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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

EDITORIAL 01.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 01, edition 000614, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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








  2. AYODHYA 2010
















  1. STEP IN



























By withdrawing the Bill to suitably amend the law governing enemy property and thus take such property out of the ambit of judicial scrutiny, the Union Government has lent credibility to the view that it is under tremendous pressure from communal forces. It may be recalled that the courts had ruled in favour of property seized by the Government under the Enemy Property Act of 1968 to be restored, unencumbered, to the scion of the Mehmoodabad royal family. It was a regrettable ruling that flew in the face of both the letter and spirit of the law, prompting the Union Government to issue an Ordinance to render the judgement ineffective. That Ordinance was supposed to have been replaced with an Act of Parliament through an amendment Bill, which was introduced early in the Monsoon Session. Meanwhile, Muslim politicians, led by notable leaders of the Congress, brought about pressure on the Government to abandon the move. Instead, they wanted the law to be virtually scrapped so that enemy property vested with the Government would revert to descendants of those who chose Pakistan over India. If this were to happen, the biggest beneficiary would be the scion of the Mehmoodabad family who would gain free access to property worth at least Rs 24,000 crore. There is also the aspect of vacating tenants and occupants of the vested property, which would be a grave injustice to them, especially those who came to India from Pakistan. These considerations appear to be inconsequential to the practitioners of vote-bank politics who have given a communal twist to the issue, insisting that the law as it stands is "anti-Muslim"! It defies logic how the vast majority of Muslims are impacted by the Enemy Property Act, unless the implied suggestion is that the masses can no longer distinguish between the nation and its adversaries. That, of course, is not true, but who is to tell the Congress so? Hence, the amendment Bill to keep courts out has been virtually spiked, and the Government is now planning a fresh Ordinance that will be loaded in favour of those who would stand to gain if the law were to be reversed. 

It is believed that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs is opposed to pandering to so-called 'Muslim sentiments' by stepping back from its position on insulating the law from judicial interference. But if the Congress is keen on using this issue to promote itself as a 'pro-Muslim' party, and thus seek electoral benefits, specially in States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, then there's little that opposition by individual Ministers can achieve by way of blocking the move to annul the law. Nor will any purpose be served by expecting the Prime Minister to step in and retrieve the situation: He would rather let the party line prevail, not least because his voice, as well as his opinion, on political matters does not count. What we are witnessing is crass communal politics being played out at the cost of national interest. The Enemy Property Act was adopted for a purpose and a reason; these remain as relevant today as they were more than four decades ago. Ironically, by seeking to undo the law and thereby undermine both its purpose and reason, the Congress is really bringing into question the wisdom of its own leaders who had thought it fit to adopt such a law in the first place.







Sunday night's Maoist attack in Bihar that has left at least seven policemen dead is a grim reminder of how well-entrenched Left extremists are in the State: They can strike with stunning impunity, kill security forces personnel and disappear into the night with looted arms and ammunition. The incident also underscores the urgent need for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to shed his ambivalence on the issue of fighting Maoist terror and get cracking with anti-insurgency operations. For some strange reason, Mr Nitish Kumar has been reluctant to denounce the Maoists unequivocally; instead, he has chosen to toe a soft line, describing the ruthless insurgents as a "part of our society" and insisting that strong police action would further "alienate them". During a meeting of Chief Ministers of Maoist violence-affected States called by the Prime Minister in July, Mr Nitish Kumar had struck a discordant note, refusing to endorse the unanimous demand by others for tough measures to stamp out the menace. Earlier, in February, he had skipped a meeting called by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram in Kolkata to discuss anti-Maoist strategies, rudely snubbing the Central initiative. In a sense, Mr Nitish Kumar has stood apart from Chief Ministers of other States confronted with Red terror, conveying the impression that Bihar has nothing to worry about. But as the latest Maoist outrage, which comes in the wake of a similar attack on security forces in Chhattisgarh, demonstrates, Bihar is as vulnerable as West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand; that it needs to tone up its security forces; and, that there has to be better coordination between the State police and the Central paramilitary forces.

While Mr Nitish Kumar is entitled to believe that Maoists can be talked out of their violent campaign against the state through dialogue, the harsh reality is that only a bullet-for-bullet policy can help deal with what the Prime Minister has repeatedly described, and rightly so, as the greatest threat to India's internal security. The Bihar Government's soft line has clearly not worked in taming the Red menace: Schools and healthcare centres are being blown up; tribals are being subjected to Maoist brutality; trains are being attacked; and, elected representatives are being told to stay away from their constituencies. State Assembly Speaker Udai Narain Choudhary has been threatened with dire consequences if he persists with development work in his Imamganj constituency. In this situation, it would not be in Bihar's interest if the State Government were to stick to its flawed policy. There's no percentage in delaying the joint counter-insurgency operations that have fetched results elsewhere. Not to do so would be tantamount to signalling to the Maoists that the State Government is too feeble to take on the marauders. Surely Mr Nitish Kumar doesn't want that. 







Shyam Saran's recent visit to Kathmandu to try and break the political deadlock has pleased nobody. India needs to review its Nepal policy

The question being asked in Nepal is what on earth made former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran suddenly descend on Kathmandu. A former Ambassador to Nepal, the erudite Mr Saran has been India's pointperson on climate change and the India-US civil nuclear agreement and, therefore, not been following the mundane events of a power struggle in Kathmandu. 

He arrived early last month unannounced as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's special envoy to Nepal, a few days ahead of the fourth round of musical chairs for the elusive post of Prime Minister. The job has been vacant since Mr Madhav Kumar Nepal quit the office in response to the Maoist demand to facilitate the formation of a national unity Government. Nepal's Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala said she knew nothing about Mr Saran's visit and presumed it must be a private one. 

New Delhi's good intentions to help in consensus-building to break the political impasse were badly played in Kathmandu where the level and intensity of anti-Indianism has reached its peak. The Maoists observe that India as usual was up to no good (euphemism for interfering in Nepal's internal affairs) in trying to block their party from forming a Government.

As Foreign Secretary, Mr Saran prepared the ground for the historic Delhi Agreement in 2005 which brought the seven-party alliance and Maoists on one platform to dislodge the monarchy. In less than six months, the 250-year-old monarchy became history. What 10 years of people's war failed to achieve, 19 days of peaceful protests did in restoring power to the people. As in 1950 and 1990, India was once again central to the historic change underway in Nepal since 2005. 

Nepal has been a big mess ever since the Maoists lost power in mid-2009 in what they saw as an India-mentored coup d'etat. Maoists regard India as enemy number one at least through their words and actions. New Delhi's calculations about Maoists have gone terribly wrong, partly due to misreading their intentions and capability but mainly through inept diplomacy. Having first erred over their electoral success, India failed to engage the Maoists to wean them away from their anti-India stance. Instead it wrote off the Maoists as a bad job rather than helping their political transformation. 

One full year of the peace process was wasted supporting the Madhav Kumar Nepal (Maoists call him Madhav Kumar India)-led anti-Maoist coalition Government in the hope that Maoists would mend their ways without providing them with adequate political security and safeguards while risking a political transformation. They were engaged periodically by Indian intelligence rather than the political establishment. Mr Saran should have been appointed special envoy in 2009 to lock the Maoists in a sustained dialogue — backchannel as well as on Track 1 and 2. In public perception, India is seen to have played a negative role in destabilising the peace process it helped put in place.

Sanjiv Upadhyaya's recent book The Raj Lives on — India in Nepal has asserted that whoever rules Nepal has to secure India's nod and keep its legitimate security concerns in mind. Every Prime Minister except Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal has made India his first port of call. The Maoists have sought to 'look beyond India' and regain their sovereign space even if that means giving some of it to China. 

Nepal has already survived one constitutional crisis — extending the longevity of the Constituent Assembly by one year beyond May 28. The once most promising peace process is deadlocked with a caretaker Government, five failed rounds of voting to elect a Prime Minister, a brewing financial crisis pending presentation of the Budget and growing controversy over the seventh extension to the United Nations Mission in Nepal whose term expires on September 15. Public disillusionment with the political parties over industrial and business stagnation is rising as Nepal becomes a flailing state, unable to bridge the trust deficit between the revolutionary romanticism of the Maoists and the democratic dogmas of the Opposition.

The last two years have generated lessons for all, most notably the Maoists and India. The Maoists have had to abandon the people's war as power, they realised, could not be captured through a military solution. The 'last battle' fought in May this year from the streets through mass mobilisation was also lost, but this time due to lack of people's support. On the other hand, the battle they have won most impressively is through the ballot when they were voted as the single largest party in elections to the Constituent Assembly. The message is clear: The route to political power is via multi-party democracy and not through power garb. 

The lesson the Maoists must learn is that looking beyond India carries risks and costs and is not a viable option as King Birendra discovered unhappily in 1988-89 while importing arms clandestinely from China in violation of a gentleman's agreement. It led to the fall of absolute monarchy and restoration of multi-party democracy. In the world of realpolitik, Maoists must lean to cohabit with India without becoming like the United Marxist-Leninist Party. 

On its part, New Delhi has realised (one hopes) that the Maoists cannot be isolated and without them there is no peace process. The Maoists are the choice of the people and they cannot be ignored. India has to manage its relationship with the new political force in Nepal and help bring it back into the peace process through a power-sharing agreement. Similarly preventing them from forming a Government is not an option.

Time is running out and the growing political instability could spiral out of control. A high-level India-backed dialogue must be initiated to end the political impasse. Many Nepalis want India to reinvent the Delhi declaration for resumption of the political process, drafting the Constitution and integration of Maoist combatants with the security forces. A blueprint of a new comprehensive peace agreement has already been worked out by the non-Maoist political parties in Nepal. It requires some tweaking to ensure it is implementable in a time-bound, event-specific plan.

New Delhi's awkward relations with Maoists should become a thing of the past. If India is unable or unwilling to broker a fresh peace agreement, it must allow a third country, say Norway and United Nations, to do so. Persisting with a stalemate is an invitation to disaster and hence inimical to India's best interests in Nepal.







Blinded by China's new-found quasi-superpower status, Beijing has chosen to take offence at a routine meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Dalai Lama. Little do the Chinese leaders realise that their best bet lies in initiating a dialogue with the Dalai Lama for a permanent solution to the Tibet issue

The Chinese are upset again. Since they have become a quasi-superpower, they are constantly unhappy over one thing or another. This time they are objecting because the Dalai Lama made a courtesy call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on August 11. The Tibetan leader wanted to thank India for the hospitality offered to his people for the past five decades. 

Mr Tempa Tsering, the Dalai Lama's representative in Delhi, explained: "(The Dalai Lama) has been living in India for the past 50 years. There was nothing special about the meeting. He thanked the Prime Minister for (the) good care India has taken of him during this period." Though it was the first encounter with Mr Singh since the ruling United Progressive Alliance returned to power, the meeting was part of the Dalai Lama's regular interaction with Indian leaders, Mr Tsering said.

China is often infuriated. In November last year, Beijing was incensed by the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh (they claim that the Indian State belongs to them); a month earlier when the Prime Minister campaigned in the north-eastern State, he was advised by Beijing not to step into 'Southern Tibet', the name China uses for Arunachal Pradesh. 

Successive Indian Prime Ministers have always made it clear that the Dalai Lama is free to visit any part of the country and meet whoever he wants. For the past 56 years, the Tibetan leader has regularly met Indian Prime Ministers, but it is only recently that the Chinese have begun protesting so noisily. 

The Dalai Lama met India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for the first time in Beijing in October 1954. He was introduced by Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier. As soon as the Dalai Lama settled down in India in 1959, Nehru visited him in Mussoorie; they had a four-hour meeting.

Lal Bahadur Shastri met the Tibetan leader before leaving for Tashkent. He even informed the Dalai Lama that the Government of India had decided to recognise the 'Tibetan Government-in-Exile'. He told him that it would be done after he returned from the Soviet Union. Sadly (for India and Tibet), he never came back alive.

Mrs Indira Gandhi also met the Dalai Lama, as did Rajiv Gandhi. In the 1980s, the Dalai Lama wrote several letters to Rajiv Gandhi, particularly to inform him of his decision to propose to China a Five-Point Peace Plan in September 1987.

Usually these meetings are just courtesy calls and remain low key. The media gets to know of them only after they are held. However, Mr B Raman, a counter-terrorism expert and a former senior official of R&AW, recalls that in 1993 PV Narasimha Rao took the initiative to inform Mr Li Peng, the Chinese Premier, beforehand that he was to meet the Dalai Lama. The Chinese immediately objected to the meeting. Rao nevertheless went ahead and met the Tibetan leader.

Thereafter, Indian Prime Ministers have never informed Beijing. It is logical as Beijing does not ask India's permission to receive guests in the Great Hall of People. All over the world, it is the prerogative of the head of Government of an independent state to receive whoever he or she wants.

The Dalai Lama's meeting with Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee was interesting. The Prime Minister was at his best, he remained silent for most of the time. I believe the Dalai Lama did not know about this old habit of the Prime Minister and was rather surprised. Mr Vajpayee was possibly musing over the beautiful speeches he made on Tibet when he was a younger parliamentarian. Who knows?

This time, Beijing was rightly told by the Ministry of External Affairs that the Dalai Lama is an "honoured guest of India" and the Prime Minister has every right to meet him.

In the meantime, the leaders in Beijing live in fear and take more and more repressive measures to 'control' the Tibetans. The purpose of the recent protest is probably to divert the attention from the happenings in Tibet. For example, two influential Tibetans, though they had close relations with the Communist regime, have recently been arrested.

One is the well-known environmentalist and philanthropist, Mr Karma Samdup, while the other is Mr Dorjee Tashi, a Tibetan tycoon who ran a chain of hotels and a real estate business. Both have received awards from the Chinese Government in the past. 

Mr Tashi, known as 'Yak Tashi', was an incredibly successful Tibetan businessman until June 26, 2010, when the Lhasa Municipality Intermediate People's Court convicted him for "illegal business operations" in a three-day secret trial.

After the recent mudslides in Tibet, the Chinese Minister of Land and Resources, Mr Xu Shaoshi, stated that "China recorded (mostly in Tibet) more than 26,000 geological disasters in the first seven months of this year, nearly 10 times the number in the same period last year."

In Drugchu county alone, 1,434 were killed and 331 are still missing. Though Beijing attributes the disasters to extreme weather conditions, it is clear that human (read Chinese) activities such as the construction of hundreds of hydropower plants, large scale deforestation and mining have been the major factors triggering these 'geological' disasters.

This has caused tremendous resentment amongst the Tibetan population. Take what could appear as a detail: The mudslide occurred in Drugchu county of Kanlho prefecture of Amdo province of Tibet. After the Chinese invasion, the Tibetan names have been changed to Zhouqu County of Gannan Autonomous Tibetan Prefecture of Gansu Province.

Recently, the Chinese leadership seems to have again entered a spiral of repression. On August 18-19, the dreaded Public Security Ministry organised a meeting of the representatives of all ethnic Tibetan areas to assess "the results and experiences of upholding public security, struggle against the current separatist movement, and identified current challenges facing stability in Tibetan areas". They reviewed the tightening of security measures.

