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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month august 09, edition 000594, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- DEATHBURST IN LEH
- A JUMBO LEAP!
- INDIA MUST STEM GRAIN DRAIN - JOGINDER SINGH
- PAKISTAN'S DOUBLE GAME - JL GANJOO
- MIND OVER MATTER - CLAUDE ARPI
- RIDING THE FAULT LINE - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- EX-KHMER ROUGE TALK ABOUT MASSACRES
- WILL GAMES SPARK FINANCIAL CRISIS? - SHIVAJI SARKAR
- CARTOON ON SONIA GANDHI UNBECOMING OF THE BJP
- FLOOD OF WOES FOR LADAKH
- PAK PM IN THE LEAD ROLE
- SC ORDER ON TN QUOTA A LET- DOWN - BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
- OUT WITH OLD IN WITH NEW - PRABHU CHAWLA
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- WRONG SIGNAL
- STRENGTHEN THE BASE
- FIRST, LOOK WITHIN - MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR
- 'WOMEN IN PARLIAMENT WILL DEMOCRATISE GOVERNMENT'
- MAKING A CONNECTION - RWITWIKA BHATTACHARYA
- FROM CENTRE TO THE SIDELINES
- THEIR NUMBER'S UP
- HUNGRY FOR MORE - RITU PRIYA
- IT'S TIME TO WIELD THE STICK, MR PM - PANKAJ VOHRA
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- MORNING, KENYA
- A YEAR LATER
- BRIDGE TO BANGLA
- LET'S TALK ABOUT INFLATION - ILA PATNAIK
- THE PROHIBITION OF GOOD SENSE - ADI POCHA
- HANGING BY A HAIR - INDER MALHOTRA
- THE COLOUR OF MONEY - M R MADHAVAN
- THE TERMINAL AND I - KARNA BASU
- THE STARS AREN'T SMILING - HARNEET SINGH
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- COMMON SENSE
- WHAT PREDATORS?
- KEEP IT SOFT AND AFFABLE, DR SUBBARAO - MK VENU
- THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE FOOD SECURITY DEBATE - YOGINDER K ALAGH
- WHY NOT GO FOR SHALE GAS - NOOR MOHAMMAD
- NATURE'S FURY IN LEH
- A TIMELY EFFORT
- AFGHAN PROBLEM: FOR A REGIONAL APPROACH - CHINMAYA R. GHAREKHAN & KARL F. INDERFURTH
- RAJIV GANDHI PLAN: A VALUABLE SOLUTION - SANDEEP DIKSHIT
- DO NATIONS NEED NUCLEAR WEAPONS? - DHIRENDRA SHARMA
- DOCTOR KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN NOT RELIGIOUS: FAMILY - JON BOONE & ADAM GABBATT
- RENEWED DIPLOMATIC OVERTURES TO IRAN - DAVID E. SANGER
- FIGHTING HUNGER: ROLE OF MEDIA AND JUDICIARY
THE ASIAN AGE
- WILL BUFFET, GATES INSPIRE INDIANS?
- ART OF DISINVESTMENT - ARJUN SENGUPTA
- COUNTING CASTE IS NOT SAME AS CASTE POLITICS
- HOLLYWOOD'S HINDU FACE, JULIA ROBERTS
- WHY WE SHOULDN'T BE HOSTING THE GAMES - ANIL DHARKER
- SUCCESS EXPANSION PRINCIPLE - ROBIN SHARMA
- US SHOULDN'T BE PLAYING SHERIFF
- WILL ARUNDHATI ROY NOW PRAISE THE JEHADIS AS WELL? - AMULYA GANGULI
THE KASHMIR TIMES
- REMEMBERING AUGUST 9
- LOOTING OF CAPD STORES
- INDIA SEEKS AN EXALTED GLOBAL PROFILE - PRAFUL BIDWAI
- A COURTYARD AND OTHER PROVERBS..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- THINK OF MAKING LEH SAFE AND SECURE
- NEED FOR A STATE DISASTER MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY (SDMA) - BY D. SUBA CHANDRAN
- WELCOME! HIGH PRICE OF OIL - BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
- HOW INDO-PAK TALKS ARE DOOMED TO FAIL - BY DR BRAHMA SINGH
- LEH DISASTER
- KASHMIR RESOUNDS IN WASHINGTON - PUNCH LINE BY Z. G. MUHAMMAD
- KASHMIR: NO IDEAL SOLUTION - BY KULDIP NAYAR
- INTROSPCTION - DR. ABDUL MAJID SIRAJ
- HISTORY REPEATS, ROLES REVERSE - DR.JAVID IQBAL WRITES ON THE TWO COURSE-CHANGING EVENTS.
- IS OMAR A BOY WITH A TOY IN HIS HANDS? - GUEST COLUMN BY SEEMA MUSTAFA
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
- CONFLICT PLANNING
- "GOVERNMENT IN HELICOPTER"
- TOMORROW MAY BE TOO LATE - DR SYED NAZIR GILANI
- TACKLING INSURGENCY
- PRANAB AT RECEIVING END
- SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
- THE IGNORED REVOLUTIONARIES - BY KULDIP NAYAR
- PORTRAIT OF A LADY - BY HARISH DHILLON
- CLINICAL TRIALS IN INDIA: NEED FOR BIOETHICS - RADHA SAINI AND SUKHWINDER SINGH
- UNFOUNDED FEARS OF DOCTORS - MAJOR-GEN SATINDER KAPOOR (RETD)
- IS KALMADI THE ONLY ONE AT FAULT?
- FISCAL FEDERALISM
- ENGINEERING HEREDITY
- INDIAN MINDS, FOREIGN FUNDS - SANJAYA BARU
- NO ONE PUBLISHED PAID NEWS - SUNIL JAIN
- COMPLEX DERIVATIVES - A V RAJWADE
- RPT, COI, CWG, CG ... - PRATIP KAR
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- WE NEED CREDIT DEFAULT SWAPS
- WELCOME MOVE
- FREE REIN IN SPAIN
- HOW TO GROW WHEN MARKETS DON'T - ADRIAN SLYWOTZKY
- THE RUSH TO SAFE ASSETS - U R BHAT
- 'INDIA WILL BE OUR GLOBAL SPARES HUB' - CHANCHALPALCHAUHAN
- THE AGONY OF THE HEREDITARY TURKS - C L MANOJ
- THINK RIGHT, WIN OVER YOURSELF - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
- WILL BUFFET, GATES INSPIRE INDIANS?
- ART OF DISINVESTMENT - BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
- ISRAEL WILL LISTEN TO CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- OF ERRING NETAS, OGLING BABUS
- PORN TROUBLE IN UP
- WHY DO WE REACT? - BY SADHGURU
- WHERE'S MRS OBAMA? - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- HIGHER STILL HIGHER
- SPIKING THE GUNS
- TEACHERS IN TROUBLE
- QUIT THE NATION - NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
- PRETTY HINDU WOMAN - URBANE ANGST
- CHINA'S GENERATION OF ANGRY YOUTH
- SAILING ROUND THE WORLD AT 14 - JEROME TAYLOR
- TEST CASE
- THE DECLINE OF MORALITY - S.L. RAO
- LADAKH IN PERIL
- TRY HARDER
- SQUARING ALL SIDES - M J AKBAR
- FOR A VIEW ON ISRAEL, STEAL THIS MOVIE - BY THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NYT
- VERDANT HAVEN BY PARVATHI RAMKUMAR
THE JERUSALEM POST
- SO FAREWELL THEN, TONY JUDT
- THE CART, THE HORSE, AND THE LONG ROAD AHEAD - BY BARRY RUBIN
- NEW YORK CITY HAS VOTED FOR TOLERANCE - BY MARILYN HENRY
- COLUMN ONE: ISRAEL'S AMERICAN-MADE FOES - BY CAROLINE B. GLICK
- WHEN THE NEXT WAR COMES BY DAVID HOROVITZ
- ENFORCE INTERNATIONAL LAW IN LEBANON - BY AVI BEKER
- IN SEARCH OF A MEGAPHONE - BY FAYE BITTKER
- THE NEW GHETTO - BY YOSSI BEILIN
- A FURIOUS INVESTIGATION, AND THEN SILENCE - BY AMIR OREN
- SET UP A SEARCH COMMITTEE - BY ZE'EV SEGAL
- GALANT'S WORLD: FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER
- INVESTIGATE, AND QUICKLY
- SEVERELY UNDERMINED. IT MUST BE RESTORED, AND FAST.
- LIVING WITH SANCTIONS - BY AKIVA ELDAR
- ANTI-CORRUPTION RECIPE - BY ZE'EV SEGAL
- KEEP GAY PRIDE IN THE BEDROOM - BY YAIR SHELEG
- A JEWISH AND DEMOCRATIC RESTAURANT - BY SALMAN MASALHA
- AS THE ECONOMY SLOWS
- CHINA AND THE I.M.F.
- THE NEW YORK CONVENTION CON
- VULNERABLE REFUGEES, LOSING A LIFELINE
- AMERICA GOES DARK - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- THE MARRIAGE IDEAL - BY ROSS DOUTHAT
- THE FIRST CHURCH OF ROBOTICS - BY JARON LANIER
- OUR VIEW ON INTERNET PRIVACY: THESE 'COOKIES' AREN'T TASTY; YOU'RE LEFT HUNGRY FOR PRIVACY.
- OPPOSING VIEW ON INTERNET PRIVACY: DON'T FEAR INTERNET TRACKING - BY RANDALL ROTHENBERG
- WHY DO WE NEED RELIGION? - BY OLIVER THOMAS
- WHEN TEACHERS ARE SLASHED, THE CHILDREN PAY - BY RANDI WEINGARTEN
TIMES FREE PRESS
- WHEN IS A WAR REALLY 'OVER'?
- ANOTHER TRIAL ON ETHICS
- A 'JUST-FOR-SHOW' SPENDING FREEZE
- CASE OF THE 16,000 MISSING REBATES
- SIGNS OF THE TIMES
- MARRIAGE AS A LEGAL RIGHT
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- GOVERNMENT'S SILENCE ON ASHTIANI IS DEAFENING
- THE WAR OF THE THINK TANKS - EMRE DELIVELI
- PYROMANIACS JOINING FORCES - JOOST LAGENDIJK
- TURKS AND KURDS: THE PERILS OF MURKY MYTHS - C. CEM OĞUZ
- ONCE UPON A TIME IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA - SONER ÇAĞAPTAY
- EXCEPTIONAL TIMES, EXCEPTIONAL CHOICES - YUSUF KANLI
- TODAY RUSSIA, TOMORROW THE WORLD - GWYNNE DYER
- SHOEICIDE MISSION
- ROLL OF INFAMY
- THE QUEST FOR AN AFGHAN SETTLEMENT - S IFTIKHAR MURSHED
- PREM CHAND PAKISTANI - TARIQ AQIL
- STRIVE OR PERISH - DR A Q KHAN
- OF OTHER EVILS - AFIYA SHEHRBANO
- RIPE FOR REFORM - ZAFAR HILALY
- UP AND RUNNING - CHRIS CORK
- GILANI DEFUSES TENSION IN KARACHI
- SARDAR QAYYUM'S APPEAL TO UNSG
- WORST CALAMITY AND THE WAY OUT
- THE ESSENCE OF DEMOCRACY - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
- KASHMIR IN LIMELIGHT! - AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)
- AN ISSUE OF INTERNATIONAL CONCERN - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
- PRELUDE TO DESTRUCTION - HAJRA SAEED
- THE REAL PROBLEM IN AFGHAN WAR - MOHSIN HAMID
- INTRA-BCL CLASHES
- HOTTEST DECADE
- A COURTYARD AND OTHER PROVERBS..!
- JAPAN'S UNFINISHED REFORMATION
- GROUND ZERO MOSQUE IN NEW YORK
- JAPAN'S UNFINISHED REFORMATION
- EVERYBODY NEEDS THE PSYCHIATRIST'S COUCH
- CHINA AND PREMIER LEAGUE A GREAT MATCH
- CHALLENGES BEFORE MEDIA IN BANGLADESH (PART -||)
- BANGLADESH CODE OF CONDUCT
- ONCE AGAIN, IT'S A LATHAM LOSS
- ROOM FOR MORE AMBITION FROM CONFIDENT COALITION
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- BEYOND BOAT PEOPLE, A GENIAL POLICY BLUR
- ABBOTT ASKS VOTERS TO TEAR DOWN A FRACTURING GOVERNMENT
- FAMILY COURTS: TIME TRIALS
- ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH: NATURE'S CHOREOGRAPHY
- IN PRAISE OF THOMAS COOK TIMETABLES
- MAKE GRAFFITI 'ARTISTS' PAY FOR THEIR HOBBY
THE JAKARTA POST
- SQUEEZED FROM BOTH SIDES
- ABSENTEEISM BREAKS UP TRUST FROM INSIDE - DONNY SYOFYAN
- DANGER ON THE HIGH SEAS OF EAST ASIA - TOM PLATE
- FPI AND LOW-INCOME YOUTHS - SUDIRMAN NASIR, MELBOURNE
- EXAMINING THE IDEA OF 'HOUSE OF ASPIRATION' - DJOKO SUSILO
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- IN LOVE WITH VIOLENCE - BY ALEXEI BAYER
- MEDVEDEV'S BIG FLUB ON 3RD PRESIDENTIAL RUNNER - BY VLADIMIR FROLOV
- HOW TO MAKE PEACE WITH GEORGIA - BY DMITRY TRENIN
- MONITORING JUDICIARY
- FITNESS ROADMAP
- UNJUSTIFIED RENOVATION
- DEBATE: DISASTERS
- PREPARING FUTURE YOUNG ATHLETES - BY JACQUES ROGGE (CHINA DAILY)
- COMING CLOSER TO CANCUN - BY FU JING (CHINA DAILY)
- DO ACT
- TRAGIC TOLL
- BOOSTING FDI INFLOWS ENABLING ENVIRONMENT MUST - BHUBANESH PANT
- WRONG SIDE OF DIVIDE - ARUN KUMAR SRIVASTAV
DEATHBURST IN LEH
ENVIRONMENTAL LOSSES LEAD TO DEVASTATION
It was one of the worst calamities to strike Leh in recent times. Through late Thursday night and Friday morning, two cloudbursts caused huge slush of mud to rapidly flow down the slopes and ravage everything that came their way. Hundreds of lives were lost and villages destroyed. We can just throw up our hands in despair and say that it was a natural disaster, and as natural disasters go, difficult to contain when set in motion. But natural calamities of this sort should make us pause and think. Surely there is something amiss in the manner we are managing our environment for such tragedies to happen. The hills are being robbed of their green cover, rendering the soil loose and vulnerable to dangerous shifts, especially in rains. The tragedy in Leh was caused by massive mudslides some as high as twenty metres, according to an eyewitness. Water dragged the loose soil down the slopes at a furious pace, and slush was formed with the mud collected from damaged houses and nearby hillocks. Many of those who survived had to wade through slush as deep as five feet. Mudslides are not a common phenomenon there, but with the continuing destruction of green cover in neighbouring regions, Leh may well face it more regularly. Another indication of changing climate patterns, for which too we are partly responsible, is the increasing occurrence of cloudbursts. In reality, cloudbursts should have been rare in a dry and cold place like Leh. And, indeed, they were, until recently when the effects of warning appeared to be getting more pronounced. Only less than three months ago, more than 30 homes were destroyed in a cloudburst. In 2006, floods caused by cloudbursts had enveloped large parts of the district. It is not just Ladakh but several parts of the Himalayan region that are warming at an alarming rate. Increased warming leads to greater evaporation, and, therefore, more rain-laden clouds get concentrated in a small mountain area and offload water in huge bursts. The Himalayan ecosystem is fragile and the damage caused by any disturbance to its stability can be enormous, as the Leh tragedy has shown. We will continue to pay a heavy price if we ignore this reality.
If there is an urgent need to address environmental issues, it is equally important to upgrade infrastructure in regions like Leh. Transportation and communication systems collapse just when they are most needed. The communication network in Leh was disrupted as the tragedy struck, leaving hundreds of people stranded. Some needed urgent attention while others wanted to relay the news of their safety to their loved ones. The Leh-Rohtang highway shut down, inconveniencing hundreds of tourists. What is of concern is not just the trouble caused to the stranded people, but also the fact that they add to the numbers that have to be taken care of in a crisis situation. The sudden collapse of basic services like power and telecommunication in Leh, though, is understandable BSNL lines were uprooted and silt had filled a hydel plant in the wake of the incident. But, with the threat of natural disasters always looming over the hill areas, authorities must find ways to build infrastructure that can withstand such tragedies to a greater level.
A JUMBO LEAP!
WILDLIFE GAIN MUST NOT BE SQUANDERED
The country has seen an impressive growth in its wild elephant population in the past two decades. It grew to 27,719 in 2008 from 25,604 in 1993. In Kerala alone, where the elephant is an inalienable part of culture, the wild jumbo population went up by more than 2,500 during that period. Almost all elephant reserves in India have shown the welcome trend, though the growth has not been uniform in all regions. The rate of shrinkage of forest cover also came down in this period, which in turn contributed to the comfort of the wildlife. However, the jumbos in our jungles are not yet out of the danger, since they invariably land into conflict with humans living on the fringes of the forests. Then there are the poachers who still find some way to sell their contraband despite a universal ban on ivory sales. The devastating effects of the rampant deforestation in the second half of the last millennium are being felt now, with the pachyderms forced to leave their natural habitats for farmlands in search of fodder and water in summers providing yet another reason for the conflicts. These confrontations cause an average of 200 elephant deaths a year in India. Thus, human greed and official apathy remain the biggest dangers to the lives of elephants in our jungles. Diseases are another reason for the elephant deaths. Somehow, forest departments of various States tend to disregard the importance of regular observation of diseases in the jungle. If the officials could check it before it assumed fatal proportions, several elephants could be saved. At least 25 wild elephants died in Kerala due to mysterious diseases and unknown reasons since 2007.
More than 12 wild elephants were killed by poachers in Kerala in the past three years. In Odisha, poachers brought down 12 jumbos in Simlipal Tiger Reserve in April-May alone. Poaching is happening despite the universal ban on keeping, selling and exchanging ivory, because the proposition is tempting: Ivory extracted from a single mature tusker would fetch as much as `12 lakh in the domestic market. This also accounts for the death of 81 captive elephants in 2009 in Kerala, where the animal is revered as the live form of Lord Ganesha. Official apathy is widespread, and this was the reason behind the 14 elephant deaths on the railway tracks on Kerala-Tamil Nadu border in three years. These dangers could be averted with proper intervention: Foot patrol by personnel, regular observation by doctors, determined efforts against poaching and radio-collaring are some ways to tackle the issue. The situation calls for increased alertness on the part of both the Union and State Governments. If that does not happen, the achievements made so far in elephant conservation will be rendered futile and our jumbos will face the same fate as that of our tigers.
INDIA MUST STEM GRAIN DRAIN
As per official figures, there are more than 42 crore Indian citizens living below the poverty line as compared to 41 crore poverty-stricken people in 26 African countries. Despite the pious proclamations of the Government and launching of numerous poverty alleviation programmes at least on paper, foodgrains worth hundreds of crores go waste and more are stolen and diverted from the public distribution system.
A report of the year 2006-07 shows that in the previous three years, foodgrains worth `31,500 crore were siphoned off the public distribution system, turning it into state-sponsored munificence for blackmarketeers, babus and ration shop owners.
The North-East is in a category of its own. Of the eight States in the region, not a single grain of wheat supplied to Sikkim, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Assam has reached the targeted population. Arunachal Pradesh can claim to be a bit less corrupt as 96.2 per cent of its wheat meant for public distribution got diverted. Manipur topped the list with 97.7 per cent of its rice allocation also being siphoned off, with Nagaland following close behind with 88.6 per cent of its rice being diverted. In 2006-07, rice and wheat worth `3,289.71 crore was stolen in Uttar Pradesh. The corresponding figure in West Bengal was `1,913.76 crore and in Madhya Pradesh it was `1,038.69 crore.
This is quite apart from the annual food subsidy bill shooting well over the `50,000-crore mark as the Government has promised a scheme of foodgrain at `3 per kg to families living below the poverty line. The Government has promised a National Food Security Act that would statutorily require a supply of 25 kg of rice or wheat at `3 per kg to BPL families. One would have no quarrel with the subsidies if they reach their intended recipients. With prices still soaring, the Government admitted to the Empowered Group of Ministers on Food in July 2010 that 61,000 tonnes of foodgrains had rotted away in granaries as they were left too long with little or no protection.
Haryana and Punjab were unable to protect the 15.5 million tonnes of wheat lying in the open under tarpaulins. While Punjab has admitted that 49,000 tonnes of wheat have gone waste, the Union Government warned that 1.36 lakh tonnes of wheat that it procured in 2008-09 and 27.38 lakh tonnes of wheat it procured in 2009-10 had exceeded the one-year period during which they can be ideally stored without rotting.
The extent of wastage of money and resources can be gauged from the following.
A total of 49,000 tonnes of grain has decayed in Punjab.
The number of people the grain could have fed for a month had it been distributed is 7.1 million.
A total of 2.87 million tonnes of grain is at risk of decay across the country. This grain can feed 40 million Indians for a month.
Instead of action, the reaction of the Union Government has been holding one meeting after another after the media exposed the wastage. The problem is simply one of inadequate storage space which is not restricted only to the States of Punjab and Haryana.
Foodgrains, primarily wheat and rice, are lying in the open all over the country because the Union Government has not paid adequate attention to the creation of storage space. Indeed, the Punjab Government very rightly came out with the view that it is better to distribute the same than having rats and other creatures eat it. It has publicly said that it has exhausted all its godowns and warehouses. They are stocking the foodgrains on roads and kuccha and unscientific plinths.
It says that even if there is an intention to hire any space for the purpose of storage, there is nothing available. As its own godowns are full already, Punjab has been repeatedly asking the Union Government to tell other States to pick up their share of foodgrain. The problem will aggravate in the years to come as the population rises.
Our country has godowns to store 16 million tonnes of foodgrains plus another storage for 12 million tonnes in the open when we need three times the number of godowns. It is a paradox of not only waste but utter callousness in times of shortage and rising prices. If three million tonnes of grain are damaged and unfit for human consumption, it can mean an annual loss of `8,000 to `10,000 crore. It costs the Food Corporation of India `15,000 to buy and store one tonne of wheat and `19,000 to store a tonne of rice. This state of affairs exposes our Government's inability to stockpile precious foodgrains as well as gross wastage of public funds. It is poor governance of the worst kind.
How much foodgrain do we waste annually? A reply to an RTI query in 2008 revealed that between 1997 and 2007, more than 1.3 million tonnes (1,30,000 truckloads) of foodgrains decayed in storage. The Government spent a sum of `259 crore just to get rid of the rotten food. Across the country, rot and rodents claim 20 million tonnes or a tenth of the total harvest. These lost grains keep millions hungry. Incidentally, India ranks 66 out of 88 countries on the 2008 Global Hunger Index.
Even when we purchase any item, for our household use, we make sure that there is a proper place for it and it is preserved well. On a personal level, we are careful not to waste even a rupee's worth. But in the case of the Government, there is collective and not individual responsibility. So things remain in a mess.
The problem is incredibly simple if the Government wants to solve it. Instead of allowing food to rot, why not create the facilities for storage in advance? If in a couple of months, superstructure for Commonwealth Games at a cost of `35000 crore can be set up, why not work on a war footing to create the required infrastructure for food without which nobody can survive? But this is possible only if the Food Minister and the Prime Minister cut down the red tape and circuitous journey of Government files at every step before any work can be undertaken. Why not appoint an administrator with overriding powers and responsibility to complete the project in one year? Not only should responsibility be given but also the authority and accountability. Waste of foodgrains is a crime of the worst order and the sooner steps are taken to end it the better it will be for the nation.
PAKISTAN'S DOUBLE GAME
At a time when the situation in Kashmir seems to have spun out of control with a young Chief Minister running a State Government in alliance with the Congress, it is a pity that the party heading the ruling coalition is busy engaged in political games involving dislodging Mr Narendra Modi from the Gujarat Chief Minister's chair.
It is sadly obvious that the priorities for the Congress begin with its concern for power and end in its anxiety regarding its vote bank share which it keeps trying to increase by playing manipulative politics with the minority community at the cost of majority interests. Consequently, either the larger interests of the nation are neglected or deficiencies in governance lead to the ugly incidents that are being witnessed in Kashmir today.
Unfortunately, with regard to Kashmir, the Congress' actions have been guided by misplaced trust due to which it ordered reduction in troops in the State in the first instance. India held a series of fruitless talks with Pakistan, surprisingly keeping all options open but with no visible determination to act firmly against the latter's evil designs to foment trouble in the Valley. All of this has snowballed into the current crisis. The crisis in Kashmir is deeper than what meets the eye, with stone-pelters harassing Army personnel and fighting them for days together until very recently, claiming precious lives in the process. Militants are mingling with ordinary folk and provoking clashes, as admitted by none other than Mr P Chidambaram, the Union Home Minister. An agitation as long as this one cannot be sustained without the active support of Pakistan, which has played a double game with even the US in its fight against the Taliban.
The Kashmir unrest must, therefore, be treated as an issue of prime importance and any discussion bound by the four corners of the Congress party office in this regard may not result in a solution. A wider dialogue is the need of the hour. Unlike other States, Jammu & Kashmir enjoys a special status. Hence any step aimed at diluting Central authority or provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act could be counter-productive, inviting further trouble to the much-beleaguered State.
MIND OVER MATTER
The Tibetan Buddhist tradition draws its root texts from the Nalanda masters and describes itself as a 'science of the mind'. It is ironical, therefore, that an initiative to revive the Great Vihara of northern India should plan not to include its greatest champion the Dalai Lama
It is perplexing to discover that an Indian Nobel Laureate does not possess the insight to grasp what has been the hallmark of the Indian mind for millennia. I am speaking of Mr Amartya Sen, the chairman of the Mentor Group who is trying to revive the ancient Nalanda University. Mr Sen recently made a statement showing he is out of tune with the spirit of the ancient Indian viharas. This is rather worrying for the project. One can always argue that he is just a modern economist and can't be expected to understand the subtleties of the ancient Indian mind.
The facts: When asked about the omission of the Dalai Lama's name from the international project, Mr Sen stated that "religious studies could be imparted without involvement of religious leaders." This is a flabbergasting statement. Does it mean that 'religious studies' should be disconnected from the practitioners?
It reminded me of the 1960s in Europe when the first Buddhist lamas were engaged as lecturers in universities, they were told not to interpret Buddhism as an 'insider', but remain an 'outsider'. It is probably what Mr Sen means when he spoke about the Dalai Lama: "Being religiously active may not be the same as (being) an appropriate person for religious studies."
These declarations from a supposedly eminent intellectual proves that Mr Sen has no knowledge of what once made Nalanda University the greatest knowledge center of the entire world. Does he know why the great viharas of Northern India attracted scholars and students from the Koreas, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia or Greece, at least till the day it was looted by Bakhtiyar Khalji's Muslim troops in 1193?
Simply because the teachers, the gurus, the pandits taught what they had practised and experienced. It is during the 8th century that Trisong Detsen, the great Tibetan King invited Shantarakshita, the Abbot of Nalanda to introduce the Dharma to the Land of Snows and ordain the first monks. Since then, the lamas of Tibet have faithfully followed the masters of Nalanda.
During a recent encounter, the Dalai Lama explained: "I always describe Tibetan Buddhism as pure Buddhism from the Nalanda tradition. Nalanda had great masters such as Nagarjuna or Arya Asanga. During the 8th century, the Tibetan Emperor invited Shantarakshita. He was a famous, well-known scholar and master of Nalanda. He went to Tibet and spent the rest of his life there. He introduced Buddhism in Tibet. I myself studied the Nalanda tradition of Buddhism; first I learned by heart and memorised what we call the root texts. All these root texts have been written by Nalanda masters. The Tibetan Buddhist tradition is the Nalanda tradition which combines the Sanskrit and the Pali traditions as well Buddhist Tantrayana. Masters like Nagarjuna, Aryadeva and Chandrakirti wrote tantric treatises in Sanskrit."
After the Muslim invasions, the monasteries of Tibet became the last repositories of the ancient wisdom which had been virtually destroyed in India, its land of origin.
Mr Sen does not seem to understand that the Nalanda tradition is not a 'religion', but a 'science of the mind'. The Dalai Lama recounted the story of Mr Raja Ramanna, the nuclear physicist, who told him that he was surprised to find the concept of quantum physics and relativity in a text of Nagarjuna. The Dalai Lama continued: "The West discovered these concepts at the end of the 19th century or beginning of the 20th century, when some Indian sages like Nagarjuna knew it nearly 2,000 years ago." Nagarjuna's concept of madhyamaka (the Middle Path) was very much a part of the Nalanda curriculum.
The Dalai Lama likes to speak about his contacts with Western scientists. They started 27 years ago: "We have had some serious discussions. We have been meeting annually; the interest is from both sides. In Buddhism, there is a lot of explanation about the mind, many categories of mind. Therefore, Buddhism should be considered as a 'science of mind'."
The Tibetan leader clearly differentiates between this 'science of mind' originating from Nalanda, Buddhist philosophy (like Buddhist relativity of things, he explains) and Buddhist religion. He said: "When I contact modern scientists, I don't put them in contact with Buddhist religion, but with Buddhist science and to some extent to Buddhist philosophy." And he adds: "It is important to understand that when we say 'Buddhist science', we mean science of the mind; it is something universal; it is not a religion. Buddhist religion is not universal, it is only for Buddhists." The Nalanda project should be based on the 'science of the mind', not on Buddhist religion.
Unfortunately one has the feeling that Mr Sen would like to recreate a new Shantiniketan, an academic institution without its original spirit. How to lay the foundations of Nalanda International University without the spirit of Nalanda?
Some analysts tell me, "You are wrong, it is not a question of religion or science, but of politics. Mr Sen has to take care of Chinese susceptibilities. China wants to participate and does not want to hear about the Dalai Lama." This is terribly ironic. Mr Sen is probably unaware of it, but the Chinese fought hard to impose their own system of Buddhism in Tibet, but finally it is the Nalanda path which prevailed.
The decision was taken after a long debate, the famous Samye debate which was held in Samye (Central Tibet) between the Chinese and Nalanda schools of Buddhism. Shantarakshita before dying had predicted that a dispute would arise between the two schools of Buddhism that had started spreading in Tibet. The first one the Chinese school, influenced by Taoism was of the opinion that enlightenment was an instantaneous revelation or realisation. This system of thought had spread throughout China.The second school, taught by the Indian pandits of Nalanda, known as the 'gradual school' asserted that enlightenment was a gradual process, not an 'instant one', but requiring long study, practice and analysis. The Samye debate took two years (792-794 CE) to reach its conclusion. Hoshang, a Chinese monk, representing the 'instant school' was defeated by Kamalashila who defended the Indian view. At the end of the debate, the King issued a proclamation naming the Indian Path (from Nalanda) as the orthodox faith for Tibet.
Today, the Marxist rulers in Tibet seem to have forgotten these details; they want to participate in rebuilding the Great Vihara. Fine, but it is nonetheless strange that the main living proponent of the Nalanda tradition is kept out of the project. I am sure that the Dalai Lama does not mind, but it would certainly have been a blessing for the project to have him as a mentor (or Chancellor), like Shantarakshita had done for Tibet.
It is clear that it is the spirit of appeasement and not the spirit of Nalanda which will prevail in South Block today. Very sad.
RIDING THE FAULT LINE
Vijaywada session unlikely to fix rift in CPM leadership
It is ironic that there is near total symmetry in the way in which the Communist Party of India (Marxist) plans to deal with, internally and externally, issues that together make up for a seriously inhospitable environment. Its guideline for the external environment, as already stated in its draft political resolution, is to oppose the Congress, isolate the Bharatiya Janata Party and unite the Left as well as other secular democratic parties.
The party's strategy for curbing the internal turmoil is almost identical; isolate those who disagree with the apex leadership, namely general secretary Prakash Karat, oppose those who contradict the prescribed wisdom and unite the like-minded. In other words, isolate and oppose leaders like Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for having a different take from Mr Karat and unite those who were already banded together by their inconsequence. Given the CPM's zero tolerance to differences of opinion and dissent within its ranks, the scheduled extended session of the central committee in Vijaywada to examine what ails the party and what can be prescribed for its future health will be a formal exercise. The central committee session will boil down to approving the already drafted political resolution even though the leaders of the two CPM ruled States Kerala and West Bengal disapprove.
Mr Achuthanandan has declined to be present and Mr Bhattacharjee has disassociated himself from the exercise, by skipping earlier meetings of the central committee where the process of drafting the political resolution as future guidelines for politics, policies and action was given final shape. The clash within the CPM is at many levels. The crafting of information about the clashes is an exercise in burying its gravity. Power and authority within the CPM, personified by Mr Karat, does not come with direct responsibility; those who are accountable to the people, Mr Achuthanandan and Mr Bhattacharjee, because they participate in elections have power but lack political authority. Between national perspectives fuelled by an ambition to make a mark and the imperatives of regional politics, where winning matters most and electoral defeats are described as "failures of leadership," the fault lines have deepened.
At no time in the history of the CPM has the gap between the central bureaucracy and the State leaders been as wide and with so much at stake. Between Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu there were differences the 1996 "historic blunder" being just one, but there were no cracks. Between EMS Namboodripad and Jyoti Basu there were serious differences over the trajectory that CPM should adopt in a dynamic political situation but that clash never became quite as complicated as the ongoing one.
At no time has the isolation been as great between regional leaders required to safeguard their histories and the national leadership that has no territorial imperatives. The clash has boiled down in the case of West Bengal to Mr Karat's favourite phrase: Whole gamut of neo-liberal policies. In Mr Karat's book the policies of the Union and State Governments that are underpinned by neo-liberalism are "detrimental to the working people's" interests. In Mr Bhattacharjee's book, West Bengal cannot insulate itself from the impact of neo-liberal policies. In Mr Karat's view, safeguarding the people's interests is a matter of "livelihoods, public distribution system, land, job security, fair wages, access to health care, education and basic services," not within the framework of neo-liberalism but in opposition to it. In Mr Bhattacharjee's view, the only way of advancing people's interests is by promoting opportunities for "corporates and big business" within the framework of neo-liberalism, albeit with some safety precautions.
Effectively, Mr Karat's position, as it appears in the draft political resolution tabled for the Vijaywada session, is a defence of the politics of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. The headway made by the Trinamool Congress was the pay-off for focussing on the interests as listed by Mr Karat. The strategy of organising "sustained struggle on local issues" is also a leaf out of the Trinamool Congress manual in the context of Singur and Nandigram. Between laying "stress on its independent role and activities" and seeking the cooperation of "non-Congress secular parties who are willing to come together to take up people's issues," Mr Karat is trying to perform a balancing act that failed miserably in 2008. The strategy collapsed as the non-Congress parties melted away before the vote on the nuclear cooperation Bill.
The question that should be raised in Vijaywada is how will the CPM's independent role and activities be measured as opposition to the Congress's neo-liberal pro-US policies or its effectiveness in protecting its bases in West Bengal and Kerala, expanding its footprints across India (without getting into dubious seat sharing arrangements with non-Congress parties) and increasing its numbers in Parliament and in the State Assemblies?
To combine opposition to the Congress, with isolation of the BJP and achieve political success independently, the CPM's first task should be to restore order, create harmony, forge a common purpose and set realistic goals within its own ranks. The erosion of its position is not a consequence of the electoral defeats it has suffered in West Bengal and Kerala. Its ineptitude in recent months in failing to use inflation and rise in food prices to assert its independent position and organise activities to establish it is revealing. Once upon a time, the Communist Party led a people's food movement; today it can merely resolve to do so.
EX-KHMER ROUGE TALK ABOUT MASSACRES
A documentary-maker scours the Cambodian countryside to find the people who conducted the pogrom and listen to their experiences and in so doing makes peace with his own past, writes Robin McDowell
For more than three decades, Cambodian villages have been home to silent killers: Former Khmer Rouge commanders who slit the throats of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of victims before dumping their bodies into shallow graves.
Filmmaker Thet Sambath spent 10 years combing the countryside trying to find those who carried out massacres so they together with the genocidal regime's ideological leader, Nuon Chea could reveal the truth about one of the 20th century's darkest chapters.
Their stories are told in the groundbreaking documentary Enemies of the People, which is playing in limited release in the US, with more theatres to be added each week into the fall, its distributor says.
At least 1.7 million people a quarter of the population died from execution, disease, starvation and overwork when the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge tried to turn the country into a vast, agrarian paradise from 1975-79.
In the film, Soun, a former militia commander, sits beneath a tree and gazes out at what are now sparkling green rice paddies. "I come back here to where I killed people," he says wearily, pointing to a half-dozen spots where swollen bodies used to pile up. "I feel terrible... My soul, my body is spinning inside. All the things I did are flashing through my mind."
He recalls smelling blood on his hands as he was eating rice one night: Earlier, he was looking into the eyes of a beautiful tailor who was clinging to his knees, begging to be spared. Tempted, he asked if she would live with him forever. She quickly promised, but when he heard his own boss yell, "What are you waiting for! Hurry up!" he thrust his knife into her and threw her on the stack.
Soun leads the 42-year-old Thet to confront other killers, who have to be convinced, slowly, to confess, and then to those who issued orders to kill ethnic minorities and others suspected of being traitors or spies for Vietnam. Eventually it becomes clear, as they go up the chain of command, that there was probably never an "original order" from the Khmer Rouge's inner clique to carry out massacres in the countryside. Rather, regional chiefs, and officials directly above them were interpreting what they were hearing at an abstract political level. The genocide occurred during the troubled times of the Cold War.
The Khmer Rouge faced internal struggles from the start. The two top leaders, Pol Pot, who died in 1998, and Nuon Chea, awaiting trial before a UN-backed war crimes tribunal, supported China. But many others were looking to their powerful neighbour to the east, Vietnam. Nuon Chea confesses for the first time in the film that he and Pol Pot together decided to kill all party members considered "enemies of the people". They had to be destroyed, he said defiantly, to "save the party" and "keep the rot from spreading". But he said he was unaware or too busy to care what was happening in villages and the rice fields.
The journey was a highly personal one for Thet, a senior reporter at the Phnom Penh Post newspaper. When he was a boy, his father was stabbed to death after a public meeting organised by Khmer Rouge cadre, where he objected to plans to seize livestock, gold and other personal property for the party. His mother was forced to marry a member of the Khmer Rouge militia soon after, got pregnant and died in childbirth. His brother was also killed.
Thet thought that finding people who took part in some of the massacres would help him understand and heal. In the end, those who opened up to him, revealing atrocities they have kept secret from even their wives and children, also seemed to benefit.
"When we find them, and they confess the truth, I feel better," Thet says. "I want this documentary to be shown all over the country. Otherwise we will be gone soon, and the new generation won't know the story."
It took years for Thet to win Nuon Chea's full trust. By the end, the two have formed an unquestionable bond. The war crimes court reviewing Nuon Chea's case has asked for a copy of the film co-produced by Thet and Briton Rob Lemkin but he refused, saying he feels it would be a betrayal of trust. Thet brings Soun and another man who has admitted to ordering countless killings to visit Nuon Chea so they can ask him directly why so many people had to die at their hands. They ask, too, if they themselves might end up in court.
"I don't know what I'll be reborn as in the next life," Soun says. "I feel desperate but I don't know what to do."
WILL GAMES SPARK FINANCIAL CRISIS?
The Government needs to reflect on whether or not it can sustain 'expenses' that have not really been made but diverted and pocketed in the name of the mega-event
Is the Indian society on the path of growth or is it sliding? The question boggles the mind. If it is growing could the growth be sustained is the other question. Liberal economic rules have ensured breaking away from past morbidity. But the nation is yet to nurse itself back to health and if symptoms persist may slide once again.
This apparently is the lesson it is drawing from the Commonwealth Games 2010, which has also come to be known as Common Loot Games in popular parlance.
A nation organises such Games to show that it has arrived at the international scenario and can be trusted to lead other nations. Possibly by the same standard, the Beijing Olympics had also hurt the sensibilities of the world despite its resounding success, as the poor were banished from anywhere near the Games venue.
Delhi has, in many ways, emulated Beijing. The Government is good at emulating all that is not even worth discussing. So it is also mulling over putting up giant Beijing-like screens to "cover" the filth and darker sides of the city.
Delhi has also shown street vendors and beggars the door. In a "shining and incredible India", they do not have place at least in the national capital. It does not belong to them. The capital and its pride or shame belongs to the people who have amassed, alas looted, immense wealth even as the poor toil to serve their masters. Yes, even in a constitutional democracy, autocratic and feudal politics rule the roost.
When the Olympics were being held in Greece in 2004, people were similarly perturbed and filled with cynicism about the success of the Games. There were similar delays and murky dealings. The Games finally succeeded. They restored the confidence of the people but in less than a decade the country has slid into bankruptcy. The Greeks are wondering whether or not this is a fall-out of the Olympics. Indians also need to think whether or not they would be able to sustain "expenses" which have not been made but pocketed systematically.
Authorities in London say they are prepared for the next Olympics whenever it is held. It has built its hopes on the strength of what it has built and not on the strength of demolition as Delhi has done. Stadium after stadium be it the Talkatora swimming complex or Shivaji Stadium which were hosting national and international events were demolished only to "rebuild" them. Nobody has heard of such an extravaganza. Yes, when you hold a new event, you refurbish a stadium, put a fresh coat of paint, repair and, may be, even re-carpet it. But demolish! No one has ever heard of such a thing. Are we surpassing the antics of Mohammad bin Tughlaq? If so, we should also remain prepared to face the consequences.
Nobody still has the exact figures of the actual and total expenses that have gone into demolishing stadia well-built roads, footpaths, bus shelters and what not. Money was also spent on building "flyovers" where these were not needed, purchase of sub-standard buses for at least double their price and hiring equipment which could be purchased at one-tenth of their cost. Many facilities came apart leaking at the first hint of the monsoon rains.
Even the Government says it does not have a figure on this account, giving out a rough estimate ranging from `12,000 crore to `28,000 crore. This calls for amending the Constitution to bind the Government into requiring permission to spend anything beyond `500 or may be `5,000. This is an urgent requirement and there should be a cap on how many times the Government can revise its budgetary estimates.
Its demand for `54,589 crore more for spending should not have been passed by Parliament without a thorough questioning. It should have been asked how it could go so wrong in its estimation. And if it needs that money why cannot it wait till the next budgetary process? It has placed its demand based on many considerations which do not refer to the Games. But it is on record that money allocated for other purposes has been transferred to the Games.
Normally, such demands come in the winter session and not in the monsoon session. What is the urgency to have this parliamentary sanction before the Commonwealth Games? Is the Government in short of that much money for organising the Games? It is an obvious question. It is also a pointer to the grim crisis the nation is passing through a crisis of confidence and fear that it might get into the grips of a Greece-like situation.
CARTOON ON SONIA GANDHI UNBECOMING OF THE BJP
THE Bharatiya Janata Party has every right to put the United Progressive Alliance government on the mat over the skyrocketing prices but what its Madhya Pradesh unit has done is in poor taste. Notwithstanding its denials, it is clear that the cartoon of a woman dubbed as ' Mahangayi Dayan' on the cover of its magazine Deep Kamal is meant to be none else but Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
This is obvious when one considers that the prime minister, the finance minister and the agriculture minister are the other politicians whose cartoons also appear on the cover.
This does nothing but lower the standard of political discourse. Once a party starts stooping low to undermine its rival, there is no knowing where it will all end. Today it is the BJP that has employed such a trick, tomorrow the Congress could do it and so on till political discourse degenerates to actual violence.
As it is, the BJP has a propensity to use words and idioms that are increasingly being shunned in polite conversation, a practice in which its new president Nitin Gadkari has led the way.
For instance, a word like ' dayan' ( witch) is surely a usage that a political party should avoid. Even today, in parts of the country, widows and single women are sometimes dubbed as witches prior to being assaulted and even murdered. It is one thing for a moviemaker to have a song representing inflation as a witch, and quite another for a mainstream political party to adopt it lock stock and barrel.
There may be reason for the BJP to be frustrated with its present political state. But the way out of the doldrums is for the party to adopt new thinking and not make shabby attacks on its rivals.
FLOOD OF WOES FOR LADAKH
THE flash floods caused by the sudden cloudburst in Ladakh have unleashed widespread devastation, killing at least 105 people.
Ladakh, like Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, is a semi- desert region. Due to the looseness of the soil and the lack of vegetation, such regions are particularly vulnerable to landslides and flooding, even after a comparatively small amount of rainfall. Most of the people there live in unbaked mud- brick houses which are designed for dry weather and cannot withstand such rain. Given its vulnerability because of both aridity and remoteness a region like Ladakh needs special protection.
While it is unclear whether the cloudburst can be attributed to climate change, it cannot be denied that there has been a sharp increase in the incidence of extreme and unpredictable climate in recent times. This is a challenge that will only become more serious with time and is something that our weather scientists need to factor in when making forecasts. The government needs to invest much more in terms of both resources and policies to minimise the impact of tragedies such as the flash floods in Leh.
For instance, if the government had invested in a Doppler Radar for Leh, the cloudburst could have been predicted hours before it took place and helped save a lot of lives.
PAK PM IN THE LEAD ROLE
UNWITTINGLY, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani seems to have played the lead role in what could have been a masterful political satire. He was completely taken in by the Potemkin village of a relief camp the district administration of Mianwali prepared for his visit.
The visit was supposed to have been a public relations exercise for highlighting the federal government's relief efforts and presenting Gilani as an almost messianic figure, providing a healing touch to the victims.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has been left feeling rather sheepish in what was his first visit to the affected areas. What added to his embarrassment was the fact that he was also duped of the many cheques of Rs 5,000 that he handed out to the victims at the ' relief camp'. However, it is heartening to find such humour being displayed by government officials who are otherwise notorious for their dullness that too in the midst of a calamity. It also provides the people of Pakistan with a Gilani joke, a refreshing change from all the Zardari jokes doing the rounds.
SC ORDER ON TN QUOTA A LET- DOWN
BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
FAR FROM being inspired by social justice, reservations have become a political toy to support vote banking. Over the last 15 years, politicians have enacted five constitutional amendments to reverse Supreme Court judgments. In turn, the Supreme Court has lost its way seemingly backing off, backing down, giving up.
The latest Supreme Court endeavour is Chief Justice Kapadia's order ( also for Justices Radhakrishnan and Swatantra Kumar) permitting Tamil Nadu ( TN) to continue 69 per cent reservation for Scheduled Castes and Tribes ( SC/ STs) and Other Backward Classes ( OBCs) under its 1993 legislation, but asking TN to review its decision on the basis of quantifiable data. This seems surprising because it was Justice Kapadia's own judgment in Nagraj's case ( 2006) which jettisoned reservations within a strict discipline before reservations were made and not as a statistical afterthought.
The judicial effort to discipline reservations goes back to 1951, but in our context began its rigorous journey from Justice Gajendragadkar's judgment in Balaji ( 1963) establishing the 50 per cent norm and striking down Mysore's 68 per cent reservation. Apart from SC/ STs, the reservation provisions for OBCs were designed by the Constituent Assembly for the ' south' states which had practised reservation for decades to cover traditionally recognised OBCs in their states.
But to the ' old' OBCs were added ' new' OBCs. The new OBCs were discovered in the ' north', especially in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh resulting in the triumph of the Yadavs Lalu in Bihar, Mulayam in UP and others elsewhere.
Now everyone is busy discovering new OBCs. While the Karlekar Commission ( 1955) did not want to stir the OBC cauldron, the Mandal Commission ( 1980) was only too glad to do so. The Mandal report was a hot potato which the Congress avoided and V. P. Singh embraced in 1990 with disastrous results. The hitherto docile ' merit students' exploded into riots.
Enough was enough. Peace was later restored. The Supreme Court contributed to devising the peace process by a balanced formula in the Mandal case ( 1992) reiterating the old Balaji 50 per cent limit for reservations. No doubt the 50 per cent limit can only be crossed for compelling reasons. But this going beyond 50 per cent was really for tribal states and not as a general political excuse to garner votes, which it has become.
Meanwhile, the Congress realised that it had been upstaged by other political parties in using and manipulating reservations context Justice Balaji norm cent the were Assembly practised traditionally states.
new' in of the Bihar, new Commission cauldron, was report Congress 1990 hitherto riots.
later contributed balanced 1992) limit cent compelling reservations for votes. From 1995- 2005, it was party to the 77th, 81st, 82nd, 85th and 93rd constitutional amendments for SC/ STs and OBC reservation realising that the SC/ ST constituency was also slipping from its hands. This is self evident from the parliamentary debates a fact fully analysed in R. Dhavan's Reserved ( 2008).
What is significant is that these amendments were challenged in Nagraj ( 2006) concerning reservations in the civil services, where the lead and only judgment was by Justice ( now Chief Justice) Kapadia.
Earlier in the 11- judge bench decision in TMA Pai relating to education, the court fixed 50 per cent as the upper limit which could be crossed only if there were justifiable, compelling circumstances. In fact, it would be fair to say that every per cent reservation over 50 per cent needs total comprehensive justification.
As it happens Nagraj ( 2006) was written by Justice Kapadia. It concerned examining whether the constitutional amendments of 1995- 2005 violated the ' basic structure' of " equality". Read between the lines, it was a brilliantly statesmanlike decision. It told Parliament that its amendments were valid since they did not guarantee reservations but simply enabled them. It told merit candidates that equality was part of the basic structure of the Constitution and, therefore, any exercise of the power of reservation would be subject to the 50 per cent rule, the creamy layer, extent of backwardness and demands of efficiency, in accordance with the criteria of reasonableness and compelling necessity.
Why did Justice Kapadia not follow his own judgment in the case of Tamil Nadu's 69 per cent reservation? It is true that the Tamil Nadu statute had been given extra constitutional protection. But after Justice Sabharwal's judgment in Coelho's case ( 2007), this extra protection had been ripped down.
The Tamil Nadu statute was of 1993. It was 17 years old. A mandatory exercise of re- examination was necessary. This was not done. Under Justice Kapadia's own test, Tamil Nadu's 69 per cent was beyond 50 per cent. No compelling necessity had been shown. The creamy layer test is that those SC/ STs or OBCs who are no longer backward are disentitled to reservation. This has not been applied to SCs and STs in Tamil Nadu. No considerations of efficiency have been considered.
One way of looking at Justice Kapadia's decision on Tamil Nadu reservations is that Tamil Nadu's law enables 69 per cent reservation. Before implementation, the ' Nagraj' restrictions of 50 per cent, creamy layer, efficiency etc. would apply with full rigour as a prelude to implementation.
But this turns Justice Kapadia's own Nagraj decision upside down. The Tamil Nadu statute was all ready for implementation.
The 69 per cent quota had been, and was, being implemented. None of the Nagraj tests were being applied. Thus, it seems that Tamil Nadu had a free run subject to judicial advice that it must examine the extent of backwardness. But if the 69 per cent statute was declared valid by the Supreme Court, no high court could ignore it and all governments would implement it. The cart was before the horse and reservations at 69 per cent would remain where they were.
While all that I have said sounds full of technicalities, in fact it is not so. Few are against reservations in toto. I am not against reservations. They are necessary for social justice and to share the power of the state with SC/ STs and OBCs. But we have to find a balance. Spurred on by vote bank considerations, politicians do not want to find a balance. It has been up to the courts to do so. The 50 per cent marker came in 1963. The exclusion of the creamy layer came for OBCs in 1992 and in 2006 for SC/ STs. Efficiency was emphasised in 1992 and again in 2006. Reservations in super- specialties, technical areas or the army are not permissible. Both, the imposing of reservations and the breach of the 50 per cent requirements, are subject to compelling necessity and reasonableness.
The creamy layer test was absolute. Efficiency had to be considered.
Developed for five decades, these tests provide a balance so that the competing claims of reservations and merit are satisfied.
Politicians abhor this balance because it interferes with their political vote- gathering largesse.
The 69 per cent quota means that merit candidates only have a 31 per cent chance; and SC/ STs and OBC candidates can also compete for these 31 per cent seats. This violates the equality of opportunity.
It also gives efficiency a go- by by disproportionately discounting merit.
India's Constitution has both political as well as justice texts. If the justice texts were not there, majorities in legislatures would do whatever they want in the name of a crude numerical majoritarianism without reserve. The reservation debate has exhausted itself. Tamil Nadu's 69 per cent statute has been wrongly declared valid. But all is not over. The Supreme Court and the Madras High Court can still insist that the amendment should not be implemented without looking at backwardness, the creamy layer and efficiency in terms of reasonableness and compelling necessity. But will they?
POWER & POLITICS
OUT WITH OLD IN WITH NEW
MAKING political predictions is a difficult task. Ask the psephologists. The task gets even tougher should you be brave or foolish enough to predict the moves of the Gandhi family.
