger and keep their children sufficiently nourished. 

The resources and political will exist in Asia to fix these problems. As world leaders gather in September at the UN for the MDG Summit, there is much to learn from Asia and much to be gained by renewing the political will within Asia to try and accelerate progress on the MDGs. 


In the rapidly-growing export-led economies of Asia, reducing inequality by ensuring a much more inclusive development strategy, improving social protection for health, old age and natural disasters is vital for ensuring that those who get out of poverty do not fall back into it permanently. 
    Greater regional integration is vital to ensure that the benefits of rapid growth in the region benefit all. Free trade agreements are stitching together, slowly but gradually, a common market, but pan-Asian infrastructure still lags behind and is vital to ensure that prosperity spreads across Asia. Above all, Asia must begin systematically to address social and cultural inequities — gender, caste and ethnic — to ensure that not only will huge progress be made to achieve MDGs by 2015 but that an Asian renaissance will be triggered to lead to an Asian century. 

 (The author is UN assistant secretary general   and UNDP regional director for Asia-Pacific)


With the economic crisis monster dead in Asia and growth setting in, it is time to snap back into development mode 

While the continent has made progress in poverty reduction and education, health and sanitation remain sore points 

Inclusive development and addressing inequities will lead to elimination of hunger and to the Asian century








SO THIS novitiate goes up to the Master and asks, "Revered One, what is more important: origins or endings? The source or the destination? The foundation or finish?" The meditating Master opens his eyes, looks at him sadly and says, "Since it seems we both have very little else of the trivial to dwell on today, let me recount a fable." 


 Now, it came to pass, he recounts, that two migratory species of birds happened to be travelling in opposite directions at the same time of the year. One species, a snowbird, was journeying away from the arctic area of the northern hemisphere when winter froze the land even more frigid, to the warmer south; the other, a sandbird, left the antipodal Antarctic as summer set in and went to the north seeking more coolth. 

Unbeknownst to them, however, their reasons for undertaking such an immense excursion were identical: they needed more comfort from their environment in order to reproduce and lay eggs and be able to find food to nourish the new hatchlings. 


 But birds of course, as we all know, have a very short memory. Meaning whatever they will be doing at any moment they think they have always been doing for as long as they can remember. Thus, when the two great flocks inevitably crossed each other midway, they thought they had always been crossing each other since the beginning of time and, thus, always fighting over territorial rights of flight path and resources such as flying insects. 


 And out of this, a great mutual loathing grew. For each, the 'others' became the hateful 'them'. Many were the skirmishes that took place in the air, several birds from both sides got injured and hundreds fell out of the sky. 


 "Proceed no further, Revered One!" interrupts the novice, "I get it. It all becomes clear to me. My eyes are opened. The real reason for each flocks' deeper dislike for the other flock was they were travelling in the opposite direction towards what was perceived by each as their origin and not good whereas they themselves were travelling towards their destination which was good. 


 So, each had to perceive the other as misguided and in the wrong. Which naturally means the ends don't necessarily justify the means… or at least, there is no meaning in the end… or our beginnings are our ends… or, no, wait, I mean the other way around. Er, I think." 


 "Something like that," says the Master and closes his eyes again.






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The announcement from Bombay House, headquarters of the Tata group, that a five-member team had been formed to find a successor to Ratan Tata, the group's current chairman, is not really a surprise. It is nevertheless welcome, and will be avidly watched by India Inc with much curiosity, awe and scepticism. The succession issue is a tremendous challenge in India, with the available pool of chairmen and chief executive officers rather shallow and short of talent when it comes to running a global conglomerate. Throwing the succession open to the world is something that has not been done before in this country. While the first formal announcement of a search team was made this week, it was known for some time that the House of Tatas was informally on the lookout for a new chief. Mr Ratan Tata is not due to retire till December 2012, so there is a long lead time. In fact, the group's stipulated retirement age of 70 had to be tweaked up to 75 as no suitable successor could be identified to take over from Mr Tata, who has proved a visionary — taking the Tatas to new global heights, both in reach and complexity. While the name of the chairman's step-brother Noel, also a Tata, has been floating as a possible successor every time he is elevated to a new position in the group, there has never been any finality. There is also one sensitive issue involved regarding Noel: that he is also the son-in-law of the group's single largest shareholder. It is presumed this can only weigh in his favour, also his choice would carry forward the Tata name. It will be the search team's task to finalise the criteria on the basis of which the hunt will be conducted, both within and outside India. While the choice of someone currently working for the group is not ruled out, Mr Tata himself has stressed time and again that the group could be headed by an outsider, and even by a foreigner — now that it was a truly global conglomerate. Wednesday's announcement has nevertheless sent ripples across business circles in India. The country's biggest corporate groups are mostly family owned: succession, therefore, is usually not an issue or at least not visible in public. In cases where a founder-promoter does not anoint a successor, there can be mammoth problems — as evident in the case of Reliance. The one time a family promoter tried to get in a professional, the move did not last too long. Parvinder Singh, Ranbaxy's promoter, appointed a professional D.S. Brar to head the corporation, which the latter did with great success, making Ranbaxy what it is today. He then appointed another professional as his successor, but this was not liked by the original promoter's sons, who then took over. Among professionally-run companies, Infosys has seen the mantle of leadership pass seamlessly from N.R. Narayana Murthy to Nandan Nilenkani, and onward... but this is more an exception than the rule. The Tatas' move is not that rare in international circles, but never heard of in this country.








In the aftermath of last month's foreign minister-level talks between India and Pakistan, there has been some understandable concern expressed by Indian commentators and Opposition politicians about whether we should be talking to Islamabad at all.


We are talking, the critics say, to a civilian government that is either unable or unwilling to restrain the terrorist attacks upon us. Why waste time on a government hamstrung by its own weakness in the face of an implacable military — a military long accustomed to calling the shots in Pakistan? Such a government, the critics say, is hardly a valuable peace partner.


There is no doubt, of course, that a climate of peace can only be built on a foundation of trust, unimpeded by the use or the threat to use terror as a means to achieving narrow ends. British Prime Minister David Cameron recently reminded Pakistan that it could not win the respect of the world so long as it condoned the export of terror to India. To acknowledge that trust does not exist right now, however, is not to suggest that trust can never be built. The differences that bedevil our relations with Pakistan can be surmounted if we can arrive at mutually acceptable parameters that can define our relationship in the future. Terrorism is certainly not one of those parameters. The terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 were a great setback on the path of normalisation. It will take concerted and credible action by Pakistan on two fronts to set things right: action to bring the conspirators and perpetrators of this dastardly attack to justice, and action to begin dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism, the platform from which so many attacks have been launched against our country in the last two decades.


If these are done, India will respond; as our Prime Minister has said in Parliament, if Pakistan takes the first step, we will meet them more than half way. But only credible action by Islamabad will instil a modicum of confidence in the people of India that dialogue is worthwhile and that our neighbours are as determined as us to give peace a chance. If such action is taken — for instance, against individuals and organisations known to be fomenting violence against India — the basis for building trust again can be laid.


The UN Secretary-General's spokesperson recently came in for some opprobrium in India for suggesting that the "composite dialogue" should be revived. It was following the commitment made by Pakistan in January 2004, that it would not permit territory under its control to be used to support terrorism against India in any manner, that a composite dialogue process was resumed at that time.


The dialogue covered eight subjects: peace and security, including confidence-building measures; Jammu and Kashmir; terrorism and drug trafficking; friendly exchanges; economic and commercial cooperation; the Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project; Sir Creek; and Siachen. That six-year-old commitment by Pakistan is in shreds, given the overwhelming evidence of the involvement of elements in Pakistan in executing the Mumbai terror attacks, and in the conspiracy that planned, funded and launched it. Besides, an increase in ceasefire violations, continued infiltration across the Line of Control and the attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008 and October 2009, as well as the murderous assault this year on a residence housing Indian aid workers, have also placed immense strain on India-Pakistan relations in general and on the dialogue process in particular. Pakistan's evasive responses and denials in response to our requests for cooperation in exposing the conspiracy behind the Mumbai terror attacks and bringing all its perpetrators to justice have led to a sadly evident deterioration in bilateral relations. That is why there has been a pause in the composite dialogue process.


In recent months there have been high-level statements from Pakistan seeking the resumption of the dialogue process and about Pakistan itself also being a victim of terrorism. Our position, first articulated by our Prime Minister in Parliament a year ago, is that we can have a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan only if they fulfil their commitment, in letter and spirit, not to allow their territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India. The inability or unwillingness of the Pakistani government to prevent its soil from being used to mount attacks on another state seriously undermines its own sovereignty, not just its credibility.


As good neighbours, Indians should be saddened by the continuing incidents of terrorist violence in Pakistan; we must wish Islamabad well in its efforts to repel militancy and fanaticism within its own borders. We would welcome indications that Islamabad shares our view that the forces of terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil are indivisible and that those plotting attacks on India from Pakistani territory are as much the enemies of Pakistan as they are of India.


From such a diagnosis, the only possible prescription is that of co-operation, to build peace and security together. We hope that those who rule that country will make that diagnosis, and share the same prescription.


It is frankly preposterous to hear Pakistanis arguing that their actions are impelled by an "Indian threat". To put it bluntly, there is no Indian threat. Pakistan has nothing that we want to wrest by force. India does not covet any Pakistani territory. Because we wish to focus on our own people's development and prosperity in conditions of security, we remain committed to long-term peace with Pakistan.


If the civilian government in Islamabad sees that the need is for concerted action against terrorists wherever they operate, whether in Pakistan, in India or in Afghanistan, we can find common ground. Our willingness to talk will best be vindicated by their willingness to act. Trust can be earned, which is why peace must be pursued. But we must pursue peace with our eyes wide open.


* Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency








I experience an electrifying culture shock upon arrival in Lhasa. Not because it is so different to what I'm used to in London, but because it is so similar. Having been raised on a diet of Tintin in Tibet and other tall tales of a snowcapped mountainous land inhabited by a mystical people, I was expecting a paranormal experience, monks in snowboots, maybe even a yeti or two.

So imagine my surprise when I notice that the Tibetan man driving me from Lhasa airport to my hotel is wearing a Playboy jacket. Which he might have bought at the Playboy shop that I later see in central Lhasa, near the Nike shop, the Tibet Steak House, and a casino in which young Tibetan men in leather jackets, hair spiked skywards, try their luck at the slot machines.


Far from being possessed of a super-human serenity, the capital of Tibet bumps and grinds to the same sounds heard in cities around the world: the honking of car horns, the screeching of motorbike tyres, the loud flirtations of young men and women. We all know that the Chinese rulers of Tibet rain misleading propaganda upon us.


They refer to their invasion of Tibet in 1950-51 as "The Peaceful Liberation" and their instalment of a Stalinist regime in the following decade as "The Democratic Reform". They have labelled the Lhasa riots of 2008 — during which angry young Tibetans attacked the property of what they see as the privileged Han Chinese immigrants — as "The March 14th Incident", failing to account for what fuels the fury of a significant number of Lhasaites.


Yet Western Tibetophiles, those largely posh lovers of all things Tibetan, mysterious and Dalai Lama-related, have also sown a whole lot of BS about Tibet. Their depiction of Tibet as a unique paradise packed with softly smiling monks and childlike men and women is as skewed — and patronising — as any piece of Chinese misinformation.


Right from the publication of James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon in 1933, which invented the idea of Tibet as "Shangri-La", to the pro-Tibet fawning of modern celebs such as Richard Gere, Sharon Stone and Prince Charles, the popular image of Tibet is, in the words of one academic Tibetologist, as "somehow outside the rest of the world".


Gere, who follows the Tibetan Buddhist religion, says Tibetan culture has a "resonance and a sense of mystery" and says you can find "beingness" in Tibet (apparently you can't really "be" anywhere else).


The American writer Donald S. Lopez Jr, a stinging critic of the narcissistic ramblings of Western Tibetophiles, says they have ended up depicting the Tibetan people as "super-humans" (and the Chinese as "subhuman") who live in a "peaceful land devoted only to ethereal pursuits".


It's balls. Ethereal pursuits? One of the first places I visit is the Tibet Green Barley Brewery just outside Lhasa, the highest brewery in the world, where they churn out 470,000 cans of delicious beer a day. Tibetans lap it up. And over the past month they've lapped it up while watching the World Cup. The young bespectacled Tibetan showing me around the brewery says Tibetans "love beer and football", which might come as a shock to those who think they only love meditating and spinning prayer wheels.


Of course Tibet has some striking cultural traditions and its fair share of religious devotion. Out of a population of 2.9 million, 46,000 — around 1.5 per cent — are Buddhist monks and nuns. When I visit Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa, Tibetan Buddhism's holiest site, I see more and more of these saffron-clad monks and nuns and also ordinary Tibetans, very poor-looking ones, fully prostrating themselves on the ground in devotion to the Buddha, their heads stained with mud and their faces red and raw as a result. But most inhabitants of Lhasa are not like that.


The problem with the Tibet-patronising activists of the West is that they hate Chinese rule in Tibet for all the wrong reasons. They hate it not so much for its authoritarianism or its deprivation of democracy, but because they don't like the fact that it is modernising what they fantasise to be a perfect eco-garden of calm and stillness. So Free Tibet UK slams China's "large-scale infrastructure projects" in Tibet, including its construction of the vast Gormo-Lhasa railway which connects the Qinghai province of China to the Tibetan capital, despite the fact that it created thousands of jobs for Tibetans and has improved trade. Such projects, complain Free Tibet UK, "erase existing socio-cultural differences between China (and Tibet)" — in short, they harm Tibetan culture, which should be always pure and innocent, not dirty and modern.


Patronisingly, Richard Gere says that as a result of Chinese intervention in Tibet, the Tibetan people have "lost their focus". Yes, they're drinking beer and buying Nike products instead of sitting in the lotus position for 20 hours a day.


Tibetans are furious at the implication that they should live simply and frugally for the benefit of wealthy Westerners who would like to be able to visit an unspoiled Shangri-La once every couple of years. A Tibetan museum worker tells me: "It's always the people who live most comfortably who would like Tibet to remain stuck in the Middle Ages". Tibetophilia has always been about well-to-do Westerners trying to escape what they see as soulless modernity by running off to a fantasy paradise.


They want to keep Tibet as their own personal museum, to preserve it in cultural formaldehyde, to freeze it in time. As Philip Rawson said in Sacred Tibet, "Tibetan culture offers powerful, untarnished and coherent alternatives to Western egotistical lifestyles, our short attention span, our gradually more pointless pursuit of material satisfactions..."








Ninety per cent of India's commerce is by sea. At present, 60 per cent of our seaborne trade moves (and comes from) Westwards to Africa, Europe and the US, while 40 per cent moves Eastwards (and comes from) across the Asia-Pacific region. Hence, maritime developments impacting seaborne trade (e.g. Gulf of Aden piracy or the rising maritime tensions in the Asia-Pacific region) need to be monitored closely, and counter measures taken to safeguard our national interests, keeping in mind that sea power takes generations to build up and is directly linked to our national prosperity and security.


The recent spate of events in the seas bordering China and its neighbours (US-South Korea Navy exercises in the Sea of Japan, and the Chinese Navy weapon firing exercises in the South China Sea) have once again highlighted the importance of sea power in the Asia-Pacific region. A few weeks earlier, the US Navy conducted large-scale exercises with other Asia-Pacific regions, and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton sought to internationalise the South China Sea territorial disputes because global commerce flows through it.


Conventional wisdom lists seven "essentials" for a nation to become a great sea power. These are, large size of country, large population, geographic location to dominate sea trade routes, at least two coasts, science-technology-industry, seafaring tradition, and political will of the government to exploit sea power in the national interest.


China does not meet three of the seven "essentials" for sea power, but is striving to overcome these handicaps. Firstly, China has historically not been a seafaring nation, but is learning fast and today its sailors are sailing the world's oceans on merchantmen, fishing trawlers and warships.


Secondly, though sea commerce flows through the China and Yellow seas, China cannot completely dominate the sea trade routes due to the presence of other modern littoral states.


Thirdly, China has just one coast facing Eastwards, and its exit to the Pacific Ocean "can be blocked" by South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. Its exit southwards towards the Indian Ocean requires it to pass close to Vietnam, and then through the choke points of the straits of Singapore-Malacca, Sunda and Lombok. Almost 90 per cent of China's oil requirements are imported from West Asia and Angola, and these move by ship through the Indian Ocean choke points which can be blocked in the event of war.


But China has taken the following measures in an attempt to become a global sea power:


* A combination of technology and innovation is being used by China in an ongoing experiment to detect and target "enemy" warships at sea, at long ranges using the 1,800-km range land-based DF-21 ballistic missile, with terminal homing. If the DF-21 experiment succeeds, the concept of sea power will change globally since a similar experiment can later be attempted with the 8,000-km range DF-31 and the 14,000-km range DF-41. The target data for the missiles could be provided by a combination of long range "over the horizon radars" using high frequency "sky waves" along with indigenous satellites for surveillance, communications and navigation data.


* Ongoing attempts to make the South and East China seas its territorial waters, and thus attempt to control international shipping movement, while exploiting the mineral, oil and fishing wealth. On May 16, 2009, China imposed a "summer fishing ban" in the South China Sea and sent ships to enforce this ban, overriding Vietnamese protests about traditional fishing rights. On January 5, 2010, China announced tourism packages to some disputed and uninhabited islands in the South China Sea. On February 9, 2010, China announced new oil and gas fields in the South China Sea, while its similar "finds" in the East China Sea led to Japan appealing to an international maritime court. On April 13, 2010, a flotilla of 10 Chinese warships and submarines passed between the international waters of Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa to exercise in the South East Pacific (On July 4, 2010, two Chinese warships repeated this deployment). On June 30, 2010, China announced a six-day live ammunition firing exercise by its Navy in the East China Sea.


* China has financially, militarily and technologically supported two nuclear armed nations (Pakistan and North Korea) to act as its proxies which will, respectively, "distract and engage" India, Japan and South Korea.


* After the failure of half-a-century of coercive diplomacy, China has set out to woo Taiwan. The recent June 29, 2010, ECFA (Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement) to reduce or eliminate tariffs on 539 Chinese items and 267 Taiwanese items, is financially advantageous to Taiwan, but if China eventually achieves reunification with Taiwan, than it removes one strategic geographical obstacle for its Eastwards move to the Pacific Ocean.


* Flush with over $2.5 trillion foreign exchange reserves, China has invested in South Asian and African littoral states so as to secure its sea lanes of commerce and to avoid sending its oil ships through the straits of Malacca, Sunda and Lombok. In pursuance of its "strings of pearls policy", China not only gifted and built the Gwadar Port for Pakistan (which will unload West Asia oil, to be moved by Chinese-gifted roads and pipelines to China through the proposed Karakoram highway), but is now building ports in three countries which are India's neighbours. In Sri Lanka the Chinese are funding and building the $9 billion Hambantota seaport (three times larger than Colombo) and the nearby Mattala International Airport, both to be ready by 2015. In Bangladesh the Chinese are funding and building two deep water terminals at Chittagong and a brand new seaport nearby. Both these terminals and the new port will be linked by road and oil pipelines to Kunming in China, and will pass through Burma. Similarly Sittwe deep water port in Burma is being funded and built by China, and will also be connected to Kunming by road and oil pipelines. China has also invested in similar facilities in Tanzania and Angola.


* In 2009, Chinese think tanks suggested that once China gets its own aircraft carrier by about 2015, the US Navy should "look after" the sea area east of Hawaii, while the Chinese Navy would "look after" the rest of the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. Chinese investment in nuclear submarines too, will aid a "two ocean deployment capability" in the future.


Strategically-located peninsular India, with 1,197 islands, meets six of the seven requirements of sea power. It only needs to augment its sea power and display palpable political will power to use that sea power in its national interest.


* Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam








Breathing is a divine act. It takes one deep within one's body and soul; it explores the realm of sound that awakens the consciousness. It explores the zahir, the outward, and the batin, the inward.


"And remember when thy Lord said unto the angels:

Lo! I am creating a mortal out of potter's clay of black mud altered.


So, when I have made him and have breathed into him My spirit...' (Quran 15:28 -29)


This reveals through the breath, the mystic relationship between the Creator and His creations and the sanctity and the unity of each creation. Each breath contains the whole world and the whole world is contained in one breath. Allah uses several ways of exemplifying this phenomenon. In sound and prayers; in ways of doing; and the essence of the act. Allah uses the word nafs for His own breath, and He uses the word ruh for His own soul and these same words are used to mean the human breath and the human soul, through which it's been proven that we all come from one source and to that one source we return.


The discovering of the self and divinity through the breath is a universal happening. Breath is an active area of study which bridges the body, mind and soul and connects civilisations across the globe. In many cultures breath is envisioned as a direct manifestation of the spirit. Baraka, prana, chee, num, lung, pung, pneuma, ruach... It is the subtle energy which enlivens us, and we receive this subtle energy by breathing it in or having it breathed into us from above. As the Prophet of Islam said, "Travel to China to seek knowledge". He probably talked about the primordial knowledge of breathing which was inherent in the Chinese way of seeking divinity and secrets of longevity. It was known as chee, the vital energy contained in the air we breathe.


The Sufis resort to the use of divine names, which condense and compress the effect of a longer recitation into a brief space, which becomes Dhikr.


Yoga teaches that the body reflects the breath, the breath reflects the mind, the mind reflects the heart and the heart reflects the soul. The Kapalbhaati and the deep breathing in pranayaam is a measure of one's healing power. As you learn to become still, you take your attention to where you want the healing to happen.


For the Taoist, the conscious cultivation of breath offers a powerful way not only to extract energies from the outside world but also to regulate the energetic pathways of our inner world, helping to bring our body, mind and emotions into a harmonious balance.


As Lao Tzu says: "Without leaving his house, he knows the whole world. Without looking out of his window he sees the ways of heaven". To experience this we need to breathe naturally, free from unconscious motivations and constraints of our self image. Visualise and sense your internal organs... sense your organs, sense the outer movements of the breath... go deeper into sensations. A perceptual re-education of breath and movement in martial arts, tai chi, dance etc tells us that the body-mind-breath synchronisation is capable of remarkable intelligence, sensitivity, and action when we rid ourselves of unnecessary tension.


As Ilse Meddendorf, the breath therapist, points out: By perceiving our breath as it comes and goes, we discover an opening into our own unconscious life, and bring about a conscious expansion into the whole of ourselves. This conscious welcoming of everything that we are lies at the heart of deep, inner quiet and relaxation. Listen to your body. Sense yourself. Let the mind become still. The 10,000 things rise and fall while the self watches their return. They grow and flourish and then return to the source. Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.


We live in a universe of energy and energy transformations, and we depend on these to think, to feel, to move, and so on. The sound of Aum is deep and resonating and the sound of Hu or Allah Hu equally resounding and cleansing. It is the agent upon which divine permission is borne and is responsible for conveying divine attributes from the heart to various centres of the body. Breath is not just oxygen, but emerges from divine origin of our existence. It belongs to the Beloved who has breathed life into me...


"I belong to the beloved, have seen thetwo worlds as one and that one call to and know,First, last, outer, inner, only thatbreath breathing human being".


(A free translation of Rumi by Coleman Barks)


— Muzaffar Ali is a filmmaker and painter.He is the Executive Director and Secretary of the Rumi Foundation.He can be contacted at [1]







I got an email from Sam Wasson, the 28-year-old author of Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M., the bestseller about the making of Breakfast at Tiffany's, thanking me for mentioning the book.

I've never met Wasson, a film student turned film writer hailed by the New Yorker as "a fabulous social historian". But within seconds, after I told him that I loved the bit in his book about the on-screen/off-screen chemistry of Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney in the incandescent Two for the Road, we were madly emailing back and forth on a subject of mutual obsession and depression: Why romantic comedies now reek. Here's our exchange:


Me: "How did we get from Two for the Road to The Bounty and He's Just Not That Into You?"


Sam: "This is the question I ask myself every morning and keep asking all day, and annoy all my friends and lovers with. Every time I see Jennifer Aniston's or Jennifer Garner's face I wince. Basically, every time I see someone named Jennifer. They say the problem is teenage boys and girls, that they drive the marketplace. But I say they only drive the marketplace because there's nothing out there for grown-ups to see. Apropos, I can't remember the last time I saw two people really falling in love in a movie. Now all we get is the meet cute, a montage, a kiss, then acoustic song into fade out. Nothing experiential, only movies manufactured from movies. Apparently, there was once a time when Jill Clayburgh danced around in her underwear. She laughed, she cried, she hurt, but it seems like a legend that never happened. Now we have The Bounty and I don't know what to do on Friday nights. Are you sorry you asked?"


Me: "Why can't studios and stars find witty writers to go beyond bridesmaid dress movies?"


Sam: "I am not joking when I say that because there is nothing to see (especially, and tragically, in romantic comedy) my girlfriend and I have had to stay home and in some cases fight. If there were better movies out there, I am sure so many relationship disasters may have been averted. Also, romantic comedies, the good ones, taught me how to love, or at least instructed me on how to try. If I were falling in love now for the first time and going to see this garbage thinking this was real, I would be in deep (expletive). It was only after I saw Annie Hall as a wee Jew that I realised what it was to be a person in love. It has been a touchstone ever since. Back in the days of one-foot-on-the-floor, wit was the best (and only) way to talk about sex. Wit was — this is incredible — commercial. Even something as ridiculous as Pillow Talk winks at you. If people only realised that Paramount in the '30s and '40s was the golden age of American wit. Algonquin Round Table, eat your black hearts out. The question is, will there be a backlash? A renaissance? I don't think people realise how dire the situation is. I mean culturally, emotionally, the whole idea of romance is gone, gone, gone. ...And I don't care how good the novelist, I've never read anything that touches Kate Hepburn and Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby. Is it too early to drink?"


Me: "Where are new Sturgeses and Lubitsches?"


Sam: "When Up in the Air (which I actually liked) came out last year, people were calling Jason Reitman the new Preston Sturges. What they meant was Reitman respects language. He is interested in the vernacular, like Sturges was.


The major difference is that Sturges invented a dialect all his own, one that really sang with American pluck. But that the comparison was ever made goes to show you how desperate (certain) people are for real romantic comedy. If the bar were any lower, they'd be calling James Cameron the next Sturges. As for Lubitsch, there will never, ever, ever be another. Ever. A guy like that comes around once in a universe. Proof is that even Billy Wilder, whose motto was 'What would Lubitsch do?', tried but never came close."


Me: "With so many women running studios, you'd think they'd focus on making better rom-coms."


Sam: "Even the studios that are run by women aren't run by women. They're run by corporations, which are run by franchises. Unfortunately for us, Jennifer Aniston is a franchise. So is Katherine Heigl and Gerard Whatever-His-Name-Is, and even when their movies bomb, their franchise potential isn't compromised because overseas markets, DVD sales and cable earn all the studio's money back. I'm told that Knight and Day, that awful Cruise/Diaz movie, has already been good for Fox for exactly this reason. The worst part of it is, from Hollywood's point of view, it ain't broke. I never thought I'd say this, but thank God for TV. OK, now I am drinking."


By arrangement with the New York Times









MILITARY action, counter-insurgency strategists contend, can do no more than pressure the "rebels" into negotiations. The seemingly conciliatory statement from the home minister in Parliament on Wednesday, coupled with reports that Omar Abdullah had opened a communication channel with Hurriyat hawk SA Geelani confirms that the same effect can be attained by violent action by the "other side". For while militants, regardless of who sponsors them, can be eliminated or contained, the security forces (Army, paramilitary, police) are no remedy to what assumes the dimension of a people's uprising. Curfews, prohibitory orders and very intensive patrolling might put a temporary lid on violence, but the seething anger that builds up over a few days of restrictive life is sure to explode. The CRPF's pointing to the implication of stone-pelting mobs three or four months ago was not taken as a serious warning in New Delhi, and there is little need to re-state what that gave rise to in mid-June. Even the Army's "showing the flag" had just ephemeral impact. The Railways' making arrangements to move their non-Kashmiri workers out of the Valley for a brief period is reminiscent of the Pandit community being "evacuated" in the early 1990s. For the record Chidambaram said a cessation of violence would facilitate the re-start of talks, he did not lay that down as a formal pre-condition. An acceptance of ground reality? Disgraceful and tragic it must remain that after the security forces had gained virtual control three to five years ago there was only token political action to capitalise on that.  
As significant as the home minister's changing tack is Abdullah's effort to build some kind of a bridge with Geelani. The latter's call for sustained but non-violent protest could help lower tempers: but it is also possible that other "leaders" have filled the vacuum created during his long period of detention, and violence is the only weapon that gives them some clout. The capacity of the hard-pressed but relatively less-experienced chief minister to retrieve the situation is being seriously questioned: New Delhi deems him a cushion for the present, but a larger political game-plan has to be hammered out. The bottom line is that merely blaming Pakistan will not work. The questions that Kashmir raised way back in 1947 have to get some answers, they are some six-decades overdue.