Two days earlier, the United Front Work Department, the party department dealing with minorities, had a meeting at Shigatse also to "tighten religious institutions in Tibetan areas". A dreadful programme.

The main problem is that the Chinese leadership does not understand that the Dalai Lama could be its best ally if it were serious about wanting to sort out the Tibetan issue in a peaceful manner. Mao Tse-tung had understood this and when the Dalai Lama was in Beijing in 1954-55, the Great Helmsman used to visit him in his guest house to 'convince' him to work with China. It worked to a certain extent. Former party general secretary Mr Hu Yaobang, had also understood this in the early-1980s, but he was unfortunately pushed to the margins by party hardliners.

For Beijing, the best way to 'control' the Tibetans would be to make friends with the Dalai Lama and take him onboard. 

But the present leadership does not have the foresight to meet the Dalai Lama or even to send its Ambassador to Dharamsala for 'talks'. I am sure that the Dalai Lama would not even mind to drop in at the Chinese Embassy in Delhi and have tea with the Ambassador, if invited. 

It is high time the Chinese leaders stop being 'upset' over what they perceive as slights to them but are not. If they are really interested in China's stability, they should just start a genuine dialogue with the Dalai Lama.






As the world becomes warmer, the magnitude and frequency of floods are likely to increase. Astrophysicists say it is on account of the change in the usual pattern of the jet stream primarily related to solar activity

Millions are suffering and thousands have died from flooding in Pakistan and China. An extraordinary heatwave in Russia sparked fires causing dreadful pollution and wiping out swathes of the wheat crop. Are these weather-related disasters caused by global warming? Do they portend worse catastrophes? What can be done? Should Pakistan get more aid?

In its most recent report, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change asserts that as the world becomes warmer, "flood magnitude and frequency are likely to increase in most regions." This seems plausible: A warmer world is also likely to be a wetter world, as more water evaporates from the oceans into the atmosphere. But, although rainstorms last week put out some of the fires, Russia has a drought.

The IPCC also claims that droughts too are more likely in a warmer world —and that they have become more frequent since the 1970s, partly because of reduced precipitation. In fact the number of droughts reached a low point between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s: The evidence shows there has been no statistically significant increase in droughts since the 1950s. Given that global temperatures appear to have risen considerably since then, it seems a stretch to blame the Russian drought on global warming.

Underpinning both the floods in Pakistan and China and the drought in Russia is a change in the usual pattern of the jet stream. Each hemisphere has a 'polar' jet (7-12 km above sea level) and a 'subtropical' jet (at 10-16 km). In the Northern hemisphere, the polar jet pushes cooler air south and induces rain in mid-latitudes, while the subtropical jet pushes warm air north. But in mid-June, a kink appeared at the intersection, causing warm air to remain further north and east than normal and causing more cold air and rain to fall over northern Pakistan and China.

To make matters far worse, this kink in the jet stream was kept in place by a phenomenon called a 'blocking event'. This kept the Russian heatwave going for nearly two months and massively exacerbated the precipitation in Pakistan and China. 

Such blocking events are rare and there is no evidence of links with global warming. However, an explanation has been proposed by Professor Mike Lockwood, an astrophysicist at the University of Reading in the UK, who shows in a recent paper that blocking events in winter are related primarily to solar activity (although he cautiously said in an email to me that he "cannot say much (yet) about summer conditions as most of our work to date has been on wintertime which shows relatively strong solar effects in the Eurasian region."). So the culprit is quite possibly the sun, not human emissions of greenhouse gases.

As for remedies, the current disasters demand a major humanitarian response. Worst affected is Pakistan, where an estimated six million face cholera and other waterborne diseases unless they urgently get potable water. Pakistan's Government responded slowly, making immediate national and international philanthropy even more important.

But what of the longer term? Floods, droughts and other weather disasters have plagued mankind for all of history. But deaths from such natural disasters have fallen by more than 90 per cent in the past 100 years, in spite of dramatic population growth. Why? Because higher wealth and better technology enable people better to cope: Continued improvements are what is needed. 

Last week, Pakistan requested that the International Monetary Fund restructure a $ 10 billion loan because the floods prevent it meeting the conditions. But Pakistan's reliance on Western 'aid' (including these soft loans) has undermined incentives for economic reform. When Governments must rely on local taxes rather than taxpayers in foreign countries, they are more strongly motivated to create conditions that generate wealth at home.

At present, Pakistan remains hidebound by restrictions on economic activity. Inefficient and expensive law courts make it difficult to enforce contracts. Restrictions on property make ownership insecure and undermine investment. Employment regulations and corruption make it difficult to operate a formal business, driving economic activity underground, where it cannot be taxed. These factors put Pakistan near the bottom of every ranking of economic freedom and are the main reasons for its weak economy and slow growth.

Instead of relying on foreign aid, Governments of poor countries should remove these barriers to enterprise. Then next time they are struck by a natural disaster, people will be better able to cope and far fewer will suffer and die. 

-- The writer is a visiting professor at the University of Buckingham.







Afghan President Hamid Karzai's recent complaints that international forces should focus on militant leaders hiding in neighbouring Pakistan instead of Afghan villages doesn't mean the Government no longer supports the US war strategy, the top Nato commander said on Tuesday. Gen David Petraeus said he shared Mr Karzai's concern about threats across the border in Pakistan but said the Pakistanis deserve credit for waging what he described as an "impressive counter-insurgency campaign" during the past 18 months.

The Karzai Government has been increasingly vocal in recent days about the need to destroy Taliban and Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan. Afghan National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta has argued that US support of Pakistan amounts to nurturing the terrorists' "main mentor" and that the Afghan people are no longer ready to "pay the price for the international community's miscalculation and naivety."

"Given the very clear linkage between attacks on Afghan soil by individuals who have come from Pakistan and are commanded and controlled from Pakistan, I think President Karzai and Mr Spanta have very legitimate concerns," Gen Petraeus said. Still, he added, the Pakistani Government has continued to "squeeze the locations in which these individuals have safe haven sanctuary, recognising that more work needs to be done".

In a wide-ranging interview, Gen Petraeus also said that Mr Karzai's efforts to reconcile with top Taliban leaders are "beyond the surface, but they are certainly in the early stages… He is the one who is pursuing this, but there have been some ways that we have facilitated some of the contact". The General said it's natural that the Afghan Government wants to take more of a lead role in the handling of its own national affairs.

He said he's seeking clarification on the blunt criticism from Afghan Governmental officials, but does not think the comments reflect diminished Afghan support for his counter-insurgency strategy, which aims to provide security and earn the trust of the Afghan people. "Over time, I think it is very understandable — as was the case in Iraq as well — to see our host nation partners want to take the lead, want to be more prominent," he said.

Gen Petraeus said he has drafted operational guidelines to implement Mr Karzai's goal of having Afghan police and soldiers take the lead in the country's 34 provinces by 2014 as security allows. It remains unclear whether the Afghans will be ready to handle their own security, even four years down the road.

"These guidelines recognise that this is a process, not an event," he said, adding, "It will typically represent a thinning out of the International Security Assistance Force, not a hand-off per se."

Talk of a 2014 date enables politicians to tell their war-weary publics that the conflict will not drag on indefinitely, draining resources at a time of economic hardship and rising death tolls. It also sends a signal to the Afghans that the Western commitment to the country will extend beyond July 2011, when President Barack Obama says he will begin withdrawing US troops. "Transition is likely will occur in districts, initially, rather than in entire provinces, although there are some provinces in which that likely will be possible," the General said.

Earlier, in an interview with Nato TV in Brussels, Gen Petraeus said that Taliban guerrillas still retain the initiative in some parts of Afghanistan despite recent successes by coalition forces. Gen Petraeus said Nato forces had reversed some of the gains the Taliban had made in recent years in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar and around Kabul.

"I would not say we have reversed the momentum in all areas by any means," he said. "In some we have reversed it, in some we have blunted it, in some perhaps the Taliban are still trying to expand." He said the insurgents were fighting to take back the market town of Marjah in Helmand province, which he described as "one of the most important command and control areas for the Taliban and the nexus for the illegal narcotics industry."

The town was captured in a highly heralded operation in February but has yet to see either solid security or effective Government presence. He also noted that Nato's campaign to secure the southern city of Kandahar had just begun. "But clearly there's a lot more work to be done with the Taliban fighting back very hard," he said. "This is really (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar's hometown. This is the iconic place of the Taliban and it's very important for them and it will be tough."

He also noted that the Afghan security forces were growing faster than expected, with the Army numbering 1,34,000 men and the police slightly more. The Nato-led force has about 1,40,000 troops. Taliban guerrillas are estimated to number between 25,000 and 30,000. 

-- AP







There are two ways of looking at the Direct Tax Code (DTC) Bill tabled in the Lok Sabha. Compared to the existing structure, it has a few goodies. 

But compare it to the earlier draft code which promised sweeping changes and the cheer dissipates. 

Taxing income above Rs 25 lakh at 30 per cent, as proposed earlier, doesn't even remotely resemble the plan to apply the same rate at above a mere Rs 10 lakh. 

Compared to the existing Rs 8 lakh cut-off, the latter represents a meagre rise in the exemption limit when inflation-adjusted by the time DTC kicks in. 

Read against the windfall held out earlier, taxpayers' annual savings work out as overly modest. Instead of reducing tax liability substantially, the code merely fiddles with the tax slabs. 

Bringing women taxpayers on par with men doesn't factor in the job market's gender-skewed salary structures. Only around 0.27 per cent of working-age women are estimated to pay tax. So, the aim should have been to incentivise more women to join the workforce. 

Broadly, taxpayers falling in the income bracket of up to Rs 5 lakh will benefit the most. For corporate India, gains are limited as well. The corporate tax rate is pegged at 30 per cent in place of the 25 per cent proposed earlier. 

If the Indian economy is to compete with as well as integrate into the Asia- 
Pacific region, surely adjusting tax rates to the lower levels prevalent in this region was urgently needed. 

But there's good news at the margins surcharge and cess will exit, and MAT will be calculated on book profits. Retention of the distinction between long-term and short-term capital gains, defining long-term more liberally and reducing tax rates on short-term capital gains will together incentivise long-term investment. 

They'll also promote more direct participation of households in the stock market. Equally, applying the exempt, exempt, exempt mode for investment, accumulation and withdrawal of post-retirement savings suits a country in need of a stronger social security net. Meant to boost savings in the unorganised sector, the New Pension Scheme coming under EEE is especially welcome. 

But too many exemptions remain. If anything, any simplified tax code's main target is to lower tax rates considerably to spur compliance while widening the tax base to boost revenue. 

And tax rationalisation requires removing unnecessary exemptions wherever possible. 

Given this, the new DTC being more of the same doesn't score high. By merely tinkering at the margins, it misses the chance to be a game-changer that would move the Indian economy onto a higher plane.



                                                                                                                                                            C OMMENT



Taken by itself, Beijing's refusal to grant a visa to northern commander Lt-Gen B S Jaswal would be little more than another one of the calculated rows that crop up between India and China regularly. However, taken in conjunction with reports of PLA presence in Gilgit Baltistan, they hint at the contours of Beijing's evolving strategy in the region. Held by New Delhi and the EU to be a part of the Kashmir territory occupied by Pakistan and by Islamabad to be distinct from the region making up the state, Gilgit Baltistan's geostrategic relevance is significant. 

The Karakoram highway, built by China linking the region to China's Xinjiang province, straddles it. And the railroad currently under construction that will link China to Gwadar, giving it a port on the Gulf of Oman, greatly speeding up cargo and energy transit times, will pass through it. 

It then becomes incumbent upon New Delhi to respond appropriately and decisively. There's no need for it to be defensive in its diplomatic posture on Kashmir. It has been quiet on Islamabad's attempts to delink Gilgit Baltistan from Kashmir, including the latest moves that appear to hand over Gilgit Baltistan de facto to Beijing

It must now focus international attention on the region one that is virtually kept under blackout by Islamabad with no media allowed highlighting the heavy-handed suppression of the region's movement for autonomy as well as the victimisation of Shia Muslims. And given that it claims the region, it must also make its displeasure with the presence of PLA troops there known through diplomatic channels.







Bill and Melinda Gates have aroused as much controversy as awe over their unwalled giving. Their munificence of $22.8 billion-and-still-counting from 1994 onwards is seen as an affliction way beyond the old White Man's Burden. Cynics, who as a statistical group usually match grants 2:1, have been quick to warn that Coca-colonialism is being replaced by something more sinister, a malignant benevolence overpowering global health bodies with its dollar-shaped carcinogens. The prognosis just got worse with the Gates syndrome spreading to the 40 US billionaires who pledged half their wealth to charity in August. 

Is there a lesson or at least an excuse in all this for our own rich list reluctant to put their money where their heart still isn't? Let me explain why the Gates bogey should not become a handy deterrent. The health component of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a good enough case study. From 2007 onwards, a variety of watchdogs have alleged that its humungous grants seriously compromise the decision-making of the world's anointed health nanny, the WHO. 

Yet, grandstanding indignation apart, many like me who have tracked public health for the past 30 years, may have little practical problem with this. The dangers of donor-driven agendas are real the blind distribution of condoms at the cost of more seminal agents of behaviour change seriously impacted the fight against AIDS. But a distinction must be made when it comes to agendas which don't merely look good or are easily quantifiable, but are those to which the donor has brought data and analysis. The base line is the real need at ground zero. 

So when the WHO 'toes' the Gates line and makes malaria a priority, as it did in 2007, i find it difficult to protest. More so when even the arrogant metropolis of Mumbai has been under such siege from the anopheles mosquito that public hospitals might have to set up war-zone-like camp wards in their compounds. Incidentally and not all that long ago, the same breed of critics had denounced the emphasis on AIDS as just a 'fashionable cause', and demanded "Why not malaria?" 

So when an Indian industrialist shrugs and says, ''Look, my wife and i don't want to end up like Bill and Melinda and be savaged for giving away our kids' legacy", i would ask him instead to look at, and follow, the relevant example. The remarkable achievements of the admittedly opaque Gates Foundation are the result of precisely those reasons which it is accused of sabotaging. More transparency and accountability is demanded from the recipients of its funds than the procedural nitpicking of national, state or global bureaucracies masquerading as checks and balances. 

There are two clear and common sense reasons for the difference in outcomes. One, the Gates Foundation is pretty much spending its own money and, therefore, has greater motivation to ensure that every cent is fully deployed for the assigned task instead of disappearing into the bottomless pit called 'administrative costs'. Two, all the managerial expertise that went into the development of Microsoft is used in the selection, revenue models and follow up of the projects that it bankrolls. As important, both Bill and Melinda Gates physically venture into remote, pestilence-ridden areas where no brown industrialist has ever stepped, to personally ensure that the situation on the ground matches the report on their laptops. 

A couple of weeks ago, these columns put forward another view: that India's rich should not be expected to give because Indian society does not 'deserve' it. Really? If you are signing cheques merely to look and feel good, maybe. But the hands-on and professional approach cited above has proved that philanthropy can not just deliver, but can also be sustainable and scalable. 