Last week, in Parliament and the corridors of power, inside TV studios and in newsrooms across the country, one question was being hotly debated by politicians, journalists, opinion makers and those who like to be known as just analysts: Why were the Gandhis keeping a stoic silence when the government was being hauled over the coals by the Opposition which suddenly seems to have discovered a spring in its step? While the Prime Minister and his A- team were under fire for multiple failures on the price front, Kashmir, Naxalism and now the Commonwealth Games fiasco, both Sonia and Rahul were nowhere to be seen. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh refrained from making a symbolic intervention. The Gen Next, once the Congress's in- house shoutdown- the- enemy brigade, kept a low profile while the UPA ministers and AICC functionaries, rather than taking on the Opposition, were busy settling scores with each other.
A brief interaction with the ruling party's many Mr Know- alls in the central hall of Parliament last week has now convinced me that the Gandhis are aiming to make drastic changes both in the government and the party establishment. The dilemma that faces them is: How to wield the axe without spilling much blood.
The exercise is expected to start next month with the re- election of Sonia as the Congress President, a mere formality. She would then become the first Congress leader to hold the post for over a decade without a break. After Indira, Sonia remains the only Congress leader in more than four decades to steer the party to a second consecutive victory in the general elections.
In the party, she shares with Rahul, now the most popular leader in the Congress if not the country, a veto power that no other Congress functionary has. I understand that they are giving finishing touches and waiting for Parliament's monsoon session to get over to effect a massive shake up aimed at revitalising the party and the government.
The objective is clear: Four years from now, the Congress must win a majority on its own.
To raise its current tally from the current 206 to 272 plus, the party has no option but to concentrate on Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka and choose leaders who can make a difference.
Manmohan Singh Experience has taught the leadership that it is not the performance but a perfect connect with the local leaders and voters that is vital to ensure victory. At the moment, there is an utter lack of compatibility between high- profile ministers and senior party functionaries.
Party leaders have for long lamented that, with the disconnect that exists between the government and the organisation, it is difficult for the latter to carry the message across to the grassroots. I am told some of the senior ministers who command respect may be moved over to the organisation with a view to make Congress ministers accountable to the party. Armchair strategists who wax eloquent at seminars and TV debates may have to give way to those with a readiness to face the heat and dust and take the rough and tumble of Bharat.
So far, Rahul has studiously stayed away from the politics of the parent organisation even as he energised the Youth Congress to make it a parallel power centre.
The genuine competitive elections for Youth Congress officebearers that were held across the country at Rahul's directions were, in reality, talent scouting exercises that brought thousands of new workers into the party's fold and threw up hundreds of hugely talented men and woman who have both the drive and vision.
]While a shake- up in the party was never expected to pose much of a problem, getting rid of the many non- performing ministers was not that easy. Plans earlier for a purge of the old order were met with stiff resistance from the well entrenched. This time, they may not have an option. Congressmen in general know that they have a lot of broken promises to keep. But it is perhaps only Rahul who acknowledges that it is probably the last chance to convince voters that they are worthy leaders ahead of 2014.
Sanjay gets a rare mention in Parliament
FOR THE five years that he was in active politics which include the Emergency, the Janata wave of 1977 and Indira's triumphant return in 1980 Sanjay Gandhi remained the most controversial political figure in the country.
He was opposed and despised so much that since his death in an air crash exactly 30 years ago, even his most committed former followers, some of whom are powerful ministers in the UPA government, dare not take his name. It therefore came as a surprise to me last week when during a debate in the Lok Sabha on population growth, the JD( U)' s Sharad Yadav praised Sanjay to the skies.
Remember, Yadav was at the forefront of Jaiprakash Narayan's Total Revolution movement which led to the Emergency, during which he was jailed. Surprise, surprise, but this is what he said last week: " Some people blame Sanjay Gandhi. But I feel something has to be done to arrest the spiralling population. Sanjay felt issues such as population should be dealt with a strong hand. I feel that along with incentives there is a need for harsh measures and only then can a solution be found." And this is what health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, a member of what was then known as the Sanjay brigade, had to say: " There is a difference between Sanjay Gandhi's days and now.
We are not going to force anything.
Everything has to be done through awareness and voluntarily." Though it was just a reiteration of oft- stated government policy, it was amusing to see the eagerness of some leaders to show that they are already practicing what the government is preaching.
Mulayam Singh Yadav vouched he had only one son, Sushma Swaraj said she had just one daughter and Maneka Gandhi also said she adhered to the one- child norm. It was just as well that Lalu Prasad, a father of nine, was not present.
On a more serious note, it was heartening to see our elected representatives give the subject the attention it deserves.
A LESSON IN NATIONAL INTEREST BY GENNEXT
WHILE the old guard in Parliament kept up their favourite pastime of hammering away at each other, there was an unexpected and upbeat message of hope and reassurance when young MP's cutting across party lines came together and put up an unprecedented display of solidarity over the troubled paradise that is Kashmir.
A joint statement they released suggested they were appealing to the youth in the Valley to shun violence and settle for dialogue, but Parliament's youth brigade left no one in doubt that they were rallying around Omar Abdullah, who at 40, is India's youngest chief minister.
Considering the deep divide in Parliament, the cross party concern for one from their own generation should serve as a powerful symbol of what can be achieved if the national interest is put before partisan political interest. In Parliament's central hall, I saw Priya Dutt and Deependra Hooda going around enlisting support for the statement and the 38 signatories represented the entire political spectrum. There is speculation about the brain behind the show and the list of signatories indicates that it was the Rahul Hand that took the initiative for this morale booster for common friend Omar.
Akhilesh Yadav ( SP), Anurag Thakur ( BJP), Dushyant Chowdhary ( INLD), and other Opposition scions who signed the statement are all Rahul's political rivals, yet share a close personal rapport with him. More importantly, like Rahul, they believe that for the larger good, it is important that politicians set aside their narrow partisan interests.
The scenes inside Parliament where the old guard was busy pointing fingers and outside where the young MPs jointly addressed the media showed just how wide the chasm has become.
So, was the joint show intended to tell the grand old men and women that they don't intend to follow in their footsteps? For the country's sake, I hope so. At least we can be sure that the future is in safe and capable hands.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
PLANNING HIGHER H-1B VISA FEES, US AGAIN TURNS PROTECTIONIST
India is at the receiving end. The US Senate has passed a Bill aiming to raise money for a $600 million US-Mexico border security by doubling the cost of H-1B work permits. The Bill seems headed for a full congressional and presidential nod. Fees for each skilled worker visa will rise by around $2,000 per application, saddling India's tech companies with an increased annual burden of $200-250 million. India's IT firms payrolling US border security may strike some as amusing. What's not funny is that the move smacks of the kind of insidious protectionism the G20 has pledged to abjure. Nor does it make for an ideal prelude to President Obama's India visit in November.
True, Obama has been hamstrung by persisting bad news on the jobs front back home, with the unemployment rate frozen at 9.5 per cent. In July, 1,31,000 jobs were cut, a worse-than-expected showing in an economy that's on the mend. Populist rhetoric about the supposed need to keep jobs from going to India and China is understandable in this context: Obama seems to be trying to reassure a domestic political constituency. However, creation of barriers to economic activity whether to restrict trade or curb movement of workers isn't sound thinking when sanctified as policy.
Indian tech firms do gain big by sending thousands of skilled personnel to the US annually, to cater to clients in diverse sectors including banking and insurance. But they also pay nearly $1 billion annually in social security without gaining from it. Besides, to suggest visa programmes give them unfair leverage and amount to theft of 'American' jobs is to deny fundamental business principles. So long as it's within the rules of the game, it's for companies to decide business strategies recruitment included with an eye to best returns. If Indian firms encash opportunities in the US, so does American business profit from accessing skills that either aren't in abundant local supply or give an edge in terms of costs. If US businesses profit, surely that's a goal scored for America.
Sometime ago, Obama raised the India-China bogey to justify cutting tax breaks for US firms outsourcing jobs. The H-1B visa issue will deepen the perception that the professed anti-protectionist stand of the planet's number one economy is mere lip service. And it can prove counterproductive. Indian firms may not baulk at paying more to expand. The step may also have the unwitting effect of boosting outsourcing of jobs, with US firms hiring overseas instead of engaging on-site. Resort to the mantra of economic nationalism not only has little traction in a fast-globalising world, it can also boomerang.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
STRENGTHEN THE BASE
PRIMARY HEALTHCARE NEEDS CREATIVE POLICIES
Throwing light on the abysmal situation of basic healthcare, the latest rural health statistics reveal massive vacancies in primary and community health centres across the country. Primary health centres alone have vacant slots for 5,224 doctors, 7,243 healthcare workers and 1,701 health assistants. Community health centres are little better with 4,026 posts for specialists lying vacant. Taken together, these vacancies mean that we have only one doctor for every 10,000 people, as opposed to the WHO recommended ratio of 1:600. There are several reasons for this dismal state of affairs. The fundamental problem is lack of adequate infrastructure. Health centres are poorly equipped and most lack even basic medicines. To make matters worse, most doctors hardly turn up to treat patients but continue to draw salaries while they practise privately.
To address this crippling shortage, a host of supply-side reforms is needed. There is a huge dearth in medical colleges that must be rectified. The country faces a shortfall of six lakh doctors and 10 lakh nurses. In this regard, the government's proposal to introduce a short-duration Bachelor of Rural Medicine and Surgery degree is a good idea. The graduates could serve as the first line of medical professionals. The crumbling rural healthcare sector needs a smart mix of positive and negative incentives to stem the rot. In addition to well-stocked clinics and hospitals, health workers in remote villages should be given special benefits such as enhanced pay packages and hardship allowances (which can be docked if they don't turn up). Primary healthcare is an essential plank in empowering the citizen. We need creative policies to strengthen this foundation.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
FIRST, LOOK WITHIN
OMAR AND HIS ALLIES AT THE CENTRE CANNOT DISOWN RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE MESS IN KASHMIR
MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR
It needs no political genius or secret intelligence inputs to know that Pakistan and its agents in Kashmir will gladly jump at any opportunity to add fuel to any fire raging in the Valley. But attempts by the central and the state government to disown responsibility for the present mess in Kashmir will only make for greater tragedies.
I don't think any chief minister in the history of India has ever faced such widespread revolt against his misrule as Omar Abdullah. He is at war with his own party. National Conference cadres as well as government employees are joining mobs that pelt stones. The state bureaucracy is completely estranged and dysfunctional, the J&K police are rudderless and openly defiant, the CRPF and the army are seething in rage against Omar for using them as scapegoats by putting them in the firing line, thus successfully deflecting the tide of anger against his own misrule into an anti-India hurricane.
This is not Omar's fault alone. The Congress high command has lived up to the worst fears of Kashmiris by dismissing the volcanic outburst of people's anger as the stagemanaged job of paid troublemakers, thereby proving what Kashmiris have alleged for decades: that India's intelligence agencies deliberately mislead the central government, resulting in a callous and insensitive Kashmir policy. Even senior army officers express misgivings about the role of intelligence agencies, saying they have acquired a vested interest in promoting instability as it gives them tremendous clout to play devious games and get unlimited amounts of unaccounted money ostensibly to cultivate local politicians and information sources.
Kashmiris are right in asking: 'When there are protests against a ruling party in Bihar, Andhra or Tamil Nadu, have national parties ever joined together to issue statements in favour of the beleaguered chief minister and insist that the nation must stand behind him? Why is it that despite such a major, prolonged wave of unrest
in the Valley resulting in daily deaths and injuries of civilians and CRPF personnel, none of the MPs or leaders of national or regional parties thought it fit to visit the Valley and find out what the source of trouble is? Instead all they do is issue jingoistic statements. Does it mean there is a national consensus that Kashmiris do not deserve basic democratic rights available to all other citizens of India?'
The recent anti-price rise agitation by the BJP and Left parties as also most other small and big agitations in India witness widespread stone pelting, burning of buses and other violent acts. Nowhere have the concerned state governments used bullets to quell stonethrowing mobs, arrested people under the draconian Public Security Act or called in the CRPF or the army to maintain law and order. This is not to justify stone-throwing as a desirable means of protest. But Kashmiris have a right to ask why, in the case of Kashmir, do the prime minister, home minister and even BJP leaders treat the same act of stonethrowing as an "anti national" act? Why add insult to injury by labelling their anger as a stage-managed affair at Pakistan's behest?
Most of those reporting from the Valley repeatedly warn that the current upsurge is not linked to a newfound love for Pakistan. The men, women and children risking their lives by defying prolonged curfews with shootat-sight orders are expressing their utter despair at the callousness and insensitivity of the coterie ruling them and the central government's rudderless policy after installing a man perceived as Delhi's puppet.
Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi enjoyed considerable goodwill in Kashmir. That is why several prominent leaders of Kashmir have openly appealed to the prime minister to intervene personally and save the situation, Instead we find the central government giving daily endorsement to Omar's disastrous handling of the situation and sending additional CRPF battalions to Kashmir. If the CRPF and the army are the main face of Indian democracy in Kashmir, we should not be surprised at repeated outbursts of anti-India sentiments.
News reports of August 5 announced Omar's open declaration of a pact with Syed Ali Shah Geelani whereby, in return for an appeal for peaceful protests, the pro-Pakistan secessionist leader is to be provided "political space" for his secessionist agenda. This was meant to be a trump card. But it backfired the very same day. On one hand, it has brought the hitherto marginalised pro-Pakistan Geelani on to political center stage. On the other, it has left the security forces fuming because they are being given conflicting signals everyday one day asked to shoot at sight, the second day to make peace with stone pelters.
In addition to helping Geelani reclaim his lost eminence, Omar has systematically maligned the PDP, the main constitutional opposition in the state, because this party alone is capable of challenging him electorally. The more he lies about the PDP's role by repeatedly accusing it of instigating riotous mobs, the more he loses credibility. If this devious game is being knowingly backed by the central government, Kashmiris would not be wrong in believing that those in charge of Kashmir policy at the Centre are not even well-wishers of India leave alone of Kashmiris.
The writer is professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'WOMEN IN PARLIAMENT WILL DEMOCRATISE GOVERNMENT'
Ranjana Kumari, president of Centre for Social Research, is a passionate champion for women's empowerment and political power. She founded Women Power Connect (WPC), the firstever women's political lobby group in India, and is currently an active campaigner for the passage of the women's reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha. She spoke to Aditi Bhaduri about the merits of reservation for women in Parliament:
Canawomen'slobbygroup help pass women-friendly legislation?
WPC was formed because we felt that women needed a platform that could translate action into policy outcomes. Many women's groups are working at the grassroots, conducting research, community work, but WPC has a definitive agenda of advocacy and lobbying on women's issues with Parliament and state assemblies to convert our efforts into real policy, programme and budget. That's when real empowerment will happen.
You are one of the major campaigners for the 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament. How will reservations benefit women?
Participation in politics and governance is the right of every citizen, enshrined in the Constitution. If women are lacking in Parliament it's a deficit of our democracy. Women in Parliament will democratise government and give a quantum jump to all our efforts of empowering women. Given opportunities women will prove to be leaders who can change the nature of power.
We do have a number of women leaders but they have not really done anything for women and some have been found to be as corrupt as some male politicians.
Corruption is a systematic issue and women in power are part of that system. With good leaders we can change that. Hence we need more women. Right now, politics is dominated by the three 'Ms' men, muscle and money.
Some prominent women activists are against reservations.
Many women think that asking for reservations is like asking for charity, which we should not. But given the socioeconomic reality of India we need to open doors and not wait for opportunities to present themselves. Our political system is extremely male-dominated.
Do you think that the UPA can pass the women's reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha if it truly wanted to?
Absolutely. The current Parliament has many women in powerful positions. For Sonia Gandhi it should be a personal responsibility as it was her husband's dream to pass it. Even the BJP and the Left parties support it.
This is one issue where the Left, the Right and the Centre are altogether.
The UPA should consult the opposition. They should issue whips so that no member is absent and should have clear floor management strategy. The government has the numbers and all it needs now is the political will to pass the Bill.
There is an opinion that the Bill in its current form needs changes.
Not really. Since the Rajya Sabha has cleared it any changes now will create debates. The Bill has been discussed enough. Let it go through. When the laws are made for its implementation, the nitty-gritties and concerns of all the minorities, Dalits, OBCs can be looked into.
Do you suggest quota within quotas?
There is no need for that. Let the Bill be passed in its current form, then the People's Representation Act should be amended to give adequate representation to various sections of women by the political parties.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
MAKING A CONNECTION
INDIA'S YOUTH NEED A LEADER AND AN INSTITUTION TO GUIDE AND INSPIRE THEM
Besides the sparks of violence in Kashmir, there is a fire raging throughout India. The violence in Kashmir is connected to the violence in Telangana and that is connected to the Maoist violence in West Bengal. These are symptoms of an incredible problem: the failure to involve youth in social and political processes in India.
The Indian Youth Congress was expected to be the vehicle to mobilise the energies of young people for a brighter Indian future. Instead, it has become a family legacy controlled by the few Gandhis, Pilots and Abdullahs who continue to dominate key positions in the Youth Congress.
Bright and passionate Indian students often steer clear of participating in college-level politics, recognising the thick bureaucracy that plagues the political machine. For example, several of my classmates at Harvard Kennedy School who had completed their undergraduate course in India complained that even though they were interested in participating in youth elections, they had limited access to the "resources" needed to become active members of the Youth Congress.
Rahul Gandhi, though, had wisely recognised the issues of the increasing disconnect with the youth and, to combat this issue, his 'team' launched a campaign to revitalise the Youth Congress by increasing enrolment. But what good would that do? His plan focused primarily on enrolling youth. Young people today want a say in the political process and to not just be a part of an arcane institution. If the decisions continue to be taken only by a chosen few, then the disgruntlement amongst young people will continue to grow.
What political impact can the young man or woman make if they have no political history, and limited financial resources? The extremists are taking to the streets and making their statement through violence. Examples are there in everyday news. The moderates are using social media like Facebook, Twitter and Myspace to organise. The inundation of political commentary on blogs proves so. And the activists are directly participating in the political process. The IIT students who had decided to run in the 2009 elections confirm this assumption.
The recent growth of India's vibrant civil society is also a consequence of this movement. Fresh graduates are willing to work for NGOs and media for lower salaries but a higher sense of purpose. There has also been a growing movement amongst Indians living abroad. For instance, last year, a group of three Harvard Business School students worked to develop the Political Society of India, an organisation working to provide interns to MPs in India. Unfortunately, the complexities of getting to MPs led to a temporary suspension of the organisation.
What, then, is the future course if young people in India and abroad continue to remain deprived of direct political participation? While most young people are expressing their interest in political participation through healthy means, this might not always be the case. Young people in Kashmir are screaming out against atrocities in the Valley, Telangana's young want their own identity and Maoists feel that the government has been unfair to them. Before long, 'moderate' young men and women will also be joining their screams if there isn't a strong leader and an institution to guide them.
The young Gandhi, Pilot or Abdullah no longer inspires the young. The Indian Youth Congress is inept in capturing the energies of young people. There is a need for a leader and an institution that will effectively channel these positive energies. Perhaps the burning ashes in the Valley will give birth to such a leader
The writer is working at the World Bank.
FROM CENTRE TO THE SIDELINES
Unusual candour was on display from a central banker last week when Duvvuri Subbarao said in a speech, "The jury is still out on the issue of fiscal dominance of monetary policy. But it will be less than honest not to acknowledge that the autonomy of monetary policy from fiscal compulsions is once again under threat, and resolving that threat requires credible efforts by both governments and Central Banks." For the Oracles of Mint Road, given to couching their utterances in Delphic vagueness, this is plainspeak. The provocation, it can be argued, has been sufficient: the finance ministry is moving legislation that will strip the central bank of its primus inter pares status among India's financial policemen, and a government obsessed with rapid growth is seen as curbing the Reserve Bank's (RBI's) zeal to rein in runaway inflation by raising interest rates faster.
As it is, the many hats the RBI is made to wear affect its ability to carve out independent monetary policy. Besides being the monetary authority, the Central Bank triples up as the banking regulator and the government's banker as well. The conflict of interest in these roles has led to the trifurcation of the traditional Central Bank in mature capitalist systems. We persist with one institution, netting sub-optimal solutions. Changes in interest rates crimp the government's enormous borrowing programme, and do not work their way through the structural rigidities of our banking system. Now, with the finance ministry taking upon itself the role of arbiter in any turf war between financial regulators, the RBI's commendable record in flagging systemic risk it did protect India from many of the credit market excesses in the West will have been given a go-by.
At the best of times, the RBI's targeting of the price line runs up against a troika of opposing interests: managing the exchange and interest rates with an open capital account. Add to these the development imperatives and the proclivity of the Indian economy to supply-side shocks, and the received wisdom of the central bank's main job as inflation buster takes a knocking. Prices rise in India primarily because of our insecurities in food and energy. Our central bankers are extremely sensitive to both, but have to restrict themselves to warning the larger policy establishment till such time as accelerating prices enter core inflation minus the more volatile food and fuel. By the time it can push the policy levers, much damage has been done as is on display after last year's drought. Mr Subbarao ought to get a more sympathetic ear from a government headed by a former central banker.
THEIR NUMBER'S UP
At the outset, here's a confession: when we heard that even the finance minister is not immune to calls from telemarketers, we could not suppress a chuckle and the desperate urge to pass the message around. Once that was done, some recipients even wanted to call the FM to say: "Welcome aboard, Pranab babu". But thankfully, better sense prevailed and they came around to the view that we, the sufferers, cannot behave like the perpetrators, the telemarketers.
It so happened that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was in a serious meeting on a serious issue with the Opposition leaders. His phone rang and when the Lutyens' Delhi resident picked it up, it was an offer for a home loan. When Mr Mukherjee complained, other MPs joined too, grumbling about the same issue that makes all of us so terribly mad. But, unlike our complaints, this time the action was swift: the telecom minister, who is immune to our complaints, shot off a letter to his secretary to look into the matter. Now, he has promised to rein in the callers and give us, the hoi polloi, some relief.
For once, we must say we are not angry at the sugary sweet voices we hear every single day. That's because they have ultimately reached perfection and dialed the right number and have, hopefully, managed to dig their own graves. The telecom minister, who seems to be permanently in a switch-off mode when it comes to our grievances, will now be forced to act and also realise that if we want to buy something, we can jolly well launch our own mission for information; we don't need unsolicited advice from companies that fills the government's coffers. Meanwhile, we hear the hunt is on for the caller who made that very crucial call. All we can say is, thank you!
HUNGRY FOR MORE
During my fieldwork in Tonk district of Rajasthan, a Dalit family once narrated a 'miracle' to me. In 2002, they faced a drought as bad as the chhappani akaal of 1900-02. But at the end of 2002, the Dalit family was pleasantly surprised: they still had some foodgrain left. This, the family members said, was a result of the good relief work done by the Ashok Gehlot government. Similar proactive State action can be seen in Chhattisgarh too: the Raman Singh government has ensured that 35 kg of foodgrain (at R3 per kg for Below Poverty Line households) reaches the targeted families. These instances of positive State intervention were successful due to strong political will, competent administrative action, decentralised operation and the involvement of the local communities in the distribution. Those drafting the National Food Security Act (NFSA) must draw lessons from these examples.
The National Advisory Council (NAC) wants a minimum amount of foodgrain for all households (BPL and Above Poverty Line) at subsidised but differential rates. The present levels of malnutrition, hunger and starvation deaths need urgent measures. Therefore, setting of a timeline for the implementation (a year in 25 per cent of the worst-affected blocks) in the country is welcome. However, these are minimalist measures, given that no district in the country can boast of eradication of hunger with malnutrition rates ranging from 10-80 per cent.
The NFSA must state the multi-pronged measures necessary for a comprehensive long-term sustained food and nutritional security. A minimum quantum of foodgrain for all at subsidised prices must be accompanied by three provisos: first, progressive increase must be made in the quantum of subsidised food to all until full nutritional requirements are met, with rules stipulated in the Act that allow for incremental changes. Second, it must state the mechanisms of implementation, especially to ensure food security for the most-vulnerable regions and population groups, including building of self-reliance so that the need for subsidised food supply is reduced. Third, it must state mechanisms of redressal in case of non-implementation and the processes of accountability.
However, implementing the NFSA is going to be difficult, given the supply chain issues such as corruption and the fact that the poorest cannot purchase food for a fortnight at one go, even at subsidised rates. Increase in costs due to transportation and losses in storage are the two other limitations of the existing the public distribution system on the country.
The Right to Food campaign has proposed a system of decentralised procurement, giving benefit of the minimum support price to farmers in all parts of the country. Local ecologically appropriate grains including coarse grains, with local distribution through panchayats has obvious advantages: nutritional value and more assured production even during dry spells.
Given the circumstances, many will recognise that there has been a steep decline in the culture of sharing and this has affected pro-poor interventions. In this case, the issue is compounded by the lack of recognition of the problem of hunger. States deny having this problem, except those like Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand where the situation is visible. While the state governments cite their Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) data (with anganwadi workers told by supervisors not to report high levels), the health functionaries have also stopped recognising the problem.
In some settings this could be a sign of economic growth. But in reality, this is a sign of the increasing alienation of the economically better-off people from the poorest. When the National Family Health Survey and National Sample Survey show that about 50 per cent of children and 40 per cent households don't get enough calories and proteins, and that 17 per cent of children are severely malnourished, the ICDS shows only 1 per cent.
There is also a high level of 'invisible' hunger among the poor who, habituated to poor diets, perceive it as normal. Starvation deaths are the worst and the least common manifestation of hunger. Hunger is thus perceived as a problem of only a few poor households and, therefore, no community anger builds up on the issue.
With neither State functionaries nor communities recognising the problem, where will the motivation to implement the NFSA come from? One prerequisite in the decentralised implementation, therefore, should be a system of local-level nutritional surveillance. The data on local food deficits and malnutrition may activate the community and local programme implementation. Proactive sensitisation of government functionaries, panchayat members, traders' associations and corporate houses espousing social responsibility that every human being has the right to food is needed.
Therefore, any government serious about food security cannot be satisfied merely by enacting a law. Beyond the important step of legislation, its contribution would have to be a loud-and-clear expression of political will to implement it in spirit. The moral élan of Sonia Gandhi and the executive power of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could add the necessary steam required to make this engine move. They must express the importance of provisions of the NFSA in ensuring dignity, not only of those who have to suffer the indignity of hunger, but also of those who live with large-scale hunger and malnutrition around us.
( Ritu Priya is Professor, Centre for Social Medicine & Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University. )
*The views expressed by the author are personal.
IT'S TIME TO WIELD THE STICK, MR PM
Dr Manmohan Singh is set to become the longest-serving Indian prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi when he unfurls the tricolour for the seventh time from the ramparts of Red Fort this week. He will also be setting a record of sorts by being the longest-serving PM who has never been a member of the Lok Sabha. He represents Assam in the Upper House.
Fourteen months into his second term as the prime minister, Manmohan Singh needs to be more assertive in order to correct the direction of his government. It is perceived as a loose non-cohesive unit where ministers often take on each other publicly. In coalition politics, political compulsions are such that they do not give a free hand to the head of the government who has to perform with the tools he has been given by various constituents.
In the process, he and the Congress party have been unable to communicate the achievements of his government to the people and also explain its limitations so as to correct several perceptions. It would be an accurate assessment if one were to state that this government has failed to present its side of the story to those who have elected it. On every issue, when the government is on the defensive, it has no mechanism to explain its viewpoint except the Congress spokespersons trying to do the impossible. Ideally, all its constituents should collectively explain the actions of the government. In reality, it is only the Congress which is left to defend on its own.
What is astonishing is that whether it's about charges of corruption levelled at A. Raja, the charges of apathy against Mamata Banerjee or those of casual behaviour on the part of Sharad Pawar, it is left to the Congress media team to deflect the heat. This is where the government and its constituents need to do some homework and work out an effective mechanism for conveying its point of view. This is a serious failing which needs to be rectified immediately.
The prime minister has to often face the flak since like the Congress high command, he too believes in status quo. Even in the face of scathing criticism, he looks the other way and waits for the crisis to blow over. This must change.
Second, the government, by its actions, has to demonstrate that it has zero tolerance for corruption. The Commonwealth Games irregularities have tarnished the reputations of many top functionaries. These irregularities whether they pertain to the Organising Committee, or the Delhi government and its allied agencies or the central government need to be investigated and the guilty, however mighty, must be brought to book. After the price rise, the Commonwealth Games fiasco is becoming the greatest embarrassment not only for the various agencies involved but also for the common man who will suffer the most.
Singh has entered the history books but he needs to do much more. His clean and upright image had contributed to the return of the UPA government in 2009. But people expect a lot from him. His policies need to be synchronised with the interests of the common man. Even if he has no stake in the future of the party, he has to ensure that his government performs and errant ministers and bureaucrats are taken to task.
Even though he is not a typical politician, he has to dispel the perception that in UPA-II, the bureaucracy or unelected components of his government have more muscle than the politicians. Simultaneously, he has to tick off ambitious colleagues who are fighting for their place in the 2014 scenario and have no qualms about undermining each other. He should correct the erroneous impression that he no longer enjoys the support of the Congress high command. The time has come for him to wield the stick. He has nothing to lose. Between us.
T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".
Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."
No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.
Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
After two decades of political upheaval and painful progress, Kenya is finally feeling the pulse of a new day. It's swept out the 1963 pre-independence constitution, which inflated presidential powers and long distorted politics with tribal passions and conflict over resource-sharing.
After the bitter factional feud and accusations of a stolen election in 2007, opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki signed a power-sharing agreement, and in 2009 Kenya crafted a draft constitution as part of a whole raft of reforms. Parliament adopted it this April, and put it up for a national vote. The "No" team included big hitters, and the run-up to the referendum saw escalated violence and hate-speech, as the draft constitution inflamed tensions over land rights, abortion and ethnic sensitivities. However, in the end, almost 70 per cent of citizens endorsed it a decisive blow for stability, and a system of checks and balances. The election was widely lauded for its peacefulness, signalling the people's quiet determination for change. The president and prime minister will take the oath afresh, and within five years, provincial administration will be restructured in tune with devolved government laid out in the constitution. It'll have to forge new institutions like a supreme court and a senate, cleanse its judicial system, and its parliament will have to pass 49 new laws under a timetable.
Momentous as this referendum was, this next stage is just as crucial and more delicate. Kenya, east Africa's largest economy, has seen sharpening inequalities and conflict and as its patronage-heavy system makes way for stronger democratic institutions and the rule of law, this could be a real milestone for the nation.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A YEAR LATER
A little more than a year ago, when Operation Lalgarh began, the end was unambiguously defined, but the means were not even in sight. That end was the return of the writ of the state to Lalgarh in West Midnapore district and its neighbourhood whence the state administration had been forced to withdraw and the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities, a Maoist front organisation, had become a law unto itself. An extremely impoverished lot as in most parts of rural West Bengal, these poor villagers, who had for years reeled under the diktats of CPM cadres, had found one tyranny quickly replaced by a more violent and lawless one, which enjoyed the not-too-hidden support of the Trinamool Congress. But the sway of the PCAPA-Maoists meant that when the paramilitary embarked on Operation Lalgarh, they were para-lysed by a lack of intelligence in addition to their unfamiliarity with the jungle terrain.
But as reported in The Sunday Express, Lalgarh, a year later, is quite a turnaround (in fact, a successful battlefront against Maoists) although the story is far from closure. The recent successful encounters against the Maoists-PCAPA, the fact of Maoists losing control of significant territory, and the Maoist leadership's increasing desperation to sever ties with the PCAPA, reflect the core of the anti-Naxal strategy's success in Lalgarh winning over the villagers and thereby building a human intelligence network. Such diplomacy minimises collateral damage and convinces the villagers that the state is not battling them but lawless insurgents. These bridges will be necessary for resurrecting normal life and for subsequent development. Of course, public dis-illusionment helps, especially the swing of the popular mood after the Jnaneswari derailment.
However, it's necessary to tread with caution on the political vacuum. There's discouraging news of armed CPM cadre being pushed into Lalgarh, and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee should know that the writ of the state and the ground strength of the party aren't the same thing. The same goes for Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool cadre, with their penchant for (a)political rallies in trouble spots. If Bengal's two main parties don't mend their ways, the cycle of violence and lawlessness in Lalgarh cannot be broken.
BRIDGE TO BANGLA
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in January this year was considered a strategic gamechanger. Her party, the Awami League, had been given a firm mandate to govern in the general election in 2008; and it was expected to be better disposed towards India than its main political rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Khaleda Zia. The pacts signed at that time focused on electricity generation and joint counter-terrorism strategy, but discussions and agreement were wide ranging, including especially questions of border demarcation, transit rights, and trade. Yet, in the time since, it has appeared that New Delhi has slackened off somewhat. Sheikh Hasina cannot be expected to spend too much political capital on a relationship that appears obviously one-way.
This is why Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Dhaka on Saturday could work out to be more important than the length of time he spent there a few short hours would indicate. He was there to oversee the signing of a landmark loan: the billion-dollar credit line that India's Exim Bank has given Bangladesh, agreed on during Sheikh Hasina's visit. Interestingly, much of it will focus on upgrading Bangladesh's trade infrastructure dredging rivers, building bridges, buying locomotives and buses. This is useful; as the larger point is that the integration of Bangladesh's economy with India's must proceed apace. This will not be easy. First, regardless of India's position on freer trade, too many items still exist on the "exemption" list, raising non-tariff barriers against Bangladeshi imports into India. Mukherjee will have a major role to play here; keeping domestic special interests from sabotaging the freeing of trade in their particular sector. A first step has been made here, in sending a team from the Bureau of Indian Standards to Bangladesh to help harmonise standards, so that one major bureaucratic hurdle is cleared as quickly as possible. Second, keeping the momentum going will require effort, as much of the integration is based around large infrastructure commitments, and thus will have quite a lengthy gestation period. In the interim, small steps towards keeping up the forward pressure will need to be taken regularly which is, again, where the non-tariff barriers come in.India can afford to be magnanimous in any deals with Bangladesh. Indeed, it cannot afford to not be magnanimous. The Bangladesh PM will need to continually explain to a domestic audience that their big neighbour is not looking to push them around. India's PM, who has made better relations along India's border a priority, will recognise that speed and visible political and bureaucratic will are essential.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
LET'S TALK ABOUT INFLATION
Reserve Bank Governor D. Subbarao has argued that inflation targeting by the RBI is not desirable or practical in India. With inflation running high, India would have been better served if the RBI governor had said precisely the opposite. The country needed to hear him say that inflation control was the "dharma" of the RBI. This is a time when inflationary expectations need to be anchored, when the country needs to have confidence that something can be done about inflation, and that the RBI will use all the instruments it has to bring inflation down.
Instead, in his C.D. Deshmukh Memorial Lecture in Hyderabad last week the governor gave us a bunch of reasons why he should not, or cannot, bring inflation down. For example, he said, "Food items have a weight of 46 to 70 per cent in various CPIs and are notoriously subject to supply shocks which are normally beyond the pale of monetary policy." Yet, in the credit policy speech
he had said that it was non-food, non-fuel inflation that was now running high. Does he accept the responsibility for high non-food, non-fuel inflation?
In that lecture he also said, "Should central banks persist with pure inflation targeting? The answer before the crisis was an increasingly confident 'yes'."
Wrong, Mr Governor. Whoever said pure inflation targeting was right? No inflation-targeting central bank gives a weight of one to the inflation coefficient in its Taylor rule. In other words, inflation-targeting central banks are accountable for inflation but employment always matters. Central banks cannot "persist with pure inflation targeting" because they never practised it.
He said: "In an emerging economy like ours, it is not practical for the central bank to focus exclusively on inflation oblivious of the larger development context. The Reserve Bank needs to balance between growth, price stability and financial stability."
Wrong again, Mr Governor. Who said that by doing some inflation targeting one is oblivious to growth? Inflation being ultimately a monetary phenomenon, the central bank should avoid targeting growth. And, playing with the short-run trade-off has bad historical precedents. Low inflation is good for growth.
He asked: "Which inflation index do we target? Our headline inflation index is the WPI and that does not, by definition, reflect the consumer price situation. Getting a single representative inflation rate for a large economy with 1.2 billion people,
fragmented markets and diverse geography is a formidable challenge."
Please Mr Governor, why do we care about the WPI rather than the CPIs? Consumer expenditure patterns are heterogeneous in all countries, including those which target inflation. But they still decide to focus on an average of the population or on a specific group (for example, urban consumers in the US). So this argument seems really lame. Say instead: "Gosh, I wish I had better statistics on prices. Please CSO, NSSO, move faster and give me better data."
He said: "A necessary condition for inflation targeting to work is effective monetary transmission. Our monetary transmission mechanism is improving but is yet to
reach robust standards. It remains impeded because of administered interest rates, the asymmetric contractual relationship between banks and their depositors, illiquid bond markets and large government borrowings. These impediments to monetary transmission diminish our effectiveness as inflation targeters."
Careful, Mr Governor. The RBI has blocked most of the recommendations by many expert committees for development of the bond market. Please allow rather than obstruct, or rather take the lead in pushing for, reforms that improve the monetary policy transmission network.
He said: "Finally, large and volatile capital flows will continue to be an important feature of our external sector. Managing these flows will mean managing what has come to be called 'the impossible trinity' balancing between the objectives of a fixed exchange rate, open capital account and independent monetary policy. Inflation targeting is clearly not possible in an impossible trinity situation."
Wrong again, Mr Governor. Every country faces the impossible trinity. India has chosen to open up its capital account. India could also choose to give up a fixed exchange rate. Indeed, for the last one-and-a-half years the rupee has been flexible. Now it is actually possible for the RBI to target inflation.
Subbarao said: "The burden of my argument is that the Reserve Bank cannot be, and indeed should not be, a pure inflation targeter. Post-crisis, the dominant view around the world is shaped by the 'new environment hypothesis' which says that flexible inflation targeting, rather than pure inflation targeting, is more efficient. According to this hypothesis, if inflation is way off target, a central bank's first call is to bring it within acceptable range, and if inflation is within the range, the central bank should focus on other objectives."
This sounds promising. Will the RBI do something along the lines of inflation targeting, sorry, flexible inflation targeting? Good. The RBI governor should specify what is the target and which measure will be targeted.
And he concluded: "To summarise, the answer to the old question, 'Should central banks be pure inflation targeters?' has shifted from an increasingly confident 'yes' to an increasingly qualified 'yes'."
It seems Subbarao's views have slightly changed from February 2010 (www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_SpeechesView.aspx?Id=471). Then, by pure inflation targeting he meant ignoring financial stability, now he seems to imply that output developments are also ignored. But that is not really the case.
Unfortunately, he also took this opportunity at the Hyderabad lecture to argue that the RBI should be given additional responsibilities over financial stability. A turf battle with the finance ministry on who should be in charge of financial stability is inappropriate when the RBI is unwilling and unable to perform its key function of inflation control. Whether the government chooses to set up an additional coordination mechanism for financial stability or not, the RBI is the monetary authority and the banking regulator, and without any additional titles needing to be given to it, it has the job of working for financial stability. As chairman of the High Level Coordination Committee on financial markets, nothing stops the RBI governor from taking the leadership on coordination for financial stability.
The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE PROHIBITION OF GOOD SENSE
ADI POCHA POSTED
So a whole bunch of kids from a B-school in Pune were having a party. According to newspaper reports, no drugs were consumed. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got molested. Some buses were, however, parked badly. And someone else didn't exactly like the choice of music being played or the volume at which the aforesaid music was being played.
It could have been a case of, okay we'll turn down the music, we'll repark the buses, we're sorry, we won't do it again, promise. But the kids, who were adults actually, got busted. Arrested.
Will they now have a criminal record? Possibly, if the courts decide that they are guilty. And chances seem high that they will be pronounced guilty.
Because the law is clear: the Bombay Prohibition Act 1949, states that a liquor permit is necessary for the purchase, possession, consumption and transport of liquor. (The kids didn't have liquor permits.) It also states that the person who is purchasing, possessing, consuming or transporting said liquor must be above 25 years of age and may obtain a liquor permit for the "preservation and maintenance of his health". (The kids were under 25.)
Open and shut. Except: Bombay is now Mumbai. And while the government wasn't looking, times have changed.
My question is this: should it be illegal for an adult to have a drink? Should it be illegal for a 24-year- old to have a drink, when it is perfectly legal for her to maturely elect her politicians a good 3 years earlier, that too without a permit? Yes or no.
My point is, decide: either it is legal or it is illegal. Why introduce a permit into the whole thing? I mean, why have a law, and then say that if you pay Rs 25 for one year then you don't have to obey the law? Or is drinking like driving? First you get a learner's licence, then you learn how to drive (or drink, but not both at the same time) and then finally, one miraculous day you get a piece of plastic or paper that allows you to crash into a lamppost, but it's okay so long as you have your licence.
Or is it necessary to have this system for the benefit of alcoholics who need their liquor for the "maintenance and preservation of their health"? In which case, shouldn't one also need to produce a doctor's certificate proving that one is that sort of alcoholic?
Okay, and here's another small and irrelevant point: the cops who arrested the kids, are they all teetotalers? And in the admittedly unlikely event that some of them are actually not teetotalers, do they, the naughty ones who indulge in the occasional sip of tipple, have valid liquor permits?
And by the way, do all our senior policemen and women, especially the bosses of our enthusiastic raiding party, have liquor permits? Or will we see some of them scurry to shell out their 25 bucks? And what about our politicians, some of whom like their beer? Do they all also have their requisite alcoholic permits for the maintenance and preservation of their health? And what about our judges, dare I ask, without fear of contempt of court?
My grandfather, incidentally, was a policeman. In the late '40s or early '50s, Morarji Desai, then I think home minister of Bombay state, put Inspector Sami in charge of the Prohibition Department. Now that Inspector Sami, my grandfather, was not unfond of his evening drink. But from that day on he did not touch a drop of liquor (in Bombay) until he retired as deputy commissioner of the Bombay police. And from what I hear and read, he implemented the law (with which he did not entirely agree) with unwavering commitment.
In later years, perhaps when I was an adult, I remember him talking to me about the prohibition with a measure of regret: "All that the prohibition did was help illicit gangs make lots of illicit money brewing lots of illicit liquor."
The people who wanted to drink, drank. They drank out of teacups, they drank raw rum disguised as cola, they drank at weddings and parties and homes. But they drank. And they drank more, much more, sometimes to insensibility, than if they had just been allowed to drink openly, normally, without fear of retribution from the law. And money was made.
So now here we all are in 2010. A bunch of kids from a B-school in Pune stand busted. And a law we had all conveniently forgotten stands as law again. Have we learnt nothing since 1949?
Postscript: I don't drink. And I value my right to make that choice on my own. But, question is: do I have that right anymore?
The writer is a Mumbai-based writer and filmmaker
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
HANGING BY A HAIR
In the midst of the current, often burning, upheaval in Kashmir, it would be instructive to recall the last crisis of similar though not identical magnitude. Late one evening in the last week of December 1963, newspaper offices in Delhi received telegrams from their Srinagar correspondents (that was the fastest means of communication then) stating that a holy relic, much revered by the Kashmiri people, had disappeared from the Hazratbal shrine causing widespread resentment and anger.
The gravity of the situation sunk in, however, only the next day when reports came in that, despite the bitter cold and heavy snowfall, huge crowds from all over were converging on Hazratbal. I took the first available plane to Kashmir's capital. The entire Delhi-based foreign press corps was on the same flight. Only after reaching Srinagar did the intensity of the popular outrage hit us. The reason was obvious. The vanished holy relic according to the state government, it was "found missing" was a single hair of the Prophet's beard that Kashmiris had venerated generation after generation. They called it moo-e-muqqadas (sacred hair). Their fury was boundless. Even in normal times they could have its deedar (which means the same thing as darshan) only on fixed days in the year and that too, for a short time. Now they wept and wailed, fearing that they had lost the blessing forever, and cursed whoever they thought was behind the sacrilege. Some alleged that someone had stolen the relic, if not to destroy it, then at least to insult the Prophet of Islam. Hundreds of thousands of mourners who surrounded the Hazratbal shrine were absolutely inconsolable and refused to move away from there, as days passed without any trace of the missing relic. They greeted the state government's reassuring noises with contempt.
Mercifully, there was no violence even though the prevalent rage was unmistakable and the situation was becoming more menacing with the passage of time.
What compounded the situation was that the state government, to say nothing of the administration, was at that time in a shambles. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, Kashmir's iron-fisted chief minister for a decade, had had to leave under the Kamaraj Plan some four months earlier. He had seen to it, however, that no one with political weight succeeded him. The man he chose for the job was a virtual non-entity named Shamsuddin. The people nicknamed him "Chamchuddin", a play on the word chamcha that in Indian political lore means a sycophant.
The consequences of this state of affairs became manifest on the day when it looked that the sleepless, tired and angry crowds were on the verge of losing patience. Noor Mohammed, deputy commissioner of Srinagar, panicked that the situation would spin out of control. It did seem as if the whole Valley was hanging by a slender thread. He approached the nearest brigade commander and asked him to "take over". The brigadier replied that he would surely do his duty but he must have the request in writing. "Agar likh kar dena hai," said Noor Mohammed who later became chief secretary of Jammu and Kashmir, "toh mein Bakshi Sahib se poochch aaoon" (If this has be to be given in writing, then let me consult Bakshi Sahib"). The Bakshi, let it be repeated, held no official position in the state at that time!
At the very beginning of the crisis, New Delhi had sent to Srinagar a team of very competent officers headed by Home Secretary V. Vishwanathan. Its brief was to watch the situation, advise the state government only when necessary and otherwise refrain from interfering with it. Briskly and tirelessly busy entirely on his own was the intelligence czar of that era, B. N. Mullik. Luckily, on the day when the situation looked like it was blowing up, Mullik was able to announce that the holy relic had been recovered, a caretaker at Hazratbal had been arrested and, therefore, everybody could thank God and happily go home.
If he thought that he would be applauded as a hero, he was mistaken. Those who had by then assumed the leadership of the angry crowds were sceptical. The wily government must have crafted a copy of their cherished relic to hoodwink the people, they said. What the IB chief had brought must be properly verified as genuine. Shanakht (verification) was their buzzword and within minutes, it became the slogan of the masses. At this stage, Vishwanathan intervened and refused the demand. Renewed tension mounted fast.
In New Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, though in indifferent health in January 1964, was monitoring the situation minutely. Immediately, he sent his chief troubleshooter Lal Bahadur Shastri to Srinagar. With tremendous patience and skill Shastri negotiated with the votaries of verification and persuaded them not to insist on shanakht but told them that a "special deedar" was perfectly in order. However, the process was so arranged as to be acceptable to both sides.
At the appointed time, the crowds around Hazratbal were mammoth but disciplined. There was a hush. Maulvi Saeed Masoodi, a respected leader, took the microphone and asked the enormous audience: "Is there anyone among you who knows moo-e-muqqadas better than Miran Shah Sahib"? There was total silence. Miran Shah then came forward and held the recovered holy relic before his eyes for a full minute. The suspense during these 60 seconds would have surprised even Hitchcock. Then he bowed his head and said a low but clear voice, "it is moo-e-muqqadas". Wild cheers greeted him. The crisis was resolved but not the underlying issue.
For months, crowds went on agitating: "Asli mujrim ko paish karo" (present the real culprit). Almost everyone knew that the imprisoned Hazratbal caretaker was a mere scapegoat. Also it was believed then and confirmed later that there was nothing ulterior behind what was planned to be a temporary and harmless removal of the holy relic. Apparently, a terminally ill lady in the Bakshi family wanted to have its deedar before dying. Unfortunately, its absence was noticed almost immediately. In his three-volume account of his years with Nehru, however, Mullik blandly states: "The Holy Relic's recovery was an intelligence operation, never to be disclosed".
The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE COLOUR OF MONEY
M R MADHAVAN
Parliament was stalled for a week as the government and opposition negotiated a discussion on the price rise of essential commodities.
Finally, Lok Sabha had the debate on Tuesday, and Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
There have been several debates in Parliament on this issue in recent years. Indeed, this issue has been debated in each of the previous three full sessions of the current Lok Sabha. It is interesting to see what issues were brought up in these debates.
Monetarist economists, such as Milton Friedman, believed that "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon". Not all economists agree with this view but almost all of them will say that change in money supply is an important contributor to price changes. However, our MPs do not seem to subscribe to this view. In nine debates since 2004 in the Lok Sabha, 224 speeches were made by MPs. Hardly any speech connected monetary policy with inflationary pressures. Subsidy cuts were mentioned 94 times while the public distribution system was blamed 43 times.
Another favourite scapegoat was hoarders and black-marketeers who were responsible for driving up prices mentioned 42 times. A few speeches mentioned failure of monsoon and shortfall in crop output.
Note that all these issues are related to supply bottlenecks. There is hardly any mention of demand-led factors. This may be the politically expedient position. Loose monetary policy and a high fiscal deficit are not mentioned, possibly as no one wants to be seen as criticising either a pro-growth stance or rising government expenditure.
The debate this week saw a similar pattern. Fifty-five MPs expressed their views. Just one of them mentioned monetary policy as a possible tool to manage inflation. It is interesting to see that the content of parliamentary debates on inflation have not changed over the years, regardless of the actual inflation situation.
The writer works with PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE TERMINAL AND I
I try not to romanticise the past. When my grandmother tells me about the price of fish in 1950, I remind her that incomes then were proportionately small. When she recalls the kindness of pre-Independence postmen, I say, "On the other hand, there were no pin codes." So I surprised myself last month when, on an American Airlines flight from Chicago to Delhi, I found myself wishing to disembark at Terminal 2.
My wish was granted. The temptress that is Terminal 3 possibly larger than Madrid's Terminal 5, perhaps containing more escalators than Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi, taller than the Burj-al-Arab, longer than the Nile was opening later than scheduled. This tardiness was unexpected given Delhi's otherwise superb preparations for the Commonwealth Games.
Perhaps my nostalgia was brought on by the fact that I was drinking shampoo-flavored whiskey. Since American carriers started charging for drinks a few years ago, I've made it a point to bring my own in travel-sized bottles. My fellow passengers think I'm mad to be drinking shampoo, but when beer costs $7 the joke is on them (except that time I washed my hair with rum by mistake).
Yet, inebriation alone cannot explain my abiding love for T2. Despite the hype about cutting-edge design, airports across the world are becoming glossy imitations of each other. This is not the fault of designers; rather, functional constraints and global retail considerations leave little room for differentiation. IGI Airport in fact derived its distinctiveness from its resistance to change. Little can match the experience of arriving at T2 at night a disorienting walk through the institutional terminal followed by the first whiff of Delhi air, cold smoke in December and pungent moisture in July.
Departing from Delhi used to be equally fraught with possibility. Dinner at home in Mayur Vihar (insipid, to prevent indigestion) would be followed by a taxi to Janpath where we would catch the ex-servicemen's bus to the airport. If we were flying British Airways, my mother would manoeuvre us to the check-in counter manned by a Mr Prasad. She had discovered some time ago that Mr Prasad's fear of aggressive women made him likely to acquiesce to her demands for upgrades. (But when friends pressed my mother for this information she would direct them to Mr Mishra, a man whose check-in counter was more dangerous than a lion's den).
The relative austerity of IGI Airport only served to sweeten the anticipation of a foreign journey. This anticipation was particularly high when I prepared to fly out of Delhi one day in 2003. I had taken a year off from graduate school in the US to work as an assistant director to Rituparno Ghosh. My girlfriend, Shabnam, and I had been apart for several months, so we decide to meet in Thailand for a quick vacation.
The Indian Airlines check-in counters were late to open. We Indians have a natural tendency to abandon queues in favor of fan-like formations, but this was proving difficult to execute because two large pillars stood in front of the counters. The air was heavy with tension as people tried to recall lessons from years of musical chairs played in their respective colonies. They flitted through the pillars as if in a Shammi Kapoor dance sequence. But no one was smiling.
The check-in staff arrived, and in the ensuing chaos an Italian man got flung on to the luggage scale. A Bengali man with five suitcases asked me, "Do you know how much luggage they are allowing on this flight?" To him the luggage allowance was as unpredictable as the stock market. Three Israeli girls flashed their cleavage. A mustachioed man carrying a ladies handbag pushed me aside. When I protested, he said, "You have a complete misunderstanding of the concept." With such an auspicious start to the trip, it was inevitable that Shabnam and I would get married a few years later.
Just as my life continued to change in little ways, so did IGI. The airport authorities installed a gigantic Santa
Claus with a tiny head to welcome wintertime passengers. The ban on photography was lifted. For a while, the terminal was filled with signs informing people that they are permitted to take photographs. Flat-screen televisions were set up. Once, when my sister was gripped by self-doubt, she sat down next to one of these televisions, facing the audience. From her vantage point, it appeared that a sea of men was staring at her, even occasionally nodding in appreciation. Her self-confidence was instantly restored.
After Manmohan Singh liberalised the Indian economy, the terrors of customs too receded. That's why I was recently surprised when, upon arrival in Delhi, a customs official rummaged through my bags and pulled out my beloved new camera, the Nikon D70S. "How much did you pay for this?" he asked. I said I didn't remember, "It was years ago." "Impossible," he said, "this model was released last year. Before that there was only D70." He proceeded to fiddle with the controls and look through the viewfinder. That's when I realised what was happening. This tech aficionado was abusing his position as a customs official to test-drive electronic products. We had a pleasant conversation about the relative merits of D70 and D70S (I took care not to disagree with him), and I was on my way.