THE best explanation that Alimuddin Street may offer for the absence of its worthies from the memorial meeting held for Subhas Chakraborty is that it is not inclined towards birth and death anniversaries of departed colleagues except when they are part of Marxist legend like Muzaffar Ahmed and Pramod Dasgupta. Jyoti Basu may be added to the list next year if only because the occasion could become a morale-booster for cadres before the Assembly election. It is a slightly different story with the late sports and transport minister who was seen as an outspoken dissenter on several issues, was excluded from decision-making bodies in the party but carried the masses with him. The outpouring of public grief at his funeral may have persuaded Alimuddin Street to join the mourning. Clearly the expectation was that a sympathy wave would work in by-elections that were to follow and municipal polls thereafter. Since that expectation remained unfulfilled, there is no reason to be surprised that Biman Bose, who wept bitterly on the day of the death, chose to indicate along with senior comrades who stayed away that they wouldn't feel sorry if the one-time mobiliser of rallies and resources were despatched to an insignificant corner of history.

If the memorial meeting acquired political overtones, it may have been different had the CPI-M been able to exploit popular sentiment after Chakraborty's death. Since that did not happen, it was perhaps appropriate to recall that he had virtually revolted when the central leadership expelled Somnath Chatterjee and may not have got away with his defiance had he not been seen as a staunch disciple of Jyoti Basu. All that is history. The former Speaker and expelled leader's association with the memorial meeting (he chose to give it a tactical miss despite being named as the convener) may have made the CPI-M affirm that there is no room for dissent. The presence of some comrades does not confirm that the Bengal unit concurs with the central leadership on the real causes for the CPI-M's current misery. But for now Alimuddin Street may not wish to be seen as even remotely sympathising with dissenters ~ more so, when it offers no political mileage.



IF employment generation under the NREGS has by and large been a failure, no less distressing has been the record of the other facet~ creation of assets. The latest report of the Union ministry of rural development has been forthright enough to admit that barely 36 per cent of the earmarked schemes were completed in the first half of 2010. The performance in terms of "assets creation" was only marginally better in previous years. Theoretically, one provision ought to have led to the other to bring about the conceived transformation of rural India. If both have come a cropper, as the report suggests, what was touted as a flagship programme has been reduced to a floundering failure. By the Centre's own admission, no fewer than 343,086 projects are behind schedule across the country. Many may or may not have been employed for the stipulated 100 days a year. While crores have been expended to "dig pits here and there", the schemes have failed and failed literally to get off the ground. To provide jobs in the countryside was the welfare route towards the stated end ~ infrastructure projects in rural India, notably connectivity, flood control, minor irrigation, water conservation and harvesting. Each of these projects are crucial to the development of agriculture; they do serve as a safety valve in times of drought as in 2009. Arguably, the impact of last year's natural calamity ~ resulting in food inflation ~ would not have been so severe if essential safeguards had been in place. The failure of irrigation has doubtless been central to the food crisis and the abnormal price line.   

Clearly, the obsessive concern with a single-point agenda ~ providing jobs ~ has over the years overshadowed the other objective of creating assets. On the contrary, the subtext of the rural development ministry's report reaffirms a liability. The Centre and the states will have to get the focus right. Digging pits is not an end in itself. Since the inception of the NREGS, less than 50 per cent of the earmarked projects have materialised. The mounds of earth dug up are a testament to the failure to achieve the ultimate objective. They must now give way to concrete achievement.








THE Supreme Court order to remove all slums from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and other metropolitan cities does not seem to be realistic. The law, if it is enforced, raises the pertinent question as to why over the decades, the excessive growth of slums was not checked by the authorities in charge of development and planning.

According to the 138th report on Legislative Protection for Slum and Pavement Dwellers, the Supreme Court had earlier ruled that slum and pavement dwellers should be protected through legislative measures when they are evicted by the local authorities. Also, alternative accommodation should be provided. There is thus a contradiction in the court order on the removal of slums from urban areas.

The prevalent law, the Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1956, lays emphasis on slum improvement rather than clearance. The objective of the Act is to provide for the improvement and clearance of slum areas in certain Union Territories and for the protection of tenants in such areas from eviction. The Act sets the parameters for the declaration of slum areas. These are  dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangements and design of buildings, narrow roads, lack of ventilation, electricity and sanitation. Each of these factors can be dangerous for safety and health.

Environmental improvement

Several states have followed the Slum Area (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1956, to improve the slum environment rather than clearance. The law provides for environmental improvement as a vital factor of planning.

Legislation on slums has been declared constitutionally valid by the Supreme Court. In a number of cases, the court  has upheld action taken by the competent authority under the provisions of the Slum Clearance Act, 1956. Tenants have been given legal protection from eviction. Proceedings cannot be instituted against them unless the premises are required for bona fide personal use, without permission from the competent authority appointed under the Slum Areas Act.

If there is a law on slum improvement, the question arises as to why the Supreme Court has ordered the clearance of slums in metropolitan cities. There is always the risk of resistance in the case of eviction without rehabilitation. Demolition without resettlement is an undemocratic style of functioning. Poor families, who cannot afford accommodation in metropolitan areas, will lose their hearth and home when they are uprooted.
Enormous is the magnitude of the slum problem in metropolitan cities. It would be ruthless to evict the poor; this will only aggravate the problem of  homelessness. The risk of violence in the wake of a demolition drive is substantial.

The National Housing Policy document argues that to arrest the growth of slums, the government will have to avoid forcible eviction of slum-dwellers, encourage slum renovation and progressive housing development with occupancy rights, wherever feasible. It should expand water supply, sanitation and other facilities. Civic amenities must be maintained through community involvement. Physical amenities ought to be integrated with services, notably child welfare and health care, proper constructions, technical support, access to low cost technology, materials, and finance on easy terms.

The resettlement proposal is a unique idea, which has already been empirically experimented in Delhi by Jagmohan, the then vice-chairman, Delhi Development Authority. In the clearance-cum-resettlement-cum development model, Jagmohan had made a substantial contribution towards developing the residential plots, shops, tubewells, hand-pumps, public hydrants, water supply lines, metalled roads, permanent toilets, plantation of trees and employment opportunities. The slum dwellers were accommodated with adequate amenities.

A note on slum legislation, prepared by the Law Institute for the National Commission on Urbanisation, had pointed out that the Slum Acts unfortunately do not provide for any rehabilitation. It is not legally obligatory to provide alternative accommodation to the ousted slum dwellers. An amendment to the  Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1956 is, therefore, imperative. The rehabilitation issue was partially addressed with the modification on 1 July 1976. 

Different states deal differently with slum improvement and clearance. Interestingly, the Government of India's task force on housing and urban development had called for an extensive review of legislation relating to slum and housing development across the country. Specifically it wanted the legislation to be strengthened. This will improve the squatter settlements, upgrade the slums in built-up areas, ensure speedier acquisition of private land under the grant of tenure of residents of the improved slums.

It is important to secure the tenure for house improvement and encourage household savings. Accordingly, the task force has emphasised the importance of security of tenure for sheltering  the urban poor.
The law advocates slum improvement rather than slum clearance. This will necessitate vigorous resettlement programmes for slum-dwellers in metropolitan cities. Environmental improvement is a major aspect of the urban slum scheme. This will require investments on paved pathways, street lighting, water taps, sewerage and public latrines.  Adequate land should be earmarked for the service personnel in the Master Plan. The encroachment on public land should be regulated through strict administrative vigilance and enforcement of the law. Cheaper land and housing, based on innovative low-cost techniques, should be emphasised. Investment on housing must be clearly earmarked in the forthcoming Five-Year Plans so that the slum and squatter settlements are not encroached upon haphazardly in the urban areas.


(The writer is an expert in town planning)









It had been suggested in these columns that New Delhi could adopt either a hard line or a soft line towards Pakistan. Instead, New Delhi resolutely persists with adopting no line. Developments suggest that the soft line appears to be exceedingly impractical. A hard diplomatic line abjuring war may be the only effective option left. This conclusion arises from the spiralling unrest in the Kashmir Valley, the transparent direction of future Pakistan policy and the persisting US effort to collude with Pakistan. The following few uncomfortable truths need to be considered.

Army Chief General Kayani rules supreme in Pakistan. The country's civil society and civilian government are like the army's vassals. General Kayani has the closest relationhip with America dating from his repeated stints of training in different US defence institutes. America respects his professional expertise. It trusts his commitment to American interests. 

General Kayani recently obtained a three-year extension of his tenure as Army Chief with the blessing of the US government. He will thereby continue as Army Chief beyond the tenures of the present President and Prime Minister of Pakistan. Before his tenure ends, he could be elected President. His view, therefore, is more relevant than that of Pakistan's civilian government. What are General Kayani's views? 

To put it bluntly, General Kayani is a hardcore fundamentalist. Not only does his former ISI role indicate this. On 25 November, 2009 just after three of Pakistan's leading parties, MQM, ANP and PPP demanded that the name of Pakistan should be changed from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to People's Republic of Pakistan, General Kayani speaking in Peshawar said that "no one can separate Islam from Pakistan as the country was achieved in Islam's name".

Currently, he is insisting that Indian consulates in Afghanistan should be closed down. To obtain "strategic depth", he is brokering peace between the Taliban and President Karzai through the terrorist Haqqani outfit owing allegiance to the ISI. As Army Chief, Kayani's record against the Al Qaeda within Afghanistan has been unimpressive. Mullah Omar had publicly stated more than once that he sought non-interference from foreigners in return of which he pledged peace with all foreign nations. He is demonized by the West. Instead, the US considers General Kayani as a valuable strategic ally.

In all likelihood, Mullah Omar is little more than a prisoner sandwiched between the ISI and Al Qaeda. Clearly, General Kayani would not help either Mullah Omar or the Pashtuns to share real power in Kabul. He would promote only ISI-controlled elements in Afghanistan committed to the Al Qaeda ideology. What is that ideology? It revolves around the dream of creating Greater Khorasan. General Kayani seems to be doing everything possible to make that dream come true.

The Prophet Mohammed prophesied that one day a great power would rise from the east to demolish the enemies of Islam and spread the faith across the world. That gave birth to the legend of Greater Khorasan. The traditional concept of Greater Khorasan includes territories that comprise Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as parts of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Iran. General Kayani's utterances, actions and mindset suggest that his quest for strategic depth in Afghanistan is nothing more than a covert aim to create Greater Khorasan. The Khorasan of his vision doubtless includes Kashmir where the ISI spends so much effort to destabilize and ignite. Annexation of Kashmir, therefore, is central to Kayani's ambitions. Overruling President Zardari, he called India the biggest threat. And for its perceived short-term gains, President Obama's administration appears to give full support to General Kayani's endeavours.

This, then, is the situation that India is facing. A hostile, all-powerful Pakistan Army Chief who dreams of creating a Greater Khorasan that could serve as a launching pad for spreading the Islam of his vision across the world, is supported by both America and China. Ironically, it is only Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron who seems to empathize with India's concerns. Some years ago, former British Foreign Minister Jack Straw in the context of Kashmir acknowledged that Britain made mistakes in 1947. He did not elaborate. One suspects that Prime Minister Cameron shares that view. Britain's biggest mistake, of course, was the creation of Pakistan. The challenge before Whitehall now would be to undo the spirit though not the substance of Pakistan. Can India help? That is what South Block needs to ponder.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill is likely to be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament. The Bill envisages that every workplace, whether in the organised or unorganised sector, should have a forum to take up complaints pertaining to sexual harassment. Till now, all sexual harassment charges in India have been dealt with on the basis of guidelines set by the Supreme Court in a 1997 judgment.

Men's rights groups are, however, demanding that the Bill be made gender-neutral to also protect men being harassed at the workplace. NGOs under the banner of Save Indian Family Foundation want the draft Bill, which was prepared by the women and child development ministry, discarded and a fresh, gender-neutral draft prepared. The sexual harassment Bill, if enacted, may be misused like Section 498A (dowry law) and the Domestic Violence Act to extort money from men and hold them to ransom, a SIFF source said.
The sexual harassment Bill is principally aimed as the legislative backbone necessary to implement the landmark 1997 Vishakha judgment that ordered the government and employers to protect employees from office harassment. It defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexually determined behaviour, physical contact, advances, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, sexual demands, request for sexual favours" and sexually-coloured conduct "whether verbal, textual, physical, graphic or electronic".
It also includes any implied or overt promise or threat of preferential or detrimental treatment for a woman employee based on her response to the harassment.

However, according to All India Men's Welfare Association president Uma Challa, the Bill and its architects undermine the basic truth that sexual harassment is neither about sex nor gender. It is about power and a woman in power can be every bit as abusive as a man. Most importantly, the Bill undermines the Indian Constitution and its provisions which state that men and women have the same right to equality, the same right to life and the same right to live in dignity.

Countries around the world including the USA, UK and all member countries of the European Union have gender-neutral sexual harassment prevention laws. Even Pakistan, which passed a similar Bill recently, embraced the principle of gender neutrality. However, the Indian government is ignoring the nature and gravity of sexual harassment and espousing a regressive approach by revealing its ant-social agenda, according to Challa. NGOs want corporate bodies like FICCI, CII and a committee having an equal number of male and female members to be present while drafting laws to truly achieve equality at the workplace.

Men's rights activists worry that the law, if not made gender-neutral, will lead to a barrage of false complaints against men, much like what has happened in the case of Sec 498A IPC and the Domestic Violence Act. Sec 498A is a powerful tool in the hands of a vengeful wife who wants to harass her in-laws, they feel. All a woman has to do is file a police complaint alleging abuse and, hey presto, the husband's family members find themselves behind bars in no time. Often, Sec 498A is used to extract huge sums of money from husbands – a form of dowry in reverse. The men usually pay up without a whimper as they fear for the well-being of their parents and siblings. The Domestic Violence Act, activists allege, have resulted in the gross abuse of the rights of elders and many a devious wife has managed to throw her husband and in-laws out of the matrimonial home by invoking the Act. As of now, there is no clause in these laws to punish people who misuse them.

The activists fear disgruntled women will use the sexual harassment law similarly to settle scores with their colleagues. It could lead to a new and extremely lucrative money-making racket, as a SIFF member put it, whereby unscrupulous female employees would have the power to hold their bosses to ransom and demand huge payoffs. The law could conveniently be used to hide poor work performance and corruption would be on the ascent. 

One false case against an employee will undo the years of service he has provided to the organisation and tarnish his image in society, is Challa's final word. If the sexual harassment Bill is not made gender neutral and if there are no harsh penalties for those who exploit it, it is felt that it would be an unqualified disaster.

The writer is a freelance contributor








News Items


Police Inspector Attacked By Bengali Youths 

An attack was made by a number of young Bengalis on Sub-Inspector Mozumdar, of the Bengal Police, on Sunday morning. Mozumdar lives at 23 Chandra Nath Chatterjee's Lane, but had been away from Calcutta on special duty for some time. During his absence, it is said a Bengali youth had on several occasions gone to his house and insulted his wife, who, when the offence had been repeated several times, wrote and told her husband what was going on. The officer, in consequence of his wife's letter, arrived on Sunday morning. Soon afterwards the youth again came to the front of the house but he made off when the Inspector remonstrated with him. Subsequently, however, he returned, accompanied by a gang of friends, who forced the gate of the house, and began to smash the furniture. 

Inspector Mozumdar tried to stop them and was struck. Then he got his gun and fired a blank cartridge, which had the effect of frightening away the intruders, who fled. No arrests have yet been made. 


Drowned In Attempting To Restore Lines. 

It has been ascertained that the Telegraph Official reported yesterday to have been drowned in trying to swim across the river at mile 502 on the Bengal-Nagpur Railway is Mr Ganguli, Assistant Superintendent of Telegraphs. It is believed that he was endeavouring to re-establish telegraphic communication and his regrettable death is therefore due to his zeal in endeavouring to uphold the high standard of his Department. .









In spite of its long history of idol worship, India is a country of unrecognized icons. This statement is particularly true of India's secular icons. They are almost always, especially in contemporary times, cricketers and film stars. There is thus a distinct possibility that when Ratan Tata steps down in 2012 as the chairman of the Tata group, his achievements may not get their due recognition. Yet any objective assessment, away from the glare of limelight, will show that he is arguably the greatest Indian of his time and generation. Mr Tata succeeded J.R.D. Tata, who was hailed as a legend in his own lifetime. Mr Ratan Tata thus had a difficult act to follow. Undaunted by this, Mr Tata decided to fashion his inheritance on his own terms and to put the companies he led on a new path of growth and development. There are two success stories, in this context, that deserve special notice. Mr Tata is often not seen as a pioneer but as someone who expanded what he inherited. This overlooks the fact that he is perhaps the only Indian industrialist who put on the market two products that are completely Indian — the cars, Indica and Nano. Indian firms have excelled in the task of assembling and in providing skilled labour, but Mr Tata set the pace in manufacturing things that are Indian.


The other achievement is the phenomenal expansion of Tata Steel that occurred under Mr Tata's leadership. Tata Steel today is one of the largest producers of steel in the world. This was possible through the acquisition of Corus in the centenary year of Tata Steel. This acquisition was the product of a vision that Mr Tata nurtured. He wanted to make the Tata group a global player and he chose to do this by making his steel company — in many ways the Tata group's flagship — grow from India's premier company to become one of the best in the world. Mr Tata may lack the flamboyance of his predecessor but his footprints are national and global. He has allowed his achievements to speak for themselves without being burdened by the mantle he wore. His approach to his empire is reflected in the process he has established to find his successor. He could have just named his heir. Instead, he decided to give to the process his characteristic professional touch: he has appointed a selection committee. This could not have been an easy thing to do in a company whose name is eponymous with that of a family. Floreat, Mr Tata.








The ways of the bureaucracy in India can be an investor's nightmare. The Posco project in Orissa may have been delayed by people opposing the acquisition of their land. But now, a committee of the Union environment ministry wants all work at the site to be stopped immediately. The committee has accused the Orissa government of deliberately withholding information relating to the land. It has also charged the Centre with giving a green signal to the project in violation of its own rules. At the centre of the committee's objections is the Forest Rights Act. Its findings dispute the Orissa government's claim that the people did not have any "forest rights" to the land to be acquired for the project. Bhubaneswar has also been accused of suppressing the fact that two of the three villages, where the land has to be acquired, have passed resolutions claiming their rights under the FRA. Both the Centre and the state governments have their own versions of the issues. But there is no escape from the fact that the environment ministry's latest directive casts another shadow on the Posco project. Clearly, the bureaucracies in New Delhi and Bhubaneswar have not done their homework properly.


It would be unfortunate for Orissa and the country's economy as a whole if the bureaucratic bungling delayed the Posco project even further. A set of new laws, especially those on mining, forests and the rights of the tribal people, is likely to change the rules of business in some key areas of the economy. It could worsen investors' worries if governments and bureaucracies fail to move in step with the changing business climate. The acquisition of land for new industries has triggered political backlashes in several states over the past few years. More such protests are likely as investments in the mining sector increase. It is absolutely crucial that the Union and state governments understand the implications of the new laws and do enough to implement them. More important, the governments' steps must be — and also appear to be — transparent. Much of the problem in land acquisition for new industries is due to inept handling of the issue by the administration. It was so in Singur in West Bengal and it has partly been the case with the land chosen for the Posco site. Orissa could learn from its neighbour's mistakes.








The belief that a sporting event can be deftly packaged to showcase national pride has a somewhat dubious history. It was Adolf Hitler's Third Reich that first chose to capitalize on the 1936 Berlin Olympics to proclaim the reality of a reinvigorated Germany marching in unison to a national purpose — a feat immortalized in Leni Riefenstahl's evocative documentary film. Japan had the same idea in mind when it set about trying to project its warped version of Asian pride for the 1940 Tokyo Olympics, which had to be cancelled owing to the war in Europe.


The unfortunate association of muscle and speed with militarism and totalitarian regimes has not, however, prevented the theme of national-pride-through-sports from being carried over into the 21st century. China excelled in using the 2008 Beijing Olympics to demonstrate to a starry-eyed world the awesome might of undemocratic efficiency. South Africa had more modest ambitions when it took on the role of host for the 2010 football World Cup — an event that carried the additional burden of regulating the boisterous enthusiasm of the fans. But the net result of the successful tournament was exactly the same: an outpouring of national pride that glossed over the shortcomings of a cocky and self-serving African National Congress regime.


India has a feeble reputation as a sporting nation. Apart from cricket, where it has successfully blended popular enthusiasm with commerce to secure the commanding heights of the cricket economy, its standing in most of the recognized sports is non-existent. A surprise gold medal in shooting at the Beijing Olympics and sporadic individual successes in badminton, tennis, squash and boxing have been offset by the reality of its decline in hockey, a game where it won the Olympics gold from 1924 to 1956. As in various other departments, India's sporting record suggests individual successes and indifferent teamwork — cricket being the exception.


Despite what the ministry of sports or the Indian Olympic Association may claim, it is unlikely that the reason for hosting the Commonwealth Games in the first half of October was to give a fillip to India's struggling athletes, swimmers, wrestlers, gymnasts and rugby players. India lacks the aptitude, the facilities and the lavish patronage necessary to transform raw talent into world-class skills. Apart from cricket, tennis, golf and squash, where private initiative has made all the difference, Indian sport is unduly dependant on the munificence of an inefficient government. The autonomous sporting federations, which could have assumed the role of nurseries, have different priorities.


The myth that the creation of world-class facilities will make all the difference between mediocrity and excellence was punctured after the experience of the 1982 Asian Games held in Delhi. The Asiad, which became Rajiv Gandhi's launching pad into public life, had one enduring national legacy: colour TV. Apart from that, it gave Delhi numerous flyovers, a swanky residential complex in Siri Fort and a clutch of five-star hotels. True, the city also saw the construction of numerous grand stadia, but these facilities ended up as venues for pop concerts, Diwali melas and political conventions. For the Indira Gandhi government, something as nebulous and intangible as national pride was the real priority, not sports.


The former minister of sports, Mani Shankar Aiyar, was being wilfully naïve when, in a characteristically irreverent intervention, he suggested that the huge amounts of money being spent on the forthcoming CWG — the estimates range from Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 40,000 crore — would have been better utilized in the training of sportsmen and women. Even if we disregard his successor's promise that the event would resemble a "Punjabi wedding", the fact is that neither the previous National Democratic Alliance that managed the successful bid in 2003 nor the present United Progressive Alliance government that has made a dog's breakfast of the CWG ever imagined it was spending the money to further India's reputation as a sporting nation. The purpose of the Delhi CWG was always to announce to the world that India has arrived, a proclamation that would set the stage for a bid for the Asian Games, perhaps even the Olympics, and lots of neighbourly envy.


Tragically, the grand proclamation of national achievement is likely to fall on deaf ears. Since the CWG is largely a contrived event, it is unlikely that the uneven quality of the venues will make a huge difference, apart from cautioning the international sports authorities of the need to seriously discount Indian claims in future. However, at a time when India is making a serious bid to be recognized as an economic power of consequence and a good place for business, the kerfuffle over the arrangements has proved to the world that India's transition from the Third World to Asian Tiger status is woefully incomplete. Far from showing that India has arrived, it has indicated that the country has a colossal scope for improvement before it can claim a measure of parity with the developed countries.


The biggest eye-opener has been the extent of state ineptitude. The ability of the state sector to plan and efficiently deliver projects according to international standards was on test in the CWG, and the results have been deeply disappointing. It was not the paucity of resources that led to public-sector agencies such as the Central Public Works Department, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and even the much-acclaimed Delhi Metro Rail Corporation often living up to the caricature of what the Duke of Edinburgh once called the "Indian electrician".


Certainly, the generous funding didn't justify the shoddy renovation of stadia built for the 1982 Asiad. The expenditure on renovating Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was Rs 961 crore, Indira Gandhi Stadium Rs 669 crore, Dhyan Chand Stadium Rs 262 crore and Karni Singh Shooting Range Rs 149 crore. Speaking in Parliament, the CPI(M) MP, Sitaram Yechuri, said, "These costs are huge. Compare them with the costs incurred in the renovation of Ferozeshah Kotla stadium. It was only Rs 85 crore."


It was heartening that Yechuri alluded to the cost-efficient renovation of the Ferozeshah Kotla cricket ground which was undertaken by the non-official Delhi and District Cricket Association. Quite unwittingly, he underlined the biggest malaise that hinders the effective showcasing of India: an inept and bloated state sector that lacks integrity. Cricket has flourished because, for all its imperfections, it has extricated itself from the subsidy regime of the state.


If the ineptitude of the Indian State has been on display, it is complemented by the parallel show of venality. Never mind the national pride self-serving politicians are now invoking, the evidence of brazen short-changing of the public exchequer through over-invoicing is too brazen to allow an easy cover-up. There have been ridiculously inflated bills for the hire of air- conditioners, dustbins, chairs and umbrellas; absurd sums expended on the purchase of soap dispensers and toilet paper; and sweetheart deals with fictitious advertising agencies and dubious car-hire firms. The tight deadline meant that all norms and sense of responsibility were discarded as politicians and their nominees joined the gold rush. The Delhi government did not even hesitate to siphon money from Planning-Commission-endorsed allocations to the holiest of holy cows: the welfare of Dalits.


The run-up to the CWG has been a reality check for an India that was allowing its new-found prosperity to run away with its sense of proportion. In trying to cynically flaunt national pride, a cocky political class has created the enduring image of the upstart Indian. It's an image that seems destined to linger.








To turn away from the horror stories that we see on television, I decided to watch a six-hour documentary film made by a perceptive Englishman, Michael Wood, on our great and ancient civilization. The shameful truth is that we never release enough funds for Indian documentary filmmakers to research in the great libraries of the world, travel extensively, and create fine films about our past and present. New generations have no reference points about the nuanced complexities of our history. We do not have a National Library in Delhi, nor any museum or archive that does justice to our extraordinary heritage. It required BBC to initiate a great film that tells the amazing story of India, one that will make every Indian proud.


In the end, it is pride that mobilizes a people, a nation, to overcome the many odds and hurdles, to make correctives, lay new fundamentals, adjust the existing structures to prosper and move on by discarding all the demeaning baggage, which, like fungus, tends to cling onto the body politic, spreading its poison. Why are governments, both state and Central, so careless about our cultural institutions? Why have we become enemies of our legacy? Maybe the rabble-rousing, intolerant and polarized 'nationalism' that we encounter when our art galleries, movie theatres and other public spaces are attacked for exposing that which the political dispensations have a quarrel with, has come of age because the diverse national cultural space has been allowed to wither away. We need to address this very basic problem.


The entire spectrum of Indians, in their plural splendour of different faiths, speaking different languages, from different strata and communities, need to feel rooted and secure in their collective space. Intrinsically, Indians do feel they belong but successive governments have paid scant attention to all the aspects of this civilization that make it strong and tolerant.


Gross neglect


Instead of ensuring economic security and conserving the treasure of diversity, the State, and its functionaries destroyed all that they were incapable of comprehending and asserted a suffocating stranglehold on India. Today, we have come to the edge of that scary path and a free-fall from the precipice could do irreparable damage.


I recall a time when secretaries of the government of India, educated in the liberal arts, with wide-ranging interests and knowledge, intervened to break through unnecessary red tape to get things done. Their political masters too were of similar ilk. Despite the usual attacks, the Festivals of India overseas, orchestrated by Pupul Jayakar with the full support of the then prime minister, represented the best of India on the world stage at a point in our history when we were seen as a 'third world' nation. The festivals revived much that was lying dormant, gave dignity to skill and tested traditions, and generated pride regardless of our economic status. Those days have drifted into oblivion.


Governments must renew the pride we once had in 1947. They must cease to find excuses for not being able to deliver structural changes. This business of always waiting to sign 'protocols', passing endless files from one department to the other as legitimate procrastination, keeping civil society and experts out because of their various specializations, always having a negative answer that is bound to frustrate, has debilitated what could have been manifestations of India's strength — its legacy industries, its philosophies and sciences that the world of today is looking to use. Lack of pride has made us desperate to ape the worst of the richer nations, ignoring our own cultural strengths which, when the 'markets' are down, keep India afloat.


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





There is no doubt now that Nepal's peace process has begun unravelling. The Nepali Army and the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), the military wing of the Maoists, have begun recruiting again. This is a violation of the peace agreement that the government and the Maoists signed in 2006. Earlier this week, the Nepali Army decided to fill 3,464 vacant posts after the supreme court decided not to stay the recruitment process. The Maoists responded to this with an announcement that they would recruit over 11,000 new cadres. The recruitment race has begun. The two sides, which fought a costly war for over a decade, are inching towards confrontation again. The question of rehabilitation and integration of some 19,000 Maoist fighters in the army has been one of the main sticking points between the government and the Maoists over the past four years. The renewed recruitment will fuel new anxieties in the country.

Meanwhile, the political deadlock persists. Parliament has voted three times to elect a new prime minister and yet no politician has been able to muster the requisite votes. However, with every round of voting the Maoist leader Prachanda appears to be increasing his support. In the recent round, he managed to secure 259 votes although his party has 236 seats in parliament. This means that he is slowly winning backing from independent MPs or MPs from other parties. It is five weeks since prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal submitted his resignation and still Nepal's political parties are unable to reach a compromise. All the parties talk of a national unity government but have failed to evolve a basic understanding on what the constitution should consist of.

The deadlock over who will be the new prime minister, the continuing uncertainty over the constitution drafting process, the frequent strikes and unrest and now, the decision to recruit soldiers and cadres have put Nepal in the grip of what looks like an intractable crisis. Prime minister Manmohan Singh has dispatched Shyam Saran to Nepal as his special envoy. Saran has a tough task ahead. He will engage in consultations with all the leaders. Breaking the deadlock without being seen to be favouring one leader or another will be a challenging process especially given how sensitive Nepal is to 'Indian meddling.' India must tread softly. Developments in Nepal affect us but the ongoing crisis is Nepal's domestic problem.








