Google Analytics

Monday, August 30, 2010

EDITORIAL 30.08.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at:


media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya




month august 30, edition 000612, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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


















































It's extremely unfortunate that just when India-China relations appeared to be on the upswing, notwithstanding repeated intrusions by the PLA into Indian territory, Beijing should have denied a visa to Lt Gen BS Jaswal who heads the Northern Command and was scheduled to visit China as part of an ongoing defence exchange programme simply because he is the top Army officer posted in Jammu & Kashmir. The decision to deny a visa to Lt Gen Jaswal follows Beijing's decision not to paste visas on Indian passports held by residents of Jammu & Kashmir but staple them, which has been rightly deemed to be incorrect and declared invalid by the Government of India. Obviously China treats Jammu & Kashmir as a 'disputed' area and refuses to acknowledge India's sovereignty over the State; this policy is now reflected in its decision not to grant Lt Gen Jaswal a visa. It is equally obvious that Beijing is gradually upping the ante since this Army officer has visited China in the past despite having served in Jammu & Kashmir previously. It could be argued that the hardening of China's stance is on account of recent official interactions between the Government of India and the Dalai Lama, but that may not be the entire story. The Chinese move could be aimed at appeasing Pakistan which is believed to be helping its all-weather friend in counter-insurgency operations in Xinjiang province to put down Uighur rebels. Nor would it be surprising if China is merely indulging in muscle-flexing to test India's response and patience as well as to assert its new-found status as the world's second largest economy whose rise as a global power is now a foregone conclusion. Having hemmed in India from all sides, Beijing would like New Delhi to feel the impact of the emerging geopolitical and geostrategic realities.

Having said that, it would be in order to assert that China is needlessly needling India, not least because such an aggressive posture will only lead to further widening of differences in perception. Beijing's insistence that New Delhi must toe its line on Tibet and denounce the Dalai Lama is entirely unacceptable; such crudity cannot be countenanced, no matter what the consequences. In keeping with India's cultural tradition and civilisational ethos, New Delhi treats the Dalai Lama as an honoured guest and treats him as the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, which he is. No less important is the fact that India, unlike China, is a democracy with an open society and civil liberties. Hence, there cannot be any curbs on pro-Tibet activism, either by the Dalai Lama's Tibetan followers or by Indian citizens. A client state, for instance Pakistan, would blindly do China's bidding. But India, Beijing would do well to remember, is not a client state of China. It also merits reiteration that no matter what China chooses to believe, Jammu & Kashmir is an integral and, hence, inseparable part of India — the world concedes this point today. India has not been overtly critical of China for insisting that Tibet is its integral part, that Chinese sovereignty extends over what was a free nation till 1950. In fact, New Delhi has been careful to a fault — some would say unnecessarily so — not to hurt Beijing's sensitivities on Tibet. It is expected of China to reciprocate in a similar manner by being mindful of India's sensitivities on Jammu & Kashmir. By not doing so, China is being cussed, which does no good to its image.  







In quick succession, the joint operations of the Central security forces and the West Bengal Police have delivered mortal blows to the Maoists operating in the forests of Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia. Thirty-five Maoists, many of them top leaders of the insurgency, killed since January this year adds up to considerable success; Umakanto Mahato, with a reward of Rs 1 lakh on his head and wanted by the CBI for his role in the Gyaneswari Express attack, was killed in an encounter on Friday. This coincided with Shobha Mandi, also involved with the attack on Gyaneswari Express, surrendering to the police: Fear is the key to break the Maoist insurgency's backbone. The joint forces scored yet another success with the killing of Sidhu Soren, a founder of the Maoist front, the so-called People's Committee Against Police Atrocities. The results point to the increasing efficiency of the joint operation that has been launched to neutralise the Maoists in West Bengal. This is largely on account of actionable realtime intelligence, better coordination and improved training, as well as greater familiarity with the terrain and the target. Given its impressive success rate, it is imperative to sustain the joint operations at current levels to deal with the greatest threat to our internal security. The capacity of the security forces and the State police to inflict heavy losses on the Maoists reveals more than any assertions that the ground conditions have significantly changed, hopefully for the long-term. 

Among the lessons to be learned is that money for information on the Maoists is clearly a better incentive than political mumbo-jumbo. Maoist claims of being defenders of exploited tribals and, therefore, being protected by them stand exposed as hollow. Clearly the terror tactics used by the Maoists to force local people into submission and the atrocities committed by them in the name of revolution have begun to have a recoil effect. There is increasing resistance to their brutal ways and their victims are willing to provide information to the security forces with the intention of getting rid of the Red terrorists. As with most insurgencies, those leading the Maoist insurgency are not known to be averse to the good life and exploiting the exploited and fellow comrades for carnal pleasure. Horror stories are now emerging of rampant sexual abuse of women cadre and rape of young tribal girls; of sponging off already dirt poor people; of running protection rackets and extracting 'levies' from corrupt contractors; and, of meting out barbaric, Taliban-like punishment to those who dare stand up to the extremists. These are not "Gandhians with guns", as an 'intellectual' described the Maoists, but thugs who use the cover of Maoism to perpetrate and perpetuate terror. The sooner they are eliminated, the better for our democracy. 







Manmohan Singh may be the third longest-serving Prime Minister but that means little for India which faces a crisis of leadership

What is the reason behind the hoopla over Mr Manmohan Singh becoming the third longest-serving Prime Minister after Jawaharlal Nehru and Mrs Indira Gandhi, overtaking Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee's record of years in office? Is there any doubt that Mr Singh has been in office but without any real power all these years? Despite the number of years as Prime Minister to his credit, Mr Singh, as Mr HD Deve Gowda, will be no more than a mere footnote in India's political history.

The daily exposé by the media of gross mismanagement and rampant corruption in projects related to the Commonwealth Games only emphasises the shocking truth — no one is in control of the Government today. The Prime Minister, of course, pretends to be far away from — and above — the mess that has come to prevail.

Bushfires rage around us. The Kashmir Valley is once again in turmoil. Pakistan-sponsored jihadis are fortifying their stronghold in Kerala with the Marxist Chief Minister admitting that their intention is to Islamise the State. A third of India's districts are now virtually under the control of Maoist insurgents. 

Analysts are surprised that as Prime Minister of the country, Mr Singh is yet to utter a single word on these crises. Of course, the traditional Red Fort speech and his address to the people of the Kashmir Valley have been exceptions. But where his leadership is most needed — that is, in Parliament — he is disquietingly silent. For all Government initiatives and statements, the Congress looks at Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. 

Negotiations with the Opposition on sensitive issues like the nuclear civil liability Bill, recording of caste in Census and the fiasco over the Commonwealth Games preparations have been handled by Mr Mukherjee. The nation hears from the Prime Minister only at events to launch books and other such occasions of no national consequence.

Meanwhile, the media provides more and more coverage to the Congress's heir apparent. On the occasion of the UPA2 Government completing one year in office, the only major question at Mr Singh's Press conference was on the Prime Minister-in-waiting. That the question was asked and the answer was a total confession shows where lies real power. 

If the ruling party itself is sending a message to the nation to ignore the man occupying the Prime Minister's office, why blame the people for giving the lowest marks to Mr Singh, as they did in a recent country-wide survey conducted by a national weekly? It is no wonder that the Congress keeps Mr Singh confined to the Rajya Sabha and makes no move to get him elected to the Lok Sabha, since that would strengthen his authority and stature.

The result of the diarchy in the ruling party is that the Union Government is seen as losing its grip on national affairs. In dealing with terrorism and Pakistan, we have recently witnessed the sorry spectacle of Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi snubbing his Indian counterpart and Mr SM Krishna accepting it in humble submission. The Prime Minister, meanwhile, seems to have been extending an olive branch to what is universally considered a weak civilian Government in Islamabad. 

Notwithstanding New Delhi's claims that Washington, DC has been rolling out the red carpet for our Prime Minister whenever he visits the American capital, Mr Singh does not seem to carry any clout with the Obama Administration. The US President has signed a law authorising a steep increase in fees for H1 B and L1 visas, thereby dealing a heavy blow to our IT and IT-enabled services industry.

Even a cursory look at headlines in the American media would show that the major focus of the Obama Administration is on West Asia, AfPak policy, tensions between China and South Korea and Japan, and North Korea with its nuclear-tipped missiles.

The absence of a determined leadership in New Delhi is clearly witnessed in the failure to break the vicious cycle of stone-pelting and police firing in Srinagar and elsewhere in the Kashmir Valley. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah seems to have lost the battle even before it began; the protesters are indifferent to his appeals for peace and legislators, including those from the Congress, appear to have no control over the people who elected them. 

When a majority of the people in the Valley, who may not be supporting the stone-pelting separatists, see their Government lacking in leadership, they are bound to lapse into silence or let the separatists take charge of the situation. That is at the heart of the crisis there.

Ironically, the Congress is reluctant to learn from its own history. In the 1960s, when the Prophet's holy relic kept at the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar went missing, the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, swiftly moved into action, deploying both political and administrative skills. The relic was found and peace restored; mischief was nipped in the bud.

The UPA2 Government presents a picture of a deep schism within. The recent tiff between the Union Minister for Finance and the Union Minister for Railways on how to deal with the Maoists is typical of the confusion and discord that prevail in the Government. This is further underscored by the spat between Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh.

Decisive leadership is the need of the hour. But what we see today is a weak Government whose word is not taken seriously by anybody. Everybody knows that the Prime Minister lacks authority and hence cannot decide for the Government he heads. It's a pity that the nation must suffer the crisis of leadership in so helpless a manner.








China's offensive visa policy for Indians living in Jammu & Kashmir is a quid pro quo for Pakistan's help in the fight against Uighur rebels in Xinjiang. In response to China choosing not to respect India's sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir, New Delhi must reopen the issue of Tibet and involve the Dalai Lama in the Nalanda University project 

The international community treats Jammu & Kashmir as a de facto — but not de jure — part of India. Similarly, it treats Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan as a de facto — but not de jure — part of Pakistan. In pursuance of this policy, other countries honour the Indian passports held by the residents of Jammu & Kashmir and issue them normal visas on those passports when they want to travel. Similarly, they honour the Pakistani passports held by the residents of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan and issue them visas on those passports.

China used to follow a similar policy till last year. It has now modified that policy in a significant manner. While it does not question the validity of the Indian passports held by the residents of Jammu & Kashmir, it has stopped issuing visas on those passports. It has not debarred them from traveling to China, but they are allowed to travel only on the basis of a plain paper visa which is stapled to their Indian passport. The entry and exit stamps of the Chinese immigration are affixed on the plain paper visa and not on their Indian passport.

While doing so, Beijing has not changed its visa issue policy with respect to Pakistani residents of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. It is believed they are still issued visas on their Pakistani passports. Moreover, ignoring Indian protests, it is going ahead with its project to assist Pakistan in the upgrade of the Karakoram Highway that runs across Gilgit-Baltistan and in the construction of hydel power and irrigation projects in Gilgit-Baltistan. It has also agreed to participate in a feasibility study for the construction of a railway line to Xinjiang through Gilgit-Baltistan. It has not yet agreed to assist Pakistan in the construction of an oil or gas pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang through Gilgit-Baltistan.

The modifications in the Chinese policy have the following implications. Firstly, China has started treating Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan as de facto and de jure parts of Pakistan. It does not recognise Indian claims to these territories. 

Secondly, it has diluted its past acceptance of Jammu & Kashmir as a de facto part of India. This would give satisfaction to Pakistan, which projects Jammu & Kashmir as Pakistani territory under the illegal occupation of India. This would also lend support to the Pakistani contention that it has a political, diplomatic and moral right to support the so-called freedom struggle in Jammu & Kashmir. 

Thirdly, by questioning the legitimacy of India's sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir, the Chinese may be creating a future option for themselves of questioning India's locus standi to negotiate with them on the future of Indian territory in the Ladakh area occupied by them in the past. They could use this option in future if their relations with India deteriorate.

The modification in the Chinese position on Jammu & Kashmir and its active involvement in infrastructure and other development projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan have coincided with indicators of active Pakistani assistance to China in quelling the revolt of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region which has a common border with Gilgit-Baltistan. These indicators include an increase in the number of Chinese intelligence officers posted in Pakistan to keep a watch on the Uighur community living in Pakistan, Pakistani intensification of the surveillance of the members of the Uighur community and restrictions on their travel in Pakistan, rounding up of members of the Uighur community living in Pakistan who are accused by the Chinese of being members of the Eastern Turkistan lslamic Movement and their being handed over to the Chinese authorities without following the due process of law, intensification of the intelligence exchange and the recent joint counter-terrorism exercise, which was, in effect, a joint counter-Uighur exercise.

In the Chinese perception, their ability to pacify Xinjiang would depend on continued co-operation from Pakistan and strengthening Pakistan's control over Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Their modification of their policy related to Jammu & Kashmir is as a quid pro quo to Pakistan playing the role of their frontline ally in the fight against the Uighur freedom fighters represented by the Munich-based World Uighur Congress and Uighur jihadis belonging to the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement. The Chinese decision to modify their policy even at the risk of its coming in the way of their developing relations with India is indicative of their serious concerns related to Xinjiang. The need to pacify Xinjiang has assumed primacy in Chinese policy-making over the importance of misunderstanding-free relations with India.

India woke up to the changes in the Chinese policy last year when it noticed that the Chinese had stopped issuing regular visas to residents of Jammu & Kashmir and had started issuing plain paper visas. There has been a further jolt to the Government of India in this matter by the reported disinclination of the Chinese to issue a visa to Lt Gen RS Jaswal, chief of the Northern Command of the Indian Army, to make an official visit to China as part of the high-level military exchanges agreed upon by the two countries. The reasons for which they expressed their disinclination are not clear. Some reports say that it was because the Northern Command is responsible for external security in the Jammu & Kashmir area along the Line of Control and the International Border and they consider Jammu & Kashmir to be disputed territory. Some other reports attribute the Chinese disinclination to the fact that Lt Gen Jaswal was perceived to be a hawk who believed that China posed a military threat to India. There are still other reports claiming that Lt Gen Jaswal is actually a native Kashmiri and hence the Chinese objection. One does not know whether or not this is factually correct.

Whatever be the reason, the Chinese disinclination to issue a visa to him has to be strongly opposed by the Government of India. New Delhi has done well to suspend military-military exchanges till this issue is settled to the satisfaction of India without allowing it to affect other aspects of the developing relations with China and come in the way of the ongoing border talks. India's response has been limited to the military-military relationship.

The issue has tactical and strategic aspects. The tactical aspect relates to our response to the non-issue of a visa to Lt Gen Jaswal. We have reacted in adequate measure.

The strategic aspect relates to the following: 

How are we going to counter the Chinese attempts to question the legitimacy of our sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir and to reopen the entire issue? 

How are we going to counter the repeated Chinese actions in ignoring our protests and concerns related to their involvement in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan? 

Our response at the strategic level cannot remain confined to the suspension of military exchanges. It has to go beyond that. We had recognised Tibet as an integral part of China. We have shown good faith in adhering to that position. China has not shown good faith on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir being an integral part of India. The time has come for us to reexamine our position in matters related to Tibet. We have to make it clear to Beijing that our continued adherence to our present position on Tibet would depend on its respecting our sensitivities in matters related to Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. If it does not respect our core interests in relation to Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, it cannot expect us to continue to respect its core interests related to Tibet.

As a starter in the reexamination of our Tibet policy, we should make evident how seriously we are unhappy with Beijing on this issue by immediately including His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the project for revival of the Nalanda University. 

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






Acquiring land has become a thorny issue today. Hence Kolkata Port Trust has come up with the idea of creating it artificially in places where there are no land-losers to checkmate plans to develop infrastructure

Not quite test tubes or petri dishes; geo tubes are the new panacea. Stacks of geo tubes filled with sludge dredged out of a muddy river will be part of the process of manufacturing that most contentious and presumably precious of commodities — land. The politics of land acquisition has reached a point in India of which West Bengal is a part that infrastructure creation is stalled, investors are wary and the land losers, their advocates and patrons prefer obstruction and agitation.

With land as a stumbling block nothing much can happen. Therefore, the Kolkata Port Trust desperately in need of a deeper port than is currently available has hit upon the idea of enlarging Sagar Island, at the tip of the Sundarbans to set up a port. Land will be created out of the silt that is dredged from the Hooghly and with the new land where there are no land losers, the port authorities can develop the infrastructure needed to serve sea-going vessels with a draft of nearly 11.5 m. The extension will be able to handle about 60 million tonnes of cargo every year. 

So urgent is the need that the port authorities have also planned to manufacture another 200 acres of land at Shalukhali in East Midnapore for the extension of the Haldia docks. This stands on its head the age-old belief that land cannot be produced out of thin air. In other words, necessity is the mother of inventions.

It may be recalled that land acquisition became part of the political discourse in the context of Nandigram also in East Midnapore; therefore what could be more natural than the desire to manufacture land in that same place to circumvent the politics that was born out of a violent confrontation that continues, albeit sporadically, now. The politics compelled the West Bengal Government to search for an alternative location for the proposed Special Economic Zone at Nandigram. It found Nayachar, a new land as the name testifies, on the coast that had in the period since its emergence from the water acquired inhabitants and a fishing community that instantly found ardent advocates prepared to battle to protect their ancient right to livelihood from the sea. 

The reason why manufacturing land is politically easier is because what the landfills displace have no votes. The Sundarbans shoreline is rich in biodiversity but its advocates are not politically powerful enough to prevent the geo tubes from being placed and the acres of land being created out of dumped silt. The only chance that agitators against land manufacture have of making themselves heard is if some people were to declare that they make a living trawling Sagar Island's southern tip for sundry fish. 

Reclaimed land has contributed to Mumbai's prosperity. Reclaimed land may produce the turnaround for West Bengal. But that does not solve India's problems vis-à-vis land acquisition, displacement of settled populations, industrialisation versus agriculture, urbanisation versus rural lifestyle. The roots of the problem reach down to a place where the political class is afraid of visiting because it is full of dangerously explosive material, the accumulations of all those issues that were either tucked out of sight, brushed under the carpet, shelved, neglected, ignored, overlooked. 

At different times, land has been acquired at a pittance and left unutilised, except for a foundation stone laid at some expense for a project that had no expectation of being implemented because its sponsors had no intention of doing so. At other times land has been acquired with an announced purpose and been used for an entirely different purpose. At other times land has been acquired, compensation has been promised but the money and the promised jobs never materialised. At other times land has been acquired and the beneficiaries have been people who were never meant to be the beneficiaries. The creative ways in which the land that was acquired through the agency of Government and used for a variety of different purposes is a saga of the ingenuity with which fraud was perpetrated. 

The one or two whistleblowers from within the political class now actively advocating the cause of the land losers are doing so not for the cause of justice but to further their specific electoral agendas. Stopping Government from acquiring land cheaply is a good thing. Paying a better price for it is even better. The question is — what is a better price? If land were bought and sold like gold or wheat or petroleum, then there would be some justification for discussing better prices. Land prices, then, would be determined by those who directly owned, or could arrange to own the largest amounts of land. For the poor peasant with a few acres, the information necessary to put a correct or rather market value on the land is simply not possible. Even if the information were available, the poor peasant may be compelled to sell at a throwaway price. 

Therefore, those who want to defend the peasants' right to hold on to their land and their lifestyles are doing so for reasons that do not serve the best interests of the peasants. The indebted peasant living just above the poverty line with little education and access to information is in no position to make the sort of "rational" choices that the market requires him to make in order to profit from a transaction. By labelling Government acquisition as a transaction with fraudulent intent, the landholder is made more vulnerable to the pressure of the mediator who could be a speculator, a middleman, a hired goon, a henchman. The nexus in other words has a stranglehold on the peasant and neither legislation nor agitation is going to release him from that.






The Egyptian Museum houses some of the world's prized antiquities, including the gold mask of King Tut that draws millions of tourists a year. But it also has an outdated video surveillance system that doesn't work around the clock and guards who snooze, read the Quran or are seemingly too bored to pay attention.

Security for Egypt's treasures is under scrutiny after the August 21 theft of a Vincent van Gogh painting from another museum in Cairo revealed some alarming gaps, and the Minister of Culture told a newspaper he lies awake at night, fearing for the safety of the country's relics.

Shortly after van Gogh's 1887 "Poppy Flowers" was stolen from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum, officials discovered that no alarms were working, and only seven of 43 cameras were operating. That made it very easy for whoever took the painting, said Mr Ton Cremers, director of the Netherlands-based Museum Security Network, which keeps tabs on the protection of art around the world. "The value of the van Gogh is $ 40 million to $ 50 million," Mr Cremers told The Associated Press. 

"A complete security system of that museum would be $ 50,000, and to keep it running would cost $ 3,000 a year.... Need I say more?" With the alarms out and few cameras working, the thieves took advantage of the afternoon period when security guards were busy praying during the Muslim holy month of Ramzan. The thieves used a box cutter to slice the 12-inch-by-12-inch (30-centimer-by-30-centimeter) canvas from its frame and left the museum undetected.

Now, officials in Egypt's Culture Ministry are under fire. On Monday, the head of the ministry's fine arts department, Mohsen Shalaan, was arrested for negligence. Shalaan, who was in charge of the Mahmoud Khalil Museum, and a number of other museum heads had asked Culture Minister Farouk Hosni for nearly $ 7 million to upgrade their security systems, but only $ 88,000 was approved. Two days later, Mr Hosni ordered three museums closed because security cameras weren't functioning.

The independent newspaper Al-Shorouk reported the Tourism and Antiquities Police had warned Mr Hosni of lax security at the Mahmoud Khalil Museum, and that 16 of the country's nearly 50 museums have no alarms, cameras or appropriate fire safety systems. Each year, nearly nine million people visit Cairo's museums and the haunting tombs of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, and these tourists are a vital source of revenue. Still, on a hot Tuesday afternoon at the height of the tourist season, inattentive security was easy to spot at the Egyptian Museum.

A tourism police officer guarding the entrance leaned back in his chair intently reading the Quran as his subordinates tried to handle the hundreds of visitors filing in. Inside, a guard talked on his cell phone as he leaned against a stone statue of an ancient Egyptian. He ignored a Russian couple touching the carvings on a huge black sarcophagus in the middle of the room. Another guard dozed while sitting on the edge of a railing, his head jerking to the side. He snapped to attention only when a tourist asked directions. Elsewhere in the humid building, museum security director Abdel-Raouf Adly hurried past granite tombs, ancient tablets and hundreds of tourists, giving orders into his walkie-talkie and shaking hands with workers.

"I checked all my cameras and equipment as soon as I heard about the theft at Mahmoud Khalil," Mr Adly said, adding that his museum has laser sensors and at least 200 cameras, many of them hidden. In an air-conditioned control room, three men at computer keyboards watched about 15 screens that displayed views of the hallways. The equipment was dated and the screens were of different models. Under a table, the cover had been removed from a computer to keep it from overheating. The keyboards were gritty from years of use. Control room workers said that if a security guard "senses" that an incident is about to happen, he presses the record button on a VCR.

An Egyptian Museum guard who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his job said much of the security relied not on computers but on humans, who had to constantly pay attention. "A controller may be very alert for two or three hours of the shift, but then he'll slip," he said. Asked what would happen if a worker missed something or believed that a room wasn't worth monitoring, the security guard shrugged and said: "It doesn't get recorded." He also said the equipment wasn't able to record 24 hours a day. "In Egypt, we say, 'It's OK; god will take care of it.' Then we do nothing," he added.

Since the van Gogh theft, the Culture Ministry announced the creation of a central control room in Cairo to collect information from all museum security rooms.

Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass sought to calm fears about more thefts from sites under his control, telling this writer: "I am assuring everyone that all of my 23 museums are well-protected and have good security systems." But on Thursday, he shut down the Nubian Museum in Aswan, 425 miles (685 kilometers) south of Cairo, because its security system wasn't working, the Al Shorouk newspaper reported. 

-- AP








THE uproarious scenes in the Rajya Sabha on Friday over Union home minister P. Chidambaram's earlier reference to saffron terrorism show how easily politicians tend to miss the wood for the trees in this country.


When Chidambaram talked of saffron terrorism posing a threat to this country some days ago, he had in mind the recent cases of terror attacks in India in which people professing radical Hindu or Hindutva ideas are allegedly involved.


It is true that Chidambaram could have chosen a better adjective to talk of this brand of terror, but how such phenomenon is labelled is less important than what it represents.


The Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) and its allies have taken umbrage at this, saying there is no such thing as saffron terror, besides pointing out the place saffron has had in our political history, reflected in the colour scheme of our national flag. The latter argument has weight and so it is desirable to avoid dubbing such terror as ' saffron'. It would be quite sufficient to use the word ' Hindutva' in its place.


The BJP's claim that there is no such thing as ' saffron' terrorism in India does not quite sit well with the facts of the attacks at Malegaon, Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, and the dargah at Ajmer Sharif in which innocent people were killed. The Hindutva parties are free to delude themselves but if the evidence with our law enforcement agencies is any indication, people owing allegiance to the Hindutva ideology were indeed behind the attacks.


As for parties like the BJP being put in the dock over the issue, they have only themselves to blame for not categorically condemning such attacks. It is difficult to forget that the party's prime ministerial candidate and its president went out of their way to speak up for Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur & Co.


The categorising of Islamist terrorism as " Islamic" and Hindutva terrorism as " saffron" or Hindu is a result of intellectual laziness. The media, too, must take its fair share of blame for using terms without thinking them through carefully. Islamist and Hindutva terrorists refer to those who pervert the true message of their respective faiths to carry out heinous acts of mayhem and murder.


And who can deny that those who sought to kill innocents in Malegaon, Ajmer or Hyderabad are not terrorists? Or that their targets have been chosen because of their depraved religious zeal?







THE postmortem report on the killing of Maoist leader Cherukuri Rajkumar, alias Azad, casts further doubt on the Andhra Pradesh police's claim that he was killed in a shootout. Though the doctors who conducted the autopsy left the " cause of death" column in the report vacant, the bullet wounds on Azad's body seem to indicate he was shot at close range.


The findings in the postmortem report now provide a more than valid reason for the government to order an inquiry, which it has been resisting so far. Azad's encounter was under a cloud of suspicion from the very beginning, especially as Delhi- based freelance journalist Hem Chandra Pandey was killed along with him and an inquiry was in the calling even earlier.


Even though the Andhra Pradesh police might consider Azad's encounter as a feather in their cap, it has actually been politically counterproductive in the battle against the Maoists. Azad was one of the few members of the Communist Party of India ( Maoist) top brass open to a dialogue with the Centre and activist Swami Agnivesh was engaged in correspondence with Azad in his effort to mediate between the two parties.


The fact that the Andhra Police used Swami Agnivesh to track Azad undermines any future attempt by the civil society to facilitate a dialogue between the State and the Maoists.


By killing Azad and ruining Agnivesh's efforts, the middle ground for possible negotiations has been destroyed, making a protracted armed conflict virtually inevitable.


The Centre must order an inquiry into the encounter of Azad and Pandey without further delay. This is a demand that is being raised not just by the Maoists and human rights activists but railway minister Mamata Banerjee as well. This could serve as a confidence building measure that will help recreate the space for dialogue.








RAHUL Gandhi's emergence as a player is not new but there is little doubt that the recent past is seeing a new assertiveness. Much commentary has focused on his simple one- line statement in the hills of Niyamgiri. The non- violent struggle of the Adivasis to save the mountain and forest may continue but he reminded them ( and all others) that he was " their soldier" in Delhi.


His first visit in March 2008 almost escaped attention but a Kolkata- based daily did have a report. What he said was that the issue of the Adivasis was just. Progress was necessary but the costs ought not to be too great in terms of ecology for the deprived sections.


Much has changed and not just in the hills of Niyamgiri. In 2005, when there was intense debate on the Forest Rights Act, a group of MPs floated a forum for ' Tiger and Wilderness'. Most members were from former princely families, and the head was the scion of the Dogras, and a scholar, Dr Karan Singh.


For a party then in the throes of a debate over how far to go with recognition of the rights of Scheduled Tribes, this did cause some confusion. With Rahul, MPs at the meeting, did this, many wondered, signal second thoughts? As it turned out, it did not. The forum dissolved into nothingness. More seriously, the leadership of both party and government threw its weight behind the legislation. The ambit was widened to bring in non- Adivasi groups under the more inclusive " Other Traditional Forest Dwellers" category.


Even ecologists who were critical, some mildly and others more sharply, were consulted. Not just the Congress, the leadership across parties came around to backing the law.




It is notable that since then Orissa is among those that have taken a lead in recognising the rights of the Adivasis under this law. The chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have been on the forefront of giving out land right pattas. So too has Andhra Pradesh.


The Niyamgiri case captured the imagination but is exceptional in one specific way. It involved two groups classified as Primitive Tribal Groups or PTGs, whose level of dependence on the forest is near total. Provisions in the law to protect them are more extensive and in this case played a key role.


But the vast majority of the Adivasis of India are cultivators.


Their farming is seasonal and rain- reliant. More than any other community, they lack a clear title has potential to change our polity to land. A song from Maharashtra in the 1970s put it pithily, if brutally, " We who were once kings of the forest" it said, " are now orphans of the forest." The absence of land title is due to not one but many reasons. The most crucial is the cycle of debt to lenders and creditors.> But no less vital a role was played by imperial annexation of the forest.


By 1904, nearly 6,00,000 square kilometres of land had been taken over by the Imperial Forest Department. Many readers may not know this but all would have read, seen or heard of Kipling's famous character Mowgli, he of The Jungle Book . The first Mowgli story, tilted ' In the Rukh' was at the end of the book. And in it he became, believe it or not, a Forest Guard.

Among the tasks of the foresters, wrote Kipling, was to obtain timber for the railways and to chase away the goats that might nibble at young saplings.


The late historical geographer of the world's forests, Michael Williams of Oxford University, put it eloquently. The imperial forests were indeed a jewel in the Crown of British India, in its day the largest state forest estate in the world. It was also he who wrote, " A festering sore in the body politic that continues to this day."



The tradition of imperial forestry has continued apace in independent India. One reason was the expansion of government forests into former princely and zamindari areas.


Another was that there was no counterpart of the land to tiller programmes in the forests which were seen as government property to be harnessed for industry's progress.


The first major shift came 30 years ago when the Forest Conservation Act built in checks and balances. Land turned from forest to other uses had to get clearance from the Union government.


Though it is true this was often a formality, it did and has slowed down the rate of legalised forest clearance over these 30 years.


The story took a turn about a decade- and- a- half ago. Judicial intervention drove tougher enforcement of the law and this time it was those that lived in the forest or relied on it that were caught in the net. It was evictions of Adivasis and other marginal peoples that led to protests to review the law.


The origins of the Forest Rights Act were not in the drafting rooms where the Congress manifesto for the 2004 general elections was doing the rounds. What was true was that of all the parties, it was the one that did not just listen. It acted.


Strange as it may sound, the Forest Rights Act revises the way the Forest Conservation Act operates. The latter was an outgrowth of the ecological consciousness under Indira Gandhi who had an ear to the ground on such issues. But it was in the 21st century that the voices of those reliant on the forest actually got the law rewritten.


This was eloquently expressed by a Gujjar from the Shivaliks who recently went so far as to say the FRA not August 1947 meant the dawn of freedom. This is not mere hyperbole. This is the first time the term " historic injustice" has ever been used in forest related legislation.


What the Act does is simple. No forest land can be alienated without a prior recognition of rights. Further, these require endorsement by the Gram Sabha. Finally, these rights inhere not only to those who live in a forest but also those who depend on it.


Tempting as it might be to dismiss commentaries on the Niyamgiri case, the wider context in which this drama was played out should command some serious attention. From the mid- Nineties onwards, forest and hill India has been in a state of turmoil.




Over the last few years some of that energy is getting channeled into a law governed mode to assert rights. This is not a process to be quibbled about. It is one to be appreciated.


The leaders who learn are the ones who grow. It is a sign of the times that elected leaders are vying with each other to be champions of Adivasi rights. But it is also the power of the movements in the forests. Whether they will bring the new dawn or not is open to question.


But there is little doubt of the rising clout of the Adivasi not only as voter but as citizen. At meetings it is striking to see Adivasi women matriculates articulate their views.


A focus on the apex is all very well. But step back a minute.


The Adivasi assertion is not about jobs but raises issues of the land and the forests. It may change the polity much more than we imagine.


The writer specialises in environmental history








THIS Friday marks the first death anniversary of Andhra Pradesh's charismatic chief minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy. It will also mark one year of grandstanding by Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy, YSR's 37- year- old son and Lok Sabha MP. A year ago, the Congress was faced with the prospects of a serious revolt in the ranks in Andhra Pradesh when Jagan staged serial dramas to stake his claim to succeed his father even before YSR's last rites had been performed.


A year later, nothing has changed. If anything, Jagan has become more ambitious and more reckless. Now matters are set to reach a climax and don't be surprised if a few months from now, Jagan is left with nothing but a severe hangover.


For a year now, the young man in a hurry has been indulging in activities that would have got anyone else the boot. He began by promoting YSR loyalist MLAs to ignore K. Rosaiah, the soft spoken 77- year- old new chief minister. Jagan instigated ministers, many of whom were YSR loyalists, to boycott cabinet meetings.


He also used his considerable money and media power to project himself as the only alternative. If all this were not enough to tax the Congress high command's patience, the proverbial last straw was his decision to embark on the controversial " Odarpu" ( remembrance) yatra across the state to commiserate with, and compensate, those who " committed suicide" after YSR's death.


He set out on the yatra ignoring even a plea from Sonia Gandhi. She had called him to Delhi and he met her accompanied by his mother and sister. She tried to dissuade him from the yatra and instead suggested that a function be held where family members of all those who took their lives be invited and handed compensation.


A stubborn Jagan rejected her plea.


Worse, after the meeting which was supposedly private, he released a statement saying the yatra was an " emotional" issue for his family. " We explained to her ( Sonia) the need for the yatra to console the family members of those who died following the death of my father. She did not cite any specific reason but did not appear to be favourably inclined," Jagan said in his statement.


The high command was livid.


" All loyal Congressmen must necessarily observe the party dharma and laxman rekha of propriety and party discipline," party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, adding that the party would not hesitate to take a firm stand to crack down on indiscipline.


From the flurry of activity, both in the government and the party, it appears that this was no empty threat. The Congress K. Rosaiah may finally be readying to wield the axe. A recent secret note from an Andhra Congress MP, an ex- YSR groupie, to Sonia Gandhi recommends that the damage will be minimal and containable if action was taken against Jagan.


The note also says that far from being spontaneous, the yatra is a politically motivated gimmick where even grief is well choreographed.


Though the number of persons who committed suicide last year was said to run into hundreds, it appears now that it is considerably less, perhaps a few dozen. The MP's note echoes the inputs that the Congress has got from state party chief, D. Srinivas.


Last Thursday, governor ESL Narasimhan flew to the Capital and met the Prime Minister.


Though the ostensible reason was to brief the Centre on developments relating to Telengana, the governor is understood to have given a lowdown on the Jagan factor. This week, chief minister Rosaiah will also be in town.


Jagan's supporters say his yatra is aimed at strengthening the Congress in the manner that Rahul Gandhi's yatras into the hinterlands have revitalised the party in areas where it had been written off.


They point out that it was a similar bicycle yatra that YSR undertook in 2004 that led to the Congress unseating the TDP in the assembly elections held that year.


Andhra Pradesh's importance in the Congress's scheme of things cannot be overstated.


But for its 33 MPs, the UPA may not have come to power for a second consecutive term.


Its hopes of a repeat in 2014 depends to a large extent on how Andhra Pradesh votes.


The dilemma facing the Congress is: do we do it with or without Jagan. At the moment, only one thing is clear. Sonia Gandhi, who hasn't lost an intra- party war since taking over as the Congress chief, is not likely to surrender to a greenhorn.


Packages for J& K serve no purpose


THERE have been many meaningless committees and money- wasting schemes for Kashmir in the past six years.


Last week, Hurriyat chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq taunted the government when he told a gathering in Srinagar: " The youth here didn't give their lives for jobs, didn't give their lives for economic packages, they didn't give their lives to come into the mainstream of India, the youth gave their lives only for freedom." And the government response? The Dr C. Rangarajan- led committee with N. R. Narayana Murthy, the CII's Tarun Das, among others on board, met for the first time in New Delhi last Friday to formulate an employment generation plan for the state, involving both the public and the private sectors.


By the government's own admission in June, when the Prime Minister visited the state, less than half of the 67 projects drawn up since 2004 have been completed. In his first visit to the Valley as Prime Minister in November 2004, Manmohan Singh had announced a number of plans, including providing basic services, employment generation, relief and rehabilitation to families of militancy victims. Most of these still remain on paper. In the meantime, thousands of crores continued to be poured into the state for which there is no accountability.


It may be too late for the ` 70,000 crore thrown down the drain during the last several years. But it is time to call a halt and address the real issue — the fight between the Abdullahs and the Muftis.


One has a third generation chief minister in office, the other a second generation ousted CM. The success of one necessarily means the end of the road for the other. And Mufti Mohammed Sayeed knows that whatever good Omar Abdullah may do for Kashmir is bad for his daughter Mehbooba.


If the Centre has any respect for the Indian taxpayers' money, it should stop the economic packages. Let the warring dynasties fight their battles with their own money.



AFTER months of spewing venom on each other, how refreshing it was to see the Treasury and the main Opposition benches exhibiting a kind of warmth rarely seen in recent times.

After the passage of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, government ministers were effusive in their praise for the BJP leaders and acknowledged that the Bill would not have passed but for their whole- hearted support.


The Opposition reciprocated with Sushma Swaraj congratulating the government for " accommodating" them as far as possible.


She particularly singled out finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, minister of state in the PMO Prithviraj Chavan and HRD minister Kapil Sibal for showing " flexibility" on many issues that the two sides had battled over for long in recent days.


For all the bonhomie, there was something that stuck out like a sore thumb. Parliament is not only about rules but also about etiquette and conventions.


It is due to these conventions that when a Speaker is unanimously elected, the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition jointly escort the new incumbent to the High Chair.


Another convention has it that when a critical Bill is passed with the Opposition extending full support to the government, the Prime Minister walks across the aisles to thank the Opposition benches for the support.


That Manmohan Singh left the house much before the vote may mean that he had pressing engagements.


Or maybe his office failed to remind him of the etiquette.