Terminal 3 might have so much to savour that savouring the details is no longer possible. However, I am aware that this is a small price to pay for the privilege of global interconnectedness. I was lucky, as a child, to be able to accompany my parents on their academic travels. Terminal 3 and the concurrent expansion in air travel will enable many more Indians and foreigner to experience the thrills of unfamiliar lands. And for the charms of the un-globalised airport, I will return to Kupang, the capital of West Timor, where I have been engaged in fieldwork. The Kupang airport has a dead-end conveyor belt. If people are slow to react when luggage is loaded, pressure builds up at the end of the belt. There is nothing more enjoyable than diving to evade flying suitcases while trying to catch one's own.
The writer teaches economics at Hunter College, New York
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE STARS AREN'T SMILING
The Money God smiled wide at the Bollywood bounty in the month of July. The film spread had a date flick, a political satire, a heartfelt coming-of-age film, a retro gangster flick, a heavy-duty political film and a Priyadarshan comedy. Hollywood came knocking with two global surefires, the Christopher Nolan-directed Leonardo Dicaprio starrer Inception and the Angelina Jolie actioner, Salt. The month-long action at the box office translated into big returns and also threw up some interesting trends:
Youngistan appeal: Hollywood has already woken up to the power of the fanboys and fangirls. While conventional wisdom says that the tastes of young men drives the box office, the girls have staked their claim of late. They helped make monster hits of the Twilight series and High School Musical. B-town tweens are not far behind, and have made huge stars of Ranbir Kapoor, Imran Khan and Shahid Kapoor. In fact the success of Karan Johar's I Hate Luv Storys (IHLS) is attributed to the "cute" appeal of Imran Khan and Sonam Kapoor.
Despite a tame, predictable plot and unsavoury reviews, IHLS made a neat profit. The success of IHLS is also a case study of the importance of budgeting in a film's commercial viability.
Johar played it straight; he made the movie on a moderate budget and sold it to UTV for a fair price of Rs 18 crore, which helped the distributors in pocketing profits as the risk was nullified. That's smart business from Johar. Hope other producers take notice. No wonder, they say that the film doesn't fail, it's always the budget that fails.
We, the people: Never underestimate the power of the people. That's probably the oldest cliché of all time. In B-town, this cliché never goes out of vogue. It's an unwritten code of showbiz that "word of mouth" publicity is the best kind. The success of Tere Bin Laden and Udaan prove yet again that stars don't maketh the movie run. These "smallies" arrived with little fanfare, without the trappings of a big star or a big budget. The producers were wise to spend judiciously on a strong marketing campaign.
The films picked up gradually, as the word on the street was favourable. At the end of the year, Tere Bin Laden and Udaan will be clubbed in the "hit" section.
Wake up stars: While the audience warmed up to the smallies, big star vehicles were thumbed down. The Sanjay Dutt-Bipasha Basu Kashmir saga Lamhaa as well as Akshay Kumar's Khatta Meetha tanked at the box office. Even the Shahid Kapoor-Kareena Kapoor starrer Milenge Milenge was rejected outright. There are reasons for these misfires: Lamhaa didn't tell us anything new about Kashmir, Khatta Meetha was neither funny nor entertaining and Milenge Milenge was dated and boring. The message is loud and clear: audience doesn't care about the stars if they don't offer anything interesting.
Hollywood Is here: It started last year when Roland Emmerich's disaster flick 2012 devoured the Emraan Hashmi starrer Tum Mile. The brisk business of Inception and Salt prove the growing presence of Hollywood yet again. Slowly but surely, Hollywood is making inroads in Bollywood territory. While it isn't time to hit the panic button yet, Bollywood's dream merchants would be wise to be wary of the global killer.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
As the hysteria over the Commonwealth Games threatens to derail the average Indian's engagement with them, it is important to throw the cold light of facts on sweeping allegations. First, yes, we could have done with better, more centralised leadership for the Commonwealth Games. Coordination between partners as varied as the Archaeological Survey of India and MCD, MTNL and DPS has obviously been suboptimal. To compare with the Asiad example, it really made a difference that Rajiv Gandhi was put at the helm (he would become the country's prime minister within two years). But leaving the matter of what-might-have-been aside, the key question now is how to get the Indian and Delhi publics all enthused once again. Demonising the Commonwealth Games just because some people made money in some deals is silly.
Allegations of corruption will have to be properly tackled over time. For now, however, the Games are fait accompli, just 55 days away. Let's focus on getting the finishing touches in place. Let's focus on sports now.
Second, 85% of the Rs 40,000 crore figure being bandied about is not directly aimed at the Games at all. Spread across various agencies, these monies are being used for infrastructural projects ranging from the Delhi Metro (Rs 16,887 crore for Phase II) to the augmentation of DTC fleet (Rs 1,800 crore). Usually referred to as legacy costs, history suggests that the returns on such investments are incalculable. Think about all that got delivered for the 1982 Asiad. And then try to imagine a Delhi without roads like the Ring Road or flyovers that leap over Moolchand, Sewa Nagar and Oberoi or hotels like Kanishka, Maurya Sheraton and Taj Palace. Consider that as the Asiad did then, so the Commonwealth Games are doing now, delivering infrastructure to deadlines that are far from commonplace. Of course, we will have to up the ante at fast pace before the opening ceremony, whether it is with reference to the sports venues or the connecting infrastructure. For example, the elevated road between Sarai Kale Khan and the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the main venue of the event, is expected to provide uninterrupted traffic flow from Games Village but is far from being completed. Lots of peripheral work on the main stadia also remains pending. All concerned agencies should recognise that this is no time to be passing the buck but only for finishing the necessary work. Directions to this end should come from the highest offices of the country.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
The government has been dithering over the issue of FDI in retail for some time, ostensibly because of concern for the welfare of small kirana store owners. This hasn't, however, prevented domestic players from setting up big retail outlets, none of which has been able to wipe out the kirana stores. On the contrary, many big retailers, including Subhiksha and Vishal have been struggling to stay afloat. But this clearly isn't enough for the government to change its mind on FDI in multi-brand retailFDI is incidentally allowed in cash and carry (100%) and in single brands (51%). Now, the department of consumer affairs has floated a consultation paper that proposes the setting up of a two-tier regulatory structure for the retail sector, at the Centre and at the states. What is the rationale? Ostensibly to protect predatory, anti-competitive practices by big retailers and to safeguard the interests of the kirana store owners. It may, however, not be such a good idea.
The regulators will essentially check two kinds of anti-competitive practices. First, the cornering of real estate by big retail that deliberately makes it difficult for competition to survive or emerge. And second, the practice of predatory pricing where big retailers undercut their competitors out of the market and then begin to charge higher prices. The first type of regulatory intervention on the 'cornering' of real estate is highly discretionary in nature and is likely to be particularly problematic, leading to much lobbying and rent seeking activities. The monitoring of prices could turn into a perverse system of price control if too much authority is given to the regulator. The entire point of big retail in the first place is to help bring prices down. Of course, there mayon occasionbe the odd retailer who takes recourse to predatory practices, but we already have a Competition Commission of India that is supposed to monitor and clamp down on any such practices. The Competition Commission would have the necessary expertise and skills to judge when exactly practices turn predatory. It makes little sense to duplicate the work of the Commission by creating a new retail regulator at the Centre and more than 20 in the states. Perhaps the only justification for a separate regulator for retail is in political economy terms, if it helps build trust among the kirana store owners about reform in retail, something that may facilitate the quick rollout of reform. Based on experience thus far, the kirana store owners seem to have handled the challenge of local big retail fairly well without the need for a regulator.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
KEEP IT SOFT AND AFFABLE, DR SUBBARAO
Some recent events would appear to have tested RBI Governor D Subbarao's somewhat soft and self-effacing leadership style at the central bank. He had to discipline one of his deputy governors who seemed to publicly disagree with RBI's decision to "not raise interest rates enough" to attack inflation more effectively. The Governor also faced a lot of pressure from within RBI to take a public stand on the recent ordinance issued by the finance ministry, which appeared to lower the central bank's institutional stature. Subbarao's response in both instances showed his unique way of negotiating matters with the fiscal authorities, on the one hand, and his own team at RBI, on the other.
Subbarao has a personality type that is very different from many RBI governors we have seen in the past. For one, he has a great sense of humour and even displays an ability to laugh at himself. Normally, central bank governors are burdened by the need to appear somewhat grim and decisive, without any self-doubts, because they must be seen as leading the perception game in the financial markets. This is a sort of behavioural stance that most central bank governors have to maintain.
Subbarao has been somewhat different in this respect. Unlike all previous RBI governors, he is extremely consultative and likes to debate critical issues with the widest range of constituents, whether money market traders, bankers, economists or other small and big businessmen. Subbarao is the first governor to have started structured interactions with these groups, prior to major monetary policy reviews, in order to get a wide array of opinions. He even surprised RBI brass by inviting for discussions some people who were the bitterest critics of the central bank and its way of functioning.
Some top RBI officials may have initially wondered why the new Governor was being so democratic and participative in his decision-making. For RBI's DNA was never known to be so open and participative. There is a general sense that RBI bureaucracy tended to have too much faith in its "technocratic intellectual base", to the exclusion of other obvious realities that existed around us. There were also other reasons why Subbarao had adopted a more participative approach. He was called upon to steer the central bank in the worst possible periodafter the global financial meltdownwhen all received wisdom in policymaking was getting turned on its head.
More importantly, he got a serious piece of advice from none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whom Subbarao had paid a courtesy call just before taking over the reins of the central bank. Manmohan Singh suggested in a somewhat lighter vein that it was easy for central bankers to lose touch with ground realities working from the rarefied space on the top floor of the RBI building on Mint Street. One must therefore keep one's ear to the ground at all times.
Subbarao appears to have taken that advice very seriously, and has immensely benefited from it. It is becoming increasingly clear that his decision to stay somewhat "behind the curve" on raising interest rates was a sound one. Without relying too much on technocratic calculations of inflation and real interest rates, Subbarao used his instincts and chose to straddle the middle path. He took only baby steps in raising interest rates in the past year when the inflation rate had gradually gone beyond the double digit, causing a big scare that it would derail the economy. However, growth in recent months has been quite robust. His call was proved right, in a sense.
He recognised that in the initial phase last year, the higher inflation rate was largely driven by rising food prices. He is the first central banker to have openly declared that food inflation caused by supply shocks is beyond the pale of monetary policy. Last week, he said in Hyderabad that "food items have 46 to70% weightage in various consumer price indices and were notoriously subject to supply shocks which are normally beyond the pale of monetary policy".
His recent policy initiatives have shifted focus to making monetary transmission more robust, which is a bigger priority for the central bank. You can go on raising interest rates but if the transmission mechanism is not good enough, what use is it? His approach shows a great deal of pragmatism.
While using the repo rate to signal tighter money, RBI is simultaneously using the new base rate mechanism to force banks to lend short term at higher interest rates. By not allowing banks to lend at below the base rate, RBI has ensured that the interest on three months commercial paper has gone up substantiallyby about 1.5% in recent weeks. This is all about strengthening the transmission mechanism. Subbarao seems to be on the right track, in this respect.
The Governor also spoke up at the right time when the recent ordinance to resolve inter-regulatory disputes appeared to threaten RBI's institutional autonomy. He met the finance minister and expressed his viewpoint politely. The finance minister responded and made necessary changes in the law, giving RBI its due. Subbarao has done well to resist getting too confrontationist with the fiscal authorities, much as RBI bureaucracy might want him to. His soft and affable style works, for the most part.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE FOOD SECURITY DEBATE
YOGINDER K ALAGH
There is an interesting debate on food security and we should get the Planning Commission's perspective on this. But as I write this, the Planning Commission Web site still does not have the mid-term appraisal, so Yojana Bhavan must still be polishing it. This column has, over time, taken the position that the food security programme is really important and a country growing as fast as India simply cannot ignore malnutrition on a large scale. In any case, India has the competence and resources to solve this problem. The column has also argued that despite all its failings, the Tendulkar Committee allows the mapping of malnutrition on poverty, which can be a tool of operational significance. Also the official poverty line is based originally on complete demand systems for the rich and poor separately and, therefore, provides a base for the dual pricing systems currently being advocated, including by the NAC. But the consensus ends there. There are at least two widely diverging mindsets and many variants of them.
One view is increasingly influential and as political pressure increases many agricultural and economic policy experts, who know better, fall in line with it. The view is that India is the 'Republic of Hunger', its agriculture is stagnating, there is large scale land alienation and with the casualisation of the labour force, hunger-driven hordes of workers throng the cities. The situation is severe in eastern India because it is not growing and inequality is increasing. In a recent meeting, when it was pointed out that two numbers from different definitions showed hunger had decreased but comparing the narrow definition in the base with the wider one at the end made it look as if it had increased, the influential policy maker behind the argument said that we should be liberal in discussing poverty numbers, whatever that means.
In the other view, the problem of extreme malnutrition, chronic poverty and deprivation is very severe in a relatively small percentage of the population and has decreased, between 10% to a sixth of the population should be targeted for free food. Beyond that the 'poor' could pay a subsidised price. In some regions, the 150 hunger districts were described in a stylised manner in an Express column, which has become a 'fact' since. But whichever measure of nutrition and poverty you take, as Radhakrishna's classic Presidential address to the Indian Econometric Society showed, malnutrition and poverty has gone down. Agricultural growth declined in the 1990s but has picked up in the last quinquennium. It may not be 4.5% as officials claim but is decidedly above 3%. Terms of trade are moving in favour of agriculture, profitability has improved and so has agricultural investment. With a 21% rate of investment with respect to agricultural GDP, the challenge is to see that we get higher growth. Sustainable land and water management, pricing and technological efficiency are important. The republic of hunger sidesteps all this.
Falling grain consumption exists. The half century of British rule up to 1947 saw falling per capita grain consumption every five years, from 200 kg per person in 1901-05 to 144 kg in 1941-45. However, calories from non-grains are rising for the poor. Surya Narayana was the first scholar to show that non-grain calories consumed by the poor, ignored by the hunger argument, are not trivial. But calorie consumption is still not going up. This was a puzzle and Pranob Sen argued that this could be on account of a taste effect. As per capita income standards improve, even the lower deciles of the population start consuming lower calorie food. You may feel richer by substituting bajra by wheat or fruit, but calorie consumption decreases.
Land alienation exists and very small farmers prefer to lease out their land and work elsewhere. Agricultural wages have been rising in real terms and most projections are showing a shift away from agriculture. In fact, employment is not rising in agriculture, but is rising in non-farm jobs. Not allowing tenancy under the law means that reverse tenancy is illegal and the poor man who leases out his land has no legal status. This leads to immense corruption as a lot of land is given to contractors by corrupt politicians. A legal market for land would stop all this and give the small farmer a legal face.
The worst part of the republic of hunger argument is that it does not recognise that diversifying agriculture creates more income for the poor. Low agricultural prices are a favourite refrain of Indian economists but these sustain poverty. We saw a long time ago that 'two rupee rice' makes the poor worse off. Later, an IFPRI/ADB model proved that a non-reforming agriculture would sustain poverty. Some mind sets don't change.
The author is a former Union minister
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
WHY NOT GO FOR SHALE GAS
US shale gas is fast emerging as a new focus area for global hydrocarbon players. RIL alone has made acquisitions in three shale acreages in a span of just a few months. This marks a global shift away from offshore drilling in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. By one estimate, BP will have to spend about $30 billion on cleaning up the spill and paying compensation. The company has been forced to sell its upstream assets in various countries. Its stock prices have fallen drastically, bringing forth the serious risks of deep and ultra-deep sea drilling.
Meanwhile, there is a fear that governments across the world might tighten regulations for offshore drilling and insurers their risk premiums, further raising the cost of oil and gas production from the sea. Shale gas is a non-conventional natural gas, which entails a higher cost of production. But cost economics of US shale gas acreages compare well with conventional gas sources, which explains the scramble among international oil companies to get a piece of the US shale gas exploration business pie.
Plus, the growing interest of oil companies in the US shale gas market stems from the fact that the US is the only country to have made a breakthrough in the large-scale commercial production of shale gas. This was made possible because of advancements in drilling technology. The technology is still evolving, which means cost of production can further come down. Perhaps that is the reason international companies are betting on the US shale gas market.
Companies entering the shale gas business at this stage will also get first mover advantage in technology and cost economics. This is what will give them a competitive edge when exploration begins there. Projections are that the share of shale gas in the US energy basket will rise steadily in the coming decades. This has encouraged the US power sector to plan a shift toward natural gas and cut emissions. Encouraged by the US' success, India is also planning to explore and exploit its shale gas reserves. The country remains dependent on coal to meet its primary energy requirements. If India can find a big shale gas reserve, that would dramatically transform its energy landscape.
NATURE'S FURY IN LEH
With the death toll in the flash flood in Ladakh up to 150 (and 500 people missing), and hundreds of houses destroyed, the magnitude of the havoc wrought by the natural calamity cannot be underestimated. The floods affected Leh town and the surrounding villages, the main population centres of this thinly peopled district and also the focus of much of its economic activity. It is going to take many months for that remote corner of India to return to normal. The immediate priority is to ensure that survivors are rescued and taken to safety and provided medical care, and that all affected people have access to relief. The Army and the Air Force have already been deployed for rescue operations, to which the continuing bad weather poses a challenge. Moreover, sections of all roads leading to the ravaged area have been washed away. This means the only way to reach Leh now is by the air-link, itself dependent on the weather conditions. But all this only gives the task of rescue and relief an added urgency. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's early visit to Leh, just hours after the calamity struck, has sent out a positive signal. It is to be hoped that his government, despite its preoccupation with the turmoil in the Valley, will not be found wanting in its response to the crisis in the days to come. The Centre must provide the Jammu & Kashmir government all the assistance it needs to cope with this emergency.
The devastating floods were caused by a cloudburst over Leh that lasted less than two hours. A cloudburst is high intensity rainfall in a short period of time, sometimes accompanied by hail and thunder, and can cause floods. A cloudburst over Mumbai in July 2005 saw the skies dumping 950 mm of water in eight to 10 hours, paralysing the city and claiming several lives. The exact measurement of rain that fell during the reported one-hour cloudburst over Leh on August 6 is still not available. While the rain on the two days may not come anywhere close to what Mumbai saw, for Ladakh it is a huge amount. This is what puzzles meteorologists. It never really rains in Ladakh, which is geographically categorised as a "cold desert." The destruction in the floods was all the more because people in Ladakh, confident of dry conditions, have traditionally used mud in much of their architecture. The Leh disaster has come at the same time as Pakistan experiences its worst floods in a century. Across South Asia, weather patterns are changing in unpredictable ways, and require to be studied so that we are better equipped to deal with them.
A TIMELY EFFORT
If the number of species that live on land is not fully known, our knowledge of marine life diversity is much less. Even the scanty information available is not easily accessible. The Census of Marine Life (COML), a decade-long initiative involving 2,700 scientists from 80 countries, the largest-ever collaboration of marine biologists, has partially succeeded in addressing this issue. In a collection of papers published in the open access journal, PLoS One, COML has released an inventory compilation of known and new marine species along with their distribution and diversity pattern in key global ocean areas. The 25 biologically representative regions under study extend from the Antarctic through temperate and tropical seas to the Arctic. The results published do not include highly diverse areas like the Arabian Sea where the inventories continue, and the final findings are expected in October. The average number of known species in the 25 regions is about 11,000. On an average, crustaceans, including crabs, lobsters and shrimp, along with fish and molluscs, make up nearly half of all known species. The compilation challenges the notion that knowledge of diversity can be extrapolated from one location to another. For instance, about half of New Zealand and Antarctic marine species and a quarter of those seen in Australia and South Africa are endemic to those regions. South Korea, China, South Africa and the Baltic have most species relative to their seabed area. Evidently, marine species have not flourished uniformly across the world.
Though 230,000 marine species are known and, at least, 1,200 new species discovered by COML, 70-80 per cent still remain undiscovered. But there is a possibility that many species may be lost even before they are discovered and the diversity of known species affected, with over-fishing, pollution, and habitat loss posing great threats. Of grave concern is that these threats are real in all the 25 regions. Over-fishing occurred across a range of marine species harvested, and the spill-over of over-harvesting has resulted in the depletion of by-catch species abundance. Pollution and other human interventions such as dredging are affecting marine diversity in ways not fully known to us. While the threat from these activities is well known, enclosed seas such as the Mediterranean, Gulf of Mexico, and seas off China are at greater peril than the open seas. The effects of climate change, such as oxygen depletion and acidification, are beginning to affect marine life. The COML predictions of species loss may well come true unless the ecologically disruptive course is corrected.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
AFGHAN PROBLEM: FOR A REGIONAL APPROACH
IF CONDITIONS CAN BE CREATED THAT WOULD PERMIT AFGHANISTAN TO REVERT TO ITS TRADITIONAL NEUTRALITY, IT OUGHT TO HELP IN SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCING TENSIONS IN THE REGION.
CHINMAYA R. GHAREKHAN & KARL F. INDERFURTH
Ambassador Robert Blackwill is well known among the 'strategic' community in India as a person who contributed to the development of India- United States relations during his stay in New Delhi as the American ambassador to India, which also made him knowledgeable about what is now referred to, unfortunately, as the AfPak region. He is known for his bold, often unconventional and 'out of the box,' thinking on issues of peace and security. Hence, his views on how the U.S. should tackle the Afghan quagmire must be taken serious note of.
In an article in the Financial Times of July 21, Mr. Blackwill has argued that the current strategy of counter-insurgency will fail and the U.S. will not succeed in persuading enough and weighty Taliban leaders to join in a reconciliation exercise. Since the U.S. can neither win the war nor withdraw precipitously, the only alternative is to arrange for what he calls a de facto partition of Afghanistan. The southern and eastern parts of the country would be surrendered to the Pashtuns which, in effect, would mean the Taliban. The U.S. and a coalition of "like-minded countries" would establish a separate regime in the non-Pashtun north and west of the country. The U.S. and others would maintain a more or less permanent presence of about 50,000 troops and air power to continue to harass the al-Qaeda elements in the other half and across the Durand Line as well as prevent the Pashtun and the Taliban from conquering the north and the west.
Such a solution, he admits, will leave many non-Pashtuns at the mercy of the Pashtuns in the southern part but he writes that off as an "unfortunate but unavoidable" consequence, as he does the complete denial of human rights to women in Pashtunland. He even treats the fragmentation of Pakistan, a possible result of his solution, with equanimity. Why should the U.S., he asks, be more concerned with Pakistan's territorial integrity than General Kayani and his colleagues? And so on.
Mr. Blackwill's diagnosis of the ailments afflicting Afghanistan contains many ground truths, but his proposed cure a de facto partition of the country between the Pashtun south and the non-Pashtun north and west is infinitely worse than the disease. Firstly, it smacks of a colonial attitude. Instead of the classic "divide and rule," he is recommending "divide and depart;" the British practised them both in the sub-continent with disastrous consequences. Ahmed Rashid writing in an article in Financial Times on August 4 says: "Partition will lead to worse horrors than witnessed at India's division in 1947."
Secondly, while we do not speak for our respective governments, it is unthinkable that either the U.S. or India, or indeed any other "like-minded" country will look favourably at this plan and join in such blatant interference in Afghanistan's internal situation and become parties to a civil conflict. Thirdly, women in the Taliban territory will be doomed forever to a life of denial of all human rights. Fourthly, it completely ignores the fact that Afghans of all ethnicities have a strong sense of nationhood, despite ethnic divergences; if the Afghans wanted to partition their country, they would have done so long ago and on their own terms. Ahmed Rashid cites, in the same article, several previous attempts by the Soviet Union, Iran as well as by Pakistan to divide Afghanistan on ethnic lines, all turned down by Afghans of all ethnicities.
According to Rashid, in 1996, when the Taliban initially failed to take the north, Pakistan's ISI suggested that the Pashtun group create its own state in the south. But the Taliban refused, despite its dependence on the ISI. And lastly, a partition will hasten the very result that it is meant to delay and avoid, namely, a civil war-type situation. Afghanistan's immediate and near-neighbours would feel compelled to be dragged into the vortex. To quote Rashid again: "It would endanger Pakistan, encouraging some 40 million Pashtuns in Pakistan to link up with some 15 million Pashtun brothers in Afghanistan and forge an extremist state that gives refuge to terrorists."
And the consequences for India will be simply intolerable.
Mr. Blackwill is conscious that his prescription is not ideal; he only offers it because he sees no better or less bad alternative. But there is another, practicable though not an easy alternative approach that we have advocated in the past. We are convinced that what is needed is a regional approach to Afghanistan's problems, to address the multiple crises emanating from the region terrorism, crime, drugs, refugees. The solution lies in less or zero interference, not more, and certainly not military intervention, in Afghanistan's affairs.
It is a historical fact that Afghanistan enjoyed relative stability and even prosperity when it practised, and was allowed by its neighbours and external powers to practise, a kind of neutrality in its foreign policy. If somehow conditions can be created that would permit Afghanistan to once again revert to its traditional neutrality, it ought to help in significantly reducing tensions in the region. This might appear to be a difficult or impossible goal to achieve in the prevailing climate of hatred and suspicions, but that is no reason for not considering it and working for it.
We believe that someone, preferably the Secretary-General of the United Nations, should engage in a diplomatic exercise to hold talks with all the parties and states concerned to establish a consensus, however defined, on arriving at a compact of mutual non-intervention and non-interference among all of Afghanistan's neighbours. The 1962 Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos provides one possible model and there could be others. The Bonn Agreement of December 2001, which brought into being the provisional government headed by Hamid Karzai, specifically tasks the United Nations to 'guarantee' non-interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs; thus the Secretary-General already has the necessary mandate to undertake the necessary consultations. The process, which would be quite protracted, should eventually consummate in an international conference where all the neighbours of Afghanistan would solemnly commit themselves not to interfere or intervene in its internal affairs, as well as not to support in any way politically, materially or militarily any group or faction within Afghanistan. Afghanistan, for its part, would solemnly undertake to abjure forever from inviting any foreign elements to intervene in its internal problems.
The final document would be witnessed by the five permanent members of the Security Council as well as by the relevant foreign powers and would be registered with the United Nations. In addition, the participants at the proposed conference would need to take one further step to establish an international commission to supervise the implementation of the document. A monitoring group and/or a complaints procedure would need to be established. It would be essential to create some mechanism that could inspire confidence among the signatories about compliance by all of them with their commitments.
As mentioned above, the proposal which we are putting forward is not an easy one. It will call for a sustained effort over many months. The then special envoy of the then Secretary General took several years to persuade all the parties to agree to the terms of the Geneva Agreement of 1988 which brought an end to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The challenges underlying our proposal must not deter the required effort and political will. We are convinced that it is definitely preferable either to the imposed and bloody partition, de facto or otherwise, of Afghanistan or to the alternative of precipitate withdrawal or open-ended military engagement of foreign forces in the country.
(Chinmaya R. Gharekhan served as India's special envoy for West Asia and is a former U.N. under secretary general. Karl F. Inderfurth served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 1997-2001 and is a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.)
RAJIV GANDHI PLAN: A VALUABLE SOLUTION
WHY INDIA SHOULD TAKE FORWARD RAJIV GANDHI'S ACTION PLAN FOR A NUCLEAR-WEAPONS-FREE AND NON-VIOLENT WORLD ORDER.
For India, a country that takes particular pride in its non-proliferation credentials, the stance taken by the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with regard to the first round of talks between New Delhi and Tokyo on civil nuclear cooperation in June must have come as a disagreeable surprise.
Days after the talks were held in Tokyo, Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, a Magsaysay award winner this year for his principled and determined leadership in mobilising public opinion against nuclear weapons, met Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. Along with other activists, he was protesting against Tokyo entering into a civil nuclear agreement with a country that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
India, along with Israel and Pakistan, refused to sign the NPT. But the similarity in their stands ends with the fact that all the three countries termed it discriminatory. India's abhorrence to nuclear weapons was highlighted right from 1954, when it gave a call for an end to all nuclear testing. The apogee was marked by the seminal speech made in June 1988 by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at the United Nations General Assembly proposing a world free of nuclear weapons, an end to be achieved through an 'Action Plan for Ushering in a Nuclear-Weapon Free and Non-Violent World Order.'
India has been periodically testing nuclear-capable missiles and has made known its determination to secure its assets in space, but Rajiv Gandhi's proposal for a nuclear-free world has ensured that India has never used its potential nuclear arsenal as a tool of foreign policy.
Rajiv Gandhi had termed nuclear deterrence to be the "ultimate expression of the philosophy of terrorism, holding humanity hostage to the presumed security needs of a few." He proposed a three-stage process of total disarmament with the accent on a regime that was global, universal and non-discriminatory. Had the West, at that point caught up in the Cold War and dominated by conservatives, heeded the call, the world today would have been nearer to the proposal's ultimate aim of a binding commitment by all nations to eliminate nuclear weapons in stages by 2010 at the latest.
The Rajiv Gandhi Plan was ranked among the bolder initiatives to rid the world of nuclear weapons, along with Mikhail Gorbachev's call made two years earlier for the abolition of nuclear weapons. But the U.S. immediately rejected the Rajiv Gandhi Plan. Although the USSR welcomed the proposal, its opinion did not count for much as it was by then a declining power.
The U.S. rejection provided confirmation of the realisation that the West would continue to factor nuclear weapons into military calculations while paying lip service to the dream of complete disarmament. And they used the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty drafting process to get India to give up the "nuclear option" it had zealously held on to for two decades. But India in 1998 decided to shed its ambiguity by testing five devices and effectively declaring itself to be a nuclear-weapons state.
Around the world the Indian decision was seen by advocates of nuclear disarmament as a betrayal of the cause. At first blush, this was certainly true. But in truth, for a variety of strategic and political reasons, India had felt compelled to embrace key elements of the old Rajiv Gandhi agenda. Since 1998, New Delhi has kept its earlier plan alive and relevant through frequent interventions at the Conference on Disarmament and a working paper on a Nuclear Weapons Convention at the U.N. General Assembly in 2006. India also signalled its willingness to participate in the negotiations for an internationally verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty at the Conference on Disarmament.
In the post-Cold War era, India's logic for complete nuclear disarmament has acquired greater weight because of its traditional close association with arms control and non-proliferation. For, India believes that the West's current preoccupation with forcing some countries to foil their attempt to enter the nuclear club is bound to be ineffective unless non-proliferation is linked to universal disarmament. The former National Security Adviser, M.K. Narayanan, said at last year's Munich Security Conference: "Our perception of arms control is that by addressing the issue piecemeal it merely tends to perpetuate nuclear weapons in the hands of a few chosen nations. Non-proliferation is seen as essentially an extension of the arms control regime."
In today's world, where the five states that are officially nuclear are unable to deter others from following the same path by invoking the NPT, the Rajiv Gandhi Plan has once again emerged as a valuable solution. It seeks to totally de-legitimise the retention of nuclear weapons arsenals, whether under the excuse of a global treaty or by states breaking out on their own. That India would not be a beneficiary of the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan, unlike the NPT, only adds to the proposal's creditworthiness.
The Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were mollified when presented with New Delhi's approach to nuclear weapons which was once again aired at the Conference on Disarmament. But Indian diplomats face a long road ahead on this count.
The overhauled Indian plan now suggests the appointment of a special coordinator who would seek a consensus on setting up a committee on nuclear disarmament as the first step to revive the 22-year-old proposal. Apart from the de-alerting of weapons and universalising no-first use, India has proposed steps aimed at reaching the goal of complete nuclear disarmament. Unfortunately, the U.S. and other nuclear-weapon states are not so enthusiastic about this. Even President Barack Obama, who endorsed the 'zero option' in his Prague speech in 2009, said abolition would not happen in his lifetime. The latest Nuclear Posture Review endorses again the salience of nuclear weapons for war-fighting and deterrence. India, however, must continue to push for the acceptance of its ideas. States that wish to achieve peace or stability through the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent are hanging on to a doctrine that has lost its relevance in a multi-polar world.
DO NATIONS NEED NUCLEAR WEAPONS?
IF A NUCLEAR WAR WERE TO START TODAY THERE WILL BE NO VICTOR, NO VANQUISHED.
On August 6, 1945, the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, creating a new war paradigm destroying an entire city. On August 9, the second atom bomb destroyed the city of Nagasaki. Tens of thousands of unarmed citizens, irrespective of gender, region and religion, were killed instantly. The law of warfare was thus violated by a technically advanced democratic state that swore "In God We Trust."
Japan is the only country that has witnessed the nuclear holocaust. Hospitals, schools, factories, offices, nursing homes, police stations, post offices, railway stations, fire engines, ambulances, tram cars, moving and stationary vehicles, homes, temples, churches and parks everything was obliterated. A new word, "Hibakusha," was added to the Japanese language to describe the 1945 atom bomb victims and their yet-to-be-born children. Today, there are about 300,000 registered "Hibakushas" under free medical care but marriage with a "Hibakusha" is taboo in the Japanese society.
Today's weapons of mass destruction are far more advanced than the atom bombs dropped over Japan. Yet the mad nuclear arms race is high on the political agenda of most neo-cons, super-patriots, religious fanatics and arms dealers. David Krieger of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation rightly said: "One bomb could destroy one city. A few bombs could destroy a country and a few dozen nuclear bombs could reduce [the entire] civilisation to total ruins." If a nuclear war were to start today, by mistake or intentionally, there will be no victor, no vanquished. And with Space Age planning, it is most likely to spread into outer space.
Notwithstanding the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, there are about 22,000 nuclear warheads mostly in the arsenal of the U.S. and Russia. Eight thousand are in the operational ready mode and 2,000 are on high alert. Also, there are 14,000 Plutonium cores (pits) and 5000 Canned Assemblies in the storages of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU). Moreover, 28 countries have the capacity to build at least one bomb and 12 countries can make 20 bombs. Besides, all "peaceful" nuclear power reactors provide rich spent fuel which is reprocessed to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
According to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, some 500,000 kg of plutonium are in stockpiles, which could be available to sub-nationalist "freedom fighters" of any race or religion. Once a nuclear war begins, there will be no struggle between good and evil, the jihadis and the infidels, dharma and adharma. "Survivors will envy the dead," as Nikhita Khrushchev warned.
Following the SAARC conference in Bhutan, ministerial meetings between Islamabad and New Delhi have rightly focussed on terrorism. But Islamabad's nuclear programme is India-specific. Its 70-80 nuclear bombs are aimed at Indian strategic locations. In contrast, New Delhi has strategically stockpiled 80-90 nuclear warheads but is committed to the no-first-use doctrine. Nonetheless, India has a Credible Nuclear Deterrence policy.
The question, however, is how far can the deterrence policy deter a jihadi? Would a rapid deployment n-force pre-empt a suicide bomber who might carry a nuclear device in a laptop cover?
During the Kargil conflict, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee realised the futility of a nuclear war. However, we do not find enough debate on the issue in political circles. While the scientific community appears meek and docile, a whistleblower risks being called unpatriotic. In the U.S., Robert Oppenheimer was penalised for opposing the nuclear arms race. In the Soviet Union, Andrey Sakharov, "the father of Hydrogen bomb," paid the price for opposing nuclear weapons. But it was his campaign against the WMDs that eventually guided Mikhail Gorbachev to bring the Cold War to an end. The history of science recorded Sakharov's courageous role.
The Concerned Scientists established the Nuclear Nights and Nuclear Winter paradigm in 1985, declaring that a nuclear war cannot be fought, nor can it be won. Moscow and Washington, having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, nevertheless face the costly problem of keeping thousands of decommissioned nuclear warheads safe. New Delhi and Islamabad can still stay off the nuclear abyss. The problem, however, is how to overcome the outdated jingoism prevailing on both sides of the divide.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev have signed a MoU to further reduce the stockpiles of nuclear warheads. The Concerned Scientists have appealed to political leaders and governments to give up WMDs before it is too late. However, it is a sad reality that the most civilised citizens around the globe still support the nuclear arms race.
During the Cold War years, the U.S. and the Soviet Union developed elaborate civil defence and underground survival system. There was also an early warning system in place. But due to the proximity of major population centres in India and Pakistan, there is no scope for an early warning system. In less then 30 seconds, short-range missiles, the most advanced bombers, can cover all strategic locations and major civic centres, including New Delhi and Islamabad.
The nuclear path will lead us to a point of no return from the nuclear night and nuclear winter lasting a thousand years. We may be divided. But peace and friendship are the only alternative for the survival of the civilisation. We call upon the leaders of India and Pakistan to "remember your humanity and forget the rest," as pointed out by the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. We appeal to Parliament to declare the South Asian sub-continent a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. If India takes the step, Pakistan will have no choice.
(Professor Dhirendra Sharma is convenor, Committee for Sane Nuclear Policy.)
DOCTOR KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN NOT RELIGIOUS: FAMILY
JON BOONE & ADAM GABBATT
The family of the British doctor shot dead by gunmen in Afghanistan on Sunday rejected the Taliban's claims that she was preaching Christianity to Muslims, saying she was not religious at all.
Karen Woo, 36, a surgeon from London, was among 10 medical workers killed in a remote area of northern Afghanistan on Friday.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killings, with a spokesman saying the group was shot because it was "spying for the Americans" and "preaching Christianity". Woo's family rejected this, calling her a "true hero" who had no religious or political agenda. "Her motivation was purely humanitarian. She was a humanist and had no religious or political agenda," said the family in a statement.
Woo had been due to fly back to the U.K. to marry a former soldier she had met in Kabul.
She was with a group of eight foreign nationals working with the Christian charity International Assistance Mission (IAM) when they were ambushed by men carrying assault rifles in a forested area of Badakhshan province.
"She wanted the world to know there was more than a war going on in Afghanistan, that people were not getting their basic needs met. She wanted the ordinary people of Afghanistan, especially the women and children, to be able to receive healthcare," the family statement said.
"Her commitment was to make whatever difference she could. She was a true hero. Whilst scared, she never let that prevent her from doing things she had to do." The statement came after Woo's fiance, British security worker Mark "Paddy" Smith, spoke of losing the woman he was due to marry in two weeks at Chelsea register office.
General Agha Noor Kemtuz, the local police chief, said that the group had stopped for lunch in a heavily forested area at around 2 p.m., when it was robbed.
The team, which included six Americans, one German and two Afghans, was returning to Kabul after a two-week mission to provide basic healthcare in remote mountain valleys in Nuristan. According to the sole survivor, an Afghan man called Safiullah, the attackers first took their money and then lined them up to be shot.
Kemtuz said Safiullah had been spared after he cried out passages from the Koran and pleaded: "I am a Muslim. Don't kill me." IAM issued a brief statement condemning "this senseless killing of people who have done nothing but serve the poor." Woo's friend, Firuz Rahimi, said she was "a brilliant person to work with".
The pair co-founded another aid organisation, Bridge Afghanistan. He told the BBC last night they had spoken together on the phone the night before she left for the trip: "She was very into doing things she believed in. I will remember her for many things for the short period of time I knew her, not more than two years. She was full of dedication and a very calm person."
A Taliban spokesman claimed the foreigners were killed for spying and attempting to convert Afghans to Christianity an allegation IAM denies. A statement on the Taliban's website made no mention of alleged missionary activity. It said documents found on the foreigners "revealed the enemy was on a clandestine mission against mujahideen in the area." © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
RENEWED DIPLOMATIC OVERTURES TO IRAN
DAVID E. SANGER
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, arguing that an orchestrated series of global sanctions has brought more economic pain than Iran's government anticipated, are making a renewed appeal to Iranian leaders to reopen negotiations on the country's nuclear programme.
The administration's opening to Iran comes as evidence mounts that gasoline shipments to the country have slowed; that at least some banks, from Europe to Pakistan, have cut off dealings with the country for fear that they will lose access to the U.S. financial system; and that Iranian officials have been unable to get foreign investment for several multibillion-dollar oil and gas projects.
Much of that evidence has been reported by the local news media in the Persian Gulf region and is difficult to confirm, but officials with the U.S. Treasury Department say they also believe Iran is having trouble attracting investment for oil and gas projects.
Ms Clinton argued that "the scope and reach" of sanctions adopted over the past two months in the U.S., Europe and parts of Asia "have had real bite," and have given the West new leverage.
Still, both Ms Clinton, in a 20-minute telephone conversation on Friday, and Mr. Obama, in an unusual assessment to editorial writers and columnists at the White House last week, acknowledged that Iranian leaders might be unwilling to give up the nuclear programme a huge source of national pride despite the escalating cost.
"It may be that their ideological commitment to nuclear weapons is such that they're not making a simple cost-benefit analysis on this issue," Mr. Obama told the journalists.
In a sense, the administration's latest overtures are testing the theory behind its decision to push for ever tightening sanctions: that the financial punishment would bring Iran to the negotiating table.
Critics have questioned the approach from the beginning, and even one of Mr. Obama's advisers said while Iran had indicated a willingness to start some kind of talks in September, there was always the chance that the sanctions would backfire, leading the country to "speed up the nuclear programme."
There is also the chance that Iran, which says its nuclear programme is for peaceful uses, will figure out ways around the international crackdown, as it has done with past sets of sanctions.
Mr. Obama's and Ms Clinton's back-to-back public statements appeared to be part of an effort to signal to the Iranian people that the country would continue to suffer if the government did not find what Ms Clinton called "a pathway" to negotiations. A senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that in coming days, the administration would stress its view that "the economic difficulties experienced by the public" in Iran are being caused by choices the Iranian government is making. New York Times News Service
FIGHTING HUNGER: ROLE OF MEDIA AND JUDICIARY
Will the United Progressive Alliance Government take steps to put in place a universal public distribution system to provide food security to the people in a just and caring manner? Although there seems to be no direct governmental effort in that direction so far, the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has been projected by the media as a player interested in making PDS coverage more broad based and more inclusive, with a view to bringing relief to larger sections of the people.
The NAC has given importance not only to ensuring speedy relief to the affected poor but also to improving farm yields in terms of both quality and quantity so as to build sizeable buffer stocks. It has also highlighted the need to correct the system by putting an end to charges of large-scale corruption and inefficiency among the workforce. Another problem to be tackled is the shortage in high quality warehouse facilities.
It has been reported that a "universal" PDS could be taken up for implementation in 1,500 blocks spread over 150 poverty-ridden rural districts in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Assam, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. The choice of areas is apparently political. The context is heightened extremist activities in several parts of the region. More than 95 per cent of the population in these areas is poor.
In addition, the "poorest of the poor" who come under the Antyyodaya Anna Yojna (AAY) families, constituting 2.5 crore among the 6.5 crore BPL (Below the Poverty Line) beneficiary families in India, have been chosen for receiving more benefits at prices much lower than what they pay now. The people who are in the APL (Above the Poverty Line) category in the identified districts are also entitled to 35 kg of wheat or rice, though at slightly higher prices.
The affected people are being brought under PDS coverage, universal or targeted. There seems to be some visible activity in this area. Although the Left parties, eminent scientists such as Professor M.S. Swaminathan, and 'the right to food' activists have been pressing for the revival of Universal PDS, the reluctance of neo-liberal economists and bureaucrats, who played a role in the replacement of Universal PDS with Targeted PDS in the mid-1990s, to violate "stop subsidies" rules is believed to be among the road blocks.
Apex court expresses concern
One thing however is quite clear. The central government will need to clarify its position in the highest court in the land soon enough. A week ago, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court expressed its serious concern over media reports that huge stocks of foodgrains were being wasted in the absence of adequate storage facilities. Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma asked the government to consider releasing the foodgrains to deprived people rather than allowing it to rot. They observed: "In a country where admittedly people are starving, it is a crime to waste even a single grain." The official statement of the government indicated that there was wastage of foodgrains at many places, the judges noted, adding that it might consider constructing adequate warehouses or food storage facilities on a long-term basis. "On a short-term basis, they could also consider hiring warehouses or putting up waterproof tents to save the grain. But all-out efforts must be made to ensure that not a single grain is wasted."
The judges were hearing a public interest litigation case on the right to food filed by People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The PUCL's lawyer, Colin Gonsalves, had brought a report published in the Hindustan Times ("India lets grain rot instead of feeding poor", HT, July 26, 2010) to the court's attention. Citing the news report, the judges commented that it was a crime to waste food in a poor country. They told Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran: "If you cannot store the grain, give it to the people to eat."
The Supreme Court Bench sought a response from the government to the newspaper investigation. It also wanted the central government's response to the judges' suggestion on or before August 10 so that the Court could pass appropriate orders.
The press deserves appreciation for its expose of the government's dismal failure to protect precious stocks of foodgrain procured from different places after spending a lot of money and time. Quoting a highly placed source, the Delhi-based daily revealed how 17.8 million tonnes of wheat and rice, which can feed 140 million people for a month, were allowed to rot. Of this, about 10 million tonnes, having seen through at least one monsoon, was at risk of rotting; if that happened, the country would incur a loss of about Rs. 17,000 crore. Tracking Hunger is an HT and Mint initiative to investigate and report the struggle to rid India of hunger.
Interestingly, some other English language dailies have followed up with insightful pieces. The Indian news media have come some way since the second half of the 1990s, when most of them openly abandoned any claim of being the watchdog of the interests of India's poor. The recent financial meltdown and recessionary crisis that very nearly derailed the economies of the developed world, large-scale unemployment, the collapse of livelihoods, and the sharp rises in the prices of essential commodities have profoundly transformed the context and triggered some elements of new thinking. The hope is that at least some influential sections of India's still-rising news media will now consciously and in a sustained way play the role of watchdog of the interests of the hundreds of millions of Indians who suffer from crippling deprivation and poverty.
THE ASIAN AGE
WILL BUFFET, GATES INSPIRE INDIANS?
Why are Indians so stingy as far as philanthropy goes? Last week, a group of 40 US billionaires led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates who have a combined net worth of $230 billion pledged to give away at least half their wealth to worthy causes. This wasn't a one-time gesture by super-rich individuals trying to placate hostile public opinion after the global financial crisis. Mr Buffett has already publicly pledged to donate 99 per cent of his wealth. Bill Gates and his wife Melinda have also been involved with several worthy causes around the world. But this time, they also carried a lot of other rich individuals with them. Similar examples in India would be very hard to come by.
Interestingly, Mr Buffett and Mr Gates also plan to meet wealthy individuals in India and China over the coming months to get them to take the pledge as well. There should be no lack of prospects at least the two Asian giants have a total of 110 billionaires between them. Pledging away the bulk or even a substantial chunk of your fortune is not a particularly common concept in India at least not yet! But it would be unfair to single out only the rich in this case. Charitable donations whether in terms of money or time are fairly uncommon in this country. Much of the "giving" in India tends to be in a religious or spiritual context, which is an entirely different thing.
Reviled by many for being the most ignorant, selfish and consumerist of societies, Americans could teach us a thing or two in this sphere. In 2008, individual Americans donated a staggering $229 billion to non-profit organisations of all kinds. And not just in money! It is estimated that around a quarter of all Americans volunteer time for a non-profit every year not bad for a so-called "selfish" nation. It is not just charities which benefit from such donations. Educational institutions are pretty high up on the list too. Top American universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton are currently sitting on multi-billion dollar endowment funds. This is money collected from former students over several decades not in the form of fees but as voluntary donations made later in life. The $25.9 billion that the Harvard Endowment Fund manages helps to pay for education and research costs at the university for many less-privileged individuals, including many from India.
It might take a very long time to change attitudes towards the concept of philanthropy in India. But some large and well-publicised examples can surely act as a catalyst. For instance, Nandan Nilekani and Arun Maira have inspired many promising corporate executives to join them in lower-paying, but more satisfying careers with the government. Similar examples of well-known business figures setting aside money for worthy causes might well inspire many more of us to do the same.
Perhaps it may be a good idea to ask successful corporate executives and top businessmen to take leadership roles for specific projects. For instance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working on projects to eradicate malaria and polio and to help improve the incomes of farmers. Similar projects could be set up in India, inviting top business leaders who have demonstrated their skills in other spheres to take the lead in them. Their names would surely inspire more confidence among ordinary citizens in this country. This might also inspire us to become a little more generous with our money, knowing that it would be well spent.
THE ASIAN AGE
ART OF DISINVESTMENT
One of the most effective us es of government investment in public enterprises is to disinvest them when necessary and aim at an appropriate time sequence allowing maximum raising of resources. When our experim e nt with public enterprises started, our policymakers, especially Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, we re fully aware of the potential impact of this disinvestment pr o cess. Public ownership of as s e ts was not as much the purpose of this exercise as the possibility of selling and purchasing of public assets. Controlling public policy was considered the mo st effective use of the commanding heights of the economy.
The essential role of this policy instrument was to enter the market economy with substantive sale and purchase of the assets that would raise revenue and also guide the policy development. For example, se lling government shares of specific enterprises would raise revenue while at the same time influence the prices of those assets to attract resources from the private market and also in f lu ence the private investment de cisions according to market pr ices. If the government decided to sell some of its assets in the market it would set a floor to prices allowing the private in vestors to buy those assets and thereby convert a part of the private savings into public in v e s tment. The sale and purchase of assets is an art to get the maximum revenue out of such sales but is also meant to influence the market prices to guide investment.
Sometimes there is a misunde r standing that if public assets are sold we are giving up control of ownership and through that control of policies. So long as a total share of public investment in an enterprise does not go below 50 per cent, the government does not lose control of ownership and, therefore, control of policies. On the contrary, selective sales and purchase all ow the government to make use of its public investments as an instrument of policymaking. If the aim of those instruments are clear, policy can be fine-tuned, selling assets when they can get maximum market revenue and buying assets when they can raise the prices of those assets. Thus when this instrument is deployed to maximise flexibility it also earns maximum revenues. The management of public investment is an art trying to serve several goals at the same time, with the relative usefulness dependent on market conditions. Essentially, this allows government to have much better control over the market economy without upsetting norms of market behaviour.
I am mentioning all this because our policymakers often make a fetish of the sale and purchase of the public investments. The purpose of disinvestment just as well as investment in our public assets is to maintain a control on the prices of these assets and thereby overall process of economic development. Towards that end, sometimes the government has to sell out its assets or repurchase them, guided by market prices and the potential realisation of market revenues. So long as the net result is not a change in the ownership, the government should have the maximum flexibility to use these instruments.
Recently, the government has taken a decision towards large disinvestment through which, if necessary, the government can sell substantial amount of public assets. That will allow them to raise resources from the market but also influence the relative prices of different assets through their selective sales and purchases. Of late, there has been a substantial increase in the prices of petroleum assets. This is the time when the government should decide on whe ther to buy or sell more of these as sets. You should sell the as sets when you think the expected prices of those assets in the future will be going down. You should buy the assets when the expectations are for a further increase in the prices.
When India embarked on massive expansion of public in v estment it did not have quite the idea of how effective were the methods of controlling the pr ices and therefore investment in many of these assets. Public in vestment was regarded more as gaining control over ownership rather than effective operations, that is why, in the initial ye ars, any attempt to disinvest th ese public assets tended to be equated to giving up the ownership and deviating from the so-called socialist pattern of industry. The Indian policymakers ha ve very quickly learned how to use public investment to control markets, influence their pr i ces and use them for attracting investments from the private sector whether in India or ab r o ad. As the Indian economy de v e loped and the strength of Indian markets and investment in c r e ased, the value of the use of these instruments for controlli ng the markets also expanded. Ev en if the market shares of a public enterprise are not always large, they could be used by In d ian policymakers to get the ma ximum benefits from the ma rket operations. In other wo r ds, while public investment is se en mostly as a question of ownership and benefiting from the rent in terms of net benefit of the economy and also to the enterprises themselves, the fl e x ible use of public investment in different enterprises was ob v iously of a major value to the policymakers.
In this whole exercise of disinvestment or investment of public sector enterprises would ob v iously have substantial benefits, provided their operations re main flexible. The essential precondition of that flexibility was the ability of the public sector management or owners to in vest or disinvest at any particular time and the acceptance or non-acceptance of the liability of the investment. Any attempt to control such investments for reasons other than the need of that enterprise detract from the net value of such operations. So, disinvestment should be ta ken as a normal policy tool of an enterprises to be used in our interest of that enterprises, increase or decrease in ownership should be compared with increase or decrease in flexibility of that operation.
But India has learned over the last several decades of industrialisation how to use public in v estment in specific sectors such as petroleum, steel and other heavy industries and also to operate on the basis of market incentives. Investments must yield adequate returns reckoned in terms of not just commercial benefits but also social benefits calculated according to social preferences. So, disinvestment has assumed the role of a major instrument of policy intervention a clear sign of the maturing of an economy.
Apparently, the government has worked out a programme for disinvestment with these goals in mind and we only hope they will prove to be successful in due course of time.
Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former Economic Adviser to Pri me Minister Indira Gandhi
COUNTING CASTE IS NOT SAME AS CASTE POLITICS
Caste in India is a never-ending source of sociological problems. It is also an endless resource for political parties to exploit. The deadline for political parties to decide on whether to include caste in the ongoing population census ended last week, with a sort of resigned acceptance from most players. The parties which represent the other backward castes (OBCs) were insistent on the inclusion of caste as they are when most policy decisions come up. The Congress started out in an ambivalent mood but then decided that including caste made most sense in terms of both information-gathering and political expediency.