The  prosaic manner in which China announced last week that it had become the second largest economy in the world was deliberate and well-considered. The event, which is of great import to the Chinese people and the world, was announced not by the top political leadership but by the exchange controller, probably because Beijing wanted it to look a low-key and ordinary one. There was however no surprise because the moment was expected. China is only behind the US, which too might be relegated to the second place by 2025 if the present pace of growth continues. Though Beijing is not boasting and is sounding even humble — the official said China is still a developing country — the event is remarkable as it marks biggest and fastest story of economic development in history.

The Chinese growth model has been analysed in detail and commented on extensively. It is a function of various elements like encouragement of enterprise, a non-ideological view of foreign capital, cheap labour, a tough currency policy, development of infrastructure and  tight political control on society. The unique combination of these and other factors accounted for the Chinese story which has lifted millions of people out of poverty in three decades. At this stage it is also 'rebalancing' its growth, moving enterprise from the developed coastal areas to the backward interiors to the West, and shifting from the dependence on exports to promotion of domestic consumption. China is also seeing the price of development in environmental degradation and increasing social conflict and labour problems. Cheap and abundant labour may soon run out of supply and Beijing may have to form new strategies of development to suit new external and domestic environments. There is even the prospect of a slowdown.

The world will have to deal with a new and assertive china which is not afraid of protecting its interests the hard way and projecting its power. There are tensions in its dealings with its neighbours, with the US and with others. China will have to conduct itself with the sense of responsibility befitting its position as an economic and political power. Arrogance, a belief in its uniqueness and a sense of superiority have been dominant Chinese attitudes in much of its history. But, in spite of the great accomplishments of its civilisation, China declined because of these qualities. That should be a lesson to today's Chinese.







Syria recently banned burqas. Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia have imposed restrictions even on wearing the hijab.



An immigrant's obligation to the society he has left and duty to the country that provides him with a home clash in the furore over burqas. The controversy suggests that Europe is a sea of billowing black veils. Actually, it's the alien symbol that outrages public imagination, not the fact.

Only a few thousand out of a million Muslim women in Britain are veiled. The French estimate it at between 400 and 2,000. Burqas are hardly ever seen. Ironically, when you do spot one, it probably drapes an European Muslim's wife, a convert who is more zealous than a born Muslim.

Class distinction is the third irony. Humbler Arab tourists in London may be veiled but not the wives of Arab kings and presidents. Nor sheikhas and sultanas from the Gulf. They flaunt Parisian haute couture without even the wisp of a veil.

The biggest irony is Europe's insistence on forbidding something that the Islamic world considers the antiquated and irrelevant relic of pre-Islamic times. Syria recently banned burqas. Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia have imposed restrictions even on wearing the niqab or hijab, as the headscarf is called.

The excitement is in Europe. Though only France and Belgium have actually banned burqas (Italy is reportedly planning to follow them), opinion polls indicate that grassroots level sentiment is remarkably similar in all 27 European Union countries. They are against allowing Muslim women to be shrouded in black from head to toe.

Even in Britain where Damian Green, the immigration minister, says there is no question of forbidding the burqa for the wives and daughters of 2.4 million Muslims, 67 per cent of the population would welcome a ban. President Nicolas Sarkozy's law enjoys the robust support of more than 80 per cent of French citizens. The figures for Germans and Spaniards who want a similar ban are 62 and 59 per cent respectively.

A possibly quite irrational fear of Muslim influence helps to explain this sentiment. Europe, with 13 million Muslims, feels threatened by immigrants not only from North Africa but from Islamic countries as far away as Bangladesh. An internet posting is headed, "Germany, Wake Up! Muslims Are Taking Over, And You're Asleep at the Wheel!" Germany's four or five million Muslims are guest workers from Turkey. France's six million or more Muslims and the million or so in Spain are from the Maghreb.

Historical memory buttresses contemporary conditions. Moors ruled large parts of Spain for centuries. Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina are reminders that the Balkans were part of the Ottoman empire whose armies swept up to Vienna.

Britain does not share those memories. Moreover, the British fought for religious freedom whereas the French Revolution exalted the non-religious state. Damian Green thus thinks a legal restriction on a personal religious symbol would be "rather un-British" and contrary to the conventions of a "tolerant and mutually respectful society."

But a Conservative member of parliament, Philip Hollobone, is preparing a private member's Bill to compensate for what he calls the government's failure to uphold the public interest. Though threatened with legal action for discrimination under Britain's Equality Act, Hollobone refuses to meet female constituents in burqas. He calls it commonsense. "If you want to engage in normal, daily, interactive dialogue with your fellow human beings, you can only really do this properly by seeing each other's face." He calls the burqa "the religious equivalent of going around with a paper bag over your head with two holes for the eyes."

He is not alone even among politicians. Jack Straw, the former labour justice minister, also asked his constituents in the heavily Asianised Lancashire town of Blackburn to uncover their faces if they came to see him. He can't recall a single occasion when the lady concerned refused to lift her veil.

The burqa provokes intense debate with Imran Khan, the former cricketer and now chairman of Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf party, warning that any attempt to ban it could radicalise Muslims and undermine the British way of life.

Many British Muslims fear they have been stereotyped as terrorists since the 2005 London bombing that killed 52 people. Their resentment feeds on opposition to British foreign policy, particularly the war on terror and invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Surveys show that 40 per cent want Shariat law in certain areas (which would mean geographical ghettoisation) while one out of five sympathises with the feelings and emotions of suicide bombers. These positions are not surprising considering that 60 per cent of Britain's more than 1,500 mosques follow the Deobandi school.

Community leaders like Sadiq Khan, a Labour MP involved with the official task force set up after the London bombings, regrets that "vast numbers of Muslims feel disengaged and alienated from mainstream British society." Yet, according to Farooq Murad, head of Britain's Muslim Council, Britain is the most welcoming country in Europe for Muslims.

Immigrants are economic refugees. What no one mentions is their obligation to assimilate with the host society. Those who feel strongly about cultural totems like turbans, dreadlocks or burqas should not leave the country where they are treated as normal.








The average life expectancy for Afghan women is 43 years, nearly half compared to that of Americans.


November 2011 will mark a decade into the invasion of Afghanistan by foreign troops riding in on the slogan of the war on terror. 'Rescuing' the women of Afghanistan from the Taliban was one of the other purported goals of this global military campaign that appeared to have guided Washington and its allies to finally enter the country themselves after having spent years in the mid-80s arming the mujahideen to fight their political battles.

Nine years since then, exit strategies are already being worked out by the governments involved in the face of the domestic pressures when the actual costs of the war — not just in human lives — are being calculated back home. These talks of exit raise some very serious questions regarding Afghanistan and the fate of its people. The war on terror aside have the other components of this war been addressed?

In a country where instability and insecurity continue to be critical factors guiding the lives of the people as life beyond Kabul continues to be restricted the situation of women continues to be extremely vulnerable. The crucial question, then, that needs to be raised in domestic politics of the participating nations is why despite the high price of human lives Afghan women continue to struggle for basic human rights and equality.

Abysmal maternal health

Amidst 23.9 million people in Afghanistan, women make up almost 49 per cent of the population. Mostly illiterate and married off extremely early — sometimes as debt pay-offs or retribution — many are even widows of the three decades of violence. The percentage of forced marriages for Afghan women is believed to be between 60-80 per cent. Often children themselves when they have the first child the average number of children an Afghan woman bears is around six. What this translates into are abysmal maternal health statistics in the country with the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world where one woman dies every 29 minutes in child birth.

The average life expectancy for women in Afghanistan is at 43 years, nearly half when compared to the life expectancy of American women. Only 15 per cent of Afghan girls can read and write as they struggle to attend schools amidst constant threats of violence like acid attacks.

The country's endless cycle of violence has meant that women (and children) have had to bear the brunt of it not just outside but inside the supposed safe confines of their homes as well. According to a recent survey by the UN Development Fund for Women, 87 per cent of Afghan women report being beaten on a regular basis. Eighty per cent of the violence against women is perpetrated by family members and of the incidents reported about 30 per cent each were related to physical and psychological violence, 25 per cent was related to sexual violence and the remaining was a combination of all three categories.

While women enjoy reservation in the national legislature it is not an easy profession to negotiate given the restrictions randomly imposed on them by local leaders almost always accompanied by the threat of violence. This is hardly surprising given that the upper echelons of President Karzai's government are dominated by warlords, drug lords and human rights abusers for whom gender equality continues to be an unwelcome appendage of western involvement.

Ideological conflict

The passage of the controversial Shiite Personal Status Law was just one of the several manifestations of this ideological conflict. The President's pardon of rapists and the UNAMA's report only confirm the impunity enjoyed by rapists and murderers while women fighting for their rights face certain death.

Before the war began in 1979 women occupied nearly 50 per cent of government jobs, like teaching and nursing, in the urban centres quite contrary to the misogynistic culture that Afghanistan is seen as a representation of. Today it is this very work force that the country needs if any sustainable measures towards education and employability are to be implemented making women's security a critical component of this growth.

It would be erroneous to blame all the atrocities against women on the Taliban. The real culprit has been the unceasing conflict of the past three decades. Even as each group pitted against the other for political control it was the women who were caught in the crossfire, quite literally. While the Taliban became the face of the gender apartheid in Afghanistan, today, nine years later, how do the foreign governments explain to these very 'rescued' Afghan women the proposals of negotiating and involving the 'reformed' Taliban in governance?







For perpetrators, vanishing into thin air has become as easy as falling off a log.


The man who invented the phrase, 'into thin air' didn't know the half of it, the way the whole of the present-day society has taken this 'thin-air' business to its bosom. Thin air is alright so long as it stays up in the air. But down here on earth where an honest man has to live rubbing shoulders with those of his fellow-beings who wouldn't know honesty if you brought it to them on a plate. 'Thin air' smacks of shadiness and chicanery.

Look at the magicians producing things out of thin air only to make them vanish into the same air once again. Look at the many criminals in the country who, with the police in hot pursuit, vanish into thin air. And what about the daily dose of murders and kidnapping the citizens are being fed with both in this state and this country? Vanishing into thin air has become as easy as falling off a log for the perpetrators of these crimes.

The police of course have some clues, but most of these clues also vanish into thin air as time passes. There are also politicians in this country who are so adept at the vanishing trick that they can make crores of rupees vanish into thin air before you can say knife, never to reappear in this world or the next.

Coming down the ladder of the vanishing act we have the ubiquitous chain-snatchers who snatch the chain of the neck of the wearer and vanishes into thin air, chain and all. More breath-taking is the way the intrepid pick-pocket can vanish into thin air with your hard-earned, and sometimes not so hard-earned money buried deep inside the pocket of your coat. No magician, however quick, can hold a candle to the pick-pocket where the vanishing trick is concerned for, while you can still see the magician before you as large as life after the trick, the pick-pocket can make both your money and himself vanish into thin air.

Yet another breed of the vanishing tribe is the omnipresent dacoit who can make himself and all the valuables in your house vanish at the drop of a hat. More subtle is the work of the 'sadhu' who persuades gullible women to tie up all their jewellry into a bundle and hand it over to him to enable him to better exorcise the devil possessing their dear ones, omitting to mention that no devil on earth can beat him at possessing your valuables.

Last but not the least in this galaxy of the vanishing tribe are the blighters working in your business establishments or homes vanishing into thin air with everything that isn't nailed down. If this thing goes on like this the day may not be far off when the victims of the vanishing trick also find themselves vanishing from the face of the earth.








America can do the most to avoid escalation.


The sniper fire directed at IDF soldiers by the Lebanese Armed Forces on Tuesday, which killed Lt.- Col. Dov Harari and seriously wounded Capt. Ezra Lakia, has spurred a flurry of speculation about the precise causes of the incident.

UNIFIL made it clear that Lebanese forces were to blame for the attack. But this did not prevent foreign news media – including the New York Times and AP – from taking a "neutral" approach, as though Israel was also somehow to blame. Reuters and Yahoo were even worse.


Meanwhile, some local pundits criticized Israel for a range of ostensible offenses, from "flying spy planes" over Lebanon to lacking the sensitivity to prevent an IDF unit from trimming trees on the border at a politically tense time, when the UN's Special Tribunal for Lebanon is expected to name the guilty party in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

In the four years since the Second Lebanon War, much has happened to undermine the uneasy quiet that prevailed until this week between Israel and Lebanon. But none of it has to do with Israeli actions. Most of the reason for the exacerbated tension lies in the inspiring, funding, training and arming of Hizbullah by Iran and Syria.

And some of it has to do with the US's and Europe's ineffective Middle East policy.

Unimpeded by America or Europe and with massive Iranian backing, Hizbullah has consolidated its military and political hegemony in Lebanon. Syria, meanwhile, has fully reinstated its military and political presence after being temporarily expelled from Lebanon by the March 14 Alliance.

Formed by Saad Hariri, Druse leader Walid Jumblatt and others after the February 14, 2005, assassination of Saad Hariri's father, the Alliance had hoped to transform Lebanon into the Arab world's first truly free democratic state. But the Second Lebanon War, sparked by Hizbullah aggression, diverted attention and energy from the movement's push for an independent Lebanon, and in 2008 it effectively capitulated to Hizbullah and Syria.

Ostensibly, it was Saudi Arabia, the patron of present Prime Minister Saad Hariri, that pushed for reconciliation with Syria and Hizbullah. But in reality, this macabrely sycophantic act, in which Hariri the son courted his father's murderers, is the direct result of the US's weakening position in the region.

The Saudis, Hariri, and the courageous Jumblatt, whose war-hardened Druse community fought the Party of God to a standstill in May 2008, have come to the realization that with the US and Europe out of the picture in Lebanon, it would be suicidal to stand up to the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah axis, which is increasingly being joined by Turkey. In light of US passivity, meanwhile, the Saudis hope to maintain a semblance of influence in Lebanon by improving relations with Syria. Just this week, Saudi King Abdullah met with President Bashar Assad of Syria in Beirut.

The US refrained from providing the March 14 Alliance with crucial support when it needed it most, missing an historic chance to encourage the creation of new, democratic momentum. The Obama administration's attempt to "engage" Damascus, instead of sanctioning it for tightening its ties with Teheran and turning Lebanon into a satellite state, has failed miserably. Nor have the US or Europe taken steps against Hizbullah, a key member of the Lebanese government, for bullying the UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon that are responsible for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

AGAINST THE backdrop of this dismal US track record in Lebanon, it was not surprising that, in response to Tuesday's deadly incident at the border, Washington declined to take a firm stand against Lebanese forces.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, "We deeply regret the loss of life; we urge both sides to exercise maximum restraint to avoid an escalation and maintain the cease-fire that is now in place." Even UNIFIL was more robust than that, conveying the message that if the Lebanese Armed Forces fired into Israel again – the IDF was targeted beyond the border fence but inside Israeli territory – the IDF would blow up its border positions, and flatly rejecting Lebanon's suggestion that the peacekeepers should be doing the IDF's gardening work at the border.

The truth is that it is the US, not "both sides," that can do the most to avoid further escalation in Lebanon.

Washington should take steps to strengthen moderate Lebanese forces while imposing sanctions against the extremists. Otherwise, Israel will be forced, against its will, to fill the vacuum where a robust and savvy American Middle East policy ought to be









The government decision on Sunday to grant permanent-resident status to the children of migrant workers who chose to settle in Israel stirred debate and disagreement because of the planned expulsion of around 400 children and their families who did not meet the criteria. The decision's significance transcends the suffering in store for these children, who must not be expelled. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that "we have adopted a new immigration policy," which he says balances the "humanitarian problem" and "Zionist considerations." But the current decision repeats the familiar behavior of determining policy bit by bit in response to crises and the pressure of the moment.


Like other developed countries, Israel attracts immigrants who want to improve their quality of life; some decide to settle here, build families and adopt a new cultural and national identity for themselves and their families. Israel has not prepared for such a reality. The immigration and citizenship laws were designed to encourage the immigration of Jews and their families, and, under restrictions that have become even more severe in recent years, to limit immigration by Arabs through marriage. This approach does not reflect the reality in which thousands of foreigners from the developing world live in Israel and thousands more are knocking on its doors.


Sunday's decision follows in the footsteps of the United States and West European countries that have instituted a policy of amnesty for illegal immigrants who have stayed in their territory for long periods. The decision is precedent-setting, but it is not enough.


First, expanding it to apply to adults who have lived in Israel for many years and for whom Israel has become the center of their lives should be considered. Second, the government must develop an immigration policy that is suitable for the 21st century. It must ask what is necessary for the economy. Maybe it's worthwhile to bring quality human capital to Israel that will boost export industries. Maybe it's correct to set up a process for naturalization as in developed countries. The policy must also take into account the high unemployment among the Palestinians and a future in which they will be able to return to work in the Israeli economy.


There is no dilemma between being humane and Zionism, as Netanyahu would have us believe. The absorption of new Israelis who have opted to live here will bolster both goals. It will contribute to the immigrants' personal development, strengthen the Zionist enterprise and reflect Israel's maturity and its joining the group of developed countries.










We'll start by saying we live in an era where there are no mega-leaders who change the shape of the world. There are no Churchills, nor are there Roosevelts, Kissingers, Ben-Gurions, Sadats or Begins. As a result, fanatic evil-doers rule; they care about their personal power, not their people's welfare .


We'll continue by saying that the Palestinians are not the only opportunity-blowers, according to the adage we're so fond of. We Israelis are too, big-time. Moreover, a process taking shape in this part of the world should be of concern not only to us, but also to the moderate Islamic states. America's reach in our region hasn't been weaker for 20 years. America under President Barack Obama, who received a Nobel Peace Prize without achieving peace, is slowly picking up and leaving the region. This creates a vacuum suited to Iran, which will sooner or later become a nuclear power and the focal point of evil ideology.


Iran disseminates weapons and ideology of all sorts to members of the axis of evil it is putting together in the region - to Hezbollah, which controls Lebanon, and to Iraq (the only state that fired 40 Scud missiles at Israel ), which is being evacuated by the American military and is liable to turn into an extremist Shi'ite state.


Not to mention the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which is likely to assert its wrath once President Hosni Mubarak is no longer in the picture. Nor are we mentioning the fanatic influence of Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a country poised to lose its secular character that was imprinted by Ataturk. Then of course there is Hamas, which represents a significant part of the Palestinian people with whom we are supposed to make peace. All this is not just our problem, it's also the Palestinians'.


Netanyahu, who when in the opposition once defined himself as a worried citizen, should now be a worried prime minister. It's no accident he has visited Mubarak and met with King Abdullah of Jordan. He's relaying to them messages about the danger of the consolidation of an eastern front. The three recent occurrences - the firing of grad rockets on Aqaba and Eilat, on Ashkelon and Sderot, and the shooting on the Lebanese border - should frighten not just Israel but also the Palestinians and Jordan, whose long border with Iraq has been problematic since the days of Saddam Hussein.


Much of the Jordanian population is Palestinian, and the fear that a branch of the axis of evil will reach out in a political vacuum is a source of tension and anxiety in Amman. Bibi receives reports about Hezbollah and Hamas stockpiling long-range missiles. Just as Abdullah demands security arrangements on final borders between his country and the Palestinians, Bibi wants temporary security arrangements for what he views as the threat of an eastern front. Netanyahu wants to forge an agreement on the condition that the Palestinians agree to security arrangements on the eastern border, at least for the first years after the signing of an agreement. In fact, the peace accord between Egypt and Israel stipulated a phased, years-long withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula. That's nothing lethal.


Netanyahu expresses to Obama his concerns about getting bogged down in small details. It would be foolish for the Palestinians to defer the start of direct talks until September 26 to figure out whether Israel has renewed the settlement freeze. If everything is predicated on a construction freeze, an opportunity will be squandered. Bibi has proved he is the first prime minister since 1967 with the power to freeze building in the settlements for 10 months. Now attention must turn to important matters.


This is the first time most moderate states in the Arab League have given the Palestinians a green light to conduct direct talks with Israel. This situation is light years away from the days of the Arab states "three no's." Since time is of the essence for both sides, the negotiations should be resumed from where they were cut off under the Olmert government. The initial focus should be on topics that can be resolved before the evil axis rears its head.


At a time when Hamas is slowly forging ties with Iran, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has every reason to be a worried leader. This is not the moment to test whether Bibi is capable of renewing the freeze, it's a time to attend to the main issues. It's the Palestinians' turn to prove they are able to discuss peace in direct talks. Calling the Palestinian leader the rais, it's time to sit down at the negotiating table.









When the expulsion of non-Jewish immigrants is carried out Israel will look very bad, and for a few days the televised debates will heat up. If our "image" damage grows, the world will be denounced for its hypocrisy, the fences between Mexico and the United States will be invoked, or the French attitude toward the Roma (Gypsies ), and we'll hear all about how there is no one like us, a nation that absorbed so many immigrants in such a short span of time. And this is correct. Then the media will grow weary of the story, the protesters will return home, and the anguish of the uprooting will remain only in the lives of the expelled children and their parents.


For a while their defenders will remind Eli Yishai of the biblical verse, "There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you," and the defenders of the expulsion will counter that a modern democracy cannot be run by religious laws. And this is also correct.


But Israel is not a modern democracy. The content of the citizenship given to immigrants to the State of Israel is unique: a right to belong that is without clear meaning. Is it religious or is it national? No one can define this meaning. Does it require a knowledge of Hebrew? No. No test of Hebrew knowledge was ever given to immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Jewish knowledge? No. No Jewish knowledge is required as a basis for becoming a citizen. Must one be Jewish according to halakha? No. The peculiar category "non-Jews who are not Arabs" would not have been created by the Central Bureau of Statistics were citizenship given exclusively on the basis of the Jewish religion as defined by Orthodoxy, even though it was given an assignment by the secular state - to define who is not "us."


This job falls to the chief rabbinate. The historic Jewish people never had a central religious institution, but the institution is necessary, above all, to manage the boundaries of belonging, to invent the nonexistent "blood principle." So what then is the religious national content denoted by the written and unwritten law of citizenship?


There is no such content, despite all the chattering about it primarily in secular schools, as if they know everything about it, as if this content can be taught, as if citizenship, which in all the modern democracies is, always, an option open to all, and it has no essence except for the open possibility to become a citizen (or to naturalize ).


The only place in which the definition of who is a Jew is elaborated upon is in the Law of Return, which accords the right of citizenship only to Jews; and it is also correct that, according to Jewish law, not all the immigrants who gained citizenship on the basis of this law are "Jews" and the cemeteries are filled with tombstones "beyond the fence." And it is also correct that here, the Interior Ministry (which in other countries is the province of the police and security services ) is nearly always in the hands of religious parties with an interest in our mothers and their lineage.


And above all this is the big illusion regarding the "national content:" Supposedly one language, one history, one religion - where in reality this is far from the case. And since we have none of these things, what we have instead is cheap mythology, a fantasy of something that doesn't exist (and needn't exist for the sake of normal life in any country ).


As the hollowness of the "essential common denominator" has grown, so has the need for enemies at home and abroad, in the past and in the present. Avigdor Lieberman and Yishai are competing over who is "more Jewish" by using more hatred, expulsion and talk of expulsion. And at any rate, since the Israeli economy continues to import more and more cheap laborers to toil here under appalling conditions, the immigration police ought to keep a close watch on them and insist that they don't fall in love, don't get married, don't have children. They should just work hard and get out of here.









It's hard to know whether in our relations with the Palestinians we have reached a turning point of the kind that is termed "historic," but it's clear we're at a point where the sides have to take off their masks. A peace agreement is apparently closer than ever right now. The Arab states that are united in an anti-Iranian coalition want an agreement, as does Syria, which thirsts for the Golan Heights. The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank also wants an agreement; the secular Palestinian elite has apparently decided that an imperfect state right now is preferable to clinging to the dream of drowning the Jews in a flood of returning refugees in the future.


Thus the largest question mark hovers over the goals that the Israeli government and Israeli society have set for themselves. The number of answers to the question "what is Benjamin Netanyahu shooting for?" is equal to the number of people who speak with the prime minister. This fact suggests that the solution to the riddle will never be found behind closed doors; instead, it will arise in the noisy public square, where Netanyahu will have his back to the wall.


In the meantime, all the sane elements in Israeli politics must focus on taking down the obstacle that is so highly cherished by all the knights of the occupation: the claim that the dispute cannot be solved because the Palestinians seek to restore the situation in the country before 1948.


It is imperative that the Palestinian leadership and Israel's government begin direct negotiations immediately, accompanied by American and European pressure to ensure that the sides' national agendas are presented in public. The major issues are familiar: borders, Jerusalem and refugees. In the missile era, when the whole country is within range of the enemy's arms on all sides, local security arrangements of the sort Netanyahu loves such as holding on to the Jordan Valley are largely a pretext for killing time.


Beyond this, Israel's public must ask itself if it's legitimate to demand that the Palestinians engage in peace negotiations when next month the routine of land grabbing and settlement sprawl is destined to regain momentum. The worst mistake by Ehud Barak and his government 11 years ago was to proceed with negotiations when settlements were expanding and building was accelerated within them. That lesson must not be forgotten.


More than ever, a freeze on construction in the territories is a crucial prerequisite for progress in negotiations. With a chance to end a century of warfare staring him in the face, Netanyahu is worried about keeping his coalition together. This argument about coalition stability is so pathetic it says something about the lack of a genuine desire to reach an agreement.


If it turns out the government cannot hold together if it renews the settlement freeze, if it finally becomes clear that the settlers and the rest of the fanatics in the cabinet and Knesset are dictating the agenda, it will be best to put this government to rest. A prime minister can be replaced, if not in this Knesset, then in the next one. At any event, it's hard to imagine a government worse than the current one; it's a government whose legacy will include the selection of children of foreign workers for expulsion.


It could turn out that the next elections will usher in a yet more ultra-nationalist, clerical, fanatic and anti-democratic Knesset and government, but that result would have one advantage: It would make clear to everyone where we stand. Today more than ever the choice is clear. On the one hand, we can have a future of an apartheid-like state that is armed, "according to foreign sources," with Armageddon weaponry, while continuing on the path of a binational state steeped constantly in blood. Or we can have two states configured along the 1967 borders, with equitable land swaps. No other solution is viable.









Beware comparisons. The ultimate sin is the Holocaust comparison, which the right gleefully pounces on at every opportunity. It may not rise (or sink ) to the level of denial, but it most certainly cheapens. But the Holocaust is ours, and it's okay for us to abuse its memory.

The demolition of a house that popped up overnight is akin to the destruction of the Temple, no less; having to move to a neighboring community on the other side of the line is a death march; a theatrical entrenchment on a roof is a ghetto uprising; soldiers and police officers doing their duty are abhorrent Nazis. Even elephants could go be driven mad by these comparisons, not to mention human beings who have yet to develop a comparably thick skin. The situation is grotesque enough as it is; there's no need to go so far as to invoke Auschwitz to make it even more so.


The past week was also ripe for a false comparison. Four hundred children of foreign workers who are candidates for expulsion were compared to the children of Gush Katif who were expelled. Why didn't you raise your voice then? Why did you only remember now, you hypocrites? And a presenter on one of the morning radio programs offered this flimsy excuse: You don't atone for one sin with a second sin.


No injustice was caused in the disengagement, whose fifth anniversary was marked this month. On each yahrzeit it attracts more penitents who bemoan our sins; I am not one of them.


I cannot be suspected of having been captivated by Ariel Sharon, of having fallen for his charm. I had no illusions about this man, who sowed damage at every turn. At the time, I proposed to former MK Zvi Hendel and Gush Katif resident that they use as a slogan for their battle: "The depth of the uprooting should match the depth of the [Greek Island] investigation." I also petitioned the High Court of Justice against the attorney general, in an attempt to have the Greek Island case, which was closed, reopened. I didn't coddle Sharon the way others did.


But the disengagement was disconnected from him and connected to reality. If we hadn't left yesterday, we would have had to leave tomorrow or the day after that. There was no justification or future for 7,000 settlers tucked amid a million Palestinian refugees in a narrow strip of land with scarce resources. It's not the disengagement that was an injustice, but the settling there that was. The people who settled there, responsible adults, were warned ahead of time about their actions but didn't want to listen.


The settlers were not expelled from their land and their children were not uprooted from their cultural environment. In their return to Zion, they were influenced by a good majority, and if the state was derelict toward them at first, it subsequently gave more and more, and the compensation threshold has been reached. If only the people uprooted from Sheikh Jarrah who were tossed into the street with their children and their belongings could be so fortunate; but they are Arabs.


The wretchedness of the spoiled evacuees, which they insist on perpetuating, is meant purely for deterrence's sake: It will cost you dearly if you wish to be rid of the punishment of all the settlements.


Beware comparisons, which belong to the parable family, for it is well-known that only in the End of Days will every parable match its moral. And be especially wary of parables involving animals, which say less about sly foxes than about the people who invoke the parables.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Leading Republicans have gotten chilly toward the Constitution's 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to people born in the United States. Senators Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl have been suggesting that the country should take a look at it, re-examine it, think it over, hold hearings. They seem worried that maybe we got something wrong nearly 150 years ago, after fighting the Civil War, freeing enslaved Africans and declaring that they and their descendants were not property or partial persons, but free and full Americans.