Besides, how can we talk of 'deserve' in the context of such fathomless need? Unfortunately, even ordinary people have conveniently turned the fact that you can't do something for everyone into an excuse for not doing anything for anyone. Yet, this is a country where you can throw a bit of good anywhere with the total assurance that from it will spring the green shoots of opportunity (and hopefully not opportunism). 

In the idealistic late 19th and early 20th century, merchant princes built public institutions as assiduously as their private empires. Can the Wadia scions ever hope to be remembered for their astuteness as real estate agents in the way their forebears are still remembered for their vision in providing community housing? 

Okay, forget about being high-minded. Just be totally self-serving. Even in an age where every transaction is posited on stashable, encashable ROI, investing in social improvement is imperative for corporate well-being. 
India Plc has to push its formidable talents towards helping to create the food and water security without which there can be neither political nor economic security. It will have to contribute to the healthy, well-educated populace which alone can bring about the much-mouthed 'inclusive growth'. Business barons can't be Mother Teresa, but they might have to see her humanitarian plea as a strategic warning. In business, 'Give till it hurts' should be read as 'Give or it will hurt'. Real bad.


                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




Zakia Soman is a founder member of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, a community platform with over 20,000 members. The andolan recently completed a survey on the aspirations of Muslim women with the support of ActionAid. Soman spoke to Humra Quraishi : 

Why did you undertake this study? 

We have felt for a long time that Muslim girls are neglected and their voices, opinions and needs overlooked. Their families give them least priority and the state acts as if they don't exist. Educated and empowered young women can play a key role in transforming the community. It is the most promising and the most deserving section of our society, which needs to be heard. 

But is that not true for women in general? 

Women everywhere are marginalised. But some women such as Dalit women or Muslim women or other backward women are more marginalised. They bear the brunt of poverty as well as gender discrimination plus discrimination based on religion within and outside their homes. Lot of them suffer injustices such as divorce and abuse at home because of the way Muslim personal law is practised in India, which is in an arbitrary and patriarchal manner. 

There is need for codification of personal law. Women also suffer because they belong to a community which is getting increasingly poor and which has been stereotyped particularly after 9/11. They suffer at the hands of communal politics and during communal violence. They bear the brunt of patriarchy more than other women under these circumstances. 

We talked to over 2,000 young women in cities and villages in 13 states including Bihar, UP, Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. These were women mainly from poor or lower middle-class backgrounds. 

What does the study suggest in terms of their aspirations? 

In spite of poverty and marginalisation, young Muslim women have not ceased to dream. It is amazing just how many young girls want to become doctors, teachers, businesswomen and even airline pilots while for many paying school fees is a challenge. And yet, we hear this again and again: I want to study, i want to become economically independent, i want to help my family, which is very optimistic and reassuring. There is hope for change when there is so much desire for change. The government and the civil society must provide an enabling climate for these women. 

What do they expect from their own community leaders? 

The girls want to be allowed to study, to work, to go out and explore the world. They want their voices to be heard. They do not want to be confined by any boundaries. They feel they are responsible individuals and resist being controlled and curbed just because they are girls. They see no clash in being a Muslim girl and yet being educated and empowered. They expect community leaders to understand this. 

A lot of young Muslim women wear the hijab. How do they look at the debate over hijab? 
They feel wearing or not wearing the hijab is not so important as the right to be educated, to move around, to find jobs. What is more important is how you behave, how responsibly you conduct yourself rather than just an outward garment. Many women also feel it is not for the government to decide who should wear what. It is the choice of the woman as to what she wants to wear.







Writing in the Sunday Times of India, Chetan Bhagat made an impassioned plea to all of us common citizens not just of Delhi but of all of India to boycott the Commonwealth Games. The writer argued that showing any form of support to the CWG would be to endorse the seemingly bottomless pit of corruption and scams that lies beneath the veneer of an event supposedly meant to promote sport in this country. It is an excellent argument.


Regrettably it won't work in practice. Why? Because you can't boycott someone, or something, that has already boycotted you.


Mohandas Gandhi used boycotts to protest against colonial rule by urging Indians not to buy British-made goods. The strategy was at least partly successful in that it must have hurt imperial coffers, whether or not it stung imperial pride. However, as rapacious and thick-skinned as our colonial masters undoubtedly were, it seems that in both rapacity as well as thickness of skin they have been outdone by our current set of rulers. Under foreign rule, Indians could make their dissent felt by boycotting British products and institutions. Today, a boycott by us of a sarkari product like the CWG, for example, will have little or no impact as it is becoming increasingly clear that our present-day powers-that-be have boycotted us long before we could boycott them, or any of their projects.


In the case of the Commonwealth Games, for instance, it was or ought to have been clear right from the start that the whole show was going to be a money-making exercise for various sarkari agencies, and their contractors, suppliers and middlemen. The participation of the athletes, the involvement of the general public, and the promotion of national pride appear not to have entered into official calculations at all. What we, the common citizens, thought of the Games, or what our experience of the event would be, was not of even marginal concern. Those responsible for the preparations and running of CWG represent a closed system from which the general public has been excluded: the Games boycotted us before we could boycott the Games.


So skip the Games, if you so choose. Your absence (or your presence) won't really matter. Because, whether you're there or not, the primary purpose of the Games will have been achieved: that all those within the loop of organising and preparing for the event end up making a lot of money.


The CWG is only one example of the sarkari boycott of the people. Farmers of western UP are up in arms because, in the name of 'progress' and 'public interest', some 22,000 villages in the area are going to be bulldozed without payment of adequate compensation to make way for the Yamuna Expressway. Which 'public' is this and what is its 'interest'? Is it the general public, or is it the self-enclosed coteries of politicians, bureaucrats and contractors whose sole interest is to rake in as much money as possible from such 'public interest' projects?


The tribal communities of India have long been boycotted by successive governments. Many have been displaced from their traditional forest habitats, again in the name of 'progress' and 'public interest'. The intervention of the Supreme Court has highlighted the plight of the Kondhs of Orissa whose ecologically-fragile homelands in the Niyamgiri hills were threatened by bauxite mining operations which had been given governmental clearance without adequate environmental safety checks. But for each such case reported, a dozen or more slip beneath the radar screen. Can tribals boycott sarkar-approved mines, or steel plants, or do such projects boycott tribals?


The boycott by the weak citizen of a powerful raj was Gandhigiri. Today we are witnessing the boycott by a powerful sarkar of weak citizens. Gandhigiri or goondagiri?









The Centre estimates it lost 6.5 per cent of the national income last year in taxes foregone through exemptions. If it can plug this hole, India's tax to GDP ratio could rank alongside those economies that take fiscal rectitude seriously. Which is why it is a pity the UPA has diluted a code for direct taxes that held out the promise of a rules-based system. The politically acceptable version of former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's brainchild is a throwback to decades of discretionary taxes so riddled with exemptions that it becomes nearly impossible to lower rates or widen the net. India's tax revenue has never exceeded 13 per cent of its national income. Meagre pickings for a country that must take a third of its people out of poverty, provide them rudimentary healthcare and equip them with the basic skills needed to survive in a modern economy. Lower taxes, spread across a bigger chunk of the population, have demonstrably yielded higher revenue. Unfortunately, lobbying claimed a principle-driven approach that could have delivered.


Individually, though, the revised provisions are not without merit. The absence of a social security net sets a premium on precautionary savings, which can be incentivised by preferential tax treatment. Likewise, the original proposal to tax assets, and not profits, of companies paying the minimum alternate tax would be a drag on investment decisions. The securities transaction tax and the wealth tax in their present form are policing measures to keep funny money out of asset classes, these needed to morph into effective taxation of capital gains. The clarification on a sunset clause for tax giveaways in special economic zones remains true to the spirit of the code to do away with the jungle of exemptions that has grown around the Income Tax Act, 1961. The direct tax code, even in its watered down form, tries to limit giveaways and, therefore, is a return to horizontal equity.


The withdrawal of exemptions is not a painless process, as the UPA has discovered, but is well worth the effort if tax revenue afterwards is less leaky and thus not exerting a continuous upward pressure on rates. This does not mean there is less to pass around by a Robin Hood government. It is borrowing heavily to fund its welfare programme and this imposes a hidden tax on savings, as also on income and consumption, through inflation. The macroeconomic rationale for an easy tax regime on savings in a capital-scarce economy has been the received wisdom in India's policy establishment. Looks like the fashion won't change in a hurry.







For all those holding their breaths for a court verdict on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suits, we suggest another round of applause. These gentlemen, at their prime in the early-mid-90s, may just get another spot under the Ayodhya sun come mid-September when the Allahabad High Court is scheduled to decide who owns a plot of land in Uttar Pradesh. Anyone who had nothing better to do in the last 60 years than to follow a property dispute that, after December 6, 1992, led to one of independent India's most widespread and bloody sectarian outbreaks — and the firming up of a fringe political party — will be wondering who among four existing title suits will come out beaming.


The problem about the case is that it's not so much about who wins, but about who loses. Decades down the line — and 18 years after goons with time on their hand and a push from some ambitious folks — swung the pendulum in favour of Hindus who believed that India's second largest religious majority as being spoilt by a votebank-savvy party.


Things have moved on considerably since Ram was pitted against a defunct 16th century mosque. The fact that blood was shed across India over something that's closer to Amar Chitra Katha territory, tells a beguiling story of the level in which 80s-90s national politics had sunk to. But in 2010 India, issues have changed. Those who made a profession out of the theological debate are now redundant. So we hope the judges in Allahabad mull over the decision for a few decades more while keeping Latin terms like status quo in mind as authorities send in troops to Ayodhya just to be on the safe side. We're pretty sure that the patience of both Ram and Rahim will hold for some time longer. But will the oped writers weaned on Ayodhya keep themselves occupied by sticking to more pressing issues?



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





The ambitious UID (Unique Identity) project is about to roll out the first set of numbers. Since the setting up of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in January 2009 as an attached office to the Planning Commission under the chairmanship of Nandan Nilekani, much has been happening and much has been written about. Prime minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee have both been seriously involved in the project right from its conception. So the central government's seriousness about the project has always been evident. Since the importance of the project was seen in reaching out to vast sections of poorer sections, the 13th Finance Commission also reserved Rs 3,000 crore for the project for giving an incentive of Rs 100 to every poor citizen who enrolled for a UID.


Many questions have been raised about the efficacy and the timing of the project. But the objective of the project was clear: to issue a UID to all Indian residents that is (a) robust enough to eliminate duplicate and fake identities, and (b) can be verified and authenticated in an easy, cost-effective way. Most importantly, the project offered India the scope to bring within its fold many of the 1.2 billion Indians who could not be in any existing identification system due to various reasons and also enable the usage of technology to attain a national database of identifiable individuals.


Every individual would be given a 12-digit unique identity number called Aadhaar and this would be generated on the enrolment based on a few basic demographic features and biometric parameters consisting of ten fingerprints, photographs and iris scan of both eyes. The Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR), under the UIDAI will issue UIDs, update resident information and verify and authenticate the identity of residents as well as amend the information when called for. There would be the central and state government partners called registrars who would process UID applications, either directly or appointed agencies. The registrars would connect to the CIDR to 'de-duplicate' resident information and also receive the UID numbers. The verification process would be done online through network connectivity and would return answers in yes and no form, thus taking care of privacy concerns.


The confidentiality and availability of the system would be the most important factor for the whole ecosystem to work. Technology would be the most critical yardstick for this. Technology will undergird the whole UIDAI system and as more and more enrolments take place and more and more verification requests happen online, the real robustness and success of the system will be observed. It is estimated that the number of enrolments itself could touch a million mark per day in the very first year of operation. So the online authentication will need to be scaled up to handle hundreds of thousands of transactions per second. Any unavailability of the technology ecosystem will bring these critical functions of the project to a grinding halt. It necessitates a continuous availability of the technology ecosystem to function effectively. This can only be ensured if the information technology (IT) infrastructure can scale up in a non-disruptive manner to match the needs of both enrolment and authentication.


The system will also have to be resilient towards planned and unplanned events that can potentially impact systems availability. It should be capable of embracing and exploiting the benefits of technological innovations over time to make the architecture more efficient. Also, the technology ecosystem has to be optimised to reduce the overall cost by leveraging an intelligent software layer to commoditise hardware. This can lead to lower cost per unit of activity as well as reduced aggregate costs over a given period.


There is also a need for fostering infrastructure inter-operability so that multiple technologies from various solution providers can be seamlessly integrated. The registrars and the centres for enrolment have to be directed for a standard infrastructure. Quality practices must be strictly adhered to. In other words, the issue of data management is the most critical factor for the whole project to be a continuing success.


To start with 600 million enrolments in the first four years and then go to the rest of the 1.2 billion Indians — and at the same time factor in multiple registrars and their growing numbers and thus more usage — all this is going to be a major factor when the whole scalable architecture is devised. Even the registrars and their working in unison will have to be very well-monitored in the first few years so that they become a quality-extended arm of the UIDAI and not an avenue for constant fire-fighting. Being the first of its kind in the world in terms of the sheer size of the network and also the sensitivity of the whole programme, this would be a major indicator of the gigantic scale of system integration that India will undertake. The critical infrastructure created will, thus, have to be very well set up, maintained and protected.


The UIDAI approach so far makes it look that it has covered most of the issues. However the actual position will become clear only when the whole ecosystem starts functioning. Not all of the flagship e-governance programmes in the country have emerged flawless. So this is a reminder for UIDAI to be extra vigilant. Meanwhile the merits of the programme are tremendous. It allows technology to rope in citizens, particularly from the poorer sections of society, and allow them to take the benefits of various social schemes which hitherto have been denied to them due to ignorance and middlemen.


Subimal Bhattacharjee writes on issues of technology and security. The views expressed by the author are personal.








Sadhus riding motorcycles. Kanwarias doing a pilgrimage on a truck. Half a village going on a tractor trailer to a mela. All these scenes indicate that India's motorisation is now irreversible. The number of vehicles on Indian roads per thousand people is still far lower than most countries. But the roads are terribly inadequate and the traffic management deplorable.


Things are changing very fast. Most of us are dimly aware that we're in the middle of a revolution that is affecting the way we live. It is not a revolt of the poor against their many grievances and there are no angry crowds waving sticks or throwing stones. This revolution is mainly propelled by some 350 million Indians between the ages of 15 and 35. About 35 per cent of our population, in both urban and rural areas, have mobiles in their hands and a motorcycle or a car to transport them. This is a revolution of impatient young people whose motto seems to be Dil mange more.


 They are in a hurry. Spurred by their TV role models they all want the good life and they want it now. They will not wait for a bullock cart, bicycle or bus, but want a bike or car to take them to the market where they can get the best crop prices, or to wherever the best job opportunities are. Some of them might even steal your car. But, collectively, they are stimulating India's economic growth.


At a recent press conference, a Maruti spokesman confessed that Maruti, which had been ramping up production as per the 16 per cent growth rate of the past five years, had been caught flat-footed by the 30 per cent growth rate reported during the first five months of this year. Last year India produced 1.9 million cars and 10.5 million two-wheelers registering growth rates of 25 per cent and 26 per cent respectively. Today some 14 million cars, 3 million utility vehicles, 80 million two-wheelers, 4 million three-wheelers, 6 million trucks and 3 million buses are jostling for space on roads not designed for such numbers.