In the past, Manmohan has always given the Opposition its due. The Opposition's role is to oppose, but when it backs the government on crucial legislation, the message that goes out is that the House is one on an issue of national interest.


It was the Prime Minister who made the passage of the nuke Bill a prestige issue and sent his ministers out to woo the Opposition. The PMO should have reminded him of the courtesy reciprocation.








Taking exception to Beijing's refusal to grant a visa to Lt-General B S JaswalGeneral Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Northern Command, on the ground that he is in charge of military operations in J&K, India has reportedly put on hold defence exchanges with China. Three Chinese officers have been denied permission to visit. There are several issues here that the two sides ought to keep in mind. First, though there is little profit in getting embroiled in diplomatic skirmishes, neighbouring countries have to often learn to live with them. However, India and China need to ensure that such spats do not escalate. Our bilateral relationship is far too important to be derailed by hiccups. 

In this context, China needs to reconsider whether needling India on Kashmir is worth dissipating bilateral goodwill. For some time now, it has been issuing separate stapled visas to residents of the state and insisting on terming the region as disputed. This is unnecessarily provocative. It is possibleBeijing is motivated by its relationship with Islamabad in pursuing this course. But just as China can't be told how to conduct foreign policy with a third country, it should recognise the same principle doing business with India. Even though it could have leveraged the issue of Tibet, India maintains that the province is part of China. Beijing too would do well to recognise New Delhi's sensitivities over Kashmir. 

It would be unfortunate if China were to allow its ties with Pakistan to colour its relationship with India. The two need to be kept separate. Instead, both should focus on the big picture, which is a shared and historic opportunity to capitalise on the world's shifting power balance. As economic powerhouses and BRIC members, they provide a potential counterweight to the traditional global powers. Be it WTO, G20 or UN climate talks, China and India have joined forces on several occasions at various international forums to safeguard the developing world's interests. This cooperation must continue on a range of issues, whether to transform mechanisms of global decision-making, push reform of international trade rules or promote food and energy security. 

As both sides agree, much more can be done to boost ties in areas like trade, exchange of technology and education. A two-way pact reportedly on the anvil, whereby the countries would recognise each other's college degrees, is just one example of how countless young Indians and Chinese stand to gain from bilateral cooperation. As the world's fastest growing major economies, it is but natural India and China would indulge in healthy competition. But neither diplomatic irritants nor challenges should obscure the larger picture: there's mutual benefit in pursuing robust Sino-Indian ties.






If it were not for the tragic cost in human life it is set to extract, the zeal with which the Iranian state has persecuted 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani would seem almost farcical. For five years now, the might of the state has been brought to bear on the mother-of-two, imprisoning her,flogging her and sentencing her to death by stoning -- for the crime, as it is deemed in Iran, of adultery. A recent television appearance in which she 'confessed' only seems more evidence of coercion. However, in the wake of severe international criticism, Tehran finally seems to have conceded she will not be executed by stoning. Sadly, that is no guarantee she will not be executed by other means. 

At a time Tehran is at odds with western nations over its nuclear programme and Israel has hinted at military action, it can ill afford the negative diplomatic fallout of flouting human rights in a flagrant manner. From both a humanitarian and pragmatic perspective, it must rethink its course of action. As any number of moderate Islamic scholars has pointed out, the Quran does not approve of oppression of women; nor does it stipulate the punishment of stoning. And yet, stoning is described in excruciating detail in the Iranian penal code, mandating that the stones used be big enough to cause pain but not big enough to kill the victim instantly. Tehran today is scouting for allies in the global community. To judge by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's reaction to this entire affair, if Iran doesn't reconsider its handling of the Ashtiani case, it may risk alienating the few friends it has as well.







This has been a summer of discontent for the Kashmir valley. The death of the 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo, fatally hit by a teargas shell, and the drowning of two young women in Shopian became rallying grounds against an insensitive state apparatus. The home minister has acknowledged that the nature and intensity of the current agitation are different from the past. This is the first acknowledgement of the ground realities by the government of India. 

Over the past 60 years, India has adopted an ostrich-like approach denying acceptance of the truth that, emotionally, Kashmir was rarely with it. Commencing with Sheikh Abdullah's arrest in 1953, the systematic "management" of successive elections, the heavy presence of the Indian army, the absence of real development and the lacklustre performance of Kashmiri politicians present an amalgam that lies at the heart of the disturbances today. 

But perceptions outside Kashmir often belie the truth. While the flawed development paradigm largely implied food and grain subsidies, the rest of India thinks that it is a pampered state, treated with kid gloves because of its geographical and emotional proximity to Pakistan. Article 370 guarantees Kashmiris special privileges. Over decades they received subsidies, their lands have been unjustifiably protected under the Constitution prohibiting the rest of India to buy land or invest in parts of Jammu & Kashmir. They can never be allowed a plebiscite for their loyalty is suspect. It is generally accepted that they harbour terrorists who attack India, and were actively involved in pushing the Pandits out of their homes to become refugees in their own country. Therefore, it is time for the government to get its act together and clean up the Valley. To many, being Kashmiri means being anti-India. 

Over the past six decades, no government has sensitised India to the unique situation of Kashmir. There is no sensitisation to affirmative action and no dissemination of information that, if there is Article 370 in Kashmir, there is also Article 371-A for Nagaland, 371-B for Assam, 371-C for Manipur, 371-D for Andhra Pradesh, 371-F for Sikkim, 371-G for Mizoram, 371-H for Arunachal Pradesh and 371-I for Goa. All these Articles grant special rights and privileges to these states depending on their culture, society and history. But society has not been adequately sensitised, with the result that now governments are concerned that any special package offered to Kashmir will be perceived as weakness and, therefore, have a political fallout. 

But the fallout is now before us. The central and state governments are scampering for solutions. Curfew, the last resort for any good administration, is for the past two months a way of life. In this holy month of Ramadan when people fast and pray, fasting students are confronting the Indian military. There are no medicines for the old, no milk for babies, no food for the ordinary person. Mothers deliver babies at home, there is no emergency aid for the critically ill, no business and work for the daily artisan, the weaver, the ordinary Indian Kashmiri, no birthday celebrations, no weddings. There is no politically effective party left in Kashmir and each party is perceived as opportunist. 

My students tell me that a major of the army has greater powers than the chief minister who flies off to New Delhi to get clearances. The home office in Delhi dictates the civil administration in Kashmir. These may be perceptions but they must be corrected. The government, however, is doing little to create an atmosphere conducive for peace talks. 

So what is required to rebuild peace in this land of Sufis, mystics, farmers and rabaab players? What is the deeper meaning behind the cry for azadi? Does the Kashmiri really expect azadi? Does any right-thinking person actually wish to associate with a failed state like Pakistan? Or is it that in the garb of this exaggerated cry, the Kashmiri actually wishes to use it as a bargaining chip to extract the maximum autonomy that the government of India can concede, perhaps go close to the Agreement of 1952 signed with Sheikh Abdullah? He is keen for restoration of normalcy and true democracy but will not let this movement die till he gains major concessions. He seeks freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom from the awesome presence of the army and its pickets. He does not wish the next generation to grow up under the shadow of the gun. This is his azadi.

It is, therefore, incumbent on the governments in New Delhi and the state to create an atmosphere conducive to talks. This arguably will not be easy. It will involve the withdrawal of the armed forces either back to their barracks or to borders. It will certainly mean the revocation of the dreaded Armed Forces Special Powers Act. It will mean release of political prisoners -- despite the risk this entails -- and it will mean a reluctant chief minister stepping out from the protected walls of his residence to face the anger of the young and old for acts of omission and commission over the past two months. All this requires courage and conviction. Should this happen, we may hope for talks to resume. Should it not, this summer of discontent will be a bitter winter of despair. 

The writer is vice-chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi.



                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA





The Bombay Natural History Society ( BNHS) has been asked to assess the environmental damage caused by the 900-tonne oil spill that occurred when two ships collided off Mumbai a fortnight ago. Deepak Apte, assistant director and head of BNHS's marine conservation programme, talks to Jyoti Punwani about his findings: 

What's the extent of the damage? 

It has spread 100 km, from Mumbai to Raigad and almost till Alibag. All the mangrove seeds and saplings along this stretch are gone. This is the mangrove-seeding season, hence the impact could be long term. We'll know in the next six weeks whether the seeds are germinating. We shall have to monitor their mortality rate for a year; only in the next seeding season will we be able to make an accurate prediction. There's no sense jumping in just now with drastic measures, which might do more damage. By cleaning the mangroves, we may end up pushing the surface oil much deeper. Of course, we must clean whatever's washed ashore. 

These mangroves are used to subtle seepage of oil over the last two decades -- from the JNPT, the refineries, Bombay High, the washing of boats. They seem to be a comparatively more resilient species. They haven't perished because of this low quantum of oil; they've perished because of builders! We should let nature take its course before intervening. That's the beauty of the ecosystem -- the way it adapts. My experience as an ecologist tells me we should be less intrusive in nature's processes. We feel we can restore nature by technology, but that's undermining the dynamics of nature. 

What about the damage to marine life? 

This is the spawning season, so this year's spawn will be affected. The Central Marine Fisheries Institute will have baseline data, and we'll know only in a year if there's been a decline in fish population. The big fish will have moved away. But mangrove crabs, lobsters, oysters, shrimp and sea animals, which are at the base of the food pyramid, on which migratory birds feed, will be affected. 

Is Mumbai equipped to handle this accident? 

Jairam Ramesh himself said: We don't even have Tier 1 safeguards in place. Apart from both the ships, the officials too must be held responsible. This could happen anywhere. What if this were to happen in the Gulf of Kutch, or the Andamans or the Dhamra coast? Imagine the consequences in these ecologically sensitive areas! 

There should be a rethinking nationally on protecting our coastal ecosystems. At every port, we must have a mechanism to contain such spills in the sea itself, before the oil reaches the coast and gets into the mangroves and the rocky crevices. There are seven ports in the Gulf of Kutch, a stretch of just 160 sq km! We must study the ecologically vulnerable points within 100 km along each major port. For example, in the Gulf of Kutch, there are coral reefs; in the Gulf of Mannar, reefs and sea grasses. 

What's the extent of awareness at the government level? 

This can only be judged if within six months, Mumbai gets a Tier 1 safeguard system in place and if legal responsibility is fixed quickly and with transparency against all those responsible, including those supposed to have been monitoring the traffic. This was the failure of a system. The spill is the cumulative responsibility of the JNPT, the Bombay Port Trust and the state department of environment. And of all of us who will forget it after three months.







Whenever there is talk of FDI in multi-brand retail, it invariably conjures up images of Walmart on every street corner. Not surprisingly, a discussion paper on the subject by the department of industrial policy and promotion has made some quarters jittery. The so-called swadeshi camp's main contention is that foreign retail giants will take away jobs and squeeze out neighbourhood mom-and-pop stores. But this argument does not take into account one crucial factor: culture. 

It is a myth that big retailers, because of their size and scale, can easily penetrate and take over any market. Those familiar with Walmart's mixed performance across international markets know that this logic is a hard sell. Retailing is not all about selling things efficiently to maximise profits, but also the business of interacting with people. Retailers, especially foreign retailers targeting new markets, need to understand the psychology of local consumers. Just because they have been successful with a particular model of retailing in a specific market doesn't mean the same will work in a new market. 

Take, for example, Walmart's experience in South Korea. Four years ago it had to pack up its operations in the highly competitive market. One main reason the retail giant had to beat a hasty retreat is that it simply couldn't adjust to the tastes of South Korean consumers. Walmart stores in the country were simple in design and sold goods out of boxes, whereas Korean shoppers like to buy things fresh and enjoy being wooed by fancy outlets that hawk their wares. 

The same failure to understand local customs tripped up Walmart in Germany. In trying to replicate the American supermarket model, it failed to recognise that standard Walmart practices such as service with a smile and helping customers bag their goods actually rubbed the Germans the wrong way. Germans are used to brusque service and prefer bagging their own goods. Neither did the Walmart policy of barring employees from getting romantically involved with co-workers go down well: fraternising at the workplace is an acceptable norm in Germany. Thus, Walmart was forced to cut its losses and bid auf wiedersehen. 

Yet another example of a global retail powerhouse losing out to local flavours is from the Philippines. Here fast-food giant McDonald's has had to concede the No. 1 spot to local rival Jollibee. The secret of the latter's success: keep it Filipino. Unlike McDonald's, Jollibee made its burgers spicy, incorporated traditional Filipino fare in its menu and constructed an aggressive marketing campaign that revolved around Filipino values such as patriotism and respect for elders. Jollibee bears testimony to the power of local culture in warding off challenges from foreign corporations. 

The same principles can be applied to the Indian scenario. We Indians can be extremely picky when it comes to shopping. We love to haggle ^ a national pastime. We prefer buying things fresh. For example, no self-respecting Bengali or Malayali would ever buy fish from a can. And we love to strike up random conversation with vendors while we shop. 

This is where local kirana stores have a distinct advantage. The owners not only sell us our daily grocery but also form a relationship that could last a lifetime. They are familiar faces who will enquire about our health, give us financial advice if we need it, keep us updated about the latest neighbourhood gossip, double up as caterers if there is a wedding in the family and even let us maintain a running tab at their stores. These are things that no Walmart store will offer. So let there be 100 per cent FDI in retail. Our culture is our best insurance against foreign retailers. Meanwhile, the latter will bring in much-needed investment in developing back-end storage facilities and supply chains. Local kirana stores, however, will continue to serve us without skipping a beat.








India and China have to learn to get along with each other. India and China deeply distrust each other. The enormous gap between these two simple truths is why no one should expect smooth sailing in bilateral relations between the two countries. There can be no doubts that New Delhi needed to respond strongly to Beijing's decision to disallow Lieutenant-General B.S. Jaiswal from visiting China. Especially given the specious argument that his command embraces Jammu and Kashmir. There should also be an acceptance that India cannot afford to put all of its exchanges with China in deep freeze for every bilateral infraction.


What is difficult regarding China is trying to understand the motives of Beijing's actions and then calibrating a response. The Chinese leadership is not monolithic. It is also prone to factionalism and ill-discipline, more so than most outsiders realise. Beijing also responds to internal political pressures that resemble the short-termism and irrationality more often associated with democratic politics. Last year, China showed flashes of aggressive nationalism, at times in contravention of understandings it had worked out earlier, against many countries in the Asia-Pacific. Its denunciation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's electoral tour of Arunachal Pradesh was a reaction that seemed to emanate from the party hierarchy without the knowledge of the bureaucracy.


However, China is clearly becoming more assertive. It has the world's second largest economy, is only a few steps short of superpowerdom, and is wooed and flattered by other countries in a way that Indians cannot conceive. Beijing is not a government that will be hesitant about exploiting an advantage. Which is why red lines must be maintained even while engagement is pursued. As the territorial dispute is the most tangible difference between the two countries, India must be very clear in broadcasting its sensitivities on this issue. It must also combine expanding its strategic partnership with countries like the United States with a degree of transparency with China as to India's own motives. This is a fine balancing act. But it must always be remembered that the two Asian giants have a shared priority of ending centuries of humiliating poverty at home — and ensuring that external squabbles do not get in the way of this goal.







The Commonwealth Games preparations may be in a shambles, but we are on top of the security issue

For some time now, people have been gnashing their teeth and beating their breasts over the ongoing disaster that is the Commonwealth Games. But, what they don't seem to have discerned is that all this chaos is a finely-crafted ploy to improve security measures. So crafty that it fooled you, didn't it? As the momentum toward the Games, such as it is, gathers, the evil eye of jihadis from the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and their ilk will fall on our shores.

And be sure that they will dispatch squads to disrupt the proceedings with a well-aimed bomb or two.


But this is where our organisers have cut the ground from under their feet, literally. Imagine a suicide squad approaching Shivaji Stadium. "Ahmed, what's that mountain up ahead? It's not in your recce notes." "It wasn't there a few months ago, Sheikh. Anyway, it only seems to be a huge pile of rubble." While the squad is tearing its hair out on how to circumnavigate this obstacle, little do they know that another booby trap awaits. Yes, it is not for nothing that we have allowed gigantic pools of slush to accumulate around the approaches to our stadiums where once roads stood. Let's see any jihadi squelch his way through that and still be able to set off a bomb that will now be defused thanks to the copious infusion of mud gumming up its works. And let us inform you that setting off bombs inside your vest will take more than a little skill when you are five feet deep in mud and cement.


If, by some chance, a terrorist does get into the stadium, the sawdust on the floor will take care of his progress.
That is if a strategic portion of the roof does not fall on his head. Or a torrent of water does not waterboard him before you can say Guantanamo Bay. All we can say is, all those who want to take a tip or two from us on how to deter terrorists, please book now. Cash in advance, please. You'll find us in the shack on the left of the 50-foot pothole near the main stadium. Turn up and you'll find that we are game for anything.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES






Sonia Gandhi is all set to be re-elected as the Congress president for the fourth time this week. The election is expected to be unanimous since within her party she is the unchallenged leader. She will also perhaps become the longest-serving Congress president ever. This is significant since the grand old party is celebrating its 125th year.


However, what is to be seen is how her fourth term is going to be different from her three previous tenures since 1998 when she took over the reins of the Congress for the first time after much persuasion from veteran leaders Arjun Singh, Makhan Lal Fotedar and K. Natwar Singh among others. As she was not a Member of Parliament that time, the party constitution was amended to make a provision to make her first a member and subsequently the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP).


Two elections, one in late 2000 where she had to overcome a mild challenge from the late Jitendra Prasada, a one-time political adviser to Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao, and another in 2005 that was a unanimous decision, have contributed to making her the most powerful leader in the subcontinent. Incidentally, Jitendra Prasada's son, Jiten Prasada, is a minister in the UPA government.


Her fourth term also assumes significance since it is during this period that she may pave the way for her son, Rahul, to assume greater responsibility in the organisation as also later perhaps to take over as the leader of the CPP. Once he becomes the leader of the CPP, he becomes a contender for the position of prime minister, once occupied by three members of his family — Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.


Thus, there is speculation over whether she will bring down the average age of those who are working in the organisation. So far, Sonia Gandhi has been dubbed a status quoist and has allowed some people to assume a lot of responsibilities. In some cases, there are party functionaries who are both office-bearers and ministers, giving an impression that there is a dearth of talent in the Congress.


It is to be seen whether she overhauls the party and assigns different responsibilities to the present lot of office-bearers and constitutes a team, which would be compatible with the working style of her son who's seen as her natural successor. Every political party looks to the future and the Congress is no different. It has to prepare itself for the 2014 parliamentary poll and if it has to ensure that its USP of attracting younger voters has to be used again, the average age of the office-bearers will have to be nearer to Rahul's. If this does not happen, his emergence may become difficult given that many in her party have either unfulfilled political ambitions or do not want the power centre to shift since they are in full control of matters. It is paramount for her to clip the wings of some of her advisers in a subtle but decisive way and make way for those who have not got a chance to serve the organisation, not because they are not loyal to her but because they have been kept out by some around her.


The UPA government's image has suffered on account of the way the party has been run. The criticism is that the principle of one-man one-post has been flouted. Only the Congress president was earlier allowed to have this political privilege. Second, defeated candidates should not be accommodated in the Rajya Sabha. To begin with some party functionaries who lost in the Lok Sabha made it to the upper House. Now even defeated candidates of MLA polls are being made members of the Rajya Sabha.


Finally, Sonia Gandhi must realise that she is the undisputed supremo of her party and anyone who tries to create an impression that there are elements wanting to challenge this assumption need to be shown the door first. Her decisions will directly impact Rahul's future. Between us.








The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)'s ambitious plan of issuing a unique biometric-enabled number, innocuously called 'aadhaar', to every Indian resident has finally begun to generate a debate on citizen-State relations, privacy, financial implications, and operational practicalities.


What the debate has largely missed so far, however, is the credibility of the UIDAI's claims in the field of social policy, particularly the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and Public Distribution System (PDS). Tall claims ("the project possesses the power to eliminate financial exclusion, enhance accessibility, and uplift living standards for the majority poor") have been made. Scrutinising the UIDAI's documents reveals their poor understanding of how PDS and NREGA leakages occur and little evidence of creative thinking on plugging them. Instead, one is treated to rhetorical statements peppered with the 'Aadhaar-enabled' buzzword.


In the days of cash payments of wages, it was quite easy to embezzle NREGA funds by inflating attendance records and pocketing the difference. In 2008, the government made it mandatory for all NREGA wages to be paid through banks and post offices. The introduction of payments through accounts has made corruption difficult, but three ways of siphoning off money remain — extortion, collusion and fraud. Extortion means that when 'inflated' wages are withdrawn by labourers from their account, the middleman turns extortionist and takes a share. Collusion occurs when the labourer and the middleman agree to share the inflated wages that are credited to the labourer's account. Fraud means that middlemen open and operate accounts on behalf of labourers and pay them cash. Biometric-enabled UID to authenticate identity can only help to prevent 'fraud', but is of little use in preventing collusion or extortion.


Even on the specific issue of eliminating fraud, the UIDAI's thinking is muddled. "Once each citizen in a job card needs to provide his UID before claiming employment, the potential for ghost or fictitious beneficiaries is eliminated." Elimination of ghost beneficiaries would be an important contribution, but as the same sentence makes clear, it requires compulsory and universal enrolment. Yet, public statements convey that UID enrolment will be voluntary.


Nilekani speaks of "how having a UID can give automatic benefits" (Indian Express). In practice, there will be automatic exclusion as those who do not enrol will be turned away. We learnt this lesson the hard way in the transition to bank payments. Poorly-equipped and understaffed banks were expected to open millions of NREGA accounts overnight. Labourers began to be denied work — "no account, no work," they were told. The UIDAI is also poorly informed. "In many areas the wages continue to be paid in the form of cash." In fact, the transition to bank payments is largely complete (83 per cent NREGA job cardholders have an account). Tamil Nadu is the only 'area' where wages continue to be paid in cash (retained for the sake of speed).


Sometimes the UIDAI documents contain plain gibberish. Jumping on the social audits bandwagon, they say: "The village-level social audit committee can be selected after authentication with the UID database. The social audit reports filed by the village-level committees can be authenticated by the biometrics of the committee members and the social audit coordinator."
Turning to the PDS, the most important contribution of the UID would be to eliminate duplicate cards. But what proportion of cards in circulation are duplicates? The little reliable data on this suggest it is not large: 2 per cent in Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh's computerisation drive to issue hologram-enabled cards eliminated 8 per cent duplicates.


The UIDAI believes that "a key source of leakage identified in the PDS, is subsidised food drawn from the ration shop in the names of eligible families by someone else". Again, a quick tutorial on PDS leakages might help. There are two major sources of leakage from the PDS: one, diversion of grain, en route to the village ration shop. Dealers then appear helpless saying that they have been issued less by the authorities. Two, dealers undersell (e.g., only 25kg out of the 35kg entitlement) and yet make people testify on official records that they got their full quota. When villagers are disempowered and forced to buy from the same dealer, they feel resigned to being cheated.


The UIDAI recommends that people be freed from the monopoly of dealers, i.e. if he is corrupt, they can go to another. (Finally a usable idea, but alas, an old one.) Conflating the UID with benefits, the UIDAI goes on to make a bogus claim of "portability of benefits" (at least four times in their paper). Portability of benefits requires grappling with operational issues that Aadhaar cannot solve.


Aadhaar is about "inclusivity, the purpose is a better quality of public service delivery, it's about giving people, who have been denied identity, a chance" (Nilekani, Economic Times). Yet, the UIDAI states: "The NREGA programme can be used to enrol residents into the UID programme" and that the PDS "will provide the necessary impetus for penetration of UID". If the idea is to use the existing NREGA and PDS database to enrol people, where does 'inclusivity' come in? Perhaps the UIDAI needs the PDS and NREGA databases more than these programmes need the UID.


If the UIDAI is serious, it must think about the difficult questions: what if the grain/wages are snatched away after authentication, or if tele-links or hand-held devices break down? What about the costs involved? Illegal fees are routinely charged for ration and job cards — what prevents this from happening while finger-printing? Most importantly, what will Aadhaar add to what can be achieved by computerisation of operations, a reliable MIS, and simpler 'technologies' for transparency (e.g., the information walls in Rajasthan)?


If the rhetoric on inclusivity is only a 'PR' exercise, what actually drives the UID project? As former Intelligence Bureau chief A.K. Doval candidly said in Tehelka, "It [UID] was intended to wash out the aliens and unauthorised people. But the focus appears to be shifting. Now, it is being projected as more development-oriented, lest it ruffle any feathers."


Reetika Khera is a development economist at the Delhi School of Economics The views expressed by the author are personal




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

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

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

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






Investigations launched into cricket's latest scandal centre on the now familiar ploy of "spot fixing". A lot of betting takes place not on the actual result of the match — that is, match-fixing — but on what may transpire at a particular point in the match or how an individual cricketer may perform. So, the allegation is that in the Lord's Test against England last week two Pakistani bowlers overstepped the line to bowl no-balls at pre-determined moments. A British newspaper claims to have obtained information in advance from a "middleman", upon payment of 150,000 pounds, of three no-balls.


Spot or match-fixing scams are not new to cricket and just this summer grave charges have been levelled in county cricket. Ever since Hansie Cronje admitted to involvement a decade ago, not much progress has been made on cleansing the game — despite investigations and new playing protocols by the ICC and various cricket boards. Therefore, all kinds of inferences are drawn when certain players are dropped by selectors, and this especially continues to be the way of it in the Pakistani squad. With The News of the World story bringing the issue centrestage, cricket administrators will have to be far more transparent and focused than they have been.


For Pakistan, the scandal could not have come at a more critical juncture. For security reasons, Pakistani cricketers can't host matches at home. This summer, the Marylebone Cricket Club hosted Pakistan's Tests against Australia, calling it the Spirit of Cricket Test series. It was good for the game because the play — along with that in Pakistan's matches against England and India's versus Sri Lanka — revived the Test format. But it mattered because cricket is a small club, and to remain competitive and attractive, it needs all Test-playing nations to collaborate to keep the action keen — and honest.







Enduring the absence of a prime minister through two months and five attempts at reaching a consensus and electing one, Nepal's political arena is the embodiment of chaos and, more dangerously, of uncertainty. Madhav Nepal continues as caretaker PM while Nepal's "big three" — the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) — have been at loggerheads, with the Maoists and the NC not willing to cede an inch on electing a PM. Last Saturday's meeting, at the initiative of President Rambaran Yadav, sought to work its way towards the eluding consensus and, spectacularly, failed. Meanwhile, the constituent assembly — despite its new extension to present a democratic, republican, secular and federal constitution — looks increasingly delegitimised in the eyes of the people.


Every political entity in Nepal is fighting every other, and there are reports (and allegations) of the Maoists warming up to the pro-monarchy parties whose focused agenda is the restoration of the deposed monarchy and the jettisoning of the mandate for a secular constitution. Circulating insinuations in Kathmandu about "outside support" favouring one agenda or another only adds fuel to the flame. Although the likelihood of a return to armed conflict may be remote, Nepal's everyday problems include high inflation, unemployment, prolonged power outages, lack of potable water and the constant threat of shutdown. Law and order, under prevailing circumstances, doesn't need a guess, especially in the troubled areas in the south.


India would like nothing better than a secure democratic future for Nepal, and New Delhi must urge the continuation of efforts at consensus, no matter how fraught. Somebody, or everybody, will have to compromise, and soon. The long-term interests of the Nepalese people need the simultaneous work of the constituent assembly to proceed and ensure that the next popular election takes place under a constitutional framework.







Perhaps the greatest constraint on Mumbai's development, one of the central reasons that it's losing its competitive edge, is problems with real estate. Rents are much higher than they should be; and the supply of new housing and commercial space appears incapable of scaling up to what is necessary in the commercial capital of a country growing at 8 per cent-plus. This is not purely a product of Mumbai's unique situation, between the mountains and the sea; it's a combination of government slackness, restrictive regulations, and a tendency to cravenly surrender to particularly status-quoist "activism".


Thus there's particular reason to examine with care attempts to free up land that isn't being utilised properly. As The Sunday Express reported, one such place is in Kamathipura, which might be notified as a "special project" and put aside for development by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority. Kamathipura is both crowded and dilapidated, with about 15,000 families packed into 40 dense, well-located acres in South Mumbai — many of its buildings have completely collapsed, others have been declared unfit for habitation. Naturally much of this work will depend on the private sector, and that's how it should be. Projects conceived on this scale, which look at entire neighbourhoods, and work on renewing their infrastructure while rehabilitating their inhabitants, have the best chance of turning around Mumbai's real estate crisis in the shortest possible time.


Yet, even in this case, pitfalls are immediately obvious. One is, for example, in what is reportedly a major intention of the redevelopment project: to "give respectability" to an area that was at one point associated with sex workers. There are still about 1,500 sex workers in the area, according to local officials. The question is: is renewal of an area to be made provisional on the imposition of a moral code? Mumbai's, and Maharashtra's, leaders have already demonstrated a willingness to embrace the most backward-looking of social attitudes. Yet ideas that can help Mumbai dig itself out of the hole in which it finds itself must not be held hostage to attitudes of that sort — especially if they provide a handle for "civil society" to organise itself to demand a veto "on behalf" of around 1,500 inhabitants out of 15,000 families. The government needs to step carefully as it moves ahead — but it must move on this, and on projects of this sort. It will require political will, and an ability to ensure that residents themselves can spearhead a demand for rehabilitation that will, in the end, provide them with both better housing infrastructure, and create real estate assets for them they can use to lever themselves further into the middle class.









The recent denial of permission to Vedanta to mine the depths of the Niyamgiri hills by the ministry of environment and forests and the meeting organised just two days later by the Congress general secretary has reopened a theatre of conflict. It now appears to be a battle between the Congress and everyone else, and it's Rahul Gandhi's first attempt at revealing what his operational political vision is beyond Uttar Pradesh.


The fact is that despite being about 8 per cent of India's population, and being vastly diverse and dispersed and virtually impossible to organise nationally, tribals have exercised a hold on our politics. Especially in states like Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand (formerly Bihar), Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Orissa, West Bengal, the northeastern states and in some measure Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, canvassing tribals has been vital to political success. The integration of tribals in the Indian idea of nationhood too has been documented at length, whether in 1857 or later in the 20th century.


At one level the debate now appears to be whether the tribals, with their pristine way of life, should be dragged into the "mainstream", or allowed to be on their own terms. Should they be won over to the more rushed way of life, with mechanisation, access to modern medicine and the clamour for "good" jobs?


That debate was settled when the Constitution was agreed upon, and tribals, along with Scheduled Castes, were given preferential access to government jobs and education. Areas they inhabited were reserved for them and often kept deliberately inaccessible — even today, Election Commission officials take days to reach Abhujmarh. The argument was that there was to be full opportunity to keep their areas away from "others" though they would be provided with full access to opportunities outside.


In the Northeast the debate played out differently. Given the demography, they could collectively develop a voice and a tribal elite in a way that did not happen in central India. Education was part of the missionary exercise and benefited people in the Northeast immensely in helping them take advantage of opportunities that India offered.


However, just after Independence, several kinds of politicisation aimed at the tribals were attempted — the Christian missionaries, the Left movements, and the attempts by the RSS/ Hindu nationalists under the banner of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram set up in 1952 saw tribals get pulled into the mainstream through various devices.


Till the '80s, the Congress, though without any ideology or ideas about how to incorporate the tribals, managed to hold sway till an aggressive push by the BJP, in central India particularly, managed to elbow out the Congress and establish durable political spaces here. The sway that the BJP holds in MP, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and even in Jharkhand owes in some measure to a slow process of capturing the tribal imagination. In the 2002 upheaval in Gujarat, tribals were known to be the backbone of the BJP's attempts to consolidate their hold.


The Forest Rights Act enacted by UPA-I was also interpreted as a shrewd move to win over tribals by giving them what should have been their due anyway six decades ago — rights to the forests they inhabited, the minor forest produce they collected and sold and was their economic mainstay.


Despite that, while the ruling UPA did see a significant return of the minority vote and even the Dalits, the tribal support did not waver away from the BJP in central India or from the BJD in Orissa — the Left, even in 2009, held on to its tribal heartland.


So while the Congress has seen a revival in UP and is intent on attacking Mayawati's core support base, reaching out to the tribal centre, even if it's the 1,500-odd Kondhs in Niyamgiri, is a bigger symbol of intent. It could also signal a new pattern — of the Congress getting into agitational politics in states where it is not in power, despite being in power at the Centre, claiming to redress "wrongs" where a critical flashpoint of public protest is reached, using critical state support from the government in Delhi.


Many possible motives, corporate and others, too are being attributed to the move to single out one particular project and hold out hope for distraught locals, as opposed to holding out clear policies for illegality of all sorts. (According to the annual report of the ministry of mines, 2009-10, there are 30,551 illegal mines in the country, of which several are in Congress-ruled states, and of the 30,551 cases, just 1,255 FIRs were registered and 3,306 cases filed — an appalling record.)


But more than being just an environmental or mining issue, it has all the advantages of a mixed metaphor. It's a battle being contested on a wider platform, with many mixed messages — of all the "special" groups, the debate was centred around minorities, the Dalits, and then the Maoist discourse took the debate to the tribals, each articulating their needs in terms of their own politics. The Christian and Hindutva groups posed it as an identity question, both ignoring the animist aspects of the tribal debate. The Left raised tribal issues as a need to integrate tribals but from a point of view of strength, as a "people's rights" cause. And then there was an eloquent defence of the Maoist case for "protecting" tribals articulated in Arundhati Roy's famous romanticisation of the Maoist way of life in Dantewada.


The Congress, after a Nehruvian assertion in the early days, didn't have a set of ideas for the tribals it stood for. But over the last six or seven years, Indira Gandhi's "gharib" being replaced by the "aam aadmi" demonstrated a shrewd approach to try and develop an inclusive discourse, so "development" could be married to a redistributive idea, but one that sought to weave in all forms and shades of India. In 2004 and then again in 2009, the appeal to minorities too, for instance, was subtle and a sense of even-handedness was sought to be conveyed. And it seemed the electorate bought the line.


But by taking over the Niyamgiri hills agitation (actually waged on the ground locally by all parties opposed to the BJD in the state) as a Congress victory, the party shows it's keen to discover and establish that it recognises grades of the aam aadmi. And tribals are seen as an important constituency to win over — especially if vital states in the heart of India are to be conquered.


However, for the same reason that there is no Tribal Party of India yet, there are limits to what central leaders, who are in power at the Centre, can do in the context of such a dispersed population. There is also the limitation the Congress faces of an absence of credible work on the ground in each of these states. But one thing is clear — another chapter of a different kind of politics being attempted by the grand old party is upon us.







 When the High Powered Expert Committee (HPEC) on making Mumbai an international financial centre came up with its report in February 2007, it was more concerned about how and whether the "large urban governance challenges" in Mumbai would be met and less anxious about changes in financial policies and practices. On the state of infrastructure, the HPEC felt that while Mumbai wasn't too far behind its global peers in the telecommunications space, it didn't quite "hit the board" on parameters like residential and commercial space, quality power supply or urban transport. However, it felt that "the scene appears to be changing" going so far as to say that "the change in the air is palpable."


Well, three-and-a-half years later, that change is sadly nowhere in sight, despite Ashok Chavan's big promises when he took over as chief minister of Maharashtra in December 2008 that he would have the city back in shape. Indeed, the city seems to be weighed down by a growing population and its demands. The Bombay-Worli Sea Link may have made life easier for a privileged few, but that's about it. When the next two stretches will be completed is anybody's guess. The Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link, which would connect the mainland with Nhava, has been almost a decade in the making with the cost having trebled now to around


Rs 7,000 crore. The large tracts of land in Nhava could be used to create residential accommodation, thereby bringing down rentals, which have been the biggest problem in Mumbai. One reason why Navi Mumbai has not turned out to be a Gurgaon is poor communication — but it's also true that the surge in real estate prices forces people to continuously search


for accommodation further away from the main city, and commute long distances hanging out of overloaded trains.


Why real estate prices in the city never come down is no big mystery. But clearly cheaper accommodation and office space have driven international firms to set up shop in Gurgaon rather than at Nariman Point, and high real estate costs will continue to keep businesspeople away from Mumbai. Despite the reported surplus of office space, in none of the business districts across the city are rentals lower than


Rs 200 per square foot per month.


The story of how the airport in Navi Mumbai has been bogged down by environment clearances is well-documented. But the government hasn't even succeeded in clearing the area around the Santa Cruz airport so that it can be expanded. Is it any surprise then that more flights operate today from Delhi's airport than from Mumbai's? Or that Bangalore now has about the same number of hotel rooms as Mumbai?


The reason why infrastructure projects aren't making any headway is because the two parties that make up the coalition government in the state, the dominant Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are permanently in a power struggle; the two state agencies that deal with the bigger projects — the MSRDC, controlled ostensibly by the NCP, and the MMRDA, which is presided over by the chief minister — are for ever fighting a proxy war. Unless there is single-party rule in Maharashtra, therefore, projects are going to take their time coming. Political experts point out that the Maharashtra polity has been spit between four parties for over a decade now and so the chances of a single party coming to power on its own are slim if not altogether impossible.


The rise of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which has made an agenda of wooing the "Marathi manoos" and demanding they be given priority when it comes to jobs, is unfortunate. The Shiv Sena had virtually abandoned this issue but has been now compelled to rethink its strategy; in fact, even the Congress jumped onto the bandwagon insisting that all taxi drivers in the state should know Marathi. Clearly, the rise of a party like the MNS, which is perceived to be aggressive when it comes to demanding jobs for


locals, even willing to disrupt life in the city, can hardly infuse confidence in investors.


Such anxieties could have been addressed if the party in power had shown the political will to save the city from crumbling — but there seems to be none. The biggest deals are not happening in the financial world; but elsewhere, Mumbai is a vibrant city, truly cosmopolitan, with Maharashtrians at just over a third of the population of 17 million, and with citizens who have more than just survival instincts. But its rulers are an apathetic lot, willing to let it decay. Sadly, the 1956 hit from CID, "Ai dil hai mushkil jeena yahan, zara hatke zara bachke yeh hai Bambai meri jaan" rings truer than ever.