As statements of core values go, the 14th Amendment is a keeper. It decreed, belatedly, that citizenship is not a question of race, color, beliefs, wealth, political status or bloodline. It cannot fall prey to political whims or debates over who is worthy to be an American. "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof," it says, "are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."


People like Mr. Sessions, who pride themselves on getting the Constitution just right (on, say, guns), are finding this language too confusing. "I'm not sure exactly what the drafters of the amendment had in mind," said Mr. Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, "but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen."


It's true that air travel was not a big focus in 1868, but this is not about a horde of pregnant jet-setting Brazilians, if, indeed, such a thing even exists. The targets are Mexicans, and the other mostly Spanish-speaking people who are the subjects of a spurious campaign against "anchor babies" — children of illegal immigrants supposedly brought forth to invade and occupy.


Usually alarms about scary foreign infants are made by one-note zealots like Tom Tancredo of Colorado. But it's a bipartisan temptation. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who berated Republicans this week about abandoning their principles over birthright citizenship, did so himself in a 1993 bill for which he later apologized.


Thankfully, the Constitution is sturdy. The birthright-deniers will not easily rewrite it or legislate around it. More than a century of jurisprudence stands against their claim that the phrase "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" (an exception for diplomats' children and members of sovereign Indian tribes) also alienates undocumented children.


The proponents of changing the 14th Amendment also would have to acknowledge the big-government colossus that new rules would require, burdening all parents to prove their children's status. New battalions of attorneys would gain full employment to fight over thousands of newborns rendered stateless each year, an instant, permanent underclass. Then there's the obsolescence of all those civics texts, old movies, patriotic picture books and red-white-and-blue songs.


The United States has never had a neat, painless way to add newcomers. But our most shameful moments have involved the exclusion of groups, often those that do our hardest labor: Indians, African-Americans, Chinese, Irish, Italians, Catholics, Jews, Poles, Japanese-Americans, Hispanics. America has stood proudest when it dared to stretch the definition of who "we" are.


As a result, this is still the most welcoming country for immigrants. A few politicians chumming for votes in an off-year election cannot be allowed to destroy that.







France has no equivalent to the 14th Amendment, but the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who likes to be known as Sarko the American, also is fanning dangerous anti-immigrant passions for short-term political gain.


Last week, he proposed stripping foreign-born French citizens of their citizenship if they are convicted of threatening the life of a police officer or other serious crimes. Lest any voter miss the point that such a law would be particularly aimed at Muslim immigrants, Mr. Sarkozy's interior minister, in charge of the police force, helpfully added polygamy and female circumcision to the list of offenses that could bring loss of citizenship.


Days earlier, Mr. Sarkozy promised to destroy the camps of the Roma and send them back to where they came from, mainly Romania and Bulgaria. Both countries are members of the European Union. Hundreds of thousands of their residents, in France legally, now risk being swept up and expelled in police raids.


And Mr. Sarkozy proposes denying automatic French citizenship to people born in France if their parents are foreign and they have a record of juvenile delinquency.


All of this in a country that has long proudly upheld the principle that all French citizens — native-born or naturalized — are entitled to equal treatment under the law. That applies to Mr. Sarkozy's Hungarian-born father and Italian-born wife, both naturalized French citizens, and should apply to everyone else.


But immigrant-bashing is popular among nonimmigrant French voters and Mr. Sarkozy has never been shy about doing it. He built his 2007 presidential campaign around his tough record (and inflammatory words) as interior minister. Earlier this year, he ran a divisive campaign to define French national identity because he wanted to fend off the far right anti-immigrant National Front in regional elections. It didn't work.


Now, with his political fortunes at a new low and the National Front resurgent under younger leadership, he has gone further, worrying traditional conservatives who still believe in the rights of man and the equality of all French citizens. They are right to be concerned, and he is recklessly wrong to ignore their cautionary advice.







Since it started measuring in 1999, the Federal Communications Commission invariably concluded that the spread of broadband service was progressing just fine. In 2008, it said more than 99 percent of Americans lived in areas that had access to high-speed Internet networks.


Well, not exactly. In a report issued last month, the F.C.C. estimated that 14 million to 24 million Americans — 5 percent to 8 percent of the population — still have no access to broadband from their homes. And it suggested that private companies are unlikely to serve these relatively unprofitable households.


Throughout the Bush administration, the F.C.C. stuck to a definition of broadband created in the heyday of a link that could handle at least 200 kilobits per second. And it counted all households in ZIP codes where a broadband provider had at least one subscriber.


The F.C.C. has brought the assumptions into the present. It defined broadband as a connection with an upload speed of at least 1 megabit per second and a download speed of at least 4 megabits per second — enough to download a 45-minute TV show in five minutes, rather than an hour and a half on a 200 kilobits-per-second line. It analyzed data by county rather than ZIP code. And it set a minimum threshold: people in a county were classified as having broadband access only if 1 percent or more of the county's population were connected.


Lack of access is not the only problem. A separate F.C.C. study found that 80 million Americans do not subscribe to broadband service at home, and 50 million do not use the Internet at all. But lack of access deprives too many families, mostly in poorer rural areas, of any chance to use an essential tool for modern life.


The report is likely to discomfit Republicans, who, during the Bush administration, used the mirage of 99 percent coverage to support the view that unfettered markets were delivering universal broadband.


It is true that Internet penetration has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, but the F.C.C. must fill the gap. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 orders it "to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market."


The F.C.C.'s strategy, published in March, lays out ways to do this. It is working on rules to redeploy the Universal Service Fund, created to bring telephone to hard-to-reach places. And it proposes to reallocate telecommunications spectrum from broadcast TV to mobile broadband service. To enable this, the House and Senate should pass without delay bills that would allow the F.C.C. to auction spectrum to telecommunications carriers and use the proceeds to compensate broadcasters.








As the nation veers toward an era of laissez-faire campaign spending by corporations and unions, it is urgent that President Obama deliver on his promise to repair the system of publicly subsidized campaign financing.


It was Mr. Obama who enjoyed such a rich windfall in small Internet donations as a candidate that he rejected the public option with its spending limits. He did so despite earlier promises to continue with a system that had served presidential politics well for a generation after the big-money corruption of Watergate.


A new bipartisan proposal to update the public option seems tailored for Mr. Obama's promise to tune the system to the realities of modern campaigns. The measure faces up to the devastating effects of the Supreme Court's striking down decades of limits on corporate campaign spending — a decision Mr. Obama heatedly denounced. It does so by putting the focus on the sort of small-donation Web supporters that he pioneered.


The measure creates a four-to-one federal matching formula for donations up to $200 in primary and general elections, requiring participants to honor both cycles. In the face of the legalized flood of special-interest dollars, the proposal necessarily drops the past spending limits for public-option candidates. But it allows them matching funds of up to $100 million in primary races and up to $200 million in the general election.


These parameters are a viable alternative to the fat-cat splurges of influence brokers, in the estimate of the bill's sponsors. In contrast to the current law, it's vital the measure have the flexibility to be updated for campaign inflation. Stronger disclosure requirements, a ban on public financing of party conventions and an increase on the tax-form checkoff to $10 per individual (instead of $3 presently) are part of the bill, which is estimated to cost $1.1 billion across a four-year cycle.


Opponents of the public option, sensing the goodies to come, already have a bill to kill the system entirely. Congress and President Obama have no time to waste.












THE Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa, one of the largest United States military bases in East Asia, is in the center of a crowded city. The American and Japanese governments acknowledge the dangers of this situation, and they agreed nearly 15 years ago that the base should be moved; however, no move has yet been made.


In 2009 a new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, tantalized Okinawans with the prospect of moving the despised base off the island, but he was recently forced to resign, in part because of his failure to keep that promise. Mr. Hatoyama's successor, Naoto Kan, has made it clear that he intends to respect the United States-Japan security treaty — a position that, while not directly related to the issue of dialing down the United States military presence in Japan, may indicate which way the wind is blowing.


It was recently reported here that a government panel is about to submit a policy paper to Prime Minister Kan, suggesting that regarding Japan's "three nonnuclear principles" — prohibiting the production, possession and introduction of nuclear weapons — it was not wise to "limit the helping hand of the United States," and recommending that we allow the transport of nuclear arms through our territory to improve the so-called nuclear umbrella.


When I read about this in the newspaper last week, I felt a great sense of outrage. (I'll explain later why that word has such deep significance for me.) I felt the same way when another outrageous bit of news came to light this year: the decades-old, Okinawa-related secret agreement entered into by the United States and Japan in contravention of the third of the three nonnuclear principles, which forbids bringing nuclear weapons into Japan.


At the annual Hiroshima Peace Ceremony on Friday, this year marking the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb, representatives from Britain, France and the United States planned to be in attendance, for the first time. This is a public event at which government leaders give speeches, but it also has a more profound and private aspect, as the atomic bomb survivors offer ritual consolation to the spirits of their dead relatives. Of all the official events that have been created during the past 200 years of modernization, the peace ceremony has the greatest degree of moral seriousness.


I'm using the term "moral seriousness" deliberately here, to echo a passage in the speech President Obama delivered in Prague in April 2009. "As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon," he said, "the United States has a moral responsibility to act." The president's call is yet another indication that a sense of crisis is germinating, fueled by a growing awareness that if decisive steps are not taken, before long the possession of nuclear weapons will not be limited to a few privileged countries.


Mr. Obama's Prague speech reflected the sentiments expressed previously by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn in a 2007 article for The Wall Street Journal titled "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons." They wrote: "Deterrence continues to be a relevant consideration for many states with regard to threats from other states. But reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective."


The antinuclear mood in America and Europe appears to be gaining momentum; indeed, the American, British and French presence at the peace ceremony may be seen as a small symbolic step toward a nuclear-free world. However, as things stand now, Japan still has no concrete plan for moving the air base. In the same vein, there's the possibility that we will allow nuclear weapons to pass through Japan in exchange for American protection.


At a meeting of the United Nations Security Council before he was deposed, Prime Minister Hatoyama responded to Mr. Obama's Prague speech by noting that Japan, too, had a "moral responsibility" because it was "the only victim of nuclear bombings."


But what sort of action will result from all this antinuclear rhetoric? If Prime Minister Kan also takes the time to think about President Obama's phrase, how might he interpret it? It probably wouldn't go over very well if, in his speech at the peace ceremony, he were to side with the crowd advocating transport of nuclear weapons through Japan.


But suppose he did — how would such a declaration be received by the foreign dignitaries who have allied themselves with Mr. Obama's pledge? And what about the bombing victims who will fill the venue? Wouldn't they feel a sense of outrage if they were told that it's their moral responsibility, as citizens of the only atom-bombed country, to choose to live under the protection of a nuclear umbrella, and that wanting to discard that umbrella in favor of freedom is, conversely, an abdication of responsibility?


I'm concerned, too — now that the former prime minister's rosy promises of relocation have failed to materialize and the original plan to move the Futenma base to an offshore site near the Okinawan village of Henoko has been brought back to life — about how such a policy change would be perceived by the elderly men and women who have been staging a sit-in at Henoko for more than 2,000 days.


Sixty-five years ago, after learning that a friend who was reported missing after the bombing of Hiroshima had turned up in a hospital there, my mother put together a meager care package and set out from our home in Shikoku to pay a visit. When she returned, she shared her friend's description of that morning in August 1945.


Moments before the atomic bomb was dropped, my mother's friend happened to seek shelter from the bright summer sunlight in the shadow of a sturdy brick wall, and she watched from there as two children who had been playing out in the open were vaporized in the blink of an eye. "I just felt outraged," she told my mother, weeping.


Even though I didn't fully grasp its import at the time, I feel that hearing that horrifying story (along with the word outrage, which put down deep, abiding roots in my heart) is what impelled me to become a writer. But I'm haunted by the thought that, ultimately, I was never able to write a "big novel" about the people who experienced the bombings and the subsequent 50-plus years of the nuclear age that I've lived through — and I think now that writing that novel is the only thing I ever really wanted to do.


In Edward W. Said's last book, "On Late Style," he gives many examples of artists (composers, musicians, poets, writers) whose work as they grew older contained a peculiar sort of concentrated tension, hovering on the brink of catastrophe, and who, in their later years, used that tension to express their epochs, their worlds, their societies, themselves.


As for me, on the day last week when I learned about the revival of the nuclear-umbrella ideology, I looked at myself sitting alone in my study in the dead of night . . . . . . and what I saw was an aged, powerless human being, motionless under the weight of this great outrage, just feeling the peculiarly concentrated tension, as if doing so (while doing nothing) were an art form in itself. And for that old Japanese man, perhaps sitting there alone in silent protest will be his own "late work."


Kenzaburo Oe, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994, is the author, most recently, of "The Changeling." This article was translated by Deborah Boehm from the Japanese.









AS President Obama and Congress search for ways to jump-start job creation in our stalled economy, their best strategy may be right under their noses — in the voluminous backlogged files of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.


This is the agency, after all, that issues the patents that technology startups and other small businesses need to attract venture capital to pay salaries. Three-fourths of executives at venture capital-backed startups say patents are vital to getting financing, according to the 2008 Berkeley Patent Survey, a national study of patents and entrepreneurship. And startups are responsible for almost all the new jobs created in the United States since 1977, according to a study by the Kauffman Foundation.


Unfortunately, since 1992, Congress has diverted more than $750 million in patent fees to other purposes. That has left the patent office itself underfinanced and burdened with a backlog of 1.2 million applications awaiting examination, more than half of which have not had even a first review.


To revitalize America's engine of entrepreneurship — and create as many as 2.5 million jobs in the next three years — Congress should, first, give the patent office a $1 billion surge to restore it to proper functioning. This would enable the agency to upgrade its outmoded computer systems and hire and train additional examiners to deal with the threefold increase in patent applications over the past 20 years. Congress should also pass pending legislation that would prohibit any more diverting of patent fees and give the office the authority to set its own fees.


Once the patent office is back to operating effectively, the backlog of 1.2 million applications should yield, judging from history, roughly 780,000 issued patents, about 137,000 of which would go to small businesses. Then, going forward, the agency could grant an additional 88,000 patents within three years. By 2013, small businesses would have received some 225,000 patents that they could then use to secure financing to build their businesses and hire more workers.


To be sure, not every patent creates a job or generates economic value. Some, however, are worth thousands of jobs — Jack Kilby's 1959 patent for a semiconductor, for example, or Steve Wozniak's 1979 patent for a personal computer. It's impossible to predict how many new jobs or even new industries may lie buried within the patent office's backlog. But according to our analysis of the data in the Berkeley Patent Survey, each issued patent is associated with 3 to 10 new jobs.


So our guess is that restoring the patent office to full functionality would create, over the next three years, at least 675,000 and as many as 2.25 million jobs. Assuming a mid-range figure of 1.5 million, the price would be roughly $660 per job — and that would be 525 times more cost effective than the 2.5 million jobs created by the government's $787 billion stimulus plan.


To encourage still more entrepreneurship, Congress should also offer small businesses a tax credit of up to $19,000 for every patent they receive, enabling them to recoup half of the average $38,000 in patent office and lawyers' fees spent to obtain a patent. Cost, after all, is the No. 1 deterrent to patent-seeking, the patent survey found.


For the average 30,000 patents issued to small businesses each year, a $19,000 innovation tax credit would mean a loss of about $570 million in tax revenue in a year. But if it led to the issuance of even one additional patent per small business, it would create 90,000 to 300,000 jobs.


Taken together, fully financing the patent office and creating an innovation tax credit could mean as many as 2.5 million new jobs over three years, and add up to 600,000 more jobs every year thereafter.


It only makes sense to help innovative small businesses make their way to the patent office and, once there, find it ready to issue the patents that lead to new jobs.


Paul R. Michel is a former chief judge of United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which handles patent appeals. Henry R. Nothhaft, the chief executive of a technology miniaturization firm, is a co-author of the forthcoming "Great Again."








One depressing aspect of American politics is the susceptibility of the political and media establishment to charlatans. You might have thought, given past experience, that D.C. insiders would be on their guard against conservatives with grandiose plans. But no: as long as someone on the right claims to have bold new proposals, he's hailed as an innovative thinker. And nobody checks his arithmetic.


Which brings me to the innovative thinker du jour: Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.


Mr. Ryan has become the Republican Party's poster child for new ideas thanks to his "Roadmap for America's Future," a plan for a major overhaul of federal spending and taxes. News media coverage has been overwhelmingly favorable; on Monday, The Washington Post put a glowing profile of Mr. Ryan on its front page, portraying him as the G.O.P.'s fiscal conscience. He's often described with phrases like "intellectually audacious."


But it's the audacity of dopes. Mr. Ryan isn't offering fresh food for thought; he's serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce.


Mr. Ryan's plan calls for steep cuts in both spending and taxes. He'd have you believe that the combined effect would be much lower budget deficits, and, according to that Washington Post report, he speaks about deficits "in apocalyptic terms." And The Post also tells us that his plan would, indeed, sharply reduce the flow of red ink: "The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Rep. Paul Ryan's plan would cut the budget deficit in half by 2020."


But the budget office has done no such thing. At Mr. Ryan's request, it produced an estimate of the budget effects of his proposed spending cuts — period. It didn't address the revenue losses from his tax cuts.


The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has, however, stepped into the breach. Its numbers indicate that the Ryan plan would reduce revenue by almost $4 trillion over the next decade. If you add these revenue losses to the numbers The Post cites, you get a much larger deficit in 2020, roughly $1.3 trillion.


And that's about the same as the budget office's estimate of the 2020 deficit under the Obama administration's plans. That is, Mr. Ryan may speak about the deficit in apocalyptic terms, but even if you believe that his proposed spending cuts are feasible — which you shouldn't — the Roadmap wouldn't reduce the deficit. All it would do is cut benefits for the middle class while slashing taxes on the rich.


And I do mean slash. The Tax Policy Center finds that the Ryan plan would cut taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population in half, giving them 117 percent of the plan's total tax cuts. That's not a misprint. Even as it slashed taxes at the top, the plan would raise taxes for 95 percent of the population.


Finally, let's talk about those spending cuts. In its first decade, most of the alleged savings in the Ryan plan come from assuming zero dollar growth in domestic discretionary spending, which includes everything from energy policy to education to the court system. This would amount to a 25 percent cut once you adjust for inflation and population growth. How would such a severe cut be achieved? What specific programs would be slashed? Mr. Ryan doesn't say.


After 2020, the main alleged saving would come from sharp cuts in Medicare, achieved by dismantling Medicare as we know it, and instead giving seniors vouchers and telling them to buy their own insurance. Does this sound familiar? It should. It's the same plan Newt Gingrich tried to sell in 1995.


And we already know, from experience with the Medicare Advantage program, that a voucher system would have higher, not lower, costs than our current system. The only way the Ryan plan could save money would be by making those vouchers too small to pay for adequate coverage. Wealthy older Americans would be able to supplement their vouchers, and get the care they need; everyone else would be out in the cold.


In practice, that probably wouldn't happen: older Americans would be outraged — and they vote. But this means that the supposed budget savings from the Ryan plan are a sham.


So why have so many in Washington, especially in the news media, been taken in by this flimflam? It's not just inability to do the math, although that's part of it. There's also the unwillingness of self-styled centrists to face up to the realities of the modern Republican Party; they want to pretend, in the teeth of overwhelming evidence, that there are still people in the G.O.P. making sense. And last but not least, there's deference to power — the G.O.P. is a resurgent political force, so one mustn't point out that its intellectual heroes have no clothes.


But they don't. The Ryan plan is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future.


David Brooks is off today.








Maybe BP's infamous Macondo oil well will yet rise from the grave like Jason in Friday the 13th, but all signs are that BP's "static kill" has stopped the blowout for good. If not, a relief well will do the job very soon.

As the crisis ebbs and emotions calm, it's time to begin looking back to ask what lessons have been learned, what should have been done differently, what there still is to worry about — and how things might go differently next time. Some fresh insights are beginning to emerge:


•Just how bad was the spill? In the days after the well blew out, damage forecasts started out bad and got dramatically worse. It was the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. It would kill the Gulf of Mexico. Oil would be captured by the "loop current," cover Florida's beaches and travel up the East Coast. One oil expert went on MSNBC to suggest that the only way to cap the well was with a nuclear bomb.


The alarmists were right about at least one thing: This was a huge spill. The latest official estimate of nearly 206 million gallons easily makes it the worst ever in U.S. waters, far bigger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker accident (11 million-35 million gallons) or the 1979 Mexican Ixtoc I well blowout (almost 150 million gallons).


But the Gulf is an enormous and surprisingly resilient place. The spilled oil from the Macondo well would fill the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans about one-sixth full. If that sounds like a lot — and perhaps to some it doesn't — consider that it would take about 554 million Superdomes to fill the Gulf ofMexico. That's not exactly a drop in the proverbial bucket — particularly considering massive economic damage along the Gulf Coast — but it's a strikingly different image from one emblazoned in people's mind by the early reaction.


It's too early to be completely sure, but federal scientists said quite confidently Wednesday that the vast bulk of the oil is already gone (captured, evaporated, skimmed, dissipated, eaten by microbes), and survey teams have been surprised by how little of the coastline has been damaged. Even in oil-smeared areas in Louisiana's vulnerable coastal marshes, researchers have been gratified to see green shoots in oily grasses. Some areas are reopening to fishing, and so far, seafood from the Gulf shows no contamination.


As of Thursday, teams had collected 3,606 dead birds, less than 1% of the number killed by the Valdez spill. The Valdez dumped heavier oil into frigid waters, some of it into rocky bays where it persists 21 years later. The Gulf is much warmer, and heavy use of dispersants, the churning of the open Gulf and the force of the sun might have helped make most of the oil go away.


Is there seabed damage we don't yet know about? Are there still plumes of oil lurking underwater? Will thedispersants used to break up the oil cause long-term damage to marine life? Unclear. But so far, it seems the wildest predictions were just that — wild.


What to make of all this? Perhaps that it's human nature to assume the worst, which isn't all bad. It focuses attention on fixing the problem. Perhaps that the news media did not do a very good job in the early days of putting the scale of the spill in the context of the Gulf's size and biology. BP tried to, but it had blown its credibility so no one listened. More provocatively, it might suggest that deep-water drilling, while being riskier and harder to control, is less threatening than drilling near shore. A much smaller spill just off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969 did enough damage to affect policy for decades — including drilling bans that endure today.


•So is it safe to drill again? If anything was clear in the days after BP's well failed on April 20, it was that neither BP nor the industry had any real plan for fixing a blowout a mile underwater or ensuring that no oil washed ashore.


All the industry's claims of technological mastery evaporated as the days ticked by without a fix, and BP cluelessly added to questions about the wisdom of drilling in ultradeep water by whining that trying to fix the broken blowout preventer a mile under the sea was like conducting "open heart surgery at 5,000 feet in the dark with robot-controlled submarines." OK, then what was it doing drilling there in the first place? It took trial and error and 87 days before BP finally put a temporary cap on the well.


The good news is that BP's fumbling attempts were a painstaking, real-world test of how to fix an out-of-control well in mile-deep water. Now the industry knows how to do it.


Better yet, there's a promising plan for doing so quickly in the future. Exxon and three other major oil companieshave pledged to spend at least $1 billion designing, building and deploying a system in the Gulf region to contain a deep-sea blowout that would be ready to "begin mobilization" within 24 hours of an accident. The industry has also promised to ready a more robust system for cleaning up any oil that does escape.


The companies have major incentives for doing this. The Interior Department is signaling that it might lift or modify its drilling ban — scheduled to last at least until Nov. 30 while equipment and safety practices are reviewed — if companies can show that they can operate more safely. Further, no company wants to repeat BP's experience.


The biggest barrier might be BP itself. It has massive plans for Gulf drilling and a long record that says it won't reform. Investigators blamed the company's lax attitude toward safety and maintenance for a terrible refinery explosion in Texas in 2005 and a major pipeline leak in Alaska in 2006. There's not much indication the company's safety culture changed. Then there are the drillers. TransOcean, which operated the rig that exploded, also might also be a habitual safety violator.


Further complicating matters is that Exxon and its partners don't plan to have the new blowout response system ready for at least a year-and-a-half.


Caught in the middle are people and companies that depend on Gulf drilling.


The shrinking estimates of the catastrophe, the human suffering and the improving preparation all argue for shortening the drilling ban. But there's no question where the burden of proof lies. The industry — particularly BP — needs to make a convincing case that it has created the conditions that will allow drilling to proceed safely.


•What about the politics? It would be naive these days to expect politicians to join together in the face of a national disaster, but it was depressing nonetheless that so much energy was wasted on political finger-pointing. Republicans accused President Obama and the Democrats of responding ineptly, Democrats blamedPresident Bush and the Republicans for coddling the oil industry instead of cracking down, and politicians of various stripes in hard-hit Louisiana, led by Gov. Bobby Jindal, howled at every stumble, demanding more help. With all that the state has been through, now and in Hurricane Katrina, you could hardly blame them.


Even so, the record will show that a White House with vivid memories of how Bush was burned by the slow-footed response to Katrina got on the case quickly, deploying the Coast Guard and marshalling what resources it could. Some 1,200 ships were on site within a month under Coast Guard command. There were — inevitably — myriad small mistakes, but only a miracle could have kept the oil from reaching shore. It's a barometer of this polarized era that nothing Obama did short of swimming to the bottom of the Gulf and plugging the well himself would have made his critics happy.


As for the Democrats' complaints, Bush's affection for the oil industry is a matter of record, as is his push to call off regulatory watchdogs in a number of areas. But the Obama administration had been in office for more than a year when the spill happened, Democrats had controlled Congress for three, and Obama was confident enough about safety just before the spill to propose increasing offshore drilling. The regulators who had been captured by the industry were still doing the same sloppy job. That is where the fingers should have been pointing and where attention should focus now.


Also lost in the squabbling was a chance to raise awareness of the costs to national energy security as exploration stopped in an area that produces 30% of the nation's domestic oil. Plans for expanded offshore drilling elsewhere were shelved. The cost of banning drilling in some of the last places that could provide significant domestic oil supplies is that imports rise. The USA already imports about 68% of its oil and is dangerously vulnerable to the vagaries of the world petroleum market. It would be nice to think the nation will simply use more solar energy, more wind power or some other alternative source of energy. But there's no national plan to make that happen, and Congress is currently paralyzed over legislation that would barely begin the effort.


Future generations will probably look back years from now and wonder why this didn't galvanize the nation into changing course. The saddest lesson of all from this disaster so far is the one we didn't learn.








Rush Limbaugh started his national radio talk show 22 years ago last Sunday. Then he had 56 stations and about 250,000 listeners weekly. Now, he has about 600 stations and between 15 million and 20 million listeners.


Most of his regular listeners take him very seriously. Many of my conservative friends actually agree with his ludicrous stuff and some worship him religiously.


I love listening to him because I think he has the best comedy show on radio.


I'm not a regular Limbaugh listener because on most days when he peddles his diatribe, I'm busy doing something worthwhile.


But my radio stays tuned to his show when I take one of my frequent long auto trips, as I did recently to my native South Dakota and neighboring North Dakota.


To observe his 22nd anniversary, Rush said, "I will tell you that I do expect that within 50 years, Aug. 1 will be at least a private sector national holiday, if not a holiday nationwide."


After he quit bragging about himself, some of his other laughables:


•"Sarah Palin says the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, has something that (President) Obama lacks: cojones."


•What James Carville, the former Clinton aide and supporter, said was, if Hillary gave Obama "one of hercojones they'd both have two."


I don't necessarily agree that anyone on the air should use that kind of language. But the fact that Limbaugh not only gets away with it but is the kingpin for so many otherwise cautious or discreet or intelligent people makes him almost as important as he thinks he is.


So, for the dog days of August, I suggest you have a portable radio with you in your car, on the beach or park outings. Laughing at Limbaugh will make all that more fun.








DALLAS — Just days before I was to celebrate another middle-age birthday, I heard on the news that the mayor of an affluent suburb here had killed her 19-year-old daughter before turning the gun on herself. Authorities believe 55-year-old Jayne Peters — mayor of Coppell, Texas— might have planned the murder-suicide based on notes found at her home.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers are taking a long look at numbers showing that middle-age adults (45-54) — like Peters — have thehighest suicide rate in the nation for the second year in a row.


Why? In general, researchers see a broad range of factors. According to LaVonne Ortega, an epidemiologist with the CDC, in 2007, 40% of middle-aged adults who died by suicide were either depressed or had some type of mental illness. Over 30% of suicide victims had experienced a crisis in the days before they died. About 12% also had financial woes.


Madhurkar Trivedi, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, adds that middle-age people, more than other age categories, experience multiple stressors — such as jobs, finances and caring for children or elderly parents (often both).


Peters suffered from some of these risk factors: Her husband died in 2008, and she was facing severe financial stress as a result of his long illness, including almost losing her home to foreclosure, her minister said.


Yet with suicides in this age group, society still has a blind spot. The reasons why, according to Eric Caine, co-director at the Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide at the University of Rochester Medical Center, is that midlife suicides have not been extensively studied. Caine says more attention on the middle years and the mental health of Boomers is needed. The bulk of funding has been directed at teenagers and the elderly, who previously had the highest suicide rates.