The biggest hurdle, however, had to be crossed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Its mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) was opposed to including caste in the census on the grounds that India was one nation and had no need to be so divided. But some BJP members felt that caste was a factor and the OBC faction led by Gopinath Munde was most vociferously in favour of counting caste.
This dichotomy within the Sangh Parivar is not unusual and has its roots in a simplistic view of politics. The BJP is not just a political platform for the Sangh Parivar and its members. It is a legitimate party and indeed is the main opposition party in India. It has run the government at the Centre and aims to do so again. It also runs several state governments. Therefore, while it is a right-wing party which rode to popularity on the religion card, it has had to adjust its ideology to the demands of the Constitution, the needs of a large and diverse country and to the ever-present gods of political expediency.
In this particular argument, the BJP has probably decided on a pragmatic approach in relation to the RSS's ostensibly "ideological" belief that a caste census will somehow fragment Hindu society. The fact is that caste exists and so do reservations for those castes deemed to be underprivileged and historically exploited. The debate is not about changing our caste policies but about counting. All the census will do is provide up-to-date figures which may well surprise many parties involved in the politics of caste. Who knows, maybe the OBC parties may get a shock of their own. It is, in the ultimate analysis, not the census which will divide us on c
HOLLYWOOD'S HINDU FACE, JULIA ROBERTS
In spite of the early inroads into the West made by spiritual gurus like Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and the Krsna Consciousness cult, Hinduism appeared to have lost the first mover advantage to Buddhism. But now that Hollywood superstar Julia Roberts has "become" a self-proclaimed Hindu, there is some chance that Hinduism will once more gain some profile in the west.
Roberts was reportedly enchanted when she came to India to shoot Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling autobiography, Eat, Pray Love, last year and that is when she "converted". This need for the "materialistic" West to look to the "spiritual" East for enlightenment and sanctuary is almost clichéd and so are the arguments for and against. Both the abandoned religion and the chosen religion are examined closely and compared and supporters and detractors come out in large numbers.
But in fact, it is best to let Roberts "celebrate" her choices and carry on. Hinduism is a large and complex religion with many sides to it. The Hollywood version is one more addition to the spectrum, and perhaps there will be additions to the enormous pantheon as well. No can protest surely as the "pretty woman" chants and celebrates and there will be cause for both as she is unencumbered with any historical baggage here.
WHY WE SHOULDN'T BE HOSTING THE GAMES
We now know what the Commonwealth Games stand for. (It's) Common (for everyone to make) Wealth (at these) Games. Toilet rolls for Rs4,000 each! Must be gold-laced. Treadmills at Rs27 lakh! The high end ones cost less than a tenth of that.
Whatever explanation Suresh Kalmadi and his cohorts have to offer for this kind of criminal folly, it's clear that the Games have been run on two premises. First, the organisers were sure the government would keep on pouring more money since national prestige was involved. Second, the organisers were sure that no questions would be asked. Pity they forgot the media.
There are two questions that arise from the controversy. The first is basic: should India be hosting the Commonwealth Games (CWG) at all. The second is whether we are capable of handling an event of this magnitude.
It may be a bit late to raise the first question, but it can be asked because Kalmadi and the IOA have their sights on the Asian Games and the Olympics after that. The simple answer to the question is thus No. At least not for the next few decades. The basic argument for holding large sporting events is that you create infrastructure. Heaven knows we need infrastructure, but is all of it needed only in Delhi? That's the problem: suddenly Delhi will have a whole lot of stadia, but not the rest of India. If you wanted to build infrastructure, you would draw up a master plan and distribute facilities around the country taking into consideration the sports specialty of each region. Football stadia? Look at Bengal, Goa and Kerala. Which of them needs one urgently? Hockey? Punjab, Haryana. Archery? The North East. Wrestling? UP. And so on.
Planning systematically will be of real benefit to sportsmen. It also ensures that the construction is phased out, say over 10 years, rather than rushed through in two or three years. It means better buildings, not shoddy construction.
There is yet another point about infrastructure. The CWG will now cost the massive sum of Rs35,000crore. A master plan would use only a part of this total. It would earmark a portion for developing sportspersons. How often do we read about the lack of money for sporting academies (cricket always excepted)? How often have we heard complaints about the lack of good coaches because they are too expensive (cricket always excepted)?
The second question seems unpatriotic because it questions our ability to stage an event like the CWG. Why can't we? After all, our industrialists set up massive infrastructure and manufacturing plants in record time, so organisation and planning aren't foreign to our temperament. The basic problem is with who's in charge. An industrial house has an organisational structure built on well-designed hierarchies. Every person has a career at stake.
An Organising Committee like the one for the CWG is an ad hoc group of individuals who are either sports politicians or bureaucrats on temporary loan to committees. They have almost nothing at stake. Is it any surprise the nation's money is being wasted?
Kalmadi was once very proud of his Grand Design for sports in India. It was to spread a sports culture through the country by building facilities in each state by holding our annual National Games at different venues each year. It was a sound idea worthy of implementation. How does holding of the CWG fit in with that vision?
SUCCESS EXPANSION PRINCIPLE
Here's a powerful idea that just might revolutionise the way you work and live if you embrace it at a DNA level: Your life will expand or contract in direct relationship to your willingness to walk directly toward the things that you fear. Do your fears and you'll shine. Run away from them and you shrink from greatness.
Reminds me of what Frank Herbert wrote in Dune: "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
So amazing what happens when you encounter a situation that makes you feel insecure/scared and yet, instead of heading for the metaphorical exit door, you stay strong and do the thing you know you should do. First, you realise that the fear was mostly a hallucination. And second, you get some kind of unexpected reward for your bravery, because on the other side of every fear door lie gorgeous gifts, including personal growth, con?dence and wisdom. I've seen it time and time again.
It's a law of life, I guess. So run toward fear. Start small. Slow and steady always wins the race. And watch the success you so dearly deserve begin to show up. When you most need it.
On the other side of every fear door lie gorgeous gifts.
US SHOULDN'T BE PLAYING SHERIFF
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said last Friday that her government would be discussing with the United Arab Emirates the proposed ban on the BlackBerry services of Canadian company Research In Motion (RIM). State department spokesman Philip Crowley has said that the US is in touch with RIM to understand the issues involved. It is understandable that the Canadian government should step in to defend the interests of RIM. The intervention of the US is curious and intriguing, if not inexplicable.
RIM is in trouble not just with the governments of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which have set a deadline for sharing of encrypted date for security reasons. Failing to do so would mean a ban on BlackBerry services. India too is demanding access to data in the light of a compromise struck by RIM with the Chinese authorities. Company officials deny the arrangement.
It is for RIM, with help from its home government, to fight its battle with the governments of UAE, Saudi Arabia, India and others. The US as a mediator in a commercial dispute raises both eyebrows and questions. As a self-proclaimed leading western power engaged in the global war against terrorism, the US would be interested in how this commercial tussle would unravel because the implications for electronic surveillance are many.
Clinton's statement indicates that while she concedes the security concerns of governments like that of the UAE, she seems to be weighing in favour of the freedoms of a global market where western companies should not face unnecessary and unreasonable restrictions. If that be the case, the forum for resolving the issue is the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The US cannot be playing the role of sheriff in the market place. It happened earlier in the case of Google, when the company went in for a showdown with China saying it wouldn't censor search results. The US weighed in on Google's side, but Google has since decided that discretion is the better part of valour and sought a compromise. One doubts the US intervention had any bearing on the end-result.
WILL ARUNDHATI ROY NOW PRAISE THE JEHADIS AS WELL?
Even if the pro-poor credentials of the Maoists are taken at face value, one wonders to what extent one can root for the subversives whether in the name of the poor or the ummahCivil libertarians are up in arms against any possible police action against Arundhati Roy for her pro-Maoist stance. There are several big guns like Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze who favour a virtual anticipatory bail for the Booker prize winner. Their contention is that support for Maoist insurgency does not constitute a crime. Mamata Banerjee, too, is of the same view although, as is her wont, she was far more forthright in her expression of support for the Sahitya Akademi prize winner Mahashweta Devi. West Bengal would "burn", she had threatened, if the pro-Maoist writer was arrested.
There will be a measure of support for these views although not everyone will endorse Mamata's method of protest. The essence of such liberalism is that the freedom of expression should not be suppressed. It is also undeniable that Maoism elicits a kind of snobbery, especially among the well-off, where support for the rebels is intended to stress their superiority via an overt empathy with the downtrodden.
Or it may be a guilt complex harboured by the affluent over the destitution of the underprivileged. It is the same complex which makes a section of the upper castes root for Mayawati. Since the Maoists are supposed to be fighting for the poor, their supporters in polite society claim a higher moral status than their critics, who are the "running dogs" of capitalism, to turn to a phrase used in Mao Zedong's time against Liu Shaochi and the chairman's other opponents during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
The pro-Maoists believe that their case is ethically foolproof. There are occasional muted murmurs about the violence perpetrated by the insurgents, such as the killing of policemen in Dantewada. But, as the more vocal among the apologists point out, such incidents are unavoidable where the Maoists have to defend themselves. It is the old Leftist argument about the state being the more violent of the two while the working class merely fends off the attacks of the rich and the powerful, thereby causing a few casualties in the process. The underlying assumption is that the state does not really represent the "people". The legitimacy for this stand is drawn from the historical battles of the Bolsheviks, Mao's guerrillas, Fidel Castro's jungle warriors and Ho Chi Minh's peasant army.
The scene in India is a little different in that it is neither a monarchy, nor a dictatorship, nor is it under a regime which is propped up by the Americans, although the last allegation is made in a roundabout way. The main charge made by Roy, Mahashweta Devi and others is that Indian democracy is devoid of any sympathy for the oppressed because its present-day rulers are under the thumb of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Again, this is an old Marxist characterisation of a bourgeois government as a committee of the exploiters.
However, even if the pro-poor credentials of the Maoist supporters are conceded for argument's sake, the point remains as to what extent this entitles them to behave as virtual subversives. The answer may become clearer if the activities of another group of militants the Islamic fundamentalists are taken into account. Will the state allow their supporters the luxury of using the openness of democracy to speak for them? And will the champions of human rights be as vocal in their endorsement of the jehadi cause as the Maoist uprising? Probably not. Yet, the jehadis claim to represent an even larger section of people than the Maoists, who speak for the poor in India only. The Islamists, on the other hand, believe that they are voicing the grievances of the ummah or the entire community of Muslims, who live under dictatorial regimes which are in league with the Americans.
In India, Simi and the Indian Mujahideen have joined the terrorists apparently for the reason stated earlier, and also because of the depressed condition of Muslims in this country and the violence unleashed against them by a seemingly biased state machinery during communal outbreaks as in Gujarat. Like the Maoists, the jehadis also do not expect any redressal of their grievances under the existing system and want to supplant it in India (as well as in the Muslim countries run by America's "puppets") with one which is true to Islamic tenets. Their Caliphate is no different in this respect from the Marxist utopia.
Despite this similarity, there are two reasons why the civil rights groups are more restrained about Islamic fundamentalists than about the Maoists. The first is the fear that the state may be less indulgent towards them if they lean too far towards the jehadis. Society in general, too, will not be all that permissive. And the second is that Islamic militancy lacks the romantic appeal of Marxism, which is not dissimilar to the unending charm of the Robin Hood legend. Islamism, with its stark puritanism based on the "opium" of religion and the oppression of women, lacks that appeal for the left-liberals.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
REMEMBERING AUGUST 9
BEGINNING OF A DECISIVE PHASE IN INDIA'S FREEDOM STRUGGLE AND A DAY SYMBOLIZING BETRAYAL IN KASHMIR
Come August 9 and India celebrates this as an historic day when the country's freedom struggle entered its decisive phase. It was on August 9 in 1942 when the Congress after experimenting half-baked constitutional reforms launched the historic "Quit India" movement asking the British empire to quit lock, stock and barrel leaving the people of India free to decide their own future. On the night of August 9 Gandhiji, Nehru, Maulana Azad and all other senior leaders along with thousands others were arrested and put in jails. The country came under the martial law and untold atrocities were committed on the people struggling for freedom. It were the young socialist leaders headed by Jayaprakash Narayan who took over the leadership to carry forward the struggle to its logical end. JP was arrested and in a daring feat escaped from Hazaribagh jail in Bihar to lead the movement. However, he was again arrested and faced the worst kind of torture by the British rulers in Lahori's Shahi Qilla jail. It was the socialist trio- Dr Ram Manohar Lohi, Aruna Asif Ali and Achyut Patwardhan-who led the struggle from underground, even violating Gandhi's norms of non-violence as a retaliation to the repression let loose by the alien rulers. It was this struggle which heralded the glorious era of freedom not only for India but other countries enslaved by the British imperialists as well. The communists under the Communist Party of India betrayed the struggle by joining the British war efforts after the Soviet Union joined America and Britain as a war ally.
Though on August 14-15 in 1947 India and Pakistan were declared independent dominions but the peoples of the sub-continent have yet to win freedom in the real sense of the term. They are not yet free from ignorance, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, diseases, corruption, social evils and inequalities. Indian leadership failed to honour its commitment of "puran swarajya" or the full empowerment of the people at the grass-root level. In its "Quit India" resolution passed on August 8,1942 the Congress had committed itself to a fully sovereign democratic, secular and federal India with the states enjoying full autonomy including the residuary powers, leaving the centre to deal only with defence, foreign affairs and communications. Such a democratic, federal, secular and fully sovereign India is still a dream. The states have been reduced to the level of municipalities. Pakistan has failed to emerge as a modern, secular and democratic state, as visualized by its founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah in his historic speech to the Constituent Assembly of the new nation. The people of India and Pakistan owe it to the countless martyrs of the prolonged freedom struggle beginning from 1857 to ceaselessly struggle for real freedom, the cherished objective of the freedom struggle. They have also to work for peace in the region and mutual cooperation among the neighbouring countries for ushering into an era of peace and prosperity for their teeming millions.
In Kashmir, August 9 comes as a reminder of the betrayal of the people of Kashmir by the Indian establishment for failing to honour its commitments made on October 1947 when the Instrument of Accession was signed. The accession, as clearly emphasized by Maharaja Hari Singh was limited to three subjects of defence, foreign affairs and communications. Jawahar Lal Nehru as the Prime Minister of India had made it clear that the accession is subject to the ratification by the people "after the peace prevails". While the State's autonomy has been totally eroded with the Indian leadership dealing with Kashmir as a colony, letting loose a reign of terror and committing all sorts of atrocities on the freedom loving people, the commitment of allowing the people to freely exercise their will to decide about the State's future has been honoured only in breach. It was on August 9 in 1953 when Sheikh Abdullah as the duly elected Prime Minister of the State was deposed through a coup managed by New Delhi and arrested. The day for the people of Kashmir symbolizes New Delhi's perfidy. What happened after that is too well known to be repeated. New Delhi imposed on the people one puppet regime after another through rigged elections. The autonomy was eroded unilaterally and brute force was used to suppress the political urges and aspirations of the people. Sheikh Abdullah returned to power through backdoor in January 1975 under what is known as Indira-Sheikh Accord accepting New Delhi's terms. This after his Plebiscite Front struggled for "plebiscite to decide the State's future" for 22 long years. His right hand man, Mirza Afzal Beg, who negotiated with New Delhi on his behalf termed this period as "22 years of waywardness". The Sheikh perpetuated corruption, denied fundamental rights to the people, enforced draconian laws, curbed freedom of the press and silenced every voice of dissent. No doubt, he won people's mandate in 1977 elections but only on anti-India plank. He made way for dynastic rule which the people of the State are suffering till today. Those struggling for their democratic rights are being dealt with brutal force.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
LOOTING OF CAPD STORES
GOVT AGENCIES NEED TO SUPPLEMENT SUPPLIES OF GRAINS AND RICE IN KASHMIR
Looting of contaminated and condemned stocks of rice and wheat flour by from the stores of the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) Department by the people of Hygam and its adjoining villages in Baramulla district on Friday evening is a matter of serious concern. Though belatedly, police has registered a case in this connection on the complaints of the CAPD officials, no inquiry has been initiated as yet in this regard. The rumour mongering among the people that contaminated rice and flour has caused the dearth of some stray dogs in the locality created panic and started ringing the alarm bells in some parts of the valley. The Kashmir region as such has been facing severe shortage of grains and other essential commodities due to continued strike and disturbances during the over two months. After the situation took a turn for the worse, whole distribution system has been disrupted and people were forced to run their kitchens on cooperative basis by sharing the resources among themselves. It was appreciable on the part of the people of Shopian, who contributed about 60 trucks of rations and other essentials for the residents of Srinagar city, where the government agencies has totally failed in maintaining supply of grains and rice besides the medicines. The continued strikes and curfew have created a piquant situation and local people made it sure that the patients in the hospitals get their food and other essentials on daily basis. It is only the social cohesion in Kashmir that helped the needy get essentials from the local residents. In the case of looting of grains and rice from the stores in Hygam is a typical case and needs a serious thought for the reason that people have been forced to resort to such action as essential are not only in short supply but also not made available by the government agencies through its Public Distribution System (PDS) network during the disturbed period. More such cases can take place in the valley due to shortages of essential commodities and uncertainty over their supplies in future. But it is serious that contaminated food grains and rice have found their way in the homes of a large population which can be dangerous for the society. The stores have been stored there only to be destroyed as they have already been declared unfit for human consumption.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
INDIA SEEKS AN EXALTED GLOBAL PROFILE
ELITE'S DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR
A major characteristic of the Indian elite is its insatiable appetite for symbols of grandeur and its obsession with securing entry into exclusive clubs. Examples are the jubilation over India joining the global Nuclear Club (after criticising it for decades as signifying "Atomic Apartheid") and entering the tiny league of nations which can shoot satellites into space. Not to be ignored is New Delhi's smug satisfaction at being invited into the Group of 20 largest economies of the world, and its tireless effort to get a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
Such craving for status comes naturally to our upper crust which spends millions of rupees on exhibitionist weddings and shows uncharacteristic patience in waiting for years for membership of the local gymkhana club or golf course costing Rs 20 lakhs-plus. Status fetishism expresses itself in buying children's admissions to super-expensive schools offering international courses.
Of a piece with this is the government's decision is to create a new numerical sign for the Indian Rupee. "With this", said Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the Rupee "will join the select club of currencies such as the U.S. Dollar, British Pound sterling, Euro and the Japanese Yen that have a clear distinguishing identity." Even the Chinese Yuan doesn't enjoy such elite status.
It's doubtful if the new Rupee symbol "reflects and captures the Indian ethos and culture", as claimed. It's an amalgam of the Roman and Devanagari scripts-and lacks high global recognition value given the world's unfamiliarity with Devanagari. Nor does it have the pictorial quality of Greek, Mandarin or Arabic writing.
The Dollar, Pound and Yen have been major convertible currencies for decades. The Rupee isn't convertible. The Euro sign is of recent origin, but conveys continuity with the Greek letter epsilon through a stylised "e"-and suggests a link with the European civilisational heritage. The Rupee sign lacks such attributes.
That apart, it's hard to see the world readily adopting a new sign for a currency in which very little exchange or trade occurs. Despite its recent growth, India's foreign trade represents only about 1.3 percent of world trade in goods and services. The US and China each have about a one-tenth share. Even the UK, by no means a great and growing power, has a share that's twice higher than India's.
Even higher is the status of a currency in which sovereign governments hold their foreign reserves and commodities like oil, gas, minerals and metals are traded. Here, the Dollar remains dominant although the Euro is growing. Even the Yen hasn't been able to challenge the Dollar's dominance despite "the Japanese Miracle".
China has just displaced Japan as the world's Number Two economy. Its foreign exchange reserves exceed $2 trillion. If China sells off its enormous holdings of US government bonds, it can bring about the US economy's collapse. Yet, the Yuan isn't the world's reserve currency. For this to happen, it's not enough that a nation has a powerful economy. And India, whose GDP is only one-fourth that of China's, isn't remotely in that league.
The craving to place the Rupee among the world's great currencies, then, is less about global acceptance of India as an economic superpower than about its ruling elite's grandiose self-image. The world still sees India as an emerging power, not as China's peer, or even as The Next China. China is an industrial giant and a great manufacturing power. Despite its service sector growth, India isn't a great industrial power. India is seen as-and in reality, remains-a poor country.
However, our policy-makers want to raise India's profile to an exalted level politically, militarily and economically. Consider India's hubris-driven attempt to transform itself from an aid recipient to an aid donor. This became crudely obvious with British Prime Minister David Cameron's recent visit. Indian officials doggedly insisted there must be no British announcement of any aid or donation. This almost led to a diplomatic row.
In part, this reflected New Delhi's annoyance at recent reports of massive embezzlement of British aid to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and British aid minister Andrew Mitchell's announcement of a substantial likely cut in the $610 million aid to what he called "nuclear-armed" India.
India's attempt to reduce dependence on official development assistance (ODA) goes back to the India Development Initiative announced in 2003. Under this, India kicked out all aid donors barring six-US, UK, Russia, Germany, Japan and the European Union (EU). It announced it would no longer accept tied aid. And it launched a tiny ODA programme for some poorer countries.
The aid was terminated in a fit of pique by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, which was upset at the worldwide criticism of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom and some EU countries' effort to fund the victims' relief and rehabilitation. The official explanation was that the small donors' aid was tiny and carried high administration costs. But the real reason was political-and a pretty sordid one. Thus, US aid was retained although it's minuscule (under $50 million). So was paltry Russian assistance. But Dutch and Nordic aid, although substantial, was stopped.
Such refusal of aid is morally reprehensible. A government which has failed to eradicate poverty in 60 years and presides over huge income divides and persistent destitution has surely no right to refuse aid which could benefit India's poor. The decision was driven by the NDA's "India Shining" arrogance, which lost it the 2004 elections. But the UPA continued the policy. Indeed, it launched a power-projection drive by sending relief material and medical assistance to several countries affected by the tsunami of 2004. India tellingly used naval ships and personnel to deliver the aid.
India has since stepped up loan guarantees, technical training and ODA to some poorer countries. This was done partly to generate goodwill where India is investing, and partly to balance growing Chinese influence in Africa. But China is in an altogether different league. Its ODA is estimated at $25 billion. India's is under $1 billion on the best estimates.
For all its strenuous efforts, India continues to be dependent on external aid. It remains a recipient of bilateral assistance, annually totalling over $2 billion-mainly from the EU and Japan. Some of this is targeted at worthy programmes. For instance, two-thirds of British Department for International Development aid goes to health and education. India also remains the biggest borrower of concessional finance from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank-essential for major programmes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and the metro railway.
Indian aid has doubtless done some good in Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Especially relevant are Indian training programmes for judges, police, diplomats and technicians. India's $1.7-billion aid for Afghanistan has attracted praise because of its fine targeting, emphasis on capacity-building, and elimination of middlemen.
Even if some of this is driven by strategic calculations-to neutralise Chinese and Pakistani influence-, the overall effect is positive. This is also true of India's cancellation of debt owed by countries like Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Guyana and Nicaragua.
However, much of India's aid is tied to Indian goods, services, and often, personnel. This contrasts with India's own refusal to accept tied aid! Double standards are also evident in India's economic relations with Africa, based on the extraction of oil, gas and minerals. India, like China, is practising the same kind of mercantile colonialism in Africa for which it has always, rightly, criticised the Western imperialist states. New Delhi must rethink its Africa relations and its aid policy.
Today, neither India nor China presents a model worthy of emulation by the rest of the Third World. Their rapid GDP growth has extracted a high price: ecological destruction, especially in China, and explosive disparities. India's social sector record is abysmal.
The UN Development Programme has just released its Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) estimates, which assess deprivations in education, health, assets and services and provide a fuller portrait of acute poverty than income measures. There are more MPI-poor (421 million) in eight Indian states-Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, UP, and West Bengal-than in the 26 poorest African countries combined (410 million).
India can set a worthy example by adopting an equitable, balanced, climate-responsible development model which assures basic needs with human dignity for all its people, including food security, safe drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, education and public participation. India can also put its growing global power to good use by acting as the representative of underprivileged peoples and nations to demand reform of today's unequal international economic order.
Tragically, there's no debate in the country about the purposes of India's power and the broader aims it should pursue to make the world a better place. India will be ultimately judged by the world not on the basis of its GDP growth, IT achievements or number of billionaires, but its success in combating poverty, in creating a secure, peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood, and in making a better world possible. To do this, our elite must give up its delusions of grandeur.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
A COURTYARD AND OTHER PROVERBS..!
In most of the residential buildings in the city I've noticed that the terrace is one area that's badly maintained, which made me think of a Chinese proverb, 'a courtyard common to all, is swept by none!'
No, no I'm not going to talk about terraces today but focus more on universal truths s often found in proverbs by wise men and others handed down to us. Here are some:
A dog is wiser than a woman; it does not bark at its master: Russian Proverb. Must have been written by a Russian coming home late after his vodka, right?
A drowning man is not troubled by rain: Persian Proverb
A friend's eye is a good mirror: Irish Proverb
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees. William Blake
A hard beginning maketh a good ending. John Heywood
A healthy man is a successful man. French Proverb
A hedge between keeps friendship green. French Proverb: Yes I've seen this so often when friends decide to
stay too closely together, I'm sure you have too.
A hen is heavy when carried far. Irish Proverb.
A little too late, is much too late. German Proverb. I wish our country with its unpunctuality would learn this.
A hungry man is an angry man. English Proverb
A lie travels round the world while truth is putting her boots on. French Proverb.
A loan though old is not a gift. Hungarian Proverb
A monkey never thinks her baby's ugly. Haitian Proverb
A new broom sweeps clean, but the old brush knows all the corners. Irish Proverb. Aha! You men with new wives, you'll soon find this out, soon enough, and we're not talking only about sweeping are we?
A rumor goes in one ear and out many mouths. Chinese proverb
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. Greek Proverb
A silent mouth is melodious. Irish Proverb
A soft answer turneth away wrath but grievous words stir up anger. Bible - Proverbs 151.
A throne is only a bench covered with velvet. French Proverb
A trade not properly learned is an enemy. Irish Proverb
And finally a Japanese proverb you can take with a large dose of salt: A good husband is healthy and absent..!
It is a heart-rending tragedy that has taken place in our trans-Himalayan district of Leh. Cloud burst coupled with mudslides has rocked and engulfed virtually half of the district headquarters of the same name. The other half too is terribly shaken. The inhabitants there have kept awake all through the Friday night worried about the plight of their friends and relatives elsewhere. Yes, they have been concerned about their safety as well. Fearing the worst many of them took shelter in Shanti Stupa overlooking the entire town on the one side and the hills on the other. Their plight reminds one of what the people have gone through in this city in the wake of the 2005 earthquake. Unfortunately, the lower parts of Leh and some villages of the district have been dealt a crueler blow. As debris is being cleared the number of casualties is steadily rising. It seems that we are condemned to count our dead for some more time. Throbbing parts of the town like Saboo and Choglamsar have been lulled into silence. These have been among the worst hit. So have been Nimoo, Basgo and Ney villages of the district. This newspaper was the first and the only one to bring into limelight the fact that a part of the district is in peril because of unusual turn in weather. Flash floods triggered by heavy rains killed, among others, six labourers of the National Hydroelectric Project Corporation (NHPC) engaged in the installation of transmission towers under the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojna (RGGVY). In all, 11 persons were reported to have lost their lives in this phase. What has followed has been a big nightmare. Nobody is sure of the figure of victims in Leh town. One thing is clear that there is nothing like disaster management mechanism. Things can only worsen if even the Army and the para-military forces that are better trained and equipped to handle such pressures themselves are caught in a nasty whirlpool. They take time to recover. It must be said to their credit though that they forget their personal sufferings fast enough to attend to collective welfare.
There is need for changing our basic perception about Leh; we need to realise that it needs to be made safe and secure. Only the naïve will argue that a region known for aridity is not vulnerable to cloud bursts and floods. In recent years the extremely heavy rains, snowfall and consequently overflowing streams causing havoc along the banks have been an almost regular feature. It is to be conceded that while similar occurrences in Jammu and Srinagar get immediate attention these are at the outset overlooked in Leh. The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC-Leh) has been beseeching the State Government for financial help for erecting flood protection measures. It is just a coincidence that only recently we have carried a report in our news columns about the clearance being sought for a Rs 5.5 crore-plan for the Phyang village after its 11 footbridges, 25 irrigation headworks and 60 per cent of protection bunds were washed away. Phyang is said to have come in for more suffering in the latest natural disaster. A lesson for us is to learn fast and set our house in order. This in turn is possible only if we correct our vision. It needs to be understood that Leh is more than merely being the highest desert in the country --- the roof of the world and what not. It is the only district in the country through which the great and historic Indus river flows. The glorious stream in itself is not the cause of foods. It does get swollen because of heavy inflow from the higher reaches. Leh, in addition, has two captivating lakes and glaciers. It has nallahs which are mostly dry but turn dangerous as and when it rains. During summer these narrow streams can assume deadly dimensions when the snow melts in the heights. It is not for nothing that the people living close to them have moved away. In fact, some of them were in the process of building new homes because they had lost their old ones in the earlier floods a couple of years ago; they have been taken aback again.
A colleague who recently visited Leh was in for a big shock. The road to the picturesque Pangong Lake was virtually washed away at a few spots. It was with tremendous effort that he could drive his vehicle out of the mess. There is a visible case for constructing permanent embankments along the nallahs. It is also apparent that their water flow has to be diverted in a manner that it does not overwhelm roads. Besides, as the calamity now tells us, we have to have a second look at the way the Leh town especially is developing. Clearly there are buildings which are obstruction to the natural run of the water. How do we come out of this maze of our own making? Town planners should be engaged to answer the problem of mudslides which are more fatal. There still remains merit in extending aid to Leh district on the basis of its size and backwardness and not merely population. A lot has been done in this direction but much more needs to be done. Just because it is sparsely populated does not mean that it does not require sufficient attention. We should never lose sight of the two more realities: (a) Leh has burst on the global tourism map as one of the top destinations; and, (b) it is eyed enviously by our two neighbours. Therefore, it has to be not one of our most captivating showpieces but also a strong fortification against enemies of the nation. We can't leave it vulnerable on any count --- not even to natural catastrophes. There are a large number of tourists from different countries in Leh even at this juncture. Arguably there is little that we can do in the face of the nature's varied moods. However, it is certainly in our hands to minimise their damaging effect. It requires that requisite paraphernalia is in place. It consists of medical facilities and (land, snow, mud) clearing equipment, on the one hand, and efficient manpower on the other. Leh has brave, dedicated and selfless persons who can look after themselves with a little help and training.
IN AND AROUND J&K
BY D. SUBA CHANDRAN
The disaster in Leh, due to cloud bursts, rains and the human and material casualties clearly highlight the need for the creation of disaster management authority at the State level in J&K, on the models of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), India's apex organization to deal with natural and manmade disasters are still in the process of evolving. J&K state need not have to wait for the complete evolution of the NDMA and then copy paste its structures and hierarchy. Instead, J&K could and should evolve its own State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), based on the current and future needs of the State.
In the last few years, J&K has faced the following major disasters - earthquake, snow slides (referred to as Snow Tsunami), avalanches and minor disasters which occur at regular intervals such as landslides, road accidents, epidemics etc. Unfortunately, the geography and topography of J&K, especially in the interiors, has been very unsympathetic to the people living there. As mentioned by a police officer in his recent book on tourism in Ladakh, there are areas in J&K, that one has to trek for more than a day or two to get a tube of toothpaste! Imagine, if there is a disaster in such a region, how much time it will take for the news to reach the district headquarters in the first place, forget the relief materials arriving there on time!
Besides, given the presence of non-State actors in J&K, the State should also get ready to face man made disasters - from an attack on tunnel or bridge to chemical and biological terrorism. Some threats may be far fetched, but it is always better to be prepared for the worst, for it involves precious human lives.
If there is one State in India, that needs a SDMA on a priority basis, undoubtedly, it is J&K. The SDMA should focus on the following: First, organizing the first responders, with clear standard operating procedures (SOPs). From civilian authorities including the health sector to para-military forces, the first responders should be derived from the departments of Police, Power, Fire-Service, Meteorology, Health, Border Roads Organisation & GREF, PWD etc. While the core team of first responders should consist of the above, there should be other departments as well, working in tandem with the first responders. Of course, this should evolve based on the needs and requirements, which will differ as the situation may demand and are subjective according to the sub regions and districts of J&K. For example, what Poonch may require may be different from what Bhaderwah, Gurez and Leh may need in a disaster situation.
Second, such an effort (towards forming an SDMA) should be a civil-State partnership. The NDMA, though, is formed through a statute and is established primarily by the Union Government, it has sufficient space to include civil-society organizations. This is extremely important, especially in a disaster environment where the State will need assistance from the civil society groups. How much ever prepared the SDMA is, in a disaster situation the State forces may be insufficient. And there may be a large group of well meaning citizens, who would genuinely want to help the situation.
Such an initiative should be welcome and channeled properly, by including them in the SDMA. Imagine, how much of the civil society assistance could not be made good use during the 2005 earthquake in J&K? At times, over enthusiasm by these groups, in fact become a hurdle, than a help, if left unregulated. Also, the civil society groups are important to create an awareness among the people about impending disasters and how to minimize the casualties. One of the young officers, who was involved in the 2005 J&K earthquake relief operations later commented "earthquake don't kill people; bad buildings do." How true! The civil society groups, in particular the media, have a great role to play in creating awareness and also to provide help during a disaster situation. The SDMA should provide sufficient organized space for the civil society.
Third, and more importantly, the State should identify bright young officers from amongst the first responders and give them the mandate to build the SDMA. The State of J&K has quality and experienced young officers, who also have the necessary background, intellectual acumen, undying enthusiasm and energy to build such an institution. The State should make immediate use of them and create a core group, which would build such an institution.
Fourth, there should be enough training and mock exercises for such an organization. This needs intellectual inputs and funding support. This is where the Union Government and the NDMA should help in terms of funding and sharing experiences respectively. From the NDMA to Defence Research and Development Establishment (DRDE) in Gwalior, there are numerous organizations at the national level that provide quality training in facing disaster from handling equipments to field experiences. While the military and para-militaries send their officials on a regular basis to get trained, unfortunately, there is not much interest from the State Governments in sending their officials. The Government of J&K should identify different departments and send their officials to get trained.
Finally, given the nature of the threat, disaster management should be taught as a separate degree course in the universities of Jammu and Srinagar. With sincere, well meaning and forward looking Vice-Chancellors in both the Universities, designing and implementing such a course should not take much time and effort. The Chief Minister should also ensure, that disaster management is taught from the childhood, by including them in the school curriculum, as a part of social sciences.
We may not be able to avert natural disasters. But certainly, we can avoid subsequent human casualties by proper planning, awareness and management. SDMA will be a great tribute to those lives, we have lost.
(The author is Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi)
BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
The Government's decision to deregulate the price of fuel oil and leave it to be determined by market forces is wholly welcome. Till now, Public Sector oil companies were buying oil expensive in the world markets and selling it cheap in the country. The Government was bearing the losses incurred by the oil companies. Opposition wants this policy to continue in order to protect the people from price rise. The consumer is already suffering due to high price of food items and he should not be twice burdened at this time, they say. But will cheap oil really contain price rise?
Say, Indian Oil purchased a liter of petrol from Saudi Arabia for Rs 100 and sold it for Rs 50 in the domestic market. The Government provided a subsidy of Rs 50 to make up the loss incurred by the company. This means that the true price of Rs 100 of oil will have to be paid anyways. Only it will be part paid by the consumer and part paid by the Government. Now, the Government does not have a magic wand. It cannot create money out of thin air. It prints money to make this payment. The currency in circulation increases and that leads to an overall increase in prices. Thus selling oil cheap does not truly contain the price rise. It only shifts the burden bit into the future when the impact of printing presses of Reserve Bank of India begins to be felt. Indeed, it can be said that present high rates of inflation in the country are, in part, due to earlier sale of cheap oil. The opposition's demand is merely to contain the price rise at the present time. Who is worried about the future?
The poor is not much affected by increase in price of oil anyways. Oil is mostly consumed by the rich. The middle class family going for a weekend pleasure trip in the family car feels the pinch of high price of petrol immediately. The poor consume only few goods that are transported from long distances. Thus the rich are more affected by the present price increase. But the burden of subsidy given to oil companies falls on all people, including the poor. This can be explained by a simple example. Say there are two rich persons in a village who own cars. The village Panchayat imposes a tax on all the people of the village to provide subsidy on oil consumed in the village. All the people pay the tax but the benefits are mostly obtained by the rich. The oil subsidy works similarly. All citizens of the country bear the consequences of printing of notes while the rich harvest most benefits.
The correct method of protecting the poor is to demand reduction in taxes imposed on items consumed by the poor. That will easily nullify the impact of increase in price of oil on them. The share of oil in the wholesale price index is 7 percent while that of manufactured goods is 63 percent. It follows that an increase of Rs 4 in the cost of oil can be nullified by a reduction of 44 paise in the price of manufactured goods. Lower taxes on coarse cloth, bicycle, match box, cement, etc. will compensate the poor for the small increase in cost of these items due to increase in price of oil.
The opposition claims that deregulation of price of oil will be beneficial for the private sector oil companies. This is correct. They will get a chance to come back into the market. They had closed down their shutters earlier because the Government was providing subsidy on oil only through public sector companies. Reentry of the private companies will now become possible. But this will not be anti-poor. It will actually be beneficial for the people. A price war will take place between the private- and public players. We have seen the quality of service improve in telecom and civil aviation sectors due to such price wars. Consumers of oil will be similarly benefited. The opposition is actually trying to protect the monopoly and various malpractices that are widespread among the public sector oil companies.
The nation's economic sovereignty is also protected by deregulation of price of oil. We were importing 66 percent of the oil consumed in the country in 1947. This reduced to 20 percent upon finding of oil in the Bombay High in the eighties. The share of imports has again increased to 75-80 percent presently on the back of high growth rates and increase in the demand for energy. This demand is artificially increased further by low price of oil. Deregulation will lead to domestic prices increasing in tandem with international prices. Every consumer will adjust his consumption accordingly. The family will use the car only for reaching the metro station instead of taking a cross-city road travel. The homemaker will cook less urad- and more moong daal to save LPG gas. Companies will install desert coolers in offices instead of air-conditioners. People will install inverters instead of using diesel generators. In such various ways the domestic consumption will reduce when the price of oil increases in the international market. A basic principle of economics is that welfare is best obtained by selling goods at their true market price. Selling goods cheap is as harmful as selling them expensive. Cheap electricity, for example, has taken away the livelihood of millions of handloom weavers. Cheap oil similarly takes away the livelihood of rickshaw pullers. We should not deprive the poor of their livelihood in the shrill call for selling cheap oil.
High price of oil leads is helps in the development of alternate sources of energy. I had an occasion to study the gobar gas plants in Village Shyampur near Haridwar a few years ago. Farmers had closed down their gobar gas plants as soon as cheap LPG gas became available. Thus we lost an alternative source of energy in our infatuation with cheap oil. The same holds for solar power. The cost of solar electricity at present is about Rs 14 per unit. The price is expected to decline to about Rs 10 per unit few years down the line due to technological improvements. I reckon the cost of electricity produced from oil is about Rs 6 per unit presently. Now, assume the price of oil in the international market doubles. The cost of electricity produced from oil becomes Rs 12 per unit while that of solar electricity is Rs 10.In this situation, if the price of oil was subsidized, we would still use oil for generation of electricity because the cost to the producer would be only Rs 6 per unit while cost to the country would be Rs 12. We would produce electricity from oil which is expensive; and not the solar electricity which is cheaper-due to pricing anomalies.
Deregulation of price of oil is wholly desirable. The opposition should not build upon shortsightedness of the voter. It should attack the government on measures that are truly anti-people. They should ask for reduction of taxes on items consumed by the poor to compensate for the impact of high oil price.
BY DR BRAHMA SINGH
The Indian delegation to the Indo-Pak talks, recently held at Lahore, is back in India, disappointed and demoralised, after the failure of the much touted talks. So demoralised, in fact, that its leader, Minister for External Affairs, SM Krishna, threw diplomatic probity to the winds and berated his own Secretary Home, GK Pillai, for contributing to some extent towards the failure of the talks, by making an 'untimely' adverse comment on the role of Pakistan's ISI in the 26/11 Mombai terror attack. Pakistan's Foreign Minister, SMS Qureshi, who was wholly and solely responsible for the failure of the talks must have been greatly relieved at being absolved - even if partially - of his role in their failure. Frustration and demoralisation at the failure of the talks is not, however, confined to the Government circles only. It is glaringly wide spread in the country.
Disappointment over a failure is directly proportional to ones expectations - higher the expectations greater the disappointment. In the present context the nation's expectations, whatever the reasons, had been rather high and hence the present disappointment. Viewed in the light of the recognised tenets of political science, however, there would appear to be nothing surprising about the recent Indo-Pak dialogue collapsing under its own weight.
In terms of political science, India's eagerness for talks with Pakistan would appear to be an effort towards establishment of preconditions for permanent peace with that country through accommodation with diplomacy as its instrument. In itself the effort would appear to be most laudable. Where things seem to have gone wrong is in the actual practice of the art of diplomacy.
While the primary objective of Diplomacy is the promotion of national interests through peaceful means, the means at its disposal for achieving its objective are three viz persuasion, compromise and threat of use of force. The art of diplomacy lies in the correct assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the nation being dealt with and the employment of one, two or all the three means at its disposal in appropriate measure for maximum effect. Quite obviously, persuasion and compromise will work only when the stakes involved between the two nations are not too high and the issue of peace is of mutual benefit. In that case the weaker side could perhaps be persuaded by the stronger to toe the line with offers of substantially lucrative fringe benefits. On the other hand some minor national interests may also be sacrificed for the sake of larger ones and in the genuine interests of peace. However, in cases where stakes involved between the two nations are high, threat of use of force would have to be the dominant factor in the promotion of national interests. Needless to say, here, that a country that intends to use the instrument of the threat of the use of force must possess sufficient military strength to make the deterrent look credible.
Against Pakistan India, after catering for its other multifarious security commitments, seems to be maintaining, at best, a balance of power, with just a precarious tilt in its favour. So precarious, in fact, is the tilt that it is capable of being miscalculated and misunderstood either way. In fact, as revealed by Mr Altaf Gauhar, Pakistan's Secretary Information in the 1960s, all Pakistan's wars against India "were conceived and launched on the basis of one assumption: that the Indians are too cowardly and ill organised to offer any effective military response which could pose a threat to Pakistan". Altaf Gauhar's remarks not only reflect the contempt in which Pakistan holds India's military power but also shows how it has all along been miscalculating the precarious tilt in the balance of power to be in its own favour.
The ignominy suffered by Pakistan during the 1971 war, rather than compelling it to abjure war as an instrument of State policy, has made its hostility towards India even more ardent and resolute. It has only changed its mode of fighting from the disadvantageous open wars to the more advantageous war by proxy - for which India is yet to find an answer. The proxy war unleashed by Pakistan in Kashmir, has already lasted more than twenty years with India remaining at the receiving end all the time. The answer probably lies for India to switch over to an open war - an option that India seems to have blocked by a self-afflicted moratorium on its present military strength.
In the light of observations noted above it would appear that India has never been in the past, nor is it today, militarily strong enough as to be able to use this strength as an instrument of Diplomacy in dealing with Pakistan. Consequently India has invariably been entering into negotiations with Pakistan under the handicap of having only two means - persuasion and compromise - available to it for diplomatic manoeuvrings. Persuasion and compromise, on the other hand, cannot by themselves succeed in ushering in peace in the region for the following reasons:-
a) The stakes involved in the dispute are very high for both the countries with no acceptable alternatives leaving little or no scope for persuasion or compromise.
b) The peace, which India is seeking through talks, is not of mutual benefit to the two countries involved. In fact, as the sponsor of the proxy war in Kashmir and acts of terrorism in the rest of India towards the promotion of its national policy objectives, Pakistan's interests lie more in fanning the fires in India than in extinguishing them.
c) There is no other pressure of any sort - political, economic or moral - on Pakistan, either from India or any other member of the International community, which could compel it to roll-back its aggressive plans against India. India's new found friend, United States, that could have exerted any such pressure are presently too dependent on Pakistan over the Afghan war to risk earning its ire by appearing to side with India.
Even though different governments have been planning for years together to prevent floods or to minimize damages in such eventualities but it appears that some sort of complacence has crept, may be because there was no major flood for a long time now! Our major rivers flowing through the state continue to get silted and at places the river bed is menacingly visible. There was a plan to re-introduce river transport that could make us achieve three-fold objective of increasing the water carrying capacity of these rivers, facilitating movement of mechanized boats through these with consequential benefit of decongestion of roads; unfortunately the fate of the project is unknown till date and perhaps stands consigned to records and the press note files of the Department of Information and Public Relations! Now we don't find even the routine work of the annual strengthening of river bunds. The people too have grown indifferent to the potential flood threats that are looming large and they usually fail to agitate such issues effectively. Instead we find unscrupulous elements making encroachments over water bodies. At places the encroachments pose a serious challenge to the authorities that are in charge of water bodies. At a time when climate change is happening and we need the combined efforts of measuring what's happening with efforts to prevent it, we are not seen doing anything about it. The tragedy that struck Leh should serve as an eye opener to the state government as the freak weather conditions can wreak havoc with our places at much bigger scale than was witnessed there. Freak weather conditions can strike anywhere and anytime; this is the loud and clear message that the incident blares out. In fact there was a forewarning in the shape of floods in Leh and elsewhere in the cold desert region that ravaged some residential areas and agriculture lands only some two years ago. But then the local authorities did not think of planning for future and the nature took its toll. Neither the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council nor the state government has done anything so far to draw a lesson from the earlier floods. With the result the entire populations in the twin districts of Leh and Kargil, as also habitations elsewhere in the state, situated on slopes continue to live on the fatal edge and at risk of getting devastated by flash floods, snowstorms, avalanches, land slips and slides. Well we have an avalanche forewarning system and weather forecasting mechanism in place that help us to caution people of possible catastrophes or rough weather conditions that they would be confronted with in a particular time period. But we have not taken any of the preventive measures on the ground in the shape of relocating the habitations at high risk to safer places or turning these habitations safer by raising structures that could afford some protection to these habitations. Coming back to the issue of preventing floods, minimizing damages caused by these we need to give immediate attention to the de-silting of the water bodies including the rivers, their tributaries and even rivulets and irrigation canals to improve their carrying capacity. The river bunds that are in bad shape at places should get due attention so that these do not breach with the rise in water level. As of now Leh is receiving due attention from Srinagar and Delhi but with the passage of time the problem of vulnerability of the places to such shocking catastrophes may get ignored. We see no activity in Kupwara where different Nullahs are in spate and have inundated many areas as if there is no government in place. We have several Nullahs in the state that are generally seen dry for most of the period of time in a year but turn ferocious once there are torrential rains as the storm waters from catchment areas get drained through these. Almost all the districts in the valley have one or a couple of Nullahs passing through. Unfortunately not much attention is given to flood protection works. We need to have thorough examination and study of the rivers and water bodies so that a comprehensive plan is drawn to prevent losses to life and property. Similarly we need to have studies carried out on the glaciers that are receding at an alarming rate and are potential threat to life and property. We need to have a comprehensive Disaster Management Plan for each district, division and state as a whole to protect life and property.
KASHMIR RESOUNDS IN WASHINGTON
ALL CONCERNED OVER WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE VALLEY
PUNCH LINE BY Z. G. MUHAMMAD
IT was reminiscent of the marathon debates during fifties in the United Nations Security council when the Kashmir dispute with all its dimensions: humanitarian, geo-strategic, India-Pakistan relations, US interests in South Asia, changing international priorities, recent uprising in Kashmir and right to self-determination as enshrined in the UN resolutions on Kashmir resounded past week in the Capitol Hill, Washington D.C.- the house of United States law makers and the seat of global power. More than two hundred delegates from India, Pakistan, both the sides of Jammu and Kashmir, Kashmir Diaspora from all over the world, US think tanks, Congressmen, diplomats from various countries stationed in Washington D.C., prominent US columnists and opinion makers pooled their heads together in the Cannon and Rayburn halls finding ways and means for resolving the Kashmir dispute. The event was the eleventh Kashmir Peace Conference.
The focus of the eleventh International Kashmir Peace conference as was stated by Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, Executive Director in his introductory remarks was to apprise the international community about the the human sufferings and criticality of Kashmir dispute. It was also aimed at calling upon the United Nations to take a 'lead for achieving a fair and lasting settlement of the Kashmir dispute. And 'to pursue were other initiatives have left off, towards long journey on the road to peace. Along with a trilateral approach, an increasing international initiative is required.'
The participants at the two Peace Conferences organized by the Kashmiri American Council and the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers seemed on the same page in impressing upon the international community more particularly the United States to play its role in ending the sixty three years suffering of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Those who made their presentations in the conference included Kuldip Nayar, Writer and Columnist, Muhammad Afzal Sindhu, State Minister, Law and Justice Govt of Pakistan, Prof. Stanley Wolpert, Historian, Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, Ambassador Yusuf Buch, Prof. Hafeez Malik, Villanova University, Prof. Faizanul Haq, University of Buffalo, Mr. Ejaz Sabir, Attorney at Law. Dr. Karen Parker, UN Delegate, Intl. Ed. Development, Dr. Attiya Inaytullah, Member Pakistan National Assembly, Prof. Angana Chateerji, Dr. M.A. Dar, Barrister Sareer Fazil, Munir Akram, Former Ambassador of Pakistan to UN, Justice Rajinder Sachar, Dr. Rodeny Jones, M. Ahmed Bilal Sufi Presidency Research Society, Mr. Hussein Haqani, Pakistan Ambassador in Washington Ms. Victoria Schofield, Ms. Rita Manchandi, Mr. Ved Bhasi , Dr. Jahngir Qazi, Jitender Bakshi, Dr. Farhan Chak, Muzzammil Thakur, Prof. Richard Sharpio, Prof. Maqsood Jafari and Ali S Khan, Executive Director Kashmir Scandinavian Council.
The most encouraging aspect of the conference was the concern shown for the suffering of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and delay in the resolution of Kashmir dispute by the Congressmen. Congressmen who expressed their solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir included Dan Burton, Alder holt, C Danny Davis, , Dannis Kuchinich, Yvette Clark and Joseph Pitts. Congressmen Dan Burton who is known for his advocating Kashmir cause in the United States for past twenty years in his remarks that Kashmir had been very 'dear to his heart' seemed overflowing with emotions. He sounded optimistic in stating that the day was not far off when sufferings of Kashmiris will end and they will live a free and dignified life.' The Congressmen expressed their dissatisfaction over the situation prevailing in the state and called upon ending of the persecution of people in the state, respecting human rights and putting an end to killing of children.
They called upon India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute to the urges and political aspirations of the people of the state without causing any further suffering to the people. Equivocal in their approach for bringing peace in South Asia the Congressmen stated the resolution of Kashmir dispute had become imperative. Some of the Congressmen said the President Obama was fully aware about the importance of Jammu and Kashmir for peace and stability not only in Afghanistan but for the entire south Asia. Congressman Joseph Pitts recalled that President Barack Obama had not fulfilled his campaign promise to engage with the Kashmir issue. Taking a dig at Holbrook special envoy for the region for avoiding even mention the Kashmir word he said was a "disgrace". He emphasized the need for US administration getting more engaged in the region to end suffering of Kashmiri children. Congressman Robert Aderholt said that the ongoing Kashmiri protests were a fresh reminder that that the problem persist with all its dangers. It was not only the Congressmen who wanted the United States to get more engaged in the resolution of Kashmir problem but many important scholars joined them.
Calling for permanent resolution of Kashmir dispute an eminent South Asia expert Prof. Stanley Wolpert in his elaborate presentation stated, " A permanent peaceful resolution to Kashmir Conflict requires solemn diplomatic agreement between India and Pakistan that have full support of Kashmir's most popular leaders. The United States should do whatever it can to expedited the resolution of Kashmir conflict, which has taken a greater toll of human suffering and wasted the resources than any other South Asian catastrophe since the partition of India in mid-1947.' He hoped President Obama during his visit India this November 'will assure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh America's firm commitment to assist him in any way possible to expedite the resolution of the Kashmir conflict.' Many other Indo-Pak-US expert have also pinned hopes with Obama's visit to New Delhi becoming turning point in India-Pakistan relations and resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Dr. Maleeha Lodhi while deliberating in detail upon the sovereignty, security and human rights and humanitarian dimensions of the Kashmir dispute called upon 'dismantling oppressive mechanism brick by brick in Jammu and Kashmir.