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








 In the week that farmers around Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh went on the rampage, villagers in the heart of the Naxalite-affected Jagdalpur region in Chhattisgarh finally handed over all the land NMDC needs to build its steel plant. No violence accompanied that handover, instead, there was a possibility of the Naxals moving against the villagers who sold their land to the public sector company. Both cases are fit examples of the inroads that market-based pricing of resources has made into the psyche of those often considered immune to these forces.


So why should we be alarmed when a farmer in UP, using the same logic, protests the perceived lower price for his land? Instead, if one remembers the way almost the same set of UP farmers won another price war less than a year ago, it is obvious that they now know what they are capable of demanding. It is that knowledge which they have put to action.


In other words, the farmers of western UP have demonstrated they are as adept as any savvy businessman in demanding a price that is in sync with what the market can support. Note, this is not the same as the demand for a fair price. They have demanded a price, rather, bargained for a price that they believe the market can afford to pay.


To recapitulate, earlier this year sugarcane farmers of the region demanded a price that was more than twice what the mills were initially willing to pay. When the mills refused, the farmers withheld supply of sugarcane. The price they demanded was far more than the common minimum price set by the Central government for sugarcane and also higher than that offered by the UP state government. But the farmers held out for a higher price. It was finally resolved in favour of the farmers, albeit after some arson.


Months later, an almost similar pattern is being played out. The unnecessarily heavy-handed treatment by the police has grabbed the headlines, converting the matter into a trouble instead of bringing out the basic disagreement. You can argue that a piece of land abutting a planned expressway near Aligarh cannot command the same price as a land parcel in Noida. It is a question of opinion. The more exciting prospect is the attitude of the farmers towards their land. In a way it recalls the Hernando de Soto hypothesis, which argues for giving all squatters ownership of their plots of land, to co-opt them into the market economy with bargaining power.


The squabble in UP and the willingness of farmers in Chhattisgarh to sell their land is the same picture, viewed differently. One has to remember that the deal in Jagdalpur was tougher. The villagers were made to sit out for several years before they could monetise their holdings.


This is far removed from the standard debate on development and its merits, led by groups that miss no opportunity to agitate.The farmers are, rather, bringing into the limelight questions that the Indian state is unwilling to address. Land has a price and the price must be set by the forces of demand and supply. There is no way the government or any commercial interest can afford to price land in a densely populated country at a concessional rate. The term itself is an oxymoron. Subsequent to the disturbances, there have been reports in The Financial Express that three other projects, including an airport plan in Kushinagar, is in trouble over the price paid for the land.


Since Independence and even before, the Indian government has shortchanged the farmer's right to earn a decent value from land. This did not create more than a suppressed resentment as long as the state procured the land to feed only the public sector. In fact, there was no alternative for the farmers as the state was both buyer and arbitrator, so an appeal was useless.


Now, the picture has changed. Every possible sort of enterprise is now in the fray to buy land for all sorts of projects. In such a demand-heavy market, it is only fair that the supply price also be set freely. This has not happened so far. If that mechanism comes into place instead of state-controlled pricing, the land holders will not cry foul, as they will realise that the process is transparent.


But the bill to replace the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 shows no sign of a quick passage through Parliament, as it has been needlessly tied to the relief and rehabilitation policy. The latter can wait till the political parties make up their mind. By stonewalling on the changes, the state has ended up supporting industry instead of the farmers. Industry has often argued it needs the support of the state governments to buy land pieces from the farmers, but that is a euphemism to buy cheap. A direct negotiation is sometimes more time-consuming, but transparent. That is what needs to be promoted.


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








 Political forces inside and outside Pakistan's parliament are furious at the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain for asking "honest army generals" to hold the "corrupt politicians" to account. The MQM chief said he would back a "martial law-like" dispensation to rid the country of the corrupt ruling feudal elite.


Condemnation of the call came from across the spectrum including all religious and secular parties, with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan, otherwise an arch rival of the MQM, being the only exception and actually endorsing the statement. But just what, or indeed who, prompted Hussain to give the bizarre call, no one knows.


A bloody spate of targeted killings in Karachi has left over 400 political workers and others dead since January. The MQM's political opponents, and some government officials, figure dominantly among the fatalities. Investigations into the arrests have also pointed fingers at the MQM. The Pakhtun-centric Awami National Party (ANP) has borne the brunt of the killings, demanding that Karachi's administration be handed over to the army.


Now the MQM has upped the stakes by asking for army intervention not just in Karachi but all over. The ANP heads the provincial government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (the erstwhile North Western Frontier province, or NWFP), and is a coalition partner with the MQM and the PPP at the centre and in Sindh. Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) has the PPP as a coalition partner in Punjab; Maulana Fazlur Rehman's Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) is the fourth party in the ruling coalition at the centre. Both Sharif and Rehman have strongly condemned the MQM's invitation to the army to intervene in politics, and demanded that the MQM leave the ruling coalition for coveting martial law.


The army could not possibly have been behind Hussain's call to hold politicians accountable. Given the devastating floods, the ongoing war on terror, the extremist threat, the rolling inflation in double digits, and the utter hash of things that the government has made of its domestic and foreign policies through its sheer inability to govern effectively, these are not the ideal conditions for anyone to be offered the coveted Islamabad "throne". Hussain can vent his anger and the frustration he faces from the PPP and the ANP in seeking to single-handedly control Karachi (which the MQM did during the Musharraf regime) by giving the call for an army takeover but he cannot make it happen.


Two other hurdles in the way of a "martial law-like" dispensation are the born-again activist and popular judiciary, and a very vocal and independent media. Though they have little love lost for President Asif Zardari, both are equally wary of a military or a military-backed rule, which only works to their detriment as seen during Pervez Musharraf's last months in power. The judiciary and the media — not the political parties — galvanised public opinion against the quasi-democratic dispensation as a sidekick to Musharraf's autocratic regime, when the army stood discredited in the public eye. Pakistan's army chief, General Asfaq Kayani would be the last man to take the army back to that public image if he were to strike now, with or without prodding from the likes of Hussain and Khan.


On the contrary,since his appointment in 2007, the army chief has taken actions to somewhat mend his institution's broken image: against Musharraf's wishes, Kayani did not interfere in the 2008 election process, nor the much delayed transfer of power to Musharraf's rivals who eventually saw the general out of the presidency and the country; Kayani also did more to appease the Americans by fighting off the extremists. Finally, his boys sprang to action on their own to deal with the floods at a time when the government had no clue what to do. Kayani has thus effectively established the army's credentials as the "good boys" who do the needful on the domestic and international fronts while staying within their constitutional role on the surface of things.


Behind the scenes, given the low public approval ratings, Zardari's weak administration has, by default, had to follow the army's national security and foreign policy strategy. So why would the army come in itself when it has got all it wants from a weakling at the head of a parliament that is but a talk-shop? This was evident when the politicians thwarted any meaningful debate on a comprehensive 15th constitutional amendment last April, having settled everything amongst themselves outside parliament behind closed doors. The new law that empowers the provinces (as opposed to the centre), undoes the many amendments made by Musharraf, besides introducing new mechanisms to appoint army chief and judges to superior courts, was not opposed by the army; but it has since been challenged in the supreme court.


So for now, Hussain may have to bite his tongue, but this being Pakistan, TV road-shows and polls suggest there is some public support for the call to generals to intervene.


The writer is an editor with 'Dawn', Karachi







As the last officially designated American combat forces left Iraq, television cameras caught the exultation of a soldier finally heading home. We won! he yelled. It's over! America, we brought democracy to Iraq!


Which naturally raises an intriguing and provocative question: Did we win?


The United States deposed a dictator and brought democracy to Iraq — a rudimentary, still-in-progress, somewhat dysfunctional democracy that has yet to seat a government nearly six months after an election, but a democracy nonetheless. And certainly it looks more like victory than it did just three years ago in the depths of the devastation before the American troop surge and the Sunni uprising against Al-Qaeda in Iraq.


But don't look for sailors kissing nurses in Times Square or ticker-tape parades in the streets of Washington. Don't look for Obama or most other elected leaders to use terms like victory to describe what happened in Iraq. Whatever progress has been achieved has come at great sacrifice and seems fragile and incomplete at best. Rather than winning, Obama describes his goal as responsibly ending this war. Making a final evaluation, of course, would be premature. Even after Tuesday, when Obama will declare the end of America's combat mission, there will still be nearly 50,000 troops to advise and assist the Iraqis and conduct counterterrorism operations before pulling out at the end of 2011. A string of attacks last week demonstrated that radicals can still do damage.


Still, the American role in the war has been subsiding for some time, with soldiers based mainly outside the cities for the last year and encountering less and less direct combat as Iraqi forces take the lead. As of Friday, 46 members of the American military had died in Iraq in 2010 — a fraction of the 904 who died at the peak in 2007.


James M. Dubik, a retired army three-star general who led the training of Iraqi troops, said the keys now were building governance and economics. And for those who have suffered deep loss, like the relatives of the 4,400 Americans or the many more Iraqis who died, the notion of victory or defeat can feel remote. Well, first of all, my family lost in a big way, said Cindy Sheehan, who became perhaps the nation's most prominent anti-war activist after her son died in Iraq. In her view, the only winners have been Halliburton, KBR, CACI, Xe, Unocal, BP, Standard Oil, Boeing and other corporations that profited from the war. People here in the US who don't know that they lost have lost big time, she said.


The debate underscores the changing nature of war. The United States claimed victory in most of the wars it has fought from the American Revolution through World War II. The Korean War essentially ended in a stalemate, with American-led troops repelling North Korean invaders but then being pushed back to the pre-war border. Vietnam is widely seen as a defeat after Americans withdrew and the South fell to the North. The first Gulf War succeeded in pushing Iraq out of Kuwait.


But many Americans remain unsure about the current war in Iraq. In a CBS poll last week, 59 per cent said the United States did not do the right thing going to war in Iraq in the first place and 72 per cent said the war was not worth the loss of life and other costs to the country, the highest percentage since the invasion in March 2003.


The larger geopolitical repercussions of the war are still playing out. It drained American credibility around the world, particularly after the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction proved false and after the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. Many argue that Iran grew stronger as a result of the war, allowing it to extend its influence to Iraq, where the Shiites, not the Sunnis, now dominate political life. And while violence is down, it is not gone. The difference is that the administration deems it below a threshold where it can be managed by the Iraqis without posing a threat to the Iraqi state.


One of those who from the beginning saw clearly what would come in Iraq was Col. Alan Baldwin, the chief Marine intelligence officer in Iraq during the invasion. A few days before the war began, he sat down with a few reporters and, off the record, predicted that the American invasion would lead to what he called a rolling civil war.  Looking back to his prediction seven years ago, he said: We opened a Pandora's box. Lots of bad things were flying out of there. But good things are there now too. It's amazing we had the patience to be where we are today.







Two years ago today, Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, introduced the world to his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin. Chosen by McCain's campaign strategists as a cynical rejoinder to the ill-starred presidential bid of Hillary Clinton, Governor Palin was a historic pick: the second woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket and the first Republican woman in history to do so.


In the 24 months since her appearance onstage in Dayton, Ohio, Palin has enthralled pundits and journalists who devote countless television hours and column inches to her every Twitter message and Facebook update, while provoking outrage and exasperation from the left. Case in point: Palin, now a Fox news contributor, and her cable colleague Glenn Beck planned a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, 47 years to the day after the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr's March on Washington, a wily usurpation of an anniversary cherished by progressives and civil rights activists.


The left should be outraged and exasperated by all this — but at their own failings as much as Palin's ascension. Since the 2008 election, progressive leaders have done little to address the obvious national appetite for female leadership. And despite (or because of) their continuing obsession with Palin, they have done nothing to stop an anti-choice, pro-abstinence, socialist-bashing Tea Party enthusiast from becoming the 21st century symbol of American women in politics.


What makes this all the more frustrating, of course, is that progressives helped to give Palin her start; her political career was a natural outgrowth of feminist successes. As a teen, she played basketball thanks to Title IX; as an adult, she enjoyed a professional life made possible by the involvement of her load-bearing husband Todd, entering Alaska's governor's mansion at 42 with four children in tow and giving birth to a fifth while there.


Palin, in turn, has been making a greedy grab at claiming feminism as her own. She recently marked the 90th anniversary of the 19th amendment by expressing her gratitude to those brave feminist foremothers who struggled and sacrificed, endured imprisonment and ridicule ... to grant future generations of American women a voice." On the same day, she sent out this Twitter message: Who hijacked the term 'feminist'? A cackle of rads who want 2 crucify other women w/ whom they disagree on a singular issue.


The hijacking accusation goes both ways. Palin's infuriating ability to put a new twist on feminism — after decades of the word's being besmirched by the Right and the Left — allows her to both distance herself from and accentuate the movement's maligned reputation. Her new spin, of course, is that she does not support policies that move women forward.


You'd be forgiven for thinking she does. Palin has spent much of 2010 burnishing her political bona fides and extending her influence by way of the Mama Grizzlies, a gang of Sarah- approved, maverick-y female politicians looking to take back America with common-sense solutions.


Sure, the Grizzlies sound somewhat progressive on paper. But from their opposition to reproductive rights to their work against health care reform and labour policies that would empower American women, their ideas are just antiquated clichés dressed up in designer suits. Like Palin herself, their talk about being "mama bears" and "tough as an ox ... wearing lipstick" simply reduces female candidates' political prospects to maternal worth and sex appeal.


It's easy of course, for liberals to laugh off Palin's "you go, girl!" ethos and increasingly aggressive co-optation of feminist symbols. But the sad truth is that Democrats often prefer their women fulfilling similarly diminutive models for behaviour. Consider how Hillary Clinton has been treated, at times, by those in her own party: Democratic leaders never really celebrated Clinton's nation-altering place in history as the first female candidate to get so close to a major party's presidential nomination. Indeed, she is most appreciated when she plays well with others in the Senate or the State Department; when she behaves like a fierce competitor, she is compared to Glenn Close's bunny-boiling virago from Fatal Attraction..


But as women of a different generation — of, gulp, Sarah Palin's generation — we wonder if Democrats shouldn't look to her for twisted inspiration, and recognise that the future of women in politics will be about coming to terms with (and inventing) new models.


Imagine a Democrat willing to brag about breaking the glass ceiling at the explosive beginning, not the safe end, of her campaign. A liberal politician taking to Twitter to argue that big broods and a "culture of life" are completely compatible with reproductive freedom. A female candidate on the left who speaks as angrily and forcefully about her rivals' shortcomings as Sarah Barracuda does about the Pelosis and Obamas of the world. A smart, unrelenting female, who, unlike Palin, wants to tear down, not reinforce, traditional ways of looking at women. But that will require a party that is eager to discover, groom, promote and then cheer on such a progressive Palin.









One of the interesting points that emerges out of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill that the Lok Sabha passed last week is that relating to the recourse the operator, in this case the public-sector NPCIL, has when it comes to suppliers. Under the Bill, which has got Indian industry worked up, NPCIL will be able to get damages from its suppliers in case there is a nuclear accident—the same applies to foreign suppliers from countries like, say, the US. The problem, however, is that the agreement signed by India with Russia, in December 2008, after the Nuclear Suppliers' Group passed the 123 Agreement, specifically precludes this. It says that the Russian Rosatom, which supplies nuclear reactors, will have no such liability in case of an accident—its responsibility ends once it hands the plant over to NPCIL. So how does this square with the Bill, which will soon become an Act?


In the case of the Posco plant whose fate also hangs in the balance in Orissa, a contributor pointed out in this newspaper last Friday (Posco Paradox), the India-Korea Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement makes it mandatory that Posco be given 'fair and equitable treatment' in India. While there could be various interpretations on whether denying it clearances according to Indian law could be deemed unfair or inequitable, the article cited the case of a Malaysian investment that was given the go-ahead by one arm of the Chilean government and rejected by another arm of the government on environmental grounds. An international arbitration council, however, held the treatment violated the Bilateral Investment Treaty between the two nations. It is not clear what action Posco or the South Korean government would take in such event that the company is not allowed to start its plant in Orissa, but the possibility of an international arbitration award going against India needs to be kept in mind. The Direct Taxes Code, which will be converted into law soon, also has disturbing news on this front. What has finally been agreed to on tax incentives to Special Economic Zones is not clear—the original DTC wanted them out but a later version agreed to retaining some while removing others—but it needs to be kept in mind that the concessions to SEZs were guaranteed by a special SEZ Act. How can one law take away what another gave, and not too long ago? It cannot be anyone's case that India suspend the use of its laws for Posco or any other company, but surely someone needs to be looking to harmonise various laws.







If you got excited reading that you can now use your Google account to make calls on landline and mobile phones, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Internet telephony is only partially allowed in India, which means you can only make calls from a PC to a PC and not from a PC to a phone. Why such a basic technology is denied to us is an interesting commentary on the telecom ministry's skewed priorities. While the ministry says, incorrectly, that it went by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (Trai) recommendations while awarding licences to eight new operators in January 2008, the same ministry has been sleeping over a Trai recommendation on Internet telephony for over two years—the recommendation suggested that Internet calls be allowed to be made to ordinary mobile and landlines.


Why are Trai's recommendations gathering dust in the department of telecommunications for over two years now? It's difficult to say, but it has to be pointed out that existing service providers who have licences for long distance telephony, both within the country as well as for international calls, are opposed to any such measure because once this happens, Internet Service Providers can start offering Google-like services in the country, thereby bringing further downward pressure on tariffs. The operators argue that while they have paid an entry fee (it used to be Rs 100 crore prior to 2005 and this is now down to Rs 2.5 crore), ISPs have not paid any, so they should not be allowed to offer such services without first paying a similar amount. Given how the entry fees have collapsed, the argument isn't too convincing. In any case, several operators have ISP licences as well, but they have not started offering Internet calls. Another argument made is that with average STD tariff falling to as low as 50 paisa per minute, there is no need for Internet telephony—Internet telephony, it is argued, only made sense at a time when long distance tariffs were very high. That may be correct, but shouldn't the choice of service be left to the consumers rather than the operators? If the quality of voice on Internet calls is really as bad as the phone companies say it is, then customers won't flock to use them, but give consumers that choice. Till such time that the ministry decides to move on Internet telephony, don't subscribe to that Google service.








During the passage of the Nuclear Liability Bill, the Prime Minister pointed out that India had to retain the option of using nuclear power as a source of energy. Put it this way, the use of civilian nuclear energy is a 'just in case' option. Yet the scale of commitment and the impending plans for setting up reactors with French, US and Russian suppliers seem to indicate a much greater reliance on nuclear power than a 'just in case' role.


Civilian nuclear power was used to sell the strategic alliance with the US in the Bush-Singh deal. Of course, neither side named it as such. But here too there is a 'just in case' angle where the scenarios are China-centred. Yet that in itself does not prove the case for nuclear energy. Nuclear power generated energy is not cheap and it would be appropriate for any long-run planning to be clear about the cost price at which the supply would be forthcoming. Having just got rid of the middle-class subsidy for petroleum, the government would be well advised to desist from embarking on another horrendous expense.


After an early promise in the 1950s, nuclear energy flopped as a source of cheap electric power. The US had its big wake-up call in the Three Mile Island accident. Britain was enthusiastic about nuclear power and had several reactors built. Eventually when there was a move to privatise the nuclear power sector in the 1990s, it emerged that there were no buyers because the cost of supplying power to consumers made nuclear power a bad option. At the time, the UK government invited tenders for privatisation, it was already giving a billion-pound subsidy to make it viable.


Nuclear power has won new friends on the grounds that it is clean. Yet we need to know the price of carbon at which, even if it is clean, the source will be economical. I predict that the price of carbon required to make nuclear power feasible is much higher than any found in the carbon market thus far. Only the EU has experimented with this and it has consistently under-priced carbon. Copenhagen further undermined any case for a high carbon price.


The Nuclear Liability Bill focuses on accidents. Even if the probability is very low, the damage will have such high costs that the expected value of such an event is not negligible. This is so not only within the vicinity of the reactor but also far away. The effects of Chernobyl were felt up to the Atlantic coast, i.e., every country between Ukraine and Wales was affected by the radiation released.


But even more than that, the larger cost of nuclear power is of disposal of waste. The waste is toxic and has a half-life running into centuries. In the UK and the US, attempts to get local communities to agree to have facilities for burial of the waste have proved to be very controversial. The economic cost of storage of toxic waste, in ways that are completely safe, has to be faced openly. Any escape of the waste will have devastating consequences for which the expected value is difficult to compute.


There are, of course, alternatives. Oil is too frequently dismissed as being likely to run out or costing too much. I have lived with stories of oil running out for 40 years at least. Oil was cheaper in real terms compared to 1979 even when two years ago it was $140. Every week we hear of yet another oil find; the latest being Cairn's in the K-G basin. Brazil and Ghana are on the map of oil producing countries that were not there 10 years ago. The hydrocarbons supply is assured for decades ahead.


There are alternative sources such as wind power, solar energy and biofuel. These are always dismissed as too small or too expensive. Solar energy is a curious step-child. I recall Panditji enthusing about solar cookers in the 1950s. There are many countries investing in solar energy, not just China.


Jairam Ramesh has been quoted recently as arguing that biofuel competes with agricultural land. If so, the price at which land is sold to biofuel industries should reflect this opportunity cost. It is not that all agricultural land must be preserved for food production. India needs high productivity in agricultural land, not just any old land. Even so, India's energy policy is so bizarre that Andhra Pradesh has biofuel supplying companies it chooses to tax at 22.5%, in addition to all the other taxes biofuel pays when it is mixed with diesel. With that sort of muddle it would be easy to price biofuel out of India. Has anyone asked Andhra Pradesh about the logic of its policy?


Is there any logic at all in India's energy policy?


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer







If the first quarter (April-June) earnings are anything to go by, mobile operators have a reason to heave a sigh of relief, although the time to start sporting a smile again is still some distance away. While the profitability of the top two operators, Bharti Airtel and RComm, continued to decline on a yearly basis with the former's net income declining by 32% and the latter's by 85%, the good news is that this was the second consecutive quarter that did not see any major tariff cut by the incumbent operators. In fact, headline tariffs have started moving slightly upwards! As a result, the minutes of usage (MOU), which has always been a real yardstick to measure the telecom operators' profitability in India, since the ARPU long ceased to matter here considering the rock-bottom tariffs, has also started to marginally increase. This signals that traffic is returning to the operators.


The Indian model is low-cost high-volume and since more than 40% of the populace still does not have access to phones, the model works well for the operators. This perfect script got soiled around a year ago, when in the fight to garner more subscribers, the race to the bottom in terms of tariff gathered full steam, leaving holes in everyone's pockets. The ARPUs were always falling but for the first time the MOU also started declining. This meant that people were taking phone connections as the monthly subscriber addition continued to be around 15-20 million but were not talking enough to make up for the low tariffs, which could only be compensated with average talk-time increasing. The result was that first operators like Bharti Airtel, which were recording high double-digit growth, fell to low single digits and then the decline began.


The first signs of stability returning to the market were visible in the January-March quarter of the last fiscal when the zest to reduce tariffs slowed down, and the quarter just gone by only saw the trend strengthening. The other positive trend to have emerged is the focus of the operators on revenue generating customers and the slow cleaning up of the free minute consumers. Bharti, for instance, posted a growth of 1% in MOU on a yearly basis and 3% on a sequential basis. In the fourth quarter of the last fiscal, the same declined 4% on a yearly basis but had grown 5% on a sequential basis. So if the company's CEO (India & South Asia), Sanjay Kapoor, maintains that the era of 'irrational pricing' is over, there's some basis to the statement. The shift away from what Kapoor calls irrational pricing is quite evident as RComm in the past quarter reduced free minutes and focused on increasing paid minutes. The reduction in free minutes has been to the extent of almost 50%, bringing in the rate per minute in line with the industry. This is significant since RComm's rate per minute three quarters back used to be 8-10 paisa per minute lower than other operators. This brings out that the focus has shifted from throwing away minutes to garner subscribers to mainly concentrate on revenue generating customers. If the trend stabilises, the average talk-time will again start showing an increase, thus restoring the balance that is so crucial in the low-cost high-volume model.


But there is still some time before the ideal gets restored. None of the telcos give a revenue guidance but Kapoor maintains that the first and second quarters generally remain weak, and it is the third and fourth quarters that show growth. If the cycle repeats, then the operators will have a wholesome story to tell by the end of the financial year. There would be another reason to add to the growth story in the latter part of the year—the first beginnings of 3G services. Both Bharti and RComm are confident of beginning the 3G services by the end of the calendar year, once the government allocates spectrum next month. Obviously, 3G in its initial days would see better ARPUs and MOUs than 2G.


The optimism of the incumbent operators' that there would be no more bloodbath in terms of tariffs is also born out of hard economic reality. All the major operators have spent huge amounts bidding for 3G spectrum and are in no position to lose money any more. Whatever irrational tariffs are coming or may come would be from the newer operators, but considering their size and scale of operations, it would not make any substantial impact on the market.


The other threat potential of RIL's return to the sector through the wireless broadband route is also overstated. A lot has changed in the telecom landscape since the company's big entry in end-2002. It will be still quite sometime before RIL starts operations and this time its approach would likely be collaborative rather than disruptive, unlike the last time.







Enemy properties—a legacy of India's bitter partition—are in the eye of a political storm as disagreements persist between the government and the BJP. A property is titled "enemy property" if it falls under the purview of the Enemy Property Act 1968, which was created in the aftermath of the 1965 Indo-Pak war. Enemy property, a strange name as it may sound, is the name given to the properties left behind by those who renounced their Indian citizenship and migrated to Pakistan. At present, there are 2,186 such properties with UP having the maximum (67%), followed by West Bengal (16), Delhi (3), Gujarat (2.9), Bihar (1.8), Goa (1.6), MP (1.3) and Maharashtra (1.1). In 1971, as per PTI, the government had valued these properties at Rs 29.4 crore. The exact worth of such properties is anyone's guess and their current market value is believed to be thousands of crores.


At the centre of the controversy is the Raja of Mahmudabad, who got a favourable judgement by the Supreme Court in 2005 that led to a spate of petitions in various high courts by heirs seeking restoration of their seized enemy properties. In view of this, the Centre promulgated an Ordinance on July 2 that invalidated the effects of the SC judgement. However, following protests, the government withheld the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2010, which stated "the property shall continue to vest in the custodian irrespective of the death or extinction of the enemy" and decided to make certain amendments to it. The amendments allow the enemy property to be claimed by the legal heirs of the rightful Indian owners—provided they establish their citizenship to the government. Also, they impose limitations on recourse to the courts. Those affected by these changes are fearing that hard-won battles will have to be fought all over again.


The government—faced with the prospect of its Ordinance lapsing—has been convening meetings and consultations across parties to form a consensus on the Bill. With the country's overall land market being in a rejuvenation mode, it is essential that we realise the untapped potential of the enemy property market and evolve a consensus that is in the interest of the nation as a whole.







The Securities and Exchange Board of India must be commended for making it mandatory for media companies to disclose their stake, where such exists, in companies they write about. SEBI has been particularly wary of the system of 'private treaties' between media houses and non-media companies that are listed or are in the process of being listed. Private treaties involve deals where corporates pay media companies in shares for advertising plus other favourable coverage. There is no obligation for the newspaper to let its readers know it has a vested interest in the coverage accorded to these companies. By obliging the Press Council of India to issue guidelines making such disclosures mandatory, SEBI is not only protecting investors from being misled by the coverage. It has also taken the cause of media accountability a significant step forward. From now on, such disclosure would have to be made in any "news report/article/editorial in newspapers/television relating to the company in which the media group holds such stake." Some media houses are understood to have private treaties with a large number of companies. In fact, SEBI wrote to the Press Council more than a year ago: "It is our concern that such agreements may give rise to conflicts of interest and may, therefore, result in dilution of the independence of the press vis-a-vis the nature and content of the news/editorials in the media of companies promoting such agreements." What is more, the private treaties system has been seen as a precursor to the scandal of 'paid news' during last year's national and State elections.


While SEBI clearly disapproves of the system of private treaties for the news media, at the heart of the guidelines issued at its instance is honest and full disclosure. Media groups must disclose, at their websites, the percentage of stake they hold in their private treaty clients. There must also be disclosures about any nominee of the media group being on the board of directors of companies they have 'treaties' with, and any other details that "may be a potential conflict of interest for the media group." All in all, SEBI's prescription, if sincerely implemented, will be excellent for the health of India's burgeoning news media. It is unfortunate that the Press Council, a statutory body mandated to protect the freedom of the press as well as to maintain and improve its standards, has taken a whole year after it received SEBI's "suggestions" to issue a press release on "Guidelines concerning mandatory disclosure by the media of its stake in corporate sector." But take nothing away from SEBI. With its clear-sightedness and persistence, it has brought an unsavoury practice under the glare of public scrutiny.







The Reserve Bank of India's annual report for 2009-10 focusses on the interlinked nature of the current macroeconomic challenges and the policy actions, particularly on the food inflation front. Following the global crisis, economic growth in India has been uneven. In response to a sharp deceleration in the second half of 2008-09, the central bank introduced a comprehensive range of conventional and non-conventional measures to limit the impact of the global crisis. The accommodative fiscal and monetary policies were continued until the first half of 2009-10. Thereafter, although there was a smart recovery, inflation started becoming a major concern, calling for all-round monetary and fiscal measures. The task of simultaneously nurturing recovery and anchoring inflationary expectations has been extremely challenging. Food inflation that had started rising in response to the weak kharif production, turned out to be more persistent in the second half of the year. Headline inflation, which remained at or close to double digits for over four successive months in 2010-11, has become more generalised. Even over the near term, it is necessary to look for solutions beyond monetary policy. Addressing structural constraints in several critical sectors is necessary to sustain growth and also contain supply side risks to inflation. Improving the macroeconomic environment depends on fiscal consolidation, a low and stable interest rate regime, strengthening of the financial stability network, and progress on structural reforms. The RBI's unrelenting focus on inflation is noteworthy.


One key message is that the impact of deficient monsoons on growth is weakening, whereas their impact on inflation still remains significant. That would suggest urgent steps to boost farm productivity and being more open to importing food and other essential items wherever necessary. The need for a coherent medium term strategy of fiscal consolidation has been highlighted once again. The persistent, large fiscal deficit poses a severe risk to macroeconomy over the medium term. During 2009-10, trade deficit was lower as imports shrunk along with exports. The deficit on the current account, however, widened due to a fall in invisibles. Capital inflows continue to be important for the balance of payments. Policymakers will have to be keenly attuned to the fast changing global environment. Financial inclusion and promoting financial literacy have become critical, since the country is up against the daunting task of stepping up its growth potential. A combination of structural reforms and judicious fiscal policy can lift the growth rate to double digits.










In the summer of 1995, the United States' super-secret Defence Intelligence Agency concluded a study on the growth of water hyacinths in Lake Victoria. It might seem like an odd occupation for spies to engage in — but it wasn't. Lake Victoria provides more than 1,20,000 tonnes of fish to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, a resource which would not survive the proliferation of hyacinth.


"This in turn," scholar Colin Kahl pointed out "could lead to widespread famine and political instability, possibly creating a situation in which the United States would be called on to intervene".


Lake Victoria's hyacinths and their strategic import hold out a lesson for Indian policymaking in Jammu and Kashmir — that causes of conflicts aren't often what they appear to be, and neither are their solutions.


Early in August, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke of the need to reach out to Kashmir's young street protesters to "give them the sense of purpose, hope and direction they need to make use of the many opportunities that our economy provides." Dr. Singh was attacked by critics who argued that his remarks demeaned the political causes driving the protests: among them, anger against human rights violations and the demand for independence. Insensitive and ill-timed as the Prime Minister's suggestions might have appeared, the fact is that they rested on sound policy foundations.


Large-scale deaths stalked Kashmir in the first decades of the last century. Epidemics of cholera broke out three times between 1901 and 1911; three floods and eight earthquakes claimed thousands of lives. In the following decade, there were epidemics of influenza, cholera and smallpox; the decade between 1921 and 1931, too, was punctuated by famine and disease.


Post-independence successes in combating deprivation, paradoxically enough, laid the foundation for a new set of challenges. From 1971, Jammu and Kashmir began to record growth rates far in excess of the national average. From the time of the 1971 census, decadal population growth in the State hovered around 30 per cent, significantly higher than the national average. In the build-up to the insurgency, the 1981 census found, over 40 per cent of the Kashmir region's population was made up of children under 14. Put simply, the economic gains of the first decades of independence had run up against a demographic wall.


In a 1987 study of Kashmir's demographics, Kanan Kusum Sadhu found that despite their relative affluence "the Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims of Srinagar and Sopore are under more economic stress than the population of India as a whole." Sadhu's findings were based on what demographers called the dependency ratio — that part of society dependent on economically-productive individuals aged between 15 and 59. The populations Sadhu sampled in Sopore and Srinagar had dependency ratios ranging between 91.5 to 94.9. The all-India ratio was 78.


Kashmir's jihadist movement emerged from urban centres like these: homes of artisans and small traders who had constituted the region's traditional middle-class but had lost both political power and economic muscle because of the economic policies adopted after independence. There was, as scholar Thomas Marks has argued: "a demographic tidal wave of unabsorbed youthful males appearing in the late 1980s, especially in Kashmir, just as political issues … called into question the legitimacy of the existing order."

The 2001 census showed a fall in Kashmir's dependency ratio, as the children reached the working age. Few investors were willing to sink capital in Kashmir's battle-scarred economy; there was no public sector to speak of; and much infrastructure spending ended up in the hands of a small élite who sank their profits into purchasing land, not making productive investment. Moreover, traditional artisanal occupations were in decline. Kashmir's agricultural economy, with no forward links to local industry, also offered few opportunities.


Today, over 70 per cent of Jammu and Kashmir's population is estimated to be under 35. Reliable figures are hard to come by but there is evidence of chronic unemployment and under-employment. Earlier this year, the State government invited young people to register with an entrepreneurship project targeting the unemployed; more than 6,00,000 have so far signed up. The available data suggest that the best part of three-quarters of a million people will have joined the ranks of working-age people seeking jobs between 2001 and 2011. Jammu and Kashmir's population is expected to increase from 10,069,917 in 2001 to 13,809,601 in 2025. Historians have long known this: too many young people with too little to do mean trouble. Jack Goldstone has shown that this demographic phenomenon underpinned crises from the English civil wars of 1642-1651 to the European revolutions of 1848. In a review of European history 1700 to 1900, Mary K. Mattossian and William Schafer found links between political violence and an "increase in the number of young adult males in proportion to the total male population."


Demographer Herbert Moller has shown that the high proportion of young adults in Germany helped lay the foundations for the rise of fascism. Germany, he argued in a path-breaking 1968 essay, saw the emergence of children born between 1900 and 1914 on the job market — "a cohort," he noted, "more numerous than any earlier ones." Even as the Great Depression crippled Germany in 1933, 41.5 per cent of its residents were aged between 20 and 45. Moller wrote that "the economic depression hit Germany at the worst possible time: employment was shrinking precisely at a time when the employable population reached its post-war peak."


Historian Paul Madden, in a 1983 study of the early membership of the Nazi party, found that it "was a young, overwhelmingly masculine movement which drew a disproportionately large percentage of its membership from the lower middle class and from the Mittelstand [small businesses]."


Kahl, in his study of the ethnic violence which tore Kenya apart from 1991-1993, placed material conditions at its core. "The ability of the economy to absorb a rapidly growing labour force," he observed, "declined as the private sector slumped and the number of jobs in the public sector, Kenya's largest source of employment, stopped growing. As a result, population growth in excess of job creation resulted in a substantial increase in un- and under-employment."


Further, Ted Gurr has pointed out in a 1981 study, cities with high youth populations will have crime rates "higher than in times and places where the population is older." "The coming of age of the post-war generation of youths," he noted "is closely related to the onset of major increases in personal and property crime in the United States and Britain." Historians have even suggested that the high homicide rates in medieval England may have been linked to the relatively youthful population of its cities.


In an exhaustive 2006 review of the evidence, social scientist Henrik Urdal concluded that "relatively large youth cohorts are associated with a significantly increased risk of domestic armed conflict, terrorism and riots/violent demonstrations."


It is fashionable to assert, as commentator after commentator has done in recent weeks, that the ongoing protests have little to do with issues like jobs or the economy, and are instead rooted in textual questions: in competing narratives, as it is sometimes put, of nationhood. But the material conditions from which the protests have derived their ideological character have been largely ignored. The articulate English-speaking élites who have been speaking for the protesters on national television represent a social class very distinct from the protesters themselves: in the main, members of disenfranchised young people from decaying urban areas without prospects or a political voice.


It is no one's case that the demographic tides are the sole force driving Kashmir's discontent: this crisis, like all others, has no single cause. There is little doubt though that Kashmir's youth bulge has provided the firmament for the crisis to flourish. Political engagement, a dialogue on autonomy and better policing, will all do not a little to help end the bloodshed. They are, however, palliatives, not prescriptions that will ensure an abiding peace.


India's ability to transform the youth crisis it faces in Kashmir could prove a testing ground for how it will face the challenges that lie ahead for the country as a whole. In the next two decades, India's working-age population will increase by a staggering 240 million people — in stark contrast to China, where the working-age population will begin to decline from 2015, or Russia, where it will have shrunk by 20 million. It is far from clear if India will be able to create opportunities for these enormous numbers of people; to educate and equip them to deal with the kinds of skills needed to capitalise on new economic opportunities.


Political democratisation becomes meaningful only when the material foundations for social and economic modernity exist. India must summon the resources needed for a transformative project that will give real meaning to its promises of democracy and development.


The Prime Minister might not have found the words so many hoped his August address would contain. But history isn't like a Hindi film: even the finest speech would have done little to stem the tide of blood on Kashmir's streets. The foundations of an abiding peace will be laid not by words but sickles and hammers; in farms and factories; by concrete and steel.









The demonstrators appeared one day in December, just as children at an elementary school for ethnic Koreans were cleaning up for lunch. The group of about a dozen Japanese men gathered in front of the school gate, using bullhorns to call the students cockroaches and Korean spies.


Inside, the panicked students and teachers huddled in their classrooms, singing loudly to drown out the insults, as parents and eventually police officers blocked the protesters' entry.


The December episode was the first in a series of demonstrations at the Kyoto No. 1 Korean Elementary School that shocked conflict-averse Japan, where even political protesters on the radical fringes are expected to avoid embroiling regular citizens, much less children. Responding to public outrage, the police arrested four of the protesters this month on charges of damaging the school's reputation.