It's time we looked a little closer. Public awareness campaigns are just one part of the solution. Even so, we don't have to wait for specific causes via in-depth studies to take preventive measures. But urgency is required. The CDC has found that from 1999 to 2004, the suicide rate in this age group jumped nearly 20% — and 31% among women. During this same period, the suicide rates decreased for teens and seniors 65 and older.


In Coppell, Texas, two people are gone from among us. But hopefully, with more targeted research and public awareness — especially among us Boomers — we can reverse this preventable and tragic trend.


Joyce King is a freelance writer in Dallas.








The New York Times, in an editorial: "It has been disturbing to hear ... the vitriol and outright bigotry surrounding the building of a mosque two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. So it was inspiring when (the city's) Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9-0 on Tuesday to reaffirm one of the basic tenets of democracy: religious tolerance. Instead of caving in to the angry voices — many but not all of them self-promoting Republicanpoliticians — commissioners paved the way for construction of the mosque and Islamic center. It was not just the right thing to do, it was the only thing to do."


National Review, in The Editors blog: "The story of the proposed mosque ... has been thoroughly misrepresented, as have the parties behind the project. They present themselves as ambassadors of moderate Islam. Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, says the project aims to put the Muslim community 'at the front and center to start the healing.' Khan ... is also Mrs. Feisal Abdul Rauf, the wife of the main Islamic cleric behind the project. Rauf is no moderate. ... He is in fact an apologist for the terrorist outfit Hamas, which he refuses even to identify as a terrorist organization. ... Americans should make their displeasure with this project felt economically and socially. ... It is an indecent proposal and an intentional provocation."


Leonard Pitts Jr., columnist, in The Miami Herald: "We should not be without sympathy for those who cringe at the notion of a mosque so near Ground Zero. ... But the Constitution does not carry an escape clause. We do not get to jettison our national ideals just because they cause pain or provoke. To the contrary, that is the time they are most severely tested and most desperately in need of defending. ... Yes, putting that building in that place might be painful and provocative, but it would also be a reminder of the very values the terrorists sought to kill. ... They want to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero? Let them."


The Washington Times, in an editorial: "A 13-story mosque and Islamic cultural center planned for a site near Ground Zero is at best inappropriate and at worst an attempt to hijack the memory of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. ... The U.S. should ban any overseas funding for construction of religious sites originating in countries that do not allow religious freedom and end the one-way relationship that allows those promoting Islam an unfair advantage over other faiths. ... The 'religion of peace' has some very violent adherents, and they are increasingly active on U.S. soil. It's a sign of cultural weakness that Americans are afraid to say no to a mosque on the most prominent site of jihadist victory in the United States."


New York Post, in an editorial: "If freedom of religion means anything in the United States, it means that Muslim Americans have a right to congregate and worship wherever they please. ... But that doesn't mean the people behind a planned mosque ... are acting like good neighbors. ... Exhibit A: Their secrecy about who'll actually be funding the project. ... It is possible — maybe even likely — that the Ground Zero mosque project is entirely peaceful and well-meaning. ... (But) if its backers truly seek to promote 'understanding,' they could start by making their finances fully transparent. If they don't do so, fair-minded New Yorkers are entitled to assume that they have something to hide."








Mormons took a lot of abuse for helping pass Proposition 8 in California, where 52% of voters banned the right of gay couples to marry in 2008. But will anyone thank Jehovah's Witnesses for their role in getting the law declared unconstitutional?


One of the biggest outcries over Prop 8 was that the fundamental rights of a minority group could be taken away by popular vote — which isn't supposed to happen in America, land of the free.


Vaughn Walker, the federal judge who struck down Prop 8 this week, boldly said it "was premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples." He also minced no words with the electorate: "That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant."


This is where Jehovah's Witnesses come in. On Page 116 of Judge Walker's ruling, he cites a 1943 Supreme Court case where the high court did a rare reversal of itself, acknowledging a mistake it made in a Jehovah's Witness case three years earlier. What happened between 1940 and 1943 to Jehovah's Witnesses gave Judge Walker in 2010 his most potent precedent to show that voter will does not trump the protection of minority rights.


A villain of that era


In the 1940s, Jehovah's Witnesses weren't just unpopular and marginalized. They were seen as criminal and a threat to democracy. It was blasphemous enough that they preached there was no hell or trinity and went knocking on doors to say so. But they also refused to salute the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance.


Lillian Gobitas was among thousands of Jehovah's Witness children expelled from public school for not saluting the flag. Her case (Minersville School District v. Gobitis) went to the Supreme Court and a fundamental question was asked: Should a free society force its citizens to engage in patriotic ritual? In 1940, the court said yes. National unity was at stake.


But Jehovah's Witnesses wouldn't comply, saying the flag salute is an idolatrous act of worship of a man-made symbol, which is forbidden by God. In response, mobs attacked Jehovah's Witnesses in 44 states, burned their houses of worship and beat them. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke out against the violence. At the height ofWorld War II, when the U.S. was fighting nationalism in Germany, where Jehovah's Witnesses were being sent to concentration camps for refusing to do the Nazi salute, the Supreme Court revisited the case (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette). A stunning reversal was announced June 14, 1943 — Flag Day.


In 2010, the value Judge Walker saw in the Jehovah's Witness case was how Justice Robert Jackson in 1943 addressed the "tyranny of the majority," a problem that's been around since at least 1835 when Alexis de Tocqueville first wrote the phrase in his book, Democracy in America.


The 1940 Supreme Court used "national unity" to justify forcing kids to salute the flag. It also said the threat of being expelled from school was a good way to achieve compliance. If anyone felt put out, the court said, he could seek remedy at the ballot box by asking the majority to see it his way.


When Justice Jackson got the chance to reverse the 1940 ruling, he tackled the ballot box notion head-on. He wrote that the "very purpose" of the Bill of Rights was to protect some issues from the volatility of politics and "place them beyond the reach of majorities."


"One's right to life, liberty and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly," Jackson said, "may not be submitted to vote."


Rights trump elections


Judge Walker used Jackson's line in striking down the 52% majority vote that had taken away the fundamental right of gay and lesbian couples to marry in California.


While we can thank Jehovah's Witnesses for this precedent that aims to prevent tyranny of the majority, it should be noted they don't like gay marriage. They consider it sin and aren't afraid to say so. But not one devoted Jehovah's Witness voted for or supported Prop 8. Jehovah's Witnesses are apolitical. Rather than forcing their beliefs through legislation, they prefer to find converts by sharing a message.


Justice Jackson saw how protecting the rights of an unpopular religion demonstrated the beauty and full potential of the Bill of Rights for every unpopular group to follow.


"Fundamental rights," Jackson wrote in 1943 and Judge Walker quoted in 2010, "depend on the outcome of no elections."


Joel P. Engardio directed KNOCKING, an award-winning PBS documentary about Jehovah's Witnesses. He is a 2011 MPA candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.












The people-to-people rapprochement between Turks and Armenians in recent years continues to inspire. The Yerevan State Ballet's visit to Istanbul five years ago, countless artistic exchanges and the women's volleyball matches that were perhaps overshadowed by the more strategic (and male) football matches. And we reported in the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Armenian-Canadian director Atom Egoyan' interest in filming a movie here and his friendship with our own Fatih Akın.


All of us at the Daily News have our own anecdote of the human side of the Turkish-Armenian relationship: The reporter invited home for a meal in Beirut after an encounter with a policeman who proved to be of Armenian heritage; the orchestra in a Yerevan cafe that immediately played "Sarı Gelin," the famous folk song claimed by both peoples upon discovering the identity of one of our editors; the taxi driver from Kars ferrying one of our reporters to the famous football match in Bursa who offered his personal plea for open borders.


Such examples are many. But we still must share the sentiment of Narine Davityan, a Yerevan tour operator quoted in our story in yesterday's Economic Review section by our reporter Vercihan Ziflioğlu:


"Despite the closed borders, the tourism capacity is fascinating," said Davityan, manager of Tez Tour. "I cannot imagine how much it will prosper once the borders are open again."


Ziflioğlu's story was on the fact that some 50,000 citizens of Armenia last year chose to make their annual holiday in Turkey, most of them choosing the coastal resort of Antalya. That number is expected to grow by at least 30 percent during this year's tourist season.


Yes, relations remain frosty, and the border opening initiative of two years ago is all but shelved. Officially, no diplomatic ties exist between Ankara and Yerevan. The Kars border crossing has been closed for almost two decades. And no one can say when this will improve.


But this week alone, two charter flights will carry planeloads of passengers from Yerevan direct to Antalya, and flights are set to run through October. Tour operators in Armenia are trying to expand transport options to Bodrum. And Armenian historical sites in Turkey, from Akdamar Island in Van to the Ani ruins near Kars, are another huge draw.


These are not small numbers. Armenians prepared to pay $2,000 for a package tour certainly have other options for a week at the beach. And the fact these tourist visits occur despite regular calls in some sectors of the Armenian press to boycott Turkey is all the more significant.


Like Davityan, we don't exactly know what to make of this beyond the observation that the phenomenon is fascinating. Diplomacy may have its setbacks. Politicians may prevaricate and waffle. But it is clear to us that average Turks and Armenians just want to have normal relations. They are doing so.






Every culture has more or less similar, but yet different, ceremonies for weddings and funerals. Religion plays an important role on these differences for the latter. Among them the main difference is the time and the place where people get together. Unlike funerals, weddings, especially big city urban weddings have started to look very much alike.


There are different occasions around the world where people get together for a different purpose, but "coincidentally" discuss business. Golf is an important occasion for that, but as it is at its very early stage, it cannot match with weddings or funerals. These are the two major events where people discuss business - in Istanbul - and politics - in Ankara.


Funeral ceremonies predominantly take place at noon in Turkey in order to ensure friends, colleagues and relatives attendance. There are certain popular mosques for important businesspeople and politicians. The attendants get together for half an hour to an hour before the praying starts to see the family members and pass on condolences. Then everyone waits in the gardens of the mosques for the imam to start the ceremony. Once the praying is over, the deceased is taken to the cemetery. The burial requires more privacy and usually only close friends and family members attend.


The first ceremony at a funeral plays an important role for business and politics due to the following reasons: It provides a spontaneous meeting opportunity (despite the fact that you can imagine who will be there more or less) and you have time to talk before the praying starts. As everyone faces the ultimate end, people have more understanding and patience to talk to each other. It is very quiet and the tone of voice is always low. If you want to set an appointment, the answer you get is yes most of the time. Funerals, like religious holidays, are considered great platforms where individuals get together and resolve conflicts. For the emotional and relationship-oriented culture of Turkey, these are precious moments. On the other hand, as these are moments of respect, attending totally unrelated funerals or frequent abuse of such "spontaneous" moments can create severe irritation. You can find yourself alone in the courtyard.


Once we had a problem with one of the organizations we worked with. Despite our agreement, they refused to take a product and ignored the calls of my subordinates for quite some time. It was a big problem and I was also trying to reach the president of the other party without any success. Coincidentally, while coming back from New York, I read a sad obituary. It was about a friend's father. The next day I went to the mosque to be with my friend and pay my respects. The president of the other company was also there. When I got the chance I told him that if we talked we could sort out the issue. We agreed to meet at his office following the ceremony. An hour later, everything was back in order. 


Weddings, on the other hand, can be more difficult. Like at funerals you meet over a cocktail for an hour and then get seated for dinner. However as they predominantly take place during the evening and are not regulated by praying times, people arrive towards the end of the cocktail. Arriving a bit late for such events is even considered a bit prestigious. Weddings are more crowded and noisy. You use a high tone of voice. People limit themselves on talking business during such events. Therefore, cocktails are used for short messaging. As the seating is predetermined by the couple (to be precise; by their mothers!) who is getting married, you might end up with totally unrelated people around the table. It is a like a caste system determined by numbers and closeness to the stage. Important friends of the fathers and mothers take the first row. Less important friends take the second. Due to respect for age and hospitality, young friends of the couple and relatives are seated at the last tables. You can figure out your face value for the family based on your position. Once you are seated, it is like the lottery. The chance of meeting new friends or spending the whole evening talking to your wife or partner is 50/50.


I was managing a company of 400 people while I was getting married in Istanbul. For the wedding party, I had to limit the attendance to 15 people who directly reported to me. Three days before the wedding an uninvited colleague came to my office, saying he was having a hard time understanding why he was not invited. I was shocked. I said it was a private event and that it was nothing personal.


While doing business or managing in Turkey, don't underestimate how diffuse/integrated your business relationships can be. Your role is and should be always beyond being a business partner or a manager. You should be a good friend and a father/mother role model from time to time. In order to be successful, people should have an emotional attachment to you. And this is only possible by being there with them and sharing sadness or joy. 


Zafer Parlar is the founder of istventures (, which supports international companies in their market entries and development in Turkey, as well as Turkish companies in their local operations and expansion plans abroad.









Let's say you are a prime minister and will appoint an adviser. Do you prefer one with a different worldview? Does a communist appoint a capitalist, a religious man a laic or an atheist a pious one? No, he does not!


Then how should we read the appointment of Ali Yüksel as an adviser by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?


Yüksel is the chairman of the European National View Organization and a "sheikh al-Islam."


You may say, "So, what's wrong with that? Did Erdoğan enter politics as pro-'National View'?" But did Erdoğan, together with President Abdullah Gül, say, "We don't take the Quran as a reference" when they formed the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP?


I don't know how a man can be a sheikh al-Islam, but I honestly find very odd the appointment of a person who claims to be one as the Prime Ministry adviser.


That's not all. It seems the newly appointed adviser has three wives. Determined to use all his rights under Islam, Mr. Yüksel says he will have a fourth. And in order to show how he is right, the new adviser says, "I am trying to treat them equally," as his wives confirm.


"Did you have permission from your wife to get married with another one?"


"No," he says. "They would not let me. And I don't have to ask their permission."


Apparently, the only thing needed to legitimize having more than one wife is to treat them "equally."


Since I don't want to be involved in anyone's private life, I will not talk further about this particular subject.


But I should touch upon a few things I'm curious about. The first is: what will Mr. Prime Minister consult with Yüksel about? Second, is there a possibility Erdoğan might also tend to support polygamy since he is being advised by a man with three wives?


Third, polygamy is a crime according to Turkish law. Is it right for Erdoğan to appoint a man who is already committing a crime?


Fourth, what if Mr. Yüksel believes he really is a sheikh al-Islam?


Fifth, where will we find so many women to marry?


And last, does Erdoğan still side with the "National View"?


I mean, what if he is just pulling our legs?


* Türker Alkan is a columnist for daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.








Prime Minister Erdoğan's government finds itself in an increasingly frustrating position vis-à-vis the Mavi Marmara incident, for which it is demanding an apology and compensation from Israel for killing eight Turkish and one Turkish – American pro-Palestinian activist.


Israel announced earlier this week that it would be cooperating with a panel established by the United Nations Secretary General, to be headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, which will investigate the whole incident and prepare a report on it. 


This came a week after the Israeli government said it would not cooperate with an investigation commission established by the U.N. Human Rights Council, and was therefore termed by the Turkish media "a major victory for Turkey."


The Turkish foreign ministry for its part expressed pleasure over the establishment of the panel, terming it "a step in the right direction." Embedded in the ministry's statement, however, were remarks that explained what Turkey understood the job of this panel to be.


"We hope that the results of the inquiry will contribute significantly not only to the much needed peace and tranquility in the region, but also help entrench the culture of respect for international law and prevent the recurrence of similar violations," the ministry's statement said.


Ankara has been insisting from the start that the commando raid by Israel against the Mavi Marmara took place in international waters, and was therefore a violation of the "Mare Liberum" principle of international law. It was clear from the wording of the ministry's statement that Ankara wants the panel to establish this violation. No doubt it also desires this decision to form the basis of any punitive decision against Israel.


Washington however was prompt to jump in, after the foreign ministry statement, to establish what it considered the panel's function to be, and it was clear from what was said that this did not tally with the Turkish interpretation. Welcoming the establishment of the panel like Turkey, the United States' Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice nevertheless went on to say that it was "not a substitute" for the investigations under way by Israel and Turkey.


"The Panel, which has the support of both Israel and Turkey, will receive and review the reports of each government's national investigation into the incident and make recommendations as to how to avoid such incidents in the future," Rice said in a written statement.


This statement angered the government in Ankara so much that the U.S. deputy chief of mission was immediately called in to be reprimanded. "The United States is viewing the commission from a narrow perspective. [Rice's] statement was one that seemed to give the impression the U.S. was determining the commission's work," a Turkish diplomat was quoted by AFP as saying in remarks clarifying Ankara's annoyance.


The Turkish government was also annoyed over words in Rice's remarks that suggested the panel's main aim was to try and bring about a rapprochement between Turkey and Israel.


"The raid is an issue between the international community and Israel, and not between Turkey and Israel. There were people from 30 different countries on those ships," the diplomat said. The diplomat added that the panel's task "was to investigate the incident," and "not to absolve Israel or improve Turkish-Israeli ties."


While the government maintains the line that "people from 30 different countries were involved" in the flotilla heading for Gaza, it has been a source of deep annoyance for it that none of the countries that these citizens come from are pursuing the Mavi Marmara incident the way Turkey wants.


Put another way, Turkey has thus far failed to "internationalize" the issue with any meaningful participation from the West. Prime Minister Erdoğan has even suggested – a fact that reportedly left senior American diplomats in Ankara livid with anger – that the reason why Washington was not pursuing the rights of the Turkish-American activist killed by Israel, even though he was a U.S. citizen, was because he was a Turk.


What is clear, however, and more or less corroborated by Ambassador Rice's remarks, is that Israel would never have accepted cooperating with the panel set up by Ban ki-Moon had it not gotten some solid reassurance of support from Washington. Put another way, it was always apparent that if Israel was to accept any international probe under the mantle of the U.N. the U.S. would ensure this did not single it out for blame.


To put the matter in lay terms, the Obama administration is saying in effect that Turkey and Israel should arrive at some kind of a friendly settlement regarding this whole incident and look forward to improving their once good ties by utilizing this panel to that effect.


The pro-Islamic and visibly "Hamas-friendly" Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government in Turkey, on the other hand, is saying, "I don't want to make up with Israel. I want it to be punished so that it will first apologize, and then pay compensation for its illegal act."


Given this overall situation the panel set up by Ban ki-Moon could easily end up being yet another battle ground for the two countries to lash out at each other, thus contributing to a further deterioration of their ties. The problem on both sides is that the two governments' constituents have been radicalized over this issue. Therefore neither side can afford an image of caving in to the other.


The Israeli government only accepted to cooperate with this panel because it can tell its supporters that it will not only have a degree of control over its proceedings, but that Washington will also be there to ensure things don't go awry from Israel's point of view.


The Turkish government, on the other hand, is faced with a highly charged political environment at home and can not afford to give any impression to the public that it accepted anything short of an international inquiry that will ultimately find Israel guilty.


Prime Minister Erdoğan's government has spoken so clearly on the issue, and feels that it is completely in the right as far as international law is concerned, that any compromise will appear as having surrendered its position.


The problem for Ankara, however, is that international law is the last thing to come into play when such highly charged and politicized international issues are at stake, and all one has to do is look at what is happening in the world today to understand this.


The Erdoğan government's added dilemma, however, is that this whole affair is eroding Turkish-American ties at a time when the two countries are facing challenges that require that they maintain a level of good relations.


It seems therefore that unless a friendly settlement is reached over this incident between Turkey and Israel, a settlement, that is, which enables both sides to save face, matters will continue to get worse, which will hardly contribute to stability in the region.








'Determination is the fuel to keep going ahead in spite of all obstacles or discouragement'


I feel within me a void which cannot be filled easily; there isn't any Turkish-American individual in the United States Congress. What does it feel like to be a minority in a large, crowded political arena in the States? As you can imagine, this is a sensitive subject. How could we awaken the Turkish-American spirit? First of all, we should have an innovative leadership team; I mean a strategist, a good communicator, and friendly media contacts. I consider innovation as an important trait of leadership; effective leaders make motivational speeches and inspire others to action. Always aim for a long-term networking. This team has to educate, register, and mobilize voters. Citizen participation must be stimulated in policy formulation. A project of this scope requires considerable team planning, effort and recruitment of volunteers. Increased attention and visits to U.S. Congress staff and Presidential offices will help to improve its connection with the local community. The Turkish-American Associations, with a reflection of the spirit of the Turkish-Americans and their intellectual vibrancy, has organizational features of Turkish society and social activities. Dear Turkish-American friends, please do not keep out of federal, state or local politics! You can make a stronger connection with today's diverse voters and audiences. Press members could be urged to give careful consideration not only to the qualifications of each candidate but to their diverse backgrounds as well. You could be great negotiators and problem solvers if you are given a chance to get elected to the U.S. Congress. You can work hard to prevent the anti-Americanism which is growing in the last decade in the Middle East and develop sound projects to prevent xenophobia in Europe. As we are concerned with the Middle East, this is of vital importance. We see many Europeans of Turkish origin as members of Parliaments, especially in the German Parliament, in the European Continent.


Article1. section2. of the Constitution of the U.S. states that no person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years, and been nine years a citizen of the U.S., and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen. The candidate has to be twenty five years old, and has to have been a citizen for seven years for selection to the Congress.


Can Turkish-Americans have more voice in U.S. politics? Who will serve as a pioneer? When will they pick up a new historical seat and open the doors for others with diverse backgrounds? Will we see a candidate who will surprise election campaign experts in the next elections? I remember many volunteers were recruited; phones were dialed for election campaigns in the past. Among these candidates, we can list Osman Bengür, Rıfat Sivişoğlu, Tarkan Öcal, and Jak Karako. I've had the opportunity to meet with Osman Bengür, Tarkan Öcal, and Rıfat Sivişoğlu in the U.S. on several occasions at various Turkish-American Conventions. R. Sivişoğlu was an official 2008 Democratic candidate for County Board of Du Page, Illinois in 2007. Sivişoğlu, as an Adjunct Professor of Business at the Center for Business and Economics, Elmhurst College, worked 25 years in the industry in positions of increasing authority; the last 12 in high-tech for such firms as Alcatel in Paris. He has sat on corporate-group level Mergers & Acquisition and Marketing Strategy boards. He used political technology and combined his technical capacities with politics and used democracy online. He defined his policy access for disadvantaged American people. He said he has sat on corporate boards. He was on a non-profit board, and he teaches how to run boards. He is running office to safe-guard taxpayer monies for a change. But, no one should forget the importance of person-to-person appeals. O. "Öz" Bengür has been active in politics. He was one of the first to run for a seat in the U.S. Congress in 2006. He also served as treasurer of the Maryland Democratic Party and worked as a special assistant to the Governor of Maine. He was born in Washington, D.C. to Turkish parents. He has thirty years of experience as a public and corporate finance investment banker and entrepreneur. Tarkan Öcal was a candidate for the Florida State Senate from the 29th District during the September Primary Elections as a Democrat. He was born in Ankara. According to the press reports, he was employed as a mechanical engineer in Florida. He worked on the To Go Campaign and transported many handicapped voters to the voting stations during the 2000 elections. This suggests that there is a common denominator among these Turkish-American candidates; their party affiliation: Democrats; their education: Engineering, business finance, and management. I do not want to sound either optimistic or pessimistic, but the problems are there. It's time to have your strong voices heard. Go to your Congressmen and Congresswomen to talk about foreign policy issues concerning Turkey. Special attention has to be paid to the Federation of Turkish-Americans, or TADF, which has great energy to channel and organize Turkish-American people. The leaders at TADF work very well, and TADF President Kaya Boztepe with his team has been developing Turkish-American relations in a positive way. In meetings, and in his writings, he provides a well-informed critical analysis of the recent developments for Turkish-Americans in the States.


Turkish-Americans should have a stronger voice in the U.S. democratic tradition. Society has to attribute more power to the Turkish community in the States.


*Heyecan Veziroğlu is a member of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and the Society of Professional Journalists. She writes as a columnist for and She has also been an international contributing editor for Turkey since 2008 for Her articles have been published by the American Journalism Center and Accuracy In Media briefings in Washington. Working as a freelance journalist, she has also appeared on TRT, ABC News, Tory Johnson's Good Morning America program in the U.S., Turkish-American TV, as well as other TV channels.









On July 28 a big majority of the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing "safe and clean drinking water and sanitation" as a human right. Considering that some 2.5 billion people lack sanitation and 900 million people do not have access to safe drinking water this might seem like a welcome development. But turning water and sanitation into a human right is a threat to the poor and to law.


Firstly, individually enforceable human rights in international law are things the state cannot take away from you (such as life, liberty and property), not things that the state must give you with taxpayers' money. But, more importantly, this human right would not help the millions of poor people whose health and quality of life are threatened by the lack of clean water and sanitation.  


For rights to have meaning, it must be clear what they are and who is responsible for upholding them. Take free speech: if a government arrests a dissident for peaceful statements or thoughts, it is breaching its obligation to uphold a clear human right and the courts would then be responsible for upholding it.


The right to clean water and sanitation is far less definable and depends on economic development, technology and infrastructure. Above all, if people have a right to water and sanitation, other people must provide it – in practice, governments using public money. Such privileges are called "positive rights," as opposed to the inaptly-named "negative rights" to things that cannot be taken away from you. So this is really a call for state intervention, at the expense of other priorities and freedoms – and water is no more a practically enforceable human right than other essential commodities such as food, clothing or shelter.


This resolution follows naturally from activists' ideological resistance to the privatization of water. This ignores the countless examples from Bolivia to Egypt where governments have failed to provide clean water due to corruption, cronyism (usually including massive subsidies to inefficient farmers), mismanagement and waste. It also ignores successful private models in Bolivia, Chile, Denmark and elsewhere. Giving governments ultimate control over the supply of water may even be dangerous because authoritarian regimes can use their power to punish the recalcitrant and reward their supporters.


The resolution also devalues true human rights. By demanding that developed countries "provide financial resources and technology transfer" to developing countries, the resolution implies that the rich are responsible for violating the human rights of people without water in poor countries. This allows many countries like the proposer Bolivia to deflect criticism away from their own violations of real human rights by arbitrary detentions, torture and censorship, while portraying themselves as victims of the West.


So far, defenders of traditional human rights have been reluctant to criticize this political agenda: no-one wants to be perceived as being against not only clean water for the world's poorest but human rights too. So democratic countries such as Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain and Norway voted for the resolution with Egypt, China, Pakistan and Cuba, which deny human rights to their citizens, while 41 countries such as the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom fearfully abstained: no country had the courage to reject it, leaving the way open for the adoption of a legally binding protocol.


Those who are against the idea, such as the U.S., hope this non-binding resolution will not matter because "the legal implications of a declared right to water had not yet been fully considered," as U.S. diplomat John Sammis told delegates. Such procedural theory ignores the political reality of States gaining greater power over their citizens' lives, particularly in poor countries where oppressive economic regimes are supported by Western charities and activists.


If democratic states abandon the freedoms of true human rights, they abandon the poor to many more decades of state-imposed poverty, corruption and inefficiency.


*Jacob Mchangama is head of legal affairs at CEPOS, a Danish think-tank, and an external lecturer of international human rights law at the University of Copenhagen.








Perhaps the developments should be evaluated from another perspective as well. It might be argued that very much like the "bad guys doing good things" assessments made regarding the energetic and illuminating European Union-oriented reform drive of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in the 2003-2005 period, the government's latest standoff might eventually prove to be a great service to the advancement of Turkish democracy.


Right, what the AKP government, to be more precise, President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have been trying to do for the past several weeks, particularly during the past five days, might be described as trying to tame a lion with a (allegiant judicial) stick. Such an effort may bring about some very dangerous consequences, but if the lion can indeed be tamed, the circus might be salvaged.


Yet, particularly those who claim to have domesticated their Islamist genes and have become some sort of obscure conservative-democrat and rather cute cats must know better than anyone else from their not so seldom emotional Islamist outbursts that like scratching is in the genes of cats and at some stage they just cannot resist the temptation of scratching their owners, irrespective how well a lion might be tamed, being a predator is in its genes and no one can guarantee that it would not turn wild all of a sudden and eat its trainer.


For the past many days but particularly since Wednesday the AKP government has been stressing in all clarity in its contacts with the top generals of the country that the era of allowing the military to decide its own promotions and appointments can no longer continue. Under the existing legal framework the Supreme Military Council is just an "advisory board" subservient to the prime minister. The existing legal framework, including the law on the Supreme Military Council's establishment underline in all clarity that the council cannot be the final decision maker regarding either promotions or appointments but can only make some suggestions to the prime minister.


Right, according to tradition, prime ministers were only attending the opening session of the council and the social events hosted on the occasion but leaving the decision on the promotions, appointments as well as disciplinary penalties be made by the military members and whatever was decided by the military the prime ministers were approving and sending to the presidency for endorsement. Since the AKP came to power, the prime minister and the defense minister were often attending the entire meeting, emphasizing that the civilian government is part of the process. Now, what indeed happened is a just step further. The government is trying to cut into the military top brass and telling them that "Gentlemen, sorry but you are all subservient to the civilian government; the Supreme Military Council is an advisory board giving advise to the prime minister; only the prime minister can decide who should be the top commander or force commander in this country."


Such an attitude by the prime minister sure has to be applauded as a great contribution to efforts to consolidate civilian democratic governance in this country. Yet, while the not so innocent steps taken against some senior generals and officers – such as the order of capture issued by an Istanbul court or invitations to make a testimony issued for some officers, including Gen. Hasan Iğsız, wanted by the military to become new Land Forces commander but opposed by the government because of his alleged involvement in the Ergenekon gang – have strengthened the hand of the government but at the same time created doubts whether there were systematic cleansing efforts against the officers who refuse to be domesticated.