During the bullock cart age, automobiles had been condemned as being toys of the elite by generations of socialist thinkers. But this is no longer the case. Seventy-eight per cent of India's car production is small hatchbacks that are mainly used by a large middle-class. Almost all of India's two-wheelers are owned by the middle and lower classes. These are no longer luxuries but essential commodities.


The economic and employment value of automobiles is also insufficiently understood. The impact on employment can be seen from the example of Maruti that now directly employs just around 10,000 people, though it made 900,000 cars last year. But the 8,000 trucks they need to deliver these cars create employment for about 30,000 people. Their 1,500 dealers alone employ over 75,000 people. Maruti makes only 20 per cent of the car. They make no steel, castings, forgings, tyres, batteries, electricals, brakes, glass, pistons or other components. Employment among vendors  just dedicated to Maruti cars probably exceeds 300,000.


Put together, Indian automobile makers may generate about 3,000,000 jobs. These salaried employees create a multiplier effect of tertiary employment for the millions who supply them with food, clothing, shelter, medical facilities, entertainment and education, as evident from the sudden explosion of new townships like Surajpur, near the Honda and Yamaha plants; Sriperumbudur, near Hyundai's plant; Malaimaraipur near Ford's plant; and Bidadi near the Toyota plant. Teashops become hotels as schools, cinema-s, groceries and hospitals multiply. Unlettered locals prosper as masons, mechanics and contractors.


With all this happening, we may be building wider highways but so slowly that they seem to clog up almost as soon as they are built. A few cities have belatedly amended building laws to ensure 'in site' parking for every new residential and commercial building. But this is too little, too late and parking continues to be a nightmare.


Popular demand will not allow the automobilisation of India to be reversed. But it comes at a huge price and State authorities need to quickly change gears to meet the challenge. Traffic courts must mete out severe and swift punishment for all traffic violations and licensing procedures must be tightened to ensure that driving licences are only given to those who are properly trained. We can't allow more than 100,000 people to die on our roads every year, as is currently the case.


Murad Ali Baig is a Delhi-based automobiles analyst. The views expressed by the author are personal.








Close to 60 young boys have lost their lives in Kashmir in the last two months. The streets of Kashmir have not seen 'normalcy' during that time. Contrary to belief, unemployment, poverty and hunger are not the core issues for the protesting youth in Kashmir.


Many of us watched Peepli Live and enjoyed it. Let me also remind you of Rang de Basanti, a film that was a little different from the usual 'patriotic' movies. During the 1960s, the patriotic Hindi film often bordered on xenophobia and invariably juxtaposed nation and nationalism with an 'enemy'. In Rang de Basanti, the director blends and fuses the memories of India's freedom struggle with the misdeeds and corruption of today's politicians. It brilliantly showcased the fact that the 'Art of the Protest' is always entwined with social, economic and political forces that find expression in the context of the specific culture and that none can exhibit it better than the youth.


Peepli Live, on the other hand, is a satire on the response of the elite, the government, the bureaucracy, ministers and the media to the issue of distress suicides by farmers who failed to repay loans. In a turn of well-lampooned events, the plight of Natha, the protagonist, is turned into a spectacle by a voyeuristic and insensitive nation.


With a span of more than four years between the two films, the two films exhibit certain commonalities through their frames. The issue of the blatant denial of what is due to common people, the utter disregard for human rights and the easy tendency for indulging in wrongs appear as the running thread in the  films.


But more than that, the two movies are also about the politics of manipulation of memory. They are also about the struggle of ordinary citizens to be seen and the blatant move by the State to somehow make them 'invisible'. Both underline how our trumpeted democracy has indeed become a facade for domination and subjugation in the name of the undefined and indecipherable national interests.


It is in this locale that I intend to return to the issue of today's angry Kashmiri youth. Kashmiri youngsters have probably been able to understand and acquire their own share of the 'A Generation Awakens' phenomenon. Defying all forms of threats including that of death, the protest of an average Kashmiri youngster today is, in essence, a committed transformation of the material and ideological conditions that robbed them of many things, including what they wanted to remember and commemorate.


Manoj K. Jha is Associate Professor, University of Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.








The International Cricket Council has taken a rather hands-off approach to the current spot-fixing scandal. In first comments, ICC President Sharad Pawar appeared to advise patience till the police in England completed their investigation into the Lord's Test. The allegation, based on an undercover operation by a London newspaper, is that Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir deliberately sent down no-balls at pre-determined points in the match against England. But beyond the specifics of the two bowlers' actions, what should concern cricket administrators is how the episode has exposed a wider suspicion about match-fixing.


After Hansie Cronje was found out a decade ago, widespread checks on match-fixing were supposed to have been put in place. For one, the ICC set up its Anti-Corruption and Security Unit. Some cricketers caught in the larger shadow of the Cronje scandal lost their places in national squads then — including the Indian and Pakistani teams. Even now, occasionally news of a player being dropped brings on speculation about a possible match-fixing connection. But the system is opaque, and cricket's biggest caution against fixing is the belief that a cricketer would be daft to jeopardise his career, and the tremendous material returns international players enjoy. Why would a young man in sight of a lucrative and successful career risk it? We may never know when and why Mohammad Asif could have lost appreciation of the kind of role he played in Pakistan's revival this summer. What we do have currently is fertile ground for suspicion around the world — and the less consequential a match, the higher the suspicion.


Other sports too have weathered match-fixing crises. Cricket's crisis is perhaps more acute for two reasons. One, it is a tiny club. There are just a handful of cricket-playing nations. Add to this the fact that cricket's economy is driven by live telecasts, and it should be clear that each team is invested in every other team's viability to fill an international calendar. (This is why there was so much feel-good commentary on Pakistan being able to play Australia in England this summer.) Two, cricket evaluates its players through tests of character. The conditions (of weather, pitch, team situation, etc) determine a player's place in history as much as bowling and batting averages. This is why even three "bought" no-balls demand urgent attention.







The Direct Tax Code Bill has been tabled in Parliament. There was already a sense that it would be something of a missed opportunity. Yet, now that full details are available, it is dazzlingly clear that it is a mere sleight of hand: it simply does not do what it said on the box. It does not radically simplify; it does not really close loopholes. It is — without exaggeration — a betrayal of the promise that a direct tax code was supposed to embody. The DTC was imagined as a fundamental reworking of how we pay our taxes, as individuals and corporations. We were to have been given a system in which we would close loopholes, the ones that keep people working at tax time trying to get the best deal; in which we would end uneconomic exemptions and "incentives", the ones that cause lobbyists to beat a path to the anterooms of finance ministry babus.


Instead, we have been given lazy tinkering, of the sort not out of place in a '60s budget. We are told that "industry" is "happy". Naturally, if "happy" means "willing to work with business as-usual". The grand bargain that was proposed was that the tax process would be streamlined, the lobbying and pleading for government favour would end — and that would pay for the general tax rate being reduced to 25 per cent. That bargain has not been made. Incentives, such as for SEZs, have been grandfathered in. The system by which capital gains are to be taxed manages to be more opaque than it was to start off with. The fact that clarity was not put front-and-centre is made even more obvious by the fact that the new DTC is actually longer than the Income Tax Act it is supposed to replace. And, for individuals, the retirement savings regime continues to incentivise finding exemptions to take advantage of.


One begins to wonder: is this government serious about reforming revenue? The bargain that GST embodied — which would enhance growth substantially — wasn't made either. And Monday's Foreign Trade Policy review demonstrated that we haven't made the slightest effort to shrug off the "sops for exporters" culture. Put together with the abandonment of the DTC revolution, one begins to wonder what it will take for UPA-II to put in the spadework that fiscal reform requires.








 The ICC under-19 World Cup makes even the most cynical of cricket reporters gush with optimism. Spotting a future star in a sea of fresh faces has all the adventure of a treasure hunt. Theories offer no help in the search — and, still, somehow, I end up stalking Pakistan, the country where kids hurl the cricket ball at 140 kph while in their teens, hoping to glimpse a truly great pacer early. I have seen countless boys in green with intimidating speed, breathtaking swing, incisive seam movement and a predicted bright future. But in the last three years, without exception, none of the Pakistan pacers with bagfuls of wickets at the U-19 WC graduated to the senior level. The queue of pacers outside the national team is so, so long.


The "spot-fixing" scandal, and the heart-breaking discovery that wonder kid Amir Mohammad is involved, reminds me of several interactions with young Pakistan pacers — who learn early that they aren't indispensable. Their hard reality: making the most of the few rare opportunities they get. And sometimes "making the most" means crossing the line. To some extent that helps one answer the mind-numbing question: Why the hell did Amir do it?


Common to all young Pakistan pacers is the lack of that swagger that's the calling card of all pacers, regardless of speed or age. Insecurity, jealously and ruthless competitiveness is another noticeable trait. When your new-ball partner, the first-change quick and the two speedsters on the bench are as sharp and skilful as you, anxiety about your place is a 24x7 problem. Add to that your impressionable age, lack of education and any adolescent mind's ambiguity about right or wrong, and you could overstep the line.


I first met Amir at the 2008 U-19 WC. Pakistan coach Mansoor Rana introduced me to a meek and weak-looking pacer with a hospital tag around his wrist. Within days of landing in Malaysia, Amir was diagnosed with dengue, and confined to bed. After a limp handshake, Amir said he was too tired and disillusioned to talk. "These matches were on TV, this was my best chance to get noticed. I was in terrific form and would have had plenty of wickets," he said. He pointed to his fellow pacer Adil Raza, who was talking to a reporter after destroying the Australia line-up. "Go talk to him," he said with a sarcastic smirk. Yet little has been heard of Adil, the boy from Gujranwala who seemed like the next big Pakistan pacer.


An even bigger mystery is the fate of Pakistan's pace trio from the previous edition, in 2006. Anwar Ali, Mohammad Jamshed and Akhtar Ayub bowled India out for 71 in the final. They too seemed destined to play for Pakistan senior, but that was not to be. Ayub was the fastest in that squad. His upbringing in rural Attock made him speak his mind: "In case you write about me please post it to me. I know after this I will never get a chance to play for the senior team. Too much competition," he said giving me a paper chit with his address in Urdu. And, pulling my leg, he added, "Your team doesn't have many bowlers, aap baat karo I will play for you." Ali, the man of the final, was the captain's roommate, and a few team slackers said he was selected because of his proximity to the skipper. A mere glimpse of his beautiful run-up, perfect release and precise swing proved that the whispering campaign meant nothing. And even then, it has to be said that Ali, off-field, behaved nothing like the don that he was on field. Maybe he knew that with other worthy contenders waiting in the wings, it was in his interest to be submissive.


Amir at least made it to the senior team and became an instant hit. Yet, when I met him again during the Champions Trophy in South Africa last year, I was struck by how little he threw his weight around. Once, when no "senior" player was willing to talk, the manager shouted for Amir, already seated in the team bus. He rushed out with a courteous "yes, sir" to follow the manager's orders.


You need to do that. In Pakistan, bright sparks have been discarded for good after a poor series or an injury. A pacer of the calibre of Umar Gul finds it tough to return to the team after an injury break.


Thoughts of fading into oblivion will have crossed Amir's mind. That's why when things were going fine for him, he wanted to make the most of the opportunity: senior players in the team were doing it; bigger stars of the past had done it. That's the only logical explanation. But sadly, Amir failed to realise that he was special. With the riches that he was blessed with, he shouldn't have fallen for making a quick buck.







 Some legislative acts do not simply signal the credibility of the state; they define the measure of civilisation itself. On any measure, the Indian state's record on custodial torture is an indictment of its democratic credentials.


India has amongst the highest rates of custodial deaths amongst democracies. There is no consistent database on this. But according to the National Human Rights Commission data, more than 17,000 people have died in custody since the mid-'90s; in Lok Sabha, the government admitted to more than 1,000 custodial deaths in 2008-2009 alone. There is virtually no systematic record of torture that does not lead to death; nor is torture against children separately recorded.


Despite Supreme Court guidelines in D.K. Basu vs State of West Bengal on monitoring custodial deaths, the number of cases is increasing. The NHRC has proved to be a very ineffective tool to combat custodial deaths. The phenomenon of custodial deaths cuts across party lines. In absolute numbers, UP and Bihar are the worst offenders, but the record of Congress-led states, like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, is also abysmal. India signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture in 1997. But it is one of the few democracies that has not ratified the convention, despite more than 140 countries having done so. What a measure of our normative backwardness.


But the use of torture is not just a normative blight; it is practically self-defeating as well. We have no idea how much disenchantment and distance the practice of torture puts between the police force and the citizens, particularly vulnerable groups in society. So potential


allies of the state become, at best, sullenly indifferent to it; at worst, they become actively hostile. And the use of torture does not indicate the strength of an institution; it indicates its weakness. Impunity degrades the credibility of the institution in whose name it is carried out.


It is in this context that the Prevention of Torture Bill needs serious scrutiny. The form in which the bill passed Lok Sabha is, to put it mildly, something of a joke. The bill, in its present form, is being dubbed by commentators as the "sanction of torture bill". As the excellent brief on this bill by my colleagues at PRS Legislative Research has pointed out, it is, in terms of its own objectives, deeply deficient in several respects. (On Tuesday, Rajya Sabha referred the bill to a select committee.)


First of all, there is controversy over the definition of torture in this bill. It is too narrow and does not include several acts already included in the IPC. For instance, the current bill gives no protection against torture or threat of torture being inflicted on some other person like a relative, with a view to obtaining information from the interested party. It does not comply with the definition of torture in the UN convention on torture that India seeks to ratify. It limits torture only to "grievous hurt", and danger to "life, limb or mental or physical health". The UN definition by contrast, adopted worldwide, includes any "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental". But the degree to which the Indian law deviates from the UN convention is a matter of some debate. After all, even the UN convention, according to some interpretations, is limited to the idea that extreme practices count as torture. An article of the convention obligates parties to prevent in territory under their jurisdiction "other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to acts of torture".


While the UN convention explicitly criminalises torture, it does not explicitly criminalise other forms of degrading treatment. In the UN convention not all forms of cruel or inhuman treatment amount to torture. This is important to understand. Underlying the watered down provisions in our bill seems to be the fear that an anti-torture bill should not lead to misuse against public officials. This fear is hugely exaggerated.


Even under existing law the prosecution rate is less than two per cent of all those who go to trial. It is therefore important to clean up the definition of torture. There is perhaps one thing we can learn from our colonial masters. The IPC is an old code with problems arising from its 19th century provenance. But one of its advantages as a piece of drafting is that it is


replete with examples that leave no doubt about what the legislation intends; and it also provides a useful aid to thinking analogically about hard cases. Our legislation by contrast is perfunctory and vague, and will therefore not provide an effective moral compass that signals what we wish to prohibit.


Second, the redress mechanisms are even weaker in the new bill. Requirements such as government sanction before prosecuting any public servant (again a dilution of existing law), a six month statute of limitation, and the absence of any independent investigative agency to probe into torture allegations, and the lack of any compensation mechanisms make the bill relatively toothless. They are almost an incitement to impunity.