More significantly, the protests also signalled the emergence here of a new type of ultranationalist group. The groups are openly anti-foreign in their message and unafraid to win attention by holding unruly street demonstrations.


The targets


Since first appearing last year, their protests have been directed at not only Japan's half million ethnic Koreans, but also Chinese and other Asian workers, Christian churchgoers and even Westerners in Halloween costumes. In the latter case, a few dozen angrily shouting demonstrators followed around revellers waving placards that said, "This is not a white country."


Local news media have dubbed these groups the Net far right, because they are loosely organised via the Internet and gather together only for demonstrations. At other times, they are a virtual community that maintains its own websites to announce the times and places of protests, swap information and post video recordings of their demonstrations.


While these groups remain a small if noisy fringe element here, they have won growing attention as an alarming side effect of Japan's long economic and political decline. Most of their members appear to be young men, many of whom hold the low-paying part-time or contract jobs that have proliferated in Japan in recent years.


Though some here compare these groups to neo-Nazis, sociologists say they are different because they lack an aggressive ideology of racial supremacy and have so far been careful to draw the line at violence. There have been no reports of injuries, or violence beyond pushing and shouting. Rather, the Net right's main purpose seems to be venting frustration, both about Japan's diminished stature and in their own personal economic difficulties.


"These are men who feel disenfranchised in their own society," said Kensuke Suzuki, a sociology professor at Kwansei Gakuin University. "They are looking for someone to blame, and foreigners are the most obvious target."


They are also different from Japan's existing ultranationalist groups, which are a common sight even today in Tokyo, wearing paramilitary uniforms and riding around in ominous black trucks with loudspeakers that blare martial music.


This traditional far right, which has roots going back to at least the 1930s rise of militarism in Japan, is now a tacitly accepted part of the conservative political establishment here. Sociologists describe them as serving as a sort of unofficial mechanism for enforcing conformity in post-war Japan, singling out Japanese who were seen as straying too far to the left, or other groups that anger them, such as embassies of countries with whom Japan has territorial disputes.


Members of these old-line rightist groups have been quick to distance themselves from the Net right, which they dismiss as amateurish rabble-rousers.


"These new groups are not patriots but attention-seekers," said Kunio Suzuki, a senior adviser of the Issuikai, a well-known far-right group with 100 members and a fleet of sound trucks.


But in a sign of changing times here, Suzuki also admitted that the Net right has grown at a time when traditional ultranationalist groups like his own have been shrinking. Suzuki said the number of old-style rightists has fallen to about 12,000, one-tenth the size of their 1960s peak.


No such estimates exist for the size of the new Net right. However, the largest group appears to be the cumbersomely named Citizens Group That Will Not Forgive Special Privileges for Koreans in Japan, known here by its Japanese abbreviation, the Zaitokukai, which has some 9,000 members.


The Zaitokukai gained notoriety last year when it staged noisy protests at the home and junior high school of a 14-year-old Philippine girl, demanding her deportation after her parents were sent home for overstaying their visas. More recently, the Zaitokukai was one of group that picketed theatres showing "The Cove," an American documentary about dolphin hunting here that rightist branded as anti-Japanese.


In interviews, members of the Zaitokukai and other groups blamed foreigners, particularly Koreans and Chinese, for Japan's growing crime and unemployment, and also for what they called their nation's lack of respect on the world stage.


Many seemed to embrace conspiracy theories taken from the Internet that China or the United States was plotting to undermine Japan.


"Japan has a shrinking pie," said Masaru Ota, 37, a medical equipment salesman who headed the local chapter of the Zaitokukai in Omiya, a Tokyo suburb. "Should we be sharing it with foreigners at a time when Japanese are suffering?"


While the Zaitokukai has grown rapidly since it was started three-and-a-half years ago with just 25 members, it is still largely run by its founder and president, a 38-year-old tax accountant who goes by the assumed name of Makoto Sakurai. Sakurai leads the group from his tiny office in Tokyo's Akihabara electronics district, where he taps out announcements and other postings on his personal computer.


'Not racist'


Sakurai says the group is not racist, and rejected the comparison with neo-Nazis. Instead, he said he had modelled his group after another overseas political movement, the Tea Party in the United States. He said he had studied videos of Tea Party protests and shared with the Tea Party an angry sense that his nation had gone in the wrong direction because it had fallen into the hands of leftist politicians, liberal media as well as foreigners.


"They have made Japan powerless to stand up to China and Korea," said Sakurai, who refused to give his real name.


Sakurai admitted that the group's tactics had shocked many Japanese, but said they needed to win attention. He also defended the protests at the Korean school in Kyoto as justified to oppose the school's use of a nearby public park, which he said rightfully belonged to Japanese children.


Teachers and parents at the school called that a flimsy excuse to vent what amounted to racist rage. They said the protests had left them and their children fearful.


"If Japan doesn't do something to stop this hate language," said Park Chung ha, 43, who heads the school's mothers association, "where will it lead to next?" — © New York Times News Service









A forthcoming U.N. report on 10 years of extraordinary violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo bluntly challenges the conventional history of events there after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, charging that invading troops from Rwanda and their rebel allies killed tens of thousands of members of the Hutu ethnic group, including many civilians.


The 545-page report on 600 of the country's most serious reported atrocities raises the question of whether Rwanda could be found guilty of genocide against Hutu during the war in neighbouring Congo, but says international courts would need to rule on individual cases.


In 1994, more than 800,000 people, predominantly members of the ethnic Tutsi group in Rwanda, were slaughtered by the Hutu. When a Tutsi-led government seized power in Rwanda, Hutu militias fled along with Hutu civilians across the border to Congo, then known as Zaire. Rwanda invaded to pursue them, aided by a Congolese rebel force the report also implicates in the massacres.


While Rwanda and Congolese rebel forces have always claimed that they attacked Hutu militias who were sheltered among civilians, the United Nations report documents deliberate reprisal attacks on civilians.


The report says that the apparently systematic nature of the massacres "suggests that the numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of war or seen as equating to collateral damage." It continues, "The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces."


The existence of the U.N. document, entitled "Democratic Republic of Congo, 1993-2003", was first reported by the French daily newspaper Le Monde. But participants in the drafting of the report have described its progress and difficulties over a period of seven months to The New York Times, which obtained the most recent version of the report.


'Outrageous': Rwanda


The Rwandan government responded angrily to the report, calling it "outrageous." The topic is extremely delicate for the government, which has built its legitimacy on its history of combating the genocide in Rwanda. Political figures there have been accused of perpetuating a "genocide ideology" for making claims that are similar to the report's.


"It is immoral and unacceptable that the United Nations, an organisation that failed outright to prevent genocide in Rwanda and the subsequent refugees crisis that is the direct cause for so much suffering in Congo and Rwanda, now accuses the army that stopped the genocide of committing atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Ben Rutsinga of the Office of the Government Spokesperson.


The release of the report appears to have been delayed in part over fears of the reaction of the Rwandan government, which has long enjoyed strong diplomatic support from the United States and Britain. There is concern in the United Nations that Rwanda might end its participation in peacekeeping operations in retaliation for the report.

"No one was naive enough to think that inspecting mass graves in which Rwandan troops were involved would make Kigali happy, but we have shared the draft with them," said a senior U.N. official.


The United Nations document breaks the history of 10 years of violence in Congo into several periods. It begins with the final years of the three-decade rule of President Mobutu Sese Seko, marked by attacks on a Tutsi minority in the country's far east, and violent raids on Rwandan territory from United Nations-administered refugee camps that housed roughly a million Hutu who had fled Rwanda after the genocide. These raids were conducted by elements of the defeated Hutu national army, and the Hutu Interahamwe militia, both principally involved in the genocide in Rwanda.


The report also covers two other time periods: the Second Congolese War, from 1998 to 2001, when the armies of eight African states vied for control of the country, and 2001 to 2003, when foreign armies partially withdrew, leaving a tentative peace in a country.


In Congo


Congo continues to suffer major atrocities, including the rape of thousands of women by armed groups.


The report contains a chilling, detailed accounting of the breakup of Hutu refugee camps in eastern Zaire at the start of the war in October 1996, followed by the pursuit of hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees across the country's vast hinterland by teams of Rwandan soldiers and their Zairean rebel surrogates, the Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Congo. Those forces were led by Laurent Kabila, who took over as president the next year, and who was father of Congo's current president, Joseph Kabila.


The report presents repeated examples of times when teams of Rwandan soldiers and their Congolese rebel allies lured Hutu refugees with promises they would be repatriated to Rwanda, only to massacre them.


In one such episode, advancing Congolese rebel fighters and Rwandan troops summoned refugees to a village centre, telling them they would be treated to meat from a slaughtered cow to strengthen them for their trek back to Rwanda. As the Hutu began to register their names by prefecture of origin, a whistle sounded and soldiers opened fire on them, killing between 500 and 800 refugees, the report said.


In other instances, as survivors scrambled desperately through thick rain forest in a country as large as Western Europe, extermination teams laid ambush along strategic roadways and forest paths, making no distinction between men, women and children as they killed them. Although the report does detail attacks when there were military targets, notably at Tingi Tingi, a Hutu camp in Maniema province, such targets are extremely rare in the report.


An element of the report that could help determine any judgment of genocide concerns the treatment of native Congolese Hutu. The report suggests they were singled out for elimination along with Hutu refugees from Rwanda and Burundi. The report asserts that there was no effort to make a distinction between militia and civilians, noting a "tendency to put all Hutu people together and 'tar them with the same brush'."




Pascal Kambale, a prominent long-time Congolese human rights lawyer who was consulted by the United Nations investigators, said: "The ex-FAR fighters were said to be hiding behind the refugee populations, but the truth is that the attackers were targeting both the Rwandan Hutus and the Congolese Hutus," referring to the Hutu-led Rwandan militia, FAR in its French initials. "Entire families were killed, whole villages were burned, and in my view this remains the most heinous crime that happened during these 10 years."


Timothy Longman, the director of the African Studies Centre at Boston University, said that people in eastern Congo have long charged they were victims, too. "The reason it didn't get more attention is that it contradicted the narrative of the Rwandan Popular Front as the 'good group' that stopped the genocide in Rwanda," he said.


As early as 1997, the United Nations began investigations into reports of possible crimes against humanity involving extermination of Hutu populations by the Congolese rebel forces and their Rwandan backers, but Laurent Kabila, as president, refused access to areas where atrocities were believed to be committed, and the investigation was abandoned. A senior United Nations official said that the investigation was given new life when three mass graves were discovered in North Kivu province by United Nations workers in 2005.


"Yes, this is stupendously overdue," the official said. "But Laurent Kabila had been killed, there was a peace process and a new government in place in the Congo, and I guess you could say that's when the U.N. woke and said, 'Hmm, we can accomplish something here.'" — © New York Times News Service











They are just four typewritten pages and one notorious signature. But the hastily written Nuremberg laws stripped German Jews of their citizenship, and laid the ground for the murder of millions of people within a decade. Yet, when the remaining Nazi leadership went on trial after the war, that original version of the Nuremberg laws was missing from the mass of documentary evidence of the persecution and extermination of Jews presented to the international court. Forty-five years later it was revealed that the documents had been stolen by General George Patton and then hidden away in the vault of a California library.


On August 25, the four pages, signed by Hitler and stripping Jews of German citizenship, barring their marriage to those defined as Aryan and ultimately defining those consigned to the extermination camps, were reunited with other papers used at the war crimes trials now kept at the U.S. National Archives in Washington. Patton was notorious for defying orders as his army charged across Europe even while he was a stickler for discipline among his troops. In the waning days of the war a detachment of the U.S. army's counter-intelligence corps discovered the papers in Eichstatt, Bavaria. Patton appropriated them in breach of orders against looting and the collecting of souvenirs and for Nazi documents to be handed over to war crimes investigators.


Shortly before his death in 1945, Patton quietly gave the papers to the Huntington library in California, which holds a priceless Gutenberg Bible and early editions of Shakespeare and Chaucer. Patton grew up near the library and his father worked for its founder, Henry Huntington, a railway baron. Apparently embarrassed at receiving the historic and chilling documents over which neither Patton nor the library could claim legal ownership, the Huntington stuck them in a reinforced vault. "We were aware that General Patton, who had received the documents from his staff as a gift and deposited them at the Huntington, had not paid attention in his souvenir hunting to the orders of his commander in chief," the library's president, Steve Koblik, told the Associated Press. "Had General Patton not taken these documents, they would have been part of the collection the government was putting together in order to prepare for the Nuremberg trials." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010











Rahul Gandhi's assurance to the tribals of Orissa's Niyamgiri hills might have been just a small step for him, but it was a giant step for the nation's tribal population which has been valiantly resisting displacement in the name of development. It has opened the floodgates for a relook at several other development projects where

millions are in danger of being displaced, and Mr Gandhi has earned accolades from several NGOs for bringing this issue into sharp focus. It will also strengthen the hands of India's "green" politician-crusader — minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh — who sometimes appears to be fighting a lone battle against the displacement of tribals and degradation of the environment. Certain parties have dismissed Mr Gandhi's claim to be the "sipahi" of Niyamgiri's tribals as mere politics, but some NGOs see this as a sign that he might be following in the footsteps of his grandmother Indira Gandhi — and her concern for the poor.
There are scores of other tribal-dominated areas across India crying desperately for help. The Polavaram Dam in Andhra Pradesh, bordering Orissa, will completely submerge 12 villages in Orissa and about one lakh persons in over 200 villages where two-thirds of the population belong to the Koya tribe. Around 48 huge dams are proposed to be started in the Northeast in the coming decade, which will not only cause a massive displacement of tribals but also considerable destruction of the region's biodiversity, on which their livelihood depends. Between 1947 and 2000, around 60 million people are estimated to have lost their means of livelihood in the name of development — of which a significant 40 per cent are tribal people — constituting just 8.6 per cent of India's population. This, proportionately, is an unduly high percentage — which only serves to drive home how various governments have betrayed tribals ever since Independence, particularly in the nine states where they are dominant.

The Fifth Schedule of our Constitution offers India's tribals special protection, with the governors of the states in question being charged with ensuring this, but in many cases they have abandoned their responsibilities. Only in rare cases has the government taken the side of the tribals to ensure implementation of the law, but more often than not the police is used to coerce tribals into giving up their land. Cases of sexual harassment, molestation and even rape of tribal women have been recorded at Lohandiguda in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region, and evidence of this was even submitted to the National Human Rights Commission. But the NHRC, after sitting on the matter for a while, bounced it back into the court of the state's director-general of police, where of course it fizzled out. Is it any wonder then that the Naxal/Maoist rebellion is gathering strength in this area? A number of projects in this belt and in Dantewada were cleared without fulfilling the provisions of protective legislation, and in complete disregard of the Special Protection to Tribals Scheduled Areas Act 1996, under which every new development which alienates forest land needs the consent of gram sabhas. It was the tribals' "basic swaraj" document, but till date only the state of Madhya Pradesh has framed rules to give effect to this law.

If the government is really serious about ensuring the protection of the tribals, which is guaranteed under the Constitution, it must take direct and more effective steps to implement this landmark legislation. Perhaps Mr Rahul Gandhi could take his initiative further and turn into a valiant "sipahi" for the entire tribal population of the country. This would certainly prove a huge boost to the grassroots organisations fighting for the cause of the tribals comprising over eight per cent of India's population.










My views on salary of the members of Parliament are not likely to be popular. Over the last few days, the electronic media has relentlessly flashed stories regarding the proposed hike of salaries and allowances of MPs. Most of the coverage has been brutally critical and in many instances, cynical and pejorative as well. MPs have beenportrayed as, and demonised as, some kind of predatory, utterly shameless, ruthless mercenary louts who do not have a single thought in their head apart from the worst kind of rapacious looting from every available source.

The leaders who openly advocated the raise in MPs' salary, like Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav, have been pilloried and ridiculed. The parliamentary committee which went into the question and made the recommendations has also been criticised. The loudest argument has been that legislators should not have the power to decide their own salaries. That, in fact, is the only argument against the proposed hike in salaries and allowances of MPs. In my view, all other arguments against the proposed hike have been born out of prejudice and misconception.

An objective look at the facts would reveal a great deal and also correct slightly the distortion which is created in the mind of a viewer when TV headlines scream that MPs want to vote themselves a 300 per cent salary increase when people are suffering from inflation. That MPs live in sprawling two-acre bungalows in Lutyens' Delhi, which in themselves are worth many lakhs by way of monthly rent. That they have free airfare as do their spouses. They have 30,000 free phone calls. They are paid `1,000 a day as sitting fees in Parliament although they never actually sit in Parliament.

Well, all the above is actually true. The reality lies in the manner in which the issue is considered and whether it is considered in a rational manner, free of prejudice, which obviously is well nigh impossible when the subject of discussion is the universally-hated politician. My submission is that the media and public perception of this issue is seriously distorted by prejudice and is, by no means, a balanced consideration of the facts on hand. Admittedly, politicians have themselves almost single-handedly been responsible for the lack of public respect for them and the normally jaundiced perception of the average citizen. It also needs to be straightaway conceded that there are several politicians and MPs who have manipulated the system, misused their official position, been guilty of corrupt practices and totally betrayed not just the trust placed in them by their constituents, but also the oath of office they themselves swore by when they assumed office.

Notwithstanding all the above, the fact remains that an MP represents roughly 15 lakh Indians. He or she is elected after a gruelling election and intense travel over a huge constituency, the geographical spread and population of which is unmatched anywhere else in the world. Thereafter the MP is at the beck and call of each and every constituent, has to answer calls, reply to their letters, incur expenses on postage and address their legitimate concerns. He has to travel the length and breadth of the constituency, and also back and forth from Delhi to constituency, and, insofar as my own constituency/home own Chennai is concerned, it is not only one of the longest domestic air journeys in the country but also among the most expensive.

In addition, Lok Sabha MPs in particular even run up huge bills serving just tea and snacks to their constituents. The other duties of an MP are too varied and diverse to enumerate here but even the most basic functioning of an MP requires tremendous expenditure.

Those who assume that MPs do no work only display their ignorance and prejudice in addition to insulting the intelligence of the Indian electorate. No elected MP can hope to remain in office if he does not fulfil the demands of the constituency, whether they range from building bridges and roads, factories and houses, getting jobs for unemployed youth or ensuring proper medical and education facilities in their constituencies. With our budget and resources being scarce, every MP has to fight tooth and nail to address the development of his or her constituency.

Contrary to public perception, MPs do not spend their time in the lawns of Lutyens' Delhi dancing with the peacocks. They only come to Delhi when Parliament is in session and only ministers and a few fortunate MPs live in bungalows. Most MPs live in old, leaky crumbling flats in North and South Avenues, depending upon the temperamental CPWD to carry out repairs. Some of us live in more modern flats but nevertheless still flats since we can hardly live in dorm rooms in Parliament House.

Bureaucrats who have passed one examination at the age of 25 and who never again face public scrutiny until retirement live in large houses in Lutyens' Delhi and get paid `80,000 per month. All their travel is free and they also get staff at the office and at home. Their pension and benefits have been linked by various Pay Commissions which too have been set up and manned by other bureaucrats to be on par, not just with the cost of the living index, but to more than amply cover their comfortable retirement. That is, retirement for those bureaucrats who have not snagged post-retirement jobs in foreign companies or the private sector. In fact, most IAS officers who retired a few years ago receive more by way of pension today than the emoluments they received at the peak of their career.

It is, therefore, perfectly reasonable for MPs who are above the bureaucrats in terms of rank and precedence and who work as hard as any bureaucrat, if not harder (politicians certainly don't get weekends off or go on LTC paid leave every year), to ask for a salary which is at least equal to the salary of a bureaucrat. The demand is honest and should be viewed without prejudice. If nothing else, the salary hike will at least enable honest MPs who do not possess illegal funds to carry out their duties more efficiently. The truth of the matter is that almost all MPs believe that the salary hike is justified and necessary. The Left parties who oppose it have the option to return their own salaries to the government and ask that the funds be used elsewhere.


Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.

The views expressed in this column are her own.










The recent shadow-boxing between India and China is symptomatic of the new edginess in their relationship. While China is already the world's No 2 economy and an emerging superpower, India has begun its ascent.


It's obvious that China is not comfortable with this. It's rejection of a visa to Lt Gen BS Jaswal because he served in J&K is intended to send two messages, one to us, and another for Pakistan. The message for India is that China doesn't want us to harbour ambitions beyond south Asia. Its message to Pakistan is that it is a loyal friend.


This is not surprising, since China is reported to be maintaining a strong military presence in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Both Islamabad and the locals are likely to resent this intrusive presence but for reassurances on Kashmir.


India has rightly reacted strongly to this needless Chinese provocation. The ministry of external affairs is reported to have strongly told the Chinese ambassador that Kashmir is as core to India as Tibet is to China. Both the US and China might well prefer Pakistan as an ally given the biddable nature of its governments and its geographical importance, but neither country can afford to antagonise India. We are the dominant power in the


neighbourhood and we offer a much bigger market than Pakistan. The dictates of commerce and global positioning make us a more profitable ally in the long run.


By registering its anger and freezing defence exchanges with China, India has made its position clear. It will not have its internal matters questioned and it will not be insulted. But escalating this matter further is not in anybody's interest. China may never be a friend — both nations are after all in competition for a larger say in world affairs — but it can be cultivated as an amicable "frenemy".


Our biggest diplomatic challenge is to convince China that there is no long-term advantage in annoying India over Kashmir. In hindsight, denying visas is a petty device not worthy of a putative superpower.







Rahul Gandhi has no doubt come of age. In what was probably his most political speech till date, he praised the tribal people of Orissa for standing up to the bullying ways of a large corporation and added, "I am your soldier in Delhi!" Rahul Gandhi is right in showering praise on the Adivasis for not going the Naxal way and for winning their non-violent battle against a firm that was found to have flouted various laws.


There is also no doubt that the not-so-young scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, clearly seen as prime minister in waiting, was speaking from his heart. To have the heir apparent speak up for the tribals of Orissa is welcome.


But there are two concerns that need to be addressed. The first is that stopping a corporate juggernaut is a pyrrhic victory. No one denies that the sentiments of Adivasis must be respected; but no one can disagree that they also need development. They need proper meals, houses, schools, healthcare, and opportunities to break out of their poverty.


It may be distasteful, but we need both development and industries that follow the law and heed local sentiments. Rahul must, thus, come up with ideas and solutions that will end the tribals' poverty and isolation. We can't leave tribals as they are, on the assumption that they have an ideal life.


The second concern is whether Rahul Gandhi is a budding statesman or a shrewd politician seeking to extend the Congress's support base. A few days earlier, Gandhi had met protesting farmers in Uttar Pradesh. Both Orissa and UP are states where the Congress is seeking to grow its electoral base.


If Gandhi really wants to be a spokesman for the poor and the marginalised — and surely India desperately needs someone like that — then he must also show the same concern for the deprived in Congress-ruled states. For instance, farmers in Maharashtra have been protesting against a planned SEZ . Can we expect Rahul Gandhi to speak up for them too?


Over the past few years, Rahul Gandhi has emerged as a charismatic youth leader, and his appeal seems to cut across caste, class and ideology. His charm and apparent earnestness have won him admirers, including those who don't necessarily care or vote for the Congress party. But as he emerges evermore in the public sphere, he will have to make some hard choices on what he really wants to be. He can't be all things to all people.







What is it about cabbies in Indian cities that they are universally disliked? In the metros, cab and auto drivers have brought isolation upon themselves by often refusing to ply short distances and overcharging. Improving customer experience may strike them as superfluous given that at peak hours the demand for their services is greater than the supply.


But in the long run, by continuing to behave the way they do, cabbies may be threatening their own existence. In Mumbai, public mistrust has made them political pawns in the hands of the Shiv Sena and MNS. Public ire has surfaced in the form of Meter Jam boycotts and consumer action. In Bangalore and Chennai, auto and cab drivers are losing business to private transport.


Nevertheless, an us-versus-them approach between public and cabbies is counter-productive. What they need is better training.


London's cabbies have been voted No 1 in the world because they are the most informed and the friendliest. They get a licence only after passing a rigorous examination called 'The Knowledge'.


New York cabbies made it to No 2 for being the most available. Rather than rubbing commuters the wrong way, the taxi unions should work on improving customer service even while working out guidelines for minimum earnings a day. The rest can be left to 'service with a smile'.








An otherwise mundane conversation about 20 years ago with some rural youth from a remote taluka has remained unforgettable. When asked what they were studying, some of them replied BA with subjects like psychology and sociology. It was as clear as daylight on that dusty, hot afternoon that their future was dark and they were wasting their time.


Their BA might have got them a degree and the "status" of graduates. A job, too, only if they were really lucky. Because their job, most likely, would have come not due to their core education.


This was the same time when school dropouts in the drought-prone Pabal village of Pune district were successfully learning skills to become welders, fabricators and simple scooter, motorcycle and pump-set mechanics. They were part of the novel "Pabal experiment" in vocational education. Without degrees, they seemed better equipped to become self-employed in a rural setting and lead successful lives.


It is a fact that the most basic degrees right up to the doctoral level are worthless in many universities across the country because of the poor quality of education. It is not for nothing that India has an entire army of the educated unemployed and the unemployable. They are the victims of a system which has forced them to spend their crucial formative years in getting a degree to become graduates.


The "graduate" tag is also important for the middle classes because a young man without it feels inferior to his graduate wife. Even if other eligibility criteria match, prospective alliances fall through because the woman is "over-qualified".


Post-liberalisation, the Indian mindset has begun to change. The hospitality industry is an attractive destination for the youth today and many academically bright youngsters won't mind pursuing a diploma in catering to follow their heart's calling. They will begin their careers in various capacities in hotels, restaurants and resorts and be proud of it. In the past, family and friends would dissuade such career choices and ask, "Why do you want to become a waiter?"


Career opportunities that were non-existent then have become a reality for today's youth. Thus, there are a variety of courses in the animation industry, television production, entertainment industry, event management, food processing, telecom, the retail sector and scores of other areas. The scope has also widened for the truly academically inclined in the pure sciences, humanities or professional degree courses.


Blessed with the power of youth and an economy that continues to grow robustly, India's future lies in unleashing a revolution in vocational education courses. These will equip young men and women with a variety of skills that add value to the economy and not draw from it.


The Maharashtra government's announcement last week to start the nation's first university for vocational courses is, therefore, very encouraging. Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal's efforts to reform the educational system are perhaps the best thing that has happened to India in a long time.


In this age of information technology, knowledge economy and cyber warfare, it is only appropriate that education should get the second highest priority in India after defence. Like China, India needs to start looking inwards, and at least for one five-year plan we need to focus on fixing education. The benefits will be incalculable.








The path to spirituality often appears littered with jargon. And so we are told of dharma and karma, of moksha and nyaya, of satya and ahimsa. Yet as every struggling aspirant meanders through this labyrinth, he meets either a guru or a concept and has his moment of revelation. He glimpses The Truth. He thinks he has arrived! And yet….


A Sufi story makes a point. A judge was hearing a case. The prosecuting lawyer presented his version with eloquence. "You're right, " said the judge. Immediately, the defending lawyer said "Your honour, you have not heard my side of the story." And with that, he explained his brief. "You're right, " the judge applauded. The court bailiff said, "Judge, they can't both be right." The judge said, "You're right". The question is: What made us think truth is singular?


But that's not the only prejudice we suffer from. Our heads are stuffed with notions of good and bad, right and wrong. A Zen perspective: A student wished to impress the master who invited him to share a cup of tea. He spoke at great length. The master, began to pour the tea. He continued to pour, till it overflowed.


"Master," commented the lad, "Stop pouring. It is not going into the cup." "That's very observant," replied the master. "I was demonstrating your mental state." When the mind is cluttered with the furniture of ideas, there is only one thing for truth to do — vacate the premises.









Inflation has become an eyesore today because, frankly, we do not know what to do about it. We all know there is a problem which has to be solved; but there seem to be no fixes here.


As a policy maker, one is staring hard at the WPI indices hoping that the high numbers of yesteryear will help lower the numbers this year. As we try nervously to assure one another that all will be right soon, there are several myths that need to be addressed.


The first is that inflation will come down. If you are an economist; you attribute a number to it and arrive at 6% by December or March. Is there a rationale for the same? Honestly, there is none except that we all know that the prices kept zooming last year from September onwards, which means that against such high numbers, prices must come down.


If we paid Rs95 for tur dal last November, it will come down to Rs70, which means that prices have crashed. Never mind that they were Rs49 a kg in January, 2009, when prices moved up despite us being told that production was higher.


The second is that the government has lots of food stocks. Presently there is considerable quibbling about how stocks are rotting in the open and are even unfit for cattle. Others are arguing that offloading the same will cost money which will inflate the fiscal deficit. One forgets that the government only stocks rice and wheat where prices have increased by Rs2-3 kg in the last 18 months.


The government does not stock sugar, pulses, milk, poultry, coarse cereals, edible oils, etc. These are the prices that have increased substantially by between 30-100% since January, 2009. Hence talking of food stocks is only a weak diversion and is not quite reassuring.


The third is that in the present situation things will improve soon. But, the reality is that nothing can happen on the price front until harvest time. Crops are harvested in October and April onwards for the kharif and rabi seasons. Once the crop is in short supply, we have to live with the same till the next season. It cannot be replenished unless we have buffer stocks or import the same.


If there are no stocks (pulses, sugar) or if they can be imported only at a higher price, then imported inflation will ensue. Similarly, once the price of fodder increases, milk prices will move to a new high. The WPI is an index consisting of several products. While the WPI may come down, food prices cannot. The assurance that inflation will touch 6% is meaningless when we pay more for our vegetables at the market place.


The fourth myth is that prices will come down at the time of harvest. Anecdotal evidence shows that prices are not mean-reverting once they increase. A new high is always established, which becomes an average threshold for the future. Hence we should not expect tur dal to come back to Rs40 per kg times, and should be content to buy the same at a higher price.


The fifth myth spoken of is that the RBI can bring down prices. While the RBI has to increase rates to combat inflation, monetary policy cannot enhance supplies. It can control the supply of money which lowers demand for goods and hence prices. But that takes two-four months to work. If there are shortages, then we have to live with them and pay higher prices for these products. Higher interest rates only help us earn more on our deposits which gives an illusion that inflation is being controlled.


The sixth view is sympathetic to a government which is trying hard but is a helpless spectator. The government has contributed to inflation by increasing the minimum support prices of commodities (MSP) over a period of time. The MSP is the price offered by the government to farmers which is announced at the time of sowing. While it is effective in terms of procurement of wheat and rice, it increases the base price of crops for consumers.


These prices have almost doubled across all cereals and pulses in the last five years and hence the government cannot exculpate itself from this current trend of high prices. The choice is between consumers paying more and farmers receiving higher incomes.


The last facet of inflation justifies the hike in petro-product prices on grounds that the deficit needs to be reduced and it is only those who drive Mercedes cars who would be affected. While fiscal austerity cannot be challenged, increasing petroleum product prices at a time of high inflation is a recipe for even higher inflation as it feeds into our travel costs and transport costs of all goods.


Hence, practically speaking, we have to live with higher levels of prices and should interpret the WPI numbers with the proverbial portions of salt!










The case of the forced disappearance of four R.S. Pura porters, linked as it is to the mysterious death of an army officer, passed off as suicide, has again resurfaced. It once again highlights the need to induce an element of transparency in the operations of security forces, curtail their unlimited powers that allow unscrupulous and criminal elements within the security forces to get away with cold blooded murders. When this happens with official patronage and impunity granted to security forces, it is always followed by a systemic violation of human rights abuse. Enforced disappearances of persons who were picked up and disappeared in custody, their family members having no trace of where they went or what happened to them, whether they are dead or alive is only one sign of such violations. The case of the four porters from RS Pura is only one among the thousands of cases that have come to the surface in Jammu and Kashmir in the last twenty years. According to modest estimates, there are over 10,000 cases of those who disappeared in custody. Across the state, particularly the valley, families are waiting to find out what happened to those loved ones who have been taken away from them by agents of the state or by people acting with its support and patronage. Families have no means to find out what has happened to them because transparency and accountability are severely hit by the State's convenient use of the misplaced paradigm of 'security issue'. The disappeared are beyond the protection of the law. Anything could have happened to them. Many are tortured. Many are killed. But the truth hardly ever surfaces, cases like the Ganderbal fake encounter being a rare exception, but where too nailing a handful of culprits seems more like a case of witch hunting. 

The establishment, both in the centre and the state, have chosen to turn a deaf ear to the voices of the families of the victims who have been demanding justice for years. Many of them have organized themselves into a group, Association for Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), which has become the finest example of peaceful resistance, resilience and solidarity. Groups like APDP have been staging peaceful protests with the demand to know the whereabouts of the family members who disappeared in custody. They have taken recourse to everything from peaceful campaigns to reposing faith in the judiciary but nothing happened. The APDP has been staging a sit-in 10th of every month at Pratap Park in the heart of Srinagar, carrying photographs of their family members and hoping in vain for knowing the truth. They have been doing this for years. But nobody from either the state government or the centre has ever come to them to even talk to them or find out what their grievances are. Some years back when the APDP wanted to raise a memorial in memory of their missing family members, the work at the site was stopped. Such has been the discouraging response from the government that has not only failed to respond to their cry for justice but also failed to understand their aspirations or their day to day problems, many of them reeling under both psychological and economic stress. 

In some ways, the fresh reminder about the missing RS Pura porters comes at an appropriate time, though only ritualistically speaking. August 30 marks the 26th International Day of the Disappeared. Every year, around the globe, several NGOs working on human rights and victims' associations remember the disappeared and demands justice for victims of enforced disappearances through activities and events. It is an annual commemoration day created to draw attention to the fate of individuals imprisoned at places and under poor conditions unknown to their relatives and legal representatives. Imprisonment under secret or uncertain circumstances is a grave violation of some conceptions of human rights as well as, in the case of an armed conflict, of International Humanitarian Law. The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance as resolution 47/133 on December 18, 1992. It is estimated that secret imprisonment is practiced in about 30 countries. The OHCHR Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has registered about 46,000 cases of people who disappeared under unknown circumstances. In 20088, several organizations joined hands for a global campaign event to promote the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. But despite all these campaigns, governments permitting and patronising enforced disappearances refuse to even acknowledge the victimization, leave alone take action against guilty men in uniform and civilians engaged in doing their dirty work. Unfortunately, a democratic India, with its poor track record, especially in disturbed states of north-east and Kashmir, is one of them. To uphold the democratic rights of the people and to ensure justice, it cannot maintain a cryptic silence on issues like enforced disappearances or other forms of state sponsored human rights abuse.







The outbreak of diarrhea, cholera, gastroenteritis and other related water-borne diseases in Doda, Ramban, Budgam and Anantnag and the swelling number of patients has exposed the lack of preparedness on the part of administration to deal with this problem which is almost an annual phenomenon during rainy season not just in the state but all across the country due to non-availability of clean, uncontaminated, sterile drinking water to majority of the population. The situation is hilly districts of Doda and Ramban in particular is grave in the wake of alarming increase in the number of patients of diarrohoea and almost negligible medical facilities, simply not corresponding to the worsening scenario as the number of affected people has already crossed over 1000. Notwithstanding the haughty claims of the successive state governments to initiate many a step in the recent past to upgrade medical infrastructure in all the parts of J&K with particular focus on far and inaccessible districts, the dismal state of affairs on this account has come to the fore with the diarrhoea outbreak. As the district hospital did not have the space to accommodate such a large number of patients and was not even fully equipped to provide timely and proper medicare to the suffering population, the civil administration had to seek the assistance of army which is doing yeoman's job by providing succour to the patients both through its infrastructure and medical staff. As per official statistics only the district hospital lacks 62 doctors and paramedics, the posts of whom are lying vacant for quite long now. Yet another irony is the Doda which is faced with this severe crisis on account of poor medical facilities and swelling number of patients suffering from this epidemic is the home district of Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. Situation in the hilly districts is a clear indicator that the focus is more on rhetoric than action. 








What the Communist Party of India (Marxist) dreaded the most in West Bengal, its bastion for 33 years, has happened. Ms Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress Party (TCP) held an extremely well-attended rally at Lalgarh in the Jangalmahal region bordering Jharkhand on August 9, enlisted the support of the People's Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA), and threw down the gauntlet to the Left Front. She stridently read out an elaborate political chargesheet against the CPM and announced the end of Left "hegemony" and the beginning of "a new era" in West Bengal. 

The CPM cried itself hoarse against what it called Ms Banerjee's "unholy" alliance with the Maoists, who control a section of the PCPA. This didn't quite square up with the PCPA's publicly expressed ire with Ms Banerjee for not articulating its demands.

The CPM was reduced to making a lame appeal to the Congress (its own rival!) to distance itself from the TMC on the Maoist violence issue which, it reiterated, like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is the "greatest internal security threat" to India. This cut no ice. Ms Banerjee had thrice appealed for non-violence at Lalgarh. Whether she did so at the goading of non-TCP people on the dais such as activists Medha Patkar and Swami Agnivesh or writer Mahasweta Devi is irrelevant. She didn't endorse Maoist violence. 

Finally, the CPM merely expressed a pious wish: namely, the Trinamool-Congress alliance, widely expected to win next year's Assembly elections, would somehow collapse, creating a thin sliver of hope for the Left Front.


But wishes are one thing, strategy is quite another. It's extremely doubtful that the CPM has a political strategy to snatch victory from the jaws of likely defeat. 

At least, the deliberations of the CPM's Extended Central Committee in Vijayawada on August 7-10 to review the political situation didn't convey that impression. This was the last large plenum to be held before the next party congress. The congress, which was due next year, stands postponed because of the West Bengal and Kerala Assembly elections. 

The Vijayawada conclave, attended by more than 350 delegates, produced no change of political line. The CPM reiterated the resolution of the last party congress (2008): oppose the United Progressive Alliance's neoliberal economic policies and pro-US foreign policy, combat the communal Bharatiya Janata Party, and strengthen the CPM's base among underprivileged people. 

On a less charitable view, general secretary Prakash Karat manipulated the party at Vijayawada into covering up the strategic and tactical failures at the top which contributed to the party's rout in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Crucial here was the Left's withdrawal of support to the UPA in July 2008 over the US-India nuclear deal, and its super-opportunist attempt to cobble a ragtag front with dubious leaders like Ms Mayawati and Jayalalithaa and Mr OP Chautala. The West Bengal CPM was extremely unhappy with this because it threw the TMC and the Congress into each other's arms. 