These days will become history and hopefully the current crisis between the military and the civilian government will be left back without a major road accident for Turkish democracy. If that can be managed, despite all the criticism made against the possible secret agenda the government might have in mind in undertaking the current effort in taming the lion military, the eventual winner will be the Turkish democracy.


Thus, tomorrow we might be saying once again that bad guys, with some bad intentions, have indeed achieved something good for the consolidation of civilian governance and democracy in this country.


Yet, no one should forget that it is correct that if a cat is forced into a corner, it fights back very fiercely but it is equally correct that a lion cannot be tamed and turned into a cat. Even if it can be tamed, a lion will still be a lion.








The idea of human rights has been around since the thirteenth century. It gathered speed during and after the French and American revolutions. But it never gained general acceptance, despite the ringing words. Thomas Jefferson himself kept slaves and Karl Marx was a vociferous critic of "The Rights of Man," the seminal French document.


"They are nothing but the rights of egotistic man, of men separated from other men and the community and the rights of the restricted individual withdrawn into himself."


The cause seemed quiescent. Neither Stalin's mass executions nor the persecution of the Jews in Germany re-ignited the cause. The dam of apathy was not breached until shortly after the commencement of the Second World War when the great science fiction writer H.G. Wells, together with a few socialist friends including A.A. Milne, author of "Winnie the Pooh," published a declaration of principles on human rights. This was the first time since the 18th century that human rights had been restated in a way that ordinary people could digest. Penguin Books quickly followed the declaration by publishing Wells' "The Rights of Man." It was translated into 30 languages and syndicated in columns all over the world.


President Franklin Roosevelt was one of its readers. Just after the United States entered the war, under his prodding, the allied powers in a joint declaration pronounced that "complete defeat of their enemies is preserve human rights and justice in their hands."


After the war the United Nations drafted the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." In the years after the U.N. oversaw the negotiation of eleven important treaties – from outlawing torture and genocide to the right to self-determination. Shortly after, the World Court was established to arbitrate conflicts between nations. In 1998 in a landmark step, an overwhelming majority of the world's nations voted to create the International Criminal Court, to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity.


The energy that propelled this along and the treaties was often provided by relatively recently established nongovernmental organizations – the oldest are not even 50 years old. Amnesty International, with its one million members from all over the world, led the charge. This was a different kind of participation than the generation of Wells and Milne engendered. The cause spread with such speed that the ex-dictator of Chile, General Augusto Pinochet, was arrested in London. Top officials in Israel fear arrest if they travel to Europe.


Leaders from ex-Yugoslavia and the Congo were arrested and put on trial. The former U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, wrote in a despairing and disparaging tone that "An unprecedented movement has emerged to submit international politics to judicial procedures and has spread with enormous speed."


Maybe it is the time to slow down and consolidate what has been achieved. What does all this progress mean to the average Indian villager who is exploited by his landlord, or the wife knocked around by her husband in Nigeria, or small children forced to work in the sex trade in Thailand and Kenya? Or what about enforcing laws that already exist – as in China with a police force that is not held accountable for their abuses, or the local corrupt party chiefs who break the law by stealing the money sent from the central government for local development, or the laws protecting workers from having their salaries stolen by ruthless employers?


Then we can look at the courts. It has been estimated that at the current rate the courts of Mumbai would take 350 years to hear all the cases on their books. 70 per cent of Indian prisoners have not even been convicted of a crime.


Do "human rights," as generally understood by the educated and the U.N. and nongovernmental organizations, mean anything at this level? Does Amnesty reach down to the bottom levels of society? Do the U.N. conventions percolate down to this level?


It is true that the International Criminal Court can prosecute those who are destroying whole parts of society, as Radovan Karadzic did in ex-Yugoslavia or a modern day General Pinochet who intimidates and tortures all levels of society. But that still leaves unsaid the "out of sight" abuses, often taking place in small towns and villages away from the limelight.


Why don't the human rights and development organizations attempt to focus on constructing public justice systems that will work for the poor? If there were effective law enforcement in the backwoods areas that could honestly and fairly deal with land disputes, wife beating and robbery this would be a great step forward for local communities. Less than 1.5 per cent of last year's American foreign aid budget was used for rule-of-law programs. And when outside money is available it tends to be spent on drug, arms trafficking and terrorism.


The human rights warriors have had a good run for their money since H.G. Wells and A.A. Milne got the ball rolling. But the modern day human rights movement has barely touched the nitty gritty of everyday rights abuses that are too often overlooked or ignored. Is it not time to consolidate what has been achieved and move on to a new battlefield?


Jonathan Power is a foreign affairs commentator based in London. This piece appeared on the Khaleej Times website







What is risky and what is safe? That has always been a crucial question for anyone working in the financial markets. Bankers provide their clients with an asset mix, tailored to suit the aging widow or the young entrepreneur.

But what if everything you know about risk was suddenly turned upside down? In the last two years, all the stuff we thought was really safe and dull turned out to be dangerous. And the things we thought were risky ended up being quite reliable.


In reality, investors need to reverse everything they thought they knew about risk. Assets such as property, the dollar and developed-country bonds are only for those who don't mind losing their shirts. Small-time investors who depend on getting their money back should be buying into small companies, emerging markets and private-equity or hedge funds.


Risk has always been important in markets. Think of those know-your-client forms that banks get you to fill in. Describe yourself as risk-averse, and they will offer you a mix of government bonds, maybe some blue-chip equities and a lot of real estate in developed countries. Describe yourself as risk-friendly, and they will get out the brochure on that hedge fund that specializes in high-velocity Kazakh yak-hide trading.


Our ideas about risk determine how money flows around the world, and the price paid for it. The higher the risk, the greater the return you expect, and vice versa.


The global financial crisis of 2008 changed everything that we knew to be safe.


Were bank deposits a good option? Not if they were with an Icelandic bank, even if it was regulated in the U.K. or the Netherlands. Anyone with money in a major European or U.S. lender was only a bailout package away from losing the lot. That doesn't sound very secure.


How about property? We might be used to the phrase "safe as houses," but it doesn't apply to homes as an asset class anymore. Take the British market. According to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, after adjusting for inflation there is a 70 percent chance house prices will be lower in 2015 than they were in 2007. It could be 2020 before they get back to their peak in real terms. In most major markets, property is overpriced and dependent on bank financing that has dried up. There is nothing safe about that.


Government bonds, anyone? If you held Greek debt, your portfolio wouldn't have looked too healthy over the past year. If you bought U.K. or U.S. bonds, it might be looking a bit better. But you should probably be feeling nervous. The markets picked on Greece, and made an example of it, but its budget deficit wasn't much bigger than that of the U.S. or Britain. At any moment, they might get mauled as badly as Greek bonds did earlier this year. Even if you stick with financially responsible countries such as Germany, they are still getting stuck with the bills of their neighbors in the euro area.


Likewise the dollar. The budget and trade shortfalls might create a crisis at any time. The Swiss franc? If Credit Suisse went bust, the whole country would be brought down, much like Iceland. No traditionally "safe" asset looks very solid right now.


The risky stuff looks safer. Not convinced?

Most emerging markets have much higher growth rates, healthier demographics and more buoyant tax revenue than their peers in the developed world. Their currencies, bonds and equity markets look more reliable than any in the U.S. or Europe.


Corporate bonds are a better bet than most government bonds. Would you rather have your money in Vodafone, with millions of customers paying their mobile-phone bills every month? Or in U.K. government bonds, with a weak economy, a massive welfare bill and a budget deficit equal to more than 10 percent of gross domestic product?


Small companies are safer than blue chips. Just think of the problems that BP has run into in the past few months. Giant enterprises can run into giant trouble. The smaller businesses can flourish under the radar.


Private-equity and hedge funds beat bank deposits. It was the banks that ran into trouble in the credit crunch,

not the alternative-investment industry.


We don't know precisely what will emerge as "safe" once the dust has settled on both the credit crunch and the sovereign-debt crisis. But emerging markets are safer than developed ones, equities beat property, and corporate bonds are preferable to government notes.


Sometime around 2015, don't be surprised if bankers are advising widows and trust funds, which need to preserve capital above all else. They will be offered Turkish bonds, a hedge fund or two, and a portfolio of small emerging-market stocks. Real estate, Treasury bills, and dollar or euro blue-chips will only be for people who fancy a flutter - and have already been warned they may lose everything.


Matthew Lynn is a Bloomberg News columnist and the author of "Bust," a forthcoming book on the Greek debt crisis.










If President Zardari's visit to France and the UK were to be considered in the light of how it is seen in Pakistan, there would be little doubt that he made a serious miscalculation by going ahead with it. The country is awash with the worst floods in 80 years, thousands have died, more will die, and perhaps millions have lost homes and livelihoods. One might have thought that under these circumstances the least he could have done before jetting off for a few days was to address the state of the state of which he is president. It would have done him no harm at all to spend ten minutes talking to all 170 million of us and wish us well in our watery and uncertain futures. 

Now the British media have got their teeth into our president. They have no inhibitions about pouring scorn and ridicule on him, and have resurrected the 'Mr 10 per cent' nickname for him that labels him as corrupt, a taker of bribes. He has been pictured on a visit to a French chateau owned by a relative and many media outlets have commented that the real reason for his visit is to see the coronation of his son Bilawal in what The Independent called "…that strangest of modern political roles – the dynastic democrat." The reports of his luxurious lifestyle are juxtaposed with images of flooded landscapes and desperate people; and the overall impression is that the British media perceives a crisis of legitimacy for Mr Zardari. It is clear that the president has done nothing to help himself with this visit. He now says that he is going to 'educate' the British prime minister when he sees him at Chequers on Friday. Perhaps so, but few would regard Mr Zardari as the most objective of teachers and Mr Cameron has made it clear that he will stick to his 'plain speaking' line. The vulnerability of our president outside his own land as a man that few would trust is ruthlessly exposed. In the UK he does not have the protective shields that he has in Pakistan, no circle of sycophants whispering polishing platitudes into his ears day in and day out. In PR terms the Zardari visit to France and the UK has been an unmitigated disaster – if only because he turned his back on his own people at a time of dreadful disasters whilst in pursuit of his own dynastic aggrandisement.







There is no letup in terrorism. Even the devastation wreaked by the flood in KP has not been enough to persuade the militants not to strike. As in the past, they have targeted a senior member of the security apparatus. The killing of FC commandant Sifwat Ghayyur of course weakens the police setup and diminishes its ability to cope with terror. It does so in two ways: by removing yet another senior officer from the scene and by adding to the fear which deters others from going after the militants. Life, after all, is a precious human possession. But undoubtedly the element of fear serves a primary purpose of the terrorists. By spreading it they seek to paralyse normal life and cripple authorities. It is disturbing that well over a year after the full-fledged military offensive in the north began the militants remain capable of doing this. Their ability to send out suicide bombers into the heart of Peshawar appears not to have diminished. Clearly the organisational structure to plan these attacks and equip the bombers remains intact. We wonder then what must be done to defeat the militants. 

The strategy used so far perhaps needs a rethink. The government's inability to manage matters adds to the strength of the militants. In KP there has been fierce criticism of the government by flood-hit people. At a time of crisis the administration needs to deliver, or it risks adding to the capacity of the Taliban to beguile people into believing that they are out to serve them. For now we see no end to violence. Great damage has already been inflicted and more is being caused with each attack. Answers need to be found – in theory and in practice. So far the authorities have failed to offer any and this can only add to the sense of unease everywhere.







In Karachi the death toll has continued to rise. The killings unleashed by the murder of an MQM MPA also continue to grow uglier in their nature. More than 80 lives have been taken since Monday. Defenceless people -- many of them Pukhtun labourers -- whose presence in the city is aimed only at earning enough to keep food before their families have been hunted down and shot. Some have been killed as small children watched. It is quite obvious that the coalition government has lost all capacity to maintain any kind of order. The sense of disarray has crippled everyone – and the poor who have no protection from bullets are the most vulnerable of all. In localities where those from all ethnic groups live close together there is growing unease and bitterness. 

The need to protect people is an urgent one. All of them deserve a life better than that of animals facing the gun of the marksman. It is becoming clear that the political parties will not heed calls to sit together. But Karachi needs to be saved and its people need help. No one at present seems able or willing to come to their rescue and this raises the risk of an acceleration in the senseless violence that has claimed the lives of so many innocent people.







The gods have a choice in the matter of destruction. Whom they would destroy they first make mad or ridiculous. Pakistani 'strongmen' usually end up as mad, their actions when twilight approaches explainable only on the plane of madness. The more hilarious alternative is reserved for special beings.

Most of us were aware of the rumours that President Zardari had some sort of a chateau in France. But details were hard to come by. Now, thanks to the president's magnificently-timed trip to Paris and London, the veil has been rent asunder. President and family, the Lord be praised, are proud owners of the Manoir de la Reine Blanche -- Manor of the White Queen -- a 16th century chateau, as we've been informed, built for the widow of Philippe Fourth.

For most people in Pakistan this would be their first lesson in French and the first they would have heard of Philippe Fourth. Fauzia Wahab, the PPP's tempestuous spokesperson, can always be counted on to put up a defence of anything, no matter how outlandish. I am dying to hear her say that the Manoir de la Reine Blanche is a figment of the opposition's imagination.

Any fool could have told the president not to visit his chateau because it was bound to draw fire. But he just couldn't resist it. So he took a helicopter ride to it, courtesy his French hosts, and we are all in on the secret. Good for us but not very smart of the president.

In other circumstances a French chateau would be something to boast about, something even to be proud of. But associated with the president of a country whose international distinguishing mark is its permanent begging bowl -- Pakistan always with its hands stretched out -- the chateau is a reminder like nothing else of the president's enterprising spirit, the same huge talent which long ago earned him the imperishable title of Mr Ten Percent.

Just when the president was thought by many in Pakistan to have secured his position, and to have matured a bit, he goes and blows it all by inviting attention to his shining reputation and his equally-shining past. The one thing the president should shun is history and here he has invited the world to a study of history.

Pakistan's leading property tycoon -- you've guessed his name -- once told me that the president had a sharp eye for property. He could have saved his breath. Regarding the president's prowess in this field there were never any doubts, Zardari and property being an unbreakable combination. Now with the helicopter ride to the Manor of the White Queen we are reminded of the nexus once again. This has to be public relations at its glowing best.

If he was the Minister of Housing, or the Minister of Property Investment, perhaps it wouldn't matter so much. Indeed, he was Minister of Investment in his wife's second term as prime minister, a circumstance not without its share of high comedy. Zardari and investment, Zardari and property -- this was the subject of never-ending jokes. But he is the president of Pakistan and even if he doesn't mind making himself the laughingstock of Europe, Pakistan -- unhappy country, great as our sins may be, what have we done to deserve this? -- too gets tarred in the process.

Pakistan and terrorism, Pakistan the land of graft and corruption, and now this: a president with a taste for stately homes in different climes. It is not hard to imagine the wry looks on the faces of our foreign friends when next time we turn to them -- nay, implore them -- for money.

As floodwaters overwhelm different parts of the country, it is not unreasonable to expect the world to come to our assistance. After all, this is the worst flood disaster to hit Pakistan in living memory. But when we ask friends for assistance somewhere at the back of their minds will lurk the brooding image of the president's French chateau.

True, we never expected much from President Zardari. Just as some leaders are victims of high expectations -- we expect too much from them -- President Zardari was always a victim of low expectations. We expected nothing from him. We just marvelled at his good fortune and we asked ourselves what we had done to deserve him. Even so, the least he owed Pakistan was to keep his head below the ramparts. The timing of his present visit apart, the revelation about his French chateau is less an embarrassment for him as it is a discomforting thought for Pakistan that it is blessed with such leadership. To suffer injuries is one thing. We are used to this. But to have salt poured over open wounds is an unnecessary exercise.

Yes, Zardari is a democratically elected president. But this is no excuse for behaviour that wouldn't be condoned anywhere. Indeed, a democratically elected leader is under a greater obligation than a usurper not to insult his office and his people.

But this fulmination is to forget where all this comes from, the antecedents of the fortune we are talking about. God knows we've had plenty of buccaneers in our history, men who have used their position to rob, nay pillage, the state and enrich themselves. But the phenomenon before us is unprecedented in our history. It has no equals, no rivals.

There have been no domains this buccaneering has not ventured into, no limits to the extent of its grasping ambition. A billion dollars is easy to say. But a fortune of this size is not easy to amass. Even with the resources of the state at one's disposal, it requires a special kind of skill to think in these big terms and then to go about implementing that vision. We've always said our leaders lack vision. We should be looking afresh at this proposition.

Robber barons was a term used to describe Pakistan's first generation of depredators. But it is a term wholly inadequate to take in the scale of what we have before us. The Swiss bank accounts (60 million dollars) which figured in the NRO case are really small change in this calculation. The Cotecna commission -- on a contract for pre-shipment inspection of goods given to the Swiss firm of this name -- was really the first, hesitant step in a journey that was to become progressively more subtle and sophisticated. The Cotecna affair left an embarrassing trail. No such mistake was to be made subsequently.

Surrey Palace was bought for 4.5 million pounds. How much did the chateau cost? How much the apartment in Manhattan? How much the whispered property in Spain? We are talking of big money here. Where did it all come from? We are also talking of a creative vision not seen in Pakistan before. But there is nothing new in any of this, it's an old and oft-repeated story. But something must have been at work, something hidden in the dark reaches of the soul, to impel a helicopter ride that defies common sense and has set the rumour and conspiracy mills to roll again.

If culture is destiny, then some form of culture is at work here. An educated mind, a cultivated sensibility, would have shied away from such exhibitionism. This does not mean that educated minds are immune from corrupt habits. But at least educated minds, even if guilty of the worst, try not to put the products of their prowess on public display. It is the parvenu or the upstart, still insecure about his wealth and position, usually guilty of such a lapse of taste. For it is tastelessness above all which explains, and does justice to, that helicopter ride to the White Queen's palace.

Don't we have enough on our plate? We are being hit by terrorism and we have been hit by the worst floods for the last 100 years. And Karachi is in flames. President Zardari would have done nothing had he remained at home. He hasn't once visited the frontlines where our soldiers have fought and died. It is too much to expect he would have done anything to ease the plight of the flood-hit. But at least he could have spared the nation's feelings.

The good thing is that he has also made himself more ridiculous in the process, the only silver lining in a very dark mass of clouds.









On July 25, Taliban-linked terrorists struck a bloody blow on their most vociferous and courageous challenger in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa, the province's Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain. In their signature style of cowardly hate, they shot dead Mian Iftikhar Hussain's only son, 27-year-old Mian Rashid Hussain, outside his home in Noshera. 

As if this act of cold-blooded inhumanity was not enough, the terrorists struck again two days later near Mian Iftikhar Hussain's home in Peshawar, this time targeting his friends, co-workers, associates and family who had gathered to offer fateha and condolences to their beloved leader for his invaluable loss.

The brutal murder of the young and able Mian Rashid Hussain was intended to send a chilling message by terrorists to his father, who has been leading a courageous resistance of his Awami National Party (ANP), the provincial government and the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa against these deadliest enemies of Pakistan. Their message is: stop fighting us or bear the worst of personal consequences.

But not one to be cowed down, Mian Iftikhar Hussain rose above his immense grief with a superhuman resolve to answer their threat with a democratic Pakistan's message, which has once again won the hearts and minds of every Pakistani. Just three days after bearing the tragic loss of his only son, he stated: "…We are the followers of Bacha Khan. We will continue following his philosophy of non-violence and keep fighting those who believe in violence…I don't believe in revenge, but the war against terrorism will be taken to its logical end."

Through his exemplary courage, valiant resolve, and unshakeable commitment, Mian Iftikhar Hussain has turned a moment of great personal tragedy into a milestone of public service and dedication to our national cause. At a time, when democratically elected public representatives and leaders are receiving unprecedented hostility from some sections of society and the media, Mian Iftikhar Hussain has proven that democratic leaders live by a stellar principle – that personal is political. 

It is the political spirit of uncompromised personal commitment, which distinguishes Pakistan's democratic leaders from its dictators. Let there be no mistake in our understanding that Pakistan's deep wounds of today have been inflicted on our body politik by dictators of yore, who were aided and abetted by international actors pursuing their own strategic objectives in our region. Thus, Pakistan's wounds can only be healed by the political struggle and personal sacrifice of our democratic leaders. 

Every time a democrat makes a sacrifice against terrorism, our hearts and minds are rekindled by the memory of our great martyred leader, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, whose voice was the first to warn the world against the menace of extremism and terrorism, and who laid down her own life in our democracy's fight against it.

Today, the tragic story of democratic Pakistan's heroic battle against extremism and terrorism has become global knowledge. Only the ill-informed and the short-sighted would not acknowledge the sacrifices that are being made every day by innocent Pakistani people, their democratic leaders and their armed forces in one nation's collective battle against a global threat.

While the international community repeatedly tells Pakistan to 'do more' without fulfilling its pledges to help their frontline ally in the war against terrorism, our country is marching forward to singularly tackle this menace, bravely sacrificing its most precious of assets – our children. 

From the rugged Tribal Areas to the Karachi coast, the increase and intensity of terrorist attacks demonstrate our enemy's realization that it is now faced with a nation united against terrorism. Their desperation – most visible in their targeting of women and children -- indicates their fear of a Pakistan willing to make a collective sacrifice to rid itself of this menace.

It is a Democratic Pakistan that has set an example for the world to see – an example of the courage of one nation's ordinary people, political leaders and soldiers alike sacrificing their lives and livelihoods against an enemy that threatens the whole world. 

In Pakistan, the stakes have finally become equal for everyone – both the ruling and the ruled. With both making collective sacrifices, what more can Pakistan do? 


The writer is federal minister for information and broadcasting.







Most Pakistanis do not have an experiential memory of the blood-soaked birth of their country; their fathers and mothers did, but that generation is almost non-existent now. Likewise, the later-day viceroys of the erstwhile Empire, who deliver inflammatory speeches against Pakistan on Indian soil, either do not know their own bloody history in India or simply wish to obliterate from memory the horrendous deeds of their leaders who partitioned India in August 1947 in a manner that was bound to leave behind violent currents which would perpetuate wars and violence on this land for generations to come.

In any case, Pakistan is, was, and will remain a wounded land for the foreseeable future. Soacking in blood, this unfortunate land is now a victim of foreign aggressions and homemade, unrelenting disasters, not to speak of the wrath of natural forces which have been increasingly unkind.

Earthquakes, floods, sectarian violence, targeted killings, drone attacks and suicide bombings today define Pakistan -- a country that came into existence through a unique historic synthesis in which Islam was the most active agent. The country is a unique phenomenon in modern era because it emerged on the world map in the middle of the twentieth century only because the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent insisted that they were a nation different from all other nations present in United India then being ruled by Britain. The argument was that because of their religion, Muslims were fundamentally -- and not incidentally -- different from all other polities in the Indian Subcontinent. 

Tracing their roots back to the early 7th century, when Islam arrived in India as a result of the social and economic activities of Arab traders in the Malabar region, Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent were able to win independence by forcing the overweening British rulers to depart from their land and by compelling the Hindu majority to accept Pakistan as the only viable alternative to bloodbath that threatened the lives of millions of human beings then living in India. The coming into existence of Pakistan was supposed to provide a safe haven to all. What happened after Partition was, however, utterly different from what was hoped for.


No one thought that Pakistan would become what it has over the last 63 years. No one could have predicted in 1947 that the trail of blood which started at Partition would linger on and intensify to such an extent that in 2010 no one would be assured of returning home safely every evening. Death now hangs low over Pakistani skies. It comes in the form of suicide bombers, it descends from the skies in the form of indiscriminating missiles which instantaneously extinguish the lives of babies in the arms of their mothers. No one is counting the dead. No one is interested in recording for history these crimes against humanity. No one even protests against this continuous violation of international law. Death has become the most abundant crop of this wounded land. How? Why?

It is not difficult to see the red bloodline going back to the 1947 Partition of India. There was a built-in wound which has never healed: the leaders of the Pakistan Movement could not fathom the impossibility of forging unity between two wings of the country separated by 1,000 miles of hostile land. This resulted in the separation of East Pakistan in 1971 through a bloody war. Likewise, those leaders did not forestall the issue of the so-called princely states. Instead of demanding their inclusion in the two new states on the basis of the same formula which was used for the division of Punjab and Bengal, namely the per cent of Muslim and non-Muslim population, the leaders of the Pakistan Movement agreed on a new formula to determine the future of the princely states of India. In this they ignored the well-known ill-intensions of the Hindu leadership which would never hold a plebiscite in Kashmir even after the passage of UN Resolution 80 of 1950, which demanded that the governments of India and Pakistan "hold a free and impartial plebiscite".

What happened shortly after 1947 was also not helpful in securing peace in Pakistan: the political party which led the struggle for independence had no leadership ranks below the top level; for all practical purposes, it was a one-man party. Thus there was no possibility of a genuine political culture to emerge. The vacuum was filled, as all vacuums are filled, by the only organised institution which was present at that time: military.

The intervention of the military was inevitable due to the lack of any other organised entity that could lead the country. The political failure was compounded by social and intellectual failures of the highest order. There was no process through which any new organised political force could come into existence. The only alternate to brute military force was a charismatic leader and a charismatic leader did appear: Z A Bhutto.

The Bhutto phenomenon led to a pseudo-dynastic rule which pitched politicians against the military. A fluke political entity called the N-League also emerged through the same subversive merging of military and political interests. The N-League was, and remains, a one-man party. The rest, as they say, is history.

Thus devoid of any solid political culture, bleeding through a torn social fabric and mismanaged for six decades, Pakistan today has no way to cope with multiple crises it faces. It is not just the failure of one person; it is a compound failure which has no possibility of finding a solution except through a very fundamental revolution. Such a change is not visible on the horizon. Pakistan is not ready for any revolution. In the absence of such fundamental change, the only thing that can happen to this wounded land is continuous bleeding. This is not a doomsday forecast; it is an analytical conclusion based on an awareness of Pakistan's history and forces which are now operating in the country.


The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:







The tragedy of Airblue Flight 202 will not be easily forgotten, for reasons other than the loss of 152 lives. What will stay in our collective memory is that we failed to provide a response appropriate to the calamity we faced. We played with the emotions of the passengers' families, insulting them by making irresponsible and brutal announcements and, in some instances, turned their emotions into a frenzied media circus. We made a shameful

display of an unprofessional emergency response in the aftermath of the July 28 crash.


We must improve our emergency responses and develop an effective and coherent course of action for future emergencies of this kind. While we have sufficient material and human resources, they are not employed in a coordinated and result-oriented manner.

Disaster-management covers four basic aspects: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. In recent years, countries around the world have adopted a disaster risk management strategy which aims to link development with minimising the risk of disasters. However, the core features still remain the same, with emphasis on planning on disaster avoidance. 

While we created the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and implemented a disaster-management strategy, we failed to integrate infrastructure and capacity at local levels following the 2005 earthquake. One could say that we have a macro-level disaster risk management strategy without the basic structure that can execute the strategy on the ground. 

In the hours following the Flight 202 disaster, the major problem faced at every level of emergency response was that of command and coordination. Multiple units from the police, Rescue 1122, the army, the navy, the air force, the Rangers and the Capital Development Authority, as well as the NDMA, worked at the site with untrained volunteers. Without a single command and effective coordination, complete chaos was bound to occur in the rescue effort.

What we need is a unified response to emergencies. As a first step we will need to integrate basic emergency services (ambulance, the police and the fire brigade) at the district level throughout the country. This integration will entail a common contact number, a common command centre, and a common communication channel, paving the way for the implementation of the Incident Command System (ICS) at the site of an emergency. First adopted in California in the 1970s, ICS is a flexible and modular organisational structure to place all emergency responders and their resources under a single command at the emergency site.

Under the system, the first responder to reach a disaster site assumes Incident Command until the time a superior, a more experienced or specialised responder, arrives. Incident Command takes precedence over any internal command of agencies that are present on the scene and is terminated only when it has declared the disaster resolved. 

The system adopts a common terminology, at times plain non-technical language, to remove communication errors. Further, the system is objective-oriented. Depending on the level, type and scope of the disaster, objectives like "establish a perimeter," "put out the fire," "provide medical assistance," "evacuate trauma and other casualties," "start search and rescue" are outlined and followed. 

To ensure effective resource management, ICS provides for small teams of three-to-five members to work under a manager as one module. Modules are created and disbanded as the response develops and concludes. In addition to managing operations, the Incident Commander has complete control over information flow regarding the incident, which helps in suppressing release of incorrect information.

As a second step, we will need to create dependable, well trained community-based emergency responders that can be deployed as soon as the need arises. These responders must be part of structured units and identifiable. The best way would be to impart training at academic institutions and create district-level voluntary organisations that have an internal structure. This will ensure that. when deployed, volunteers will have a sense of command and will integrate with professional responder without wasted effort. 

Implementation of such a system will require will on the part of both government and society. The government will need to realise that primary and secondary legislation will have to be enacted to provide for such a system. Agencies participating in emergency responses will have to understand the need for unity of command and willingly adopt common protocols and procedures. The public will have to comprehend that untrained personnel assisting in emergency response will at best slow down the effort and at worst deepen the crisis. 