There is perhaps one practice that might enhance the quality of all legislation in India. Just like many bills include "finance" supplement assessing the possible cost to government, all legislation must come with an assessment of the administrative requirements of each bill. This assessment would analyse the measures that have to be put into place for a bill to realise its objectives. This will do two things. First, it will partially address a crippling infirmity of all our legislation. There is simply no analysis of whether the state has the capacity to carry out the mandate of the legislation: the number of personnel required, the administrative structures that need to be in place and so forth. Parliament simply passes the bills and dumps them on to hapless state personnel who increasingly resent more responsibility being placed on them.


Second, it will give our legislation greater credibility. It will send a powerful signal that the state is not interested in simply being seen to pass legislation. It is also determined that that objectives of the bill be realised.


The Prevention of Torture Bill should have sent a credible signal that India is serious about tackling its record on custodial deaths and torture. And this signal needs to be sent, not just to the international community, for whose benefit this bill has been drafted, but to elicit the allegiance of our own citizens who fear the state more than they love it. But instead the bill is an exercise in bad faith, treating the issue of torture with a shocking degree of callousness.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi







 The killing of eight Hong Kong tourists in the Philippines last week has generated both grief and outrage. The incident has also helped sharpen an ongoing policy debate within the Chinese security establishment on how Beijing should protect its citizens and assets in foreign lands.


A policeman turned gunman hijacked a tour bus carrying 21 Hong Kong tourists last week in Manila. The incident ended with eight tourists dead and seven injured. The hostage taker was killed in a police assault. A stern Beijing told Manila to thoroughly investigate the tragic incident and take steps to protect Chinese tourists visiting the Philippines. It also sent a team of officials to Manila to help with the inquiry.


As the number of Chinese citizens travelling abroad rises rapidly after three decades of double-digit economic growth, there is growing pressure on Beijing to protect its people abroad.


In 1978, when Chinese economic reforms began, the number of Chinese travellers stood at around 250,000. Today the figure stands at 50 million.


Beijing has set up a Consular Assistance and Protection Centre in the ministry of foreign affairs to issue early warnings to Chinese travellers and manage crises such as the one seen in Manila. The division is said to be the largest in the Chinese foreign office, with a strength of 140 in Beijing and 600 operatives in missions abroad.


The Chinese government and business are also debating more complicated measures to deal with the protection of workers abroad. According to one estimate, the number of Chinese citizens working overseas is more than five million. Many of these workers are in countries that are rocked by civil wars and violence.


As foreign investment and project execution in distant lands becomes an important part of China's external engagement, a number of new measures have been put in place. Chinese businesses, particularly those operating in restive regions abroad, are expected to follow government guidelines on self-protection and effective safety precautions.


Beyond these immediate steps, there is a new debate in Beijing on how to cope with the broader challenge of protecting Chinese interests abroad. The pirate attacks on Chinese ships and crews in the Gulf of Aden saw China embark upon its first naval operation far from national shores.


The Chinese debate is also looking at the merits and demerits of deploying Chinese police and military forces abroad to protect its people and assets, freeing hostages by use of force, evacuating non-combatants from conflict zones, hiring foreign security firms, the importance of power projection, and the risks of military intervention in foreign lands.


In a review of the Chinese debate on the use of force abroad to protect its citizens, Andrew Erickson, an American analyst at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island says that despite many uncertainties, "the chances of Beijing using force to protect citizens overseas are rising."


Erickson adds that "Beijing's acute sensitivity regarding sovereignty issues makes it highly unlikely to intervene on another nation's soil without explicit permission. In the event of a crisis, China is likely to supply intelligence, and its security personnel might work with their local counterparts, with an emphasis on isolating and evacuating Chinese nationals."


"But it is at sea that we are already witnessing the most dramatic developments. China's ongoing anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden is arguably the first step in overseas military deployments to protect PRC citizens working overseas," Erickson concludes.


A port at Colombo


After their successful completion of the first phase of Sri Lanka's Hambantota port, Chinese companies have won new contracts for expanding capacity of the Colombo port. On Monday, the Sri Lankan cabinet cleared a $ 450 million concession to build and operate a new container terminal at the Colombo port to a Lanka-China consortium led by the Aitken Spence and China Merchants Holdings. China Harbour Engineering, the company that built the Hambantota port, will also construct the new terminal at Colombo. Work is expected to start in six months.


South Pacific plans


As part of its effort to raise its profile in the South Pacific, Beijing now sends regular naval missions to the littoral. A small naval contingent is now on four month tour visiting Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Tonga and Papua New Guinea. While PLAN ships have called at ports in Australia and New Zealand, this is the first time they are visiting the three smaller island nations.








 Thirty-six Israeli theatrical artists have refused to perform in Ariel in the West Bank, invoking their freedom of conscience and right to protest.


Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu calls Ariel the "capital of Samaria" and his government has threatened to deny state funding to cultural bodies refusing to cross the Green Line. In a very indignant editorial, Tel Aviv's Haaretz has compared Netanyahu to Stalin's cultural commissar, Andrei Zhdanov. Meanwhile, Israel's religious right and far-right have launched a McCarthyist attack on academia. Democracy within Israel had never been in doubt — so far. If anything, its weak governments for over a generation now are a testament to the country being "too democratic".


This September marks two anniversaries, one conspicuously pertinent to the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians about to resume tomorrow, September 2. The other marks the 20th century's demonstration of how the instinct to genocide can direct every move of a nation. It's coincidental, but the Middle East's only talk that produced immediate and enduring results was the Camp David conference between Israel and Egypt hosted by Jimmy Carter in September 1978. Seventy-five years ago, in September 1935, at the annual Nazi rally in Nuremberg, the Nuremberg Laws were introduced. The culmination of the Zionist aspiration for a safe home for world Jewry and the rediscovery of that home in Mandate Palestine were sealed, half-a-decade before the Holocaust, in September 1935. They didn't know it yet, but Europe was lost to its Jews.


The two-day direct talks with a year-long lifeline, as have been oft-remarked upon, are not progress but a return to things as they were before Israel's December 2008 attack on Gaza. Yet it's not just dismal history that's keeping every party and observer unenthusiastic about these talks that have finally materialised from a shuttling George Mitchell's indirect "proximity talks".


What's on everybody's mind, except perhaps the Palestinians', is Iran and its awaited nuclear bomb. The US is leaving an Iraq that Iran is expected to make political inroads into; a crumbling, balkanising Iraq could destabilise the region.


Israel has alienated its old ally Turkey; Turkey and Saudi Arabia are rehabilitating Syria; Israel's Arab ally Egypt is undergoing a risky transition; its other Arab ally Jordan is ineffectual and afraid. Arab governments, long indifferent if not hostile to the Palestinian cause, would rather watch Tehran. In fact, they have a direct stake in Israel's survival and were uncomfortable with the Obama administration's initial toughening with Netanyahu. Their logic is simple — use rhetoric to denounce the US and Israel to satisfy and distract a very anti-American, anti-Israeli public opinion but silently go along with the two as both the US and these regimes need each other. Israel, in their perspective, is a buffer against clear and present danger — Iran. Since Iran is also Israel's nightmare, Obama's only leverage over Netanyahu is Tehran. (And regardless of its intentions, Tehran is relishing the agitation and subtly asserting its rising status.)


The talks are happening only because Washington wants them. Netanyahu has talked about "surprising" everybody, which led to speculation about a secret Israeli peace plan. But, given the anathema that any concession is to his far-right colleagues, he agreed to the talks because that's his safeguard against blame for not trying. Israel is ideologically, religiously and ethnically fracturing; both his cabinet and the public could sabotage anything Netanyahu offers. Abbas is even less representative of the Palestinian people. Any concession will be torpedoed by Hamas, Gaza could secede (if Hamas forgets Israel's threat), and there could be a Hamas uprising on the West Bank.


Abbas is very modest about his own acceptability to Palestinians right now. With no room for manoeuvre, he can't even relinquish the Palestinian "right of return", the one demand he would readily have dropped. That's why, the Palestinians won't "miss" any opportunity this time — the PNA under Fatah knows it has none. They hope the settlements issue will leave Netanyahu with the blame for failure, whether or not Obama tables his "bridging proposal".


So it's actually Advantage Netanyahu — a turnaround from Washington's browbeating. He could thus look to do the clever thing and extend the settlement freeze that expires on September 26, especially since he's promised not to.


Abbas will be hapless. If the talks still fail, the PNA will be blamed. But, for this, Netanyahu has to follow Defence Minister and Labor party chief Ehud Barak's line — exchanging his madhouse cabinet's right-wing fringe for Tzipi Livni's Kadima. After all, his Bar-Ilan University speech stands as government policy, when an Israeli PM automatically associated with the indivisibility of Greater Israel accepted the two-state solution. But is Bibi that big a risk-taker, willing to trigger a domestic political upheaval? Can he deal with Kadima that will rival his Likud with one seat more in the Knesset?


Perhaps not. Right now, Israel and the Palestinians don't face an existential crisis powerful enough to make them take any risk to engender further uncertainty. They've known much worse. Along with the US and Arab states, they would be content with an enduring status quo. Geography and ideology divide Palestinians. Israel, on top of its widening divides, is politically paralysed thanks to its electoral system. Obama's Cairo speech is forgotten; the talks will, as usual, generate the perception of something being done. That's for mass consumption. Still, if anybody can surprise tomorrow, it's Bibi alone.







Joe Biden, who travelled to Iraq this week to mark the formal end of United States combat operations there, has claimed that peace and stability there could be "one of the great achievements" of the Obama administration. Of course, the largest share of credit belongs to the brave men and women of the American military, who have sacrificed so much and persevered through so much difficulty. Credit also goes to the Iraqi army and police forces who have fought bravely and increasingly well, and to Iraq's people, who have borne a heavy burden. But it is good that President Obama and his administration also claim credit, because success in Iraq will need their support.


My hope is that the president understands that success in Iraq will be defined not by what we withdraw, but by what we leave behind. At a minimum, we need Iraq to be a stable country, at peace both within its borders and with its neighbours. And we should help Iraq to one day become a leader of political and economic progress in the Middle East.


The aftermath of another American war is instructive. Fifty-seven years ago, an armistice ended the fighting in Korea — another unpopular conflict, far bloodier than the Iraq war, although shorter. Civilian casualties were horrendous, and the United States and its allies suffered more than half a million military casualties. The South Korean Army took the heaviest losses, but the United States also paid a high price: 33,739 killed or missing in battle and 103,284 wounded.


Gen. Dwight Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential election, in part, on a promise to end the war. According to a poll taken in April 1953, three months before the armistice was signed, 55 per cent of the American public thought the war had not been worth fighting, whereas only 36 per cent thought that it had.


Yet when the war was over, the United States did not abandon South Korea. We had done so in 1949, when our post-World War II occupation of Korea ended, opening the door to North Korea's invasion the following year. This time, instead, we kept a substantial military force in South Korea.


The United States stuck with South Korea even though the country was then ruled by a dictator and the prospects for its war-devastated economy looked dim. With all its failings, South Korea was nevertheless a haven of freedom compared with the bleak and brutal despotism of North Korea.


We also understood that stability on the Korean Peninsula was critical for the peace of an entire region — a region that involved Japan as well as the Soviet Union and China. Most important, abandoning South Korea would have risked squandering all that had been gained.


Although South Korea has assumed the principal responsibility for its own defence, there are still 28,500 American troops on the peninsula. Our continued commitment prevented another war and today South Korea is a remarkable economic success story. A series of democratic elections, starting in 1987, have made it a political success story as well.


Some similar considerations apply to Iraq today. First, Iraq occupies a key position in the Persian Gulf, a strategically important region of the world — a position that is all the more important because of the dangerous ambitions of Iran's rulers.


Second, whatever the failings of Iraq's democracy, it bears no comparison to the regime that other hostile elements would impose. With all its imperfections, Iraq today is more democratic than South Korea was at the end of the Korean War, and more democratic than any other country in the Arab Middle East (with the possible exception of Lebanon).


We have withdrawn so many of our troops and relinquished a combat role because Iraqi security forces have been able to take on most of the security burden. Their numbers have grown from about 320,000 in December 2006 to more than 600,000 at the end of last year; they are also becoming more capable.


Of course, numbers are only part of the story, and Iraqi security forces still need assistance from the American military. Not surprisingly, the enemy has increasingly focused its attacks on Iraqi soldiers and police officers as the United States withdraws, although Iraqi losses are still far below what they were earlier in the war. Since June 2003, about 10,000 Iraqi security forces have been killed, twice the total of the United States and the entire international coalition.


Even as our combat commitment ends, our commitment to supporting Iraq must continue. That means continued political support, including offering our help in resolving the current stalemate over forming a government. (It's worth remembering that much of the difficulty the Iraqis are encountering arises from a Constitution and electoral system that the international community helped design. Moreover, this example of peaceful negotiations to create a government is something new in the Arab world.)


Our commitment must also include continued material support, particularly in the form of military and technical assistance. And though we have agreed to withdraw all our troops by the end of next year — a pledge that we must honour if the Iraqi government so desires — we need to remain open to the possibility of a mutually agreed longer-term security commitment or military presence for deterrence and support.


It is well worth celebrating the end of combat operations after seven years, and the homecoming of so many troops. But fully abandoning Iraq would damage the interests of the United States in the region and beyond. Maintaining a long-term commitment, albeit at greatly reduced cost and risk, is the best way to secure the gains that have been achieved with so much sacrifice.


The writer was US deputy secretary of defence from 2001 to 2005







Now that the Central government has rejected an environment clearance to UK-based Vedanta's bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa, the Left feels that Korean giant Posco's steel project in the state should be the next in line. It believes that both Vedanta and Posco are examples of blatant violation of the forest rights act and environmental issues.


An article titled "Make Posco the next Vedanta" in the latest edition of CPI's weekly organ New Age says environment minister Jairam Ramesh's assertion that Posco plant was a "project of strategic importance and there were no violation of tribal rights in its case" shows the Central government's "soft corner for the South Korean steel giant."


The minister has promised to hasten the submission of the Meena Gupta fact-finding committee report by the end of September, but "one can understand that when such are the views of the minister, the Gupta committee, rather than being the fact-finding committee, more likely may be intended to provide justification to give a go-ahead to the presently stayed Posco project," it says. It also alleges that powerful lobbying is on to give a clean chit to Posco.


Kashmir's sensitivities


Advocating "maximum autonomy" for Jammu and Kashmir and autonomy for its three regions — Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh — CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat has taken a view that the UPA government should spell out a framework for a political dialogue, which should involve all sections. This, he feels, will be possible only if there are no preconditions set for the dialogue by any side.


In an article in party mouthpiece People's Democracy, Karat — who recently visited the state — claims that the way the Central government and the state government have handled the situation is truly appalling and that there was a sense of total alienation and deep anger against the Indian state.


He says that no distinction has been made between tackling mass protests by young people, most of them teenagers, and operations against the militants and terrorist violence. "In incident after incident, the central paramilitary forces have resorted to firing on stone pelting crowds... If such brutal methods had been adopted in any other part of the country, there would have been an uproar and outrage."


He feels it is wrong to characterise these protests as the handiwork of the LeT and other extremist groups, as the outpouring of anger and the intensity of protests are marked by a self-propelling momentum. "To miss this and to see it as an engineered movement will only lead to further blunders in handling the situation," he says.