Mr Karat conceded that the timing of the withdrawal was controversial; it might have been wiser to withdraw support in November 2007, when the UPA sent the deal to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Yet, the Vijayawada meeting didn't revise the Central Committee line that the defeat is explained by "state-specific" factors including governance, "arrogance" and corruption. The only sop offered to the state leaders was a rousing call for unity in the coming elections. Mr Karat may have shrewdly bought some insurance for himself for a post-2011 defeat. He can quote the Vijayawada resolutions in self-defence. But that won't help the CPM. 
Organisationally, Vijayawada made little advance-for instance, by resolving differences between Kerala Chief Minister VS Achutanandan and party secretary Pinarayee Vijayan. Mr Achutanandan didn't attend the meeting for health reasons. The show of unity highlighted in media briefings reflects necessity (the impending elections) rather than genuine reconciliation. 
The CPM has reason to worry about the elections. In Kerala, the Left Democratic Front is widely expected to lose the elections. Its tally plummeted from 19 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats in 2004 to only 4 seats last year. The LDF's tenure hasn't been distinguished by bold pro-people programmes. Mr Achutanandan has been fighting damage-control battles against his own colleagues. 
Mr Vijayan, tainted by the SNC-Lavalin scandal, faces a CBI inquiry-the first politburo member of a Communist party ever to have been charged for corruption. Many pro-Left analysts I know don't believe that the see-saw pattern of the LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front winning alternate elections will repeat itself. 
The CPM's defeat could be worse in West Bengal. If the Assembly vote follows the last Lok Sabha pattern, the Left Front's score will fall from 235 (of 294 seats) to 110-120 seats. But it could sink even lower. In 2009, it lost support in all of West Bengal's regions, barring Jangalmahal, comprising West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts, which accounts for 6 Lok Sabha and 41 Assembly constituencies. In 2006, the LF had swept the region, winning 37 out of 41 Assembly seats. Even in 2009, it won 5 of 6 Lok Sabha seats. 

Now, the picture is different. On the 2009 pattern, Trinamool leads the LF in 130 constituencies in seven Central and Southern Bengal districts. The Congress has a hold on Northern Malda and Murshidabad. The TMC needs 147 seats for a majority. If it expands the opening it recently made in Jangalmahal and dents the CPM's tribal base, then an emphatic victory is assured for the TMC. 

That's why the CPM mortally fears Ms Banerjee's foray into Lalgarh. The CPM's much-dreaded armed cadres (Harmad Bahini) "captured" Jangalmahal from the Maoists only recently. Now, the CPM risks losing it to Trinamool whose thugs can unleash even more violence against the Left. Indeed, if the Trinamool comes to power, there will be large-scale bloodshed in West Bengal-a prospect no public-spirited citizen can relish. 
The CPM itself is in no small way responsible for bringing matters to this pass. Its policies have eroded some of its early gains since its rise to power in 1977-including land reforms, panchayati raj, women's empowerment and joint forest management. The erosion began in the early 1980s. 

By the early 1990s, the CPM became increasingly complacent as it won election after election without having to do much for the people. District and lower-level leaders and cadres developed a stake in the status quo and getting a cut in various contracts-whether for school buildings or labour supply for construction. 
Power, a strong magnet, drew in all manner of people, including unscrupulous operators with no commitment to Left-wing ideas. More than two-thirds of the CPM's present membership in West Bengal was recruited after 1977. Monobina Gupta, a journalist and a CPM cardholder for years, has lucidly documented the process of the party's alienation from its base in her just-published book Left Politics in Bengal: Time Travels among Bhadralok Marxists (Orient Blackswan). The cadres got mired in corruption. The party turned against its own former supporters.

Further degeneration came early this decade when the CPM embarked on rapid industrialisation at any cost by attracting private capital through sweetheart deals, tax breaks and undeserved subsidies. The Singur and Nandigram crises were direct effects of this misguided policy and heightened the party's alienation from the people. The state and the party unleashed violence against the people to take away their land, crush their resistance, and "teach them a lesson". 

Singur and Nandigram became household synonyms all over India for the loathsome betrayal of the people by the very forces which rose to power thanks to their support. 

The CPM's base among Muslims also eroded thanks to Nandigram, the Rizwanur Rehman case, and the growing realisation among West Bengal's Muslims after the Sachar Committee report that they have had a raw deal. Although they form 25 percent of the population, their representation in government is only 2.1 percent.


They have the least exposure to modern secular education. 

Impending election defeat should have shocked the CPM into sincere, deep introspection and self-criticism, even if painful. This should have impelled radical course correction. But the CPM leadership chose to behave like an ostrich. Worse, it came down heavily on inner-party critics. 

When party members and committed sympathisers demanded free and open debate on policies, strategy and tactics and criticised the organisational doctrine of Democratic Centralism-which concentrates excessive power at the apex and discourages, indeed outlaws, real debate except at party congresses-Mr Karat answered them by asserting that Democratic Centralism is essential to Leninism even today and indispensable for a revolutionary party. 

Censorship will prolong the status quo-a recipe for decline, disaster, marginalisation, and eventually, demise. Unless the CPM leadership admits that its basic strategy is in deep crisis, and that the rot isn't limited to state-related factors but reaches the top, it will learn nothing and do nothing to change course. The CPM could then go the same way as the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union, East Germany or Romania. And that would be a terrible tragedy for Indian politics.









"I'm going to live sixteen months less than you!" sobbed the wife this morning. 

"What utter rubbish," I said, "your life span will increase with a partner like me!"

"Read this," she sniffed, handing me the morning paper, "It says married women live sixteen months less than their unmarried sisters."

"Hey, I'm sorry," I said, "never thought I'd have such drastic effect on your life!"

"Life is short anyway, do you have to make it shorter?" she sobbed.

"Maybe we could compensate for this shortening," I said.

"Like doing what?" she asked brightening up, "maybe a cruise, or more dinners out, or a holiday?"

"No, no," I said hastily, "I was thinking more on the lines of you sleeping less, maybe quicker baths, faster make up sessions, so you could spend all that saved time on productive activity.." 

"Like what?" she asked dangerously.

"Oh like this and that, you know what I mean?"

"No I don't," said the wife moving slowly to rolling pin hanging behind kitchen door.

"Okay," I said desperately trying to get the situation under control, " I mean like me giving you a more value based life!"

"That sounds so sweet,' said the wife, coming away from kitchen door, "Like what were you thinking of doing for me this evening?"

"Well a nice cup of tea together?" I asked.

"Made by me again?"

"And some Punjabi samosas?"

"You want me to spend my time in the kitchen? Is that your idea of a value- based life? I've got sixteen months less to live because of you and you want even those months I have left, slaving for you? What do I get for all that slaving?" 

"Giving me nineteen months more of life!" I said simply.

"It says in the same report that men live that number of months more than their bachelor friends," I said.
"You mean to say," said the wife, "my life span gets shortened so you live longer?"


"I didn't write this report," I said quickly.

"Then maybe dear husband, its pay back time," said the wife as she walked back to kitchen door, "start with making the evening tea!"

"And Punjabi samosas?" I asked desperately.

"Is what you'll live on in those sixteen months without me," she sniffed, "there's a shop down the road; get used to hobbling there and buying your stuff!" 

I cursed those silly reports as I put on my shoes.








China's refusal to issue visa to Udhampur-based Northern Command General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) Lt Gen B.S. Jaswal shows that it has not given up its zest for playing games with this country. Beijing's argument is that the "difficulty" in granting entry to the Army officer has arisen because he comes from the "sensitive location of Jammu and Kashmir" and that the "people from this part of the world came with a different kind of visa." It is a blatant mischief and outright disrespect to the sovereignty of India. China has made no effort to hide its intent in the language it has used. Once again the Dragon has sought to underline that it no longer treats J&K as part of this country. For a long time now it has been insisting upon stapling visas on the passports of the State subjects abandoning the widely accepted tradition of stamping them. China has been following this practice for more than two years. It has now added a new dimension to it by including the military officials posted in the State as well in this category. Very rightly New Delhi has rejected its approach. In any event it has not accepted it earlier and conveyed a loud no this time as well. In a totally justified retaliatory move it has done very well to put all defence exchanges with China on hold. This is a befitting reply to the treatment meted out to Lt Gen Jaswal and the citizens of this State who are the citizens of India. To begin with it has turned down permission for three Chinese officers --- a senior Colonel and two Captains --- to visit India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has correctly remarked that India is engaging its neighbours without looking at reciprocity. At the same time he has made it emphatically clear that there is a limit to which his Government can brook repeated disobedience to agreed conventions.


In denying visas as in the latest instance China is fishing in the troubled waters of the Jhelum. Evidently it feels that by indulging in such tantrums it can strike a bargain over a part of Leh district and Arunachal Pradesh to which it has been unreasonably staking its claim. It also wants to convey its hatred over India's continued support to Dalai Lama in the venerable monk's search for an honourable solution of Tibet. In the process it is allying with Pakistan on the assumption that an enemy's enemy is a friend. Nothing can explain this more than what it is doing on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC). It is not fighting shy of kicking up one storm after the other on this side of the LoC including lending support to secessionists by ensuring invitations to them through outfits operating behind its iron curtain.


On the other hand it is undertaking projects and development works in the occupied territory where it has also swallowed a part of the State under an unjustifiable agreement with Pakistan. Its role in Gilgit-Baltistan is a public knowledge. It has invaded the scenic region with its expertise and goods with the consent of Islamabad. Our options thus are limited. We have to match China move by move at the political chessboard. In the process the developing economic relations between the two countries may become a casualty. We can't be held responsible if it really happens.










It is hardly surprising that infrastructure and manpower in the 100-bed district hospital of Doda are inadequate to tackle the current diarrhoea crisis. The Army has come to the help of local people at the request of the district administration. About 1000 patients have been discharged after improvement in their condition. The situation in the remote district has been described as "epidemic like." There are no two opinions that our district hospitals are ill equipped. The one in Leh has been a beneficiary of some private donations. But unfortunately it has faced near-destruction in the recent cloud burst. That we ought to upgrade our district hospitals is the need of the hour. An ideal situation is the one in which these can be concurrently converted into teaching centres. Instead, these don't have specialists. There is also lack of services to cure infectious ailments as and when these assume alarming proportions as is evident from the current developments in Doda district. Indeed, it is very easy to blame the administration for the dismal scenario. After all, it is its responsibility to set the house in order. How can it be condemned, however, when it does not hide anything? Time and again it has left no doubt that there is scarcity of financial resources. The Central assistance is required to augment the existing facilities. There are vacancies of doctors and para-medical personnel which are held up for bottleneck or the other. And, whenever the moves are set afoot to rationalise the transfers of available staff these become victims mainly of political pressure. As a result there is a long list of favourites staying put in urban locations. A report in this newspaper points out that 22 posts of doctors and 40 of paramedics are lying vacant in Doda hospital alone. Health Minister Shamlal Sharma lets us know that the problem is actually much bigger. His Ministry has appointed 466 doctors with the majority of them meant to be posted in rural areas but some have obtained stay from courts as a result of which the entire process is in jeopardy. Why should doctors resist postings in far-flung regions? Why should the Government succumb to any extraneous influence?


Who is not aware that there are sterling examples of quite a few government doctors doing well in tougher circumstances in other states and abroad after quitting their service in the State? They have chosen to prove their skills rather than remain victims of discrimination and unprofessional atmosphere. Our State has low density of population, difficult terrain hindering accessibility, poor road connectivity, limited presence of private sector/non-government organisations and, ironically, a private sector which is largely owned/operated by in-service doctors/specialists. We can overcome the obstacles if a policy decision is taken to treat health as uppermost priority for the welfare of society as a whole. No doubt there is need for a super-speciality "All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS)-like" institution in our city. Why do we have to go to New Delhi and Chandigarh in the event of a serious trouble? At the same time we should spare a thought for those deprived of basic amenities in our far-flung mountainous regions. Good health involves us all.









The visa row over Lt Gen B S Jaswal, Chief of the Indian Northern Command to visit China has once again raised the need to debate Beijing's game plan in and around J&K. The Indian government has subsequently announced the cancelling of a scheduled defence exchange between the two countries. 

Is this a part of a regular tit-for-tat responses, that is being increasingly witnessed in the recent see-saw relationship between India and China? What propels the Chinese strategy? Is the larger India-China relationship, having an impact on Beijing's approach to the sub regions - J&K/Tibet, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh? Or vice versa? 

A section would consider the Chinese response as a tactical tit-for-tat, to prove a point or two, hence should not be seen as a reflection of how China sees Sino-Indian relations. Dalai Lama's recent visit to Ladakh, and the Indian official response to it, undoubtedly is a source of irritation to China. Though New Delhi consider and has been repeatedly emphasizing Dalai Lama is a religious head and his visit to places in Delhi should be seen as that of an individual, Beijing never was convinced with such arguments. Hence, a section of China watchers in India would argue, that this visa row should be seen in a different context.

Or, is this a part of a larger Chinese game plan in J&K (including PoK and Northern Areas), that is slowly unfolding in the recent years? While India and Pakistan consider the conflict over J&K is bilateral, there is a substantial part of J&K under the Chinese position. Aksai Chin and Shaksgam Valley are under China's control; both regions are becoming increasingly unrestive, hence important for China.

Aksai Chin has minimal population, mostly nomads but this region is strategically important for China, as it has built a National Highway, linking Tibet, with another of its troublesome border land - Xinjiang. Predominantly Muslim, the Xinjiang province of China has a mixed population that includes the Uighurs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, and Kazakhs. The Uighurs have been unhappy with the Chinese government for the last few decades; the Uighur uprising in 2008-09, has only increased Beijing's sensitivity towards this frontier region, which shares borders with J&K and Tibet. This makes its National Highway (G219), which links Xinjiang and Tibet extremely important, which cuts across the Aksai China and meander not far from Pangong Tso and Mount Kailash, before reaching Lhasa. Technically, this road can be taken to travel upto Kathmandu in Nepal, as the Nepal-China Friendship Highway is linked to G219.

Given the political instability in Tibet and Xinjiang, China is extra cautious in keeping these areas secured. Whether China is likely to pursue a political or semi military one, with a confrontationist approach is likely to be seen. China's strategy towards the Northern Areas should also be seen from this perspective. 
During Zardari's recent visit to China in July 2010, Beijing has pledged to invest immensely in the Northern Areas, mainly in Gilgit and Baltistan. In particular, China has agreed to invest hugely in two areas - infrastructure and hydro resources. Rebuilding of Karakoram Highway, linking Kashgar (in Xinjaing) with Gwadar (the port town in Pakistan, which was once considered as an alternative to Karachi) is a primary strategy of China in this region. Recent announcement by Islamabad that it would go ahead with the building of Bhasha dam in the Northern Areas is primarily due to the huge funding support promised by China.
Selig Harrison, a leading South Asian expert in the US, few days back, wrote an interesting article in the New York Times, providing yet another perspective. Referring to Pakistani journalists and human rights workers, Harrison highlights two vital developments in Gilgit-Baltistan - "a simmering rebellion against Pakistani rule and the influx of an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 soldiers of the People's Liberation Army." According to him, "China wants a grip on the region to assure unfettered road and rail access to the Gulf through Pakistan." According to him, there is a mystery surrounding the construction of 22 secret tunnels where even Pakistanis are barred, and concludes, that these tunnels could be used for "a projected gas pipeline from Iran to China" or "for missile storage sites."

Is China being extra careful and sensitive to what is happening inside Tibet and Xinjiang? Or is it being on an offensive to secure road, rail and gas pipelines? The existing patterns suggest that China is pursuing both strategies. The game changer, obviously will be how India and China sees themselves as rising powers and how New Delhi projects its ambitions. Any open military confrontation at this time, will be disastrous for India; China is considerably ahead in both sectors - economy and military modernization. 

India should proceed ahead, at a faster pace, with improving its economy and military modernization. Until that confident situation, India should strongly, but politically, respond to these minor border and diplomatic incidents and ensure it does not affect the over all India-China relations. India will have to both compete and cooperate with China at regional and international levels. China pursued a similar strategy in the last two decades, rather remarkably. 

Obviously, as rising powers competing for the same global space, India-China relationship will be anything but cordial. There will be tensions and China will continuously test the Indian resolve, whether New Delhi could be pressurized further. However, it is unlikely, that China would be willing to pursue an open military confrontation at this juncture.

Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi









Surface Transport Minister Kamal Nath has questioned the need of the Planning Commission by calling them "armchair advisors." The Planning Commission was in overall command of the economy after Independence. Nehru had envisioned state control of the economy. He was much impressed by the Russian experience. The western countries had developed much by embracing the free market economy in the last 150 years. But Russia had attained almost the same level in a short span of 30 years under a public sector-led model. The Planning Commission in our country was to replicate the Russian success. Thus Union Ministers and Chief Ministers regularly trooped into the Commission's offices to seek approval of their proposed plans and schemes. 
Times have changed. The Russian model has collapsed. The market reigns supreme across the globe. It is, therefore, suggested that there is no need for the Planning Commission anymore. Ministers should be left free to run their ministries without unnecessary meddling by the Commission.

Indeed, the old role of the Planning Commission is no longer relevant. But there still is a critical role for it. This can be understood by an example. Previously, the telecommunications system of the country was wholly in the hands of the Post and Telegraphs Department which made assessment of the country's needs, established telephone exchanges and fixed the tariffs. Nowadays these functions are being performed by private players. But role of the government has not been extinguished. In fact, the private players are delivering because the government is guiding them properly. The Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) fixes interconnectivity charges and structure of tariffs, makes rules for sharing of towers, etc. The rapid expansion of mobile telephony in the country owes itself to the direction given by TRAI. The role of government has not come to an end. Only its form has changed. Previously the government was in the business of establishing telephone exchanges. Now it is in the business of making rules for the establishment of telephone exchanges by private players. 
Former Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund Raghuram Rajan has come to the same conclusion. He has undertaken study of the civil aviation sector in the United States. Previously only one airline company 'Pan Am' dominated the skies. Then the regulators stepped in. They made rules for the sharing of ground infrastructure and other such items. Result was that small airline companies got a chance to enter the scene. A fierce rate war ensued. In due time, the old and inefficient megalith Pan Am had to close shop while new lean companies flourished in the more competitive world. These examples indicate that the market delivers only when regulated in the right direction.

Ministries also need to be given direction in keeping with the overall situation of the economy. Take, for example, the Surface Transport Ministry. Left alone, the Ministry may like to make 4-lane highways to every district headquarter. This may even be profitable for the construction companies but not necessarily for the country. Large tracts of agricultural land will be acquired for making the highways. This will hit at out food security. Use of land for non-agricultural purposes has become a major issue in the U.S. nowadays. Second, 4-lane highways will be made mainly for private cars. A 2-lane highway is sufficient for public transport. The culture of private cars will increase the chasm between rich and poor in the countryside. That will fuel Naxalite movements. Third, our economic power will be devoted to making cars. Other critical sectors like health, research and housing will be adversely affected. Fourth, Ministry of Finance may impose a high tax on private cars. This will reduce the use of private cars and there may not remain many toll payers. Fifth, the Railway Ministry may make high speed bullet trains. That will again make the highways less useful. Sixth, it is reported that Americans are developing certain diseases due to long hours spent sitting in cars. Health of the nation may be at stake. The Planning Commission should look into these various interrelations and make a perspective plan for transport sector. The Surface Transport ministry is not equipped to make such a plan. 
The karta of the family sometimes has to stop tuition classes of the son to enable the daughter to learn sewing. At other times, he may postpone purchase of frock for the daughter and buy a cricket bat for the son. Such decisions involve taking an overall view of the family. The daughter or the son, left to themselves, cannot take such an overall view. Similarly the Planning Commission must take an overall view and guide the ministries. The Prime Minister is the Chair of the Planning Commission. Thus, guidance by the Commission should be seen as directive from the Prime Minister. Deputy Chair of the Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia has acknowledged the need for the Planning Commission to move to "indicative planning." This resolve is in the right direction and must be welcomed.

That said there is need for bringing fresh air into the Commission. The country is burning today. Air-conditioned shopping malls are being made in the cities while poor weavers and blacksmiths in the villages are losing their livelihood. Productive activities of farmers and industrialists are facing labour shortages while labour power is being wasted in fictitious works under the Employment Guarantee Scheme. The government education and health system has virtually collapsed. Psychosomatic diseases like cardiac arrest and asthma are increasing. Car congestion in cities has increased such that it is taking thrice the time to reach destination. Instead of using the present weakness of the global economy to create a multipolar world, we are propping up American superpower. Our companies that are entering other developing countries are acquiring an exploitative role akin to the East India Company. Wealth of the developing countries is being transferred to the developing countries under the lopsided Patents regime. The Planning Commission is blissfully silent on these burning problems. It is singularly obsessed with achieving 10 percent growth rate.

This unfortunate situation has developed because the Commission is manned mostly by retired bureaucrats who are responsible for creating these problems in the first place. The guilty is the sitting judge in appeal. As a result the Commission churns out same old formulas destined to fail.

The Planning Commission is very much required even after dismantling of the Nehruvian public sector-led development model. Role of the Commission is to make perspective plan and coordinate policies of various ministries. But filling up the Commission with bureaucrats kills the very purpose of brainstorming with new perspectives and coming up with creative solutions. Need of the hour is not to disband the Commission but to infuse it with fresh air.







On-going upsurge in the valley patently reflects mutual rivalry among political stakeholders come down to its lowest level. Paid agents armed with stones and infused with extremist religious prompting come on streets to disrupt normal flow of civil life. Their sponsors consider it an effective tool to show down their political opponents who have vested interest in projecting them as fighters for "aazadi". Apologists artfully brand them a generation grown under the shadow of the gun.

What is the rivalry about? For nearly five decades or more, right or wrong, traditional political party kept the monopoly of political power its cherished preserve. Its long stint created an impression with its stalwarts that the party was invulnerable essentially because Kashmir remained the fief of one dynasty.

Monopolistic attitude, dynastic rule and unaccounted corruption of the traditional party were strong reasons to throw up a group that contested its hegemony over state affairs. On that count, a nascent political group was able to raise its constituency once palpable public response was forthcoming, essentially in the valley and to some lesser measure in other parts of the state.

Obviously, the beginning of the practice of legitimate and formal democratic opposition in public and in state affairs, hitherto unknown and unpracticed by the stakeholders, could not be that smooth. Once out of power after tasting power, it lost the vision of building the state through democratic institutions.
In order to push the agenda of party aggrandizement, broader national and regional interests were sacrificed, which reflected in a vigorous demand for the dismissal of the government and imposition of president's rule.


Had the central government succumbed to this blackmail, its consequences would have been disastrous.

For certain, the uprising in the valley reflects neither the public mood against accession nor any challenge to the might of the state. It, in truth, is the expression of birth pangs of a much awaited but elusive democratic dispensation in which principled opposition is a necessity and has a role. 

Therefore, the urgent step to be taken to convince ordinary Kashmiri that he or she is the master of his/her destiny is to streamline democratic institutions, and make them maximally functional in the state. 

Foremost of these institutions are free and fair election delivery system, and nationalist orientation of political leadership as its ideological mainstay. If these two institutions are faulty, eroded or insinuating, then the damage will be forbidding. 

Democratic institutions become vibrant only if supported by productive economic infrastructure. Economic development is rigidly conditioned by geography and climate besides the level of work culture among the people.

Providing thousands of jobs to the unemployed youth is not a pragmatic solution. It creates an impression that the state is succumbing to religious, ethnic or political compulsions. This is not desirable. The true impression should be that the government is reaching a needy segment of Indian nation. 

Therefore an out of box or a unique eco-industrial development philosophy has to be evolved. As agrarian sector is under severe strain in the valley because of inability to shift over to modern scientific and mechanized techniques of farming, and shrinking of arable lands owing to rapid growth of both urban and rural population, the imperative of rapid but sensible industrialization of the valley cannot be deferred to the realms of uncertainty. In doing so, Kashmir political leadership has to come out of the cocoon of sub-regional prejudices, and seek the cooperation of Indian and international corporate sector. Mind you, fast dwindling forest wealth of the valley will have negatively enormous climatic and environmental impact on the economy of the valley.
The cry for autonomy is amusingly reckless. If any political party thinks it can endear itself to the estranged masses by sentimentalizing issues, it is foolhardiness, to say the least. If two constitutions plus special status do not underpin sub-regional sentiments, autonomy is least suited to be an option. After accession in 1947, Kashmir leadership gradually realized that integration with the union without diluting individuality was not only beneficial but also inevitable. They understood that the State could not remain anchored to three clauses of the accession instrument while other federating units buoyed the ocean of Indian secular democracy. 

Resentment and anger of a section of people in the valley, no doubt small, has to subside. If instigators plan something new, their credibility will wane further. Therefore, a sensible and spirited government need not panic. It must plan for at least next fifty to hundred years fortifying democratic institutions, energizing the writ of the state, rigorously enforcing anti-corruption mechanism and drawing comprehensive but time bound economic and industrial plans of big dimensions and import. 

It is also important that the state must root out the psychology of blackmailing and feigned insecurity that vitiate the atmosphere and distance people from realities on the ground... Inviolability of territorial integrity and political sovereignty are the fundamentals that preserve and perpetuate the Indian State. .
India has to reach each and every Kashmiri of the valley. Their woe is that the intermediaries play tricks with them. Sidelining the intermediaries is a task closely linked with political education of the masses. How will India reach the masses is the crux of the matter. If New Delhi overcomes its hunch for Kashmir valley just to keep a segment of large national minority in good humour, it will be encouraging blackmail. Conversely, if it meets equitable justice to all the three regions, much of the burden of Kashmir woes will be lifted off its shoulders.

Last and not the least is how New Delhi will treat the exiled religious minority in years to come? With its ouster from Kashmir, India's secular credentials are in question. We understand the compulsions and constraints of stakeholders in this sordid affair. Again a pragmatic, bold and visionary step is desired on the part of the Indian state. My submission to Indian policy planners and Kashmir leaders is to think big and do big. Let new Kashmir rise from rubble.







Once a prized cash crop of Kashmir, Saffron has been subject to neglect by all the stakeholders for many years and if efforts aren't made, the crop is bound to enter the annals of extinct species


After much lobbying the Central Government sanctioned National Saffron Mission Programme (NSMP) for revival of Saffron industry in the State. Under the programme an amount of Rs 371.18 crore is to be spent over four years beginning this year, of which Rs 286.06 crore will be contributed by Government of India and Rs 85.12 crore will be put in by farmers.


The NSMP has been formulated to improve production, enhance quality, improve research and extension capability and develop appropriate systems for organised marketing for growers. During the current fiscal an amount of Rs 39.43 crore would be invested to form the allocated pool of funds. The once prized cash crop of Kashmir has been subject to neglect by all the stakeholders concerned for many years now and if last effort like NSM is not made now, the crop is bound to enter the annals of extinct species. The Economic Survey of J&K reveals a continuous decline in production of Saffron over the last six years with revenues from the sector falling drastically. The current revenue generation is only 25 percent what it used to be in 1996-97. Even the evaluation studies by government agencies reveals that the income output ration has fallen from 1:2.50 to 1:0.69 meaning that an investment of Rs 100 generates only Rs 69 for the growers leaving them to lose Rs 31 from their pockets. Barely twelve years ago, the income output ratio was 1:2.50, meaning that an investment of Rs 100 would generate an income of Rs 250 for the grower. Not only has the crop suffered on production front, but its marketing has received a big jolt as major bulk orders from host of organisations in India are now being catered to by Spanish and Iranian saffron. What has resulted in further loss to the crop is the growing level of pollution due to the industries around the areas where the crop is grown, which has also led to decline in production. Going by the proposed programme, it seems that all areas that have resulted in dwindling production have been addressed. Three areas that need to be put into extra focus include quality control, adequate irrigation and effective marketing mechanism. For Quality Testing, a Quality Control Laboratory would be set up at Pampore by National Spot Exchange costing Rs 8.90 crore. Irrigation facilities that were major bottleneck in boosting the production is expected to be addressed to a major extent as 253 tube wells and 3715 sprinklers sets would be installed for timely irrigation. Measures like these are expected to catapult the earnings from this prized crop from the existing Rs 236 crore to Rs 4642.50 crore, which would be a major achievement, if realized. What is now needed is to follow the programme in letter and spirit and go for timely rectification as and when the need arises, otherwise this much hyped programme is bound to face the same fate as been with major projects in the State.










On August 26, 2010 there appear two different versions on Kashmir, a Kashmiri and a non-Kashmiri, echoed during a debate on the unrest in Kashmir Valley in the Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament).


National Conference head and Union Minister for energy and non-renewable resources, Farooq Abdullah (Kashmiri voice) lodged a complaint stating, "But today, I regret that when we open our hearts to you, you don't even recognise us... in every corner of our heart has India written over it. When we brought the autonomy resolution, I thought we will join hearts. But you let me down." He asserted that it was the time to tell Pakistan "in one voice that it should return to us the part of Kashmir it has occupied and given away to China".
The non-Kashmiri voice was heard from Bharatiya Janata Party. BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi stated that Kashmiris are demanding secession from India and not jobs or economic development. He slammed the government for its failure to handle the unrest in the Kashmir Valley that has seen 64 people deaths since June 11. Joshi said the government had pumped Rs 94,000 crore into the state that represents "merely one or two percent of our population". He alleged that state was being ruled by a corrupt administration and supported his argument by pointing out "And imagine one or two percent of population getting 10-12 percent from our budget."

It would not serve any cause for the people and habitat of Kashmir if we are taken over by sentiment and fail to examine the substantive merits and demerits in these two statements. However, a politician (separatist), a militant and a member of  opposition are likely to be guided by the material interests of their daily indulgence (azadi)  while as an independent opinion maker, a writer and an intellectual has his own compass for a guidance. The latter group would take a lunge in the best interests of the people and may have either very little (on balance) or no reference to India and Pakistan.

National Conference leader has failed to take the floor in equity and good conscience in the Parliament. The unrest in the Valley and the consequent loss of life is linked with the State administration and the presence of Indian security forces in Kashmir. The State has invited the Indian forces to protect 'life', 'honour' and 'property'. The duty of Indian Security forces is linked to a provisional arrangement signed between the Government of Kashmir and the Government of India. Farooq Abdullah need not wear his heart on his sleeve during his address in the parliament. He is under oath to represent his people according to Law and the Constitution. There is no denying the fact that the whole State of Jammu and Kashmir, according to J&K Constitution, AJK Constitution and the UN Resolutions, is in dispute. In fact it is not the territory that is in dispute but the question of self determination of a people living within the habitat of Jammu and Kashmir (defined in article 4 of J&K Constitution) has yet to be settled.

One may like to sympathise with NC leader and believe him when he said "I thought we will join hearts. But you let me down." On examination one finds that the statement is an example of bad political mannerism. He has conducted himself in 'first person singular'. He does not have a mandate to seek to join hearts on his own and joining of hearts should be equally supported by the presence and force of mind. He should equally realise that even the Constitution of Pakistan leaves the joining of Kashmir to the presence and force of mind of the people of Kashmir. Article 257 of the Constitution of Pakistan states: "When the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and that State shall be determined in accordance with the wishes of the people of that State".

According to the Constitution of Pakistan there will be no automatic merger of the territories of the State with Pakistan and the conditions under which other States acceded to Pakistan will not necessarily apply to the State, if the people of the State are not in favour of such application. The relations between Pakistan and the State will be governed by the wishes of the people of the State. The terms of instrument of accession will be determined by mutual agreement. Therefore, pro- Pakistan political leaders on either side of LoC are not free of all punctuation of reason to "join hearts" with Pakistan on their own and without the presence and force of mind of the people.

Farooq Abdullah seems to have his political arithmetic wrong. Indian Government has recognised him more than anybody else in the State. His son is the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, he has a berth in the Centre Cabinet and many of his relations have an active role in the State and the Centre. All Kashmiri political arithmetic has been arranged in his favour at the cost of the people and habitat of Kashmir. Indian Government should have discouraged Farooq Abdullah from taking regular wild leaps in his own favour and incrementing a loss of faith in Constitution, rule of law, democracy and UN mechanism in Kashmir.

There is no harm in reminding Pakistan in regard to the disputed nature of the territories under its control and the part given to China. However, making this demand through the Indian Parliament in August 2010 is not only inopportune but throws the no-holds-barred political authority enjoyed by Sheikh family since the adoption of J&K Constitution on November 17, 1956 on the floor for public scrutiny. Under Article 4 of J&K Constitution and UN Resolution of March 30, 1951 it continues to be the responsibility of the J&K Government (Elected Assembly) to safeguard the territorial integrity of the State. One does not see any harmony or unanimity of interest between separatist and non-separatist political parties on the question of territorial integrity of the State. Separatist have narrowed down their territorial interests to the streets of Srinagar. It seems that National Conference has sinned much more than anybody else in regard to non interest in the territorial integrity and non distribution of the Kashmiri people under various administrations.

The non-Kashmiri voice (BJP) in the Parliament that "one or two percent of population in Kashmir are getting 10-12 percent from our budget" is a substantive argument of interest. It should warrant an instant interest of Separatists and Mainstream political parties. Hurriyat and all other schools of civil society opinion, namely, intellectuals, writers, journalists, lawyers, doctors, teachers, students, NGOs and others should take the question of corruption in Kashmir, much more seriously than the question of 'azadi'. It is important to point out that 'dignity' and 'azadi' do not come to visit any corrupt people. The three are not compatible. As regards the question of azadi, the understanding of BJP remains in conflict with the jurisprudence of Kashmir case. "10-12 percent from our budget" and a "corrupt administration" do not stand as an estoppel against the right of a people's to self determination.

Author is London based Secretary General of JKCHR – NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.  He can be mailed at









Theatrics and Farooq Abdullah are synonymous. This, he has repeatedly proved while making people "spell-bound" in parliament, assembly or a public meeting. But on August 26, he surpassed all his previous speeches by keeping "his nation" in complete darkness as far as ground situation in Kashmir is concerned.


Farooq Abdullah not only failed his "caged people" who have "elected" him in 2009 elections and sent him as MP from Srinagar-Budgam constituency but he gave a wrong "report" to people of India as to what was happening in  valley. He reverted back to his old "dream" of getting "Azad Kashmir" back to Indian fold, pooh-poohed Kashmiris for asking what they cannot sustain. As Kashmir streets are reverberating with azadi slogans, Farooq coated them with something different. "Hindustan is in our hearts and there is no machine available today that can open our hearts and show our sentiments are with Hindustan" this is how he represented Kashmir there. He said so without further explanation. If he interpreted demand of "azadi" this way then he has cheated entire India by not telling them the truth but if he meant that he was talking about his family then he is very honest and deserves kudos for that.

In contrast the right-wing BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, who took plunge in 1992 to unfurl tricolour in Lal Chowk to make an abortive bid to show the world that Kashmir was integral part of India, demonstrated that "He was real representative of Kashmiris". He maintained that Kashmiris only want "azadi" or "autonomy". He even bailed out Farooq whose party's political doctrine is restoration of autonomy. Joshi is a real nationalist as he did not keep his people in dock.

Youthful MP from Hyderabad Assaduddin Owaisi did what a Kashmiri representative was supposed to do. He paid tributes to 65 innocents who fell to bullets of CRPF and Police during past three months. Castigating government for locking the Jamia Masjid and the Hazratbal Shrine he truly reflected the plight of besieged masses in Valley. He called for withdrawal of draconian PSA and AFSPA. His punch was clear "If we love Kashmir why not Kashmiris".

So where did Farooq stand in all this. He was miserable in distorting Kashmir situation. Even his MP Mehboob Baig could not do damage control. His efforts to cry hoarse over autonomy could not make any difference as his boss had taken a different recourse. Farooq did call for autonomy but his setting was a mismatch for his demand. Even if he was serious for autonomy he could bargain by saying "they want azadi". Actually he does not want anything. He must be concerned for his son Omar Abdullah's "job" but he failed him as well.
So decide who represents Kashmir in Parliament, Joshi, Farooq or Owaisi and win a prize.

Feedback at







There is no let off in killings: the toll has reached to 63, however, chaos and confusion prevails. All the smile and shine of Kashmiri seems snatched. And there appears no sincerity on part of New Delhi to address the issue.


The Independence Day speech of prime minister of India did not say anything new; it was a speech filled with rhetoric, although Manmohan Singh spoke in a different tone but as per analysts it was old wine in a new bottle.The offer to hold dialogue with any group and party in Kashmir by prime minister from the rampart of Red Fort was thought many to be a change in Indian stance; however the hopes created were short-lived as Manmohan Singh was quick to add 'Indian Constitution'.  People, in reality, have not perceived any substantial initiative from New Delhi. All the Indian statesmen are bragging about the process of dialogue but failed to do anything which could have bridge the trust deficit which exists between Srinagar and New Delhi. There is also a need to take some people friendly measures which could acts as CBMs. There is need to relook at some of the aspects of AFSPA, withdrawing the security forces from civilian areas, punishing the people who are involved in human rights violation. These steps, at least, help to clam the tempers. Indian state must respect the sentiment of Kashmiris and should refrain from insulting them by offering economic and job packages. On another side of the fence is the Separatists leadership. It is time for them to forget their internal differences and work for the collective good. The strikes and hartals won't do any good. They must chalk out a strategy as how to move ahead. There is a need to bring some respite to the people of valley who are bleeding from last more than two months, whose psyche have been damaged, emotions shattered, souls bruised  and are lost in wonderland. Things are moving from bad to worse and if not addressed may spiral out of control. Nothing will come out of speeches unless New Delhi will redress the problem in a political way.

Author is registrar in Paediatrics, SKIMS Medical College Srinagar and can be mailed at









NATIONAL Conference chief and Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Resources Dr Farooq Abdullah last week gave a sound dressing-down to those in the Kashmir valley who have been demanding "azadi" (independence) for Jammu and Kashmir. He rightly pointed out in the Lok Sabha that any such talk could not be in the larger interests of the Kashmiris. What the separatists have been pressing for has nothing to do with the aspirations of the masses. The most convincing proof of the people in the valley being disinterested in ideas like "azadi" has been provided during the elections in the past. By overwhelmingly participating in the polls, held under the Constitution of India, they have been stressing the point that they are as patriotic Indians as people in the rest of the country are. The separatists, who have been misleading the public, need to be reminded of the denial of even basic human rights to those in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.