The media will have to understand that arriving at the scene and "breaking it first" is not an achievement to be proud of, especially if this hampers emergency work, plays with emotions and creates panic in the public.

Above all, we have to realise that there is no victory and no comfort in a disaster. There is only loss and destruction of life and property. At the very best, we can provide a dignified and professional response, so that when we reflect on a disaster, individually and collectively, we can say with confidence that we tried our best in the face of adversity.

The writer is a lawyer. Email: sujaved@








Floodwaters do not make a distinction between the rich and the poor but it is the wretched of the earth that lose everything and die in natural calamities. These floods, the worst in Pakistan's history, are a snapshot of our failures.

The state response is weak and inadequate because our governance has deteriorated to the point of a crisis. The structure is weak and the motivation of the personnel limited. That there was little preparation for the floods is symptomatic of this chaos. 

It came as no surprise that the Mianwali administration set up a fake hospital to provide the prime minister with a photo opportunity. Appearance of efficiency now substitutes for the reality of incompetence. The entire effort is to paint the facade white while walls are crumbling within.

It also came as no surprise that Mr Zardari took off on a leisurely trip around Europe while hundreds of his compatriots were drowning in the raging waters. The damage to livestock and property is also incalculable. Millions have lost all their worldly possessions. 

Yet, the highest office holder in the land, the symbol of our federation, the commander-in-chief of our armed forces, the receiver of indemnities and protections in our Constitution, was 'helicoptering' in to relax at a French

chateaux acquired by his father in the nineties. 

How the elder Zardari found the money to possess such properties is a question that is still to be answered. As are others regarding the massive wealth of his son who in a short period has become perhaps the richest man in the country.

This particular qualification of our honourable president has become a focus of the British press. Instead of earning favourable points for the country during this visit, it has brought to the fore our shortcomings. If our so-called double-dealing in the Afghan war was not enough grist for the media mills in the west, Mr Zardari's personal record has heightened the already negative perceptions about the country. 

This visit is thus already a public-relations disaster. With TV pictures showing most of the country afloat in floodwaters, the president lounging around in France and London has become a media nightmare. To top it all, the British prime minister has shown no sign of backing off from his statement accusing Pakistan of exporting terror. 

All this talk of how Mr Zardari will look David Cameron in the eye and tell him off is nothing more than hogwash. The British media is seeing it more as a dressing-down that the Pakistani president will receive from the prime minister. 

The extravagant expenditure on the visit is also a preoccupation with the British media, as is the 'launching' of the 21-year Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. The phrase dynastic democracy is frequently being bandied about calling into question what passes for democracy in these parts. 

Combine the negative perceptions generated by Mr Zardari with the pathetic performance of our cricketers in the field and the wild antics of the Pakistan Cricket Board, and it will give you a picture of where the country stands as far as public perception in Britain is concerned. This visit by Mr Zardari could not have been more ill-timed. 

Nearer at home, the president's disappearance at a time of national emergency reflects the vision he holds of this office. He obviously has not understood that leadership is not just about honour and privileges. More than anything, it is about empathy with the people and responsibility. 

But, this realisation cannot be forced. It is either there or not. And within our democratic culture, it is rare. The reason is simple. While our dictatorships are forcible occupation of power by army generals, our democracy is another form of elite capture.

The structure of elections is such that only the rich or those with a pedigree of religious or tribal loyalties can win. There are exceptions, but only a few and mostly in urban areas where on occasions the party vote puts a middle-class person across. On a party basis, only the MQM consistently sends people with limited means into the legislatures. 

In general, though, our national and provincial legislatures reflect the elite structure prevalent in our society. For example, except for some members of the JUI-F, the entire Balochistan Assembly is captured by nawabs, sardars and local elites.

The situation in the rest of the country is no different. Members from rural areas in Punjab, Sindh and KP are largely landowners and many of the urban members are well-off businessmen. This bias is ultimately reflected in the National Assembly and the Senate. 

The elite capture of our democracy is reflected in policies and priorities of the government. Two particular examples stand out although a close examination of all major decisions would show elite interests triumphing over popular concerns.

The first is taxes. Only a small percentage of the people pay income tax because of not just inefficiency and corruption. These are issues in the urban areas where large traders get away with no contribution. The most important reason is that there is no tax on income derived from agriculture. 

The simple argument that income is income whatever source it is derived from is shouted down by the landowners in our power structure. The result is unfair tax regime in which indirect taxes play a larger role. This translates into the poor proportionally paying more and the rural rich paying virtually nothing.

The second is the spending priorities of our governments. I do not have the exact figures but let us assume that five per cent of the people own cars, although this seems high. Look at the resources we are spending on making the driving experience of these small elite easier, with motorways and ring roads and over- and under-passes. Meanwhile, means of mass transportation such as railways are woefully short of funds. 

These are just two examples of how elite capture of government through democratic means has skewed priorities. The fact is that with few exceptions, the leaderships just do not care. Shahbaz Sharif is perhaps an exception, as he is running around trying to do his best for the flood sufferers, but how many others?

The problem is that there are no easy answers to the conundrum of elite democracy. Military governments of the past have been little better. While more efficient in governance and providing greater stability to the economy, they have frittered away their chance to make a real difference. 

Top generals became as fond of making money as politicians, and policy interventions often, such as the devolution plan, are a disaster. Above all military rule in the past created severe inter-provincial stresses. Bangladesh was one drastic outcome and now, on a smaller scale, the troubles in Balochistan.

Where does the nation go then? The politicians are defective and democracy captured by the elites. The military has been a failure. Where will the messiah come from?








Erum is a young mother. Both her children go to a government primary school and her husband is chronically sick with some chest ailment. She moved to Karachi after some Christian families like hers were threatened by a group of youth in their native village in Punjab. Erum now lives in a squatter-like settlement of Essa Nagri. Minni comes from an old Sindhi village on the outskirts of Karachi. She lives with her daughter, a single parent, four grandchildren and a son who works as a cleaner at a truck station. Minni lives just by the Lyari River in a squatter between Gharibabad and Gulshan-e-Iqbal. My mother asked her once why she was called Minni and what her real name was. She told her that women were sometimes not named in her family. Minni's mother was also called Minni and so was her grandmother. But now she has named her daughter Fehmida and her granddaughters have different names also. 

Rabia is another woman whose family comes from a village outside Multan. She is the lone bread-earner and supports a family of seven. She lives near old Sabzi Mandi, of course in a squatter. Rabia's friend Nafeesa comes from Orangi Town. She was ten-year-old at the time of the fall of Dhaka. Her Bihari parents were shipped to Karachi. Her husband is a cleaner and sweeper at a few shops on M A Jinnah Road which sell auto parts. Nafeesa has three daughters and a son. All these women help out with domestic chores and housework in the neighbourhood where my mother lives.

Mohammed Younas was hired recently as a part-time driver by my sister-in-law. He lives near Jamshed Road with two sisters, parents and grandparents. His grandfather is too old to work and father is a rickshaw driver. They fled from war in Bajaur agency two years ago and their uncle who was already in Karachi helped them find an abode. Khalid Shah is a cart-puller whose family originally came from Rawalpindi but he was born in Karachi. He brings vegetables and fruits to your doorstep if you live in or around Hasan Square area. Nasir Masih never went back to his village in Mian Channu and sweeps the streets clean in the same area. He lives off the tip he gets from people living in the houses and flats around the streets he cleans. He resides with his parents in a servant quarter of a government official in KDA Scheme 1. Nasir is not married yet.

Shahid Hussain is a newspaper hawker who delivers newspapers to the houses in two blocks of Gulshan-e-Iqbal, including the Hasan Square area. Shahid is in his fifties and lives in the same house where he was born to working-class parents who migrated from Agra after Partition. It was in a squatter that is converted into a regular settlement some years ago near Nazimabad. 

All these people I mentioned when tired get cheap home-made salty biscuits to dip in their tea and have a cup or two at a small tea outlet run by Rashid Kakar at the corner of Hasan Square. Rashid was born in Karachi where his family came to settle and work from Pishin forty years ago. He lives near old Sabzi Mandi like Rabia.

The killing of an MQM MPA, Haider Raza, is highly condemnable, but no less condemnable is the death of innocent Karachiites in the aftermath of the MPA's assassination. They are not mere statistic.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, political analyst and advisor on public policy. Email: harris.khalique@gmail .com








PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari's ongoing visit to France, UK has come under fire in the Pakistani as well as the British media, and rightly so when the teeming millions were facing the onslaught of worst floods in the living memory and the target killings in Karachi go on unabated. What is note worthy is that almost all newspaper in UK are extremely critical and their editorials adopted a hostile tone questioning whether it is right for the head of a democratically elected Government to abandon the whole nation in the crunch.

To begin with, the people of Pakistan were shocked to see their President visiting the magnificent Palace in Normandy, France which is reported to be property of his family for the last 24 years. During the first 24 hours of his visit to UK the President had no official engagement and according to sources in the Pak High Commission he held in-house meetings with party leaders and half a dozen Ministers and scores of officials accompanying him. Many diplomatic and political analysts in their remarks said the President must have cancelled his visit to UK after the insulting remarks by Prime Minister Cameron as has been done by DG ISI. Pakistanis in Britain too have been protesting and demanding that Mr Zardari should go back while some of them have refused to even meet him. At home PML-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif deplored the apathy of the rulers to the flood victims saying the President preferred to go on a visit to Europe than to come to the rescue of the millions of people who are without food and shelter. Leading British Newspapers are unanimous that little mileage be expected from Zardari's talks with Cameron because the British leader stood by his statement five times which he made in India. There is unanimity of views in Pakistan and UK that the main agenda of the visit is to launch Bilawal Zardari into the political limelight and the entire focus is on PPP's high profile meeting for which all out efforts are being made to make it a success. However it is turning out to bring more negative results than any benefits for the country and the Party. The political parties are taking mileage and exploiting the sentiments of the masses. It would have been advisable that the President should not have undertaken the journey. However now that the President is already in London we would urge him to have straightforward talks with David Cameron in the larger national interests and in line with sentiments of 170 million people.









IN the assassination of Safwat Ghayyur, Commandant of the Frontier Constabulary, the nation has lost another officer committed to the cause of the motherland. He has rightly been described as one of the vanguards of war against terror, a fearless commander and honest to the core. It is because of this that his killing is being mourned throughout the country and the tragic incident has raised many questions with calls for the review of the foreign and internal security policies.

Safwat was targeted by a suicide bomber and the plotters must have done the necessary homework for the purpose very meticulously noticing routine movements of the FC chief. Back in February 2008, then Surgeon General of Pakistan Army, Lt General Mushtaq Ahmad Baig was attacked in similar manner — his staff car was hit at Mall Road crossing in Rawalpindi. And in October 2009, a serving Brigadier — Moinuddin Ahmad — was shot dead by terrorists in the Federal Capital. There is, therefore, weight in the argument of those who term the Peshawar tragedy as failure of intelligence and security and this aspect needs to be taken care of to foil designs of the terrorists. This is necessary because one doesn't know how many targets are being watched by terrorists in Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore and in Islamabad. We have been hearing since long about plans for capacity building of our law-enforcing agencies yet regrettably the frequent targeting of high value targets, which send depressing signals to the masses about ability of our security agencies to defend themselves and people, expose hollowness of such claims. It seems terrorists have more manpower, are well-equipped and better organised than our law enforcing agencies to gather information and execute plans with such ease as we have seen in Peshawar. There is also logic in demands that the present policy against terrorism and extremism needs thorough review and overhaul in the backdrop of bitter experience of the last two/three years. The existing strategy is unifocal — entire emphasis on use of force that understandably sparks a chain of reaction whereas the occupation forces in Afghanistan have learnt the lesson and are in contact with Taliban to find a negotiated solution of the dilemma. Parliament should be tasked to carry out the review and its recommendations must be implemented by the Government without ifs and buts.







THE havoc caused by recent rains and floods in different parts of the country has once again highlighted the dire need for speedy construction of all the proposed water reservoirs including Kalabagh Dam, which has become victim to political expediencies. Talking to newsmen in Lahore, Governor Punjab Salman Taseer acknowledged that had there been Kalabagh Dam the magnitude of the devastation would have been minimised. Without mentioning KBD, Mian Nawaz Sharif too has emphasised the need for building of water storages. 

Similar voices in favour of the forgotten dam have been heard in Islamabad and even in Peshawar but apparently these voices are still muted in the face of decades-long venomous propaganda against this otherwise vitally important project. But admission by these people reflected the ground reality that KBD was in no way detrimental to the interest of any province or segment of the population, rather it would benefit all. Kalabagh Dam is meant to store surplus water and the recent floods made it crystal clear that its construction would have saved us not only from huge losses but also huge amount of water that is going straight to the sea. The weather pattern shows that we might have long dry spells followed by flash floods in the foreseeable future and with this in view the construction of dams becomes an unavoidable option. However, it is pathetic that soon after assuming power the first thing that Minister for Water and Power Raja Parvez Ashraf did was to scrap this project of national importance unilaterally on which this poor country had spent billions of rupees and which could have contributed immensely to the national economy. In this backdrop, if the Governor Punjab feels strongly that construction of Kalabagh Dam is necessary then he should take up the matter with his party leadership and convince them about its utility. This would be perhaps for the first time that Mr Taseer would not be undertaking a PPP-specific venture but doing a great service to the country.









The only two countries in the world that each have a billion-plus population are India and China, and there is corruption in both. However, the difference is that even dishonest officials in China seek ways of implementing approved policies, in the process, earning some money on the side. However, in India, so far as the huge army of corrupt politicians and officials is concerned, the entire objective of decision-making is to earn money. In the process, if some good gets done, that is entirely accidental. So, whereas in China the making of money is a by-product, with the focus being on ensuring results, in the case of India, results are the (rare) by-product. The sole objective behind each decision is to make money, as much of it as is possible.

During the first five years of the present Sonia Gandhi-led United Progressive Front government in New Delhi, then Union Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram (now Union Home Minister) greatly increased the powers of the tax collection and regulatory agencies, so that these days, they are as operationally unaccountable to the public as was the case during the years when India was ruled by the East India Company. The stock market regulator - the Securities and Exchange Board of India, or SEBI - passes a slew of orders that either bar some companies from doing any business or help other entities in theirs. On record, there seems to be very little justification for either step, so clearly the actual reasons are such as to be invisible to the naked eye. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) curries goodwill in financial markets in the European Union (the only location that the RBI's colonial-era higher-level team respond to) by repeatedly raising interest rates and accelerating the very inflation that they profess to reduce.

The RBI top brass is fully aware that in an economy such as India, with myriad supply distortions, raising the interest rate will have zero effect on price rise. However, acting as a trade union for the big banks (all of whom are happy at the high interest rate regime that covers up their inefficiencies), the RBI ensures that Indian business get forced to pay much higher interest than their overseas competitors. Naturally, overseas entities - the beneficiaries of RBI policies - are filled with admiration for the RBI. A former Governor, Yaga Reddy (who was known for his zeal to raise interest rates) even wrote a book, in which he hinted that but for the daily rising of the sun, every positive thing that had taken place in the Indian economy during his time in office was because of his policies. 

A modest man, Reddy Chidambaram paid particular attention to taxes, making the Indian taxpayer the highest tax individual on the planet. For example, thanks to multiple levies, the price of petrol in India is far higher than almost anywhere else in the world. There are several thousand separate taxes in India, much of which gets collected by the Income-tax Department. The "democratic" Chidambaram made sure to ensure that the ordinary citizen (those with no access to Congress Party bigwigs) would have zero rights vis-a-vis the department, which has today become known for its intimidation and extortion of the politically unconnected, labelling individuals as tax-evaders at will, even while turning a blind eye to the Everest-scale corruption within Chidambaram's own party, something that some zealous officials in London uncovered a few days ago, when they came across details of apparently unmerited payments by the Commonwealth Games organisers to a tiny UK-based company. This revelation was followed by an avalanche of others, that reveal scam after scam in the disbursement of more than $ 5 billion for the Games, an unconscionable luxury in a country where more than 200 million people go to bed hungry even while millions of tones of foodgrain rot in government storage dumps so as to keep market prices high for a few well-connected grain speculators.

Although he was unnaturally quiet during UPA-1 (2004-2009), standing aside while scam after scam took place within the government he headed, the Prime Minister who has emerged after the Congress victory in 2009 is a different person. An honest man himself, Manmohan Singh has refused to allow those guilty to escape exposure. Indeed, several of the most recent revelations of graft within the Commonwealth Games setup in Delhi have come from government channels. These days, more and more VVIPs are being exposed and made accountable for corruption. The PM seems to have decided that enough is enough, and that if he wanted to protect his legacy, he needed to go after the big fish rather than - as sual - toss a few minnows before the public. In what is being termed the 2010 Corruption Games, treadmills were hired for just 45 days for Rs 9 lakh, when even the best costs only Rs 4 lakhs to buy outright. At a huge cost, a blimp will circle the Games Stadia, video graphing the ceremonies. All sorts of unknown entities based abroad have been paid vast sums of money for tasks that even a village idiot could perform with ease. If the media revelations prove to be correct, out of the $5 billion, more than $3 billion may go into the pockets of a few VVIPs.

These are now frantically looking to the Prime Minister to escape with the loot, but indications are that Singh is determined to clean up the rot, even if in the process, some of his own party persons are shown to be corrupt. Although more than $2 billion is supposed to have been spent on Delhi, the reality is that the city still looks as dysfunctional as it used to be. Traffic is a mess, power keeps shutting down, while water gets mixed with sewage before reaching households, presumably a population control device. The only commendable work has been on the Delhi Metro, which has taken on new routes and works with reasonable efficiency. However, the 2010 Commonwealth (sorry, Corruption) Games seems to have become a curse rather than a blessing, in large part because most of the stadia have been situated in the heart of the city. The reason for such a decision was to ensure that VVIPs reach the stadia from their residences in less than 20 minutes, escorted by fleets of police cars. Had the stadia been situated outside crowded areas, the city would not have become the nightmare that it today is, but in India, decisions get taken only for the convenience of VVIPs, of course in the name of the common man. Should the PM manage to succeed in his mission of ensuring that the guilty behind the Games get booked, the nation would owe him an immense debt of gratitude. However, it is still early days, and the pressure for a whitewash is growing.

This columnist has no doubt that the ISI plans and seeks to execute several actions designed to weaken India. However, none of these – even should all succeed - have the same negative effect on India's prospects as corruption. The philosophy of basing decisions on personal interest and financial greed has permeated the system, even in matters as vital to the nation as Defense procurement. The revelations about the Games only highlights this situation. The only difference between the present day and that of the British Raj is that then, the loot was carried out by foreigners. These days, the dacoits are Indian citizens themselves, of course helping several unscrupulous foreign nationals to make money. Only a handful - such as Manmohan Singh - have remained unaffected by the grime. The question is: can they stem the rot? If India is to become an economic superpower, the PM will need to choose between the interests of the\ common man and that of the VVIPs, and continue on the path he is taking, of seeking accountability. In October, the Commonwealth Games will take place. When it ends, there will still be 200 million people going to bed hungry each night in India.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








Ethnocentrism is defined as the tendency to interpret or evaluate other cultures in terms of one's own. Generally considered a human universal, it is evident in the widespread practice of labeling outsiders as "savages" or "barbarians" simply because their societies differ from those of the dominant culture. Early anthropologists often reflected this tendency, as did Sir John Lubbock, who characterized all non-literate peoples as being without religion, and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, who found them to have a "prelogical mentality" because their worldview was unlike that of Western Europe. Ethnocentrism taints one view, considering oneself superior to others.

The opposite of ethnocentrism is cultural relativism, the understanding of cultural phenomena within the context in which they occur. Let us examine both ethnocentrism and cultural relativism in light of western occupation of Afghanistan and its impact on Pakistan. The U.S. and Pakistan joined forces to combat terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11. It was evident from the beginning that this was going to be a lopsided relationship because of the size and might of the USA and the limited capabilities of Pakistan. However, Pakistan brought its local knowledge of the area and its contacts in play, which was mutually beneficial to both. The system worked for a while, as long as the going was good. 

However, the moment impediments in the path of the coalition forces became visible and the Taliban, who were down but not out, reorganized themselves to offer stiff resistance, cracks began to appear in the US-Pakistan partnership. Truth they say is the first casualty of war. In this case, it was trust. Owing to ethnocentrism, U.S. and Pakistan's diverging interests became more visible. Cultural relativism, which is the principle that an individual human's beliefs and activities should be understood in terms of his or her own culture, took a major hit. The seeds of distrust, which were sown owing to the circumstances, began to germinate and gnaw at the cooperation and teamwork exhibited earlier.

A common cliché that began to permeate the aural senses was the winning of hearts and minds. Unfortunately, owing to ethnocentrism, this term had divergent meaning and connotations. Pakistan, which is more cognizant of and familiar with the Afghan culture considered honour, respect and reverence to be of prime importance. 

Some U.S. policymakers on the other hand, were of the view that every human entity has a price for which he/she can be purchased and that loyalties of nations may also be on sale. Indeed some Afghan warlords put a price on their allegiance, as they had done under Soviet occupation. However, every Afghan is not for sale. Hamid Karzai, despite being a hardcore Pashtun, perhaps driven by desperation, misinterpreted his own countrymen when he offered medium and low tier Taliban, government posts and cash incentives for laying down arms and the senior Taliban, the offer to dislocate themselves and be granted asylum in a third country. The U.S. should have gauged the local sentiment and Hamid Karzai should have known better that the Afghan may seek temporary refuge but never permanent displacement.

On the other hand, the US has been endeavouring to win the hearts and minds of the Pakistanis too, but has not achieved the desired results yet. The U.S. is one of the biggest donors to Pakistan from its very inception, it has generally come to the rescue of Pakistanis in their moments of distress like earthquakes, floods and hurricanes, yet it has never really managed to conquer the hearts and minds of the average Pakistani. The U-2 incident of 1962 drove in the first wedge of distrust, when Pakistan received Soviet threats. The inability of the U.S. to come to Pakistan's aid during the 1965 Pakistan-India War and to add insult to injury, slapping sanctions on both India and Pakistan, knowing full well that it affected only Pakistan since all Indian military hardware originated from the USSR, further alienated the Pakistanis. 


Enabling USA to gain access to China in the 1970s may have scored brownie points for Pakistan but not enough for the U.S. to support it in the 1971 Pak-India War. U.S. opposition to Pakistan's acquisition of a nuclear reactor from France and the post 1977 developments widened the gap. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan reunited the U.S. and Pakistan but the fact that the U.S., which had been looking the other way to Pakistan's nuclear weapons quest, as long as the war in Afghanistan was on, found it expedient to invoke the Pressler Amendment, terminating military assistance after the Soviet retreat. The nuclear explosions of 1998 and Kargil, followed by military takeover in 1999 pushed Pakistan deeper in the quagmire of U.S. sanctions, however post 9/11 reunited the two on the same front but distrust is taking its toll.

The U.S. cannot be doubted for efforts but quite a bit is being waylaid due to lack of sensitivities. No doubt making promises to build dams in Pakistan and rendering financial help in health care and education sectors are good gestures made by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton during her recent trip to Islamabad, but these are not enough to win over the hearts and minds of people. 

Pakistani perceptions about US are tainted with a greater sense of mistrust and suspicion considering US presence in Afghanistan especially after US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has hinted upon the possibility of targeting miscreant hideouts in Pakistan. Hillary Clinton herself has mentioned that distrust and divergence over issues remaining valuable to Islamabad exist between Pakistan and USA. In this context the opposition put in by Ms Clinton to a civilian nuclear deal with China disregarding the energy needs of Pakistan and its negative impact on Pakistan's industry/overall state of economy is a case in point. 

US promotion of India, especially in Afghanistan, misconception regarding the security of Pakistan's nuclear assets creates further divergence. The need of the hour is to converge upon common interests and build upon those to foster better relations, rather than being deluded by ethnocentrism.










Ramadan is the best of the months, in which we observe Fasting. It is the month of worship to seek rewards from Allah Almighty. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: "Whoever spends the nights of Ramadan in prayer out of faith and in the hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven." The superiority of this month is based on its many facets. The best of all nights falls in Ramadan – the Night of Decree. Allah SWT says: "Verily, We have sent it (this Qur'an) down in the Night of Al-Qadr (Decree). The Night of Al-Qadr (Decree) is better than a thousand months." [Surah al-Qadar : 1-2]. Hence worship on this night is better than worshiping for a thousand months, which is approximately eighty-three years. No one exactly know when this Night falls, however Rasool Kareem (May Allah's blessings and peace be upon him) told us to seek this Night in the last odd ten days of Ramadan.

It was in the month of Ramadan that the Holy Qur'an — the best of all Books- was revealed to the Rasool of Allah (PBUH). Allah Almighty says: "Ramadan is the (month) in which the Holy Qur'an was sent down, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting." [Surah al-Baqarah :185]. This makes it clear that there is a great relation between the Holy Qur'an and Ramadan. It is highly meritorious to complete reciting the whole Qur'an (Qur'an is derived from the root word qaraa' means recitation) in this month. In this month the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of Hell are shut, and the devils are chained up. It is a proven fact that evil actions are drastically reduced in Ramadan. Those who observe the etiquette of Ramadan will be safe from evil actions.

Ramadan is the month of complete worship. In this month certain acts of worship are performed that are not carried out in other months. These are: fasting, praying the Taraweeh, feeding the poor, I'tikaaf, Sadaqah, and reading the Holy Qur'an. The Prophet (PBUH) used to give glad tidings of the arrival of Ramadan to the Sahabah Karaam (May Allah (SWT) be pleased with them all) and explain its merits. This is the month that should be welcomed with hopefulness and sincerity that our repentance will be accepted. One should resolve not to repeat any wrong deeds after the repentance. It is the blessed month in which Muslims should be determined to worship Allah – Rabb ul-'Arsh il-Kareem.

In order to celebrate this month in a befitting manner,this month should be welcomed with full religious fervor.Moreover,we need to spread the message of "Patience'& "Tolerance" during this Holy Month as today we badly need these traits. Fasting itself is the name of tolerance,however,what we observe in our daily life that people even loose their patience on small and petty things,while fasting.Even,at times people get killed, once the time of Iftar is nearing and they are unable to buy few 'pakoras"… There is a dire need to spread the message of patience and tolerance,during this month. One of the aim of this Holy Month is that those "who have" should understand the miseries and sufferings of 'havenots'.Maximum Zakat,khairat and sadqas should be doled out during this month. 

This month is there to purify our soul,so we should make an endeavor to achieve this goal. Moreover, during this month majority of people recite the Holy Qur'an, Ramadan provides an ideal opportunity, not only to recite the Holy Qur'an but also to understand its meanings in the language we understand. If we develop this habit of understanding the Holy Qur'an, Insha Allah a positive change in going to come in our daily lives. I pray to Allah Almighty to forgive our previous sins and guide us all on the right path and May Allah Almighty provide us the opportunity to accrue maximum benefits from his countless blessings during this Holy Month of Ramadan, (Ameen).

O People! The month of Allah (Ramadhan) has approached you with His mercy and blessings. This is the month that is the best of all months in the estimation of Allah. Its days are the best among the days; its nights are the best among the nights. Its hours are the best among the hours. This is a month in which he has invited you. You have been, in this month, selected as the recipients of the honors of Allah, the Merciful. 

Your good deeds are accepted in this month. So are your invocations. Therefore, you must invoke your Lord, in right earnest, with hearts that are free from sins and evils, that Allah may bless you, observe fast, in this month, and recite the Holy Quran. Verily! The person who may not receive the mercy and benevolence of Allah in this month must be very unfortunate having an end as bad (in the Hereafter). While fasting, remember the hunger and thirst of tomorrow in Qiyamat. Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respects to your elders.

Have pity on those younger than you and be kind towards your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongues against unworthy words, and your eyes from such scenes that are not worth seeing (forbidden) and your ears from such sounds that should not be heard by you. Be kind to orphans so that when your children become orphans they also may be treated with kindness. Do invoke that Allah may forgive your sins. Do raise your hands at the time of Salat (Prayers), as it is the best time for asking His mercy. When we invoke at such times, we are answered by Him, when we call Him, He responds, and when we ask for anything, it is accepted by Him.







Recently, US Sectary of State Robert Gates while addressing to the media has stated that leakage of documents damaged the reputation of Pentagon. He also added that leakage of information may cause damage to the lives of the American soldiers. Disclosures of entropy turned out as matter of concern to U.S and Pakistan. However, detailed review of the situation of last few months clearly showing that leakage of concocted secrets are by design. The sponsors of Julian Assage probably were failed to estimate the aftermath of releasing of the fabricated stories against Pakistan and its security and intelligence agency "ISI'.

In fact these leakages have raised many questions; (One) is it an effort of widening gap between two frontline allies of global war on terror, (Two) is Pentagon security can be compromised by one hacker, (Three) why the leakage have been exposed in that time of frame when U.S congress elections are not far away? (Four) why Pentagon and CIA remained quite from 2004 to 2009 despite knowing that ISI has relations with Taliban, (Five) why CIA have not been able to hit Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Mohammed Omar and others important leaders despite knowing their locations and in this context, why available information have not been shared to her counterpart, (Six) are sponsors of leakage trying to damage democrats in the forth coming elections?, (Seven) has U.K tried to hit two birds (U.S and Pakistan) with one stone? (Eight) are Israeli and Indian successfully penetrated Pentagon and policy makers of U.S., (Nine) Is U.S acting upon the policy of "carrot on stick" while dealing her important ally, (Ten) are some differences still persist over Afghan policy between Pentagon, government and CIA?, (Eleven) why Washington has kept on hiding these information from the masses since 2006?, (Twelve) Are these information really credible enough to believe?