Karat was of the view that the administration should immediately put a halt to the use of police firing as a means to curb protests. He also pitches for curbing of the "draconian powers" conferred by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), release of all juveniles held in jails and initiating a credible probe into all charges of police excesses.


Striking out


Both New Age and People's Democracy carry reports about the forthcoming general strike called by central trade unions. The lead article in the CPI mouthpiece says that the strike presents a historic opportunity to act unitedly against the "pernicious" economic policies of the government, which are hurting the working class.


It mention the participation of Congress's trade union arm INTUC in the strike, pointing out that this was the first time in the last 63 years that INTUC was joining a strike called by central trade unions.


Illegal mining


In the context of the illegal mining controversy, the lead editorial in People's Democracy seeks nationalisation of all mineral resources and a simultaneous ban on export of mineral resources.


It says that those who wish to use our mineral resources are welcome to set up production facilities in our country, thus adding value on our soil and providing employment to our people. Our mineral wealth will thus expand our productive capacity. This wealth cannot be allowed to be exported to other countries in order to increase their productive capacities at our cost."


Referring to cases of illegal mining and mentioning the Reddy brothers of Bellary, it says that illegal mining has implications that go beyond the domain of violation of the law and pecuniary gain. It talks about "collateral damage", including the impact on the environment, soil fertility and agricultural productivity. "This is not all. The collateral damage extends to negatively influencing our polity and democracy. The ill-earned money through illegal mining is vastly influencing the politics and government formations in various states of the country with Karnataka being the most glaring example... Further, the mapping of the areas of growing Maoist violence clearly shows that these are areas that are rich in mineral deposits."


Compiled by Manoj C.G.







The first two quarters of the year are less glamorous as far as GDP is concerned. This is so because it is the so-called slack season where nothing much happens. Farm output is of a residual variety as the rabi crop is reckoned in Q4 of the previous year and what comes in Q1 is secondary. Industrial activity is less active with construction also progressing slowly. Also, the government had announced that it would be making a phased exit from the fiscal stimulus. Against this background, growth of 8.8% is remarkable, and may be above expectations. Growth has been fairly broad-based across sectors, which is good news. To add a cliché, if this is maintained, then the 8.5% target for the year looks attainable.


But, as usual, there are certain imponderables that have to be taken into account in this story. The first is that industrial growth in June was down to the 7% mark. While this could be an aberration, the statistical high base will weigh down on future growth rates, especially after August, which was the time last year when growth went into the double-digit trajectory. Second, the performance of the infrastructure industries in July has been a tad disappointing with cement (-0.2%) and steel (-0.9%) slipping. While this could again be an aberration, given that construction work ebbs during monsoons, one cannot be gung ho about the 8.8% number or the 12.4% manufacturing growth number recorded this quarter. Third, growth in credit witnessed this year so far has been robust, but if we take away the over Rs 1 lakh crore of incremental credit that went into the 3G auction support, the number is muted. Fourth, the government segment may not exactly be in a position to provide any further stimulus and hence growth has to come from the private sector. On the positive side, a good monsoon and kharif crop will provide support to the growth number.


In this scenario, a critical role will be assumed by RBI in terms of policy impulses. In July, RBI had high inflation and industrial growth numbers to contend with. A rate hike seemed a logical solution. The growth story is now mixed; the GDP numbers look good, but the industrial performance may have levelled, and it is here that a call has to be taken. Is the economy overheating or is it on the precipice of slipping? Inflation is coming down, albeit slowly, more on account of the base effect and will probably continue to do so in the next few months (actual prices continue to be high for food products). Also, with uncertain global conditions, metal prices could remain subdued, especially if the US is slowing down. Therefore, RBI will have to decide on whether or not to raise rates in September. This, in turn, will be the crux of our growth story going ahead. Monetary policy does matter!







Chhattisgarh's claim to being the fastest growing state with a 11.5% growth in 2009-10, edging out Bihar the front runner in the previous year, points to the tectonic shift in the growth prospects of most of the less developed states in recent years. Apart from these two states, where growth averaged 10.9% each in the latter half of the decade, the other poor states that have witnessed a sustained and rapid acceleration of growth during the period include Orissa (9.2%), Madhya Pradesh (7.5%), Uttar Pradesh (7%) and Jharkhand (6.8%). The only major poor state that has failed to match up to this trend is Tripura, where growth is still averaging a much slower 5.3%.


So the big question is, what are the factors that led to the sharp spike in growth rates in Chhattisgarh and what would be its implications for the rampant poverty in the state? A quick glance at the numbers show that the doubling of average growth rates to 10.9% in the second part of the decade was mostly facilitated by the industrial sector, where growth picked up to 13.3%, the highest across the three major sector of the economy. And what was really remarkable about industry was not the manufacturing sector or even the mining sector, where growth has even decelerated albeit to still very high levels of above 12% and 7.2%, respectively, but the surge in the electricity and construction segments. The state has not only reversed the fall in power generation in the first half of the decade but has also accelerated it sharply to an average rate of 14.1% in the second half, aided by the large number of power stations being set up in the state. While the NTPC has already commissioned 4 projects totalling 1,500 mw, private sector players like Jindal and Lanco have installed 1,300 mw and the state electricity board another 250 mw in the 11th Plan period, which is cumulatively more than the 2060 mw of installed capacity at the start of the Plan. And in construction, the growth more than trebled to 31.8%, which probably cannot be matched by any other state, with most of it probably coming from the transport sector, which has pushed up the growth of road and rail transport services to around 12% during the period. Between 2005 and 2009, the state has connected 2,931 habitations with rural roads. Facilitating this pick-up was the rapid growth of both the banking and communication sectors, which registered the highest growth among services, with the output growth averaging over 15%. To sum up, we can be certain that the pick-up in GDP growth would have certainly impacted Chhattisgarh's poverty numbers, which were last re-estimated at a relatively high 49.4% for 2004-05. But we will have to await the next round of poverty estimates of the NSSO to understand its exact impact on consumption and the poverty numbers of the state.








The Chinese have a problem. They are ageing fast and one-child policy hasn't helped. Such an adverse demographic shift, where a country greys before it becomes rich, has serious socio-economic consequences. Many years ago, Albert Maslow postulated a hierarchy of needs, first in a 1943 paper and then in a 1954 book. Physiological needs come first. The world of psychology may have debated and empirically tested Maslow's postulates, however, we do know at different levels of development, priorities are different. Water-borne diseases may be important at a certain level of income, life-style diseases at another.


John Snow (1813-58) lived in 19th century England, when people knew little about infectious diseases like cholera. In 2003, a poll among British doctors voted Snow as the greatest physician of all time. Snow taught us the importance of clean drinking water and sanitation, a lesson India still hasn't imbibed. Should India worry more about health outcomes resulting from these improvements and existence of malnutrition, or should we be concerned about high cholesterol? This is also true of environment. Simon Kuznets (Nobel Laureate in 1971) is associated with two curves. The first correlates inequality with per capita income and suggests that, as development proceeds, inequality first increases and then declines.


The second is an environmental Kuznets curve (EKC), not suggested by Kuznets himself, but named after him because it exhibits the same inverse-U pattern. This has also been empirically tested and has been found to hold for some variables connected with the environment, though not all. Environmental measures and policies are no longer part of WTO negotiations in the sense that they were originally suggested in Singapore in 1996 or Seattle in 1999. What was the Indian reaction when developed countries proposed inclusion of labour and environmental standards? These were perceived as thinly disguised attempts at protectionism. At our level of development, we aren't ready for these. Open up your markets. Allow our exports, so that we attain higher levels of per capita income. We will then begin to attach premiums to environment and labour.


Negotiations on climate change are no different. Here is a sample, from the Joint Statement of BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) environment ministers at Cape Town on April 25, 2010. "Ministers were of the view that it will not be possible to deal with mitigation actions by developing countries, without also dealing with support for those actions and the two-fold commitments by developed countries to both provide finance for developing countries and reduce their own emissions, with consequences of non-fulfilment."


Fairly explicitly, a trade-off between environment and growth is stressed and without directly mentioning Kuznets, EKC is brought in, emphasising that because of concerns of equity between developed and developing countries, developed countries shouldn't push environment too hard. Fair enough and it is a compelling argument. By the same token, environment should be less of a concern in India's backward states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa), because poverty and non-development are major issues there. One cannot have one kind of logic for international negotiations and another for domestic policy. As a country, we are rich in labour resources. Therefore, as developed countries, don't use NTBs (and other means) to restrict our exports of labour-intensive products. Most (though not all) of India's poorer states are rich in mineral resources. However, sitting here in Delhi, we will not allow those to be exploited. We will resist environmental standards when they are perceived to be imposed by the developed world from the outside. But we have now internalised the process and we will therefore impose environmental standards on poorer states. Who should be the right entity to take a decision about the trade-off? Should it be the ministry of environment & forests (ME&F)?


Forests and protection of wild animals and birds figure in the Concurrent List and mines figure in both the Union and State lists. Quite often, protecting environment is about appropriate property rights (interpreted as decentralisation) and right prices. Indian systems are inordinately centralised, a legacy of colonial times. Ostensibly, we have a decentralised constitutional system in place. It is just that government doesn't believe in decentralisation and planning from down upwards. Witness the way ME&F treats reserve forests. Witness the way Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006 diluted the original Bill (and recommendations of a JPC) and reduced role of the gram sabha, circumventing spirit of PESA, too. Hence, let us not mix up issues.


Yes, tribals should be consulted when exploitation of mineral resources is planned. But no, ME&F sitting in Delhi should not determine their destiny. By allowing ME&F this role, we have ensured India's backward areas become green before they become rich. Or more accurately, they remain green without becoming rich. In a perverse way, ME&F has accomplished what we didn't want developed countries to do.


The author is a noted economist







The irony could not be starker. The set of eight operators who were given licences in January 2008, albeit through controversial means, were supposed to emerge as white knights for the beleaguered telecom minister A Raja. Supposedly, the existing operators were acting as a cartel and charging the consumers high tariffs. Raja had taken on the entrenched lobby, broken the cartel, and as and when the set of new operators would begin their services, tariffs would come down substantially, benefiting consumers. In the process, all criticism that Raja had violated norms while allocating them licences would fade as the consumers started reaping the bounties of competition.


The twist in the tale is that with more than two years having passed, a majority of them have not yet launched services and a few who have rolled out services in a handful of circles function on the periphery. Faced with fund crunch, lack of a viable business model and a belated move prohibiting them till three years from fully cashing out; reportedly these players have now started making rounds of Sanchar Bhavan, seeking ways of honourable exit. This means they are ready to surrender their licence if the government refunds them the licence fee amount or some part of it, or allow them to sell off to others with government charging a slice of the gains being the ultimate owner of spectrum. In fact, the only treasured possession of these companies is the 4.4 Mhz spectrum, which came their way bundled with their licences.


The desperation of the operators can be understood as the Indian telecom market has undergone significant changes since the time they lobbied and managed to get the licences. However, a bigger scam would emerge in case the DoT indeed starts working on any such proposal.


Consider the following facts first: barring one (to a certain extent)—Sistema Shyam—the record of the other seven operators with regard to commercial launches of services is dismal and fails to meet the roll-out obligations enshrined in the clause 35.2 of the Universal Access Services Licence. The conditions require the licensee to cover at least 10% of the district headquarters in the first year of being given the licence and 50% by the end of third year. Later this was amended, stipulating that the conditions be met within the same time span after being allocated spectrum, which was a sensible move.


According to government's admission in Parliament in January this year, barring Unitech Wireless (Uninor) and S Tel—the former has launched services in eight out of 22 circles while the latter has done so in three out of six circles—the record of all others is zero. This is when barring a few circles it has been nearly two years since spectrum was granted to all of them.


The licence conditions on roll out obligations are very clear: the government has the powers to impose a fine of Rs 5 lakh a week for the first 13 weeks of delay, Rs 10 lakh for the next 13 weeks and thereafter at the rate of Rs 20 lakh for delays up to 26 weeks. If any operator fails to fulfil the obligation even after 52 weeks of delay, then the government has the power to cancel the licence.


Still, so far, neither has the DoT levied a fine on any such operator nor is it in any mood to scrap their licences. As with every rule comes a way of bypassing them and so is the case with regard to roll out obligations. It does not mandate operators to launch services commercially, which means that subscribers can rightfully demand its connections. Therefore, operators put up patchy networks in district headquarters either by sharing tower with incumbent operators or by entering into intra-circle roaming pacts. Interestingly, Etisalat DB, which is one new licensee having the dubious record of not having commercial services in any of the 15 circles, claims that it has launched services in all the 15 circles and has a subscriber base of around 18,000! So the company can neither be fined nor its licences be scrapped, technically.


Still what explains the desperation of the operators and even of the DoT to bail them out is because the PMO has now started enquiring about the poor state of roll-out by these operators. On top of it, there is CVC enquiry into the entire licensing criteria. A bail-out explained in good economic language may hopefully put a lid on all this!


Last time Raja got through his way, but this time round the government should exercise vigil and ensure that no sweet bail-out is extended to these operators. The right course would be to scrap the licences of the non-performers and take back the spectrum allocated.


There's a huge 2G spectrum crunch and incumbent operators adding substantial subscribers month-on-month need it for growth. The government should allocate spectrum to them. However, before doing so, it should first come out with a different criterion rather than the current subscriber-linked one (auction can be one). It would be wise if the government trashes Trai's recommendation on the issue since it would neither help it nor the operators or consumers.







At a recent lecture by Amartya Sen on the 'Centrality of Literacy', PM Manmohan Singh attributed his current success to the investment made by his family and country in his education. He remarked, "education is the most important differentiator and the most effective multiplier." He further stated that his government is committed to ensuring that paucity of funds don't limit the spread of literacy and education in our country. Does this imply that provision of funds is a panacea for all our education woes? The answer certainly seems to be 'no' as per a recent survey that presents a sad state of affairs for our elementary education initiative.


As per the findings of the recently released report, Do Schools Get Their Money?, by PAISA—India's first and only citizen-led joint initiative run by NIPFP, Accountability Initiative and ASER Centre—mismanagement and delays in the flow of funds are key reasons behind the weakening of the decade-old Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA). The survey (covering 14,560 schools) observed that 47% primary and 40% upper primary schools reported receiving all the 3 grants during 2008-09—in April to October 2009, however, these figures fell to 27% and 20%, respectively. In other words, the larger part of these funds were received in the second half of the fiscal and utilised by the schools at the end of the year in a hurried manner just to produce utilisation certificates that determine future grants' sizes. The survey also notes that more than half the schools that received funds under the SSA didn't have toilets and one-fifth didn't have working hand pumps; while over 80% classrooms had blackboards, educational materials, etc, suggestive of the ineffective fund utilisation.


The larger challenge is to provide adequate incentives for effective monitoring of such schemes. In this vein, a viable solution can be the setting up of a separate, autonomous ministry, say 'monitoring ministry', whose sole objective will be to clear bottlenecks and to enforce unbiased accountability across such schemes. Productive collaborations like PAISA can serve as a good input. The costs of setting up of such a ministry will surely be offset by the huge money saved from prohibited leakages across all the socio-economic development schemes.