Dr Abdullah, however, strongly believes that the Kashmir crisis can be brought to an end by giving more autonomy to the border state. He forcefully pleaded for autonomy in the Lok Sabha, saying that it was time the nation had a closer look at his proposal. The state has been passing through a period of fresh turmoil with people indulging in throwing stones at the security forces and defying curfew orders to express their resentment against the government. Pakistan has been playing its destabilising role, but the enemy could not have succeeded in using its new tactics if the people's sense of alienation had not been strong enough to make them come out into the streets in large numbers.


The National Conference leader's demand for more autonomy is based on a resolution passed by the J and K Assembly in 2000, when he was the state's Chief Minister. Autonomy is one issue which calls for an examination. But more than anything else, people in the valley and the rest of the state will be happier if there is a large-scale revival of economic activity. People need sufficient employment opportunities and other things essential to lead a comfortable life. Whatever is required in the interest of peace in the valley must be done under the overall framework of the Constitution.









MUCH though India and China may feign that all's well between them, every now and then the lack of understanding and trust in the relationship comes to the fore, locked as they are in a battle for high stakes as emerging powers. The latest spark lit by the Chinese by denial of visa to Lt-General B.S. Jaswal, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Northern Area Command, to visit China as part of high-level defence exchanges marks a new setback to relations between the two neighbours. Considering that the refusal of visa had to do with the fact that the General had Jammu and Kashmir under his charge, the Indian Government cannot but be outraged by Beijing's challenge to the northern state being an integral part of India. Evidently, the China's intentions are far from innocent. It wants the pot boiling on its contention that what India calls Arunachal Pradesh is actually China's territory. At the same time, it is out to please Pakistan by dubbing J & K as disputed territory.


Last year, the Chinese had angered New Delhi by issuing visas on separate pieces of paper for Kashmiris which were then stapled into their passports. The practice resulted in many Kashmiris being prevented by Indian immigration officials from boarding their flights on the grounds that the visas were not valid. China has also been nitpicking in the past year over visits by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh.


The Indian response could well have been less conciliatory. There is little point in pretending that there is complete bonhomie between the two countries. While it is mutually-beneficial to nurture economic ties, India must make no bones about its disgust over Chinese actions that go against the spirit of friendship. The denial of visas to three Chinese army officers in retaliation for their refusal to issue visa to Lt-Gen. Jaswal is mere tokenism. Instead, the Chinese government needs to be told in no uncertain terms that actions like the denial of visa to the General only put the clock back on normalisation of ties between the two countries.









THE Foreign Contribution Regulation Bill, which has been cleared by Parliament and will become a law once the President signs it, will help the government keep tabs on the flow of foreign money into this country part of which, it is feared, might be going into funding disruptive activities. Tracing sources of terror funding has become a global concern after the 9/11 attacks in the US. Despite witnessing several terrorist attacks, India has failed to locate and stop foreign-based sponsors of terrorism and other anti-social activities. The new law may enable the government to plug authorised and known channels of money transfer from and to this country. What about illegal channels?


Money laundering is prevalent worldwide and has defied a workable solution. The menace can be minimised if the law is effectively used to ensure that every religious, charitable and non-government organisation (NGO) is registered and its fund-raising and spending is closely monitored with the help of latest technology and violations are strictly dealt with. It is easier said than done. The scanning of funds to religious bodies will have to be sensitively handled, given the scope for mischief and possibility of hurting people's religious sensibilities. Foreign missionaries are known to use money power sometimes to facilitate religious conversions, which provoke local religious leaders and endanger social harmony.


NGOs have mushroomed so fast in the recent past that it is difficult to keep track of them. There is reportedly one NGO for every 400 Indians. A government study counted 33 lakh NGOs in the country till 2009, which raise Rs 40,000 crore to Rs 80,000 crore annually. The government is the top financier of NGOs but there is no provision for an auditing by CAG of fund utilization. Foreign donations are the second major source of NGO funding. It is true many NGOs are doing commendable work and it will be quite an uphill task to separate the real from the fake. The new law will limit the scope for error.

















INDIA today is faced with double-digit inflation in the case of food items, which is fuelling the overall inflationary trends in the country. For decades studies have been showing that retailers' margins are so high that producer-sellers do not get a fair share of the price the consumers pay.


Take the case of fruits and vegetables. What the producer gets in the wholesale market, the retailer/vendor sitting just outside the wholesale market charges twice that price from the consumer, who comes to the wholesale market assuming that he will buy cheaper. The consumers who buy vegetables and fruits in retail markets nearer their homes or from a mobile vendor at their door pay the price three times higher and even more. The handling cost of these retailers/vendors is only a small fraction of the cost the producer incurs over and above the production risk he runs and market uncertainties he faces. Thus, the retail market in fruits and vegetables eats up to two-thirds of the price the consumer pays.


The retailers/vendors being in large numbers subsist on very low volumes of business. Therefore, to earn a reasonable income for sustaining their families, they keep high margins. With a low volume of business, they have to perforce keep high profit margins. Another character of the retail market is that it is a bad conductor of demand and supply. Even if there is a small shortage in supplies due to adverse weather conditions or other contingencies, retail prices shoot up disproportionately. Yet the retail market does not lower the prices accordingly when supplies become normal or increase, though the wholesale prices might come down. The rigidity of the retail market, specially of the perishables, does not let the consumer benefit from increased supplies and lower wholesale prices. It also does not allow the producer to gain from improved consumer demand.


Unfortunately, there are no competitive alternatives to the inefficient retail market. In 1986, I suggested that there should be "Farmers' Markets" in my report on agricultural diversification, wherein consumers could directly buy from producers. However, the suggested model got mutilated and "Apni Mandis" were created, where framers today are conspicuous by their absence. These markets have turned into vendors' markets with no benefit either to the producers or to the consumers.


The answer lies in creating a healthy competition in the retail market, wherein the retailer does not exploit the producers as well as the consumers. The globalised economy of the country must, therefore, deliver due benefits to the agricultural producers as well as the consumers. Corporate entry into the retail market is one of the effective answers to the problem, whereby the traditional retail market will get disciplined and both alternatives will provide a check on each other. There is a need for the corporate houses that have recently entered the agricultural retail market to invest liberally, not only to cater to the local consumers on quality supplies but also to become competitive in the international market. Their purview must run to cover quality and demand-driven production from the hinterland farmers, processing, value addition, creation of cold supply chains, cold storage, etc, to minimise the losses.


Creation of backward and forward linkages is very vital at this stage, if the farmer's share in the consumer's rupee is to be improved. We have good examples before us such as the Nestle link-up with dairy farmers on the one hand and the local as well as international markets on the other. In such a system, producers get not only a good price, but the companies also provide help to their schools, health care facilities for animals, infrastructural facilities for handling the produce, etc. We have corporate houses like Bharti and Reliance that recently entered the retail market. They need to strengthen their backward linkages with producers in respect of improved quality production, better price contracts and lifting the produce according to the specifications agreed upon.


In order to operate the system on a sustainable basis, the system must operate in a manner that economic interests of producers and corporates get fully intermeshed. These corporates must operate on the level that they benefit on the volume of business and value addition with lower profit margins. If they charge the same price or only marginally lower price than what the traditional retailer or the vendor charges, the purpose of corporate entry gets defeated. In any case, the producer must get at least two-thirds of the price the local consumer pays for the produce. In the case of processing the produce into products for value addition, the producers' share might decline, yet in absolute terms his returns will improve.


The creation of such marketing chains — right from the level of quality production, collection of the produce, primary handling and processing into products, packaging, creation of cold storage and cold chains — requires at least $ 20 billion in the first go. There is, therefore, merit in allowing the FDI in the retail market of agricultural commodities.


In the globalised market, if farmers have to gain and consumers have to get quality agricultural commodities at reasonable prices, it is not only from the financial angel the FDIs should be considered, more it will benefit in respect of the introduction of improved technologies at the production level as well as through the whole of the marketing chain. We have before us examples of Pepsi, Coca Cola, motor vehicles, etc, wherein foreign investment and collaboration has paid dividends. The consumers who were taken as a captive market for decades and exploited through the supply of progressively inferior products at higher prices through advance bookings and long wait by indigenous enterprises have experienced better and have a multiple choice at reasonable prices.


If we have opened up our markets and the economy is getting globalised, we should let our farmers and consumers benefit through fair global competition on the quality of products and reasonability of prices. To compete in the international market, our policy makers have to come out of the traditional mindset and start thinking out of the box for the benefit of the economy as a whole, and producers as well as consumers of agricultural commodities in particular. This will also put an effective check on inflation in food prices.


The writer is a former Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala.








TODAY when I see politicians going to any extent to seek power and position, I am reminded of Pandit Mohan Lal, a former Home and Finance Minister of Punjab who got an opportunity to be the Chief Minister of Punjab but humbly declined it so that the state remained in safer hands.


It was in 1963. Under the Kamraj Plan, the then Chief Minister of Punjab, Partap Singh Kairon, was to be relieved in order to utilise his services to revitalise the Congress party.


While sending his resignation to the party high command, Kairon recommended Panditji's name as his successor. This information was leaked out to Panditji by someone on Kairon's personal staff.


Pandit Mohan Lal rushed to Delhi to explain to the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru , that in a situation where the Akalis were adamant to intensify their agitation to get Punjabi Suba, none other than Kairon could face them befittingly. He impressed upon Nehru that the Akalis could exploit the situation if any non-Jat Sikh replaced Kairon. Panditji volunteered his services for the organisation. Nehru changed his mind.


Nehru asked Kairon to relieve Pandit Mohan Lal from the Cabinet to use his services for the organisation. But Kairon showed his reluctance to do so and convinced Nehru that minus Pandit Mohan Lal in his Cabinet, administrative and legislative affairs of the state would badly suffer. The result of this exercise was that both Kairon and Pandit Mohan Lal continued to hold their respective positions.


To some, it may sound as Panditji's loyalty to Kairon but it was his concern for the state that forced him . To be a Chief Minister could be a culmination of his political career.


It was January, 1986. I interviewed Panditji for Punjabi Tribune's column "Khulliyan Gallan". I felt deeply impressed by his charismatic personality. He gifted to me his book "Disintegration of Punjab", which I later translated into the Punjabi language under the title "Hashar Punjab Da". This was the beginning of my association with him, which remained vibrant till his end in 1999.


I always found him fresh with the latest on Punjab. This is one of the several episodes that dotted his political career. This finds a mention in his book too which gives a detailed and first-hand account of post-Independence political history of Punjab. Panditji left for his heavenly abode on the 30th of this month in 1999.


A votary of united Punjab, he is fondly remembered even today for his brilliant and constructive approach towards Punjab.









I would like to put some things straight to my friends from the Opposition as well as people on my side. Kashmir is not a simple problem. Do not make it look simple. In this very House, many of you must have been Members of this House, a Bill has been passed…


"All right. I will speak in Hindi. This is the same House in which the Bill was passed that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir - part of which is now with Pakistan and China, which they now call Azad Kashmir and we call the Occupied Kashmir and the northern territories which include Skardu, Gilgit, Hunja - are all part of Maharaja's Kashmir. But I have not heard even a single individual talk about this area. What is happening there, what atrocities are being committed, nobody knows. People who are sitting up there in the Press gallery also never write about it.


It is all right that you promise a lot. But remember one thing, a lot of misconceptions are created. The Kashmir that is with us is not part of Hindustan due to your firepower, your guns or due to your Air Force. It is part of India because of the leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru and those leaders who fought with Sheikh Abdullah for the freedom of the country.


It was because of the policies of those leaders that Kashmir became part of Hindustan. Not only did it become part of India, it stayed firmly with India. When so many wars were fought, and do not forget the last was the Kargil war, it stood firmly with India. But, unfortunately, whenever we open our hearts before you, you either do not recognise us or you do not understand us.


But there is no such machine with which we can lay bare our heart to show that we have the name of Hindustan written in all the chambers of our heart. But you do not see that. You are stuck with small meaningless things.


Today, even a child seeks Azadi (in Kashmir). Why does he make such a demand ? Have you ever asked him what is the purpose of independence ? What does it mean ? Can Jammu and Kashmir remain independent ? From one side China is out to grab it. Even today, it is gradually trying to infiltrate into Ladakh. On the other side there is Pakistan. Trying to save itself from jihadi elements, it is pushing militants into India. Just evaluate the situation. The three countries have atom bombs at their disposal. Can Kashmir remain independent in such a scenario? Can't we see the situation in Afghanistan? Can't we see Al-Qaida or the Taliban ? If we go that way, won't Kashmir land into a similar situation ?


Mr Chairman Sir, I remember the day when I had accompanied Sharma Sahib, the then Vice President to Kabul, when Badshah Khan was to be buried in Jalalabad. I was there in the delegation and when from Jalalabad I went to Khyber on the Pakistan border to bring his ashes, I couldn't see one bridge or house in good shape.


People who are asking for Azadi, they are unable to see the bungalows, we get to see while landing in Kashmir. Do you see one Kachcha house ? God forbid that situation like Afghanistan ever happens to Kashmir. Therefore, I tell those sitting in the front, please try to listen to what our heart says.


When we brought forward the autonomy proposal, I was in Bangalore. I was invited by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. That was Late Shyama Prasad Mukherjee's death anniversary, you people had to go to Kolkata. You had decided in the Cabinet to oppose the proposal even though some of the Cabinet ministers said that they had not even read it. They said they be allowed to read it first and a decision could be arrived at later on. But they were determined to withdraw Article 370, determined to rule over the land and not over hearts.


If you have to rule the heart, you must try to listen to it. Only then will Hindustan remain one. If you do not treat our heartbeats as that of Hindustan and if you do not understand the heartbeats of those living in the Northeast, you will not be able to keep Hindustan united. If you understand only the heartbeat of Delhi and overlook other states, Hindustan will never be strong.


I came with folded hands in front of Prime Minister. I asked, Sir, have you read it ? He replied that he had not gone through it. Then I asked how did you arrive at the decision ? I requested, you please read it. If there is anything that weakens the country, please tell us. We are ready to listen. We have not shut our doors. These are not Ayaats of the Quran, which can not be changed. We have told them these can be altered. But please tell us where we are wrong.


But they simply discarded it. I was disgraced. I went down in the esteem of my own people. I am a part of this government and yet I am treated with such disdain ! What dignity can I be left with. I am still sitting in the administration along with you. Today the issue is that of winning hearts. Speeches are not enough. You cannot win the heart of a youngster with mere speeches. Those who have been shot dead-they are not asking for money to compensate those lives. They are merely demanding justice. Can't we ensure that ? Can't we start talking ?


You ( the NDA) yourself handed over a list of 20 persons to Pakistan and said you would never resume talks unless those 20 people are handed over. Have you forgotten the day when you invited Gen Musharraf here. The list of 20 persons was still lying with them.


He (Musharraf) never returned to Hindustan. Why was he invited to India? Because there was no other way out. Solutions can be found only through talks. I still remember when our Prime Minister said on the Pakistan border that we can change our friends, but not neighbours. We can co-exist peacefully, with love and harmony or else the hatred would burn and weaken us.


Therefore, I appeal with folded hands that try to understand what our pulse says. We do not want to separate from India. There is nobody who wants separation from India. If anybody wants this, he does not really know what is in store for him on the other side.


They think everything is green on the other side till they land. I would like to correct my people here, there is a lot of mis-information, and a lot of things have been said wrong. I would like to request all of you to try to understand that we want to find a solution within India, not within Pakistan or China or America. So, if we want to find a solution, let us sit down rather than have an obstruction that Article 370 will go and we will have a better India.


You will never have a better India unless you win hearts and minds of people. To win the hearts and minds of the people, for God's sake open your hearts, open your brains and accommodate people's views.


Sir, I will speak to Sardar Ajnala in Punjabi. He has said that we will not get autonomy. Therefore, we should forgo autonomy. Let me tell you, Sir, without autonomy, you too will not get what you want.


What I feel, one day India will have to have a true federal structure. A true federal structure will mean that every state will have its power and Centre will have its power. If a state is weak the Centre will never be powerful. If you want to make Centre powerful then the states must be made powerful because they are the arms, legs and the body of India and unless the body of India is strong the mind can never be strong. Therefore, my request to all of you is that if we have to get on, let us make a prosperous India where people live together not in hatred.


I have no hatred for Hindus. Why ? It is because I see God in various forms. To me, if you believe in God as Rama, Krishna, Mahesh, Vishnu or Brahma, the creator, let me tell you as far as a Muslim is concerned, it is one vision. It is the same power except the view you see is different. You see him in different forms but the power is the same. I see him as Allah. The power is the same. To you I say, let us not build animosity on religion for your religion is welcome to you and my religion is welcome to me. That is what makes India great. That is what makes India strong because we follow so many different religions yet are with one body and one soul and that soul is India and that soul will remain India so long as we remember that we have to work for the betterment of the people. That is why, we are here. We are here for the success of the people and the success of our nation depends if we work together.


Therefore, to Shri Murli Manohar Joshi, Shrimati Sushma Swaraj and to all of you I would say, let us sit together, let us find out a way forward where we can win the hearts and minds of these young people rather than using bullets and firing. That is the only way we can do it.


I would request the Home Minister to do something in this regard. I would request Shrimati Gandhi to bring all of us together and let us find a way forward in solving the problem of Jammu and Kashmir. At the same time, when our Prime Minister goes across the border or their Prime Minister comes here, it is made abundantly clear to them that not only is 'this' Jammu and Kashmir ours, 'that' Jammu and Kashmir is also ours.


We forget this. We do not ever mention this as if we have given that to them. The time has come when we must tell them with one voice - enough is enough. We are not going to take it sitting down. That country belongs to us and it will remain with us. Let us start thinking of that. To the media, I would say that my earnest request to you is that please think of India. Please write for India because I know in my own State how the media puts things in such a manner that it creates hatred, it makes your blood boil.


But it is not just Kashmir but it is Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, POK and Northern Territory, that is part of India.


(Speech delivered in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, August 26, by the Union Minister for Renewable Energy and former J & K Chief Minister. Most of it was delivered in Hindi in response to the plea made by Shri Sharad Yadav, MP)








As the Prime Minister inspected Commonwealth Games sites on Sunday and Sheila Dixit extended the deadline for the venues yet another time, the last-gasp dash to the finish line has overtaken the deeper questions at the heart of these Games. There are structural reasons for the quagmire Delhi finds itself in. The story of the Games Village characterises all that went wrong in our priorities and deserves a close look. 


In 2003, Delhi was in serious danger of losing its Games bid to the Canadian city of Hamilton. Hamilton had put its local McMaster University at the centre of its Games concept. It proposed to build a Games Village and three new sporting venues on the 300-acre campus of McMaster University and the idea was to create a permanent legacy of world-class sporting infrastructure for its students in this small city of 500,000. 


In contrast, Delhi's original bid proposed to build a Games Village and to sell it as real estate after the Games as luxury apartments. Compared to Hamilton's focus on its university, Delhi seemed on shaky ground. Even more seriously, India's sporting czars said that they would finance almost forty per cent of the then estimated cost of the Games from the sale of these flats. This looked decidedly risky. The flats could only be sold after the Games. If they were also supposed to pay for the Games, how would the Games be held in the first place? And what if the flats failed to yield the expected revenues? The Commonwealth Games Federation's (CGF) technical experts rightly saw this as a major financial risk. 


Delhi needed to win the bid so when the CGF's experts raised these questions, Delhi's organisers agreed to a major change. The plan to sell the flatsto finance part of the Games was subsequently amended to ensure that the budget would not be reliant on the sale of the accommodation. By October 2003, Delhi submitted a revised budget wherein the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) took over the risk and responsibility of the Village and the CGF Evaluation Commission reported that the "sale of residential apartments is not [any more] a risk to the Games budget". Basically, government agencies agreed to pay for the money that the flats' sale would have provided. 


One of the most disturbing but little-known stories of these Games is that at the same time, Delhi's organisers also promised that its Games Village would be turned into hostel accommodation for Delhi University after the Games. CGF documents are unambiguous that leading up to the crucial vote of Commonwealth countries in November 2003, when Delhi finally won the Games, it gave an undertaking that "post-Games the Village will provide hostel facility for the Delhi University". This was done, it seems, to make Delhi look as committed to education legacies as Hamilton looked with McMasterUniversity. 


India's sports managers championed this idea and the notion of the Village as a university hostel was prominently displayed in Delhi's revised bid documents. As the CGF noted, "The Games Village will provide an excellent hostel facility for the Delhi University and will remain available for residential use during hosting of future international events." 


This plan was published in cold print but once Delhi won the Games, that was the last that anyone heard of it. Delhi's Games masters had always intended on selling the real estate and the much needed DU hostel plan was given a quiet burial. Few knew of the commitment to Delhi University and there was virtually no public protest when it was cancelled. Instead of creating a student hostel for the overcrowded University, the organisers now focussed again on getting in a private builder to create ridiculously highpriced apartments that would be sold to well-off Indians after the Games. 


Marketing posters for the Village apartments in the past years have since proclaimed the Village as "the finest address in Delhi", one of the "finest concepts in luxury living" and one that will "set new standard in fine living". 


It is pertinent to ask what would have benefitted the city more: a student hostel or yet another gated enclave for the rich? The answer is obvious, even if we keep aside the question of DDA's subsequent Rs 766 crore bailout for the Village's private builder – when it ran into financial trouble – and the fierce environmental debate about the site's location. The U-turn on the student hostel is at the heart of a central question on whether the Games are intended to benefit the city as a whole or a tiny, elite minority. 


(Mehta's book 'Sellotape Legacy: Delhi and the Commonwealth Games', with Boria Majumdar, has just been published.)


******************************************************************************************BUSINESS STANDARD





We have come a long way from the "Great Panic of 2008", but there's a long road ahead to robust growth, confident consumer spending and lower unemployment. That was the essence of US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's speech at this year's Jackson Hole conference last week. It was a rather subdued Mr Bernanke who sought to reassure his audience, by all accounts. Confessing candidly that "central bankers alone cannot solve the world's problems", Mr Bernanke exuded guarded optimism about the sustainability of the on-going recovery in the US economy. He conceded that the recovery "appears somewhat less vigorous than we expected", and did not rule out the possibility of deflationary tendencies reasserting themselves. The thrust of Mr Bernanke's statement, which his critics have attacked as "Nero fiddling while Rome is burning", was to suggest that the good news from the US economy was not good enough. Based on the latest national income growth data for the US, released last week, US authorities have revised downward the annual estimated rate of growth from the more optimistic initial number of 2.4 per cent to a significantly lower 1.6 per cent in the quarter ending June 2010. Export growth is near zero, unemployment levels are high and consumer spending is still weak. "The prospect of high unemployment for a long period of time," said Mr Bernanke, "remains a central concern of policy."


Mr Bernanke's prognosis suggests that the spectre of double-dip recession continues to haunt US policy-makers. It is now clear that the economic slowdown the US faces is more structural than cyclical. This means there are limits to monetary policy, a fact that Mr Bernanke openly confessed even as he assured his audience that the US Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) would be open to using all the weapons in its monetary policy arsenal to stimulate growth, prevent deflation and ensure price stability. Ending his speech, Mr Bernanke said, rather chillingly, "Although what I have just described is, I believe, the most plausible outcome, macroeconomic projections are inherently uncertain, and the economy remains vulnerable to unexpected developments." That is more than a sobering thought. Are Mr Bernanke and his Jackson Hole companions being more cautious than necessary or more optimistic than warranted? Perhaps the Jackson Hole audience was trying to make up for past hubris or is afflicted by the paranoia of failed magicians. The problem for the US is that while monetary policy is unlikely to make much of a difference, there isn't much room for fiscal policy either, though the Barack Obama administration has done more than most developed country governments to use fiscal policy to stimulate demand. The US needs a boost of confidence in itself and investment in its capabilities.

 For Indian business, the takeaway from the Bernanke speech is twofold: one, given continuing concern with high unemployment at home, the US is unlikely to be any more accommodative on external trade policy. Shocks like the action on H1B visas will keep coming; two, India has the opportunity to help the US by being more open to commerce, if the US eases up on high technology export controls. Opening the door to import of US nuclear power equipment and defence supplies would be a good idea at this time, and will cheer the politically down President Obama. Can India be the US' friend in need? India's parliamentarians have not yet shown the capacity for such strategic thinking and the diplomacy of give and take.








China is once again in the news. Having overtaken Japan as the world's second-largest economy, it is flexing muscles. It chose to deny entry to an Indian army officer scheduled to participate in a bilateral dialogue because of his posting in Jammu and Kashmir, has reportedly taken control of parts of the state from Pakistan, and has seized maps of India from the Indian Pavillion at the Shanghai Expo because they show Arunachal Pradesh as part of India. There is method in China's madness. Keeping India off balance is an old Chinese game. Playing with India's highly emotional media and political class with its "blow hot, blow cold" tease is another. Winning friends in India's neighbourhood is a third. But to place China's latest acts of "assertiveness" in perspective, one must also draw attention to internal divisions within China as to how it should deal with the world, with Asia and with India. If in India there are as many views as there are people thinking about an issue, in China there are at least two views. When the less assertive political leaders are on top, China appears reasonable and friendly; when the more assertive Communist Party and People's Liberation Army leaders are on top, China appears menacing. With respect to India, there have been two underlying trends: first, the so-called "all weather friendship" with Pakistan; and, second, the willingness to hurt India every now and then to show who's the boss in Asia.


How should India respond? Coolly and calmly. Impotent rage is no substitute for potent action. India should never lose sight of the internal political dynamic within China and should keep all its lines of communication open with the more liberal and sensible Chinese. Finally, India must continue to focus on its own economic development and defence capability. Six decades ago, in November 1950, India's legendary home minister and "Iron Man" Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel wrote a letter of great foresight, vision and strategic thinking to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru outlining what India must do to meet the "China threat". Much of what Sardar Patel said remains relevant even now. Having shown the resolve to strengthen its own capability and defences, India must show the capacity to befriend as many other countries, especially major powers, as possible. That is precisely what China itself did. In seeking to deal with the challenge closer home, from the Soviet Union, China reached out to the United States, benefited economically from the relationship and helped the US win the Cold War. It is time India learnt a lesson or two from China on how to win friends in a multipolar world. It is, however, sadly amusing to see India's Parliament defending national sovereignty with words on a piece of paper, the week China is challenging it with deeds on the ground!









The brouhaha over the shabby manner in which the Government of India dealt with a file relating to an honour to be bestowed on chess grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand, at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Hyderabad last week, focused almost entirely on the inefficiency of Indian bureaucracy.


 Why should it have taken so much time for the ministry's consent to be sent to the hosts at Hyderabad; was the official concerned unaware of Mr Anand's citizenship, and such like questions have been debated. Government officials blamed the university for not doing the paperwork in time. The question of academic autonomy got lost in the cacophony that followed.


The problem may have been created by individual inefficiency or systemic inertia, but the material issue of why a university needs governmental approval for a professional decision has not received much attention.


Often well-meaning individuals in government become prisoners of the system. In an administrative culture where there is very little reward for risk-taking and initiative, where the culture of informal decision-making has been gradually replaced by obsessive formalism, where there is high reward for conformism and safety in rule-bound "proceduralism", such faux pas cost nothing, especially when an officer's chances for promotion and posting are rarely impacted by such foibles.


The question that I seek an answer to is why should any academic institution seek a ministry's vetting of a list of persons it wishes to honour? There are professional bodies that take a professional view and there is peer review of the choices made in awarding such honours. Why should any ministry or even the president of the republic have to vet such a list?


The official reply to that question is that under government rules the procedure for conferring a doctorate on a foreigner is different from that for Indian citizens! Why? Because the government wants to make sure that no educational institution confers such an honour on an anti-national person! Yes, that is the reply I got!


"Imagine", I was told by a responsible functionary of the government, "that some university decides to confer a doctorate on a terrorist, or a sympathiser of the Khalistanis."


The president and prime minister routinely give away awards and honours these days to all and sundry, from official platforms and private ones. Indeed, even when arms of the government object to certain individuals being so honoured, they are over-ruled for political reasons. The president of India was pleased to give a non-resident Indian, Sant Singh Chatwal, a Padma Bhushan. Mr Chatwal is not a Khalistani but the government's own Intelligence Bureau did not clear his name for even a Padma Shri the previous year. How ironic that in the same year that we had the dubious case of Mr Chatwal, we now have the curious case of Mr Anand.


While many have raised the question about the relevance of Mr Anand's nationality to the bestowing of an honour by a community of mathematicians and a university, what puzzles me is why the official concerned did not simply pick up his telephone and ask someone for the required information. Why does one have to "put up a file" and send out an official letter by snail mail for that information? In this day and age when information is available 24x7 with the help of the Internet, email and mobile phones, why should archaic government procedure be adopted even in such cases?

A google search would have helped. A phone call would have sufficed. To actually seek and secure a photocopy of Mr Anand's passport to establish the veracity of his citizenship was the height of bureaucratic insecurity and, paradoxically, arrogance. In a different era, a self-confident yet civilised official of the government would simply have called "a couple of chaps", perhaps a "batchmate" in Chennai, who could have made another phone call and the matter would have been resolved in minutes. That culture of informal communication is dying. Insecurity has bred distrust and fed "proceduralism".


When I started using sms as a means of communicating with the media during my tenure in the Prime Minister's Office, I was often warned by officials that this was not the "procedure" to follow. How can a prime ministerial statement be issued to the media via sms? The correct procedure that a risk-averse civil servant would have followed would have been to type out a press release and have it released, after due "notings" have been made up the ladder of risk aversion.


Again, like in the Chatwal case, when really important information on the movement of a file is needed, as for instance on the question of who issued orders enabling Warren Anderson of Union Carbide to leave India, we are now told that there is no paper trail in government files to show who said what to whom. For every file that is created on an issue like Mr Anand's nationality, tens of files on far more important and delicate issues are either misplaced or lost or stolen or just destroyed!


In this era of instant communication, it is truly incredible that it took an officer of the HRD ministry an entire month to find out the nationality of one of India's most celebrated sportspersons! And, to top it all, Mr Anand had to actually fax a photocopy of his passport to prove his claim! A "yes, I am Indian" on phone or via sms should have sufficed. But such trust-based governance is no longer on the menu. Everyone wants a piece of paper. Give it in writing, get it attested, by a notary, a gazette officer. There's no place for paperless governance in the land of 'proceduralism'. Paper tigers reign supreme.










Is China a Lehman multiplied, waiting to collapse? Hugh Hendry thinks so. Mr Hendry is a Scottish hedge fund manager in London who has become something of a celebrity for his unconventional and outspoken opinions. Mr Hendry is convinced that China is a growing property bubble, and claims the Chinese authorities are pumping money in to unnecessary construction projects to fuel growth.


For the last 30 years, China has maintained a growth rate of around 8 per cent. And the world has never quite seen anything like it. Since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 — a sort of coming-of-age display for the country — the international community has almost come to accept China to be the new superpower of the 21st century. But the last few years have also begun to show the first signs of cooling of the Chinese economy: an inevitable process for an economy beginning to mature.


 In a YouTube video, Mr Hendry has filmed himself in remote locations in front of the empty office buildings that he claims are indicators of a growing bubble. Yet this is not the only video evidence of unused construction projects in the country. An Al Jazeera report from November of last year covers "China's Empty City" in Ordos, Inner Mongolia. The new city in Ordos is a state-sponsored construction project that helps achieve growth targets, but creates little value. The most curious thing about the newly built city is that even though no one lives there and there is no local economy, every apartment complex has been sold out.


Though he may seem like an anomaly, Mr Hendry is not alone. In February, Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff predicted that a debt-fuelled bubble could cause a regional recession within the next 10 years (Bloomberg, February 24, 2010). It is estimated that China spent about a third of its 2008-2009 $586-billion stimulus package on construction and public infrastructure projects. James Chanos, the influential fund manager who predicted the fate of Enron, claims we are witnessing "an epic high-rise building boom in China" (Business Insider, April 14, 2010). He claims that these are New York City high-rises with prices to match, for a population that earns roughly a tenth of the US per capita income. Chanos dismisses the myth of a Chinese migration to cities, and claims that Chinese property has become a market for high-end speculators.


On August 2, in an interview on Bloomberg, Swiss investment analyst Marc Faber warned yet again that the Chinese economy might suffer a hard-landing within the next 12 months. On the eve of announcements of slowing manufacturing output, the author of the "Gloom Boom and Doom Report" expressed scepticism about lending combined with waning impact of the fiscal stimulus initiative. Yet, unlike Chanos, Faber is not wholly convinced of a crash. As the effects of the stimulus diminish, the Chinese government is likely to step in to ease growth. Additionally, it is plausible that a crash in certain markets may occur at the same time as other areas of the economy continue to expand. Still, like many others, Faber's greatest concern is lending practices. Apart from low interest rates, news of a slowing economy comes amid sporadic reports of corruption, pyramid schemes, and informal banking over the last two years. One of the difficulties for those on the outside is that the Chinese administration is able to manipulate the "reality" that we see.


There is, of course, another group of dissidents who believe China's problems are beyond economics. Some of these critics have views as extreme as Gordon Chang, whose sensational 2001 book, The Coming Collapse of China, foretold that accession to the WTO would expose the underlying weaknesses of the communist administration and ultimately cripple China. (Chang's book resembles the tone of the Y2K doomsday scenario, though perhaps with a bit more fury.) Since 2001, China has moved from strength to strength, and maintained its administration's historic reputation for all types of disaster management. Back in 1989, few thought the Communist Party would be able to recover after the events at Tiananmen Square. Even more recently, the international media seemed to have a lot to say about the protests in Tibet shortly before the 2008 Summer Games. Today it hardly seems like they ever occurred.


The Chinese economy has already showed signs of slowing down with the growth rate falling for the fifth straight month in July. In anticipation of overheating, the administration has already pulled back on lending. Still there are expectations that the government will step in later this year to help growth. Though it seems likely that China will be able to control this situation, the expectation itself of additional cash injections can be a dangerous thing. After all, expectations in the country have often gone wrong: China is already home to the world's largest shopping mall in Dongguan, which — apart from a few foreign fast-food chains — has lied 99 per cent empty since it was built in 2005.


Can China prove the sceptics wrong again? Ups and downs are part of the ride for growing economies. After a recession, recovery can come. But China's journey up the growth curve has been so fast that, many fear, the ride down could be equally nerve-racking. When bubbles burst, they do so with a pop.











Valuations are currently at a small premium to long-term averages, hence can't be termed as expensive. They are fair, factoring current corporate earnings as well as potential higher earnings in the future," Jayesh Gandhi, Morgan Stanley.


 "Investing in India makes sense as it will create long-term wealth for you," Nilesh Shah, ICICI Prudential AMC.


"It is our belief that three factors — a savings rate that is upwards of 30 per cent, strong domestic demand and a young population — would likely spur India's GDP growth over the next decade at a sustained level of 9 per cent, annually," Rashesh Shah, Chairman, Edelweiss Group.


Clearly, these stock market professionals quoted in The Economic Times are extremely bullish about the country. One question that has been persistently nagging me in recent weeks is: When will the reality of public institutions and governance start affecting the numbers? Can the two remain apart, indeed diverge ever more, forever? And, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that you cannot have too big a gap between the quantified economy and the qualitative reality behind it. Perhaps, it is already too big.


And the reality includes the ever-growing income inequality; extreme left agitations affecting an ever larger part of the nation; increasingly ineffective and ever more corrupt governance lately extending even to the judiciary; an environmental agenda and continued and endless delays over land acquisitions that threaten to put an end to all new industrial and infrastructure projects; the casteist divisions manifested in the khap panchayats' decisions to kill those committing the "crime" of inter-caste marriages; the caste-based reservations and quotas that are likely to be deepened by the census; the netas fighting a very vocal and unseemly battle to get their pay, allowances and perquisites increased. As for the last one, surely the public sector trade unions are salivating over the thought of how this would make their job easier in the next round of pay revision — how I wish for the days when I was the president of a very powerful trade union in India's largest bank!


Let's forget the numbers for a minute. So, given a choice, should one invest in such a country?


Perhaps the questions about governance start right at the top. Rightly or wrongly, one feels that our leaders should not only lead, but, like Caesar's wife, be seen to be leading. Generally speaking, our prime minister and the president of the ruling party have been silent on too many raging controversies and important problems. To give only two examples, Kashmir continues to burn and there is the ever-present threat of Islamic terrorism. Also, there are obvious discords between some of the party leaders and important ministers on how to tackle the threat of increasing Naxalite power, and some ministers publicly sympathise with their agenda. (From what I recall, the prime minister has made only one statement about Kashmir since the present agitation which is now well into its third month.) The Congress president has now revived her super-cabinet, the National Advisory Council, a body with increasing power over the social agenda and no responsibility for its implementation or fiscal consequences. In a way, the reticence of both the Congress party president and the prime minister to take on issues in public fora and try to mould opinion are understandable — both are poor public speakers, clearly a weakness in a democratic leader.

Perhaps the biggest weakness of our governance is the bureaucracy, the babus even more than the netas. The latest, and perhaps most bizarre, example is that of Vishwanathan Anand being asked to produce proof of his Indian citizenship for accepting an honorary degree from an Indian university, and that too by the babus in what is termed the Ministry of Human Resources Development! A parallel is the biased, right-wing minority questioning President Obama's birth in the US. But they, at least, have an ideological agenda; our bureaucracy does not, and in any case should not, have it. To be sure, the minister promptly apologised.


But, apart from the larger question of why Indian citizenship is needed for conferring an honorary degree and why the babus' approval is required, the fact remains that it is this bureaucracy on which our netas depend to carry out their social agenda; a bureaucracy that has become so lethargic, so inward-looking after decades of zero accountability even for acts of commission, let alone omission, that it has little left of anything beyond the wording of procedures. And why should it apply its mind to issues when every Pay Commission increases its salaries and allowances substantially regardless of productivity and performance?  








A lot has been written in the press lately about the Punjab government's decision to provide land to the Indian School of Business (ISB) for its second campus at Mohali. Some of the arguments and general angst about the absence of a national land use policy are valid. The argument that public land must be put to the best public use is also completely understandable. Let us, therefore, understand why governments allot land for educational use and why educational institutions need large tracts of land in urban areas.