We can find the answers to the above narrated aching questions just interlinking of last few months statements of political and military top brass of the main players of war on terror. For example, General Mullen the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Sectary of state Hilleary Clinton prior of publishing the leaks documents claimed that Osama and Mullah Omar in Karachi. Moreover an Iranian news paper with the help of RAW' office of Zahidan also aired a news stating that a former senior member of the militant group says Pakistani security forces are harboring the fugitive Taliban leader, Mullah Omar in Karachi.

Mrs. Hillary Clinton and General Mullen though off and on commended Pakistan security forces' efforts during their recent visits to Islamabad but at the same time because of their peculiar habits keep on blowing the music of "Do More". Later on same theme has been picked up by U.K, India and Afghanistan alleged Pakistani government, ISI and other security agencies for fomenting terrorism in Afghanistan. According to Associated Press report on July 29, 2010, British Prime Minister (PM) David Cameron while visiting to British's former colony (India) has accused Pakistan of aiding terror groups. He stated, "no one "doubts, least of all the Pakistan government itself, that there has been in Pakistan — and there still is in Pakistan — terrorist organizations like LET and others which need to be cracked down on and eliminated," similarly Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also joined his counterpart for blaming and thrashing out Pakistan. 

Probably both the leaders have followed the same dictated line while discussing regional security situation. U.K PM has forgotten the role of Pakistani Security Forces and legend intelligence agency ISI in Afghanistan crises. He has also forgotten the humanitarian humiliation of India in occupied Kashmir against Sikhs, Maoists and Tamils. British PM has also even forgotten the brutality of India against his own Christian community. He would have asked Manomohan Singh whether Indian government has taken any action against 120 extremists Hindu Organization those did mascara against Christen in Maripur. 

He has also forgotten those British - Kasmiries voters of U.K who played their role in electing him as PM. In fact Cameron alleged Pakistan just for economical gains, pressurizing Islamabad and pleasing India. His statements also seem to be connected with plan of exploiting Wikii leaks. Interestingly, in just five years ago, Britain was the 5th largest exporter to India but today, it is the 18th. Exports to India dropped from 4.12 billion pounds ($6.4 billion) in 2008 to 2.9 billion ($4.5 billion) in 2009. U.K leadership might have studied the causes of deterioration of economic relations. Obviously in last few years the dramatic improvements have been noticed between Indo-U.S relations. India and the United States has become one of India's most important allies and trade partners. The growing ties between India – U.S have defiantly created alarm and dent in U.K economy. India is also going to buy 57 Hawk advanced trainer jets from Britain in a deal worth nearly $1.1 billion. However on response of Cameron's statement Pakistan reacted angrily, saying the statement undermined the importance of its role in the fight against terrorism. Thus, we can say that fake leakage of documents is just a pressure tactics against Pakistan. The current situation reminded me two occasions; firstly, when former Sectary of State Powel produced fake documentary evidence prepared by CIA in United Nations but later on confessed that the same were factitious. Secondly, on another occasion during i.e. in the Vietnam war CIA spread rumors and fabricated stories.

Thus, under the current scenario one can comfortably say that leakage of documents has been carried out by design and baseless allegations have been leveled against ISI and security forces. The quick look of the data too proves the fact that there is very small portion of the leakage is showing connection of ISI with the Taliban. I think nothing wrong in it since CIA and ISI were having direct links with the Jehadi or Islamic organizations and defeated Soviet Union. The digging out the data of Wikii leaks reveals that out of more than 90,000 classified US documents, only about 180 mention ISI and only about 30 or so charge the legendary Pakistani spy service of wrongdoing in Afghanistan. Pakistan Army Chief General Pervez Kayani at number of times strongly denied all such allegations leveled against Pakistan and its security agencies. ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha cancelled his visit to U.K. At the end , I will like to add here Americans and western country should chain their pets ,if they are serious in elimination of terrorism.








Contempt for human life is at the heart of Pakistan's miseries. Although the relationship between rich and poor is complex and far from monolithically asymmetrical, fundamental inequalities make progress difficult. How else to explain our president's decision to visit Europe while the country suffers one of its greatest natural disasters? In any other country, a head of state would surely cut his or her foreign visit short to lend moral support in a time of catastrophe. The government's failure in the face of the floods, along with the army's primary role in confronting it and Asif Ali Zardari's apparent nonchalance, has been a disaster for democracy in this country.

It is sad, too, as one local commentator noted, that it is only in moments of disaster that the rest of us unite as one nation. The floods have not discriminated against ethnic Punjabis – long resented by other minorities for dominating the state – Pashtuns or Balochis, the latter two already ravaged by insurgencies heavily laced with international intrigue. As a foreign-born Pakistani, our acute anxiety over a national identity has always struck me as odd because there are self-evidently so many separate Pakistans. In every city, there are entire regions that never intersect, except via the dusty, colourful buses that transport day workers and servants to and from their slums to the homes of the more privileged. Growing up, doting aunties and uncles would constantly warn me not to forget my Pakistani heritage. And yet, as Pakistanis, we seem to easily forget those compatriots who clean our homes, hawk on the streets and fight in our wars.

As wild floods ravage the north west, our president is busy touring Europe in luxurious comfort. Staying back would have helped the assistance effort little, but it demonstrates poor political judgment. It also reflects the elite's flagrant indifference to human suffering. That is why in the heat of summer and widespread power outages last year our main opposition leader, the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, decided to import a rare tiger that required a specially built, refrigerated enclosure.

To understand this strange opulence remember that our wealthiest live in a fantasy realm of mansions, servants and privilege derived mostly through nepotism. Superficially cosmopolitan – for their children typically study abroad and imitate foreign accents and customs – they are left with utter contempt for those who are less fortunate. Few show izzat, or respect, to the lowest who work in their kitchens, drive their cars or hawk trinkets to them in the markets. In a society based largely on honour and riven with resentment, it is a dangerous mix.

Resentment is a powerful political weapon in this country. Most of the so-called anti-Americanism in Pakistan is a sideshow used to enable the mass to vent its anger, admittedly at an empire that has done more than most to patronise our elites and feed their megalomania. Criticism of the west, Jews, or Hindus has become the catch-all that enables the oppressed to forget how casually brutal we have become to one another.

That does not mean humanity is dead in Pakistan. There is a lively philanthropy sector. Millions donated to charities helping those made homeless by the war in the Swat valley last year. And appeals for assistance to victims of this year's floods have already proliferated. Islamist organisations have been quick to respond to the tragedy, too. The army has been at the forefront of humanitarian relief efforts. Although liberal opinion calls for greater democratisation, what can be said when elected officials stand idle in the face of the two sectors of Pakistan society – the mullahs and the military – that are supposed to be our greatest problems? To be sure there are hundreds if not thousands of secular charities that have for decades sought to alleviate poverty and suffering in Pakistan. They cannot match the funding or political support garnered by the Islamic welfare groups or the military. Only support from elected governments can stem the influence of extremists or the military.

One of the principle reasons why the Taliban spread so quickly through the tribal areas in the north west was their promise to provide justice and equality where the state never did. Their leaders are virtually all salt-of-the-earth men of humble origins. Within the state, only the military has demonstrated a capacity to offer meritocratic advancement to every day citizens, albeit in a very limited form. According to the World Bank, 26.5% of Pakistan's wealth is held by the top 10% of the population. The lowest 20% hold a mere 9.1%. A measure of poverty including social exclusion used by the UN ranks Pakistan 141st of all nations, just above Swaziland but below Burma. But no statistics or amounts of foreign aid can challenge a mindset. Without compassion and respect for all of our fellow citizens we will never be capable of grappling the disasters that routinely rock our nation. — The Guardian









IT would not come as any surprise to the long-suffering citizens of NSW that the $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution program ran into more bureaucratic-driven waste and more problems in their state than in any other.


Spin rather than services and value for money has been the hallmark of the NSW government under four Labor premiers. While the BER was federally funded, state education departments are responsible for delivering it in state schools. And so acute is NSW mismanagement that Canberra is already withholding $75m in payments to the state.


To add insult to injury, it has emerged that one of Bob Carr's leading spinmeisters, Michael Salmon, is one of the beneficiaries of the process of cleaning up the mess. NSW Labor's gravy train, it seems, has rolled all the way from Sydney to Canberra and back again. Coincidentally, the NSW Labor connection to the BER program also involves another former state government spinner. Amanda Lampe, who was Mr Carr's chief press secretary, is Julia Gillard's chief of staff.


As The Australian reported on Wednesday, the taskforce investigating waste under the program, led by businessman Brad Orgill, has spent more than $1.1 million on consultants' fees in three months. Of that, $80,000 was paid to Mr Salmon, a public relations consultant, for eight weeks of media management. Not surprisingly, Education Minister Simon Crean was eager to avoid discussing that connection yesterday on Sydney radio, preferring to focus on the forthcoming release of the taskforce report before the election and how he wants to resolve problems with the BER.


Fair enough, but Mr Orgill's $14 million inquiry has had its own problems, declining to take details of 100-plus complaints about construction work, on the grounds it cannot guarantee the anonymity of school principals, who fear retribution from Education Department officials.


This newspaper supported the government's stimulus to stave off the global financial crisis and awarded Kevin Rudd the Australian of the Year award for last year for that achievement. But when it became apparent last September that Australia had dodged recession, the hastily designed BER should have been recalibrated to offer better value and do more to improve education. It remains to be seen if the clean-up investigation delivers good value.







THE glib conclusion from commentators who prefer their politics neatly sliced was that Kevin Rudd's announcement of support will help Julia Gillard's problems in marginal seats, especially in Queensland and NSW.


Casting Mr Rudd as Labor's saviour stretches credulity. It overlooks the fact that Labor dumped him six weeks ago because his government's support in Queensland had plunged so far that Labor was on track to lose office because of a train wreck of marginal and not-so-marginal seats in that state more than in any other.


Mr Rudd's frontline role is another accident waiting to happen for Labor. Now that Ms Gillard has accepted his offer of support voters can look forward to following, not one Labor leader, but two. Yesterday, Mr Rudd read out a carefully crafted statement but would not answer questions. He should not be afforded that luxury again. As he ventures from seat to seat, his media entourage is likely to match those pursuing Ms Gillard and Tony Abbott. his presence too fascinating to ignore.


As Mr Rudd campaigns, he will be grilled about the changes Ms Gillard has made on key issues - including his original resource super-profits tax and offshore processing for asylum-seekers, on which he urged the party not to "lurch to the Right" the night he was dumped by the Right. Endorsing Ms Gillard's "sustainable Australia" ahead of his "big Australia" would mean swallowing a king-sized slice of humble pie - or putting his tongue in his cheek. And what are voters to make of the deposed prime minister charging in to rescue the one who replaced him? In 2007, he was "Kevin from Queensland" who was "here to help". In 2010, the same sentiment has a hint of menace.


Whatever his ambition beyond the election, Mr Rudd has a great deal to offer and rightly aspires to years of fulfilling work. Now he says he wants to be a team player, a role in which he failed abysmally when he was prime minister. However much his efforts in the last 16 days of the campaign in Queensland test his team skills, they are likely to test Ms Gillard's even more as his presence reminds voters of how and why Labor lost its way on pink batts, school halls, climate change, boatpeople and much else. As Mr Rudd said in his radio interview with Phillip Adams, politics is a rough, tough game. Nobody understands that more than Labor's anonymous leaker.







LABOR's two big infrastructure announcements yesterday looked more like electoral grandstanding than well-considered policy.


The proposed $4.7 billion inland freight link could be economically viable around 2030, but it is not clear when it will be built. A $20 million study into an east coast high-speed train has a shorter timeframe, with the report due in 18 months, but this proposal has been around for so long it will battle to be taken seriously. Both plans risk going the route of many big train projects in Australia - costing taxpayers a lot of money with little benefit.


The 1700km freight track from Melbourne to Brisbane, via Albury, Parkes, Moree and Toowoomba, would be travelled in 22 hours, making it comparable to road. But the real issue for transporting freight is cost, not speed. If higher road charges are imposed to force freight on to the track, the increased costs will be borne by consumers. No money will be spent on the inland rail link till 2014, when $300 million will be allocated to reserve land and begin planning. The government must resist any move to build the track before it is proved to be viable. It is worrying that the proposal has been assessed by the Australian Rail Track Corporation but does not appear on the priority list of projects drawn up by Infrastructure Australia. The waste of taxpayers' money on the Adelaide-Darwin railway, on which traffic is a fraction of the projections, shows the need for rigorous cost-benefit analysis.


The concept of high-speed rail between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane has been around for almost 30 years, at times morphing into a plan for a fast train between the national capital and Sydney. Despite claims that it could be more viable now because of cheaper technology, it still looks like a pipe dream, given the difficulties of getting train charges down to compete with air fares.


In the first instance, the feasibility study will look at a link between Sydney and Newcastle. Such a link was promised by the former Carr state Labor government 12 years ago, but never proceeded. Its revival is pitched as an answer to gridlocked traffic through the central coast, and on its own is a more realistic proposition. Even so, there are surely other ways, such as building ring roads, to reduce congestion around Sydney, without risking the creation of a white elephant.


High-speed rail could be an appealing alternative to road for trips such as Brisbane to the Gold Coast or Sydney to Wollongong. A new corridor proposed between Perth and Bunbury, for example, will allow trains to run at 180km/h, double the average XPT speed of 87km/h between Sydney and Melbourne. But even the allegedly fast Tilt train between Brisbane and Rockhampton attracts more pensioners and backpackers than business people, and requires subsidies. Indeed, $1 million a week is spent by the state to keep the trains running from Brisbane to Cairns via Rockhampton.


Fast trains have transformed rail travel in Europe, but are not easily translated to Australian conditions. Greens leader Bob Brown was enthusiastic yesterday about getting cars off the roads. He clearly does not see the irony of advocating a "small Australia" while backing a project so dependent on density of population.









Such is the distrust surrounding the state government that it cannot make any move in development planning without everybody suspecting the worst. So it is with the latest manoeuvre around the contentious housing scheme proposed adjacent to Catherine Hill Bay, the picturesque former coal port south of Newcastle.


It will be recalled that last year the Land and Environment Court knocked on the head the former planning minister Frank Sartor's scheme for land swaps, where developers could provide land of equivalent value as public space in return for clearance of projects that otherwise would not pass the planning rules. The plan by the private developer Rosecorp for up to 800 homes at Catherine Hill Bay involved one such land swap.


Now the local heritage groups have been alerted that two key planning policies - one setting general development standards, the other specifically protecting beaches, headlands and other aspects of scenic quality and access in coastal areas - have been set aside in the draft state plan for the Catherine Hill Bay project. They fear this will give the developer carte blanche to build on the headland and right up to the beach. Rubbish, says the office of the Planning Minister, Tony Kelly: the draft plan includes the ''key elements'' of the normal rules and ''stronger'' coastal protection than the specific policy. The aim is to give greater transparency.


Let's see. Meanwhile, residents can hardly be blamed for thinking the rules are being loosened so they fit the shape of a new development application when it is lodged. It all looks part of the accelerating rush to get controversial projects cleared before the Labor government falls next March and a new political matrix has to be figured out.


A project of this size and sensitivity needs the utmost care, and enough time for public interest groups to have their say. Australian property developers do not have a good record in enhancing the coastline we all love. They have transferred the suburban sprawl in its most banal forms across the bush and farmland between centres that were once small, closely settled towns built of uniformly simple style and materials.


Steadily improving motorways are extending the sprawl north and south. Before it engulfs another charming pocket of the coast that has so far resisted the tide, we should be using this important case to set better standards for settlement of the coastland. Developers need to lift their game, and a better-educated public would no doubt be ready to choose and pay for better design. And after all, Labor is now into ''sustainable'' population increase, isn't it?


Labor must go back to school


With the Prime Minister in full election mode and a close result likely, there is no limit to the amount of bad policy that can be made. Sectional interests which in less perilous, more rational times might have to face scrutiny over their demands can be accommodated without question. It has just happened with schools funding.


The government has been lobbied by representatives of private schools and, as a result, the Prime Minister, fearful of a backlash from parents, has promised to continue the present funding arrangement until 2013. That means correcting the imbalance and the wasteful inequities of the present system will have to wait three years - by which time, of course, the country will be in another election campaign and the temptation will be strong to delay once again difficult but necessary reform.


More than just the electoral cycle plays a part here. Commonwealth funding is planned on a four-year cycle. The current quadrennium began last year and will conclude in 2012. Julia Gillard's announcement means the government will carry over the funding mechanism until at least the start of the next cycle. Given bureaucratic inertia and the inconvenience of changing funding patterns mid-quadrennium, it is quite possible she has lumbered the country with a fundamentally unfair system until 2016.


Labor believes it has a certain amount to live down on this issue. A former leader, Mark Latham, who was refreshingly free of fear and inhibition when it came to policymaking - but free also of political nous - supposedly had a hit list of private schools for funding cuts, one of the many reasons voters rejected him at the 2004 election. Labor thus fears it has ground to make up with parents whose children are at private schools. But has it? Latham was leader two full election cycles ago, ancient history in political terms. School bureaucrats and lobbyists may still remember him but few others do. It says a lot about Labor's timidity and paralysis that it apparently cannot shake off its fears long enough to make school funding fair.


Gillard, who was education minister among many other things before she became Prime Minister, knows well what change is needed. She has analysed the problems in speeches and set out an agenda. She knows, too, that they will only get worse with time. Yet it may well be that it will take the Coalition - the architects of the present mess - to return rationality and fairness to the way Canberra funds schools. Education revolution, anyone?










WHEN Crown Casino moved to the south bank of the Yarra in 1997, the publicity blurbs proclaimed that it was ''not a casino but an entertainment centre''. The line is heard less often now, but the strategy continues. A planning application, the ''Crown Promenade Masterplan'', has been lodged with the state government, with the avowed aim of reworking the Southbank precinct between Spencer and Queens Bridge streets. If it is approved, within three years there will be a slightly different batch of restaurants in which Melburnians and interstate and international visitors will be able to enjoy the riverside ambience. And, in the casino behind and above them, expanded space will accommodate 150 new gaming tables, bringing Crown's total number to 500.


That part of the deal has already been done, with the government approving the extra tables in May last year and the necessary legislation passing through Parliament - with bipartisan support - in December. It is a deal likely to aggravate more than one kind of gambling problem. Apart from the lure to individual gamblers, there is the government's revenue addiction: there will be a progressive increase in the casino's gaming machine tax rate, from 22.25 per cent to 32.57 per cent in 2014-15. When the deal was announced last year, Treasurer John Lenders estimated that it would bring an extra $132 million into the state's coffers over four years. That revenue, which Mr Lenders said would ''go towards essential government health services'', will be raised from players on 100 poker tables and 400 tables offering traditional casino games as such as roulette and blackjack. Some of the latter will be fully automated, a change that arguably blurs the distinction between table games and poker machines.


The pleasures of a stroll along Crown Promenade may be enhanced by the changes, but it is no longer possible to argue seriously that more opportunities to gamble will make Victoria a better place in which to live, or to visit. The miseries endured by problem gamblers and their families, and the link between problem gambling and crime, are well attested. So is the link between gambling and suicide: according to an Alfred hospital study, one in five of the 898 suicidal patients seen by the hospital in a six-month period last year had a gambling problem. That grim statistic can scarcely be offset by the prospect of more revenue to spend on ''essential government health services''. As then opposition leader John Brumby declared in 1995, when the Kennett government increased Crown's gaming tables by 150, ''casino culture is not the way ahead for Victoria''.


Source: The Age







THE release of the Coalition's plan for ''real action'' on health at least means Australians can finally get down to the real business of dissecting policy. It is framed around the contention that the health scheme devised by the Rudd-Gillard government increases bureaucracy, provides a complicated funding structure and does not guarantee the money will flow to frontline services.


At the heart of the Coalition's policy is the promise of $3.1 billion to fund 2800 new hospital beds over four years - 1500 more beds than promised by Labor. This package, however, includes the 800 mental-health beds already announced by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, and for which he was roundly praised. More importantly, it pays for itself largely by scrapping parts of Labor's existing plans, including a new round of GP ''super clinics'' designed to ease the pressure on public hospitals.


The Coalition has instead allocated $365 million to boost access to after-hours GP services through higher rebates for doctors and other incentives for practices to extend their operations. Many in the community would welcome these latter measures. Plans to devolve decision-making from bureaucracies to community-controlled public hospital boards, support a transition to casemix funding in hospitals, invest in medical research and encourage nurses to work in rural and regional areas are also worthy of debate.


But in truth the Coalition isn't offering a bigger pie - simply slicing it differently.


The policy also contains some confusing and contradictory elements. Chief among them is the proviso that the states and territories will receive funding for the extra beds only after providing evidence that the beds have opened. ''Apart from the upfront funding, the states will only be paid for these extra beds once they are operational,'' Mr Abbott said. There is surely a cart-and-horse issue here: the states need the extra funds to provide the extra beds and Mr Abbott is indeed offering more money for the express purpose of creating more beds. So why is the onus now on the states to provide more beds before the money is handed over? ''The money will be paid on performance, not just good intentions,'' Mr Abbott said yesterday. This is obviously in keeping with the Coalition's theme of efficiency and minimising bureaucracy, but it casts doubt on the health package as a whole. It also sets the scene for more blame-shifting between the states and the Commonwealth, despite the Coalition's professed commitment to reduce the bickering.


The Coalition also flagged a new funding model to start with the next round of Australian Health Care Agreements in 2014. Mr Abbott said he would commit to giving a set proportion of the ''efficient'' cost of public hospital services, likely around 40 per cent, to the states without any claw-back of GST revenue. He said the Coalition would pay the Commonwealth's share of public hospital funding directly to hospitals. So far, so good and cute, politically speaking, for reminding voters of Kevin Rudd's heavy-handed approach to health reform negotiations with the states. The outcome of those negotiations, with all states except WA, provided for the states surrendering a third of GST revenue to the Commonwealth to directly fund hospitals, with the Commonwealth in return funding 60 per cent of hospital costs.


But then Mr Abbott again blurs the policy picture by saying a Coalition government would consider paying 100 per cent of ''efficient'' hospital costs, ''only where the state in question voluntarily agrees to a suitable adjustment of its GST revenue''.


This nation's health policy should not hang on contingencies. The challenges of a soaring and ageing population are simply too big to accommodate these uncertainties. The Coalition's proposals, while meritorious in some respects, need bedding down.


Source: The Age







For all the posturing by the White House's oil spill response team, capping the well was always a BP operation


The stopper has finally been put back on the shaken soda fountain at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and almost three-quarters of the oil that spewed out of it has been cleaned up or broken down by natural forces. Emergency over? Not quite. Nearly 53m gallons of oil remain in the water, which is almost five times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989. And there is uncertainty still about the basic facts of this disaster: how much oil went into the Gulf before it was capped on 15 July; how much of it evaporated from the ocean surface or dissolved in the water; and what will be the long-term environmental impact both of the oil and the quantities of dispersant used. Simply no one knows.


The political fallout from this episode is clearer. Barack Obamaperformed the role of president badly, in the narrow sense that he failed to reflect back to the American people the frustration they felt. Here was no Reagan or Clinton – past masters of the performance arts – but a somewhat too stoical or deliberative figure who needed prompting in how to articulate the national mood of frustration and rage. No natural, he. Morally too, Mr Obama was in a weak position. Three days after the rig exploded, the White House said Mr Obama did not intend to back awayfrom his proposal to extend offshore drilling. He did soon enough, suspending Arctic offshore drilling, cancelling lease sales in the western Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia, announcing and then extending the moratorium on deepwater drilling for six months. But he had already ceded political ground. The Democrats may not be as mired in the politics of oil as those Republicans who cried "Drill, baby, drill", but they are nonetheless sufficiently stained by it to offer no coherent alternative.


In the battle between BP and the most powerful government in the world, who was being dwarfed by whom? A multinational, a creature par excellence of neoliberal globalisation, was not too big to fail, but too big to control when it did. When the Kursk went down, Vladimir Putin found he did not have a deep-sea diving team capable of rescuing his submariners. They had all gone to Gazprom. The disaster was too big for a weakened state to handle. Mr Obama found himself in a similar position with BP. For all the posturing by the head of the government's response team, retired coastguard admiral Thad Allen, and his claims to have seized ownership of the operation to cap the well, it was always a BP operation. No one else had the technology, or the knowhow, to do it. This should make Mr Obama more cautious before he presses the restart button on offshore drilling. But somehow one feels that it won't.








This week the Guardian launches Piece by Piece, an attempt to build – with readers' support – an online catalogue of green spaces and environmentally important sites that are threatened by development. It is a campaign supported by both the Conservative environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, and her Labour predecessor, Hilary Benn. There is no political divide in a transparently straightforward attempt to protect biodiversity and the natural heritage that has been steadily eroded: in the past three years one new home in four was built in what were gardens, an unintended consequence of a policy meant to reduce pressure on greenfield sites.


Sadly, the context in which such valued places are put at risk is more complicated and much more contentious. Homes are too expensive because there are not enough of them. Last year, according to the Home Builders' Federation, fewer new homes were built than in any peacetime year since 1923. But at the same time, economists – not least on the Bank of England's monetary policy committee – anxiously monitor house prices. Rising values mean fewer repossessions and happy homeowners. Bad news, then, that the latest Halifax house price indexyesterday showed a slowdown in prices, with worse predicted. On the other hand, it is the soaring cost of homes over the past 10 years, together with a prolonged standstill in the building of council-ownedhousing, that has contributed to levels of housing benefit for tenants in the private rented sector that are now declared unsustainable. It is also behind David Cameron's wrong-headed proposal to end security of tenure for council tenants, even though social renters are least likely of everyone to be over-housed.


Labour's planning policy was intended to supply housing where it was most needed. Regional strategies were to ensure enough sustainable new homes to meet demand, particularly in the hard-pressed south-east and south-west. House prices would become affordable. Now, some economists argue that it was never in the interests of house builders to increase supply to the point at which house prices began to fall. Others always argued against the strategy of piling investment into the fastest-growing regions of the UK. But there were advantages to the widely unloved policy, not least that it delivered something like £5bn into affordable housing, although, as Shelter has argued, that was never enough to help the most vulnerable, those neither poor enough for housing benefit nor rich enough even for shared-equity ownership.


The Conservatives were elected on a promise to abolish what they saw as a top-down overcentralised planning regime. But now the regional strategies are gone, their advantages are becoming apparent, if only because no one knows what criteria will govern planning next. On Wednesday, an improbable rainbow coalition of environmentalists, house builders and planners protested to the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, about the vacuum he had created. Their letter, co-ordinated by the Town Planning Institute, questioned how "localism" – allowing individual councils to decide their own planning regimes – will meet the extraordinarily complex range of concerns from transport and energy to jobs and flooding that regional strategies had slowly come to co-ordinate.


The old policy was far from perfect, but without it local councils are gleefully halting unpopular housing schemes at the risk of rebooting the house price spiral. The government promises a national planning framework but it is not yet spelt out. It is possible that local enterprise partnerships may come to offer the co-ordinated approach to planning which, at their best, was provided by the old regional strategies. Whatever happens next, there is no perfect answer. What is clear is that planning is likely to challenge the limits of localism.








Astronomers in Arizona reported in the journal Nature yesterday that they had removed not just the twinkle, twinkle from a little star, but from much of the night sky. Using a technique called laser adaptive optics they modelled overhead atmospheric turbulence, and modulated a telescope mirror to eliminate both sub-celestial twinkle and the primary justification for one of the English language's most loved nursery rhymes. Its second line, "How I wonder what you are", is a statement of the universal curiosity that fuels science. Galileo launched evidence-based experimental science 400 years ago by training a telescope on the moon, planets and stars, but he couldn't learn much about the stars because of that obscurant twinkle. Subsequent stargazers understood the optical distortion that accompanies atmosphere. They overcame it first with big reflector telescopes on high mountains, then with space-based cameras, and finally with optics that adjusted a terrestrial mirror surface to eliminate the twinkle of a whole bunch of stars. In the same four centuries, astronomers pioneered the understanding of stellar fabric and light, and therefore of matter and energy. They found that a star was not just "like a diamond in the sky" but the source of 90 elements, including crystalline carbon, and the atmosphere, and perhaps even vast clouds of microscopic diamonds in interstellar space. That's a lot of payoff from a quizzical little twinkle, up above the world so high.









This year Hiroshima and Nagasaki hold their peace memorial services to mark the 65th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of them as the world feels the "global momentum toward a nuclear weapons-free world," as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon observes. It is important that every nation and citizens the world over do their best to accelerate this momentum so that people can live free from the fear of nuclear weapons.


U.S. President Barack Obama's April 2009 speech in Prague, in which he made clear the U.S. commitment "to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons," has clearly contributed to building this momentum. In his speech, he also said that "as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act" toward building a world without nuclear weapons.


In September 2009, the United Nations Security Council, attended by the five permanent UNSC member s