The allegations of 'spot-fixing' in the fourth cricket Test between England and Pakistan — a decade after Hansie Cronje's confessions shattered the game's credibility — are both an eerie reminder of the dark days and an explicit threat to the sport's future. They show that the tumour of match-fixing, which erodes the fan's faith, hasn't been excised. There is nothing that destroys a sport's soul as surely as the suspicion that what's being viewed isn't authentic. The first match-fixing scandal bred cynicism, but cricket — more because of the unconditional love it still evoked in millions of fans than any action by the game's governing body — survived it. This isn't to say that the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) has been of no value. That fixers now have to rely on 'spot-fixing,' which focusses on discrete events within the game rather than its result, is a sort of backhanded compliment to the broad-ranging steps taken under Lord Paul Condon. However, it's disquieting that it wasn't the ACSU that exposed Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif bowling no-balls at pre-determined moments — but News of the World, a British red-top (the drama can be viewed at Spot-fixing, heinous in itself, now seems to serve as a gateway to throwing games away for big money.


If cricket is to survive its second fixing scandal, the ICC and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) must act intelligently, decisively, and quickly. As Lord Condon pointed out, cricket is susceptible to betting and therefore fixing because of its structure as a series of discrete events; and it's extremely hard to detect and establish causality with spot-fixing. The PCB has long been an inept, dysfunctional body. On it rests the blame for the tendency of Pakistan's immensely talented cricket to lurch from one disaster to another. Its failure to deal firmly with those implicated in the first match-fixing scandal — or any of its many scandals for that matter — has fostered a culture of brazen indiscretion. Its lack of direction and support has alienated impressionable youngsters, many of whom have had troubled lives. How else to explain the tragedy of two of the world's most exciting young pacemen and a new captain landing themselves in such a mess at this stage of their careers? The PCB needs urgent reform. The ICC meanwhile has to fight the battle against fixing on many fronts. It must work in greater degree with governments and police agencies to deal with what essentially is a criminal problem. It must exercise stricter control on its fixtures, checking the proliferation of Twenty20 cricket and avoiding meaningless matches, both easy targets for fixers. It must punish the guilty in a way that deters others from committing the worst crime in sport.







Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent assurance that the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 would be amended is welcome though delayed. There are many compelling reasons why this inept and outdated Act should be changed and the farmers' protest over disruptive acquisition in Uttar Pradesh is only one of them. The 1894 Act, last amended in 1984, has not helped balance the land needs of rapid economic growth and the grievances of those who are divested of the land. The definition of public purpose that justifies acquisition is ambiguous; the compensation offered is unjustifiably low; and the provisions lack clarity, often requiring courts to intervene. In addition, the procedures laid down are cumbersome. As early as in 1994, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Urban and Rural Development pointed to some of these shortcomings, but the government was slow to respond. After a prolonged review of the Act extending over almost a decade, an amending bill, which had its own deficiencies, was introduced and hustled through the Lok Sabha in 2009. Even that bill has lapsed. The result: the archaic Act is still in force.


The latest promise by the Prime Minister must see a whole new comprehensive law in place. Occasional intervention by the state to facilitate genuine development — as for instance when landowners hold up the acquisition process or legal tangles stall possession of land parcels — is understandable. But that route cannot be used indiscriminately or misused to acquire and supply cheap real estate to private companies. Nor can two unequal measures of compensation — one for land directly acquired by the company, and another for land acquired through the government — be acceptable. The scope for compulsory acquisition must be clearly defined and the concept of compensation widened to go beyond the theoretical principle of equivalence — the person who loses land will not be monetarily worse or better off after acquisition. There is more to land than its tangible value. Alternatives such as including the land losers as the beneficiaries of acquisition must be considered. Another good practice to adopt is to allow affected persons to engage experts for determining the market value on their behalf with the costs paid. This provision is needed since land records and transactions are poorly administered. For a land acquisition law to be effective, related legislation such as the Rehabilitation and Resettlement and the Agricultural Land Acquisition Regulatory Authority bills must also be pursued earnestly.










Competing for praise and popularity is as common between Ministries as are turf wars. When officers from different Ministries get the rare opportunity to meet and discuss matters of shared concern, they behave like alert soldiers who are expected to fight for every inch of territory. I had an exposure to this phenomenon while working for a Planning Commission sub-committee on vocational education for skill development. Vocational and technical training is a chaotic corner of our education system. Seventeen Ministries are involved in such training but the overall coverage is poor in both numbers and quality. The Ministry of Labour controls Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) where secondary level children receive technical training. A small proportion of higher secondary schools also offers vocational courses. Joint courses given by schools and ITIs are unheard of, apparently because the two institutions have separate directorates. This is a common and continuous story. When a Ministry launches a new scheme, it seldom takes into account the schemes under which other Ministries might be addressing the same problem.


The Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) recently announced a scheme to 'empower' adolescent girls. Before looking at its salient features, let us briefly recall the entry and progress of 'empowerment' as a term in the discourse of development. In the last three decades, the term has pushed out earlier ways of addressing the welfare needs of the economically weak and culturally oppressed sections. 'Empowerment' connotes a radical change after which the weak would cease to feel weak. The term camouflages the sharply unequal distribution of power in society by promising that those without power will gain it without someone else losing it. Initially used in the context of devolution of authority, 'empowerment' soon became a footloose linguistic device. Welfare schemes — even those which offered little more than escape from hunger — were endowed with the miraculous capacity to empower.


The new scheme launched by the WCD Ministry belongs to this class. It offers free "take-home ration" and iron tablets, a smattering of life skills education and vocational training to girls in 200 underdeveloped districts. The overall food budget has been calculated at the daily rate of Rs. 5 per beneficiary, while the feasibility of cash transfer to a girl is "being explored." The Ministry intends using its anganwadis for implementing the scheme. So far, anganwadis have served as a vehicle for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). Long past its prime, the ICDS has failed to evolve a credible early childhood educational programme. Operated with the help of poorly paid local women, many of whom are illiterate, most ICDS centres serve mainly to feed.


There is no doubt that providing food to children is a laudable thing to do, but the 'D' in ICDS was supposed to stand for all-round development, not just survival. As a national programme, it runs parallel to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). Had the two come together, we might have seen a credible early childhood education coverage in every corner of the country. And now the WCD Ministry is starting a programme for adolescent girls, which will parallel the remarkable network of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs) run under the SSA. Instead of contributing to these schools, the new scheme will use the anganwadis to distribute food supplements and so on. A fresh, quiet turf war will slowly encircle rural childhood.


KGBVs are meant to serve rural girls belonging to families whose economy is below the poverty line and others who come from Dalit and minority communities. Now they provide a full-time residential facility and regular education from classes VI to VIII. Girls who never enrolled in a primary school or who dropped out before completing Class V are eligible for enrolment in a KGBV. By any standards, it is a bold and imaginative scheme and over the recent years, it has gained both popularity and status in State after State.


There are some 2,500 functioning KGBVs in rural India today. Visit any of them, and the one demand you will hear from residents and their parents is that they want the school to go up to Class XII or at least Class X. They also want more money to expand infrastructure. Though run on the minimalist principles of SSA, the KGBVs have been a spectacular success, especially in States where the Mahila Samakhya (MS) is managing them. Although Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have treated the MS quite shabbily — setting an example of a turf war between the government and the NGOs — the scheme is blossoming in almost every State. One naturally wonders why the WCD Ministry did not choose to tie up with the HRD Ministry to strengthen the KGBV scheme instead of launching a stand-alone, minimalist programme of food distribution and skill development. The choice of anganwadis as the dispenser of the meagre benefits the new scheme offers is astonishing.


That this scheme has been named Sabla also deserves attention. The coinage is supposed to convey the opposite of abla, which means 'the one who has no power.' In the Hindi belt, abla inevitably reminds people of a couplet, composed by nationalist poet Maithili Sharan Gupta, which conveys pity for a woman's fate. By playing on that helpless image and inverting it with the prefix 's,' to denote 'one who has power,' the Ministry is trying to perform a semiotic trick. Recall a similar trick in the scheme laadli (the pampered one) which is supposed to reverse foeticide and discourage discrimination against girls. A similar trick is performed when para-teachers are given attractive titles like vidya mitra (friends of knowledge). All such jugglery comprises a disdainful attitude towards the poor. It also attempts to mask the reality in which the poor live, unreached by the state's generous arms. In fact, the name Sabla humiliates poor adolescent girls by claiming to empower them with food supplements worth Rs. 5 a day.


To decode this humiliation, we need to recall how difficult the life of adolescent girls in India is, and not just on the poorer strata of society. Our culture poses formidable mental and social barriers to girls when they attain puberty. Some of these mental blocks make it extremely difficult for education to do what it is supposed to — namely, boost confidence in one's abilities by developing a positive self-concept. Right from early childhood, girls are socialised to perceive matrimony and motherhood as the ultimate goals of their life. A numbing array of rituals and customs is used to prepare girls for the inescapability of leaving their natal homes and for a life of dependence and silent compliance. Negative psychological attributes are compounded by everyday experience of discrimination — in all matters ranging from food intake and health care to education opportunities. It is no surprise that the overwhelming majority of adolescent girls in India are anaemic and sickly. This distressful scenario, in which poverty and early marriage often combine to cause permanent oppression, cannot be erased by distributing a handful of grain and iron tablets, or by imparting some so-called life skills. If the WCD Ministry means business, it should talk to the HRD Ministry and SSA experts to explore collaborative opportunities available in the KGBV scheme. And both Ministries should consider how the girls studying in KGBVs can become the nodal resource for the female literacy mission.


The institutionalisation of the KGBV scheme is not going to be easy. For now, expansion and improvement of quality are major challenges. So is the revision of norms for staff strength and training of teachers. Mainstreaming of the KGBV alumni is also a difficult task, given the aggressive ethos which characterises co-educational secondary schools. Recognition of KGBVs as institutions capable of creating a new generation of women leaders and scholars in rural India ought to become a policy goal. The NCERT has formulated a plan to reserve a few scholarships for them in the National Talent Search examination, but the proposal is still pending with the HRD Ministry. If the WCD Ministry decides to join the pool of resources available for the development of KGBVs, the outcome could well end the impasse one notices in many spheres of women's education and welfare.


(The author is professor of education at Delhi University and former Director of NCERT.)









Most of the judges of the Supreme Court of India are those who were previously senior judges in High Courts. There is no valid ground to sustain any discrimination among judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts in the matter of their age of retirement. There is justice in eliminating the differential age for retirement of the robed brethren of the High Courts and the Supreme Court. An anomaly is now being corrected.

But what criteria and guidelines are being applied, what level of scrutiny is done, before a Judge of the High Court is elevated to the Supreme Court? At present the choices are made seemingly according to the fancy of the judges who constitute the Collegium. There is no investigation into the social philosophy, academic excellence, judicial performance or wealth and other circumstances that should help reveal the class bias of those who are chosen.


This writer was 104th in rank as a Judge of the Kerala High Court but proved to be, according to many senior advocates, one of the best who sat on the Supreme Court. The name was initially rejected by Chief Justice S.M. Sikri for unknown reasons, but was regarded as good by Chief Justice A.N. Ray, who made the selection. I was a member of the E.M.S. Namboodiripad-led Ministry in Kerala in the 1950s. That was my "sin," but when I left the Bench, at a dinner Fali S. Nariman and others with him passed a resolution that termed me a humane judge. The resolution said: "Permit us to remind you that the Bar is the judge of judges and no judge can avoid or escape the verdict of the Bar. We have summoned you this evening to hear our unanimous declaratory verdict. Our verdict is a decree of affection and admiration. Let us also declare, in these proceedings which are sui generic, that we are not only your judges but also your judgment-debtors. No words of prosaic prose would be adequate to encompass your vitality and versatility — not even if we drew upon and borrowed from the hoarded wealth of a vast vocabulary you are known to possess. We shall therefore crave your indulgence to supplement the record by those profounder feelings, which the language of the lexicon cannot communicate and which are best conveyed by the language of the heart."


The senior advocates judged me by my performance. The President conferred on me the Padma Vibhushan.


A Performance Commission is a necessary instrument to assess the worth of judges proposed for elevation or for extension of tenure or for ad hoc appointment. The Collegium often blunders and people suffer. There are no checks on its decisions — it seems to choose on the basis of fancy affections and inadvertently even includes corrupt brothers from the High Court — and not on the basis of a study of the candidate or with access to the public to know the facts, as in the U.S., or association with the Bar as in the U.K. The whole system needs reform and principles need to be set out on a candidate's social philosophy. That is why privy purses were sought to be protected, and the nationalisation of banks and a land reform law were struck down. A professor of law even expressed the view that the Supreme Court is the conscience-keeper of the proprietariat.


Arbitrary power will corrupt even the best of persons absolutely. A High Court Chief Justice was complaining to me how a Chief Justice who had been on the job for only two months had been picked for the Curzon Road wonder while he, with a clean record, was overlooked although he had been serving for three-and-a-half years in the position in a High Court.


The Collegium is a judicial creation and the syndrome of the personality cult being beyond accountability. It is bizarre in its performance — its selection process is secret and suspect and is subject to no scrutiny. It excludes the executive and is in that respect unique in the world. Why India should retain such a bedlam process, akin to a pre-feudal power cult, is unclear. Parliament must make a law regarding selection of judges, a code of conduct for judges and a Performance Commission as has been done by many States in the U.S.


David Pannick, QC, has argued thus: "The Judicial Performance Commission could serve a valuable function in these respects. Litigants should have the power to refer to the Commission a complaint about the conduct of a judge. The Lord Chancellor should have such power, and should be obliged to exercise it prior to dismissing a judge. (This would not prevent a judge resigning to avoid publicity on the matter).


In May 1986, Lord Hailsham expressed support for the introduction of an independent complaints board to investigate facts and make recommendations to the Lord Chancellor prior to the dismissal of a Circuit Judge. He said, quite understandably, that he was troubled by the absence of a fair procedure.


Judges with a class bias are misfits in a socialist republic. Some judges with a communal bend of mind are on the Bench. The regionalism and communalism of this body called the Collegium has brought down the greatness of India's fine judiciary.


An appeal


My appeal to parliamentarians is to wake up and implement glasnost and perestroika in the judiciary. They control the executive and strike down laws you make. Who controls them? In the name of independence you cannot have judicial absolutism and tyranny.


Franklin D. Roosevelt said it. Jawaharlal Nehru once told Parliament why India cannot allow the Supreme Court to be the Third Chamber of the House. You are the people's voice and vox populi vox dei and must express critical, nationalist correctional power. The three instrumentalities must harmoniously work the Constitution's sense of justice, social, economic and political into a reality. Remember that Roman adage: "Whatever touches all should be decided by all."


Even with respect of District Judges beyond 55 years of age and up to 58 years there are guidelines in Kerala that provide for compulsory retirement in the public interest "if the High Court on an assessment and evaluation of the records of such officer is of the view that such officer is not fit and eligible to continue in service beyond the age of 50 years, 55 years and 58 years, as the case may be."