The role of any enlightened state government today is to attract industry, capital and create employment, growth and prosperity in the state. Many state governments — Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Tamil Nadu in particular — are encouraging large employers to set up establishments in their states. These employers also need strong supporting infrastructure, like healthcare, education, entertainment to make their companies successful. Apart from attracting investments, governments have also begun to realise the social benefits of having high-quality educational institutions, since they act as a hub for attracting other talent-driven industries. That has been amply borne out by the ISB's campus at Gachibowli, Hyderabad.


 Twelve years ago when construction started on the Hyderabad campus, there was no industry within 5 km of the site. Today, about 100,000 professionals are employed on the one-mile stretch outside the campus. This, in turn, leads to a large amount of indirect employment in supporting services such as food, entertainment, schooling and medical care. Obviously, ISB is not directly responsible for this large job and societal wealth creation, but as with many educational centres across the world, the presence of a top-quality educational institution encourages many more companies to establish external economies. Boston, Stanford and Austin in the US, and Cambridge in the UK are examples of how great businesses have been built around educational institutions.


The Andhra Pradesh government has succeeded in attracting an Indian Institute of Information Technology, a new Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) and some private educational institutions to make Hyderabad a major education hub to support the growing industry. The Punjab government is keen to replicate the same virtuous cycle by encouraging the creation of the 300-acre Knowledge City, where it is planning to locate not just ISB, but also an Institute of Science, one for nano-technology and another one for biotech, presumably all on the same basis of land allocation. All these institutions will create enormous synergies and benefit local industry.


Why do educational institutions need low-cost land? First, to clarify, ISB is not a commercial institution. It is a not-for-profit organisation for which all contributions made by donors, whether individuals or corporations, are philanthropic in nature. Any surplus is ploughed back into the institution and not a single rupee is distributed to any of the donors as a return on their "investment". In that sense, ISB, like any other not-for-profit educational institution, is a "public purpose entity". ISB has been provided 70 acres (not 100) of land on long lease (and not outright sale) by the Punjab government. The terms of the lease agreement prohibit ISB from financially benefiting in any way from the use of the land other than for educational and research purposes. In fact, in the best sense of a public-private collaboration, the government has also achieved its investment objective with the donors and ISB investing '250 crore for the development of the Mohali campus in Punjab in the next year or so.


The other important factor is that ISB is not a pure teaching institution. It is a research-driven institution and all the research that its faculty does is available in the public domain, free of cost. It does not do any privately sponsored research. Providing high-quality research infrastructure (databases, software, research manpower) requires funds which cannot be generated through fee income alone. The sustainability of a research-focused institution that does not "sell" its research output would be in serious jeopardy if it also had to spend large sums of money on acquiring land in the first place. That is why a public-private partnership makes a lot of sense — with the government contributing the land and private donors the funds for building infrastructure and hiring high-quality faculty.


ISB's research is not conducted for solely for the benefit of industry. It has also started research projects on public sector leadership and different aspects of affordable innovation that directly benefit the poor — low-income housing, employability and skilling and microfinance. The Mohali campus will focus on four areas of national importance — health care, manufacturing, infrastructure and public policy.


That brings us to the last point about why today's educational campuses cannot be too far from the city hub. Attracting high-quality faculty (and students) requires an existing ecosystem in reasonably close proximity to provide access to industry. Strong industry-academia interaction is critical for building a thriving academic institution. Similarly, high-quality essential services such as schooling for children and medical care have to be provided to attract the best talent. If a campus is too far away, the institution will have to provide these facilities, diverting scarce funds to services that are not core to the provision of high-quality education.


Also, an educational institution's life-span does not cover years or decades but centuries. A hundred years from now, 70 acres may be limiting and the campus will certainly have high-rise buildings, amidst an urban cluster. Much before that, like other great universities that started as standalone institutions, the IITs, the IIMs and ISB may well become full-fledged universities covering multiple disciplines and programmes, catering to thousands of students. Every major university in the world is facing a severe shortage of space because the initial estimates of land were grossly inadequate.


Great institutions are not just about square feet of space, they are also about an ambience that encourages learning, and knowledge discovery. We need to be in an urban area, but a dense, urban cluster is not the most desired choice for such a great learning environment. Hence the need to create a "green, peaceful learning zone" near the city.


Ajit Rangnekar is dean, ISB and Savita Mahajan is associate dean, ISB and chief executive, ISB-Mohali









HOME minister P Chidambaram was spot-on when he focused attention on the danger posed to India's integrity by Hindu fundamentalist organisations that have taken to heart RSS guru Golwakar's thesis that non-Hindus can subsist in this country, at best, as second-class citizens. He chose the word saffron to describe this brand of home-grown terror. The BJP, a member of the brotherhood of organisations guided by the RSS, has sought to deflect the focus of public scrutiny on the damage their mother ideology is capable of wreaking, by latching on to the home minister's colour metaphor. It hurts the sentiments of the majority community, they claim. This might or might not be true, but it serves no useful purpose for anyone to get fixated on a particular descriptor if what that choice does is to take attention away from the thing described. Significantly, neither the BJP nor the Shiv Sena, which created a ruckus in Parliament over conjugating terror with saffron, had anything significant to say about the ideology of the Hindutva organisations that have been found to be involved in terrorist activities. It is possible to argue that these extremist organisations and their ideological font have done dishonour to the majority community by appropriating the colour favoured by its holy men for their own distinctly unholy purposes. But such debates would be useless. The focus has to be, and relentlessly, on the ideology that conflates religion with nationhood and seeks cleansing of the nation of those it excludes from nationhood. 


India is as yet a developing democracy where primordial custom and tradition hold greater weight, for many, than the laws created by Parliament. For the polity to evolve to a coherent concourse of citizens who consciously create and perform their rights and duties, both collective and individual, leaders must show commitment to the core values of democracy, even when these conflict with custom and tradition. To shirk that responsibility, for fear of risking power, comes naturally to the average Congressman. Average Congressmen should not become party leaders or spokesmen.








THE proposal to bring out an index of services production from early next year, so as to better estimate the output of a sector that accounts for over half the economy's aggregate output is welcome. However, estimating output and growth in services is problematic, for various definitional, methodological and practical reasons. Consider, for instance, production figures. While some segments in services require direct volume measures, others call for current-price turnover deflated by a suitable price index, and still others need the use of other proxies, such as employment numbers, to keep tab of output. Also, international experience in charting indices of services production has been patchy. The UK, for example, has had such an index for about a decade now, but until quite recently, the data series was complied on an experimental basis. Over time, it is inevitable that the share of industry in overall output should keep shrinking. To guide policy, the index of industrial production, our chief indicator at present of economic performance, would cease to serve as a ready index of how the bulk of economy fares. 


Yes, we do need an index of services production to provide a timely indicator of growth in the output of such key industries as banking and finance, tourism and transport, and media and communications. The index of services output, with its different weightages for the various industry segments, should be revised every five years to take into account relative changes in the domain. It is entirely possible that some segments would, relatively speaking, grow more than others, and hence the need to revise segmental weights on a regular basis. Meanwhile, for the index of industrial production, the government continues to base its estimates on 1993-94 as the base year. The different segmental weights, as also the range of goods being tracked, clearly need to be revised and brought up-todate, post-haste. In parallel, we need official index numbers for leading economic indicators, such as of purchases, to keep close tab of economic trends in the offing. Also called for is an index for lagging indicators, such as of redundancies, which typically change following a change of economic direction. Anyway, with the economy's size set to quadruple in the coming decade, an index of services output is an idea whose time has now come.







IF ENTIRE economies are back on a growth curve it is a no brainer that smaller entities would also round on new strategies to attract burgeoning buyers. That could explain why a carmaker would make a virtue out of a necessity and relaunch a classic model by aligning its rounded lines to the mantra that 'curves are back'. Or why planing off the rim of a cellphone — thus drawing attention to the 'curve' — makes good marketing ploy. But the latest 'discovery' by a denim jeans company is truly startling. After collating the vital statistics of some 60,000 women worldwide (not a very statistically significant number when juxtaposed against the approximate total of 3 billion women on this planet) they have concluded that women fit into four rounded categories and announced that they would recalibrate the age-old fits of their products accordingly. If this body of evidence is to be taken at face value, we would have to conclude that there has been a discernible anthropological progression in the past few years, marking a considerable speeding up of Darwinian forces. Having departed from the straight and narrow, there is no telling how this evolution will develop. 


But in hindsight, if art stands as evidence of the characteristics of even long vanished people, curves have always been around. Whether it is Roman or Grecian goddesses, Michelangelo or Rubens' languorous matrons, Khajuraho nymphs or Egyptian queens, Chola bronzes or Benin statuettes, curves have been generously ubiquitous. Only fashion forecasters periodically declare them outmoded if not outlawed, thereby causing a bulge in the sales of slimming products and services. Posterity demands that we become more honest about the shape of things to come instead of being swayed by illusory perceptions.







THE prime minister, in his Independence Day address said: "I am happy that the growth rate of our agriculture has increased substantially in the last few years. But we are still far from achieving our goal. We need to work harder so that we can increase the agricultural growth rate to 4% per annum". 

Is it possible? If so how? 

The production shortage of wheat in India in 2006 and the global food shortage in 2007 raised major concerns of food security and resulted in a series of initiatives in agriculture. The most prominent among them were the Rastriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and the National Food Security Mission (NFSM). While the RKVY is a 'flexible', district plan based, public investment scheme, NFSM targets selected districts for increased production of rice, wheat and pulses. RKVY allocations are also used to incentivise state governments for increased investments in agriculture. These programmes are doing well in many states while some potential ones are lagging behind. 


Are the present set of interventions adequate? Can there be a doable strategy and a road map? 

Most economists agree that demand for milk, edible oils, pulses, vegetables, fruits and eggs will grow at a rate much higher than that for cerealsand that there is adequate statistical evidence to show that per capita consumption of milk, eggs, vegetables, edible oils and fruits increased between 1993-94 and 2004-05. They feel higher purchasing power at 'the bottom of the pyramid' (service sector growth, higher farm prices, NREGA, etc) will further push up demand for these items (dal, roti, subzi as someone put it). These are important from a nutrition point of view as well. (25% of world's undernourished live in India)     The exact estimates of growth to meet this demand may vary from time to time, but let us take the oft-quoted numbers of 2.5% growth for cereals, 4% for pulses and oilseeds (if we take the current deficit in pulses and oilseeds, this could be much higher) and 6% for milk, eggs and vegetables. Almost all of this growth has to come from yield increases. Area expansion is not an option. 


What are the main constraints? Land will remain limited, may even shrink. Water will be a scarce resource in times to come. The first green revolution areas have limited potential to increase yields particularly of cereals. Seed replacement remains a concern. Varietal replacement is still lower. Transgenic technologies are limited but effective, but acceptability issues remain. Extension systems are weak. Private investment in agriculture is woefully inadequate. And our farmers, most often, do not get the benefit of best prices. 


While policy interventions at the macro-level vis-à-vis public investment have mostly been initiated, private investment is lacking, particularly in warehousing and storage; cold chain logistics; affordable high-yielding / hybrid/ transgenic seeds; pest and disease surveillance and control; agricultural machinery suitable for small farmers; extension services that deliver; and in reliable market information. 


The finance minister, in his two Budget speeches (Februry 2010, July 2009), had announced a slew of concessions for private investment in agriculture. In spite of these, we see the problem of inadequate storage space threatening even food security. Why is it that the industry is not investing in agrilogistics? Is it due to the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act or other regulations? 


INDIA'S achievement in the production of fruits and vegetables during the last 5-10 years has been impressive. In spite of these, there are problems of availability and high prices. We end up losing substantial volumes in 'transit'. The cost of these losses is borne by the farmer. In times of shortage, this gets passed on to the consumer. Even a cursory look at the way we handle, transport and sell perishables will expose the weaknesses in our handling systems. A casual visit to the Azadpur Mandi will prove my point. Should we protect and support inefficient systems for historical reasons? Is it not time that we take a big step forward and encourage large investments to come in this retail segment? 


The general perception about large investments in retail as investments in urban retail space must change. It is more about investments in backward linkages, better handling and storage, cold chain logistics, better seeds and extension methods, acceptable pest management practices, etc. Such investments could release the farmers from the low productivity, low technology trap and help enhance their incomes significantly while ensuring the availability of good quality fruits and vegetables through the season. 


Given the constraints of land and water, there is no way other than embracing the latest technologies to take care of our food security and nutrition needs. We must have an unambiguous policy on technologies and their adoption. Public research agencies, with active support from the private sector, need to take a proactive role and lead the country to the next levels of technology in agriculture.


While diversification has been a 'mantra' for sometime, the diversification strategy will now be determined by climate change adaptation. We need to be in readiness to assist the farmers change crops and practices (technology, seeds, pest management, etc) at short notice when climate variability occurs. 


There are vast regions in India that have the potential to grow more. Eastern India is the most quoted example.


There are other areas as well with potential. They may need to shift to different crops or methods of cultivation.


This can be done if we have a region specific strategy backed by appropriate plans technology and investments. 


The biggest challenge for the government will, however, be the timely delivery of quality inputs and services for the farmers. These are largely in the domain of the state governments. Access to markets is not being examined here. Suffice to say that the creation of a Unified National Market is urgent. 

To sum up, increased private investment, adoption of new and appropriate technologies and effectively addressing the delivery deficit hold the key. 


(The author is retired food & agriculture     secretary to government of India. 

Views are personal.)








OVER the past three years, we have studied how Indian companies and organisations innovate, often backed by the government… When we devised a framework to help other enterprises innovate along similar lines, we found that two variables merit analysis. One is, of course, the source of the technologies involved. They can be bought; adapted or synthesised in a fresh way; or built ab initio. The other key factor is the organisation's capabilities, by which we mean the competencies, knowledge, and skills that the company must apply in order to be successful. The two-way classification, we find, leads to three types of Gandhian innovation. 

Disrupting business models: 

Several Indian companies have used western technologies but created business models that have completely altered an industry's economics. For instance, IT-based software and service providers such as Satyam, Wipro, Infosys, TCS and HCL use off-the-shelf hardware, but they deploy new talent-based business models to be globally competitive... 


Modifying organisational capabilities: Other Indian companies have synthesised several technologies and, as a result, altered their capabilities such as design skills or speedy deployment of resources on a large scale... 


Creating or sourcing new capabilities: Indian entrepreneurs have focused not only on building disruptive business models and honing existing capabilities but also on creating or acquiring new capabilities to solve problems, which often requires technology development or a collaborative approach to obtaining technical expertise.






MAHINDRA and Mahindra (M&M) is not just an automotive company. The $7.1-billion group has diverse interests spanning financial services, trade and logistics, hospitality, defence systems, information technology and infrastructure sectors, though its focus continues to be on the automotive sector. Pawan Goenka, the president of automotive and farm equipment sectors, has set targets to make M&M a global leader in sports utility vehicles. With an R&D background, he started off as an engineer nearly 17 years ago with the group. He says his goal is to engineer new technology that is vital for M&M to attain global leadership. 


The company was among the first Indian entities to enter the automotive space in 1945, under the legendary Willys Jeep badge. It has cleared all hurdles to acquire South Korean SUV maker Ssangyong, after its successful acquisition of one of the world's largest electric carmakers, Reva, in May this year, and Punjab Tractors in 2008. 


Mr Goenka says that Ssangyong is a perfect match like Reva. "It is one of the largest SUV makers in the world and the acquisition makes perfect business proposition for us," he said. The Indian multinational, with a headcount of over 1,00,000 people across the globe, has been on the prowl to acquire automotive companies on the block. It was close to acquiring British marque brands Jaguar and Land Rover, but finally lost to Tata Motors. The company, however, added bikes and scooters to its portfolio with the acquisition of Kinetic Motors in 2009. 


"We are looking at enhancing our portfolio with sound acquisitions. It gives us access to technology and volumes that are essential to remain a market leader and leapfrog into the next level of corporate excellence," Mr Goenka said. 


M&M, that is working on the concept of emerging as an Indian MNC, maintains a war-chest of a billion dollars for acquisition. "We are always on the lookout to find a suitable fit into our operations. The companies we acquire should bring value and make financial prudence," said Goenka. 


A doctorate in mechanical engineering from Cornell University, New York, Pawan Goenka has steered the company since 2005. M&M started developing alternative fuel vehicles and was the first indigenous carmaker to develop micro-hybrid vehicles in India. It now wants to make an array of electric cars that are expected to revolutionise urban transport. 


The company plans to launch a dozen new products over the next two years ranging from bikes, scooters to light trucks and multi-axle mega trucks with its jointventure partner Navistar of US. It will also foray into the bus segment next year to have a complete range of logistic solutions for a fast-growing economy like India. 

Though the company's domestic operations have been smooth so far, its global aspirations have been marked by some disputes and legal battles. Its foray into the US market has been marked by controversies leading to legal tussle with its overseas marketing partner Global Vehicles that slapped a lawsuit over multiple delays on its pickup truck launch in the US market. 


"The matter is sub judice. All I can say is that our plan to launch the vehicles in US is on track and the entry is scheduled by the year-end," he said. 


However, the company's other overseas ventures that include a host of assembly and manufacturing facilities for its utility vehicles have been hassle-free. It operates a semi-knocked-down (SKD) facility in Uruguay to manufacture its Bolero pickup trucks sold under the local brand name of Cimarron and also assembles its Scorpio SUV and the same pick-up range in Brazil. 


But for tractors, M&M has a global ambition and is on course to emerge as the largest player in terms of units sold and operates multiple entities worldwide. 


Its wholly-owned subsidiary — Mahindra USA (MUSA) — has three assembly plants in Texas, Georgia and California that make compact and utility tractors for the local market. The company also operates two joint-venture facilities in China. 


"We are on course as per our plan to get the requisite volumes and increase our market share in the world. Tractors are like time-machines for us and should be our first segment to make us true global leaders," said Mr Goenka.






VARIOUS recent studies point to a puzzle. Despite rising incomes, there has been a sustained decline in per capita calorie intake. In an important contribution, A Deaton and J Dreze ('Food and Nutrition in India: Facts and Interpretations', Economic and Political Weekly, XLIV (7), 2009) offer a detailed analysis of the decline in calorie intake in 1983-2004. 


Average calorie consumption was about 10% lower in rural areas in 2004-05 than in 1983. The proportionate decline was larger among the more affluent sections of the population. In urban areas, there was a slight change in average calorie intake over this period. 


The decline of per capita consumption is not confined to calories. It also applies to proteins and other nutrients, with the exception of fats whose consumption increased.


As incomes rose over this period, these declines are puzzling. A more contentious view offered by these economists is that the latter are not attributable to changes in relative prices as an aggregate measure of the price of food — treated synonymous with the price of calories —changed little during the period in question. So the puzzle is essentially this: per capita calorie consumption is lower at a given level of per capita household expenditure, across the expenditure scale, at low levels of per capita expenditure as well as high. In other words, there is a steady downward shift of the calorie Engel curve (in which calories are plotted against per capita expenditure). 


They are emphatic that the downward shift of this curve is due to lower calorie requirements, associated mainly with better health and lower activity levels. As the evidence offered is fragmentary and patchy, this explanation is largely conjectural. 


Our study (Gaiha R, R Jha and Vani S Kulkarni, 2010, 'Demand for Nutrients in India, 1993-2004', Canberra: Australia South Asia Research Centre, Australian National University, mimeo) throws more light on the decline in calorie intake and the explanation offered but over a shorter period (i.e. 1993-2004). 


Our explanation is embedded in a standard demand theory framework, with food prices and monthly per capita expenditure (in 2004 prices) cast in a pivotal role. A presumption is that people make informed food choices, based on flavour, packaging, variety and, of course, nutritional content. In that case, it is meaningful to talk about calorie, protein and other nutrient demand functions. Food prices influence choice of commodities directly through own-price effects as well as through substitutions induced by cross-price effects. 


Controlling for these effects, expenditure (as a proxy for income) generally has a positive effect on the demand for a food commodity unless it is an inferior good. Our analysis also allows for changes in food demand elasticities with respect to prices and expenditure (i.e. proportionate change in food demand /proportionate change in its price) over time. 


Finally, we are able to capture the combined effect of changes such as health improvements and less strenuous activity patterns over time, among others. 


So when we refer to changes in calorie demand, these subsume changes in consumption of food commodities due to changes in their prices, expenditure and other (unrelated) factors. 
Our analysis shows significant negative price effects of cereals such as rice and wheat on calorie demand. These effects, however, weakened during 1993-2004. Prices of vegetables also affected calorie demand negatively but the effect was larger (in absolute value) over time. So the important point is that higher the food prices lower the calorie demand. 


Expenditure had a large positive effect on calorie demand —-a 1% increase in per capita expenditure results in a 0.39% increase in calorie demand. Besides, other factors (health improvements, and less strenuous activity patterns, among others) contributed substantially to reduction in calorie demand, as conjectured by Deaton and Dreze (2009). 
    So, while this conjecture is not rejected, it is complementary to our demand-based explanation. 
    During 1993-2004, while per capita expenditure stagnated, food prices rose sharply (e.g. cereal prices by about 58%, and vegetables' prices by close to 100%). Juxtaposing these facts with the food price and expenditure elasticities, it follows that while stagnation of expenditure left calorie demand unchanged, higher food prices reduced it. Lower calorie requirements for reasons stated earlier also contributed to a lower intake but in combination with a lower demand. 


Does it really matter why calorie intake fell? In our view, it does, as the policy implications differ vastly. The case for interventions designed to stabilise food prices and expand livelihood opportunities in rural areas is reinforced despite a deafening but misguided chorus that nutritional deprivation is exaggerated or does not matter much. 


(Raghav Gaiha is at MIT/University of Delhi,     Raghbendra Jha is at Australian National 
University, and Vani S Kulkarni is     at Yale University)

The steady decline in per capita calorie intake is increasingly seen as a natural, non-worrisome result of development 

It is not just calorie intake that is coming down, but also the intake of all nutrients other than fat, it should be noted 

Rising food prices result in non-voluntary reduction in calorie intake and that calls for a policy response, not neglect







HAVING comprehended the application of the concept of 'victory over oneself' to one's own particular case, the intelligent aspirant would, through analysis and synthesis of issues particular and peculiar to himself, evolve a pathway that would guide him toward his desired objectives. This also is the working of the concept, 'Know Thyself', providing answers to that searching spiritual question within, Quo Vadis(Whither goest thou?). 

'Victory over oneself' would, thus, assume different contours for different types of persons. While an aspirant focusing on detaching himself from worldlypleasures and mundane pursuits would include in his regimen strict dietary control, spartan habits and frugal living, another seeker, who is down to earth and mundane, would have other priorities. Though he would be regulated in his sensual pleasures and intake of food, he would not abstain from right and healthful enjoyment of life's offerings. In fact, he would use these as launching pads to spiritual progress too, because, in many ways, true and fulfilling enjoyment not only contributes to physical, mental and spiritual health, but also ensures freedom from craving for these, once one "has his fill". 


There would also be other earnest spiritual seekers, who would be involved with outdoor activities such as sports, social work, event management, etc. There would be some who are essentially introverted too, loving to spend time in quiet company, reading or introspection. Each person, when inspired by that wish power (iccha sakthi) within, would be able to chart a path that would particularly and eminently suit him. 


The intelligent seeker would also know how to dilute certain unhealthy reactions, that are otherwise instinctive in him. A volatile person would, through observation and practice, be able to manage his outbursts well. Similarly, one who is too prosaic, staid and cool would comprehend that not reacting well need not necessarily mean that he has attained victory over himself and that often dynamic, quick, timely and energetic actions are also compatible with control, regulation and clarity in thinking and acting. 


Understanding the different aspects concerning this issue is the process of divining the signpost on where and how to begin. The race to one's real learning, would, then, well and truly, have begun!






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Rahul Gandhi's assurance to the tribals of Orissa's Niyamgiri hills might have been just a small step for him, but it was a giant step for the nation's tribal population which has been valiantly resisting displacement in the name of development. It has opened the floodgates for a relook at several other development projects where millions are in danger of being displaced, and Mr Gandhi has earned accolades from several NGOs for bringing this issue into sharp focus. It will also strengthen the hands of India's "green" politician-crusader — minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh — who sometimes appears to be fighting a lone battle against the displacement of tribals and degradation of the environment. Certain parties have dismissed Mr Gandhi's claim to be the "sipahi" of Niyamgiri's tribals as mere politics, but some NGOs see this as a sign that he might be following in the footsteps of his grandmother Indira Gandhi. There are scores of other tribal-dominated areas across India crying desperately for help. The Polavaram Dam in Andhra Pradesh, bordering Orissa, will completely submerge 12 villages in Orissa and about one lakh persons in over 200 villages where two-thirds of the population belong to the Koya tribe. Around 48 huge dams are proposed to be started in the Northeast in the coming decade, which will not only cause a massive displacement of tribals but also considerable destruction of the region's biodiversity, on which their livelihood depends. Between 1947 and 2000, around 60 million people are estimated to have lost their means of livelihood in the name of development — of which a significant 40 per cent are tribal people — constituting just 8.6 per cent of India's population. This is an unduly high percentage — which only serves to drive home how various governments have betrayed tribals ever since Independence, particularly in the nine states where they are dominant. The Fifth Schedule of our Constitution offers India's tribals special protection, with the governors of the states in question being charged with ensuring this, but in many cases they have abandoned their responsibilities. Only in rare cases has the government taken the side of the tribals to ensure implementation of the law, but more often than not the police is used to coerce tribals into giving up their land. Cases of sexual harassment, molestation and even rape of tribal women have been recorded at Lohandiguda in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region, and evidence of this was even submitted to the National Human Rights Commission. But the NHRC, after sitting on the matter for a while, bounced it back into the court of the state's director-general of police, where of course it fizzled out. Is it any wonder then that the Naxal/Maoist rebellion is gathering strength in this area? A number of projects in this belt and in Dantewada were cleared without fulfilling the provisions of protective legislation, and in complete disregard of the Special Protection to Tribals Scheduled Areas Act 1996, under which every new development which alienates forest land needs the consent of gram sabhas. If the government is really serious about ensuring the protection of the tribals, it must take direct and more effective steps to implement this landmark legislation.








My views on salary of the members of Parliament are not likely to be popular. Over the last few days, the electronic media has relentlessly flashed stories regarding the proposed hike of salaries and allowances of MPs. Most of the coverage has been brutally critical and in many instances, cynical and pejorative as well. MPs have been portrayed as, and demonised as, some kind of predatory, utterly shameless, ruthless mercenary louts who do not have a single thought in their head apart from the worst kind of rapacious looting from every available source.


The leaders who openly advocated the raise in MPs' salary, like Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav, have been pilloried and ridiculed. The parliamentary committee which went into the question and made the recommendations has also been criticised. The loudest argument has been that legislators should not have the power to decide their own salaries. That, in fact, is the only argument against the proposed hike in salaries and allowances of MPs. In my view, all other arguments against the proposed hike have been born out of prejudice and misconception.


An objective look at the facts would reveal a great deal and also correct slightly the distortion which is created in the mind of a viewer when TV headlines scream that MPs want to vote themselves a 300 per cent salary increase when people are suffering from inflation. That MPs live in sprawling two-acre bungalows in Lutyens' Delhi, which in themselves are worth many lakhs by way of monthly rent. That they have free airfare as do their spouses. They have 30,000 free phone calls. They are paid `1,000 a day as sitting fees in Parliament although they never actually sit in Parliament.


Well, all the above is actually true. The reality lies in the manner in which the issue is considered and whether it is considered in a rational manner, free of prejudice, which obviously is well nigh impossible when the subject of discussion is the universally-hated politician. My submission is that the media and public perception of this issue is seriously distorted by prejudice and is, by no means, a balanced consideration of the facts on hand. Admittedly, politicians have themselves almost single-handedly been responsible for the lack of public respect for them and the normally jaundiced perception of the average citizen. It also needs to be straightaway conceded that there are several politicians and MPs who have manipulated the system, misused their official position, been guilty of corrupt practices and totally betrayed not just the trust placed in them by their constituents, but also the oath of office they themselves swore by when they assumed office.


Notwithstanding all the above, the fact remains that an MP represents roughly 15 lakh Indians. He or she is elected after a gruelling election and intense travel over a huge constituency, the geographical spread and population of which is unmatched anywhere else in the world. Thereafter the MP is at the beck and call of each and every constituent, has to answer calls, reply to their letters, incur expenses on postage and address their legitimate concerns. He has to travel the length and breadth of the constituency, and also back and forth from Delhi to constituency, and, insofar as my own constituency/home own Chennai is concerned, it is not only one of the longest domestic air journeys in the country but also among the most expensive.


In addition, Lok Sabha MPs in particular even run up huge bills serving just tea and snacks to their constituents. The other duties of an MP are too varied and diverse to enumerate here but even the most basic functioning of an MP requires tremendous expenditure.


Those who assume that MPs do no work only display their ignorance and prejudice in addition to insulting the intelligence of the Indian electorate. No elected MP can hope to remain in office if he does not fulfil the demands of the constituency, whether they range from building bridges and roads, factories and houses, getting jobs for unemployed youth or ensuring proper medical and education facilities in their constituencies. With our budget and resources being scarce, every MP has to fight tooth and nail to address the development of his or her constituency.


Contrary to public perception, MPs do not spend their time in the lawns of Lutyens' Delhi dancing with the peacocks. They only come to Delhi when Parliament is in session and only ministers and a few fortunate MPs live in bungalows. Most MPs live in old, leaky crumbling flats in North and South Avenues, depending upon the temperamental CPWD to carry out repairs. Some of us live in more modern flats but nevertheless still flats since we can hardly live in dorm rooms in Parliament House.


Bureaucrats who have passed one examination at the age of 25 and who never again face public scrutiny until retirement live in large houses in Lutyens' Delhi and get paid `80,000 per month. All their travel is free and they also get staff at the office and at home. Their pension and benefits have been linked by various Pay Commissions which too have been set up and manned by other bureaucrats to be on par, not just with the cost of the living index, but to more than amply cover their comfortable retirement. That is, retirement for those bureaucrats who have not snagged post-retirement jobs in foreign companies or the private sector. In fact, most IAS officers who retired a few years ago receive more by way of pension today than the emoluments they received at the peak of their career.


It is, therefore, perfectly reasonable for MPs who are above the bureaucrats in terms of rank and precedence and

who work as hard as any bureaucrat, if not harder (politicians certainly don't get weekends off or go on LTC paid leave every year), to ask for a salary which is at least equal to the salary of a bureaucrat. The demand is honest and should be viewed without prejudice. If nothing else, the salary hike will at least enable honest MPs who do not possess illegal funds to carry out their duties more efficiently. The truth of the matter is that almost all MPs believe that the salary hike is justified and necessary. The Left parties who oppose it have the option to return their own salaries to the government and ask that the funds be used elsewhere.


Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.
The views expressed in thiscolumn are her own.







Washington, Aug. 29: Scientists have suggested that an antibacterial enzyme found in human tears and other body fluids could be applied to certain foods for protection against intentional contamination with anthrax.


"Data from this study could be used in developing safer foods for human consumption," said Dr Saeed A. Khan of the National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson, Ark.


"The data from our study shows that lysozyme application has the potential to eliminate anthrax producing bacteria in processed foods."


Dr Khan and colleagues knew from almost a century of lysozyme research that the enzyme kills certain bacteria. It does so by destroying bacteria cell walls, the rigid outer shell that provides a protective coating.


Found in many body fluids, lysozyme sometimes is called "the body's own antibiotic." Scientists reported the finding at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).








The Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF), which came into existence with an anti-Congress agenda, was one of the most sought-after political parties of the state because of its anti-Congress stand and strong hold on Muslim voters. But one masterstroke of Congress ministers put party leaders into an embarrassing situation and even the Opposition has started having second thoughts about its proposed tieup with perfume-baron-turned-politician Badruddin Ajmal.


It all started in Mumbai where Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi is recuperating after his bypass surgery at Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai. Most leaders and ministers were camping there on the day Mr Gogoi went for surgery. As Assam ministers Himanta Biswa Sarma and Rockybul Hussain — two of Mr Gogoi's most trusted lieutenants — were also present, Mr Ajmal, who controls most of his businesses from Mumbai, called on the two ministers in an act of courtesy.


What transpired at the meeting is not known, but the Assamese media was flooded with the story of the meeting.


When the ministers returned to Guwahati, the local media flashed the "breaking story" of a tacit post-election understanding between Mr Sarma and Mr Ajmal to join hands.


It is not known who confirmed these stories to the local media, but clarifications by the AUDF have failed to convince even their party workers. Now the party workers have claimed they would not hesitate to split the party if it goes with the Congress.


Rahul: An intern in politics


For his admirers who think he should be crowned immediately as Prime Minister of India, this piece of information may shock them. AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi is still not ready for the job. Perhaps he wants to prolong his internship in grassroots politics before taking over the top job.


While addressing a large gathering of tribals and Congress workers at Jagannathpur in Kalahandi district Mr Gandhi said: "I'm your sipahi (soldier) in Delhi. I will raise your voice there and make sure it is duly heard by the UPA government. Our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is leading us from the front." His frenzied supporters were left disappointed.


Those who were spiritedly shouting "Rahulji desh ke bhavisya ka pradhan mantri hai (Rahulji is the future Prime Minister of India)" at the top of their voices immediately cooled down.


"Chhod yaar, voh abhi tak iske liye tayyar nahin hai (Leave it, he is not yet ready for the PM's post). "Nara badlo aur bolo 'Rahulji zindabad, Manmohan Singh zindabad' (Let's change the slogan and praise both Rahul and Manmohan Singh)" commanded the leader of the supporters' group.


Designation, dignity and duty


When the security staff at a five-star hotel in Kolkata urged West Bengal health minister Sujya Kanta Mishra to undergo the routine security drill which also involved frisking, he thought this was below his dignity.


Dr Mishra, who arrived at the hotel to attend a meeting with Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, first told the security staff of his identity, but when even this throwing-his-weight-around did not work, the minister threw a fit.


He angrily declared he was not interested in the meeting. Mr Azad was informed, and he rushed to the gate and managed to placate the angry minister. Senior police officers descended on the hotel and pulled up the security staff for showing disrespect to the minister. They were made to apologise. One hears the state home secretary has sought an explanation from the hotel. But no one appreciated that the poor security personnel were only doing their job.


Rakhi in Rajasthan


The festival of Rakhi is celebrated with much fervour and joy in Rajasthan but political observers were focused on something else.


In the first session of the House, chief minister Ashok Gehlot had termed former chief minister Vasundhara Raje as his behen (sister). And even at meetings and press conferences, Mr Gehlot repeatedly addressed Ms Raje as his sister.


On Raksha Bandhan, political analysts were avidly watching if Mr Gehlot would meet his "behen" on this auspicious occasion. But he did not visit his "sister's" house nor did she visit her "brother" to tie a rakhi.


In Rajasthan, respect and affection between the chief minister and the Leader of the Opposition has been a tradition. When Mr Gehlot was chief minister between 1999-2003, he had very good relations with the late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. This now appears to be vanishing.


Insensitive ministers


BJP president Nitin Gadkari went out of his way to express full confidence in the performance of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan at a press conference last Thursday, at the end of a two-day training camp for BJP MLAs in Bhopal. The party chief's pat for Mr Chouhan came when a journalist asked why the CM was not acting against "non-performing" ministers or those facing charges of corruption.


Mr Gadkari responded by saying that the chief minister has never been wanting on this count. It is an entirely

different matter that deliberations at the training camp also revolved around ministers who had distanced themselves from the public and had started living in ivory towers.


A senior BJP functionary told this newspaper that they are obviously worried about facing the electorate in the next elections as there was nothing to stop ministers who had become insensitive to the public cause and were serving their own vested interests in collusion with a "pliable bureaucracy".








Terminally ill patients on life support should have the right to die if they want to, Germany's highest civil court said recently in a landmark ruling on assisted suicide, reports Reuter. After years of debate over euthanasia, the Federal Court of Justice ruled that those caring for the patient should cut off life support if the patient willed it.


Cheers broke out in the courtroom in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe when judges read out the decision, which legal experts and doctors hailed as a watershed ruling.


Intellectually we all understand the importance of letting a person with terminal illness die peacefully, but our moral values wouldn't let us do it. Particularly if the person concerned is our near and a dear one. In the medically-advanced age it has become a serious concern of many. Patients on their deathbeds can be kept alive on ventilators and other machines but they live as vegetables.


It requires great courage and a scientific approach to look at this problem objectively. Choosing to die should not be confused with suicide though, for those who want to commit suicide are emotional people. In a fit of depression or due to an emotional turmoil, they end their life recklessly.


Osho has always supported "the right to die" as one of the basic human rights. He contends that euthanasia, or the freedom to choose your death, should be accepted as a birthright of every human being. He suggests to make the process of dying a beautiful spiritual experience, the crescendo of life.


Here are some of his suggestions:


* Every hospital should have a place for dying people, and those who have chosen to die should be given special consideration and help. Their death should be beautiful.


* Every hospital should have a teacher of meditation. The person who is going to die should be given one month for the preparation, and if he changes his mind he can go back, because nobody is forcing him.


* Euthanasia will be carried out with the permission of the medical board. One month's rest in the hospital — every kind of help that can be given to the person to become calm and quiet... all friends coming to meet him, his wife, his children, because he is going on a long journey.


* And he should be taught meditation in this one month, so that he can practise meditation while death comes.


Why has euthanasia suddenly become the hot topic? The reason is very interesting. It has almost become the need of the hour.


To quote Osho, "With medical science progressing people are living longer. Scientists have not come across any skeleton from 5,000 years ago of a person who was more than 40-years-old when he died. Five thousand years ago the longest a person was going to live was 40, and out of 10 children born nine were going to die within two years — only one would survive — so life was immensely valuable.


"And Hippocrates gave the oath to the medical profession that you have to help life in every case. He was not aware, he was not a seer. He had not the insight to see that a day could come when out of 10 children, all 10 would survive."


Now, it can be argued that there is a risk of misusing this right, but this risk lies in every new experiment. We do not discard them because of it. We would rather find a positive solution to it.


— Amrit Sadhana is in the management

team of Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune. She facilitates meditation workshops around the country and abroad.







When U.S. President Barack Obama was seeking the White House, he criticised Republicans for not doing enough on Darfur and insisted that he would make Sudan a priority.


"What we have done has not been enough", he told me in a 2006 interview when I was guest host for a "Charlie Rose" segment on Sudan. He added that Washington needed "a sustained diplomatic effort to put pressure on Sudan".