The most authentic and erudite Kashmir voice that was heard with rapt attention at the Conference was Kalashpora, Srinagar born octogenarian Ambassador Yusuf Buch, as he is popularly known in the diplomatic and political circle in the United State. He was arrested and exiled in 1948 by the National Conference government for his political beliefs and altercation at a Kashmiri officers meeting with then Deputy Prime Minister, Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad. Denouncing calling Kashmir movement as 'separatist' he said separate what when we never joined and pointing out difference between 'insurgency and resistance'- he said that it is misnomer to call Kashmir movement as insurgency. He said "this language is meant to cultivate a diplomatic culture of evasion. It aims to draw a curtain over present-day reality and provide a moral justification for inaction'. These misrepresentations are also designed to promote a "tolerant" view of a situation that is "hard and pitiless". Notwithstanding this terminology, the killings of 90,000 Kashmiris have added a "transformational reality to the dispute". He questioned "if ongoing large and sustained peaceful protests going on in Kashmir would be ignored if they occurred in a western country.' Not mentioning the United States in an oblique reference to this country he said that this country was avoiding taking a position on Kashmir lest it annoys New Delhi. He identified three factors for world what he called world 'mocking at the agony of Kashmir' the first is that the world has become 'used' to a dispute that has persisted for over six decades. Second the UN, which has obligations on this issue, has been marginalized since the end of the Cold War and third "callousness if not outright cynicism to have become the reserve fund of diplomacy" on the issue. Two adjectives, he said, that are routinely used including by US officials are "historical" and "longstanding". What, he asked, is "historical" about injustices that are being inflicted every day? What is "longstanding" about unarmed teenagers pelting stones to express their opposition to Indian rule?
Stating Kashmir was a 'symptom and not diseases' Kuldip Nayar endorsing Kashmir for its contiguity and demography could have been part of Pakistan but for Pakistan committing mistakes at the inception by sending raiders in Kashmir stated the issue now had become time barred blamed Pakistan for having committed mistakes in at the inception by sending raiders then joining SEATO and SEANTO. Nayar clinging to the stated position of New Delhi said that the status of Kashmir cannot be changed and country cannot allow another partition ruled out changing of borders and altering the constitution positions about Kashmir. But Yusuf Buch in his presentation reminded Mr. Nayar of Nehrus statement on June 26, 1952: "If after a proper plebiscite the people of Kashmir said we do not want to live with India, we are committed to accept this. We will not send an army against them. We will change the Constitution if necessary".
In the conference that ended with the adoption of declaration there were many other valuable presentations made by Justice Rajinder Sachar, Ambassdor Munir Akram, Senator Mushahid Hussain and one by Ahmer Bilal Soofi that need to discussed and debated over. That I may do in my next column.
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KASHMIR: NO IDEAL SOLUTION
BOTH INDIA AND PAKISTAN MUST PERSUADE THEM TO ACCEPT AUTONOMY
BY KULDIP NAYAR
I was one of the participants at the conference which was convened by the Kashmiri-American Council and Association of Humanitarian lawyers. Emotions apart, the diaspora was concerned over the future of the land of their origin.
All agreed, as is the general belief in India, that a delayed political solution of the Kashmir problem is responsible for the eruption of occasional violence or protests in the state. The participants expressed grave concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in Kashmir and demanded the appointment of a commission to investigate the causes of the current violence in the valley, where 43 people have died since June 11 when the present wave began.
I have no doubt that the mishandling of the situation and violation of human rights have contributed to the spread of defiance and destruction in the valley. But the youth were equally determined to pelt stones on security forces.
In fact, the reason behind such occurrences is the alienation of Kashmiris from India and New Delhi's assumption that the people will ultimately come round to accepting the status quo if they were to find the governance just, honest and working for the betterment of the state. The situation has gone beyond that.
There is validity in the argument that the separatists are not allowing the situation to settle down. But the fact remains that people in Kashmir have given Srinagar and New Delhi many chances the recent one being the year-old election in which they participated to the extent of 60 per cent to sort out the problem of autonomy. But the two did not do so.
Where did things go wrong? My experience tells me that the more a political party, or the administration at Srinagar, goes nearer to India the greater is the resentment of people who want to preserve their own identity. A government which is seen challenging New Delhi is liked because it gives them a vicarious satisfaction of being independent. Sheikh Abdullah, a popular Kashmiri leader, understood this. He did not question Kashmir's accession to India but placated the Kashmiris by criticising New Delhi for eroding the state's autonomy. For example, he would say that the Kashmiris would prefer to stay hungry if the atta from India was meant to trample upon their right to stay independent. It may have been a fiction but it worked.
Even Jawaharlal Nehru, the Sheikh's friend and supporter in political battles against the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, did not understand his rhetoric and detained him without trial in southern India for some 12 years. Still Nehru realised rather late that tampering with autonomy had taken the shape of separation and a strong pro-Pakistan tilt. He released the Sheikh and sent him to Islamabad. Unfortunately Nehru died when the Sheikh was in the midst of talks with Gen Ayub Khan, Pakistan's martial law administrator.
Until then Kashmir was a problem between India and Pakistan. They held talks and fought wars but reached nowhere. The Shimla Agreement converted the ceasefire line into the Line of Control. But the two failed to go further because of their domestic compulsions. The Sheikh returned to power and entered into an accord with then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that restored some autonomy which New Delhi had appropriated in his absence. But the Sheikh did not have a free hand because the bureaucracy and the intelligence agencies, by then strong, did not want him to succeed. They "treated me like a chaprasi (peon)," the Sheikh often told me.His son, Farooq Abdullah, much less in stature, tried to retrieve the situation by asking New Delhi to go back to the terms of accession, the centre retaining only three subjects, defence, foreign affairs and communications. Successive governments at New Delhi felt that they could not go back as they feared a backlash. Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was the only person who foresaw the danger in not reaching a settlement. He set up a back channel which almost found a solution when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted by Gen Pervez Musharraf.
I was reminded of the promise Nehru made to the Kashmiris that they would be given an opportunity to decide what they wanted to do with their territory. I told them that Nehru had rejected the demand for a plebiscite in his lifetime. His reasoning was that Pakistan by joining Cento and Seato, the two military pacts against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, had changed the context of the undertaking.
In the '80s, the Kashmir problem became an issue. The Kashmiris too claimed a place on the table for talks on Kashmir. Rigged state elections in 1987 drove the youth from ballot to bullet which Pakistan was willing to provide. The following 10 years saw a running battle between the Kashmiris and the security forces. Thousands died on both sides. The result was a further hiatus between the Kashmiris and New Delhi. Three things happened. One, the anti-India Kashmir leadership constituted a joint body, the All Hurriyat Conference. Two, a secular movement acquired an Islamic edge, particularly because of hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Three, the pro-Pakistan tilt changed into a resolve for independence, the slogan which Yasin Malik, the first militant in Kashmir, raised. Today that sentiment prevails in the shape of a demand that Kashmiris decide their own destiny.
The demand for independence may be genuine but it is not possible. I wonder even if Pakistan would agree to an independent, sovereign state when the chips are down. I opposed the demand at the conference in Washington on two counts: one, India will not agree to another partition on the basis of religion, and two, borders could be made irrelevant but not changed. I also cautioned that Jammu and Ladakh would not go along with the valley to the point of secession.
Yet it would be useful to find out what was the solution that Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif had reached to make the former say: "We were almost there." Former Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri announced at Delhi that they had reached a settlement. What was the solution? And the most important part is whether Kashmiris would accept it? Both India and Pakistan must persuade them to accept autonomy because independence does not seem to find favour in either New Delhi or Islamabad. It can tell upon India's integrity. The Kashmiris should realise that independence is not an ideal solution.
Courtesy: The Dawn(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi)
IF WE ARE STRONG ENOUGH TO RESIST, WE CAN HOPE FOR A BETTER AND SECURER FUTURE, WRITES DR. ABDUL MAJID SIRAJ
IN the midst of political cataclysm pervading in Kashmir and perpetuated from over decades there could be a window of optimism through the dark alleys. The current outbreak of ubiquitous violence and its public response has a singular guise. Every city and village is involved. Every day people come out, defy curfew, demonstrate shouting anti-India slogans, facing head on forces that are fully prepared to shoot and kill. There are no suicide missions declared but the crowds of youth offer their lives as ultimate sacrifice with the clear objective of freedom that drives them. The present wave of dissent manifests itself with a theme of common purpose that runs through all shades of the resistance movement. No one makes heroes or promotes a party. It is slogans of freedom that reverberate in the skies. The blood of youth including from young women is not allowed to dry before more is strewn in the streets of the beleaguered State.
Such times of a revolution have come to other nations of the world. They all came through the worst and emerged as successful nations. In the past the world took notice of violation of human rights and demanded answers from India. Now it is India that is compelled to take notice of its own behaviour in Kashmir. Leader of opposition Mr. Advani demanded a report on Kashmir's alarming situation. The optimism emanates from the natural laws that govern and indicated in aphorism of finite time singularity the conflict has assumed virulent proportions and will have to resolve. There is the historical determination of similar struggles that culminated into free nations.
The political developments in the subcontinent and obligations to significant challenges from natural and ephemeral disasters will exhort governments to take Kashmir dispute as a priority to solve. The international community may seem to be mute observers but behind the scenes pressures are mounting. In addition there is no strength left in the fetters of oppression until they disintegrate.
Notwithstanding the success of political travails, people of Kashmir need to look inwards for hard introspection and find what else needs to be done. It is at this point that an act of catharsis for some may be an essential prelude to ultimate deliverance. The nation has to be prepared for a new form of life and living. Eschew all failings of a consummate society like corruption, deceit and greed. It will help the whole nation if no one receives or pays or condones bribe. All people learn to respect all others. This will result in an implicit egalitarian brotherhood that will be difficult for any aggressive force to penetrate. I find this action necessary because over the years of incompetent governance people who were born and brought up in turmoil become hardened and reclusive. They need to open up and understand a segment of their society and in the process the larger picture will emerge. The young men and women prepared like this will cherish the two strands of liberationism, one too raise social consciousness and the second to enlist support for the struggle.
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HISTORY REPEATS, ROLES REVERSE
QUIT INDIA (1942) AND ABDULLAH'S ARREST (1953)!
DR.JAVID IQBAL WRITES ON THE TWO COURSE-CHANGING EVENTS.
9th August, India the oppressed nation under the British yoke, asked her tormentor to leave lock, stock and barrel in 1942 and in 1953, history repeated albeit with a reversal of roles, India put in prison the very person she had banked on to sell brand India to Kashmir. History is bizarre, its lesson difficult to decipher, as you see nations exercising the very option that was found abhorring, when the whiplash of history struck them. In 1953, with Abdullah's arrest in Kashmir, a needless query was put on a nation, which was imparting moral lessons to the rest of the world. Vis-à-vis Kashmir, the question looms large, and as it stands today, no answers are forthcoming-the confrontation continues.
In 1942, the wheel had turned full circle. All else politically possible, socially viable and nationally feasible had been tried. Faced with mere promises of addressing India's concerns only after World War Second came to a fair conclusion, India felt it had had enough. Britain, the paramount power wanted to ensure India's active participation in the war effort.
Congress, the RAJ felt, held the key. Mahatma Gandhi was a pragmatist. He would not be fed on promises. The RAJ could have his cooperation, at a price! The price he demanded was total Indian Independence. He had a sound argument; a man in bondages could not fight.
Churchill was managing a difficult coalition in Britain. So was Mahatma Gandhi. Congress, India's political conglomerate was never ever, since its inception in later part of 19th century, an ideologically homogenous force. It was, at best an umbrella provided to cover the ideologically diverse political forces. They had nevertheless a common aim - India's independence.
However, with Gandhi's call to Britishers to quit India, the division in the conglomerate became apparent. Communists though a separate party had always played the second fiddle. With the call, they were seen playing a different tune. Russia had switched ends, with Germany pushing towards East in addition to West of Europe. Contrary to Stalinist perception, Hitler did not extend the courtesy of keeping East of Europe in communist hands. Stalin joined allies. In India, Communists preferred to fight fascism of Germans rather than the imperialism of the British.
Mahatma Gandhi was, however in no mood to give the Brits an easy ride in India. Revered as a saint across length and breadth of a country of continental proportions, he was nevertheless down to earth in calculating the pros and cons of the struggle, he nourished. Britain had their satellites in Indian states; Maharajas, Rajas and Nawabs. With this support plus the left handed support of communists, the RAJ felt, they had enough on board to checkmate Mahatma. Gandhi however, was not the one to be checkmated so easily. Whatever Britain might have gained in material terms and in human resources was made questionable in moral terms. Deftly, he would put a question mark on the projected Christian values of the west. He would squeeze their democratic space, their talk of equality and fraternity.
Moreover he had a word of advice for 'Allied' forces. That was to avoid an active confrontation and resist the 'Axis' not by force of arms but by his own novel political tool of 'Satyagarah'. Although attributed to him, Mahatma did not claim it to be a novel method. Jesus Christ, he would remind the West had sermonized on turning the other cheek, in facing violence. "An eye for an eye would leave the whole world blind" said Mahatma. Hard nosed with stiff upper lip, the characteristics British Islanders were known for, remained un-impressed except for pacifists, of whom there were not many, especially with Churchill at the head of proceedings in Britain.
Quit India was an investment in future. And the future did not prove too distant. Within five years, just a breather in the life of nation; Mahatma's anointed successor, Nehru was announcing the arrival of a new dawn. At midnight of 15th August.1947, he was talking of tryst with destiny. Nehru was the star of the show, not Mahatma. He was in distant Noakhali in Bengal trying to cool tempers of his frenzied countrymen. India had gained independence amidst a blood bath. The investment in human terms lay shattered in avenues, lanes and by-lanes across the subcontinent.
Sheikh Abdullah, preferred to lead his people out of communal holocaust, rather than be led by and overtaken by a hateful sentiment. In his case especially, the stakes were very high. Yet, he walked a path angels fear to tread. Mahatma Gandhi saw a ray of hope emanating from Kashmir, while the rest of country was in mad frenzy. Abdullah saw the fallout of sub continental madness in a part of his own state and even with that he was able to keep his main constituents in the vale of Kashmir away from eye for eye frenzy, helped without a doubt by the centuries old Kashmiri values of tolerance. Tolerance that held in the face of grave provocations, until it became a time tested one. Abdullah however had worked-up alliances, which did not stand him in good stead, in the testing time that lay ahead. The one he cherished most was with Mahatma's anointed successor-Pundit Nehru!
Sheikh and Pundit had taken to each other like proverbial lovers. Both saw lot of romance in politics, as both were romanticists, with high sentimental level, levels where pitfalls are not far away, due to equally high expectation level. Sheikh had switched to secular plank, once he was convinced that deprivation is universal and dispossessed might and do exist in all religious, social and ethnic groupings. He opted for secular India, in preference to his co-religionists in Pakistan, with the hope that his Kashmiriyat would find a space in the larger Indian national perspective. He had doubts that the other side might dilute the cultural essence of Kashmir, in the name of religion.
True, Abdullah was religious too and felt strongly that his spiritual belief is not in variance, with the specific features of Kashmir's culture. He had worked it out that strata of religion in Kashmir had a comforting cushion in sub strata of culture. He saw no reason or could visualize, no difficulty of a similar workout at a higher strata of functioning, a merging of beliefs.
However, what was workable at the local level, could not work at the wider strata of Indian nationhood. Or, the working was not to the level of Abdullah's expectations.
Abdullah, in addition was full of fresh ideas and due to high comfort level with his people, he thought, whatever he would plan, would be easily implemental. And it was not an empty boast. The pace and intensity of his land reforms, one and all concede was phenomenal. He achieved it with a rapidity that would have done credit to a socialist of highest order. In the autocratic rule before 1947, most of the large land holdings belonged to the community, which had the same ethnicity and religious hue, as that of rulers.
As it could not be objected to on socio-political grounds, a communal colouring was given to the highly desired reform. In addition, there was an attempt to dilute the cultural and religious mix, which Abdullah had hoped would find space in Indian nationhood. It was easier said than done.
Abdullah's insistence on maintaining the ideal, gave a handle to his detractors to mock him, with the slogan of- Ek Pradhan, Ek Nishan, Ek Vidhan!
Abdullah had just on hope, in the face of heavy odds. His friend Nehru, unfortunately failed to provide the support, he needed to pull through. The gathering storm resulted in reversal of roles, a reversal from the high moral ground of 1942. Kashmir's comfort level with India has failed to come to the levels of expectations of the days the relationship of trust was first put in practice.
Alas! The political honeymoon was short lived, though relationship continues, the usual roll down rocks now and then. The political sagacity needed to put it on track is lacking, the lost credibility would need a huge political input and not the force of arms. Sooner, the better!
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi
[Reunion is subordinate to survival]
IS OMAR A BOY WITH A TOY IN HIS HANDS?
WHAT KIND OF GOVERNMENTS ARE THESE THAT ARE SO DENSE, SO ARROGANT AND SO COMPLETELY AGAINST THE PEOPLE THEY ARE IN POWER TO SERVE
GUEST COLUMN BY SEEMA MUSTAFA
THE flames are searing the skies, and everyone seems to have run out of water. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is using petrol instead of water as is Union Home Minister P.Chidambaram, but the Opposition and the separatists in the state are running around with dry cans, unable to take even a step that could cut into the public anger and anguish with some measure of success.
The people of the Valley ---young, old, women, men----have taken to the streets in what is fast becoming a major civil disobedience movement. Every protest, every clash with the security forces, every person dead or injured, is bringing out more and more people on the streets with the situation now far beyond the control of the state government, or for that matter the UPA government at the centre.
Omar's aunt Khaleda Shah told me in an interview recently that it was as if a "child (Omar) had been given a toy (Jammu and Kashmir) to play with." He did not have the ability or the experience to handle the sensitive border state, and as events have proved, managed to only fuel the fires that have now spread across the state. When he rushed to Delhi for talks, one received any number of messages and phone calls from Kashmir insisting that he had gone to offer his resignation. That was the hope and the belief. But it was not to be.
The chief minister emerged from his meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram and a plethora of central politicians and bureaucrats to inform the media that the two governments had decided on the law and order option as the first recourse. And that the path they had decided to take at the crossroads was not that of peace and reconciliation, but of further confrontation. Curfew would be enforced stringently and the Rapid Action Force would be sent to Jammu and Kashmir to quell the protestors. Strict action would be taken against those who took the law into their own hands, the chief minister declared even while he claimed that his preferred option was that of a political settlement. But even so dialogue, he added, could only happen after peace was restored.
Hundreds and thousands poured into the streets after his media interaction, clashing with the security forces, mourning the deaths of their relatives and friends, and made it clear in a strong message that they were not going to be intimidated by government threats. It was surprising that even after the days and weeks of violence---with 30 persons dying in just a few days---the chief minister and New Delhi had failed to recognize the seriousness of the situation, and the basic fact that the protests in Kashmir today are very very different from anything the state has witnessed in the past.
There are no terrorists from across the border. There is no Lashkar, that the central government imagines is lurking behind every tree and boulder. The separatists have lost their voice, and whether they are in jail or not is a matter of complete indifference to the people agitating on the streets. The protestors have not asked for their release. The Opposition barely exists in the peoples' consciousness and there is no one today, no one person or group whose voice the Kashmiris are willing to listen to. The most credible separatist leader today in the Valley is supposedly Hurriyat's Ali Shah Geelani, recognized as such by even his rivals as well as political parties like the Peoples Democratic Party. He was released from arrest to make an appeal to the people to continue with the protest peacefully and to desist from violence. His call fell on deaf ears, the protests continued, the clashes between the people and the security forces killed and injured, and there is no indication that his plea will be heeded.
In earlier columns one had asked Omar Abdullah to speak to the people, to reach out, to establish contact, to bridge the gap and take quick measures to bring back trust and confidence. Now one can only say that it is too late. He is not in control and given the fact that he was hooted at by people when he visited a hospital, it is clear that he has lost all support. He is not seen as someone who can handle the situation, or a leader who even understands what is going on. And is continuing in office as there is no one else today who has the stature and the ability to bring Kashmir back on an even keel. One asked a senior opposition leader to name one person in whom the people could repose confidence, and the response was silence.
The options thus are few but necessary. One, why are the people so angry? Because---and this one has gathered after speaking to a variety of Kashmiri leaders and journalists---they do not see any hope in sight. The talks with Pakistan have stalled, governance in the state is abysmal, nothing moves---files or jobs, the leadership at all levels is indifferent and apathetic, and there is not a word from either Delhi or Srinagar, not a gesture that can make them think otherwise. The generation born and brought up in conflict does not have the patience of those who have grown up in better days, they have known sorrow and despair in their early years of life, and are not just frustrated and angry but also terrified that nothing will change for the better.
So what is the answer? Speak to the people with patience and kindness and with concrete action, or speak to them with guns and bullets? The second option should not have existed for the government at all, but given the paucity of leadership at both the state and the centre and the not very high calibre of those in politics one finds that governments today are unable to communicate with their people, particularly distressed people, without guns. Restore law and order becomes the clarion call of governments, even as the more devious in authority try and use the period to discredit the people, brand them as terrorists, and thereby justify the use of more and more violence by the state.
A good government would have immediately implemented a series of measures. These could have been a mix of political and developmental measures on the ground, not just in rhetoric. Backed by a statement of concrete steps and a time frame by the Prime Minister, the two governments could have put together a list of steps that would inspire at least some confidence after taking most of the Opposition in the state on board. Release of political prisoners for instance, would have got the separatists on board, and a personal call by the chief minister might have charmed even a reluctant Mehbooba Mufti. After speaking to more friends in Kashmir one will attempt to put these down in the next column asking if the ordinary citizen has the answer, why does it continue to defy governments?
The point is that a lot could have been done, and one wonders at political leaders who did not even bother to try the peaceful approach, and went straight into intensifying confrontation. What kind of governments are these that are so dense, so arrogant and so completely against the people they are in power to serve? The situation in Kashmir is as never before, realise that and react to that otherwise the consequences will shake not just the state but the nation.
(The author is National Affairs Editor, News X.
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THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
KASHMIR FALLS IN SEISMIC ZONE V; IT IS ALSO WORLD'S 'DANGEROUS PLACE' GOVT SHOULD NOT DELAY RELIEF WHENEVER NEEDED
The state government has a secular, liberal constitution. The government response to public sufferings should, therefore, not be guided by political or ideological prejudices. Even if a stone thrower is hurt in Police firing, the authorities should have prompt system to know whether his family can afford the costly treatment or requires the state aid. There should be a proper policy at the levels of planning and financial management that would make the public outreach during turmoil far easier than in peacetime. This policy should be free from political biases and interference from self-appointed custodians of India's national interest. If India really wants to win hearts and minds of people in J&K, the local government here would be damaging India's cause more than the stone throwing mobs if it shies away from reaching out to those hurt in the confrontation. Hundreds of Kashmiri youth, who have braved bullets on head, chest and face during the ongoing turmoil, are undergoing treatment in Valley's various hospitals. Out of the total fifty deaths, seventeen have occurred due to loss of blood and lack of emergency drugs. Several boys lost their eyes to the edgy pebbles that are being propelled toward the crowds by CRPF men as a new war tactic.
Those dead have left daggers in the hearts of their kin. But those who survived and are moaning in hospitals are a lifetime, irreparable scar for their families. The important aspect of this tragedy is that all those wounded Kashmiris belong to average, lowbrow social class. Most of them live on less than Rs 150 a day. These families are right now the priority if the government wants to reconnect with the masses. Such state of affairs generally evokes a wave of social emotion. Volunteers rush with aid. Some noble citizens offer cash to meet the huge costs of treatment. While the people need to organize themselves better to reach out to these needy, the government should take it upon itself that no family prays for the death of its kin when the doctor prescribes a small drug dose costing Rs 1000. Owing to a variety of reasons, including chronic corruption, public service goals in J&K are met largely by accident rather than planning. It needs a full-blown uprising to convince the government that the boys in Srinagar's volatile downtown require a healing touch. The government goes on approving the conventional architecture for long-span bridges in rural areas until a low-intensity flood washes them away. The teachers are held accountable for attendance only when the separatists display the street power. Counseling for youth is mooted only after the stone throwing assumes popular sanctity and the secessionist slogans replace the folklore. When the deadly earthquake hit the subcontinent in 2005, the government woke up to the idea of preparedness. The so called 'Disaster Management Cell' came into being as a response to the earthquake; as if the government did not know that J&K falls within seismic zone V. Strange. Examples galore but the point is why those who rule a state with peculiar features choose to function like the authorities of Punjab or Karnataka. The state is geographically disputed between two nuclear countries, politically unstable and militarily extremely sensitive. Such a state needs not just planning but special planning. On priority the government should put aside Rs 10 Crore corpus fund to mitigate the urgent sufferings. For long-term, let there be a proper budgeting for disaster as well as the conflict.
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
"GOVERNMENT IN HELICOPTER"
TO REACH OUT TO THE PEOPLE, OUR "ELECTED" MINISTERS USE AIR ROUTES RATHER THAN ROADS
We have heard about "Government in Exile", like the one headed by Tibetian spiritual leader Dalai Lama. But the coalition government led by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has given a new dimension to its functioning. It is the government mostly run with the help of helicopters. That means the Blackberry and the latest gadget IPad too has failed.
On Thursday the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir flew to a distance of few kilometres to reach the Institute of Medical Sciences, ironically named after his grand father "Sher-e-Kashmir". This was done to avoid the contact with the "people on ground" whose chief minister he is. So the "connection is intact" but given the situation he had no option but to avoid an eye-to-eye contact with those whom he rules. At the end of the brief visit the "jeering episode" proved him right as he could hurriedly pack up from there.
When Union Home Minister P Chidambaram asked the state government to reach out, it was done very quickly, courtesythe Helicopters state owns. Teams of Ministers were fanned out in different districts and they held "Awami Durbars" in fortified Dak Bungalows and later named them as "meeting with Civil Society". So the meaning of Civil Society too was changed since all those who attended those handful meetings were either NC and Congress workers or the officials who were summoned by the government making their participation mandatory. So the "elected" ministers never touched the roads and flew in air. Even if someone dared to do so he had to do it at the cost of killing his sleep and travel during night. But the connection with people is intact. Even after flying by air, three ministers had to be rescued in Islamabad when "their electorate" surrounded them. Army had to be called in and the police officers were in tizzy to save their jobs.
Not only this the chief minister and ministers who made visits to outside Valley could not reach to airport by road but used Helicopters from Nehru Helipad to take a flight or return to highly secured mansions in Gupkar or Sonwar.
The latest addition, if the sources are to believe is that vegetables for daily use are also imported from Delhi and Jammu on almost daily basis. The fresh vegetables for chief minister, ministers, DGP and other top officials are ferried almost on daily basis since markets in Kashmir are closed for two months now.
One wonders if this political unrest would have taken place a few decades back when helicopters were not in vogue how would have been this "reach" with the "own people" nee "electorate" be possible. So all the time God saves people.
So don't worry the government is in touch with its people, it does not matter whether by road or by air. Igor Sikorsky Zindabad, as he gave us "Government in Helicopter". He is known as "Father of Helicopters".
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
TOMORROW MAY BE TOO LATE
UNLESS THE KASHMIRI LEADERSHIP AND THE GOVERNMENT OF PAKISTAN DON'T MOVE AWAY FROM THEIR SELF-SERVING RHETORIC ON KASHMIR, ALL OUR TOMORROWS WILL BE BLEAK
DR SYED NAZIR GILANI
At least 48 Kashmiri civilians have died so far in police and CRPF action since June 11 and the general population remains under curfew. It is unfortunate that the government which is under oath to do good to all manner of people and security forces who have been admitted into the State to protect 'life', 'honour' and 'property' have failed at core to honour their trust.
The first question that merits attention is in regards to the authority of the government. The basis of governance is the transfer of free opinion of an individual in a free and fair periodic secret ballot. It is unfortunate that after staging this process (ballot) and securing a semblance of a free transfer of opinion the present government is at war with its own mandate. Jammu and Kashmir Government seems to run to a third party in Delhi to seek a solution and of course not for the ongoing street unrest but for welding the cracks in its ability to govern.
It remains for the political wisdom and democratic traditions of Government of India and others in opposition whether they would wish to remain on the side of the people of Kashmir or would err to stand behind the hangman in Kashmir. If NC and Congress coalition collapses for the non discharge of its duty to the electorate, it should be allowed to fail and people should be engaged to suggest an interim alternative. An installation of any other political party to lead the government on a new date and dressed in a new attire would not be the cure. It would a recycling of the old stereotype in Kashmir.
It is encouraging that the Government of India has begun a series of consultations with Kashmiri opinion makers to explore ways to salvage the situation in Kashmir. We hope the process is not the old stereotype and the 'opinion makers' also are not slaves of local prejudices and remain fully mindful of the restraints on their ability to understand the Kashmir issue, if not better, at least keeping in mind the distribution of the people under three administrations, the Diaspora (State Subjects), controls of two sovereign States (India and Pakistan), territorial integrity as defined in article 4 of the J&K Constitution, Legislative authority in accordance with article 48 of the J & K Constitution (read with UN Security Council Resolution of 30 March 1951), Preamble of PaK Constitution and the respective references under the Constitutions of India and Pakistan. All may not be in favour of the people of Kashmir and it is the duty of Kashmiri opinion makers to collate the favourable jurisprudence and increment the case of their people. Wise one's always take a decision on the balance of favourable evidence.
The Government of India would be making a serious error if it goes cold in its duty towards the people of Kashmir and is caught in a process to have "talks to give shape to the real talks". Dialogue with the people of Kashmir first and a dialogue with the Government of Pakistan next remain fundamental to any forward movement. Similarly for Pakistan a dialogue with the people of PaK and Gilgit and Baltistan (State Subjects) first and a dialogue with the Government of India next remain fundamental to a way forward. The two countries do not have to gather evidence to solve a murder case. They have to resolve the question of the title of self determination of a people distributed and controlled by them after August 1948.
India and Pakistan have a local, national and an international discipline to resolve the question of self determination of the people.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Chairman, All Parties Hurriyat Conference (M) has taken a timely step to address an aide memoire to UN Secretary General and invite his attention to the situation in Kashmir (Valley). He has brought to the attention of UN Secretary General that "India has declared an open war in Kashmir. There is blood of innocent children and teenagers spilled on the streets of Kashmir who are being shot dead for demanding the implementation of the solemn pledge made to them by the world community that they would be allowed to decide their future." One should not hold back honest appreciation of the concern shown by Mirwaiz. It is a welcome and substantive step. However, it seems that Mirwaiz did not wait for an input from others concerned (as invited) and that there is an absence of a credible and well organised team of experts or opinion makers in All Parties Hurriyat Conference (G & M) who could assist the leadership to discharge their trust in keeping with the complexity of the Kashmir case.
The aide memoire would have been more relevant for the cognizance of UN Secretary General and helpful to the people of Kashmir if it had made a direct reference to the failure of UN Secretary General under articles 98 and 99 of the UN Charter (Purposes and Principles). For some time the UN Secretary General has not been making any reference to Kashmir in his (their) annual report to the General Assembly as required under article 98. Under article 97 Secretary General is the chief administrative officer of the UN. However, under article 99 the Secretary General has the right to bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security. Under article 20 the Secretary General is responsible for convening special session of the General Assembly at the request of the Security Council or a majority of the members of the UN.
It raises a fundamental question as to whether APHC (G&M) has a reliable understanding of Kashmir case. There is another valid question whether it has been working in accordance with its political discipline adopted on July 31, 1993 and whether the Government of Pakistan has been discharging its trust duties under UNCIP resolutions.
Kashmiri leadership and the Government of Pakistan seem to be doing all except the required relevant in the interests of the people of Kashmir. Unless the two and the people move from the self serving rhetoric on Kashmir, all our tomorrows are bleak and we shall remain restrained in a cul de sac of no honourable exit. Tomorrow may be too late and Kashmiris may lose the constituency of sympathy at home, in India, in Pakistan and at the international level. Our leaders need to revisit their agenda and advocate the right of self determination for all people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The government in Srinagar and the government of India have a higher burden of responsibility to discharge.
Author is London based Secretary General of JKCHR NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations. He can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
INDIA MUST RE-ORIENT ITS CENTRAL POLICE FORCES
FOR over five decades India has been fighting insurgency and terrorism, a phenomenon that has been witnessing a steady rise. The latest in the series has been the violent Naxalite movement that has expanded across India's 'Red Corridor' which has steadily grown from 50 districts in 2001 to 223 of 639 administrative districts in 2009 located across as many as 20 of 28 states.
Yet, after all these years India does not have a force that is specially trained to combat counter-insurgency. Much of this task continues to be the responsibility of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which, of late, has come under brutal attack of the Naxalites. Much has been said about the competence, training, equipment and leadership of the CRPF, which is one of the world's largest central police organisation comprising a sizable 206 battalions that are in perpetual deployment in tasks as varied as crowd control and riot control, guarding of vital installations and historical places of worship, election duty and relief and rescue operations to fighting terrorism. Is it any wonder that neither the CRPF nor any of the other central police organisations such as 159 battalion strong Border Security Force are able to combat the rising menace of insurgency and terrorism in a country where the state police forces have become ineffective to handle such challenges.
The only specialist anti-terrorist force is the National Security Guards (NSG), which again is a small sized force trained to undertake close-quarter anti-terrorist and counter-hijacking operations. But then, commandos of both the Special Action Groups of the NSG comprise deputationists from the Army. Again, the only counter-insurgency force is the Rashtriya Rifles, which again comprises cent per cent Army deputationists. It is a matter of deep concern that one of the world's fastest growing economies with the third largest military force does not have a civilian central force trained and equipped to deal with the menace of terrorism and insurgency that shows no signs of abating. The government must give this serious thought and rectify this grave anomaly.
PRANAB AT RECEIVING END
DON'T LET PESKY CALLERS GET AWAY WITH IT
TWO years ago the Supreme Court took up a common complaint from cell phone users about unsolicited calls and suggested that since the "national-do-not-call registry" had not proved effective, it should be replaced by a "call registry", requiring those willing to receive calls from telemarketers to register themselves. Those who had hoped for some relief after the apex court's intervention underestimated the government's ineffectiveness in dealing with this public nuisance. The issue once again cropped up when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee got a call from a telemarketer while he was in a meeting with Opposition leaders on Thursday.
Pranab's discomfiture has woken up Communications Minister A. Raja. Provoked by wide media coverage of the incident, he has directed his Secretary to seek the operators' explanation on what action they had taken to stop the social menace. Given the track record of the minister and his ministry, not much should be expected from this prompt action other than a possible sacking of the unfortunate caller. Even the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has been sleeping over the issue. It is reported that the regulator is "trying to evolve some mechanism to stop unwanted telemarketing". How many years does it take to nail the offenders, registered or unregistered?
If the TRAI or the Communications Ministry has absolutely no idea about how to handle the problem, it can at least act on the Supreme Court's suggestion, to start with. Secondly, every service provider can be mandated to put in place an effective system to redress consumer complaints and ensure hefty fines on unwanted callers/institutions out to sell a bank scheme, some insurance policy or a housing plot. If the problem still persists, the licence of the defaulter needs to be cancelled. If the Communications Minister and the TRAI can't stop the blatant invasion of citizens' privacy, do they deserve to continue in their posts? Make way for someone who knows how to deal with telecom firms.
GATES-BUFFET INITIATIVE IS EXEMPLARY
THE pledge by 40 US billionaires to give away at least half of their wealth to philanthropic purpose in response to a campaign by Microsoft chief Bill Gates and legendary investor Warren Buffet is an act of great magnanimity worthy of the highest commendation. Buffet, who owns the insurance and investment company Berkshire Hathaway Inc has in fact pledged 99 per cent of his wealth. As New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is himself a billionaire said recently, "The reality of great wealth is that you can't spend it and you can't take it with you."
Considering that this year's Forbes list of the richest people in the world featured two Indians in the top 10 Mukesh Ambani and Lakshmi Mittal and 10 of Asia's top 25 rich are from India, Mr Buffet's recent statement that he and Bill Gates will travel to India and China to meet wealthy individuals to motivate them to join the campaign, is noteworthy. Going by the philanthropic record of India's rich in general, it is anybody's guess if there would be any takers for the campaign in this country. With poverty and illiteracy running deep in India, there is much that people of means can do to provide succour to the teeming millions and to give mass education a boost. But the level of corporate social responsibility discharged by the Indian corporates falls far short of requirements. There is a general obsession to amass riches by means fair or foul and an equally strong urge to hoard wealth. A lot of the philanthropy is an eyewash and is designed to achieve political ends.
The multinationals, some of whom make a killing in India, spend much less towards corporate social responsibility than they do in their own countries. There is indeed need for public-spirited bodies to raise consciousness for greater corporate responsibility. That it is mandatory for all public sector oil companies to spend at least 2 per cent of their net profits on social responsibility is something which needs to be replicated in respect of all undertakings, public and private.
THE IGNORED REVOLUTIONARIES
HOW THEY CONTRIBUTED TO INDIA'S FREEDOM
BY KULDIP NAYAR
IT was a long haul, from New Delhi to Sacramento, near San Francisco in the US. Yet, the journey was worth undertaking despite the hazards at my age. It was a pilgrimage. This is the place where half a dozen Sikhs, staunch Marxists, led a contingent of people to India to light the flame of revolution in 1913. The purpose was to free India from bondage. They made two attempts through sea routes, roping in even a few Sikh regiments under the British.
Both times the revolutionaries, known as the Gadhari babas (the elderly revolutionaries), were betrayed by the agents planted within their ranks. The well-known intellectual, Hardyal, who was part of the Gadhar movement, also betrayed the babas and went over to the British side when World War I commenced. Communist leader Sohan Singh Josh, living in India, said that by changing sides, Hardyal brought shame on himself and his past. Barkatullah, also a revolutionary, stood firm on the side of the Ghadarites. His grave is visited by scores of people every day.
The British set up a tribunal to try those who had defied the Empire. Many were hanged with barely a ripple in India. Even today the country hardly knows their sacrifice. Only a few of the revolutionaries like Kartar Singh Sarabha and Sohan Singh Bakan are known in certain areas of Punjab. There is no mention of them in any textbook throughout India.
The labour settled in Canada too charted the Komagata Maru, a Japanese merchant ship, and sailed to India. The ship found no port on the way to Calcutta to berth. They too were butchered by the British. However, the difference between the effort from Canada and that from San Francisco was the difference of ideology.
From Canada a rich Sikh, Gurdip Singh, hired the ship to carry cargo but the Komagata Maru became the focus of revolution because the labour on the ship defied the owner and raised the standard of revolt. Mewa Singh, an unknown local priest, shot William Hopkinson dead in the Vancouver court where he was waiting to denounce the philosophy which the Gadhar Party was trying to expound.
The Komagata Maru incident provided the spark that lit the fire of defiance among the Indians abroad. The Ghadar, the party's organ, wrote relentlessly to exhort people to revolt. Several thousand men living abroad caught the earliest boat to reach India.
Some five years ago, migrants from India settled in California Sacramento is its capital constituted the Gadhar Memorial Committee to organise functions in memory of the Gadhari babas. The committee holds a meeting every year on the second Saturday of July.
I was the main speaker this year. People from different parts of America thronged a big hall and sat through the four-hour-long meeting when half a dozen speakers dilated on the sacrifice and selflessness of the Ghadari babas and wished if India could let its countrymen know how a handful of ordinary men embarked on the task of ousting the British. Among the speakers was the Vice-Chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.
The Gadhari babas started the struggle from a small building which is there even today in the midst of living quarters of San Francisco. The Government of India has taken over the building and looks after its maintenance. New Delhi needs to spend more on setting up a museum to display things that are associated with the babas. One of their documents, already framed, says that a free India they envisaged would have a federal structure and would be called the United States of India.
The Ghadari babas were among the labourers who went to America and Canada in 1906 from Punjab, largely from the Doaba region. They constituted the Ghadar Party. They brought out a weekly in Urdu, Ghadar, to spread their message. Subsequently, they brought out its Gurmukhi edition. This reminded me of Harijan, launched by Mahatma Gandhi, to guide the national movement for independence.
The Sikhs were the backbone of the Gadhar Party. Gurmukhi was its language and the gurdwara its meeting venue. The party brought Sikhs back into the political mainstream and washed away the stigma on the community for having supported the British in the first national uprising in 1857. The party was secular. In one of the booklets which the Gadhar Party issued had one poem:
No Pundits or Mullahs do we need/ No prayers or litanies we need recite/ These will only scuttle our boat/ Draw the sword; this time to fight/ Though Hindus, Mussalmans and Sikhs we be,/ Sons of Bharat are we still/ Put aside your arguments for another day/ Call of the hour is to kill
The difference was that the Gadhar Party had no compunction in propagating the use of force while Gandhiji's faith in non-violence was unshakable. No doubt, he is responsible for winning us Independence, yet the sacrifice of the revolutionaries Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukh Dev came to the scene later was not small in importance. They made the British falter in their confidence to rule India.
The Ghadarite committee is preparing to celebrate in 2013 the centenary of the babas' movement. I wish the Government of India could participate in the celebrations to recall their role. Gandhiji paid a tribute to the bravery of the revolutionaries in his reply to Sukh Dev's letter. "The writer is not 'one of many.' Many do not seek the gallows for political freedom. However condemnable political murder may be, it is not possible to withhold recognition of the love of the country and the courage which inspires such awful deeds. And let us hope that the cult of political assassination is not growing if the Indian experiment succeeds, as it is bound to, the occupation of the political assassin will be gone forever. At any rate, I am working in that faith."
Revolution has such a cleansing effect that people give up their selfish way of living and adopt a policy that involves all in a battle for egalitarianism. Today's India has to remember this the most.
PORTRAIT OF A LADY
BY HARISH DHILLON
THERE is in my house, a photograph of a lady. A simple photograph, in a simple frame. Yet every visitor, who comes to the house, stops to look intently at it. They comment on how beautiful the lady is and she is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, on the grace and dignity with which she stares into the camera, on her regal bearing and the air of authority that she exudes. And then, after all these comments, they turn to me and ask; "Who is she"? And I always answer with a deep feeling of pride; "She is was my Mamiji."
Yes, she is in the past tense now because she died in the early hours the other day. Her name was Mrs Lakhinder Nakai, widow of Lt-Gen JS Nakai. My first memory of her goes back to when I was in class VI in Sanawar. My Mamaji had just got married and on the way for their honeymoon in Shimla, they stopped to meet my sister and me. Apart from the very welcome gifts of food and money that she brought, my heart warmed to her because of her beauty and grace.
She was a perfectionist in every way and she could not tolerate any thing less in those around her. This became especially difficult when her husband became an army commander. When she tried to impose her deep sense of propriety on the wives of the junior officers, she was called ruthless, arrogant and snobbish. But many of these young officers' wives, in years to come, were grateful to her for the so called ruthlessness and what it had taught them.
With those she cared for she was generous to a fault. Seeing my bare lobby, she went home, rolled up one of her exquisite carpets and had it delivered to me.
Many remember her for much more than her demand for perfection. They remember her as spending day after day persuading the civil administration to make land available to mother Teresa for setting up a home for the destitute and the dying. They remember her for her concern for the welfare of the young army wives who lived a lonely life in separated family accommodation while their husbands were posted to field areas.
In the end, life was not kind to her. She was struck by Parkinsons, in a particularly virulent form. She wasted away, became frail and weak, a sad shadow of her former self. But she retained her dignity till the very end. She did not want people to see her condition and feel sorry for her. She saw this in my eyes, the last time I went to see her and, after a polite five minutes, she said, "Harish please go."
I know people will still come to my house. They will stop in front of that portrait and they will ask; "Who is this"? And I will tell them, with my heart swelling with pride; "This is a lady, who kept her dignity even in the face of death. She is my Mamiji!".
CLINICAL TRIALS IN INDIA: NEED FOR BIOETHICS
RADHA SAINI AND SUKHWINDER SINGH
THE recent directions of the Medical Council of India state that health care providers are not entitled to endorse any specific pharmaceutical company product to patients and also not to conduct any drug trial on patients without proper ethical considerations. The amendment further states that no research study or clinical trial should be conducted on human beings without taking into consideration the bioethics and hence no one shall be subjected without his/her consent to medical or scientific experimentation.
As a matter of fact, more than two-thirds of pharmaceutical company based clinical trials are conducted in developing countries as compared to developed countries. It is estimated that one in four clinical trials in the world are now conducted in India and the turnover for the industry is expected to touch $ 1.52 billion by this year (2010).
India has a global market share of almost 50 per cent in the clinical trial business at present. The main reason behind conducting clinical trials in India and many other developing countries is the fact that many of the mission hospitals and charitable hospitals are fund starved, have poverty stricken patients, and hence high enrolment rates and good patient compliance which provide a smooth platform to unscrupulous medical practitioners for their vested interests, gifts and monetary allowances .Thus the practice of using poor people as guinea pigs for the clinical trials goes on with impunity.
Every clinical trial being conducted on human population must adhere to four basic principles of ethics, namely principles of autonomy, beneficence, non-malfeasance and justice. The work of the Institutional ethics committee (IEC) is to not only review the proposed research protocols but also to timely monitor the working of these trials with a view to evaluating the compliance of ethics during the period of trial.
In the case of drug trials appropriate approval must be obtained from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) as is necessary under Schedule "Y" of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, amended in 2005. But the question arises as to what extent in actual the pharmaceutical companies obtain the clearance from the DCGI. The investigator should also get approval of the ethics committee of the institution before submitting it to the DCGI.
Every clinical trial must register with the Clinical Trial Registry of India (CTRI) of the ICMR before its beginning and enrolling study participants. The Indian Good Clinical Practices (GCP) based on international guidelines issued by WHO and International Committee on Harmonisation (ICH) provide operative guidelines for ethical and scientific standards for the designing of trial protocol.
Proper informed consent must be obtained from every research participant and in case an individual who is not able to give informed consent, the consent of the legal guardian must be taken and it should be totally on a voluntary basis in a way to protect the client's autonomy.
Informed consent can be waived in the conditions where research is done in emergency situations, publicly available information, documents, records and biological samples from deceased individuals, leftover samples after clinical investigations etc. At every step the confidentiality of the client must be safeguarded.
All research participants are also subjected to free ancillary care i.e. care/treatment which a client may require during the time he is undergoing the trial. So in such a case all payments, reimbursements and medical services to be provided to the participants should be approved by the IEC.
Similarly every research participant is also liable to get post-trial assess and special care must be taken when trials are to be conducted on pregnant women, lactating mothers, children and other vulnerable populations involving mentally challenged individuals and handicapped people.
The investigator must safeguard the confidentiality of research participant unless a court of law demands it, or there is a threat to a person's life, in case of severe drug reaction. Proper compensation for accidental injury, temporary or permanent impairment must be provided by the sponsor pharmaceutical company and this must be decided at the beginning of the trial. There is also a need to have a strong pharmaco-vigilance programme to monitor the adverse effects of drugs.
The results of the study also must not be disclosed to the media unless proper ethical background is formed and necessary permissions are obtained from sponsors, principal the investigator and the institution and that must always be with objective to benefit the community at large.
The Medical Council of India has also amended criteria for appointment of medical teachers and hence every assistant professor, lecturer will have to publish sufficient number of papers before being promoted to the post of Associate professor or Professor. Young staff that does a lot of research and writing may be forced to share authorship and at times give away the first authorship. Hence they are left on the whims and fancy of their bosses or respective Heads of Departments.
The Medical Council of India must form stringent guidelines related to ethics involved in conducting the clinical trials and this will not be effective unless and until some punitive measures and laws are made and implemented. Licenses of such doctors need to be cancelled /revoked by the state councils and at the same time deterrent punishments be given to them.
The need of the hour is a massive, propulsive and compulsive propaganda about the bioethics education in medical and nursing practice. Let us all save our poor patients who on one side are afflicted and cursed with deadly diseases and hence find it all the more hard to cope in terms of finances and resources and on the other side, unknowingly become guinea pigs in the hands of such unscrupulous physicians who for their vested interests even do not hesitate to bring a shame on the noble Hippocratic oath and self-respect.
Ms Radha Saini underwent long-term training programme on Bioethics funded by the NIH AND the Fogarty International Centre, USA, under the auspices of the ICMR, New Delhi, and is working as Lecturer in Gian Sagar College of Nursing. Dr Sukhwinder Singh is Vice-Chairman of Gian Sagar Educational Trust,Ramnagar
UNFOUNDED FEARS OF DOCTORS
BY THE ENACTMENT OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, THE GOVERNMENT HAS PROVIDED THE CONSUMER AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE CIVIL COURTS, WHERE ADMITTEDLY THE LITIGATION IS NOT ONLY EXPENSIVE BUT ALSO DRAGS ON FOR DECADES
MAJOR-GEN SATINDER KAPOOR (RETD)
IN the article "The Doctor and the Consumer Protection Act" (July 12), Dr Gurinderjit Singh has recommended that the medical professionals should be excluded from the ambit of the Consumer Protection (CP) Act because the Benches of consumer fora are likely to commit errors in their orders and because the complainant has to pay no court fee many frivolous complaints are being filed. The apex court, having discussed all aspects related to dealing with the cases of medical negligence, in a landmark judgement, in the case of the Indian Medical Association Vs VP Shanta, had held that the treatment given by medical professionals comes under the purview of the CP Act. It was also the view of the court that the medical professionals cannot be left out of the ambit of the CP Act merely because they belong to the medical profession and that they are governed by the Indian Medical Council Act, which puts them under disciplinary control of the Medical Council of India/State Medical Councils, as it gave no solace to a sufferer of medical negligence and as such his right to seek redress could not be extinguished.
By the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, the government has provided the consumer an alternative to the civil courts, where admittedly; the litigation is not only expensive but also drags on for decades. The government, through the Consumer Protection Act, has promised to provide "cheap and speedy" justice to the consumer.
This Act, even though pro-consumer, adequately protects the doctors as well. It is settled law that in cases of alleged medical negligence, a doctor or a hospital cannot be held to be guilty merely because the patient did not respond favourably to the treatment. It is also settled law that the negligence has to be proved by cogent evidence. It is understood by the Bench that there is inherent danger in performing certain operations or procedures and once the patient has been informed of these and subsequently something goes wrong, the doctor or the hospital is not to be held liable.
As long as the doctor possesses the requisite medical qualification to treat the patient and the required infrastructure, facilities, equipment and para medical staff to treat the patient as well as to meet expected emergencies is available and the treatment given is as per accepted norms/protocol, the doctors and the hospitals have nothing to worry.
The law is also settled that a doctor cannot be held negligent only because another doctor would have performed better or would have adopted a different line of treatment or procedure. A doctor is only expected to treat a patient as any other doctor of average competence would do and to follow anyone of the accepted norm/procedure or practice. The result of the treatment is of no consequence in coming to the conclusion regarding medical negligence.
Now looking at the other side of the coin, we have a helpless and hapless consumer who is to grapple with sickness as well as financial stress due to expenses of treatment and who in an unfortunate situation has also to deal with litigation involving medical negligence. In our country where quacks treat patients, medical practitioners without any recognised degree are countless, homoeopathic doctors are administering allopathic injections and are prescribing allopathic medicines, nursing homes/clinics are being run under most unhygienic conditions, patients are being treated without proper diagnostic tests, no record of treatment or diagnosis is maintained, wrong limbs, organs or teeth are being operated or extracted, operating instruments are being left inside the body, no proper receipt for the payment is given, doctors employed in government hospitals perform operations in private clinics/hospitals without making any entry in the treatment record for fear of discovery, recommendation to push a sufferer of medical negligence to a civil court is not only against the statute but is also inhuman.
It beats all logic that a doctor wants to avoid adjudication of a complaint by the consumer fora, where the Bench, in addition to a retired judge with vast judicial experience, also has two dignified and mature members, drawn from society, to take a more balanced view.
The writer is a former member of the State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, UT, Chandigarh
IS KALMADI THE ONLY ONE AT FAULT?
'STARTLING' REVELATIONS ABOUT THE CWG HAVE BEEN IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN FOR A WHILE, BUT FEW SEEMED TO CARE UNTIL NOW
In 1991, jewellery tycoon Gerald Ratner, who successfully turned his family jewellery business into a billion-dollar public enterprise, made a speech where he called his products "total crap" and boasted that some of his earrings were "cheaper than a prawn sandwich". It immediately wiped off much of his fortune and Ratner lost his job. It was a moment that has been immortalised in the annals of corporate history, with the phrase "doing a Ratner" becoming a textbook case of what not to do as a leader. By those standards, Suresh Kalmadi has not yet had a real Ratnerlike gaffe but perhaps that is because he didn't need to. Much of the reality of the Commonwealth Games has been self-evident for months to anyone who lives in the capital. One doesn't need a Kalmadi gaffe to see unfinished stadiums, potholed roads or overshooting budgets.
Perhaps the real surprise is the intense screeching we are seeing daily on our television screens. The collective might of the press has suddenly descended on the Commonwealth Games as if it has discovered a long-kept secret. This might have been understandable if the Games were being held in some forlorn backwater where access was difficult. But the Games have been a daily presence for nearly a decade now in the nation's capital, where almost every national media group is also headquartered. Did the reporters and editors who are leading the charge now not notice a thing earlier? For instance, the Comptroller and Auditor General's report indicting the Games effort came out in August last year. It was also covered at the time by one or two major outlets and it's a bit silly now to see breaking news tickers about it as if it is a brand new revelation. Similarly for the costs, virtually every month that Parliament has been in session in the past five years or so, some MP or the other has raised a question over the costs of the Games. The Games' burgeoning budget is a disaster but it has never been a great secret for anyone who cared to look. The scandal about the payments to London firms apart, if you only saw the television coverage, however, you would think that we have been hit by a calamity overnight.
Perhaps the problem is in the culture of minute-to-minute breaking news where the Commonwealth Games is only 'news' in the two months leading up to it or when someone else hurls a charge. With honourable exceptions, much of our press has had its vision too close to its nose. As the media theorist Michael Schudson has argued, news, defined by its gatekeepers in the newsrooms, is a shared set of suppositions and it ends up being much more of a purveyor of conventional wisdom than we think. Now that the Commonwealth Games is a 'story', what we are seeing on our screens is a minute-by-minute shooting match against Kalmadi, who has come to personify the problems of the Games. All this without any real debate about the structural reasons behind this disaster such as the failure of the various government agencies that were responsible DDA, SAI, MCD, NDMC and the lack of accountability from the rest of the government. Kalmadi has much to answer for, no doubt, but the Organising Committee is also a convenient scapegoat in the kneejerk media assault we are seeing. We have had better informed coverage of the Maoist problem from the dark corners of India than of the Commonwealth Games which sits right in the heart of the capital.
The fact is that the Games are an indictment of our deeper political and governance structure. In Parliament on Friday, as the entire Opposition stalled proceedings, the BJP MP Kirti Azad went so far as to call the government a blind "Gandhari". Does it only take screeching media headlines to elicit this kind of Opposition vigilance? Why was the government not held accountable earlier when something could at least have been done? The Left, the Samajwadi Party and the JD (U) at least have a clear conscience on this but the BJP would do well to look at its own record. The Games bid was initially won under the Vajpayee government and in the intervening years, the BJP's local leaders in Delhi have rarely questioned the Sheila Dixit government in the State Assembly or in city administrative bodies on the priorities shaping the flow of Games money. It is very well to question the government now and it must be held accountable but there is a lesson here for everyone who is being sanctimonious.
Kalmadi may be the face of these Games but the real story is how virtually every stakeholder seems to have done a Kalmadi.
CENTRE'S VETO ON GST NEEDS TO BE VETOED
Until a fortnight ago, there were no doubts about the government's ability to meet its target of rolling out the goods and services tax (GST) from April 2011. The broad framework of the proposed GST regime had many flaws, but what gave satisfaction to public finance experts was the fact that at last a basic and workable structure was in place. There were too many exemptions and more than one rate for goods, but the three-year transition period held out the hope that at the end of it, the country would see a single GST rate of 16 per cent at the Centre and the states. This was way above the 12 per cent rate recommended by the 13th Finance Commission, but the big relief was that the Centre had managed a broad consensus among most states on GST and it was even ready to introduce a Constitution amendment Bill in Parliament during the ongoing monsoon session.
That sense of relief has dissipated rather prematurely after last Wednesday's meeting of the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers on GST. There are now grave doubts about the Centre's ability to adhere to the target of rolling out of the GST from April next year. Three issues have contributed to this dramatic change in outlook. One, the proposed Constitution amendment Bill has vested the Union finance minister with a veto power as a member of the GST Council of finance ministers. Two, the proposal to create a GST Disputes Authority under the provisions of the Constitution amendment Bill has met with opposition from many states. Three, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's suggestion to include petroleum products within the GST ambit has underlined the need for a fresh discussion paper on the new tax structure.
It is reasonable to argue that a GST Disputes Authority should be created through a Constitution amendment Bill, without which it cannot have jurisdiction over both the Centre and the states. The states' argument that the Authority's creation could be mandated under separate GST legislations to be passed by the Centre and the states, therefore, does not hold much water. Similarly, the inclusion of petroleum products under the GST may be a desirable goal, but its implementation at this stage is not advisable. Any such proposal will necessarily mean further delay with a new discussion paper and the April 2011 deadline for the new taxation regime will surely be missed. The most contentious of all the proposals is the veto power for the Union finance minister in the GST Council. If indeed all decisions of the Council will have to be approved with a two-thirds majority, there is no reason why the Centre should retain a veto power. The idea of a veto power is intrinsically inimical to and inconsistent with the quasi-federal structure that binds the country together. Tinkering with that structure is neither beneficial for anyone nor desirable. The Centre should note that the opposition to the Union finance minister's veto power at the GST Council has come not only from the Opposition-ruled states, but also from some Congress-ruled ones. The least the Centre should now do is to withdraw the veto power for the Union finance minister in the Council and thereby uphold the federal principles that define Centre-state financial relations in India.
A NEW TYPE OF CASTE SYSTEM AT AN IIT
Many Indians have continually complained that Indian politics has been destroyed by dynastic rule. This is apparent not only at the Centre but also in the states. In fact, there is an interesting story about an erstwhile state chief minister. Some journalists pointed out to him that all his government's contracts and other largesse go out to his sons only. He, famously quipped that whoever gets it will be somebody's son, so why not his own? Indeed, the advantages and disadvantages of birth are borne by most in India. This is something that has been with us since ancient times the caste system. And our modern-day society has added layers of sophistication to the way it plays out. Thus, it has become useful for some to be branded as low caste as was witnessed a couple of years ago in the riots and protests organised by the Gujjars of North India who wanted scheduled-caste status. And, it plays out every day as groups fight to be classified as other backward castes. Thus, what was traditionally thought to be a disadvantage is now increasingly viewed as a blessing, in disguise. No wonder most political parties like playing the caste card.
The caste system that had its roots in the occupational categorisation of people has been refurbished in modern, democratic India. Thus, lawyers' children become lawyers and, doctors' children doctors. The same is true of film stars and musicians. And, if you think this is true only of politicians, professionals and artists, think again. The importance of birth and nurture in influencing career preferences is understandable, but its institutionalisation is bizarre. That is what has happened, of all places, at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur. For over 40 years now, it has now been discovered, the faculty at IIT-Kharagpur have been giving special preference to their own children in admissions to the prestigious institution. They did not have to compete with the rest more privileged or less. While at one level the faculty has fought caste quotas in higher studies, they have been quietly using quotas for their own children.
The justification offered by some is that without this quota system, the institution would not be able to attract good faculty in that corner of the country! In other words, if you feel strongly for your children, it is all right to carry out a persistent fraud on the rest of the country. Unfortunately, if a poor man steals to feed his family, he is jailed. But this is not at all contradictory if you can recall what we started with. In India, it matters which family you are born to, not so much what you do. So, from now on, every time someone feels that the government is being divisive by offering sops to various groups, remember what former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had said in a democracy, the people deserve the government they get.
INDIAN MINDS, FOREIGN FUNDS
GOVERNMENTAL BUREAUCRATISM AND NIGGARDLY CORPORATES DRIVE THINK TANKS ABROAD FOR FUNDS
India's best-known "think tanks" are becoming increasingly dependent for their funding on foreign benefactors. In economic policy, national security and foreign affairs, India's premier think tanks and research institutions find it easier to raise funds abroad than at home, be it from a bureaucratic and feudal governmental system or from a miserly and disinterested corporate sector.
While some ministries, like external affairs, defence and commerce, have their own government-funded think tanks, others have their favourites in the non-governmental sector. Both are required to kowtow to the extant dispensation in the respective ministries and many of these institutions have become sinecures for retired or retiring civil servants.
Indian corporates, on the other hand, have never been a major source of funding for research, even if they are increasingly funding education. Thus, Bharti's Sunil Mittal, the only Indian mentioned in a Wikipedia list of world's 100 top philanthropists, has liberally funded school and college education, including institutions like the Indian School of Business, but when it comes to supporting think tanks, he has so far preferred to help the Carnegie Endowment rather than any policy think tank in India. Same applies to most of India's celebrated billionaires.
While Tata Sons have for a long time funded research institutions, Indian think tanks find the process of securing such funds becoming increasingly bureaucratic and so prefer courting foreign funding agencies. The Ambani family set up the Observer Research Foundation, with an impressive office, but it has so far attracted more retired diplomats and policy-makers than active researchers!
While India's billionaires give away millions to Yale and Carnegie, India's own think tanks are increasingly forced to turn to foreign funders because neither the government nor Indian corporates are willing to offer them untied funding.
\Almost all the non-government economic, defence and foreign affairs think tanks and research institutions in the nation's Capital are today more dependent on external sources of funding than domestic sources, government or non-government.
Major sources of research funds include multilateral financial institutions, like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank; western and eastern private foundations like Ford, Rockefeller, McCarthy and Sasakawa; and, foreign governments that fund agencies like Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
This is not a new phenomenon. There was a time when, in fact, India's premier social sciences research funding institution, the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR), was itself receiving more funds from the Government of Netherlands than from the Government of India. Today, few foreign funding agencies bother routing their funds through the ICSSR, they do so directly.
Before worried nationalists raise a cry against this trend, they should find out what shape and condition of disrepair the ICSSR itself is in. Not only does the ICSSR have an officer of the Indian Administrative Service as its member-secretary, it has more than one council member without even a doctoral degree! Indeed, even radical social scientists who don't like either government or corporate funding find it alright and easier to approach global non-governmental organisations for financial support.
In the field of international relations, India has as many as 65 listed research centres and "think tanks". Of these, as many as 36 are located in New Delhi. A large number of these centres are funded by the government and the university system, but the most prominent ones are, in fact, funded by foreign governments and funding agencies! A substantial part of high-quality research on India's relations with countries like China and Pakistan is, in fact, funded by foreign funding agencies.
It is not as if attempts have not been made by Indian scholars and researchers to secure corporate funding for Indian think tanks. But in most cases a mountain of effort is required, both in terms of lobbying and paperwork, to secure a molehill of funding. And, after all that and much interference in the running of the institution, there is little interest in the institution's intellectual output.
India's most respected strategic affairs guru, K Subrahmanyam, who ran a government-funded think tank, Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), as an independent and autonomous institution that respected the intellectual freedom of its faculty but found it very difficult to get anyone in government to listen to them or support their research work, once remarked to this writer, "I remember explaining to the director of Chatham House (UK) that the basic difference between IDSA and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is that the former gets all its money from the government but cannot get the time of the day from them, while the latter has to raise its own resources but gets all data and relevant information from government sources. Our senior bureaucrats have burdened themselves with so much of trivia because of the lack of a culture of delegation that they have no time to read such outside studies. Therefore, they have no use for them."
The armed forces have become a bit liberal in funding think tanks, but these remain boutique institutions without the scope or size of a defence think tank like RAND in the United States.
I am not suggesting for a moment that as a consequence of this pattern of funding, Indian scholars have mortgaged their minds to foreign funders. Far from it. India's most respected scholars, fiercely independent in their thinking, will never sing for their supper and allow the one who pays the piper choose the tune. Yet, for a country as big and important as India, it is a matter of great shame that so much of our best research and most important research institutions depend so much on external sources of funding.
Disclosure: The writer is on the governing board of Centre for Policy Research, Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies and Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi, and a consulting fellow of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London.
NO ONE PUBLISHED PAID NEWS
SINCE THE PRESS COUNCIL'S REPORT HAS NO NAMES OF THOSE PUBLISHING PAID NEWS, THAT'S WHAT YOU HAVE TO ASSUME
Many years ago, when model Jessica Lal's killer was acquitted, The Times of India headline said sarcastically, "No one killed Jessica Lal". Given how the Press Council of India's (PCI's) latest report on "paid news" talks about it becoming "pervasive, structured and highly organised" including the presence of "rate cards" or "packages" for publication of news and yet doesn't name any of the guilty newspapers that are paid for publishing news, the only conclusion is that no one published paid news!
Sure, as the PCI says, it has a limited mandate which does not allow it to penalise those found guilty of malpractices, and that in the case of TV news, even this limited mandate doesn't apply. But surely, naming and shaming was something it could have done quite easily all of which tells you that the newspapers in the paid news business are so powerful they prevented the PCI from even naming them. As for admonishing or passing strictures, which the PCI says it has the power to do, you can just forget about it. So, even if its suggestion that Section 15(4) of the Press Council Act of 1978 be amended so as to make its directions binding is acted upon, it's unlikely anything is going to come out of it.
While talking about newspapers publishing paid news, either for politicians or for corporate entities, is one thing, proving it is quite another. Many have suspected, for instance, that the "private treaties" publishers like the Times of India group have are nothing but paid news the newspaper gets equity in your company in return for free ad space; but since the value of the newspapers' investment goes up only when your company does well, the allegation is various newspapers tend to publish only good news about their "private treaty" companies. But how do you prove it?
It's much the same in the case of politicians. Saying they're all corrupt is easy, but finding the money trail isn't. Well, the way you'd do it in the case of politicians is to examine their decisions. So, in the case of the 2G licences, you don't have to actually trace the flow of funds to those in the ministry (that, presumably, is something the CBI, which is investigating the case along with the CVC and the CAG, will do) all that you need to do is to point out that a handful of companies got licences in 2008 at the same rate they were sold for in mid-2001. Similarly, in the case of mining licenses or any other concessions, if no bids are called for, this is enough to show complicity.
But this is precisely what the PCI's sub-committee comprising Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Kalimekolam Sreenivas Reddy did. To begin with, it got a lot of testimonials from people that, in the normal course, you shouldn't take lightly.
It cites the case of Shri Parcha Kodanda Ram Rao of the Loksatta Party in Andhra Pradesh who formally told the Election Commission he'd paid Eenadu to publish favourable news about himself and had even included this in his official expenditure statement.
BJP leader Lalji Tandon is on record saying the largest-circulated (Indian) language newspaper refused to publish any news about him unless he paid money. Others who have made similar allegations, about other newspapers, are BSP's Tamil Nadu secretary K Ramasubramanian (in a letter to the PCI), Atul Anjaan of the CPI, Sandeep Dikshit of the Congress party and Sushma Swaraj of the BJP.
Former Civil Aviation Minister Harmohan Dhawan is quoted, from magazine Pratham Pravakta, as saying representatives of newspapers like Punjab Kesri, Dainik Jagran and Dainik Bhaskar approached him to say that if he bought their "package", he would get good coverage; others who made similar allegations in the magazine are Santosh Singh, the Congress party candidate from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh; Ramakant Yadav of the BJP from the same constituency; the Samajwadi Party's Arshad Jamal, and so on.
Since you can argue that this is just one man's word against the other's (all newspapers accused of this have denied their involvement), the sub-committee gives examples of such news items. The Ranchi edition of Dainik Jagran (April 13, 2009), for instance, has a story on how the RJD candidate from the Chatra Lok Sabha constituency "is getting support from every class and section"; another story on the same page had another news item of how the JDU candidate from the same constituency would emerge a "clear winner"! Several other such examples are cited Andhra Jyothi had a story saying the TDP candidate from Narasapuram would get a "huge victory"; another page had a story talking of "victory, victory" for the Congress party candidate in the same constituency. It's like publishing a Samsung ad on page 1 and a Nokia one on page 11!
The clincher, of course, is The Hindu's Rural Affairs Editor P Sainath's story on how three competing Marathi newspapers Lokmat, Pudhari and Maharashtra Times used the same words from the beginning to the end to praise Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan. When quizzed by the PCI, Chavan suggested all newspapers may have used the material distributed in press conferences believe that if you will and then said, "According to me, the appropriate forum for challenging such complaints is through an election petition in a court of law."
Despite the sub-committee report documenting all this, the PCI's 13-page "detailed report" does not mention even one instance cited in the 71 pages of the sub-committee report which, it says, "may remain on record of the PCI as reference document", nor does it annex the report the actual report, though, is not on the PCI's website (it can be accessed at http://www.scribd.com/doc/ 35436631/The-Buried-PCI-Report-on-Paid-News).
Given this, doesn't it seem hypocritical for newspapers to go on loudly about the corruption in the Commonwealth Games or the mining scandal of the Reddy brothers? Perhaps we should stick to headlines like "No one made money in Commonwealth Games" or "No one involved in Karnataka mining scam". It might not tell you anything, but nor does the PCI report.
THERE IS AN OBVIOUS DICHOTOMY AND HYPOCRISY INVOLVED IN GOLDMAN'S CLAIMS OF LOOKING AFTER ITS CLIENTS' INTERESTS
A V RAJWADE
The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued Goldman Sachs in April, alleging that the firm committed securities fraud, made misleading statements, and failed to disclose material facts to investors while marketing a highly complex collateralised debt obligation (CDO). Last month, the case was settled with Goldman agreeing to pay a fine of $550 million, the largest ever by an investment bank, merely acknowledging that it had made a "mistake" and that the offer documents had "incomplete information". Given the large number of complex derivatives over which end-users have lost a lot of money in India and in many other countries, it would be interesting to look at the details of the case.
It all started when John Paulson approached Goldman with a proposal to structure and market a complex CDO. (Paulson is the hedge fund manager who made billions of dollars for his investors and himself from the mortgage market crisis in the US.) Paulson told Goldman that he had chosen the underlying debt obligations "for their high likelihood of default", and intended to short the securities. (Paulson's selection was impeccable: 83 per cent of the underlying bonds were downgraded in six months and 99 per cent in nine months!) He also made clear that his "purpose in structuring the deal was to take a short position against the investments they were making". (Both quotations from Financial Times editorial of April 17). Goldman brought in an independent credit advising firm, ACA Management, to vet the portfolio and, apparently, gave ACA an impression that Paulson intended to take a long position in the securities, exactly opposite to his purpose in structuring it, which was known to Goldman. ACA allowed its name to be used and indeed wrote credit default swaps on the security. (It incurred a billion-dollar loss when the deal soured shortly after it was structured and marketed.) Incidentally, last week, the Reserve Bank of India placed on its website the draft report titled "Internal Group on Introduction of Credit Default Swaps (CDS) for Corporate Bonds" for public comments.
Goldman was sued for failing to disclose in the marketing material or offer documents, that Paulson was involved in structuring the CDO which he was shorting; telling investors that ACA, an independent RMBS (Residential Mortgage Backed Securities) expert had selected the portfolio; and for misleading ACA. Neither Paulson nor ACA was party to the suit. This is the case that has now been settled with a fine and Goldman's admission of a "mistake". (In a less "sophisticated" era, Goldman's actions would have been described as "cheating".) The fine, too, was about half what observers were expecting, and the firm and its management escaped from any criminal charges. The settlement was welcomed by investors and Goldman shares jumped up on its announcement. The case against Goldman employee Fabrice Tourre, who was involved in structuring the deal, continues. But, as part of the settlement, Goldman has promised full cooperation with SEC in pursuing the case, even as it has agreed to bear his legal expenses! He obviously knew what he was doing. One of his emails produced in the case says: "More and more leverage in the system, the whole building is about to collapse anytime now Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstrosities!!!"
Goldman is an investment bank that claims that it is "long-term greedy"; in other words, it does not look at quick gains. Its website emphasises the firm's commitment to its clients' interest in the following words: "Whether a mid-size employer is Kansas, a larger school district in California, a pension fund for skilled workers, or a start-up technology firm, our clients' interests come first." It also claims that the firm's core values are "team work, excellence and service to our clients".
At first sight, there is an obvious dichotomy and hypocrisy involved in the firm's claims of looking after clients' interests and its actions at the heart of the SEC suit. Goldman's initial defence was that it sold CDOs only to sophisticated investors who required no protection. They knew, or at least should have known, what they were doing, the old doctrine of caveat emptor. In other words, such investors were "counterparties" and not customers or clients to whom it owed any duties! (The banks that lost huge sums in the investment included IKB in Germany and RBS in the UK, both subsequently rescued with public money. Citizens of Cedar Rapids, a small town in Iowa, are facing higher taxes because its treasurer invested in the CDO. Perhaps he was a sophisticated investor!) Goldman had also claimed that it did not "sponsor" the issue and was not obliged to endorse the quality of the investment.
Incidentally, Goldman is facing law suits also in the UK and Germany, and an Australian hedge fund has claimed damages of $1 billion in respect of another CDO (Timberwolf) in whose structuring and marketing Goldman was involved. Perhaps the only people who would benefit by their dealings with Goldman are going to be lawyers!
RPT, COI, CWG, CG ...
RELATED PARTY TRANSACTIONS AND CONFLICT OF INTEREST SHOULD ALWAYS REMAIN MATTERS OF PRINCIPAL CONCERN FOR COMPANIES
History has shown that the relationship between money, power and ambition can be very specious. This has often driven kings, business leaders and politicians to pursue policies that are not in the interest of the constituencies they oversee these can be shareholders or stakeholders in the case of businesses or other enterprises; and the state in the case of those who claim to be political leaders. The underpinning of money, power and ambition is greed; and just as love is blind, greed is insatiable.
What makes the relationship very complex is the inevitable association of money with ownership of assets in some form or the other. Moreover, determination of ownership itself is not so easy; and what are the responsibilities of those who manage them? The clarity of roles between owners and managers is often facetiously forgotten. It is for no small reason that Adam Smith said that the butcher, the brewer, or the baker provides our dinner because of his regard to his own interest. It can also not be concluded from the Principles of Economics that self-interest generally is enlightened or that enlightened self-interest always operates in the public interest. It is for this reason that a structure of rules, systems and processes is put in place in organisations, institutions and business enterprises to ensure good governance. The Merchant of Venice, (Act 1 Scene 1), feared for the safety of his argosies sailing out of sight on the high seas. How are owners' interests to be protected? How is oversight to be exercised over those delegated to run the venture? Who sets the direction of the enterprise and ensures accountability? The great trading companies of the British and Dutch empires, established with the patronage of the monarch, operated under rules set by the state. Though practised for as long as there have been corporate entities, it is only since the 1980s that we have given this structure the name "corporate governance". If management is about running the business, governance is about seeing that it is run properly. Corporate governance would allow people outside looking into a business to see that the people inside who are governing the business are actually running it well, taking decisions with intellectual honesty and applying care and skill in making business judgements. Hence the need for direction, control, responsibilities of the board, management and supervision, audit, disclosure, accountability, and so on. These principles of corporate governance would equally apply to the governance of any enterprise, be it a club or a company.
The importance of corporate governance becomes apparent when the structure breaks down. The enterprise is faced with disastrous consequences. We have seen a display of disaster and depravity in several companies in different countries at different times in the last three decades. Interestingly, all these failures in corporate governance fall into an identifiable pattern (see "Patterns in governance failures", Business Standard, April 13, 2009).
Some of the distinguishing features of this pattern are that when there is an initial period of spectacular growth, it is never questioned; nobody asks "why?". There is a sense of unerring infallibility leading to complacency, which translates into aggressive leadership style. Then, when signs of failure become evident, the following sequence of events takes place:
Efforts are first made by the management, the chief executives or whosoever is in control not to acknowledge the problem.
But then the exposure of problem becomes too big to hide. It metastasizes the cancer is in the fourth stage. A financial and accounting fraud is discovered.
The board or the entity which is in control refuses to acknowledge any knowledge of wrongdoings.
The end then comes very quickly. The enterprise declares bankruptcy, there is financial depravation or a new owner takes over.
The sequence of events was seen in the case of Enron where Kenneth Lay was trying to convince the media, even as he was handcuffed, that he did nothing wrong and had no knowledge of any wrongdoing; the board of directors said it did not know anything. This is just one example from the corporate world. But such financial problems, which were till now the domain of the business world, have now started invading the world of Indian sports too, where big money and big spending are involved, suggesting the specious association of money power with ambition. We have seen an abundant display of this in the recently concluded Indian Premier League (see "Lessons in corporate governance", Business Standard, May 10). We are now seeing a repeat of this in the Commonwealth Games.
At this point, the alphabet soup in the title needs to be explained to readers. RPT stands for related party transactions; CoI stands for conflict of interest, and CWG stands for Commonwealth Games. CG, which stands for corporate governance, is the thread that links the three terms. In most cases be they in Europe, the US or India RPTs and CoI are two of the areas over which concerns have been repeatedly raised in the light of recent corporate scandals. The IPL and the CWG are not exceptions to this rule.
RPTs are diverse complex business transactions between a company and its managers, or directors or principal owners. In public accounting, these are considered difficult to audit and a potential indicator of audit risk (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, 2001). The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has identified RPTs as one of the nine major reasons for leading companies to restate financial statements. Regulators, market participants and other corporate stakeholders commonly regard these transactions as potential CoIs, which can compromise management's agency responsibility to shareholders or a board of director's monitoring function. All RPTs are not abusive. But they have the potential to become abusive where a party in control of a company enters into a transaction to the detriment of non-controlling shareholders. According to the Guide on Fighting Abusive Related Party Transactions in Asia, 2009, it remains one of the biggest corporate governance challenges in Asia. A coherent regulatory system dealing with RPTs, particularly disclosure, board oversight and shareholder approval, should be established in each jurisdiction to facilitate implementation and enforcement efforts. Though there are Accounting Standards by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, this should remain a singular concern of boards of Indian companies. At present, this is not the case with many companies and their boards .
When private interests of individuals influence their public decisions, thereby enabling individuals to take advantage of their public position for personal benefit, situations of potential conflicts arise. In a sense, all issues related to CoI are integrally related to the overall governance of a company and its board's effectiveness. Conflicts may often lead to compromising the company's ability to enter into fair contracts and influence the independence, quality and integrity of the decision itself, which might weigh adversely on shareholder value.
These two areas, RPTs and CoI, should always remain matters of principal concern for the boards of companies. Well-governed companies, besides complying with the Accounting Standards, have instituted ways and means to deal with situations of RPTs and CoIs effectively. If not managed in a transparent and legal manner, these situations can impose a heavy burden on the financial resources of a company, distort competition, affect optimum allocation of resources, waste public resources and lead to corrupt practices. This should also be something which audit firms that care for reputational risk should keep under strict vigil, for the accounts to give a true and fair picture of the affairs of companies or enterprises they audit. Otherwise, they would be certifying falsehood and as it is said in The Merchant of Venice: "What a goodly outside falsehood hath?"
The author is associated with IFC's Global Corporate Governance Forum and the World Bank; he was formerly the executive director of Sebi.
Views expressed are personal. email@example.com
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE NEED CREDIT DEFAULT SWAPS
BUT WITH STRINGENT REGULATION
' YOU never want a serious crisis to go waste,' was how Rahm Emanuel, US President Barack Obama's chief of staff famously put it at the start of the financial crisis in 2008. The RBI's discussion paper on introduction of credit default swaps (CDS) a form of insurance for corporate bonds shows the central bank has taken his advice to heart. It strikes a reasonably good balance between not curbing financial innovation and prudence. Thus, insistence that users can buy CDS only to the extent that they have an 'underlying' risk, restrictions on related-party transactions, standardisation of products and centralised clearing and settlement are all good ideas. CDSs allow market players to manage credit risk better by buying insurance against default. And with sanity slowly returning to the market, they are being seen for what they are: useful financial instruments that could go wrong like any other such instrument if regulators sleep on the watch. In India, there is the added attraction that it may liven up the largely-inert market for corporate bonds.
But as the financial crisis, especially the near-collapse of AIG showed, CDSs carry risk. Market failures like asymmetric information, moral hazard and principal-agent problems pose an ever-present danger. Moreover since CDSs allow market participants to replace one type of risk (credit risk) with another risk (counterparty risk), there is a need to guard against systemic risk by limiting the buildup of risky positions by imposing appropriate position limits, capping leverage and laying down more stringent capital requirements. Neither US nor the European laws authorise any position limits. This should not deter us. Given the nascent stage of development of our financial markets, we need to lay down limits. For the same reason, it is unwise to leave it to protection sellers to decide the maximum amount of protection they can sell or to draw up their own margin policy for managing the counterparty credit risk on account of CDS transactions. This arrangement can be revisited when the market matures. Regulation, backed by supervision, even if at times intrusive, must be the new mantra.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REDUCING THE NUMBER OF TAX DISPUTES
WHEN the total tax revenue under dispute is estimated to be in excess of Rs 70,000 crore at the end of 2008-09, it is never too late to find the solutions to reduce the backlog of cases. The proposal of the finance ministry to set up two panels to find ways to reduce litigations in direct and indirect taxes is welcome. Now, this is not the first attempt to reduce the backlog of tax litigation. The Centre had tried to create a separate tribunal to speed up disposal of tax cases. Unfortunately, the National Tax Tribunal Act, 2005, faced legal challenges and it may be years before the Supreme Court clears the fog. But reducing litigation does not necessarily address problems that gave rise to litigation in the first place. Disputes between taxpayers and the department are commonplace, and the amount of money locked up due to appeals which may include adjudication and not just litigation before the income-tax department is estimated at almost Rs 2 lakh crore as of March 2009, or a little under 4% of the nominal GDP of that year. The tax department needs to get to the root of the problem that leads to disputes between the authorities and taxpayers. Foremost among the problems is the poor drafting of the tax laws, leading to different and opposing interpretation of the provisions by various stakeholders. This problem can, and hopefully will, be addressed in the new direct taxes code as well as the goods and services tax law. Second, cases pile up because of the unwillingness of the litigants to settle cases. Of course, that is true of all litigation, as observed by S H Kapadia, the Chief Justice of the country. Reluctance on the part of the system to take a decision favouring the taxpayer also adds to the chain of appeals and, thus, the pendency of cases.
Clearly, what is required is a cultural change in the manner in which taxes are collected and arrears recovered. More seriousness is required at various levels of the dispute-resolution mechanism than is currently in place, and attempt must be made to dispose of cases in a timebound manner. Also, we must bring down the number of levels of appeal and incentivise settlements over disputes.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FREE REIN IN SPAIN
MICHELLE OR MARIE ANTOINETTE?
CALL it the fringe benefits of the top job: when dad is the president of the US, then mom taking the girls off on a cultural expedition means a lot more than filling up the SUV and setting off for the airport. No wonder Michelle Obama's sudden penchant for showing First Daughters Malia and Sasha bits and pieces of Europe has tarnished the Obama gloss a bit. Just as the professorial president ticks off wayward Wall Street and exhorts fellow Americans to pull up their socks, his wife decides to let her hair down with some 40 of her closest friends in tow besides Sasha in sunny, sunny Spain. The White House has been quick to say that the expenses of the top-flight hotel and gourmet meals are being footed by the entourage; and the cost of cordoning off museums, streets, stores and beaches are being handled by the Spanish presumably. But there is no word on who pays the $100,000 bill for the posse of secret service and White House personnel, not to mention the cost of taking Air Force Two on this little trans-Atlantic round trip. Last time the three Obama ladies decided to take in the sights (of London and Paris), they had hitched a ride on Air Force One, sort of like Indian families of ministers and civil servants commandeer official Ambassadors for shopping trips. But this time, Michelle and Sasha actually left the world's most powerful man to celebrate his 49th birthday alone at home while they frolicked in Spain and Malia went off to camp.
Of course, the Western institution of the summer holiday has weathered the downturn, but most people have contented themselves with more modest breaks. Even Queen Elizabeth took her glum brood off for just a cruise around the few isles left in her shrunken domain, that too on a chartered ship, having dumped the Royal Yacht Britannia some years ago in the name of cost-cutting. Unfortunately, Michelle's pricey preferences are leading to her being likened to a certain feckless (and eventually headless) French queen
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
HOW TO GROW WHEN MARKETS DON'T
THE good news is that we've recently begun to observe a new form of business design innovation a new response to the challenge of growth that is being pioneered by a handful of far-sighted companies. These companies are focused on creating new growth and new value by addressing the hassles and issues that surround the product rather than by improving the product itself.
They have shifted their approach from product innovation to demand innovation. Rather than being about value migration, demand innovation is about creating new growth by expanding the market's boundaries. It focuses on using one's product position as a starting point from which to do new things for customers that solve their biggest problems and improve overall performance. Thus, companies skilled in demand innovation do more than simply take value and market share away from traditional businesses. They create new value and new growth in revenues and profits, even in mature industries that appear to have reached a plateau.
Because demand innovation involves a new and emerging set of skills, many businesspeople will find it challenging to understand and master. But it can be done. Value-migration businesses focus on reallocating value by responding to pre-existing demand; new-growth businesses focus on growing new value by discovering new forms of demand. We see traditional product-centred companies across a wide range of industries beginning to discover and create new business spaces with growth opportunities that will last not months or quarters but years or decades.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE RUSH TO SAFE ASSETS
INSTEAD OF HOLDING A CONCENTRATION OF 'SAFE' US GOVERNMENT BONDS, SURPLUS COUNTRIES SHOULD HOLD A PORTFOLIO OF ASSETS ACROSS THE RISK SPECTRUM, TO SAFEGUARD AGAINST A FUTURE FINANCIAL CRISIS, SAYS U R BHAT
IT IS now more than two years since the global financial meltdown, but the global economy still suffers from severe economic imbalances on account of large current account deficits run by some countries and the huge foreign exchange reserves that are held by the surplus countries. In 2006, the US current account deficit accounted for as much as 2% of world GDP. These imbalances have come about because of several factors. In the 1970s, it was inflation in the West on the back of the oil cartel raising crude oil prices to stratospheric levels that transferred unimaginable wealth to avery few in west Asia.
In more recent times, it has been the insatiable appetite for cheap consumer goods in the West that has helped some Asian countries accumulate huge foreign exchange reserves. The large foreign exchange reserves held by the trade-surplus countries have, in turn, created a massive demand for safe assets for investment of these surpluses, and this is seen as one of the root causes of the global financial meltdown in 2008.
Over the last decade, while the robust export-led growth in several countries in the emerging market space led to generation of significant current account surpluses, these markets have not attained the maturity to create sufficiently-liquid stores of value in which the surpluses can be invested. These surpluses, therefore, find their way to safe assets that are largely issued by the developed countries.
Among such financial assets are sovereign and quasi sovereign bonds issued by nations that are seen to respect property rights and have well-tested bankruptcy procedures, resilient, liquid and deep financial markets with minimal risks of government expropriation.
Some developed countries are privileged to be in a position to issue large volumes of these safe assets that has resulted in falling yields on their bond issuances. The incessant rise in gold prices can also be largely ascribed to the growing demand for safe assets.
In his recent paper on this subject, Ricardo Caballero of MIT has argued that it is this insatiable hunger for safe debt instruments and the scarcity of such instruments that created the setting for the large global banks to exploit the opportunity. These banks effectively addressed the safe asset shortage phenomenon at a profit by creating synthetic safe assets from the securitisation of lower quality ones by slicing and dicing them to various tiers, ably assisted by willing credit rating agencies but at the cost of exposing the economy to the systemic panic that unfolded in 2008.
It is worth considering the possible policy options that are available to address the acute shortage of safe assets. The surplus countries can moderate their demand for safe assets by partly investing in riskier assets. The memories of the Asian financial crisis of the mid-1990s are possibly too fresh for these newly-surplus countries to consider taking higher levels of risks with their reserves.
Despite the current global slowdown, over the last 12 months itself, Asian countries have generated a current account surplus of around three quarters of $1 trillion. Their holding of foreign exchange reserves is in excess of $6 trillion,around two-thirds of the global foreign exchange reserves.
The key takeaway from the global financial meltdown of 2008 and the ongoing sovereign credit crisis is that a suitable framework should soon be put in place for addressing the potential systemic problems that has widespread acceptance across countries. Such a framework would need an agreement on the holding of a diversified portfolio of assets across the risk spectrum by the surplus countries instead of a concentrated portfolio of safe assets.
THE diversified investment portfolios of sovereign wealth funds of countries such as Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Norway and even China in a small way are examples that more of the surplus nations would need to follow. The surplus countries have a significant stake in the stability of the global financial system and, therefore, the choice before them is to either facilitate an orderly adjustment in the global imbalances or run the risk of defaults on the huge financial claims held by them that they can ill-afford. Getting an agreement in place to addressthe massive global imbalances, therefore, should not be an impossible task.
Another policy alternative is for the asset-producing countries to supply adequate triple-A assets even beyond their fiscal needs that, in turn, would require them to invest in riskier assets themselves. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (Tarp) that enabled the US government to purchase assets and equity from financial institutions to strengthen the financial sector in the aftermath of the subprime mortgage crisis is an example of such a policy in action.
Although the programme was much criticised, in retrospect, it should be conceded that it was indeed appropriate for solving the systemic crisis because the fear that the government would be left holding companies such as General Motors, Citigroup and AIG for several years have not come true. Most of these investments made to bail out the marquee US companies have been repaid and the rest appear to be on track to repay.
While Tarp was a fire-fighting exercise, it is worthwhile developing a widely-acceptable institutional mechanism to manage systemic risks in an orderly manner with private investors absorbing the consequences of most shocks, but the government providing some form of mandatory fee-based insurance against alarge systemic event.
The move to increase capital requirements of banks has to be seen in this light. Another alternative is to have contingent capital injections in banks through convertible bonds that get compulsorily converted when the financial strength of a bank falls below a pre-determined threshold. The imbalance between the demand for, and supply of, safe assets has indeed worsened over the last two years, with several sovereign bonds being downgraded and many others on the verge of being downgraded.
It takes several years to set right such imbalances even when effective policy interventions are in place. It is, therefore, imperative that an institutional mechanism to address such systemic problems is put in place soon.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ET I N T E R A CT I V ETAKASHI NAGAI
'INDIA WILL BE OUR GLOBAL SPARES HUB'
HONDA Motor Co (HMC), Japan's second-largest carmaker, is among the most profitable automakers worldwide. Seen as real competition to the mammoth carmaker Toyota Motor Corp, the company, through its local joint venture Honda Siel Cars India (HSCI), has cruised comfortably during its decade-old journey in the Indian market. However, the financial crisis followed by the global economic meltdown has hurt sales. Its recently-launched cars have not propelled its market share. Adding to its woes are the fluctuations in the yen. Takashi Nagai, who took charge as the president and CEO of HSCI in April, has a daunting task ahead to better sales and profitability.
"We want to increase volumes without compromising Honda's global quality and safety standards. We will continue producing durable cars to keep our brand value intact," said Mr Nagai, who has spent nearly three decades in Honda and is an experienced hand in production.
A stronger yen has made imports dearer, making its cars uncompetitive in the domestic market and forcing several rounds of price changes. The company's gamble to launch a super-niche hatchback with the debut of Jazz has left its factories underutilised. Jazz is selling a third of its original target of over 2,000 units a month.
That is not the only problem for Nagai. Sales of other sedans such as the Civic and Accord and its premium SUV CR-V are also sliding. The only icing on the cake is its City sedan which is a segment leader right from its inception and also serves as its breadand-butter model. However, even that has started to stagnate. Overall, sales in the first quarter of the current fiscal year dipped 4% to 12,240 units, but all these learnings are expected to produce radical changes.
The market is changing and so are consumer preferences. As a precursor to this shift, we would be the first choice for aspirational cars. The City has consistently set the benchmark in past decade and our small car, expected next year, would set standards for all other compact cars in India," Mr Nagai said.
Honda entered the US market in 1982, coinciding with the entry of Suzuki Motor Corp's debut in India. Although the company has come under flak for overpricing its cars, there is a perceptible change in the works at its Indian headquarters in Greater Noida.
A new R&D team has taken charge to increase localisation to maintain price competitiveness of its products in the local market. While Jazz carries the highest 77% local content till now, the company aims to make it over 80% for the new small car. Does it mean that Honda cars would come cheap in India? Not exactly.
The company is attempting to use locallyavailable material for the new car, but there are constraints. "We have roped in our suppliers for the two-wheeler unit, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India, and joint-venture outfit, Hero Honda Motors, to deliver at Indian prices conforming to our global standards. So, prices will be very competitive keeping in mind the evolving value-for-money concept of the Indian customer," Mr Nagai said.
For a company that has one of the lowest market shares, cutting costs is an ambitious task. It sold a little over 61,800 cars last fiscal year and generating volumes is a key to cut costs. It is looking at utilising its second plant at Tapukara in Rajasthan initially to make components, to be followed by cars.
Backed by its trusted set of Indian suppliers, Honda is developing the necessary infrastructure to produce critical engine and transmission parts for its new cars and also feed overseas markets of Thailand and Indonesia from locally-produced spares.
"India would be our global hub to produce several critical parts that otherwise would have been imported. It would help us to leverage India's low-cost production base for our global operations," he said.
The India thrust comes from Honda's successful three-decade operations here, which also makes it one of the single-largest Japanese investor over the past three decades. Besides, its five cars and dozens of two-wheelers for India backed by world's largest twowheeler company Hero Honda, it operates five major companies in India, also making utility products. While its overall operations are growing, the automotive vertical would see some drastic changes once the small car is launched in the second half of 2011. "Whatever we do, our endeavour is to keep our profits intact and bring world-class products at Honda global standards," Mr Nagai said.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SEREN DI PITY
THE AGONY OF THE HEREDITARY TURKS
C L MANOJ
AS IF Omar Abdullah's contribution alone were not enough, now we have the collective 'GenNext intervention' from Delhi on J&K! Right when the country's youngest chief minister has squandered away, in a matter of a year, the hope and optimism the last two successful Assembly elections and the subsequent political process had generated in J&K, around 40 young members of Parliament, cutting across party lines, issued a joint appeal, urging the agitating Kashmiri youth to join the negotiation table. On the face of it, their resolve indeed is praiseworthy. But the problem lies in an uncomfortable question; about the political and social credentials of these MPs, barring a few exceptions, to be the true representatives of the youth of democratic India and their credibility to command the respect and trust of the country's aspiring and struggling youngsters, from Kanyakumari to Srinagar.
Before going to the fault-lines in these young MPs' political makeup, one should look at the backdrop and timing of their 'peace move'. It took almost two months of agitation and nearly 50 deaths on the streets of Kashmir for Omar to realise the basics of politics and governance; that in a democratic system, the true leaders have to remain constantly in touch with, and reach out to, the people and not remain like a king in an ivory tower especially when outbursts of popular discontent are on display.
It was only after the cultivated 'bright kid' image of Omar was razed down, ironically, by the very (stone-throwing) youth of his home state through 24×7 reality TV shows, that he thought it fit to visit a hospital to see the injured. It was exactly on 'Omar's day out' that his young friends in Parliament chose to launch their own 'peace mission'. It is a different matter it took some experienced political brains in Delhi and the octogenarian Syed Ali Shah Gilani in Srinagar to provide the battered young CM a temporary relief.
In short, in their two-month silent watching of Kashmir crisis and their final decision to venture out, Omar and his young friends put up a perfect display of synchronised reflexes. Did these young MPs snap out of their collective slumber to see their own potential future in Omar's total disconnect with the youth of his state?
The plot only thickens when you consider that these so-called young turks had neither been shaken nor stirred by a series of recent events that had special significance for India's youth. Many young couples are being hounded or hacked to death in the name of 'honour killings' or 'upholding the caste pride' by hoodlums. But none of us had the privilege of seeing these young MPs, supposedly champions of India's youth, issue an appeal for reason or launch a movement against caste authority. Instead, one of them vowed to take 'the khap panchayat cause' to the PMO!
We recently saw a young Dalit girl being made to wash toilet at the school where she studied, leading to her suicide, and how a social boycott forced the Uttar Pradesh government to abandon its plans to employ Dalit cooks in schools. But none of this pricked the conscience of these 'young and progressive' MPs.
The nation is also witnessing an animated debate on how to tackle the Maoist problem, especially when many young men and women of the neglected social sections are joining the radicals' bloody war against the state. Have you heard our Gen-Next MPs air their views on the matter? They also suffer no bout of collective anger when the Commonwealth Games, meant to boost the spirit of Indian's sporting youth, has turned out to be a mega show of corruption and mismanagement.
But, then, it is no accident that these young MPs who display their collective agony over their friend Omar falling flat on his GenNext nose, remain indifferent to the real issues and causes of the Indian youth. Because, they, like Omar, owe nothing to India's youth, or their aspirations for becoming what they are; MPs, ministers, chief minister and tomorrow's rulers. They have made it big not because they have risen from a genuine youth movement or political process or by charming the voters with some exceptional talent.
They owe their rise to just two factors: the powerful political families to which they belong to, and the way they systematically and collectively degenerated our democratic system into hereditary rules that ambush the genuine youth activists, snuff out their political careers and leave voters with no genuine choices.
And the fact that most of the national and regional parties, including those that harp against the 'dynastic Congress', have started accepting family raj and started churning out their own Hereditary Turks is posing amajor threat to the democratic process.
As Srinagar revealed the disconnect between Omar and the youth on the street, no wonder his true cohorts in Parliament too felt the heat.
The GenNext MPs who stoically watched honour killings and atrocities on Dalits have rallied behind Omar Abdullah
The young Abdullah's failure is testimony to the hollowness of the politics of youth iconography by political lineage
Will the critics of dynastic politics stop celebrating these 'young turks' who sabotage the careers of youth activists?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CO S M I C U P LI N K
THINK RIGHT, WIN OVER YOURSELF
GREAT minds, indeed, think alike! Besides the remarkable similarity between the observation of Bhagavad Gita (6,6) and that of A J Cronin on 'victory over oneself', a powerful reminder of James Allen is also very much akin to the earlier stanza of the Gita. This exhortation of Allen, reflecting the message of the Gita that one is, in the final analysis, his own friend or his own enemy, reiterates that if one were authentic, clear and skilful in his actions and thoughts, no one else can ever cause him any damage.
Dealing incisively and candidly about various aspects concerning right approach and attitude, Allen talks thus of the right thinker, "He perceives that no wrong can reach him but by his own ill deeds. He understands that his welfare is in his own hands and that none but himself can rob him of repose" (extracts from his article, Are You Troubled?).
The art of right reaction to matters, which would ensure one is not damaged by situations, transactions or developments, is also summed up in these immortal lines of Ella Wheeler Wilcox in her poem, Worthwhile, "'Tis easy enough to be pleasant,/ When life flows along like a song;/ But the man worthwhile is the one who will smile/ When everything goes dead wrong."
Retaining one's cheer and thus his presence of mind too, is, thus, a vital stage in attaining that sublime 'victory over oneself'. This is brought about by being watchful and aware of one's instincts and impulses (those 'fight and flight' responses) and thus refining them by and by (shanihi, shanihi). This verily, also, is the art of transition from being reactive to being 'proactive'.
In this process of ensuring that one's base self is always guided and corrected by one's own evolved self within, is naturally inbuilt that self-honesty and self-responsibility, whereby one divines the existence of those causes for his problems within his own self. This 'change management', which is thus also applicable to one's searching self, serves to bring about the needed changes in various aspects without too situations, transactions and relationships.
Practical application to the guidance as in the Gita, in the manner elaborated by James Allen, would thus serve as the external manifestation of the tangible progress within towards 'victory over oneself'. And attaining this, one, indeed, can 'never know defeat'!
WILL BUFFET, GATES INSPIRE INDIANS?
Why are Indians so stingy as far as philanthropy goes? Last week, a group of 40 US billionaires led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates who have a combined net worth of $230 billion pledged to give away at least half their wealth to worthy causes. This wasn't a one-time gesture by super-rich individuals trying to placate hostile public opinion after the global financial crisis. Mr Buffett has already publicly pledged to donate 99 per cent of his wealth. Bill Gates and his wife Melinda have also been involved with several worthy causes around the world. But this time, they also carried a lot of other rich individuals with them. Similar examples in India would be very hard to come by. Interestingly, Mr Buffett and Mr Gates also plan to meet wealthy individuals in India and China over the coming months to get them to take the pledge as well. There should be no lack of prospects at least the two Asian giants have a total of 110 billionaires between them. Pledging away the bulk or even a substantial chunk of your fortune is not a particularly common concept in India at least not yet! But it would be unfair to single out only the rich in this case. Charitable donations whether in terms of money or time are fairly uncommon in this country. Much of the "giving" in India tends to be in a religious or spiritual context, which is an entirely different thing. Reviled by many for being the most ignorant, selfish and consumerist of societies, Americans could teach us a thing or two in this sphere. In 2008, individual Americans donated a staggering $229 billion to non-profit organisations of all kinds. And not just in money! It is estimated that around a quarter of all Americans volunteer time for a non-profit every year not bad for a so-called "selfish" nation. It is not just charities which benefit from such donations. Educational institutions are pretty high up on the list too. Top American universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton are currently sitting on multi-billion dollar endowment funds. This is money collected from former students over several decades not in the form of fees but as voluntary donations made later in life. The $25.9 billion that the Harvard Endowment Fund manages helps to pay for education and research costs at the university for many less-privileged individuals, including many from India. It might take a very long time to change attitudes towards the concept of philanthropy in India. But some large and well-publicised examples can surely act as a catalyst. For instance, Nandan Nilekani and Arun Maira have inspired many promising corporate executives to join them in lower-paying, but more satisfying careers with the government. Similar examples of well-known business figures setting aside money for worthy causes might well inspire many more of us to do the same. Perhaps it may be a good idea to ask successful corporate executives and top businessmen to take leadership roles for specific projects. For instance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working on projects to eradicate malaria and polio and to help improve the incomes of farmers. Similar projects could be set up in India, inviting top business leaders to take the lead in them.
ART OF DISINVESTMENT
BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
One of the most effective uses of government investment in public enterprises is to disinvest them when necessary and aim at an appropriate time sequence allowing maximum raising of resources. When our experiment with public enterprises started, our policymakers, especially Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, were fully aware of the potential impact of this disinvestment process. Public ownership of assets was not as much the purpose of this exercise as the possibility of selling and purchasing of public assets. Controlling public policy was considered the most effective use of the commanding heights of the economy.
The essential role of this policy instrument was to enter the market economy with substantive sale and purchase of the assets that would raise revenue and also guide the policy development. For example, selling government shares of specific enterprises would raise revenue while at the same time influence the prices of those assets to attract resources from the private market and also influence the private investment decisions according to market prices. If the government decided to sell some of its assets in the market it would set a floor to prices allowing the private investors to buy those assets and thereby convert a part of the private savings into public investment. The sale and purchase of assets is an art to get the maximum revenue out of such sales but is also meant to influence the market prices to guide investment.
Sometimes there is a misunderstanding that if public assets are sold we are giving up control of ownership and through that control of policies. So long as a total share of public investment in an enterprise does not go below 50 per cent, the government does not lose control of ownership and, therefore, control of policies. On the contrary, selective sales and purchase allow the government to make use of its public investments as an instrument of policymaking. If the aim of those instruments are clear, policy can be fine-tuned, selling assets when they can get maximum market revenue and buying assets when they can raise the prices of those assets. Thus when this instrument is deployed to maximise flexibility it also earns maximum revenues. The management of public investment is an art trying to serve several goals at the same time, with the relative usefulness dependent on market conditions. Essentially, this allows government to have much better control over the market economy without upsetting norms of market behaviour.
I am mentioning all this because our policymakers often make a fetish of the sale and purchase of the public investments. The purpose of disinvestment just as well as investment in our public assets is to maintain a control on the prices of these assets and thereby overall process of economic development. Towards that end, sometimes the government has to sell out its assets or repurchase them, guided by market prices and the potential realisation of market revenues. So long as the net result is not a change in the ownership, the government should have the maximum flexibility to use these instruments.
Recently, the government has taken a decision towards large disinvestment through which, if necessary, the government can sell substantial amount of public assets. That will allow them to raise resources from the market but also influence the relative prices of different assets through their selective sales and purchases. Of late, there has been a substantial increase in the prices of petroleum assets. This is the time when the government should decide on whether to buy or sell more of these assets. You should sell the assets when you think the expected prices of those assets in the future will be going down. You should buy the assets when the expectations are for a further increase in the prices.
When India embarked on massive expansion of public investment it did not have quite the idea of how effective were the methods of controlling the prices and therefore investment in many of these assets. Public investment was regarded more as gaining control over ownership rather than effective operations, that is why, in the initial years, any attempt to disinvest these public assets tended to be equated to giving up the ownership and deviating from the so-called socialist pattern of industry. The Indian policymakers have very quickly learned how to use public investment to control markets, influence their prices and use them for attracting investments from the private sector whether in India or abroad. As the Indian economy developed and the strength of Indian markets and investment increased, the value of the use of these instruments for controlling the markets also expanded. Even if the market shares of a public enterprise are not always large, they could be used by Indian policymakers to get the maximum benefits from the market operations. In other words, while public investment is seen mostly as a question of ownership and benefiting from the rent in terms of net benefit of the economy and also to the enterprises themselves, the flexible use of public investment in different enterprises was obviously of a major value to the policymakers.
In this whole exercise of disinvestment or investment of public sector enterprises would obviously have substantial benefits, provided their operations remain flexible. The essential precondition of that flexibility was the ability of the public sector management or owners to invest or disinvest at any particular time and the acceptance or non-acceptance of the liability of the investment. Any attempt to control such investments for reasons other than the need of that enterprise detract from the net value of such operations. So, disinvestment should be taken as a normal policy tool of an enterprises to be used in our interest of that enterprises, increase or decrease in ownership should be compared with increase or decrease in flexibility of that operation.
But India has learned over the last several decades of industrialisation how to use public investment in specific sectors such as petroleum, steel and other heavy industries and also to operate on the basis of market incentives. Investments must yield adequate returns reckoned in terms of not just commercial benefits but also social benefits calculated according to social preferences. So, disinvestment has assumed the role of a major instrument of policy intervention a clear sign of the maturing of an economy.
Apparently, the government has worked out a programme for disinvestment with these goals in mind and we only hope they will prove to be successful in due course of time.
- Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
ISRAEL WILL LISTEN TO CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
I just saw a remarkable new documentary directed by Shlomi Eldar, the Gaza reporter for Israel's Channel 10 news. Titled Precious Life, the film tracks the story of Mohammed Abu Mustafa, a four-month-old Palestinian baby suffering from a rare immune deficiency. Moved by the baby's plight, Eldar helps the infant and mother go from Gaza to Israel's Tel Hashomer hospital for lifesaving bone-marrow treatment. The operation costs $55,000. Eldar puts out an appeal on Israel TV and within hours an Israeli Jew whose own son was killed during military service donates all the money.