Yet these days, Mr Obama is presiding over an incoherent, contradictory and apparently failing Sudan policy. There is a growing risk that Sudan will be the site of the world's bloodiest war in 2011, and perhaps a new round of genocide as well. This isn't America's fault, but neither are we using all of our leverage to avert it.


Granted, Mr Obama has a multitude of other priorities. Granted, Sudan is a mess with no perfect solutions. Nobody expects Mr Obama to devote much time to Sudan. But the problem isn't that the administration is too busy to devise a policy toward Sudan but that it has a half-dozen policies, mostly at cross-purposes.


As first reported by foreign policy, competing recommendations on Sudan are on Mr Obama's desk, reflecting dissent within the administration. One recommendation, from secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Mr Obama's envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, apparently focuses on continued carrots and engagement. The other, calling for a tougher approach, comes from the American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who has by far the longest experience dealing with Sudan.


Some 68 organisations have sent a joint letter to Mr Obama, calling on him to work more energetically to prevent another round of war in Sudan. But so far he has been unengaged, and his administration has been less successful than the last Bush administration in getting Sudan to alter its behaviour.


The upshot: Sudan's on-and-off north-south civil war could resume soon. How bad could it be? Well, the last iteration of that war lasted about 20 years and killed some two million people. Mr Obama's former head of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, warned this year that the place facing the greatest risk of genocide or mass killing is southern Sudan.


Regular readers know I was not a fan of President George W. Bush. But one of his signal accomplishments, against all odds, was a 2005 peace agreement that ended the last round of that war. That agreement provided for a referendum next January in which southern Sudan can choose secession.


Southern Sudanese are expected to vote overwhelmingly to secede. But the region has most of the nation's oil, and the north is determined not to lose the oil wells driving the nation's economy.


The Obama administration has tried a carrots-rather-than-sticks approach to Sudan, and it has been right to engage Khartoum. It restored the issuance of American visas in Sudan, and at first this engagement led to some successes. For example, some aid groups that had been expelled from Darfur were allowed to return in a different form. And for a time, Darfur became calmer.


But in recent months Sudan has been hardening its positions, perhaps because it sees that it pays no price for misbehaviour (and also because it sees that there are limits to the rewards it will receive for improved behaviour). Sudan has cracked down on dissidents and journalists, steamrolled over an election, and for the last few weeks has restricted humanitarian access to Kalma, a huge camp of Darfuris. It has also curbed the ability of United Nations peacekeepers to protect themselves or others.


Most ominously, Sudan's government has been stalling in preparations for the referendum in the south, and it may have been channelling weapons to disgruntled factions there. No one expects restraint from President of Sudan Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is facing charges of genocide from the International Criminal Court.


For all his faults, President Bush inherited a war in Sudan and managed to turn it into peace. Mr Obama inherited a peace that could turn into the world's bloodiest war next year.


The Obama administration has just dispatched a talented former ambassador, Princeton Lyman, to lead a team on the ground in Sudan. That's useful, but Washington could do much more. It could support United Nations peacekeepers, and it could work at the highest level with China, Britain, Egypt and others to avoid a new war. A useful step would be to put vice-president Joseph Biden in charge for at least the next six months.


The United Nations General Assembly also needs to take up Sudan when it meets next month. That will be the last chance for high-level involvement before the referendum.


There are plenty of bogus reasons for criticising Mr Obama's foreign policy, but this is a legitimate one. And in

a place like Sudan, American diplomatic malpractice could lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths.









THERE is yet no reaction from Sheikh Hasina, but unmistakable is the grave embarrassment for a Prime Minister who seemed to be confidently on course to effect a break with the stormy history of Bangladesh. The Seventh Amendment of 1986 has been declared illegal by the country's High Court. That travesty of the Constitution had legitimised the assumption to power of Ershad, then army chief. Politically, the ruling cannot but hurt the image of the present dispensation. Crucially because Ershad's Jatiya Party is a member of the Grand Alliance government, headed by Hasina's Awami League. The Bench has ruled that "Ershad cannot avoid liability as being a usurper."  Strange things can happen in politics; strange things always do. If the judiciary's abrogation of the Fifth Amendment was a shot in the arm for the seemingly secular credentials of the Awami government, the same cannot be said about the subtext of Thursday's ruling. The Prime Minister may consciously be supping with a usurper. 

Given the record of instability in Bangladesh since the assassination of Sheikh Mujib, further bouts of martial law cannot actually be ruled out. And the 35th anniversary of that tragedy is critical for two reasons. It has witnessed the constitutional renewal of "secularism" though, one must add, short of a ban on Islamist parties. And the Prime Minister seems agreeable to the dichotomy. 

The second aspect is inherent in the ruling that has indicted Ershad's spurious dispensation. Theoretically, it ought to have a profound impact on the political evolution and the military's proclivity to take over at the slightest indication of  instability.  In the context of the ruling, martial law is virtually illegal. "We (the Bench) are putting on record our total disapproval of martial law. The perpetrators of such illegalities should also be suitably punished. Let us bid farewell to all kinds of extra-constitutional adventure forever." There is, however, no stringent safeguard against the remote control mechanism that allows the army to call the shots behind a civilian facade. The interim government, prior to the elections, is a glaring example. For now, the judiciary has sent out a pregnant message to the political class as much as to the cantonment. 



THE Prime Minister's go-ahead for an anti-insurgency training school in West Bengal comes horribly late in the day. And still more tragically after the serial killings of security forces in West Midnapore, despite the fact that the Maoists have also succumbed to the CRPF's counter-mobilisation as recently as June. Training is a continual process and the decision to call the hubs "temporary" points to a short-term strategy, one that appears to have been formalised after Kishenji's acceptance of the President's offer to head for the negotiating table. It has been officially clarified that the training hubs will be in place as long as "the insurgents in their areas are active". That must remain an open question. The contours suggest that these centres will be ad hoc units, operating from the local police station. Only Kanker in Chhattisgarh boasts a full-fledged training establishment, headed by a retired army officer. 

The training programme is much too critical for another bout of ad hocism; it would be dangerous if the programme is a half-baked arrangement.  The killings, notably in Dantewada and Silda, suggest that there has been a mortal deficit both in terms of training and equipment of the securitymen, let alone the positioning of forces. It is generally acknowledged by the police brass that the Maoists are equipped with weapons as sophisticated as those in the hands of the central paramilitary forces. Ignorance of the terrain and still more crucially the strategies of jungle warfare have been central to the setbacks suffered by the security forces, whether in Junglemahal or elsewhere. Any training programme must cover these critical facets.
Above all, there needs to be a refresher course on coordination between the paramilitary and the state police. As a matter of Mr P. Chidambaram's policy, the Central forces operate as a back-up unit. There was, for example, little or no coordination in Silda and Dantewada. The Maoist may require no training to strike; he is enterprising enough both to procure the arms and use them. Yet the security forces urgently need their skills  to be suitably honed. This is one of the fundamental differences between the Left radicals and the State.



FROM the disingenuous to the deadly. And West Bengal's forest department has reaffirmed its insensitivity to death. Tragedy has struck a wonderful and harmless creature a fortnight after the department decided to shift 70 deer from the cramped Alipore Zoo to the Sundarbans, there to serve as food for the hungry tiger. The callous negligence is breathtaking, almost criminal.  Six deer, part of a herd of 25, died of suffocation while being transported to the Sundarbans in aid of the regal species.


The diagnosis advanced by the Chief Conservator of Forests is a testament to the disgraceful failure of the department that he heads. Three possible factors have been cited ~ suffocation caused by heat and humidity; heart failure that could be the result either of a bumpy ride or the truck's attempt to manoeuvre when it got stuck in the slush. The animals could well have been offloaded when the vehicle was negotiating through the slush. If deer are "faint-hearted", as the Chief Conservator imagines, the forest department is as daft as it is cruel. Heartless indeed has been the forest secretary's reported reaction: "The incident is not very serious."  
Short of a post mortem, the speculative cant is damaging enough. It tends to obfuscate the fundamental fact ~ the six deer were killed by human, nay governmental negligence and overwhelming ignorance of wild life relocation. The animals were cramped inside wooden boxes, with barely a slit for the oxygen to enter. Just as the relocation plan is daft, the manner of transportation has been decidedly cruel.  The deer have died in transit; the rest of the 70 are scheduled to be killed by tigers... almost as a matter of official policy.  Every rule in the book on wild life protection and conservation has wilfully been violated. And the forest department must be held directly responsible for the death of the deer in transit.









MOST academics will agree that the education sector cries out for examination reforms. This urgent need cuts across the three levels of learning ~ elementary, secondary and higher education. The nature and scope of education across the world is changing more rapidly than our systems can handle. Examination reforms can enable both educators and learners to keep pace with the changes. 

Surprising as it may sound, our examination system has effectively moved very little since the days of the British. Overall, the model is much the same. The trend towards speculation over the probable questions persists. To that is added learning by rote and verbatim reproduction in the answer papers. Our examinations are more of a formality that marks the completion of an educational course rather than proper evaluation. Since our educational system revolves around the term-end examinations, a reform of the examinations can also help shape the curriculum.

A section of the educators condemn examinations as an outdated, even alien, concept to evaluate a pupil's actual progress in terms of learning. Some of them have even gone to the extent of calling for an end to the system.
Abolishing examinations to relieve the perceived burden on students is a utopian idea, one that is based on a dangerously shallow understanding of the concept of evaluation. If examinations have indeed become a burden, it is because they are no longer integral to the educational process. An exam is a convenient formality. 
The present system of examinations is based on certain mutually convenient, even unholy, processes for teachers, question paper-setters, examinees and examiners. Each of these processes have become ends in themselves rather than means to an end.

This is clear from the conduct of examinations. For example, the critical act of setting questions is generally governed by the golden rule of precedence, precisely ignoring questions of the previous examination, and going by the "alternate year formula". This helps examinees to anticipate, often correctly, the questions for their examination. As a result, the candidates can afford to ignore a large chunk of the syllabi and yet get away with a good score. 

Very few examining bodies take the trouble of setting well-defined evaluation parameters. More often than not, the whims of the examiner dictate the awarding of marks. As a result, evaluation standards can vary. Many teachers refuse to believe that examining answer scripts is a natural process of education.
 They even consider the evaluation of scripts as an unnecessary burden. Many of them, when coerced into examining scripts, do their work in a perfunctory manner, commit mistakes and, in consequence, harm the prospects of examinees. 

Another critical area that calls for reflection is the increasing tendency to replace marks with grades. In an age of increasing competition, where most examinations have become effective elimination exercises, doing away with marks is not only farcical but decidedly absurd. Also, the co-existence of marks and grades in a single marksheet is neither here nor there. Grades become practically immaterial once marks are mentioned alongside. 
Almost all Education Commissions in independent India, beginning with the University Education Commission of 1948-49, chaired by Dr S Radhakrishnan, have emphasised the critical role that examinations can play in the educational system. And the need to accord them their due share of importance. However, precious little has been done in this segment apart from certain cosmetic changes in the types of questions.

During the last six decades, examinations have generally been reduced to routine activity to be carried out mechanically rather than an exercise in education that has to be executed creatively. 

Educational research institutions in the country have been doing commendable work on the modus operandi of overhauling the examination system. They have advanced  credible and practicable standards of curriculum administration, examination and evaluation in accordance with Indian conditions. However, their ideas have remained on paper, almost entirely ignored. Policy-planners have chosen their own methods, based on a half-baked grasp over  the nature and functions of the examination system in the overall educational construct. 

It is amazing that the critical aspect of examinations receives the least emphasis in any move to overhaul our education system. Quite often the syllabi is updated with refreshing frequency, albeit with eclectic chopping and random selection.

But little or nothing is done to ensure that the loopholes of the examination system are plugged. The often-heard Quixotic call to do away with examinations illustrates the extent of intellectual bankruptcy of our policy-makers.  Many of those who formulate our educational policies are proponents of the boardroom brand of politics with little exposure to ground-level educational realities. In their reckoning, an examination is an unnecessary evil and should be done away with. But the ground situation demands an overhaul of the examination system so that it becomes a meaningful exercise in evaluation rather than an end in itself.







Recently, there was a difference of opinion between two regulators: Securities and Exchange Board of India and Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority. The dispute arose out of Sebi's ban on mutual funds giving commissions to salesmen and deducting them from the money the funds received from investors. As a result of this practice, investors in mutual funds saw an immediate deduction of 1-1½ per cent in their investment before they earned any return. In Sebi's view, this was unjust to investors; if mutual funds wanted to reward their sales agents, they should have done so out of their own income, not out of their investors' capital. However, insurance companies, whose investment schemes were only nominally different from those of mutual funds, refused to obey the ban, and so got an unfair advantage over mutual funds. Their grounds were that they had their own regulator, namely Irda, and did not have to obey Sebi.


The dispute went to the finance ministry. It appointed a new regulator called Financial Stability and Development Council, an ideal one from the bureaucrats' point of view. It will do nothing beyond settling boundary disputes between products of different financial sectors; but it will give considerable employment to retired and rejected bureaucrats. The ministry did not refer the Sebi-Irda dispute to this new regulator, but resolved it itself; it allowed insurance companies to sell unit-linked insurance policies, which are really units, just like those of the mutual funds regulated by Sebi, with a trivial element of insurance added. In other words, it simply ignored Sebi's reasons for banning agents' commissions.


Those who have watched the untidy resolution of this quarrel between two regulators would be reminded of another one. Employers beyond a certain size are required to contribute money to a provident fund for their employees as well as to deduct a similar amount from their wages, and to hand it over to an employees' provident fund; this provident fund invests only in cash and in fixed-interest instruments of the government and its offshoots. The finance ministry set up a so-called new voluntary pension scheme in 2004 for those not covered by the government's other schemes; 15 per cent of the funds collected under this scheme is invested in equity, which gives much higher returns if measured over a long enough period. The finance ministry has repeatedly tried to persuade the labour ministry to permit similar investment in equity out of the employees' provident fund, but has failed every time; the labour ministry thinks that it is the guardian of employees' funds, which should not be subjected to the capital risks of equity. The purpose of pointing to these two festering inter-ministerial disputes is not to make a judgment about who is right and who is wrong, but to point out how completely the system of cabinet government has failed to address inter-ministerial disputes.








The news is as bad for children as it is for women. Crimes against women and children have increased quite sharply since last year. National Crime Records Bureau estimates show that crimes against children, including murder, rape and abduction have risen by 7.6 per cent. Kidnapping alone has grown by 30 per cent. The Centre has asked all states to set up a special desk in each police station that will deal exclusively with crimes against women and children. This is a logical enough response. There is no dearth of laws for the protection of women, although that does not seem to deter violence against them. But it seems sensible to try and ensure that women's complaints are recorded and investigated properly.


But child-specific laws are inadequate and often vague. For example, while there are penalties for custodial rape, minor marriage and child labour, there is no law against child abuse, sexual or otherwise. Perhaps to compensate for the nation's indifference to the rights and happiness of its children, the women and child development ministry has asked that the police be sensitized with regard to crimes against children, register first information reports quickly, investigate and ready chargesheets within three months, while counselling the child and reassuring the family. It is good to aim for an ideal world. But special desks or cells to help women are not unknown, and the police have been 'sensitized' many times. Women are still insulted and turned away, even when they have a complaint of rape. Maybe the police do not have the resources to follow up these crimes — there are either too many of them or they are unimportant. Will children be considered more valuable? Will Nithari never happen again?








Will it be taken amiss if a few quiet suggestions are proffered towards the direction of the Left, that is, the organized Left? As the country is relentlessly pushed to the furthest frontiers of unabashed capitalism, income inequalities will go on widening grotesquely alongside growing immiserization of some sections at the margin of society. There is need for a coherent and determined Left stripped for action to fight this trend. The Left is of late, however, behaving as if it has lost its coordinates, and tending to give inordinate importance to relatively less relevant issues. Much of this is tantamount to betrayal of the middle and working classes. It should be time for the Left to do some earnest stock-taking.


The current preoccupation — almost obsession — of the Left is with the rally organized earlier this month by the Union railway minister at Lalgarh in the Maoist-infested terrains of West Bengal. The following points are being stressed: (i) the railway minister promised the rally would be non-political, but it turned out to be a full-scale political assemblage with speakers spewing venom against the Left and particularly against the Communist Party of India (Marxist); (ii) in organizing the rally, the lady had the active collaboration of an organization widely known to be a mass front for the Maoists: some of its members are, according to the Central Bureau of Investigation, directly involved in the conspiracy leading to the Gyaneshwari Express disaster. The prime minister must explain how a member of the Union cabinet could keep such nefarious company; (iii) the railway minister expressed at the rally her strong disapproval of the manner in which the Maoist leader, Azad, was killed in a supposed encounter with the Central Reserve Police Force, an encounter which had received the imprimatur of approval from the ministry of home affairs. Her statement was a gross infringement of the principle of collective responsibility in a cabinet-type of government; the prime minister must once again inform the nation what he proposes to do about it.


Let the charges be put under the scanner. The railway minister's advance statement that she was organizing a non-political rally in the Maoist belt was itself a non sequitur. She is a political animal and whatever she does is ipso facto bound to have a political import. The Left will only be proving its own naiveté if it goes to town complaining loudly about the rally being unabashedly political. It was bound to be so.


The second and third charges both concern the concept of collective responsibility of the government. It appears somewhat incongruous for the Left to worry about what does or does not constitute the immaculateness of the British parliamentary system. Of course, the railway minister could not care less about collective responsibility. Architects of the United Progressive Alliance are fully aware of this fact. They can, however, do nothing about it. Staying in power is more important than observance of the rituals of grammar. The party put together by the formidable lady is numerically the second largest constituent of the UPA, which cannot do without its support. The UPA has therefore to bear with her tantrums. The prime minister no doubt is embarrassed by the lady's excesses, but he has to lump it. This is not the only discomfiture visiting him and the Congress in recent weeks. They have been embarrassed by revelations of how the Union Carbide chief was, a quarter of a century ago, helped by the then Congress regimes at the Centre to escape from the country. They have been discomfited by the unravelling of a slew of instances of corruption that have marked the arrangements for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. Embarrassment, though, is not a fatal disease: it does not lead to loss of office, at least not in the immediate period — and the next Lok Sabha polls are almost four years away.


Debating points may be scored by cornering the prime minister over the antics of his colleague. That will nonetheless not change the face of objective reality. Without question, from the point of view of the railway minister, the rally at Lalgarh was a huge success. The state administration had clamped an order under Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code, prohibiting public meetings in the Lalgarh area. The railway minister contemptuously flouted that order; the state government could do nothing. Of vastly greater significance, she can now elicit the sympathy of the adivasi masses by harping on a single theme: they, the adivasis, are for long victims of poverty and deprivation, they had tried to organize protests against this state of affairs, the Maoists took advantage of the situation, there was tension in their neighbourhood, all that the Left has done is to despatch to the area the forces of law and order who have persecuted innocent peace-loving villagers and forest-dwellers. On the other hand, here she is, coming to them almost as a princess of peace, carrying the message of succour, calm and tranquillity. Nor does she demand — quite unlike the CPI(M) — that they first surrender their arms before they come for discussions; she merely asks them to enter a commitment not to indulge in violence and murders.


Why draw blinkers over the eyes, the rally has fetched the lady a major bonus. She might have been, directly or indirectly, offered a helping hand by the Maoists to organize the rally, but she will protest that the organization described as a Maoist outfit has not been declared illegal, so what was wrong if its supporters came to her rally, even Left sympathizers were welcome. In any event, her agenda is far different from that of the Maoists. All she wants is an opportunity to penetrate into the districts in West Bengal densely populated by adivasis and over which the Left had till the other day held sway. The CPI(M) has retreated from most of the area. She badly wants to fill the vacuum and the rally has provided her the opportunity to do so, further enhancing the prospect of her thumping victory in next year's assembly elections. Once installed in power in the state, she will duly take care of the Maoist nuisance. That is her agenda, she must have primly informed the prime minister and the chairperson of the UPA. All the outward indicators suggest they are only too happy to go along with this grand design.


Why shy away from facing other facts too? Even as the Left Front government allowed the panchayats to degenerate into a seedbed of corruption and, at the same time, their feudalistic style of functioning grievously affected the CPI(M)'s communion with the people, the plight of the adivasis actually worsened in the Lalgarh area. At least a large number amongst them felt that they were getting a raw deal from the system. They were easy prey to the Maoists, who embarked on a programme of indiscriminate killing of CPI(M) cadres and sympathizers to ensure that all competition was eliminated.


It was a difficult situation. But what prevented the Left from trying to retrieve lost ground by mobilizing thousands of dedicated cadres, full of integrity and laden with empathy for the tribal cause, to cross over to Lalgarh from the other parts of the state? Their only weaponry could have been humility. They could have beseeched forgiveness for the past blunders of the Front and appealed to the adivasis to give the organized Left, who had been in the past with them through thick and thin, a second chance. The Maoists, who operate only in small groups, would surely have been somewhat nonplussed by such an approach, and forced to review their tactics.


The Left, given its organizational strength in the state, had the opportunity to swamp the Lalgarh area by mammoth peace brigades calling for justice, harmony and understanding. Instead, its government cried uncle and begged the Centre to send, post-haste, more and more paramilitary personnel. Pursuit of this hackneyed bureaucratic policy of pacification-first-reconciliation-later only ensured the further alienation of the adivasi masses.


Look at the absurdity of the goings-on. The administration is more or less dysfunctional, the security forces have taken over as surrogate, organizing football matches and magic shows for the supposed edification of the village folk. But the police and paramilitary personnel are usually identified with torture and extortion, elements never to be trusted. Those who have despatched them run the danger of further increasing their distance from the people. The sworn enemies of the Left would take full advantage of the situation.

It is never too late. The Left can still — as it has done on the issue of forced land acquisition for industrialization under private auspices — reappraise its Lalgarh policy. It needs to do that to avert a total alienation from the tribal masses and not muff the opportunity of saving them from the clutches of species posing as their emancipators.







The 2006 decision by the United States of America to send Ethiopian troops into Somalia was one of the stupidest moves in a very stupid decade. Recently, some of the chickens spawned by it came home to roost.


Last week, the al-Shabab militia launched a 'massive war' against African Union peacekeepers, most of them Ugandan, protecting the so-called government of Somalia. However, all it actually governs is a few dozen blocks in Mogadishu, and its members are a group of Somali warlords and clan leaders who proclaimed themselves the "Transitional Federal Government" in 2004.


Six 'members of parliament' were among the 40 killed when an al-Shabab suicide squad stormed a hotel in Mogadishu; but there will be no by-elections to replace them. They were never elected in the first place. The TFG made no progress in reuniting the country. Its surviving members sit surrounded by al-Shabab fighters who control most of the sprawling capital.


Southern Somalia has been trapped in a civil war since the last real government collapsed in 1991, but the current round of killing was triggered when the US invited Ethiopia to invade Somalia in 2006. This was a bit high-handed, especially since Ethiopia is Somalia's traditional enemy, but Washington's aim was to destroy the Islamic courts in Somalia.


The TFG failed to restore order in Somalia, but the Islamic Courts Union took a different approach. Its roots were in the merchant class in Mogadishu that simply wanted a safer environment to do business in. It understood that Islam was the only common ground on which all of the country's fissiparous clans and militias might be brought together.


The Islamic courts, applying sharia, were instruments by which society would gradually be brought back under the rule of law. For a while, it worked amazingly well. Peace zones spread through southern Somalia, the epicentre of the unrest; trade and employment revived. A made-in-Somalia solution emerged from the chaos.


More violence


Inevitably, younger supporters of the Islamic courts movement enjoyed ranting in public about the virtues of al Qaida, the wickedness of Americans, and matters they knew little of. Every popular movement has a radical youth wing that specializes in saying stupidly provocative things. It is the job of the adults, inside and outside the organization, to contain the excesses, and not to panic.


Alas, the US panicked, or at least its intelligence agencies did. The mere word, 'Islamic', set off alarm bells in the Bush administration. Washington concluded that the ICU, Somalia's best hope of escaping perpetual civil war, must be removed. Since the TFG was not up to the task, Washington asked Ethiopia, Somalia's old enemy, to provide the necessary troops. A divided Somalia was clearly in Ethiopia's long-term strategic interest, so why not? Especially since the US financed the whole operation.


Ethiopian troops invaded in 2006 and the ICU was destroyed, leaving the field clear for the movement's radical youth wing, al-Shabab. Attacks on both the TFG and the Ethiopians multiplied, and civil war and chaos returned. After two years, the Ethiopians, having wrecked any prospect of peace in Somalia, went back home.


Since late 2008, only African Union troops have kept alive the fiction of a Somali government friendly to the US. But al-Shabab is now trying to overrun the last patch of Somali territory still held by the TFG. The northern half of former Somalia is already at peace and will remain so. Southern Somalia will have to endure more years of violence because the US never understood that the ICU could be its ally in stabilizing Somalia. But nothing particularly bad will happen to anyone except the Somalis, so that's all right





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





The directive of the Securities and Exchange Board of India to media companies to disclose details of their 'private treaties' on their websites will hopefully curb the ill-effects of a wrong and deleterious journalistic practice which has gained currency in recent times. SEBI has also mandated that media houses should disclose in news reports their stakes in the companies that are written about. Private treaty arrangements are actually more a management practice that has impacted journalism than a journalistic idea. They are agreements under which a media house picks up a stake in a company and in return provides media coverage, obviously favourable, to that company through advertisements, news reports and the like. Media companies gain from the financial stake they acquire and from the company's advertisements; the company benefits from the media coverage it gets.

The investor in the company and the reader or the viewer are the losers because they may get wrong or misleading information about the companies. SEBI has taken the step because the investor is entitled to full financial disclosure and information about the activities of the companies he is investing in. It has noted that commercial considerations, resulting from the operation of private treaties, can lead to biased and motivated reporting which is not in the interest of investors and the financial markets. But the issue is not just of financial propriety but of journalistic ethics too. The conflict of interest created by the management's interest in the company being reported about can result in warped and biased reporting. The objectivity and independence of the media are lost in the process. SEBI had taken up the issue of private treaties with the Press Council of India, which is a quasi-judicial media watch dog. The Press Council has accepted SEBI's proposals but it has no real power to enforce them. SEBI is better placed in that respect as it has powers to check the conduct of companies listed in the stock market.

The private treaty arrangement is similar to the paid news phenomenon seen during the last elections whereby candidates got coverage in return for monetary consideration. The paid news practice was seen only during elections. But private treaties are more deleterious because they have become a permanent feature of the business model of many media companies. By blurring the distinction between news and advertisements and promoting private over public interest, they shortchange the reader and the viewer.









Although Sino-Indian relations have improved in recent decades, relations remain mercurial, ever-sensitive to spats over seemingly small issues. A row has erupted over the Chinese government's refusal of a visa to the chief of the Indian Army's Northern Command Lt Gen B S Jaiswal. In a tit-for-tat response, India has refused visas to a Chinese colonel and two captains who were to participate in courses here. Delhi has reportedly put on hold all defence exchanges with China, including a company-level army exercise and the annual defence dialogue.

While it is Beijing's prerogative to decide whether or not to give an Indian a visa, the issue is not just about visas. The underlying reason for its rejection of Gen Jaiswal's visa is mischievous and reason for concern. As head of the army's northern command, Gen Jaiswal is incharge of J&K. Pakistan's claims over Kashmir and the state's alleged disputed status appears to have prompted China to turn down his visa. Some years ago, Beijing had refused to issue a visa to an official from Arunachal Pradesh, as it does not recognise the state as an integral part of India. As a close ally of Pakistan, China is supporting Islamabad's position by denying Jaiswal a visa. Over the past year, Beijing has been stapling visas to passports of residents of Kashmir, not stamping them as it does with other Indians. By not stamping the visa on the passport, China is suggesting that it does not want to endorse their Indian citizenship. For years, China did a careful balancing act in crafting its position on Kashmir, even endorsing on occasion India's position. During the Kargil conflict for instance, China called on Pakistan to pull back its troops from the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC), signaling in the process that it endorsed the sanctity of the LoC as the de facto border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir. By treating J&K residents differently and denying a visa to Lt Gen Jaiswal, Beijing is indicating that it is now questioning J&K's status as a part of India.

Delhi must clarify to the Chinese that its latest position on Kashmir is unacceptable to India. Normalisation of relations hinges on Beijing understanding India's concerns. After all, India has been generous in its accommodation of Chinese concerns in Tibet. If trade and other co-operation should increase, it must be based on mutual respect and sensitivity for each other's security and other concerns.







'A substantial section of the elite achieves fiscal immor-tality through the deathless alchemy of bribery.'


The controversy over the MP's pay and emoluments is misplaced. We should lead a campaign to increase the salaries of MPs, but only if we can find a way of reducing their income.

The nation should not be irritated by a few thousand rupees more in legal pay for MPs. It should be worried stiff about the crores that they make unofficially. Mortals live off a salary; MPs live on their collection.

Corruption is not limited to MPs of course. A substantial section of the elite achieves fiscal immortality through the deathless alchemy of bribery. MPs, however, have a peculiar problem that becomes a suo moto excuse for greed. Even those who are averse to bribes, or those who live frugally, need a supplementary source of hard cash, since there is a total mismatch between the compulsory costs of a complicated job and official compensation. Did you ever meet any MP who looked as if he was feeding his family, educating his children, entertaining constituents, paying for at least two homes, all on a salary of Rs 12,000? Sure, there are millions of free phone calls and hundreds of paid flights, but phone companies have not yet devised a process by which calls can substitute for lunch. The salary is a thong, not a three-piece suit. It helps them claim that they are dressed. They make up the difference between pay and lifestyle costs by accepting donations.

The theory behind low salaries was that MPs did public service, and therefore should not be a burden on the public exchequer. Such idealism quickly degenerated into hypocrisy.

There are exceptions. A handful of MPs, generally but not exclusively of the leftist persuasion, live within their limited means, using party resources for their political expenses. But the only MPs who can afford to fold their hands instead of stretching their palms are professionals, like lawyers, who make a multiple of their peer salary in less than a mornings work. Given our system, perhaps the only way a legislator can remain beyond the law is by being a lawyer or an accountant with a lawyer's account. The rest are condemned to polite, if inventive, forms of beggary. The system works on omerta, the code of silence. Strict adherence is essential, since the code is unwritten. When a club member breaks the silence, as Mayawati did by paying tax on at least some of such donations, there is withering unease.

Our antipathy towards politicians leads us into partial error; anger at the individual may have its uses, but the true problem is the malodorous system that sustains our democracy. The private wealth available to party leaders is astonishing; what they spend, while exorbitant enough, is a small percentage of the monies available to them. There has been no serious attempt to find a solution because it is virtually impossible to legislate against a functioning fiction.

The astronomical cost of elections has moved democracy into an unreal dimension, as distant from Election Commission rules as possible. Every commissioner knows that the expense statement provided by the candidate is an utter fraud, but signs on it nevertheless: if you punish 543 elected MPs the only presence left in the august chamber will be the lonely ghost of Mahatma Gandhi. Figures differ; a candidates expense in a parliamentary constituency can vary from Rs 2 crore to Rs 25 crore. And if you are buying votes on a wholesale basis, as has begun to happen in some southern states, then Rs 25 crore is what you put on the table before the first gambit.

The source of election funding becomes a regular resource for the elected MP. There are two reasons why two thirds of our MPs are crorepatis: according to numbers floating on the internet, 315 out of 543. The regular resource is one of them. The second, and more dangerous, is that elections are becoming a rich man's game. Those outside the charmed circle are totally intimidated by the minimum requirement; and if they cannot raise that much, they cannot be credible candidates in any case. You cannot be elected without the support of the poor, but the Lok Sabha is no longer a place for the poor. It is unsurprising that the average worth of an MP has risen from around Rs 1.86 crore to Rs 5.33 crore.

What does it matter, then, whether an MP gets Rs 12,000 or Rs 60,000? At the top of this elite institution is the super elite of leaders, some of whom use private planes far more often than regular airlines. They don't even bother to use the free airline tickets at their disposal.

No salary can ever pay for the lifestyle to which an Indian politician has become accustomed. The need is high enough, and when you top it up with greed, the upper limit of the cash inflow becomes a measure of individual, or ministerial, ability.

Heaven knows if we shall see any reform, but we can start with a refurbishment. We can remove the nations avowed motto, truth shall win, from parliament.

On a more sombre note: what will be the outcome of such incomes?








The US lacks the domestic industry to make many of the things that it currently buys from China.


Among the many points of tension between the United States and China, perhaps the single greatest one concerns exchange rates. For more than a decade, Beijing has kept the value of the renminbi, also known as the yuan, more or less constant to the dollar, a strategy that critics say increases the price of American exports to China and fuels the rapidly growing trade deficit with Beijing.

Despite its decision to let the yuan rise 21 per cent against the dollar between 2005 and 2008, China has remained a favourite target of Congress. Democrats and Republicans have consistently called for punitive action against China unless it completely de-links the two currencies.

Lost in the noise, however, is the question of whether de-linkage would actually have any effect on the trade deficit. On this, the US' 40-year history of pressuring Japan to let the yen appreciate against the dollar is instructive. It indicates that de-linking the yuan would make barely a dent in America's trade deficit. Luckily, this history also points to a different, more effective way for the US to benefit from China's economic growth.

The Japanese story 

The Japanese story began in August 1971 when, with the American economy under strong inflationary pressure, President Richard Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard, letting its value fall.

At the same time, with our trade and current-account balances going from surplus to deficit because of rapid export growth in Germany and Japan, Nixon began pushing the other industrialised countries to allow their currencies to appreciate. With Japan — whose yen was fixed at 360 to the dollar — Nixon played hardball, temporarily imposing a 10-per cent surcharge on imports and banning soybean exports to the country.

The strategy worked. That December Japan and nine other countries agreed to let their currencies fluctuate against the dollar within a narrow range of exchange rates. The yen shot up to 315 by the end of the month.

Still our trade deficit with Japan continued to grow. At the end of 1970 it stood at $1.2 billion; by the end of 1972, with the yen at 302 to the dollar, it was $4.1 billion.

Thanks to changes in the global economy, the multilateral currency agreement soon failed, and this allowed the value of the yen to continue rising. By 2006 it stood at 119 to the dollar and yet the deficit hit an all-time high of $90 billion.

Whatever effect yen revaluation might have had was outweighed by two far more potent forces: American consumers' insatiable demand for Japanese products and Japanese producers' ability to cut their costs and stay competitive. There is no reason to believe that things would be any different with Chinese goods today.

The problem is that the US lacks the domestic industry to make many of the things we currently buy from China. Fortunately, there are other ways to deal with our trade deficit with Beijing. For one, America could substantially increase its exports, a goal embraced by the Obama administration's National Export Initiative, which calls for doubling American exports in five years.

This initiative focuses on the 99 per cent of American companies that do business exclusively within the domestic market. Many of them are in sectors where our technology leads the world — like biomedical and clean-tech products. Many of these companies are too small to move into the global market on their own, but with federal support they could significantly raise American exports.

For maximum effectiveness, President Obama should pair his export initiative with a push for China and other countries to increase their direct investment in the US. Here again, our history with Japan is instructive.

As Japan's surplus with America ballooned during the 1970s and '80s, its companies began building factories and making other substantial investments in the US as a hedge against protectionist measures — after all, tariffs wouldn't apply to products made by Japanese companies here. This was a boon for the American economy: through 2007, Japan had invested almost $260 billion, supporting more than 6,00,000 jobs.

Chinese companies should be persuaded to do the same today. American purchases of Chinese goods have helped create vast pools of Chinese capital, and we should do all we can to bring that money back home.

Fighting China over the yuan is a losing battle. There are better ways to use the global economy, and China's rapid growth, to put money into the pockets of American workers.







I suspect the stray dogs would object vehemently to being called such.


Certain individuals have taken up residence in my neighbourhood. One can see them trotting along the roads, on the pavements, and they are happy go lucky, cheerful and quite lively. When night falls, I hear them sing together in unison, an unharmonious discord of many voices that is, despite its raucousness, strangely soothing.

Did I forget to mention that these individuals run around on four legs, have muzzles and tails?

My neighbourhood is host to many stray dogs, and I strongly suspect they would object vehemently to being called such, for they seem well settled and very comfortable. When the moon rises and the silver light beams down on the quiet houses, illumining the night, these dogs sing, open throated and full of delightful enthusiasm. The voice of one dog in particular stands out, for his voice is distinct from the rest. This little dog, brown with a white band round his neck, is a young, proud, majestic fellow. His head is held high always, and his gait is light and graceful.

Yet he doesn't howl or yowl, this dog. In unison with his gang, during full moon nights, this dog opens his jaws wide… and squeals. I listen for his voice above the rest, for unlike the other dogs, this stray is unique. His voice is laden with what he perhaps truly believes is melody, for he is confident in his ability to sing. It is comforting, his voice and squeaky howl, and ever since I heard his voice the first time, my family and I dubbed him the 'eee dog.' At night, when he begins his concert, I think to myself, "there's the eee dog's voice."

In the daytime, the eee dog runs around the neighbourhood, chasing fat cows into fields and annoying them no end. Occasionally, I see him peering into my garden and at my own dog, his wide brown eyes filled with sympathetic contempt, as if to say, "poor, poor domesticated beast." No doubt these two will not get along.

At the fall of twilight, the eee dog roams around with his gang of dog — friends, and is occasionally spotted with a large and elegant black dog that looks remarkably like a wolf in shadow. And very recently, someone gave the eee dog a collar too, and he is a well fed, charming fellow, not overly handsome, but exceptionally cute.

His exploits through the day are a delight to watch, and his flamboyant singing at night refreshing. For here is the joy of life personified in a stray.




EDITORIAL from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman's, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, The New York Times, China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, Jakarta Post, The Moscow Times, The Bottom Line and more only on EDITORIAL.



Project By



a trust – of the people by the people for the people

An Organisation for Rastriya Abhyudaya

(Registered under Registration Act 1908 in Gorakhpur, Regis No – 142- 07/12/2007)

Central Office: Basement, H-136, Shiv Durga Vihar, Lakkarpur, Faridabad – 121009

Cell: - 0091-93131-03060

Email –,

Registered Office: Rajendra Nagar (East), Near Bhagwati Chowk, Lachchipur

Gorakhnath Road, Gorakhpur – 273 015 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.