The documentary takes a dramatic turn, though, when the infant's Palestinian mother, Raida, who is being disparaged by fellow Gazans for having her son treated in Israel, blurts out that she hopes he'll grow up to be a suicide bomber to help recover Jerusalem. Raida tells Eldar: "From the smallest infant, even smaller than Mohammed, to the oldest person, we will all sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Jerusalem. We feel we have the right to it. You're free to be angry, so be angry".
Eldar is devastated by her declaration and stops making the film. But this is no Israeli propaganda movie. The drama of the Palestinian boy's rescue at an Israeli hospital is juxtaposed against Israeli retaliations for shelling from Gaza, which kill whole Palestinian families. Dr Raz Somech, the specialist who treats Mohammed as if he were his own child, is summoned for reserve duty in Gaza in the middle of the film. The race by Israelis and Palestinians to save one life is embedded in the larger routine of the two communities grinding each other up.
"It's clear to me that the war in Gaza was justified no country can allow itself to be fired at with Qassam rockets but I did not see many people pained by the loss of life on the Palestinian side", Eldar told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "Because we were so angry at Hamas, all the Israeli public wanted was to (expletive) Gaza... It wasn't until after the incident of Dr Abu al-Aish the Gaza physician I spoke with on live TV immediately after a shell struck his house and caused the death of his daughters and he was shouting with grief and fear that I discovered the (Israeli) silent majority that has compassion for people, including Palestinians. I found that many Israeli viewers shared my feelings". So Eldar finished the documentary about how Mohammed's life was saved in Israel.
His raw film reflects West Asia I know one full of amazing compassion, even among enemies, and breathtaking cruelty, even among neighbours.
I write about this now because there is something foul in the air. It is a trend, both deliberate and inadvertent, to delegitimise Israel to turn it into a pariah state, particularly in the wake of the Gaza war. You hear the director Oliver Stone saying crazy things about how Hitler killed more Russians than Jews, but the Jews got all the attention because they dominate the news media and their lobby controls Washington. You hear Britain's Prime minister describing Gaza as a big Israeli "prison camp" and Turkey's prime Minister telling Israel's President, "When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill". You see singers cancelling concerts in Tel Aviv. If you just landed from Mars, you might think that Israel is the only country that has killed civilians in war never Hamas, never Hezbollah, never Turkey, never Iran, never Syria, never America.
I'm not here to defend Israel's bad behaviour. Just the opposite. I've long argued that Israel's colonial settlements in the West Bank are suicidal for Israel as a Jewish democracy. I don't think Israel's friends can make that point often enough or loud enough.
But there are two kinds of criticism. Constructive criticism starts by making clear: "I know what world you are living in". I know West Asia is a place where Sunnis massacre Shias in Iraq, Iran kills its own voters, Syria allegedly kills the prime Minister next door, Turkey hammers the Kurds, and Hamas engages in indiscriminate shelling and refuses to recognise Israel. I know all of that. But Israel's behaviour, at times, only makes matters worse for Palestinians and Israelis. If you convey to Israelis that you understand the world they're living in, and then criticise, they'll listen.
Destructive criticism closes Israeli ears. It says to Israelis: There is no context that could explain your behaviour, and your wrongs are so uniquely wrong that they overshadow all others. Destructive critics dismiss Gaza as an Israeli prison, without ever mentioning that had Hamas decided after Israel unilaterally left Gaza to turn it into Dubai rather than Tehran, Israel would have behaved differently, too. Destructive criticism only empowers the most destructive elements in Israel to argue that nothing Israel does matters, so why change?
How about everybody take a deep breath, pop a copy of Precious Life into your DVD players, watch this documentary about real West Asia, and if you still want to be a critic (as I do), be a constructive one. A lot more Israelis and Palestinians will listen to you.
OF ERRING NETAS, OGLING BABUS
PORN TROUBLE IN UP
Computer-literate officials in the Mayawati government of Uttar Pradesh are in deep trouble these days. A woman official in the finance department recently lodged a complaint that some senior babus were surfing pornography sites during office hours and it was becoming increasingly embarrassing for women to work in such an atmosphere.
The complaint, expectedly, sent shockwaves in the chief minister's secretariat and the concerned authorities were immediately asked to identify which computers had been used to view X-rated sites.
Now IT wizards are screening all computers one by one. Junior officials whisper that it is senior babus who are hooked on to porn sites all day. "Since Mayawati rarely visits her office and works from her residence, these officials keep busy at computers," said a junior babu. "However, when action is taken, it will be the smaller officials who will suffer."
The controversy has put an end to the state government's plan to push e-governance with a vengeance.
Perils of a loose tongue
If there is a "foot-in-the-mouth" award, it should be given to the Madhya Pradesh BJP president Prabhat Jha.
He recently stirred up a controversy with his comment that security personnel belonging to paramilitary forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force and Border Security Force are no less than dacoits and smugglers.
Speaking at Indore the other day, the state BJP chief said Naxalites were using weapons and firearms purchased from the security personnel. After his comments created an uproar, Mr Jha quickly retracted his statement and said he held the security forces in high esteem. He added that his remarks were only aimed at some wayward cops acting against the national interest.
Despite this, a petition requesting that Mr Jha be tried for sedition has been filed in a local court by a state Congress spokesman.
Singing a new tune
Former Orissa minister and senior Biju Janata Dal leader Kalindi Behera was already an astute politician and experienced teacher rolled into one. Of late, he has got two more new identities a singer and a lyricist. Mr Behera recently penned seven devotional songs in praise of Sai Baba.
The Anand Dham Trust last week released an album Bhakti Arghya that contained all the seven songs composed by the politician. Mr Behera has also rendered the title song in his own voice. Though friends of Prof. Behera say that he is just exploring his artistic self, political circles feel he is now looking at some kind of divine intervention to be back in the state council of ministers.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik dropped him from his council of ministers in 2008 when at least 19 people died in a liquor tragedy at Berhampur. He was excise minister then. Perhaps all this devotion will open the doors again.
Back to school
Chhattisgarh BJP MLA Baiduram Kasyap, 62, must be cursing the day he decided to resume his studies and clear the Class 10 exams. All went well till the tribal legislator from Chitrakoot was charged with arranging an impersonator to sit in a pre-test for Class 10, which began on July 17.
When the controversy refused to die down, Mr Kasyap tried another trick. On the last day of the examination, he invited the electronic media to cover him writing his examination. He began writing the exam in real earnest with the cameras trained on him.
After scribbling half-a-page of the answer sheet, he came out of the examination hall to talk to reporters. "I hail from a poor tribal family and I dropped out of school due to poverty", he said. "Hence I wanted to set an example for others, particularly my tribal brethren. But my rivals created unnecessary controversy by making false allegations."
After this emotionally charged soundbite, he walked out in a huff and sped away in his car leaving his exam paper unfinished. But, he was termed successful in the examination, giving rise to yet another controversy.
A BJP Gandhi?
former BJP chief Rajnath Singh's son Pankaj Singh has been inducted into the Uttar Pradesh BJP executive as state secretary. His supporters in Varanasi have put up hoardings that scream "Pankaj nahi ye aandhi hai, Doosra Mahatma Gandhi hai."
But Rajnath baiters are obviously not amused at the comparison.
WHY DO WE REACT?
What is the basis of reaction?
For most of you, most of your reactions are just helpless reactions. Many times you tell yourself, "Next time I should not react like this". But the next time your reaction gets even more violent. This is happening, isn't it? Especially when you go about telling yourself, "I don't want to react, I don't want to react", you become a total reaction.
First of all, why are you reacting? What is the basis of reaction? This reaction is coming in you fundamentally because you're still a collection of people. Please see that you're not an individual; you're a collection of people operating up there in your mind. When you're not an individual, you're naturally a reaction, because everything that you have within you is something that you have received from outside. Please look sincerely at everything that you know as "myself" your beliefs, your opinions, your likes, your dislikes; everything has been gathered from outside. Even your idea of what's beautiful and what's good has been received from outside.
So the first thing to do is to remove yourself with everything that you are not; to see that you are not this or that. One day just sit by yourself and strip yourself of everything you're identified with, piece by piece your education, ideology, home, family, body. Something so tremendous will happen if you do this successfully, and, of course, you will no longer be a reaction.
This may not be possible for everybody. Some need to be supported physically, emotionally and energy-wise also. So there's a whole integrated practice; something to do with your energy, body, emotion and mind. This combination works much better, but if you have a razor sharp mind, you can just sit down and say, "This is not me. Take it away".
This is one of the most ancient spiritual processes and there are many step-by-step methods to get there. In India we call this "nethi, nethi, nethi" "this is not it", "this is not it", "this is not it".
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a yogi, is a visionary, humanitarian and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet, and
internationally-renowned speaker, Sadhguru's wit and piercing logic provoke and widen our perception of life. He can be contacted at www.ishafoundation.org
WHERE'S MRS OBAMA?
BY MAUREEN DOWD
Her critics used to paint her as a scary Marxist. Now they cast her as a spoiled princess.
During the campaign, she was caricatured on the cover of the New Yorker as a fist-bumping, gun-toting Black Panther. Now she's mocked by a New York Daily News blogger as a jet-setting, free-spending Marie Antoinette. (On Spain's Costa del Sol with Sasha on her husband's 49th birthday, she did, in effect, say let him eat cake alone.)
Michelle Obama is the most popular figure in the administration, but last week she had her first brush with getting brushed back in the press.
Some of the women anchoring news shows on MSNBC debated whether the First Lady was being "mean" to her husband by deserting him on his birthday for a girls' getaway to Spain, and whether it was sort of sad, as one put it, that the President, drowning in troubles, had to go to Chicago to find friends (including Oprah) to celebrate with.
Andrea Tantaros, a Fox contributor and former Republican operative, wrote a harsh Daily News blog post calling the First Lady a "material girl" for going on a glitzy vacation at a luxury resort in Marbella with a cavalcade of secret service agents, friends, children and staff, even as "most of the country is pinching pennies and downsizing summer sojourns or forgoing them altogether".
In politics and pop culture, optics are all. And Michelle's optics sent a message that likely made some in the White House and the Democratic Party wince.
She seemed to be gigging her husband a bit: I'm going to do what I want to do. I can't worry about whether it gives the Tea Partiers ammo or makes Democrats (including you) campaigning against the excesses of the rich look hypocritical. Even if the country is sliding into a double-dip recession, I'm going abroad to a five-star hotel on Air Force Two and give a boost to another country's economy.
To defray possible criticism of their upcoming 10-day trip to Martha's Vineyard, Michelle belatedly agreed to a weekend family vacation on Florida's gulf coast. On Friday, Spanish police closed a public beach for the American entourage. If Michelle had wanted a closed beach, she could have headed to our gulf sooner. There are plenty of multi-star hotels there, and she and the girls could have cleaned a few pelicans.
Certainly, as Obama adviser David Axelrod says, "not everything is political theatre". The Obamas shouldn't have to poll, as the Clintons did, to figure out where to go on vacation.
"Folks in the public eye are also human beings", Axelrod told me. "If you have the ability to show your kid a part of the world and you can do that together before they get to the age where they don't want to do anything with you, I don't think it's right that you have to defer it because of the politics."
But as Michelle and friends frolicked in the land of flamenco, the birthday boy got few gifts from the news.
More Democratic candidates shied away from appearing with him. The latest disappointing jobs report prompted evening news reports about Americans' fears of falling into what one called "the abyss". And a CNN poll showed that a quarter of Americans still doubt the President was even born here.
The job of First Lady, tightly constrained by convention, is hard for modern women. Michelle is a gutsy Harvard Law School grad who started as her husband's mentor. Any colouring outside the lines can cause problems, as Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton learned when lampooned as Marie Antoinettes.
Michelle has done such a good job that she silenced her vituperative conservative critics for a year-and-a-half. But perhaps the strain of debunking that "angry black woman" stereotype by playing the smiling, conventional First Lady, talking to Ladies' Home Journal about vegetable cleanses and portion sizes, made her want to assert her independence in the one place she could: her schedule.
The inimitable columnist Mary McGrory once said that if a First Lady simply made her husband toast, that was
enough, given how hard his job was.
And because his predecessor mucked things up so royally, US President Barack Obama's job is ridiculously hard. But at moments when you think Michelle might make her husband toast, or better yet a martini, she's often off on a girls' trip.
When healthcare passed after a difficult year and the President celebrated with his staff on the Truman Balcony, the First Lady was with her daughters on Broadway to see Memphis.
When the BP oil spill stained the White House, making the President seem so impotent that he had to make his first national address from the Oval Office, the First Lady was playing with her mother and daughters in Los Angeles, staying at the Beverly Wilshire. She was taking in a Lakers game the night of his address.
During the campaign, Michelle tried to offset her husband's existential detachment with familial warmth. Now that he holds the world's loneliest office, he needs that more than ever.
HIGHER STILL HIGHER
BOTH SIDES AGREE TO DISAGREE
Parliament has failed the people. The uproar and the disruption have as usual yielded nothing. Both the Treasury and Opposition benches have agreed to disagree, never mind the ballooning food inflation. The current rate of 9.53 per cent registers only a marginal decline. A government ~ faltering on every critical issue ~ ensured that there would be no voting after the debate. For all the soundbytes, the Opposition obliged and eventually played on the back foot by merely urging the Speaker to direct the government to take corrective steps. The legislature is safe with privileges intact; the executive is unscathed. Yet the judiciary has been conveniently overlooked. Neither side appeared to be moved by the recent Supreme Court indictment over the rotting foodgrain in several states owing to inadequate storage facilities. And in the midst of malnutrition, if not virtual starvation, of a large segment. Sharad Pawar is much too culpable; he has of course spared us a tissue of mis-statements by not making a presentation on the final day. Pranab Mukherjee's performance was calculatedly evasive, though he has acknowledged the collective responsibility of the Centre and the states. Both have failed. Gallingly, the finance minister pleaded that shortfall and hoarding are "beyond the government's control". This begs a very simple query: Why hasn't the Essential Services Maintenance Act been invoked? It is a fundamental failure of governance if hoarding cannot be curbed; one is driven to the conclusion that the crime has been tacitly condoned. Mr Mukherjee was diversionary on the equally critical diversion of PDS supplies to open markets. He sounded pretty helpless on the price front, turning down a proposal for tax reduction and attributing the crisis to international crude prices.
Periodic assurances by his economic advisers that the inflation rate will decline shortly are only for the birds. If the minister was evasive, the Opposition leader was feeble. While wrapping up the debate, Sushma Swaraj merely regretted that the government hadn't rolled back food prices. It is the ineptitude of the government that has been on display. At another remove. it was the Opposition's raucous lung-power that was in evidence. And amidst the bedlam, the Food Security Bill ceased to be a priority, let alone universal PDS.
SPIKING THE GUNS
TRUST DEFICIT IN MOD BUYING
RED tape can prove self-strangulating. That is the inevitable conclusion drawn from the recent decision to suspend the trial/selection process to end the Army's decades-long requirement for medium-artillery because a single-vendor situation had emerged after the CBI called for blacklisting a Singapore-based supplier suspected of corruption in another defence deal. Revised and re-revised regulations proscribe single-vendor evaluations, and to further complicate the situation the sole supplier left in the race was the latest incarnation of the firm that first brought murky defence deals into public focus ~ Bofors. That was way back in the mid-1980s, and the Army is yet to make up for the shortfall of some 900 artillery pieces that were denied to it when the deal with the original Swedish firm was scrapped in the wake of the political furore that cost the Rajiv Gandhi government re-election. However, what is of grave immediate concern is more than the gaping hole in the firepower profile (incidentally the Bofors field-howitzers functioned superbly at Kargil), but how "anti-corruption" regulation has proved a quagmire that has delayed or stymied acquisition of weaponry the forces require. Not that those safeguards have actually worked, corruption in the procurement system remains rampant. Could there be a more scathing condemnation of national character than an inability to eliminate a trust deficit in the personnel involved in providing the soldier his guns? Whether the crook is civilian or military, he constitutes a national disgrace. That he appears to be everywhere adds to the shame.
A couple of related questions arise. Those who would care to recall some of the slogans that did the rounds during Gulzari Lal Nanda's anti-corruption drive might remember the one that read: "To take a bribe is as bad as to give a bribe". While the list of blacklisted foreign arms producers runs long, the number of persons nailed for receiving their bribes is short ~ undisclosed for political reasons? And if a shortage of that particular equipment has been felt for over 30 years why has no attempt been made at indigenous development? The DRDO can experiment with missiles, radars, aircraft and tanks but fights shy of modern cannon? What squandering of the legacy of the man who cast the celebrated zamzamah that Kipling so eulogised!
TEACHERS IN TROUBLE
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
THE dust raised by the steps taken in West Bengal to enforce the law on corporal punishment has produced tragic sub-plots like a teacher in Hooghly rushing to the home of a student she had slapped earlier in the day in school. Her fear was that the parents would file a complaint with the local police, and that would be enough to fetch her admonishment or even suspension. This raises serious questions. Exceptional cases such as a suicide by a student have alerted school authorities while the government has realised that its responsibility cannot be restricted to schools that it runs or aids. But while public attention is focused on cases of corporal punishment that are coming to light, there is the other side of the coin that finds teachers now finding it difficult to distinguish between acts of discipline and steps against delinquency. There are reputed schools where teachers have followed well-established principles of conduct that are seldom questioned outside the classroom or, at worst, settled at the level of the principal. This is because the teachers are not only competent but command trust and can rarely, if ever, be accused of bias or cruelty. None of this may matter in the new climate in which schools across the board will be expected to follow the rulebook.
This can leave teachers confused and make it more difficult to deal with cases of indiscipline or sheer mischief. While some of them may be inclined to give up in despair, others may still be committed to the highest principles of their profession. They are expected to be experienced and responsible enough to distinguish between torture and taking such steps as are necessary to let children develop. It would be a disaster if the academic atmosphere is vitiated to the extent where teachers are compelled to perform permanently in a climate of fear. While it is necessary to protect children from irresponsible and incompetent teachers, the guidelines may not benefit either schools or students without there being a clear reference point on maintaining standards. The government and the law have to continue to deal with aberrations. For the rest, schools and teachers need to be spared the current blast of external pressures.
QUIT THE NATION
HOW A GANDHIAN MOVEMENT BECAME VIOLENT
NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
IT is a well-known fact of history that Mahatma Gandhi called for the ouster of the British government on 9 August 1942 with his "Quit India" war-cry. Public enthusiasm was stirred to the point of a violent revolt. According to the historian, Tara Chand, it was an unprecedented and "spontaneous revolt" that hastened the end of British rule in India.
Surprisingly enough, Gandhi was not inclined to start a mass struggle at that critical juncture. In his reckoning, the call for such an agitation would suffice. And if it did take off, the British authorities would try to settle scores with him. At worst, it would result in a "fifteen-day anarchy". Thereafter, negotiations would settle the crisis.
The Mahatma was disillusioned by the Cripps Mission of March-April, 1942. He had expected that Britain, then in war with Germany, would try to enlist Indian support and come to terms with the nationalist leaders. But even at the height of the crisis, aggravated by Japan's advance towards Burma since December 1941, Britain stuck to its imperialist stance. Stafford Cripps was sent to India to negotiate with the Indian leaders, but he had nothing tangible to offer on the basis of which a settlement could be reached. The Mahatma, after a brief meeting, advised him to go back by the next flight, because his offer was similar to a "post-dated cheque".
Gandhi concluded that a bolder step needed to be taken in the interests of national liberation. Of course, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, one of his faithful disciples, had a different take. According to him, the dramatic escape of Netaji and his adventurous scheme to inflict a mortal blow to the government from abroad inspired Gandhi to do something within India. As Azad has written: "He had no clear idea. The only thing he mentioned during our discussions was that unlike previous occasions, this time the people would not court imprisonment voluntarily. They should resist arrest and submit to the government if only physically forced to do so. Gandhiji's idea seemed to be that since the war was on the frontier, the British would come to terms with the Congress as soon as it was launched. Even if this did not take place, he believed that the British would hesitate to take any drastic step with the Japanese knocking at the door" (India Wins Freedom, p 75-76).
Nehru and other leaders were opposed to such an idea. Though at the Haripura session (1938) and Tripuri session (1939) the Congress had resolved that if, due to its "fascist" policy, Britain was involved in a global war, India would not support the war effort in any way. Nehru viewed the war as one; he felt that it was their bounden duty to support Britain, an apostle of democracy. He and some other leaders tried to restrain Gandhi from launching a mass movement, because, in their view, it would directly serve the interests of Japan. Nehri wrote in his Discovery of India (p 483) that Gandhi had no clear idea of the international situation; his call for a Quit India movement sought to weaken Britain's struggle for democracy.
Thus, for some time, the Mahatma ploughed a lonely furrow. Even the working committee of the Congress rejected his proposal of launching a mass struggle in April-May 1942. Yet he soldiered on. He told Louis Fischer: "I am a man possessed with an idea. If such a man cannot get an organisation, he himself becomes an organisation" ~ (One Week With Gandhiji, p 83). Before long, Nehru, Azad and others realised the implications and they began to toe the Gandhian line. On 14 July, the working committee accepted his proposal and, on 7 August, it was passed by the AICC with a thumping majority.
But Gandhi did not actually intend to launch a struggle against the Raj; he simply wanted to exert pressure on the British to grant some concessions. He did not chalk out any plan or programme. It was a phase marked by conviction and confusion. The Mahatma sounded the war-cry "do or die". He told the people, "Take a pledge with God and your conscience as witness that you will no longer rest till freedom is achieved and will be prepared to lay down your lives in the attempt to achieve it." In the same breath, he advised them to fight peacefully and with non-violent means. He sought an interview with the Viceroy to inform him about the peaceful objectives of the Congress. The Viceroy was furious over the declaration of a "rebellion" by the Congress. The Mahatma sent Miss Slade, popularly known as Mira Ben, to convince the Viceroy that the term was emotionally coined by Nehru and that the proposed movement would be totally non-violent. The Viceroy curtly refused to see her, and a crisis was seemingly in the offing.
Crackdown by the British
Suddenly, on 9 August, the British launched a crackdown. Prominent Congress leaders were arrested and the party was declared illegal. The people reacted with processions and strikes. They were assaulted, arrested, and even fired at. The movement took a violent turn. The mobs cut telegraph and telephone wires, damaged railway lines, raised barricades, and set post offices, police stations, and government offices on fire. The government deployed the army to crush the movement.
Apart from the usual repressive measures, the British used machine-guns and fired from the air. The people became still more restive. At Ballia in UP, Midnapore in Bengal, Satara in Maharashtra and several parts of Bihar, the people set up a parallel government in order to paralyse the British administration. It was officially admitted in 1942 that the police resorted to firing on no fewer than 538 occasions. An estimated 960 people were killed and 1630 severely injured. An enormous amount was collected as fines.
The extent of the violence suggests that the Quit India movement was not exactly Gandhian in nature. It was called on the presumption that it would either remain largely non-violent, marked by pressure tactics. As it turned out, the movement escalated to an armed revolt that continued for two years.
It is, however, difficult to say whether or not the people followed the instructions conveyed by Netaji through the Berlin Radio. He did not oppose the violence. But the fact is that the revolt proceeded through violence as he fondly desired. On 31 August 1942, he advised the people to: (i) hold protest-meetings; (ii) publish secret bulletins; (iii) occupy government offices; (iv) punish the police officers; (v) erect barricades; (vi) set government offices on fire; (vii) destroy communication links; (viii) damage railway, bus and tram services; and (ix) to attack police and railway stations. It can rightly be claimed that though the Quit India movement was called by the non-violent Mahatma Gandhi, it did ignite the country as desired by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
PRETTY HINDU WOMAN
Julia Roberts is a Hindu. So am I. But, unlike her, I would only admit to it if you held a gun to my head.
In all other situations, I have equal contempt for all religions, a little more for some than for others ~ I may not be a Pretty Woman but I do like to think of myself as a Thinking Man who gets it contextually, is always game for insights into the matrix of self, people, places and paraphernalia that makes each individual's existence fit in the context of their specific earthly life in all spheres and, hell, I even celebrate the mundane, so why shouldn't I?
I hasten to clarify that I have nothing against adherents of any faith ~ it's not their fault that both nature and nurture have conspired to make them believers ~ but apart from being a Hindu-If-Gun-At-Head I am also a Muscular Liberal. This is sometimes confused with being a Neo Conservative but it's not the same thing at all, despite certain commonalities of interest.
Also, I believe in the rule of law and don't give a toss that its origins, as of the social contract or the notion of equality of opportunity, emanate from the Christian tradition; approximations of these theses, both theoretical and practical, can always be found in other faiths but that's not my game. I am not an insecure Hindu who wants to push his religion's case to be the new "it" thing; that's a derivative discourse best left to socially disabled, sexually inept and intellectually moribund proselytisers of all faiths.
In fact, I am the only Muscular Liberal Hindu-If-Gun-At-Head I know who doesn't want to convert anyone. Just couldn't be bothered; there may be safety and legacy in numbers but there is also such profound boredom there. I am morally ambivalent ~ each to their own as long as it doesn't break the law of the land ~ but aspire to be ethically correct at all times as a matter of faith. So, I think I'm an irregular sort of Hindu, the only one I aspire to be despite the Sanatan Dharma regulars (respect).
Longish preamble, but necessary I think. Because only Hinduism as an Indic civilizational way of life, and that's the notion of the religion that claims me when push comes to pistol (you didn't seriously think I was from the ranks of the Ram Sene/Bajrang Dal did you?), allows me to take the above position without being excommunicated or worse. Indeed, it's a moot point who would, if they could, excommunicate me because there isn't any central ecclesiastical authority I recognise or one that can enforce such a decision if I don't go by the book, as it were. It's also for these and other such reasons that Roberts can declare she is a practicing Hindu without having a love interest from that faith to pander to or cultural particularity to take into account, and without having to change her name, her diet, her profession or even how she chooses to dress.
Because in the essence ~ not core, mind, but essence ~ of this way of life is the individual and his/her freedoms in all spheres (what more religious and perhaps less muscular Hindus refer to as the individual path to salvation). Don't get me wrong, though. This is not some airy-fairy new age traveller number that makes of a flawed, living, breathing religion a kind of hippy-happy, anything goes, structureless entity. Of course not. The empirical realities of caste, kinship and family structures and what they have come to represent in the form of group rights trumping individual rights, to take just one example, mitigate against such a reading of the religion. But still.
Roberts can just get up and leave at any point and at any time of her choosing, without ascribing any reason whatsoever. It's what philosophers call the "right of exit" from any cultural/religious community for each and every member thereof without having to give up their adherence to the cultural context of their lives ~ whether that be a result of choice or circumstance or as most often a bit of both ~ and this includes how they eat, love, pray...
CHINA'S GENERATION OF ANGRY YOUTH
Following 30 years of reform and opening up, China's educated youth are split into two distinctive groups. Some of them, benefiting from the country's growing economic success, have become intellectual elites with dominant social status. Their less fortunate peers, who missed these opportunities, are still struggling at the bottom rungs of society.
In such an unfavourable context, they may turn into so-called "angry youth", radically critical citizens furious over any malpractice by public powers, and thereby sowing the seeds of social inequity. This group, who defy mainstream values, will have a profound and far-reaching impact on Chinese society.
The social underdogs are those who usually stay in cities after leaving school. They do not have stable jobs or local household registration.
This group mainly consists of three kinds: idle youth from urban families relying on their parents' income; unemployed college graduates from the rural areas swarming to cities looking for jobs or the so-called "ant tribe"; a new generation of migrant workers born after the 1980s who have had secondary education and who fight for their livelihood in cities but are still identified as farmers.
Among the three, utmost attention should be paid to jobless college graduates from rural families, especially the new generation of migrant workers. The new generation of migrant workers accounts for five to six per cent of the total population of 130 million migrant workers.
The difference between jobless urban and rural youth and the new generation migrant workers is that the rural labourers have no basic living guarantee in cities once they lose jobs. As city dwellers, their urban counterparts can, however, continue with their parasitic life, either relying on social welfare or on parents to get by.
Irrespective of the family backgrounds of these "angry youth", most of them attribute their miserable lives to unfair social systems, rather than themselves.
A typical ideology of this energetic group, labelled "angry youth consciousness" is taking shape gradually. Contrary to the mainstream social values, this ideology reflects a shared outlook among the underdogs.
Once this consciousness takes root, it will cause more social unrest at the grassroots level. We can see this budding mentality at internet forums where views opposing mainstream values are expressed with regard to political proposals or controversial social issues. These defiant opinions reflect the social underdogs' dissatisfaction and protest and, if not checked, will aggravate hatred against the bureaucracy.
Although the older unemployed migrant workers are also in a weak position in the social strata, survival is their most pressing problem, not political participation. Even if they cause social unrest, they usually blame it on their employers directly rather than the local governments.
But the expectations of poor educated youth are different from common migrant workers. Most of the youngsters will probably think of corruption by officials first when they accuse the unfair social system for their personal troubles.
A simple comparison between their better-off classmates and themselves may easily direct their dissatisfaction to the system. Gradually, they will become apathetic to life and resent society, and become increasingly rebellious.
The problem of poor educated youth is closely related to the exclusive nature of institutions formed after the reform and opening up. The main feature of the exclusiveness is that huge obstacles exist which prevents members at the bottom rungs of society from climbing up the social ladder.
Children of the rich and powerful always have better opportunities and corner more social resources. The abuses of public power and financial resources are eating into the very foundation of social fairness and justice. The monopoly of power and wealth by the elite few intensifies the "angry youth's" strong resistance to official homilies on social values. Breaking the monopoly of public power to provide upward flow on an equal footing is urgently needed.
Decision-makers should get a keen glimpse of the underdogs' lives and try to understand their concerns and behaviour. Political research should not only focus on elite intellectuals, but also reach people at the grassroots to understand the dynamics of China's domestic governance system.
And, developing basic social identification among the youth is crucial to promoting their emotional attachment to society. Through building a fair social security system, governments at various levels should provide citizens with equal public services regardless of their backgrounds.
SAILING ROUND THE WORLD AT 14
As Laura Dekker's boat finally set sail for the start of a voyage that could one day lead her to be crowned as the youngest person to sail solo around the world, it was her lawyer Peter de Lange who provided the most succinct explanation as to why a 14-year-old would undergo such a task. "Laura has salt in her veins," he said.
For the past 12 months, the teenager has been stranded on dry land following a bitter legal dispute between her family and Dutch child welfare services who refused to let her leave the country. But the schoolgirl finally set off from Den Osse harbour for the start of a two-year odyssey which will see her journey for months on end without support or company through some of the world's toughest seas.
Her court case provoked a debate over whether someone so young should be allowed to take on such a daunting challenge. Supported by her father Dick and belatedly by her mother after she dropped her initial opposition Laura argued that she was an accomplished sailor who could tackle a solo global voyage and keep up with her studies at the same time.
Welfare officers in the Netherlands disagreed, launching a legal bid to stop her from undertaking the voyage and even threatening to take her into care. But, in a dramatic reversal of fortune for the young sailor, a court in the Netherlands struck down a supervision order which had barred the teenager from going abroad, arguing that the ultimate responsibility for Laura lay with her parents.
Speaking to reporters next to her 38ft yacht Guppy, the teenager dismissed any concerns for her safety, even though she will have to travel through pirate-infested waters and battle tropical storms on her own. "I am not really afraid," she said. "I am very happy. I want to see the world and it would be great to become the youngest (person to circumnavigate the Earth)".
For the opening stages of her voyage to Portugal she will be accompanied by her father. "We want to be sure that the boat is completely ready, so this is the last test sail," Laura explained. "From Portugal I start officially by myself, sailing towards the Canary Islands."
Part of the reason the court lifted the supervision order was because she made a series of adjustments, opting to travel in a larger boat, taking first-aid courses as well as practising solo runs across the North Sea and undergoing sleep-deprivation exercises. She will not try to circumnavigate the globe in one go, opting instead to take regular stops to meet her family. She will also avoid the ocean during stormy seasons. Her route will take her across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific, past Malaysia and Thailand, around the southern horn of India and through the Gulf of Aden, a stretch of water notorious for piracy.
Her voyage is part of a trend that has seen younger and younger participants attempt to snatch the record. Last year the 17-year-old American Zac Sunderland became the youngest sailor to sail around the world only to have his record broken six weeks later by the British sailor, Michael Perham, also 17 years old. In May, the Australian sailor Jessica Watson reduced the age record once more, completing a circumnavigation in less than seven months, just shy of her 17th birthday. If Laura is to beat Jessica's record she will need to complete her circumnavigation by not later than 16 September 2012.
The passive voice is a mixture of things convenient, mysterious, evasive, flexible depending on the use to which it is put. The Supreme Court recently ruled that DNA tests in paternity cases should be ordered only when "eminently needed". The question here is not only who will do the ordering but also who will decide on the eminence of the need. A lot turns on the latter because fathers need to be identified usually when the complaint is against an injustice done to a woman. But the Supreme Court stated clearly, in the context of a particular case, that a state women's commission could not order a DNA test. Here a woman had been fighting a matrimonial case against her husband, who had moved court to have his marriage annulled. But she also applied to the Orissa women's commission, alleging that he had dumped her after making her pregnant. The commission asked for a DNA test to establish who her child's father was, and a lower court had upheld that order. The Supreme Court's ruling puts 17 more such DNA tests that the OWC ordered in limbo. Among these is one relating to a paternity case against a Biju Janata Dal legislator. The ruling amounts to a clipping of the commission's wings.
Who is to decide whether knowing the identity of the father is "eminently needed"? The Supreme Court has warned against the possibility of "bastardizing" an innocent child in this search for truth, especially if the mother and her spouse were living together at the time of conception. The Supreme Court's sensitive appreciation of the possible social problems of a child from a broken or divided home is truly heartening. But it is disturbing to think that the OWC could also have thought those 17 DNA tests absolutely necessary, that the high number may not be an index of its casual attitude but an indicator at the rate at which women are exploited or abandoned or betrayed. No doubt the court in its wisdom has in mind the fine balance between the good of the child in society and justice for wronged women.
THE DECLINE OF MORALITY
LIBERALIZATION AND GLOBALIZATION HAVE INCREASED GREED
COMMENTARAO: S.L. RAO
A recent issue of a popular news magazine carried a cover story on the lifestyles of many well-to-do urban young people. It described a hedonistic life of late nights, intimacy between the sexes, expensive meals and other entertainment. These are the young people whose misguided parents give them a lot of spending money or some who hold highly paid jobs during the day and play hard afterwards. The National Council of Applied Economic Research publications show a decline in the numbers of the very poor and a rise in the numbers of the better-off. Inequalities in India are fewer than in China and other countries. However, the mental conditioning of avoidance of ostentatious consumption that prevailed till the early 1980s has gone. It is good that there is no longer a sense of guilt for spending on oneself but the ostentation it has brought to many is undesirable.
The opening of the economy from the time Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister to the wider opening under P.V. Narasimha Rao has made it possible to buy almost anything made elsewhere, at prices comparable to other countries. Consumption has become a mantra, especially for many young people. The credit-card culture that has easy credit for immediate consumption of almost any good or service led to the recent decline of the American economy, which got used to living on debt, both at individual and country levels. In a country with so many poor people, this creates enormous disparities in society. The influence of the media, especially the soaps on television, and the lifestyles depicted in the cinema, have all played a major role. The other strong influence, especially on the young, has been the globalization of information and ideas that the internet and cheap travel have made possible. Change is inevitable, but not if it also leads to a loss of compassion and to hedonism.
The counterpart of the allures of consumption is the desire for more money and more goods. Some have tried to get it the easy way through theft, swindling, and so on. Politicians and bureaucrats have used other underhand ways. When they are in government, they use the government machinery to determine policies and their interpretation of them to earn the highest underhand incomes. Businessmen help themselves by feeding these desires of those in government to get contracts and other favours which are worth a great deal.
As the second half approaches in the life of the present government in India, it has been repeatedly said that this one is the most corrupt government that India has ever had. This was said about the Indira governments, about H.D. Deve Gowda, Narasimha Rao, Rajiv Gandhi, A.B. Vajpayee and the United Progressive Alliance. Indira Gandhi is recognized as having institutionalized corruption. She did this by centralizing all major appointments in the government, the public sector and the academia. Her office had to be part of every major purchase decision by the government. Successor governments have built on her legacy. The National Democratic Alliance government took longer to learn the process, since many in it were new to power and to the mechanics of earning financial returns from power. But they learnt their lessons, although participation rates and earnings may have been lower than their predecessors.
Many of us expected that a diminished role for the government in economic decisions after economic liberalization would reduce the illegal opportunities for making money. Indeed, this happened in some instances, as in the lobbying for and auctioning of licences and permits which ceased after the abolition of licence-permit raj. When information technology made it possible to almost eliminate human interventions in many actions of government officials, we naïvely thought that would be the end of corruption. Certainly, railway ticket issues are more transparent as are airline tickets. In states like Karnataka, land records are less likely to be fudged. With competition in telecommunications, one no longer pays extra to get a telephone or a linesman to attend to a fault. Perhaps even traffic policemen will, over time, as use of information technology develops, not take a bribe in lieu of a large fine because a rider on a two-wheeler is not wearing a helmet, a driver or passenger in the front seat is not wearing a seat belt, a car jumps a red light, and so on.
But there are much larger sums to be made. For a few years the chairman of the National Highway Authority of India was changed almost every year. The reason was that all road contracts had then to go to the minister for approval. Similarly with environmental clearances: the minister some years ago took all the final decisions. Or take the sad story of our national carriers, which have in a short span lost their entire lustre. They are heavily in debt, losing vast sums, and are known to have lazy, indifferent and indisciplined employees. Yet the top management slot is always with a joint secretary. The fact that even when the airlines were haemorrhaging money through losses, valuable routes were surrendered to private airlines, and many brand new aircraft were ordered when other airlines were cutting orders, might be explained, since bureaucrats are more accustomed to bowing to the wishes of ministers. Defence contracts, project execution contracts and large purchases by public sector enterprises, city improvement programmes there is much money to be made by the government decision-maker. Rarely does he and his political boss not make money.
A semi-literate chief minister of Jharkhand is said to have made thousands of crores and sent much of it abroad. So did a racehorse owner. Similarly, a small-town crook involved many politicians and bureaucrats in selling fake stamp papers for many years, milking governments of substantial revenues. Matters have reached such a stage that last year's food inflation is suspected to have benefited associated ministers and bureaucrats at the cost of the health and nutrition of millions of people. The former held back the stocks with the government so that prices could keep going up. When they are to import wheat or sugar, they invariably inform the world so that international traders are able to rig prices.
Corruption in the government is all-pervasive and has affected eminent professionals as well. Chairmen of the two top regulatory bodies for medical and technical education have been charged with taking decisions regarding the recognition of substandard institutions allegedly with money. The University Grants Commission is said to have given permission to many deemed universities, though they were not qualified. Hospitals, nursing homes, chemists, all are part of this suspected nexus with government regulatory and other officials, which allows the former to make extra money at the cost of patients.
This loss of moral values has accompanied economic liberalization and globalization. Neither can it be blamed for it has enabled India to become an economic powerhouse in the eyes of the world. But it is sapping the moral fabric of the country. Ostentatious consumption cannot be controlled by fiat unless we reverse to a licence-permit raj, with corruption but no economic growth. It needs a fiscal system that provides disincentives, a control on personal debt by regulators, and most importantly, the example set by leaders. Sadly we have none.
LADAKH IN PERIL
'OUR PREPARED-NESS TO FACE NATURAL HAZARDS IS LOW.'
The cloudburst that struck Ladakh on Thursday has left behind a trail of death and devastation. The death toll has crossed 130 with around 450 people reported missing. Hundreds of homes have gone under water following the flash floods. The Srinagar-Leh Highway has been cut off as a crucial bridge between Syong and Nemu was washed away. With the Manali-Leh road hit by a landslide, this route into the disaster-hit region is blocked. The runway at Leh airport, which was under mud, has been cleared enabling rescue and relief planes to land. A camp of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police too has been severely damaged. Rescue operations are on but these efforts are hampered by the destruction of transport and communication infrastructure. Medical help for the injured too has been undermined as Leh's main hospital has been flattened. Relief operations during natural disasters are always difficult as infrastructure is destroyed. This problem is all the more acute in Ladakh's case given the altitude of this region. Current rescue and relief efforts are focusing on Leh. There will be communities in isolated and remote parts of this district that will need attention too.
Heavy rains and consequent floods and landslides have been reported across the Himalayan region. Strife-torn NWFP in Pakistan is now battling the havoc caused by floods. But heavy rains and floods in South Asia during this time of the year are an annual event. They are routine. Rains, especially cloudbursts, in Ladakh are not. Ladakh is a rain shadow region. The mighty Himalayas act as a barrier to advancing monsoon clouds. Hence, this is a region that gets just around 9 cm of rain annually. On Thursday, Leh reportedly received an unprecedented 2 cm of rain what it receives on annually over the entire month of August annually within minutes.
If natural hazards are turning into disasters in India and other parts of Asia, it is because our preparedness to face them is low. A cloudburst, while not expected, should not be crippling our cities and towns. They are because infrastructure we have in place is flimsy. It was not the cloudburst that brought Mumbai to its knees in July 2005 but its shoddy infrastructure and poor preparedness for natural hazards. And it is similar substandard infrastructure shaky houses and public buildings that collapsed like a pack of cards under a cloudburst in Leh.
'TELEMARKETERS HARASS THROUGH CALLS AND SMSES.'
Hope of relief from harassment through telemarketing calls seems to be on the horizon. The telecom ministry has promised to take action. It appears that it was when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was interrupted in the middle of an important meeting with Opposition MPs by a call on his mobile offering him a home loan and the incident came to the notice of the telecom ministry that the latter seems to have realised that telemarketers were going too far. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which has failed to come to the rescue of millions of other harassed citizens so far, has decided to finally respond to the finance minister's plight. Telemarketing calls are not just annoying; they can prove expensive too, especially when such calls are received when one is abroad. TRAI has made some attempts to clampdown on such calls. For instance, it did set up a 'do not call' registry. Though the effort did cut down the number of unsolicited commercial calls one received, it did not halt them. Telemarketers have continued to harass through calls and SMSes. It appears that TRAI is now considering creating a 'do call' registry instead of the existing 'do not call' one. This means that those who want such marketing information delivered to them via mobile would have to register asking for it. Besides, it is considering stern action against mobile operators as they are the ones who have the list of subscribers. Since it is they who are leaking subscribers' numbers to telemarketers they will have to face the music henceforth. There are suggestions too to impose very hefty fines on mobile operators and telemarketers who persist with these pesky calls.
Some are suggesting imposing a ceiling on the number of calls/SMSes from a particular number, wireless or wireline, to force telemarketers to register with the telecom department the objective being that once these telemarketers are registered, their identity becomes known making action under them easier. These are interesting ideas and it remains to be seen whether they work to rein in the aggression of the telemarketers.
In the past, TRAI has announced a measure to stop this intrusion into our privacy, this persisting harassment and then done little to follow up with steps to tackle the loopholes. Will the current announcement be yet another instance of raising false hopes? Millions of mobile users across the country are hoping that the ministry will try a little harder to stop the harassment this time.
SQUARING ALL SIDES
M J AKBAR
'As far as the people are concerned the difference between grace and disgrace has evaporated.'
Governments never seem to understand a basic fact of the democratic dialectic: no opposition wants its demands met. It prefers a government to be stubborn, so that it can string out the accusation long enough for it to sink so deep into the public consciousness that it cannot be extricated by delayed redressal. There is not much political value to an accusation unless it becomes an intrinsic part of campaign rhetoric. In theory, the opposition turns a day in parliament into a verbal festival over the Commonwealth Games because it wants accountability for corruption. In practice, opposition parties need to maximise the advantage by being able to go to town and village with the message that the government has not only stolen the people's money, but is so thick-skinned that it will do nothing about the thieves. The obduracy of authority is the ultimate gift to opposition.
In real terms, it hardly matters whether Suresh Kalmadi goes now or after the Games. His role as the sports czar of India is effectively over. It is only a question of whether he gets a nice gift at the farewell party which, of course would be the closing ceremony of the Games or he is sent towards the sunset in lonely isolation. As far as the people are concerned the difference between grace and disgrace has evaporated. It could hardly be otherwise given the scale and sheer audacity of the corruption. It is possible that the bunch in charge of this lucrative extravaganza thought they had squared all sides. There were junkets aplenty, across the political divide. The BJP's Vijay Goel went to Beijing for 'technical studies' as did the Congress' Jagdish Tytler: neither had anything to with CWG but must be worthy of technical doctorates by now. Perhaps they were being given early training for the Asian Games. Delhi's Congress legislators Haroon Yusuf and A S Lovely went to Melbourne to find how they run city transport, which of course is why Delhi's traffic has already become better than Australia's. Naturally they travelled first class. This is nothing but big-budget back-scratching between pals, an insurance policy against exposure: if everyone is guilty then no one is guilty. The officials have piled up enough flying miles to look after family holidays for a couple of years. They might all have got away if they had not all been so confident about the spread of the swill. But there are always a few who refuse to be co-opted. They keep our democracy democratic.
Mobile target for Jaya
Time turns corruption into a milch cow. If A Raja had been dropped from the Cabinet after the telecom storm burst, the collateral electoral damage would be limited. Now that he is being retained, he will become the perfect mobile target for Jayalalitha during next year's Assembly election: 'mobile' is the perfect metaphor, of course, since Raja will be wandering around the state. A good cartoonist could do wonders with Raja posters, if Jayalalitha has one and has the will to leaven her anger with a bit of wit.
Governments do understand a second fact of our political debate: the issues that agitate parliament and media are seasonal. Their expectation is that they will seem less important to the voter once the initial froth has subsided. If the big tent does finally manage to produce a circus, the memory of the gravy train that brought it will dissipate in the merriment. Who will bother to hold anyone accountable after the Games are over? It is not in the government's vested interest to do so. It is not within the opposition's capability to do so.
The tendency to elide through crises with token gestures can become a self-defeating habit. This was the initial approach to the building anger in Kashmir, and now the people do not take even a well-meaning gesture seriously. Omar Abdullah was literally driven away, and had to be bundled out to his waiting helicopter by a frantic security posse when he visited a hospital. He cannot travel a few kilometres through his capital in a car; he needs a helicopter. He reached the flood-distressed region of Leh with far more alacrity than he had shown in the city from which he rules, because, for the moment at least, he has become chief minister of Jammu and Leh rather than the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Perhaps he, and Delhi, believe that Ramzan, the month of fasting that begins this week, will bring calm. It could. Surface calm however is not peace. There are no short cuts in governance.
Does government need to worry about Opposition fulminations if there is no election visible? That is the only accountable moment that the ruling system takes seriously. Since we do not have the law of recall, governments tend to dismiss street anger as an emotion that can be assuaged nearer an election. Lack of popular support, however, saps the energy of authority.
A weak government weakens the nation.
FOR A VIEW ON ISRAEL, STEAL THIS MOVIE
BY THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NYT
Destructive criticism only empowers Israel to argue that nothing Israel does matters, so why change?
I just saw a remarkable new documentary directed by Shlomi Eldar, the Gaza reporter for Israel's Channel 10 news. Titled 'Precious Life', the film tracks the story of Mohammed Abu Mustafa, a four-month-old Palestinian baby suffering from a rare immune deficiency. Moved by the baby's plight, Eldar helps the infant and mother go from Gaza to Israel's Tel Hashomer hospital for lifesaving bone-marrow treatment. The operation costs $55,000. Eldar puts out an appeal on Israel TV and within hours an Israeli Jew whose own son was killed during military service donates all the money.
The documentary takes a dramatic turn, though, when the infant's Palestinian mother, Raida, who is being disparaged by fellow Gazans for having her son treated in Israel, blurts out that she hopes he'll grow up to be a suicide bomber to help recover Jerusalem. Raida tells Eldar: "From the smallest infant, even smaller than Mohammed, to the oldest person, we will all sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Jerusalem. We feel we have the right to it. You're free to be angry, so be angry."
Eldar is devastated by her declaration and stops making the film. But this is no Israeli propaganda movie. The drama of the Palestinian boy's rescue at an Israeli hospital is juxtaposed against Israeli retaliations for shelling from Gaza, which kill whole Palestinian families. Dr Raz Somech, the specialist who treats Mohammed as if he were his own child, is summoned for reserve duty in Gaza in the middle of the film. The race by Israelis and Palestinians to save one life is embedded in the larger routine of the two communities grinding each other up.
"It's clear to me that the war in Gaza was justified but I did not see many people pained by the loss of life on the Palestinian side," Eldar told the Israeli newspaper 'Haaretz'. "Because we were so angry at Hamas, all the Israeli public wanted was to (expletive) Gaza. ... It wasn't until after the incident of Dr Abu al-Aish that I discovered the silent majority that has compassion for people, including Palestinians. I found that many Israeli viewers shared my feelings." So Eldar finished the documentary about how Mohammed's life was saved in Israel. His raw film reflects West Asia I know.
I write about this now because there is something foul in the air. It is a trend, both deliberate and inadvertent, to delegitimise Israel to turn it into a pariah state, particularly in the wake of the Gaza war. You hear the director Oliver Stone saying crazy things about how Hitler killed more Russians than Jews, but the Jews got all the attention because they dominate the news media and their lobby controls Washington. You hear Britain's prime minister describing Gaza as a big Israeli 'prison camp' and Turkey's prime minister telling Israel's president, "When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill." You see singers cancelling concerts in Tel Aviv. If you just landed from Mars, you might think that Israel is the only country that has killed civilians in war never Hamas, never Hezbollah, never Turkey, never Iran, never Syria, never America.
I'm not here to defend Israel's bad behaviour. Just the opposite. I've long argued that Israel's colonial settlements in the West Bank are suicidal for Israel as a Jewish democracy. I don't think Israel's friends can make that point often enough or loud enough.
But there are two kinds of criticism. Constructive criticism starts by making clear: "I know what world you are living in." I know West Asia is a place where Sunnis massacre Shiites in Iraq, Iran kills its own voters, Syria allegedly kills the prime minister next door, Turkey hammers the Kurds, and Hamas engages in indiscriminate shelling and refuses to recognise Israel. I know all of that. But Israel's behaviour, at times, only makes matters worse for Palestinians and Israelis. If you convey to Israelis that you understand the world they're living in, and then criticise, they'll listen.
Destructive criticism closes Israeli ears. It says to Israelis: There is no context that could explain your behaviour, and your wrongs are so uniquely wrong that they overshadow all others. Destructive critics dismiss Gaza as an Israeli prison, without ever mentioning that had Hamas decided after Israel unilaterally left Gaza to turn it into Dubai rather than Tehran, Israel would have behaved differently, too. Destructive criticism only empowers the most destructive elements in Israel to argue that nothing Israel does matters, so why change?
How about everybody take a deep breath, pop a copy of 'Precious Life' into your DVD players, watch this documentary about the real West Asia, and if you still want to be a critic (as I do), be a constructive one. A lot more Israelis and Palestinians will listen to you.
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
BY PARVATHI RAMKUMAR
The experience was dreamlike and at the same time majestic.
It was a bright, sunny morning. And as was wont, and expected, even, the power went off. Now that I couldn't switch on the television, or the computer, there seemed to be absolutely nothing to do. I didn't think I could get any work done without my computer, and I certainly couldn't stop myself from getting bored. I'm an avid reader and I could've read some of the novels I'd queued up but I didn't feel particularly inclined towards that either. That's when my mother suggested taking a break, and spending time on the terrace until the power came back on. I assented, grabbed a chair and headed upstairs.
Bangalore is a city of concrete and fast rising buildings, zooming cars and deadlocked traffic. The city is always on the move, always teeming with life.
Nevertheless, I expected some solitude on the terrace of my home. And once there, I was stunned. The emerald foliage of the trees was drenched in golden sunlight, and their leaves rustled and sang in the gentle breeze. I heard the melodies of strange birds I couldn't name, and I saw them soar above in the sprawling blue sky. Crickets chirped like chiming bells, and even the distant echoing barks of a dog seemed ethereal. Almost unreal. It was dreamlike and at the same time majestic; heaven's gentle touch was subtle yet omnipresent.
The balmy weather was rejuvenating, and the skittering butterflies in colours brighter than a rainbow appeared to me real living jewels. The occasional roar of an aircraft seemed far, far away belonging to a world far removed. The honks of cars were muted, faded like soft echoes from a mountaintop.
Studies have shown that natural surroundings reduce stress, besides boosting body immunity, perhaps concrete proof of what we've always known instinctively. And this is easy to believe. Swaying trees laden with iridescent flowers in a park, the bubbling waters of a shining brook, and the quiet chirrup of birds and a cricket combined, the sounds of tranquil bliss. Even at home, where there is no gurgling brook nearby, the very presence of trees was rejuvenating.
I felt my boredom melt away I found myself appreciating, enjoying, nature. Here, it seemed, was a world of beauteous plenty. Of serenity.
And by the time the power came back on, I was reluctant to draw myself away. To quote Jane Austen: "To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment."
THE JERUSALEM POST
SO FAREWELL THEN, TONY JUDT
The NYU lecturer's essays against Zionism and rejection of the Jewishness of the State of Israel thrust him onto the public stage.
The death of Tony Judt, historian of contemporary Europe, offers an opportunity to revisit a case of strongly anti-Zionist sentiments held by a prominent Jewish intellectual.
The London-born Judt who passed away on Friday at the age of 62 at his home in Manhattan, after being diagnosed two years ago with Lou Gehrig's disease produced remarkably lucid and readable studies of 19th and 20th century social history. However, it was the New York University lecturer's polemical essays and public statements against Zionism, and his rejection of the legitimacy of the Jewishness of the State of Israel,
hat thrust him onto the public stage.
In a much-cited October 2003 essay in The New York Review of Books, Judt called to dismantle the state and to replace it with "a single, integrated, bi-national state" between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea a recipe for national suicide for the sovereign Jewish entity.
This categorical rejection of Zionism put him in a class with other contemporary Jewish intellectuals of the Diaspora such as Jacqueline Rose, Michael Neumann and Joel Kovel, who have chosen to single out Israel for opprobrium that is rarely, if ever, directed at other countries that choose to adopt unique religious or cultural-based nationalities.
At the center of Judt's attacks on Israel was a stubborn refusal to accept the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in a distinctly Jewish state. In the above-mentioned article, entitled "Israel: The Alternative," Judt posited that Israel artificially imported "a characteristically late-19th-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers and international law."
For Judt, an "ethno-religious" state that provides special privileges to its Jewish citizens such as the Law of Return and seeks to preserve its Jewish character through Jewish symbols, is an anachronism "in an age when that sort of state has no place."
Yet Judt applied totally different rules when he scrutinized nationalism outside of the Israeli context. In A Grand Illusion? An Essay on Europe, Judt acknowledged that the nation-state was "the only remaining, as well as the best-adapted, source of collective and communal identification."
With all the desire for a supranational framework that provides universal equality, and eradicates the bigotry and discriminations of cultural and religious distinctions that cause war and strife, argued Judt, there is no substitute for the social cohesion and communal identification provided by a unique national identity.
Therefore, a "truly united Europe" is so unlikely that it would be "unwise and self-defeating to insist upon it."
As a result, Judt was extremely pessimistic about attempts to create a politically homogeneous Europe devoid of borders and cultural distinctions.
For Israel, by contrast, the time has come to "move on," "to think the unthinkable," to replace the Jewish state with "a single, integrated, bi-national state of Jews and Arabs," in his vision. For Judt, European particularism was an undeniable fact, but the Jewish variety was outdated.
WHY THE double standard? Irrational prejudices are difficult, if not impossible, to fathom, belonging as they do to the murky realm of the psyche.
Judt made some unfortunate comments over the years.
In October 2003 he called then-deputy prime minister Ehud Olmert a "fascist" for publicly threatening to assassinate Yasser Arafat, who at the time was presiding over a wave of suicide bombings.
In October 2006 he described Senator Joe Lieberman as "very ostentatiously Jewish." As recently as June, after the Israel Navy's interception of the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, with its fatal repercussions, Judt asserted that "Thanks to Israel, we [the US] are in serious danger of 'losing' Turkey" as if the gradual process of Islamic extremism that has gripped Turkey since the rise to power of the AKP had nothing to do with that country's changing orientation.
And what really seemed to have bothered Judt was his subjective feeling that, as an identifiable Jew, he was somehow being represented by Israel.
"The behavior of a self-described Jewish state affects the way everyone else looks at Jews," wrote Judt. His solution? Do away with the Jewishness of the state.
Yet as Judt himself noted, quoting Arthur Koestler (when writing recently about the Israeli lobby in the US), "fear of finding oneself in bad company is not an expression of political purity; it is an expression of a lack of self-confidence."
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE CART, THE HORSE, AND THE LONG ROAD AHEAD
BY BARRY RUBIN
Only when there is a clear Palestinian stance in favor of a workable two-state solution will Israelis have to make tough decisions.
There is a great deal of passion about the difference between "Left" and "Right" in Israel. Yet these gaps are far less significant than people think. I'll start with an anecdote that illustrates this point even as it seems to contradict it.
First, though, let me quickly add that these debates used to be very important.
After the 1967 war, Israeli society conducted a quarter-century-long argument over whether Israel should trade territory for peace. It was disrupted by the peace agreement with Egypt (a right-wing government returned the Sinai). Finally, in a sense, the two sides agreed to test the assumptions of the debate in the 1990s' Oslo process. (The peace with Jordan also involved some territorial concessions.) The majority of Israelis agree that the Oslo experiment showed the fallacy of thinking that yielding land would bring peace. Some hold that the experiment was worth trying, others not. What is important, though, is that the result showed that neither the Palestinians nor Syria was ready to make full peace.
Thus, a new Israeli consensus was made: In exchange for full peace, Israel would give up all of the Gaza Strip and almost all the West Bank, with border adjustments or land swaps to adjust the borders by about three percent.
Israelis doubt the Palestinians are ready for a full peace, and are more skeptical than they'd been during the Oslo experiment, which cost thousands of Israeli lives.
True, there is no consensus about precisely how east Jerusalem should be handled. What is basically accepted as the highest priority is incorporating the Jewish Quarter of the Old City (captured by Jordan in the 1948 war, after which all its Jewish inhabitants were expelled), access to it through the tiny Armenian Quarter(about one city block), and the Western Wall, with the Temple Mount next. The Arab-inhabited areas are likely to be traded away as long as there is no significant security threat to the Israeli portion of the city.
Palestinian refugees must be resettled in Palestine, not Israel.
The rise of an Islamist threat, including the seizure of Gaza by Hamas, makes real peace seem even further off.
The status quo is sustainable for a long time. If Palestinian misery is the motive to break the deadlock, then why don't we see any eagerness to make peace, negotiate with Israel, and get a state on the part of the Palestinians themselves? Within this framework, the governments of Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Binyamin Netanyahu have all functioned along similar lines. There is no strong alternative vision; there is no real alternative to current policies.
NOW, HAVING given this context, here is the anecdote. During a dialogue meeting between different viewpoints in Israeli society, there was a panel discussion on which Yossi Sarid participated. Sarid, one of the Israeli Left's most important leaders, is now formally retired from politics.
He is widely respected for his honesty, open mind, and his willingness to think "inconsistently," which is to me one of the highest virtues.
According to the account, Sarid said: "There is no way to prevent the division of Jerusalem, or giving away Eastern Jerusalem and the Arab neighborhoods to Palestinian rule." Another panelist, Avi Rath, replied: "We have seen what happens when land gets given away to the Arabs. They [the Arabs] don't just sit quietly and eat hummus ."
Sarid reportedly got up and walked out.
As I said earlier, this appears to illustrate the wide gap in Israeli views, yet this apparent chasm is easily bridged in practice. Actually, such arguments about what Israel should offer in exchange for peace are probably at the lowest frequency in 40 years.
First, both Sarid and Rath know that Jerusalem is not about to be divided because there won't be any comprehensive peace agreement on the horizon for many years. While Sarid and others on the Left fear that trying to hold onto Jewish settlements or parts of Jerusalem could destroy the chance for full and permanent peace, they also know (unlike many foreign observers) that this is not the problem. In 2000, for example, Barak offered to yield on virtually all these points.
Second, they both also know that if Israelis are ever confronted with the immediacy of dividing Israel, they would be doing it in a situation where the reward would be a credible end to the conflict and a remarkable improvement in Israel's situation and their own lives. To make concessions in exchange for a great opportunity is tempting; to make them in exchange for nothing, a weaker position, or demands for still more unilateral concessions is not so attractive.
A very high standard of proof would be needed that things would be different and that there would be a lot more hummus-eating than fighting going on.
Third, despite Sarid's declaration, there would be a real margin for negotiation. Israelis have no particular passion for keeping the "Arab neighborhoods" aside from security.
They have a very different feeling about the Old City, particularly the Jewish Quarter and Western Wall. But if everything else were to be in place, this issue alone would never make peace impossible.
And finally, Sarid knows that the record shows territorial concessions may make things worse.
So Israelis get heated about discussing a comprehensive peace agreement. But one thing is certain: Only when there is a clear Palestinian stance in favor of a workable two-state solution will Israelis have to make tough decisions.
Until the day comes when the Palestinian Authority offers a credible proposal to resettle refugees in Palestine, provide serious security guarantees, include minor border modifications, end incitement and terrorism, accept Israel as a Jewish state, and show itself able to deliver the Gaza Strip, these debates will remain theoretical.
On the Palestinian side, debate on these issues has not even begun.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at www.rubinreports.blogspot.com
THE JERUSALEM POST
NEW YORK CITY HAS VOTED FOR TOLERANCE
9/11 was despicable and devastating. Does that mean there cannot be a mosque on Park Place, near the site of the Twin Towers?
'No Catholic church should be within a few blocks of any school or playground." No, no one seriously said that in New York recently, at least not in public. But it seemed apropos to one reader commenting in The New York Times last week after a vote by Manhattan's Landmarks Preservation Commission cleared the way for an Islamic center and mosque to be built two blocks from Ground Zero.
Many opponents of the center, officially called the Cordoba Initiative, have dramatically played the racist fear card, with vociferous anti- Muslim sentiment that brands billions of Muslims for the terrorist acts nine years ago of 19 men in four airplanes.
Of course that act on 9/11 was despicable and devastating.
Does that mean there cannot be a mosque on Park Place, near the site of the Twin Towers in this nation that celebrates religious freedom and the right to worship? "By similar logic, to protect children from abuse, no Catholic church should be within a few blocks of any school or playground," wrote the Times reader, referring to the scandals regarding pedophile priests.
What is the Cordoba Initiative to symbolize tolerance or extremism? It depends on whom you listen to.
The city has voted for tolerance.
Bravo to Manhattan's Landmarks Preservation Commission. It refused last week to designate the mosque's intended site a building once used by a discount clothing store as a landmark. A landmark status would have prevented the Cordoba Initiative from demolishing the site (and a neighboring building) to erect the center, which is said to be modeled on a Jewish community center or YMCA. Now it can construct the site, called Park51, which will include the mosque, an interfaith chapel and a memorial to 9/11.
AMONG THE OPPONENTS was the Anti-Defamation League, which vigorously has defended the religious freedom of many faiths, but found that the mosque was a bit too much. It issued a one-size-almost-fits-all statement that simultaneously called freedom of religion the cornerstone of American democracy, condemned religious prejudice and "condemn[ed] those whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry."
Then it registered its opposition to the site. "Ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right," the ADL said. "In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain unnecessarily and that is not right." The problem with this argument is that the protection of religion and religious minorities in the US is only about rights. It is the legal rights guaranteed by US law that have provided the ADL's armor for decades. Is there some instance in which American Jews would find it acceptable to say: "Oh, let's forget about my rights and the US Constitution; let's talk about your pain."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a speech after the commission's unanimous vote, recalled that religious freedom was not always a given. "Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that, even here in a city that is rooted in Dutch tolerance, was hard-won over many years," he said. "In the mid- 1650s, the small Jewish community living in Lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue and they were turned down."
The mayor noted that Muslims were among those murdered and grieving on 9/11. "It is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our city even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam," he said.
Many Americans apparently need some serious lessons about Islam. Take the lieutenant governor of Tennessee, Ron Ramsey. Speaking about another proposed mosque and Islamic center, in the town of Murfreesboro, near Nashville where there do not seem to have been reports of Muslim terrorism Ramsey distinguished himself for ignorance or bigotry, or both. Campaigning to become the Republican candidate for governor, Ramsey reportedly said: "You could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult or whatever you want to call it."
ZEV CHAFETS, formerly the spokesman for Menachem Begin, recently was a guest on a public radio talk show in New York. He was promoting his new book Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One. As it happens, Chafets was scheduled to speak after Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a Sufi Muslim who is founder of the Cordoba Initiative, and Daisy Khan, the imam's wife.
Chafets, not known for his liberal leanings, made a significant point before discussing his book about the right-wing talk show host Limbaugh.
"I heard the imam and his wife just now and I thought that he was saying important things," Chafets said. "I think Sufi Islam, from what I know of it and I am not an expert, is a moderate and sensible and reasonable, if I can say that without being condescending, form of Islam, and I think it is all to the good.
"We keep asking where are the moderate Muslim voices, and here is one," he said. "And I think that ought to be encouraged."
How true, and how tragic that it falls to a city commission whose task is to identify architecturally significant buildings to make our moral choices and to teach tolerance.
The Islamic center will be new, not the Muslims' presence. They have been worshiping at the site for about a year. "Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure," Bloomberg said. "And there is no neighborhood in this city that is off limits to God's love and mercy."
We should thank the Landmarks Commission for reminding us.
THE JERUSALEM POST
COLUMN ONE: ISRAEL'S AMERICAN-MADE FOES
It wasn't a US Army sniper who killed IDF Lt.- Col. Dov Harari and seriously wounded Capt. Ezra Lakia.
It wasn't a US Army sniper who killed IDF Lt.- Col. Dov Harari and seriously wounded Capt. Ezra Lakia on Tuesday. But the Lebanese Armed Forces sniper who shot them owes a great deal to the generous support the LAF has received from America.
For the past five years, the LAF has been the second largest recipient of US military assistance per capita after Israel. A State Department press release from late 2008 noted that between 2006 and 2008, the LAF received 10 million rounds of ammunition, Humvees, spare parts for attack helicopters, vehicles for its Internal Security Forces "and the same frontline weapons that US military troops are currently using, including assault rifles, automatic grenade launchers, advanced sniper systems, anti-tank weapons and the most modern urban warfare bunker weapons."
Since 2006, the US has provided Lebanon some $500 million in military assistance. And there is no end in sight. After President Barack Obama's meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in June, the White House proclaimed Obama's "determination to continue US efforts to support and strengthen Lebanese institutions such as the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces."
And indeed, in late June, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates informed Congress that the Pentagon intends to provide the LAF with 24 120mm mortars, 24 M2 .50 caliber machine guns, 1 million rounds of ammunition, and 24 humvees and trailers. The latest orders should be delivered by the end of 2011.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the administration has already allocated $100m. in military assistance to Lebanon for 2011.
According to Lebanon's As-Safir newspaper, in written testimony to Congress, last week Obama's nominee to head the US Central Command, Gen. James Matthis, claimed that relations between US Central Command and the LAF focus on building the LAF's capabilities "to preserve internal stability and protect borders."
And how is that border protection going? Tuesday's unprovoked LAF ambush of Lt.-Col.
Harari's battalion within Israeli territory showed that the LAF is fully prepared to go to war against the US's closest ally in the region, in order to deter IDF units from crossing the border.
Indeed, they are willing to commit unprovoked acts of illegal aggression to harm Israel.
As The Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday, there is no reason to be surprised by what happened.
Since 2009, LAF men have frequently pointed their rifles at IDF soldiers operating along the border. In recent months they have also cocked their rifles while aiming them at IDF forces. It was just a matter of time before they started shooting.
The same aggressive border protection is completely absent, however, along Lebanon's border with Syria. Since 2006, the LAF has taken no actions to seal off that border from weapons transfers to Hizbullah. It has taken no steps to protect Lebanese sovereignty from the likes of Syria and Iran that are arming Hizbullah's army with tens of thousands of missiles.
THEN THERE'S Centcom's "internal stability."
For the past four years, in open breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which set the terms for the cease-fire that ended the Second Lebanon War, the LAF has done nothing to block Hizbullah from remilitarizing and reasserting control over southern Lebanon.
Moreover, the institution that the State Department views as the anchor of a multiethnic, independent Lebanon did not lift a finger against Hizbullah when Hizbullah staged a coup against the Saniora government in 2008.
In a sense, by effectively collaborating with Hizbullah, the LAF did ensure "internal stability."
But it is hard to see how such "internal stability" advances US interests.
In stark contrast, as the Los Angeles Times reported last week, the US-supported Lebanese Internal Security Forces have used US signals equipment to help Hizbullah ferret out Israeli agents. According to the Times, "A strengthening Lebanese government is helping Hizbullah bust alleged spy cells, sometimes using tools and tradecraft acquired from Western nations eager to build up Lebanon's security forces as a counterweight to the Shi'ite group."
The US has refused to reckon with the consequences of its actions. As the Times reported, last week Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow visited Beirut and said that continued US aid and training to the LAF would allow the Lebanese Army to "prevent militias and other nongovernmental organizations" from undermining the government.
It bears recalling that Hizbullah has been a partner in the Lebanese government since 2005. Since its successful coup in 2008, Hizbullah has held a veto over all the decisions of the Lebanese government.
It also bears recalling that during the 2006 war, the LAF provided Hizbullah commanders with targeting data for their missiles and rockets.
The LAF also announced on its official Web site that it would award pensions to families of Hizbullah fighters killed in the war.
Unfortunately, the LAF is not the only military organization aligned with Israel's enemies that the US is arming and training. There is also the US-trained Palestinian army.
As Israel Radio's Arab Affairs commentator Yoni Ben-Menachem reported last month, the IDF is deeply concerned about the US-trained Palestinian force. Ben-Menachem recalled that since 1996, Palestinians security forces have repeatedly taken leading roles in organizing and carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel.
Hundreds of Israelis have been murdered and maimed in these attacks.
The Palestinian force being trained by the US Army represents a disturbing, qualitative upgrade in Palestinian military capabilities.
OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi warned IDF ground forces about the new USPalestinian threat in May.
As Mizrahi put it in a speech at Tze'elim training base cited by Ben-Menachem, "This is a well trained force, better equipped than its predecessors and trained by the US. The significance of this is that at the start of a new battle [with the Palestinians] the price that we will pay will be higher. A force like this one can shut down a built-up area with four snipers. This is deadly. These aren't the fighters we faced in Jenin [in 2002]. This is an infantry force that will be fighting us and we need to take this into account. They have offensive capabilities and we aren't expecting them to give up."
The IDF assesses that the US-trained force will be capable of overrunning small IDF outposts and isolated Israeli communities.
To date, the US has spent $400m. on the Palestinian army. The Obama administration has allocated an additional $100m. for the next year.
And the US is demanding that Israel support its efforts. In a General Accounting Office report issued in May, Israel was excoriated for hampering US efforts to build the Palestinian forces.
The GAO railed against Israel's refusal to permit the transfer of a thousand AK-47 assault rifles to the Palestinian forces. It criticized Israel's rejection of US plans to train a Palestinian counterterror force. It complained that Israel does not give freedom of movement to US military advisers to the Palestinian forces in Judea and Samaria.
The US claims that what it is doing cultivates stability. It argues that the Palestinian and Lebanese failure to prevent terror armies from attacking Israel is due to their lack of institutional capacity to rein in terrorism rather than the absence of institutional will to do so. The US claims that pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into these Lebanese and Palestinian armies will enable them to become stabilizing forces in the region that will engender peace. What the administration ignores, however, is the fact that the members and commanders of these UStrained forces share the terrorists' dedication to Israel's destruction.
TO ITS undying shame, Israel has publicly supported, or, at best failed to oppose these American initiatives. By doing so, Israel has provided political cover for these US initiatives that endanger its security. Although it is crucial to call the US out for its sponsorship of terroraligned armies, it is also important to understand Israel's role in these nefarious enterprises.
Israel has gone along with these US programs for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it has been due to domestic politics. Sometimes it owed to Israel's desire to be a team player with the US government. But generally the Israeli rationale for not loudly and vociferously objecting to US assistance to enemy armies has been the same as Israel's rationale for embracing Yassir Arafat and the PLO in 1993 and for every other Israeli act of appeasement toward its enemies and allies alike.
Successive Israeli governments have claimed that by supporting actions that strengthen Israel's enemies, they gain leverage for Israel, or, at a minimum, they mitigate the opprobrium directed against Israel when it takes actions to defend itself. In Lebanon, for instance, Israel agreed to the US plan to support the Hizbullahdominated Saniora government in the hopes that by agreeing to give the Lebanese government immunity from IDF attack, the US would support Israel's moves to defeat Hizbullah.
But this did not happen. Indeed, it could not happen. The pro-Western Lebanese government ministers are beholden to Hizbullah.
Whether they wish to or not, former prime minister Fuad Saniora and his successor Hariri both act as Hizbullah's defenders to the US.
And once the US committed itself to the falsehood that the Sanioras and Hariris of Lebanon are independent actors, it inevitably became Hizbullah's advocate against Israel as well. The logic of appeasement moves in one direction only toward one's enemies.
The same holds for the Palestinians. Israel believed that once it capitulated to international pressure to recognize the PLO the US, the EU and the UN would hold the PLO to account if it turned out that Arafat and his minions had not changed their ways. But when Arafat ordered his lieutenants to wage a terror war against Israel rather than accept statehood, the US, the EU and the UN did not rally to Israel's side.
They had become so invested in their delusion of Palestinian peacefulness that they refused to abandon it. Instead, at most, they pinned the full blame on Arafat and demanded that Israel support their efforts to "strengthen the moderates."
And so, in this demented logic, it made sense for the US to build a Palestinian army after the Palestinians elected Hamas to lead them.
And so on and so forth. In every single instance, Israel's willingness to embrace lies about the nature of its enemies has come back to haunt it. Never has Israel gained any ground by turning a blind eye to the hostility of the likes of Salam Fayyad and Saad Hariri.
It is true; the US is abetting and aiding the war against Israel by supporting the LAF and the Palestinian military. But it is also true that the US will not stop until Israel demands that it stop. And Israel will not demand that the US stop building armies for its enemies until Israel abandons the notion that by accepting a lie told by a friend, it will gain that friend's loyalty.
THE JERUSALEM POST
WHEN THE NEXT WAR COMES
There is no Arab interest in another round of conflict, says Matan Vilna'i. But still, the deputy defense minister is preparing the Israeli home front for the worst.
'No, no, no, no, no," said Matan Vilna'i to make sure I'd got the point. Then he added, "Absolutely not," in case I was still missing it.
I'd asked him whether Israel was on the brink of another war what with the renewed Kassam fire from Gaza, a spate of briefings at which senior officers have warned of the expanded Hizbullah and Syrian missile capacity, and the recent highly unusual IDF decision to reveal the specifics of Hizbullah's military deployment in the "human shield" villages of southern Lebanon.
"Go back over the years," urged the deputy defense minister.
"Every spring for generations, there are war threats.
They're meaningless. They're right about once every few decades."
The fact is, he continued, "There is no Arab interest in a war. No Israel interest. After a war, we'd all be back exactly where we were before."
We were speaking on Sunday, a day before the missile barrage at Eilat and Aqaba, and two days before battalion commander Dov Harari was killed and company commander Ezra Lakia badly injured in the worst incident at the northern border since the Second Lebanon War four years ago.
Those flare-ups underlined the perpetually incendiary tensions on Israel's frontiers. They also underlined the imperative despite Vilna'i's "no, no, no, no, no" assurances to constantly prepare for the worst.
And that is precisely what the former deputy chief of the General Staff is currently doing: assiduously preparing this country for war just in case.
Preparing Israel for the new kind of war we get dragged into these days. Wars where the home front is the front line, where civilians are prime targets, and where, Vilna'i added in our interview, we can currently expect precious little international sympathy.
From his office high in the Kirya military complex overlooking the jam-packed streets and homes of Tel Aviv, Vilna'i is overseeing the protection of that vulnerable home front the construction of a "support network" that is supposed to spring into action if sovereign enemies like Syria and Iran, or their Hizbullah and Hamas proxies, start emptying their immensely expanded missile arsenals into civilian Israel.
To some extent, according to Vilna'i, we are all already at war, and by "we" he means the free world, and by "war" he means the battles against terrorist aggressors fighting from within civilian areas.
The practical aspects of Israel's capabilities and challenges in this new war environment dominated our lengthy interview, but the conversation also, inevitably, ranged across diplomatic and domestic political issues.
Vilna'i, the bullet-headed ex-military man with the subterranean baritone, is a Labor hawk, an ex-general who came within a whisker of making chief-of-staff and who names Yitzhak Rabin as his mentor.
He's the kind of Labor pol whom Likud doves cite as being closer to their line of thinking than the strongly pro-settlement- growth likes of Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely. And he, in turn to what would be the dismay of the traditional Likud Right cites Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as being likely to make "the right decision" on terms for peacemaking with the Palestinians.
"THERE'S BEEN a drastic change in the nature of war worldwide, and we're at the focus," said Vilna'i, as he elaborated on the new environment in which military conflicts now play out.
"We're currently in World War III. It broke out on 9/11.
It's a war without conventional fronts; a war without armies facing off against each other.
And the focus of this war is the civilian population. When we are acting in Gaza, for instance, we are responsible for the Israeli population, keeping it safe, obviously. We're also responsible for the Palestinian population, because they are being used as human shields.
The enemy fires from within them. We respond with maximal caution and get hit with the Goldstone Report."
He neither sighed nor even paused at the injustice of it all.
"That's the new nature of war."
In Israel's particular context, he said, one critical strategic component that hasn't changed is the centrality of Israeli deterrence. This is a theme that many of Israel's defense chiefs reiterate in such conversations the conviction that, even though Israel did not achieve a decisive victory against Hizbullah in 2006, and chose not to try to achieve one against Hamas in 2008/9, both those conflicts bolstered Israel's capacity to scare the enemy into holding its fire.
As Vilna'i put it, they emphasized to those Iranian-backed proxies to our north and south that it would be wise for them to think twice before engaging Israel again: "In simple language, we're the neighborhood bully," said Vilna'i. "So you don't want to start with us.
Start with us, and you get whacked."
Again, in common with many Israeli military chiefs, he recalled Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's ostensibly rueful public reflection that, as paraphrased by Vilna'i, "If I'd have known what I was going to get [in the Second Lebanon War], I wouldn't have started."
In Vilna'i's assessment, Nasrallah, and by extension Iran, were still licking their wounds at the time of Operation Cast Lead, which is why they chose to keep Hizbullah out of that conflict.
"In 2008, in Gaza, [Hamas's Ismail] Haniyeh had anticipated that Israeli Arabs would start disturbances, and that Hizbullah would fire rockets at Haifa," he said. "It didn't happen.
Israel's [Arab] citizens understand the rules. And Hizbullah, I imagine, said to itself, 'We don't want to get whacked again. Let Haniyeh do this on his own.'" Which begs the question, amidst the latest spate of attacks across our borders, and especially the confrontation near Misgav Am in the North, of whether that deterrent capacity has now dangerously eroded.
Our military correspondent Yaakov Katz noted in Wednesday's paper that the latest fatal flare-up didn't come out of the blue. Soldiers from the Lebanese Armed Forces most of whom are Shi'ite, and many of whom openly cooperate with Hizbullah have repeatedly trained their weapons on IDF troops at the border in the past year or so. "The IDF has also noticed a radical shift within the LAF top command, which has increased its anti- Israel rhetoric," Katz added.
"When this is the spirit of the top command, it is not surprising that... the company commander who is positioned opposite Misgav Am ordered his troops to open fire at the IDF on Tuesday."
Since 2006, Hizbullah has massively strengthened its missile capacity, freely importing weaponry from Syria, and deploying in the heart of the 160 Shi'ite villages in southern Lebanon. In a radical departure from security norms, the IDF last month released precise details of Hizbullah's deployment in one typical village, Khiam specifying the locations of command structures, weapons caches, missile launchers and even the improvised explosive devices intended to thwart any IDF ground attack.
The goal was plainly both to prepare the international community, so that the world would better understand how Hizbullah's ruthless and cynical use of the villagers as human shields would determine the nature of future rounds of conflict, and to make plain to Hizbullah that Israel knew exactly what it was up to that the intelligence flaws that undermined the 2006 war effort had been corrected. Israeli military sources, indeed, are adamant that while Hizbullah likes to claim that it knows far more about how the IDF functions than the IDF knows about its operations, the reverse is true. The publication of the Khiam specifics proved the point, they say.
For his part, Vilna'i made no grandiose boasts, but he did point to boosted Israeli capabilities in what he said were four crucial components in the new war era, as they apply in the case of Hizbullah.
"First, they know we can hit their missile launch points.
In the Second Lebanon War, within minutes, the IAF, with excellent intelligence, neutralized Hizbullah's longrange capability."
If Hizbullah has markedly expanded its arsenal since then, Vilna'i indicated, Israel has markedly expanded its capacity to confront it. "We have wonderful people," he said. "Working day and night."
Second, he went on, "we have the capacity to work inside enemy territory, to prevent them firing. Capturing territory. That's the component that most resembles previous conventional war."
That's the component, it might be added, that did not function effectively four years ago, when the political stewards of a conflict they preferred not even to acknowledge was a "war" hesitated and changed their minds repeatedly about the deployment of ground forces, and when flaws were exposed in the IDF's preparation, training, logistics, equipment and more.
The conviction in the defense establishment today is that such failures have been rigorously examined and rectified. Security chiefs also now routinely stress that Israel has made plain it will hold the sovereign state of Lebanon responsible for any cross-border violence and strike back, at Lebanese sovereign targets, accordingly as even Tuesday's confrontation indicated.
"We won't go in that deeply, pursuing each missile," is how Vilna'i put it. "We'll strike hard so they'll realize it's not worth it."
Third, said Vilna'i, is that Israel has made major strides in missile interception in recent years. "It's not a 100 percent capability," he cautioned, "but it's important, especially for long-range missiles. We're the only state that can do this. The Arrow is deployed."
And finally, he came to the issue of civil defense, his particular focus as deputy minister.
"For a long time, we neglected this because it wasn't so important. With Lebanon, with missiles hitting even deeper than Haifa, we recognized the new importance.
We needed to find an answer. Ehud Olmert, to his credit, gave responsibility for this to the Defense Ministry rather than the Ministry of Public Security. That was the right decision. From a military point of view, the whole country is the front."
He waved toward the window and the bustling city.
"Tel Aviv is the home front."
SINCE DECEMBER 2007, said Vilna'i, the ministry has been legislating, implementing and practicing to protect the citizenry.
"Yesterday I was in Beersheba for a drill: a chemical missile landing in the center of town. I was the general in charge of the Southern Command for five years," he recalled. "I was in Beersheba during the first Gulf War. We had nothing at the time. We had good people and good will but that was all. Now, there's an organized command structure. The mayor [Ruvik Danilovich] has answers to all the emergency needs. He has an IDF team supporting him, a police team, a municipal team."
If war broke out, while the IDF would be doing its utmost to swiftly counter Hizbullah's goal of firing hundreds upon hundreds of missiles into Israeli residential areas, the home front would be equipped "to ensure routine within the emergency situation."
"We're going city by city," Vilna'i said of the preparatory work. "When a missile hits, we'll have a network to deal with the damage to cope with the injured, to make sure there's water and food."
He stressed that there was precious little of Israel that would be off-limits to enemy missiles including Jerusalem. Military sources have indicated recently that Hizbullah has plenty of missiles sufficiently accurate to distinguish between east Jerusalem and the west. Vilna'i was more circumspect, but chilling.
"In a matter of time," he said carefully, "they'll be able to distinguish between west and east [of the capital]; next, they'll be able to identify specific targets [around the country]. They'll be able to hit strategic targets.
They'll throw 500 missiles at us most will hit open areas; others will cause damage. And the impact of a missile," he said, in his no-nonsense, unemotional tones, "is akin to a bus blowing up, plus the surrounding damage."
World War II-style bomb shelters were a thing of the past, he noted. The need now was for protected rooms and protected public areas in which people might have to spend a fair amount of time.
"Bomb shelters? That's a concept from London 70 years ago. Stay down there for a while. That's the way it was for me in Jerusalem in the War of Independence. In a bomb shelter, there was room to stand for maybe half an hour until the danger had passed. Nowadays, as the Second Lebanon War showed, people may have to spend a month in these rooms."
About a third of Israeli residents have a protected room, he said, and legislation was in the works to ensure protection for all, "without spending billions and turning the whole country into a construction site."
As an example, he noted that "there are lots of underground areas in this country. Vast. Here, next to the Habima theater, they've just built a five-floor underground parking garage. Well, every floor has an adjacent shelter that can hold 1,000 people. Each city is checking what it needs and the government will work with them."
FROM THE practicalities of Vilna'i's job, our conversation turned to the wider context the diminishing international empathy for Israel in its relentless battle for survival, the superficial misperception of Israel as a Middle East Goliath, and the ostensible international conviction that Israel could do much more to ease its plight by showing greater determination to partner the Palestinians toward statehood.
"So long as we are seen as an 'occupying people,' we're in trouble," said Vilna'i, who took pains to define Labor as "not a left-wing party," but rather as "a centrist, Zionist party.
"The world is cynical and not balanced. The UN Human Rights Council has never dealt with Darfur, where there are massacres. It only targets Israel," he said.
Was he suggesting that if Israel was not present in the West Bank, it wouldn't have been hit with Goldstone's critique of Cast Lead? "No, we would have got it anyway," Vilna'i said. "But the fact that we are seen as an occupying power works against us. Goldstone would have been seen differently."
So what does he suggest? "I'm not prepared to compromise in any way on Israel's security needs. We have to take care of ourselves. No one else can," he began. "The terror threat has also changed.
It used to be cross-border and more recently the whole country is vulnerable to terror too. So terror has become a strategic weapon. And its perpetrators don't want a peace deal. And we have to face up to it.
"But we also have to look to our place in the free world, alongside Europe, North America, Australia... The occupation plays against us in this. That doesn't mean we should flee and run. It does mean we have to find the right balances which is what we're trying to do with the Palestinians."
Vilna'i, who is 66, was drafted into the IDF a year before the Six Day War rising to deputy chief of the General Staff via the paratroopers and the Sayeret Matkal commandoes.
With the passion of one who fought in them, he recalls that after the 1967 and 1973 wars, "the world was amazed by us. We were the extraordinary David."
e could also have mentioned the 1976 Entebbe rescue, in which he participated, and which underlined Israel's gutsy, innovative, daring underdog credentials.
"Now we are seen as a Goliath," he added bitterly. "They forget that we're still little David demographically, territorially."
He said he always reminds visiting politicians from abroad that "you're sitting somewhere that has thousands of missiles aimed at it, aimed at civilians. There's nowhere else like this on the planet. Not in Washington, Paris, London or Berlin. In Jerusalem, yes. In Tel Aviv, yes.
People ignore this. They say they're sick of it [the conflict].
We used to be the heroes of the world. Not any more."
In this respect, "Tom Phillips is right," said Vilna'i, referring to the interview I published in this space last week with the departing British ambassador, whose content I had discussed with Vilna'i before we began our conversation.
Except, I noted, Tom Phillips seems to believe that Israel can do a whole lot more to fix things on its own.
Vilna'i appeared to take the point, responding: "Every decision-maker in this country is conscious of his responsibility for the fate of this country. We pulled out of Gaza.
We said we'd be done with it. What developed? The No.
1 terror state in the world. Less than an hour from here.
It doesn't all depend on us."
In fact, Vilna'i went on, "every area we've left so far, we've been hit with missiles from there. And if we relinquish Kalkilya, there'll be rockets at Tel Aviv. If we relinquish Tulkarm, there'll be rockets on Netanya. Actually," he added on reflection, "we have relinquished Tulkarm [to the day-to-day running of the Palestinian Authority], but we're still militarily overseeing things there."
His voice, usually so low as to set my tape recorder vibrating, now rose a couple of tones in frustration.
"There are two sides to this game," he said. "And to my disappointment, the Palestinian side has not handled things right. In Gaza they could have shown the world to change Gaza into the Hong Kong of the Middle East.
Why didn't they? Is that my fault?" Still, Vilna'i is forgiving. "Salam Fayyad understands all this," he said of the PA prime minister. "He's trying to do [things right] in the West Bank. But the fear is that some extremist terrorist group will take control, as happened in Gaza."
Were Israel prepared to pull back further in the West Bank, would the PA prove more effective in maintaining control than it did in Gaza? "If this is done in a measured way," he said carefully, "the answer can be yes, with the stress on the measured process. In the West Bank, they are fighting for their lives [against the Islamists], not ours," he said.
The PA forces, he elaborated, were "doing well," by which he meant firmly enforcing law and order. Invoking his mentor, he indicated that PA troops were curbing extremism without exaggerated concern for legal and human rights niceties: "As Rabin said at Oslo: 'Not Bagatz [the High Court of Justice] and not B'Tselem,' 17 years late."
In Gaza, he noted, Hamas didn't conquer the entire Strip when grabbing power in 2007. "It took over a few key power centers. It literally slaughtered slit the throats of the Fatah leaders. It threw some of them off the roofs of eight-story buildings and took over Gaza. The world doesn't want to remember that. But that's the fact. So I'm very pessimistic about Gaza. It'll be a long process.
"The Gaza population already realizes that terrorist control is no good for them," he asserted. "Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] sees himself as part of the solution.
The way back is via an agreement of one kind or another.
But it's complicated. Really complicated. Any agreement [with the Palestinians] needs components relating to Jordan on one side and Egypt on the other. In Gaza there's a limit to how many people can live there. There'll be a population explosion in the end. The only solution is via the Egyptian border. Territorial swaps are part of it.
The first brick, which we are now trying to build, is a Palestinian state."
ON THE vexed issue of peacemaking, Vilna'i is evidently somewhat, but not entirely, persuaded of Abbas's and Fayyad's intentions and capabilities. He's also somewhat, but not entirely, persuaded of our prime minister's readiness to go halfway to meet any genuine willingness for progress.
"With the Palestinian leadership now, there has been a change," he said firmly. "It's not [Yasser] Arafat who'd say one thing in Tel Aviv and something else in Ramallah.
Ultimately, he was a terrorist in his essence. These are different people."
Vilna'i goes so far as to assert that "Abu Mazen always spoke about peace. He opposed Arafat on this and that wasn't easy. With all the difficulties, there is an opportunity here. Tom Phillips is right about that."
Vilna'i recognizes that Abbas and Fayyad have yet to show a strategic willingness to persuade their own people of the need for compromise. But he also asserts that not all of Israel's leaders are blameless in this regard. Abbas and Fayyad "understand the need" to tell their people it's time for peace, he said. "But the question and the very same question applies to our leaders is what they're prepared to tell their people."
Switching quickly to the Israeli side of the equation, he added: "Rabin, for instance, dared to spell out [the imperative for a two-state solution]. In private conversations, all the leaders of the right understand it. All of them have done, for generations. It began with Menachem Begin.
"But there's a constant problem on the right," he elaborated, the Labor politician in him fully surfacing now.
"At big public rallies, they say one thing, and in power, they say something else. That cliché about 'What you see from there, you don't see from here,' and so on. Menachem Begin, as prime minister of Israel, in his greatness, decided to leave Sinai. He had Labor as his security net.
Menachem Begin took a decision as prime minister, not as head of the Likud. [Binyamin] Netanyahu is standing in Begin's shoes."
And how does Vilna'i anticipate Netanyahu filling those shoes, come the moment of truth? "Everyone except for a tiny minority on the far right recognizes that the only solution is two states for two people," he reiterated. "All the discussion today is about the complexities of getting to the two-state solution.
Netanyahu will have to make a decision in the next few months. He's vacillating and I understand that. He'll have to decide on whether to extend the building freeze.
He'll have to decide if he's Menachem Begin or not."
Again, which will it be? "If you're asking me, he doesn't know himself. He's smart and he understands what's at stake, believe me."
In terms of territorial compromise, Israel wanted to believe, 20 years ago, that it could reach an accord while relinquishing less than 90% of the territory in the West Bank. As the years passed, the assessment became progressively bleaker. What does Vilna'i envisage as the final price? "We'll have to relinquish a great deal more than people think," he said. "But that was always the case. There was never an American decision to recognize the settlements.
There were intermittent understandings, but never clear recognition, and the Americans are our best ally."
Returning to his earlier theme, Vilna'i repeated: "The extended occupation is beginning to work against us, and this international delegitimization can only be offset by a peace agreement. I don't want to be, as Tom Phillips put it to you, 'Fortress Israel.' I want to be integrated with the rest of the world."
And he signed off with an assessment that, if accurate, will dismay plenty of Israelis and please many others: "The prime minister will have to make a decision and in my opinion, he'll make the right decision. I say that on the basis of my knowledge of him and of the discussions that are being held. The grand strategy is clear. The question will be how it is achieved in terms of internal politics.
And, by the way, I personally don't think anybody will be in a hurry to leave this coalition not Shas and not Israel Beiteinu."
THE JERUSALEM POST
ENFORCE INTERNATIONAL LAW IN LEBANON
BY AVI BEKER
The latest developments show how lawfare has become a strategy overshadowing political efforts to negotiate order.
Two recent developments in Lebanon show the extent to which international law has become a double-edged sword in the regional quest for stability and in international efforts to fight terrorism.
As more analysts around the world look closer at last week's flare-up along the border between Lebanon and Israel, it becomes evident that the incident is related to the long-expected report by the Hague Special Tribunal for Lebanon's inquiry into the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other people in a car bomb in February 2005. The immediate concern must be seen as part of the increasing internal tensions within Lebanon which is expecting the indictment of Hizbullah members by the Tribunal.
The 2006 war with Israel was preceded by another investigation of the same murder by the United Nations which implicated Syria in the killing. The political balancing efforts in Lebanon, which brought together arch-enemies like Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Saudi king, as well as Sunnis, Shi'ites and Christians will fly in the face of any effort by an international legal organ to pursue justice in Lebanon and in the region.
The second development was the IDF's exposure last month of aerial photos, videos and maps showing how Hizbullah is once again ruthlessly violating the Law of Armed Conflict. Using Lebanese civilians in 160 villages as human shields and embedding weapons caches, missile stockpiles and command-and-control centers alongside hospitals, mosques and schools makes a mockery of international humanitarian law.
These two ominous developments may trigger another round of violent hostilities on the Israeli-Lebanese front. They also demonstrate how lawfare, the abuse of the law as a weapon of war, has become a strategic feature which is overshadowing political efforts to negotiate political order within Lebanon and with its neighbors. It shows again the asymmetrical and double standard nature of international humanitarian law which doesn't allow Western military forces to defend the lives of their citizens and cannot apply enforcement measures against rogue regimes and terrorists.
FOR SEVERAL Islamist fighting groups and terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, the humanitarian principles of the Law of Armed Conflict had become the major source of inspiration and guidance. These methods of legal maneuvers in the battlefield are viewed by Islamists as a critical component in their strategic and tactical planning.
They are well aware that Israel and other Western countries are bound by international law and the rules of engagement that flow from it, and they exploit it in a very cynical and brutal fashion.
It is wrong to argue, as many legal experts claim, that existing international law is ill-equipped in dealing with the so-called "non-state" entities. It is true that traditional Law of Combat was built on the assumption of a conflict between two states which are striving for international legitimacy and would, therefore, abide by some measures of legal restraint. However, existing instruments of international law contain ample references which can cover acts of self defense and measures taken in the war against terrorism. The problem lies only with the politicization and selective interpretation of covenants which follow some more fashionable post-modern trends and are often inclined to glorify acts of terrorism.
It becomes worse when a United Nations voting bloc comprised largely of undemocratic member states continues to dictate international human rights norms and can hijack, against the rules of the Charter, the debates and agenda relating to international peace and security.
A fair reading of Hizbullah's threats against the civilian population in Israel coupled with its brutal abuse of humanitarian rules can be easily recorded as systematic war crimes in their making. In addition the group continues to violate resolution 1701 of the Security Council which forbids the arming of groups outside the Lebanese Army. Thousands of missiles, rockets and huge ammunition are being smuggled to South Lebanon with the full cooperation of Iran and Syria and the blind eye of the government of Lebanon.
The fallacy and the serious omission by diplomats and legal experts lies in their disregard of the explicit responsibility of each party in armed conflict, including the defender, to protect its civilian population and remove it from military targets. The duty of "distinction" goes both ways and article 51.7 of the Geneva First Protocol emphasizes that while civilians are protected by the principle of distinction, no party can use its civilians as shield for its military objectives. It reads: "The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favor or impede military operations."
Hizbullah, which is today a full-fledged member in the Lebanese government, can no longer hide behind another distorted interpretation of humanitarian law and claim "non state" status. It should be emphasized: there are no restrictions in article 51 of the United Nations Charter regarding the exercise of the inherent right of self defense against non-state entities.
Last week's provocation by the Lebanese Army makes it even more responsible to the Hizbullah violations of humanitarian law and will nullify future claims that Israel violates the principle of proportionality in attacking targets inside Lebanon. When the enemy makes it a clear strategy of using civilian shields in its war effort it is permissible to use a large degree of force against multiplied targets, including infrastructure, as long as the force is intended to remove the continuing risk posed by its rockets.
Lawfare has become a major arena for the delegitimization campaign against Israel. In the past Israel had to incorporate a doctrine of pre-emptive or preventive strikes to compensate for its very narrow margins of defense against variety of threats. While Israel should always maintain its high standards of moral and humanitarian behavior in combat it must tell the world that no army can endanger its soldiers in order to avoid hitting targets which are using civilians as shields. Israel must develop a "lawfare" preemptive strategy which will alert the world on the misuse and the moral collapse of international humanitarian law.
The writer is former secretary general of the World Jewish Congress. He teaches in the MA program of diplomacy at Tel Aviv University and International law at the Law Faculty of the Ono Academic Center.
THE JERUSALEM POST
IN SEARCH OF A MEGAPHONE
BY FAYE BITTKER
From the moment the train hit the minibus until we boarded another train, there was no announcement about what had happened.
There was only one thing missing during the three-hour ordeal that followed the deadly train accident near Kibbutz Gat on Thursday night: a megaphone to inform, calm and direct the hundreds of worried passengers who were unwilling participants in the unfolding drama.
Like a scene from "The Poseidon Adventure," confused passengers were left to figure out what had happened when their train from Tel Aviv to Beersheba came to an abrupt stop at 7:05 pm.
Outside, rescue crews had to deal with horrific wreckage and the death of a whole family. Inside, a full cast of clueless characters spent much of their time running up and down the aisles, though there was nowhere to go and very little we could do.
The train driver performed admirably in an otherwise impossible and tragic situation. He could not avoid hitting the minibus stuck on the tracks, but he did manage to slow the train and avoid injuries among the train's passengers. Silence filled the air as the train lost power and stopped following impact. And then came a deafening organizational silence that left us all to our own devices in this case, smart phones, digital radios and mobile computers to figure out what was happening.
For two hours, from the moment of impact until we boarded another train, there was no official announcement or explanation about what had happened. No statement that there had been an accident.
No request for passengers to remain seated so as not to impede the rescue efforts. Not even a statement that there would be an "unexpected delay."
AND THIS is where I started to wish for a megaphone: One that I could hand to the many security people rushing up and down the aisles as they called for doctors or medics. Or for the very professional staff who had to deal with the endless questions and loudly voiced complaints of passengers focused only on their own situation and not on the larger picture the genuine tragedy that had just taken place. Into this vacuum, the "Poseidon Adventure" factor began to take effect. People started yelling at each other or into their phones, creating an atmosphere that only made things worse.
We were all witness as the helicopter crews arrived quickly and ran with stretchers toward the scene of the accident, only to leave empty-handed less than 10 minutes later, as there was clearly no one who could be saved. Everyone heard firsthand from someone who had gone to help about the horrific sight outside.
As a seventh year medical student noted: "I am sorry I went. There was nothing that I could have done to help, and now the images of their smashed bodies will be with me forever."
In an intrinsically Israeli way, everyone wanted to help but didn't know how. A megaphone would really have saved the day. When it was time to leave the train and move to the new one that had just come from Kiryat Gat, there was no easy way to direct people. Though paramedic crews walked the aisles looking for people who needed assistance, the majority of passengers had to manage their way down the steps, down the slope where the train had stopped and down the tracks toward the new train.
There was no general announcement for those who needed assistance to stay on the train. No orderly movement car by car.
Instead, young and old, with packages, suitcases and the giant duffle bags of soldiers returning home for the weekend, all made our way in the dark. Everyone tried to help the person next to them, catching the hand of the stranger who was wearing the wrong shoes or too long a skirt for walking down gravel hills, without the help of one calm voice managing the scene, moving the crowds efficiently and quickly.
What was missing here was a director, one person in charge of dealing with the passengers.
One person who made sure that all the extras knew their role. It would have had a hugely calming effect and reduced the tensions on the train. It would have kept the Shelly Winters among us from losing control.
So please, Israel Railways managers, when you prepare your report on this accident, please add a megaphone to your list of future recommendations. Sadly, given the performance of Israeli drivers, this kind of accident is likely to happen again, and your very professional staff could use all the help it can get.
The writer is director of Publications and Media Relations at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE NEW GHETTO
BY YOSSI BEILIN
There is little the current government can do to change the world's attitude toward Israel except change its policy on peace.
Political Zionism led by Theodor Herzl would not have come into existence were it not for anti-Semitism in Europe, pogroms in Russia and a fear lest the emergence of the Jews from the ghetto and their integration into the economic, political, media and academic systems of the day provoke a sharp and violent reaction. There were alternative Jewish movements aimed at reaching the Land of Israel on the basis of religious motives or in order to build a new society founded on agricultural settlement and social justice. But that was not the Zionist movement as established in 1897.
The real dream of most of those who established Zionism at the end of the nineteenth century was to integrate into Europe. Since they concluded that this was not practical, and considering that a return to religious life in the ghetto was not desirable, they adopted a fallback option whereby the Jewish people would move to a state full of Jews that by definition could not be anti-Semitic.
The awful failure of the Zionist vision was that it was realized after and not before the Holocaust.
The existence of a nascent Jewish "Yishuv" in the Land of Israel saved a few hundred thousand Jews from the Nazis but not the millions for whom the gates of the world were locked. The main importance of Israel in my view is that it is the only place in the world unconditionally open to Jews wishing to come here.
Herzl's vision described a country with a fully empowered Arab minority living in amity with the Jewish majority, a country living at peace with the world and accepted by it. In the prevailing reality prior to the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, Israel was a foreign implant, living by its sword, boycotted by the entire Arab world the exact opposite of the original vision.
But Israel of the 1990s was the Jewish state closest to the vision of Herzl and his colleagues: the Arabs living in Israel enjoyed relative prosperity and a far higher level of equality, the Arab boycott was partially abandoned and 13 Arab states engaged in discussion with Israel concerning regional development (in the multilateral talks on water, economic cooperation, refugee rehabilitation, environment and arms control).
The peace process encouraged many countries to establish diplomatic relations, and Israelis were proudly welcomed by the world in view of their rapid economic development and scientific and other achievements. The original Zionist dream, which delegated to Israel a global mission in the fields of international law, human rights, aid to developing countries, etc., was very close to realization. Our status in the United Nations and in other international organizations was never better.
THE PAST 10 years were ones of dramatic reversal. Without asking whether this is exclusively Israel's fault (I don't think it is), the facts speak for themselves. Against the backdrop of the violent second intifada, the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and, most recently, the events surrounding the Gaza flotilla, Israel finds itself in a situation reminiscent of the 1970s, when the UN adopted the insane decision (rescinded only 17 years later) to define Zionism as a racist movement.
Today's Israel has been pushed almost completely out of the Arab world, the Arab boycott has returned, and formerly friendly countries are turning their backs. Various parties in international academia and the trade union movement are passing resolutions to boycott their Israeli colleagues, and representatives of the Israeli government have a hard time completing their prepared remarks even in American universities.
There is little the current Israeli government can do to change the world's attitude, combat the boycott efforts and neutralize the attempts to turn the country into a new ghetto one from which it is inconvenient and even embarrassing to depart. The country is led by an extreme right-wing coalition, most of whose spokespersons are busy vindicating the arguments of our international critics. Israel's number one diplomat, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is perceived as a fascist-leaning racist. He cannot hold an intimate conversation with a single serious actor anywhere in the world.
In order to extricate itself from this new ghetto, Israel needs to change its policy.
Were the present government to do so, Israel would be forgiven the composition of its leadership. But the likelihood of this happening is slim because Israel's leaders believe in the path they have chosen: some of them suffice with lip service to peace while others don't even bother with lip service and state openly that they don't believe in peace. None are prepared to pay the price for peace.
In this reality, the only possibilities for change are a strong American policy that leads both sides to peace, or waiting for the next elections. Meanwhile, Israel will continue to pay an unbearable price of isolation from the world.
The writer is a former minister of justice who currently chairs the Geneva initiative and is president of Beilink.
This article was first published on www.bitterlemons-international.org and is reprinted with permission.
A FURIOUS INVESTIGATION, AND THEN SILENCE
ATTORNEY GENERAL YEHUDA WEINSTEIN HAS STOPPED THE BIG HAND OF THE CLOCK ON BARAK'S RACE TO APPOINT A NEW CHIEF OF STAFF YESTERDAY.
BY AMIR OREN
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein stopped the big hand of the clock on Barak's race to appoint a new chief of staff yesterday.
Weinstein called a meeting between state prosecutor Moshe Lador, Lador's deputy on criminal affairs Yehoshua Lamberger, and the chief of intelligence and investigations in the police, Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich. Despite the military background of the Galant document affair, the Shin Bet was not brought into the picture, since the suspected offense, forgery of a document credited to help GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant, is a purely criminal one.
Preferring the police over the Shin Bet in this case has an added benefit: The police investigative department is fairer and more effective than the Shin Bet in investigating senior Israeli personalities. The Shin Bet has many running cases, which prevent it from getting to the truth and instead bring about miserable results.
The police, unlike the Shin Bet, are not subservient to the prime minister, and do not offer him or