Why not, then, have similar provisions for High Court judges too? This is a democracy, not a robed dictatorship with papal-like infallibility vested in the Supreme Court for the purely administrative functions of government. Corrupt anti-socialist 'brethren' are dangerous without accountability.


Let us not permit forensic fascism. By and large, India's judges are of a high standard. But a few foul the Bench and shake the faith of the people in the justice system.


On the Politics of the judiciary, Professor Griffith of London University quoted Winston Churchill thus: "The courts hold justly a high, and I think, unequalled pre-eminence in the respect of the world in criminal cases, and in civil cases between man and man, no doubt, they deserve and command the respect and admiration of all classes of the community, but where class issues and involved, it is impossible to pretend that the courts command the same degree of general confidence. On the contrary, they do not, and a very large number of our population have been led to the opinion that they are, unconsciously, no doubt, biased. (The Secretary of State for the Home Department [Mr. W.S.Churchill] on the second reading of the Trade Unions (No.2) Bill, 1911 (26 H.C. Deb.col. 1022).

The executive is weak and tends to treat this country as a dollar colony. The judiciary is British-oriented and precedent-board. Parliament at least must be supreme, activist, sovereign, democratic, socialist and, secular. If you fail, India dies. Never. You are the voice of swaraj, the victory of a do-or-die struggle. Your Constituency is the People of India. Edmund Burke put it thus: "We are not slaves of the robed brethren mechanically obedient to a curious invention called collegium."









Unusual political moves are normally in sync with unusual situations in the affairs of a nation. This is now true of Australia, where it is believed that a new administration can be formed only by an accord between an established political party or coalition on the one side and a few Independents on the other. This process has so far remained transparent.


As of August-end, the snap general election held in Australia on August 21 is expected to produce only a hung Parliament. Such a widely predicted outcome will be the first of its kind in nearly 70 years at the federal level in a country long used to genuine democratic practices.


The high political drama, in a positive sense of the term, is heightened by the fact that this election was held by the watch of Australia's first woman Prime Minister Julia Gillard. She had assumed that office just over two months ago in a political coup against Kevin Rudd within the ruling Australian Labor Party (ALP).


It was Mr. Rudd who presided over the party's triumph in the previous election less than three years ago. Ms. Gillard is now battling it out to see whether she can stay on at the helm, this time as Australia's first woman leader to be elected by the people as their prime minister.


Her earlier ascension to power was, of course, the result of an internal power-play at the highest echelons of the ruling party. And, in her words, she is now engaged in a political "fight" to stay on at the helm and continue to lead a "stable and effective government."


Abbott versus Gillard


At the other end of the Australian political spectrum is the opposition Liberal-National Coalition, led by Tony Abbott, seeking to checkmate Ms. Gillard in what he tends to see as her political overdrive to make history. For this, he now finds himself in the strange situation of having to gain the support of the same Independents whom Ms. Gillard needs. She has already indicated that her "world view" is light years away from Mr. Abbott's window on politics and vice-versa. So, she has made no secret of her political resolve to go the whole hog in trying to win the backing of a handful of Independents who might come to hold the balance of power.


As this is being written, the political complexion of new federal House of Representatives in Canberra is far from clear. A general view is that the 150-member House may have at least four to five Independents. Of them, some have had association with the opposition Coalition. And, the Coalition is also keen to count one of them under its own column in a new House. Of relevance as a lesson to the leaders and observers in other democracies, as different from the current players on the Australian political scene, is the game-plan of three of these Independents — Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, and Bob Katter.


For now, they are acting in unison to the point of attracting criticism that they are willingly or unwittingly paving the way for a political bloc of their own. The point made in such discourse is that they may end up acting contrary to their individualistic political identities. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Abbott has sought to drive home this point by describing them as non-aligned Independents.


What really is their game plan? They first sought briefings from the Treasury about its estimates of likely public expenditure required to implement the campaign promises by Labor and the Coalition respectively.


Ms. Gillard lost no time in agreeing to consider the Independents' demand favourably. Mr. Abbott initially offered only to let these individuals have access to the Coalition's own estimates that were prepared by a non-governmental consultancy firm. He also expressed reservations about subjecting the Coalition's campaign-linked policies to a costing exercise by the Treasury in an emotionally surcharged political atmosphere.


However, the two leaders reached an agreement on August 27. With that, Ms. Gillard said, the Independents should now be able to get the material that they were seeking. The procedural issue, in her view, "is now resolved." The votes and the attitudes of these Independents "may be critical", she went on to emphasise.


Mr. Abbott, for his part, maintained that his agreement with Ms. Gillard was not a political climbdown from his earlier position. He said: "The Coalition will brief [the] Treasury before [the] Treasury briefs the Independents, and no information from that full briefing of [the] Treasury by the Coalition will be available to the Government. What this means is that: [the] briefings of the Independents by [the] Treasury can now go ahead without the risk of political interference."


The perception


The general expectation in political circles is that each Independent will now be able to support either Labour or the Coalition on the basis of the Treasury's briefings. But surely these briefings will not be their sole deciding factor. Also unknown at this stage is whether the three will act in unison, as now, in casting their lot with either Labor or the Coalition. Moreover, government-formation may produce other surprises.


For now, they have not run foul of public opinion by acting together in making this critical demand. R.F.I. Smith, a former public servant in Australia, said that the general impression is that they are moving in "a fairly credible way." They are seen to have set themselves a task of assessing the "bona fides" of Labor and the Coalition respectively.


On the likelihood of defections, experts tend to believe that party affiliations and party discipline are respected in considerable measure.


Australian observers like Robin Jeffrey do not see any similarity between their current poll-related situation and the controversies that accompanied the first-time election of George W. Bush as United States president.









Sad news for those of us with fond memories of long minutes lost in the more arcane histories of English words: the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which a team of 80 lexicographers has been working on since 1989, will probably never be printed. "The print dictionary market is just disappearing," Oxford University Press CEO Nigel Portwood said on August 29. It will still be available online — in fact, in December, the web version is being relaunched, including for the first time the historical thesaurus of the OED, which contains almost every word in English from Old English to the present. The problem is that it is a tad pricey: £7 plus VAT for a week's access; £205 plus VAT for a year.


Luckily, there are alternatives: This paper's preferred arbiter, in its print version, the pocket version is available free online — though, it must be said, boasting some rather confusing orthography. The second entry for the word "help", for example, reads "2. to contribute to, to help Latin America's economies" — some italics, or brackets, or bold letters would help. You can buy a 1,888-page hard copy for £70, or download it for a mere £9.99.


The competition


The Chambers 21st Century Dictionary, with its 75,000 words and phrases and 110,000 definitions, is free online. This is much more presentable, with quite satisfying lists of definitions, and examples of the word in context.


A little bit of etymology, too. Chambers is not, however, accepting new subscribers to the full shebang — 170,000 words and phrases and 270,000 definitions. The 1,871-page print version sells for £40.


The definitions are short and to the point, with no information about sources or background (though there are sample phrases, and a direct link to a thesaurus). It also lets you submit words of your own, and gives you the option of British or American English. Macmillan's particular wheeze, useful to learners of English, is to highlight the 7,500 core, high-frequency words in the English language: three-star words are the most frequent; one-star words less so. It's free online, but you'll pay £24 for a hard copy.


A real discovery, this online site trawls 18,967,499 words in 1,060 different dictionaries — all the major English ones, but also dictionaries for specific subjects (business, art, medicine) or languages. You can customise your search — only in slang, for example; compare entries in different dictionaries; do a wildcard search (asterisks, hashtags or @ symbols account for the characters you can't remember), or a reverse search (type in "being tried twice for the same crime", for "double jeopardy", for example). It doesn't, however, link to a Scrabble dictionary, which some might feel is an important omission. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








For the Kremlin it has become something of an embarrassment. On the 31st of the month, a group of noisy protesters gather in downtown Moscow's Triumfalnaya Square. They shout slogans against Vladimir Putin and his regime. The 31ers, as they are known, are seeking to defend Russia's much-abused constitution and in particular article 31 — meant to guarantee freedom of assembly. Over this year Moscow's city government has devised various tactics to stop these rallies, ranging from the brutal to the surreal — the campaign is beginning to look like a convoluted game of chess for control of the square. The authorities have turned down all applications to stage the "Strategy-31" gatherings.


Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has sent in the goons, with riot police deployed on every occasion to arrest protesters and chuck them in the back of police vans. In May police broke a journalist's arm; in July officials came up with a rival event in the square — a car rally. These tactics have reached a new level of ridiculousness. The government last week announced it was building an underground car park underneath the square and fenced off the whole area. Two workmen could be seen slowly digging a small hole next to a statue of Russian futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. It is clear that nobody is in any hurry to get the work completed, which could now drag on for years.


In retaliation, they have decided to take their protest to London, New York, Helsinki, Berlin and Tel Aviv. In the eight months since the rallies started, protesters have included elderly dissidents who fought against the Soviet Union and teenagers who were born in the 1990s, well after the collapse of communism. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010










On a blistering day in July, Zahim Jehad was fossicking around a scrap yard in Basra amid hundreds of live artillery shells.

After photographing rusting rounds he took the pictures to Iraq's environment ministry, buoyed by hope he could once again start transforming the lethal relics into sculptures.


Six months ago, Jehad's Baghdad office had brimmed with such creations: fish made out of guns, sail boats fashioned from daggers and mortars, and insects crafted from broken-down weapons of war confiscated by U.S. troops. He hired fine-arts students and eventually took on a conga line of handicapped youths to help turn poignant instruments of terror into Iraq's most creative cottage industry. The artwork was then auctioned to fund charities for the handicapped.


The charge


That was until the bureaucrats stepped in. "They complained against me in the court," Jehad says ruefully from his office, which is also the national headquarters of the Iraqi Mine Clearance Organisation. "They said I was destroying the weaponry of the old Iraqi army. But these were weapons that were taken by the American army from the terrorists, as well as other devices of execution, like knives and swords.


"Because of the intervention from the defence ministry, things stopped just as they were getting started. They said we had destroyed 10,000 weapons at the cost of $100 each. It was all a lie." Officials took Jehad to court earlier this year; he was found not guilty of any crime and sent on his way. Ever since, he has been trying to get permission to resume his business.


The sculptures that remain jut starkly from whitewashed showcases like ghoulish transformer toys. Look hard enough and you can see Kalashnikov muzzles forming the flank of a giant fish.


Anyone with a broader knowledge of weaponry would see spouts from mortars in the body of a lower limb, shaped also by firing pins and knife handles.


Spiders are a favourite, and easily put together by springs and parts of rockets, while the hulking Man of War seems to have a part from every small weapon imaginable. "We sold around 350 pieces," says Zahim. "And we will sell more again. The trouble is that Iraqis don't yet understand NGOs. But when I went to the authorities two weeks ago, I said I could not only deactivate these weapons, but make them into art. They were interested, but we haven't had a response from them — yet." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








The more things change, the more they remain the same... The bill to give effect to the new direct taxes code (DTC), unveiled in Parliament on Monday, makes it evident that the government has largely failed to deliver on the basic premise of what it promised — simplified provisions which could be comprehensible to assesses, easier filing procedures so that the average taxpayer did not need expert help, and specific clauses to ensure accountability — of the enforceable kind — by the tax authorities. The bill offers none of that.
One of the big surprises was the unexpected blow to women taxpayers: for the first time the principle of "gender equality" worked against women as they lost the preferential treatment they had been enjoying for several years in a higher income-tax exemption limit. Till now, the basic I-T exemption limit for male taxpayers was `1.6 lakh, while for women it was `1.9 lakh. The new DTC has erased this difference: from April 1, 2012, when it goes into effect, all taxpayers will get an exemption limit of `2 lakhs. Surprisingly, one more category of people slightly miffed are home loan borrowers — as the new proposals take away the benefit on the principal repaid on the housing loan. But since the interest is the major part of the repayment, the effect is not really all that negative for the borrower. Yet another uncertainty removed on Monday will the DTC bill's introduction was the question of taxing capital gains. The stock market had, in fact, been acting a little subdued, so when the clarification came that capital gains would not be taxed if the securities in question were held for more than a year, the market perked up a bit.

As regards encouraging investments in pure insurance schemes, the new proposals will surely gladden the hearts of officials of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, who were recently involved in a very public spat with the insurance regulator over insurance agents selling mutual fund products such as ULIPs instead of pure insurance products. The new proposals now provide for tax exemptions only on insurance investments in which the premium is just five per cent of the sum insured — which according to experts means that in order to qualify for tax exemption, the investment period has to be around 20 years. A five per cent dividend tax on ULIPs is also being proposed.

Yet a cursory look at the 300-page DTC document indicates that overall the new proposals do not in fact encourage investments. Quite the contrary. Tax benefits are reduced for small savings schemes favoured by ordinary citizens — to cite just one instance, middle-class India's LIC premiums, which were tax-deductible upto `1 lakh a year, will now be deductible only upto `50,000 — and this includes mediclaim. But if the aam aadmi feel they have got a raw deal, they should pause to consider the plight of the seriously wealthy. While the wealth tax limit has been enhanced from `15 lakhs to `1 crore, the rich are in a tizzy because this includes assets like watches which cost over `50,000, pieces of art, sculpture, paintings and property such as multiple flats — all items of what is considered conspicuous consumption. One wonders why the finance minister has left out fancy mobile phones which cost over `50,000 — these are sometimes more like jewellery than communication devices.

The government is also delaying the rollout of DTC till April 1, 2012, a year later than scheduled, on the plea that everyone needs time to study the code. But as the revenue secretary has himself said — until the bill is passed, nothing can be considered final.








SONIA GANDHI'S unopposed re-election as Congress president was a foregone conclusion from the word go. So the completion of the formality is neither here nor there though it makes her the longest serving party chief in its 125-year history. What the whole episode does do, however, is to raise gnawing questions about the functioning of the Congress that once used to be India's Grand Old Party and still is both the principal mainstream party and the core of the ruling United Progressive Alliance. Sadly, this is not all. Since nothing is more contagious than a bad example, most other political parties — big, small or marginal — have become, like the Congress, family-controlled. Also in each, the incumbent of the top party post either holds it for life or, at a suitable stage, passes the baton to his or her progeny.

To be sure, there are a few exceptions to this rule but these have shortcomings of a different kind. For instance, by no stretch of the imagination can the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the only other mainstream party, be said to be a part of the prevailing dynastic pattern. But then right from the start it has been under the control of the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS), the karta of the Sangh Parivar. Nitin Gadkari is the RSS' appointee as the BJP president; the party cadre had no option but to formally elect him. There is no point saying much about the regional parties, be they the fiefdom of M. Karunanidhi's extended family in Tamil Nadu, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, Lalu Prasad Yadav's husband-and-wife diarchy in Rashtriya Janata Dal, Balasaheb Thackeray's brood running Shiv Sena's rival branches in Maharashtra or the Abdullahs and Muftis of Jammu and Kashmir or whatever.

The main point therefore is that if India, especially its much-frayed political system, is to escape this depressing and manifestly undemocratic milieu, the Congress would have to set an example for all others. It can do so only by returning to the party's fine traditions of the past that have been discarded and perhaps forgotten by the present-day members of the party that would celebrate its 125th anniversary in December.

Even in the era when the Mahatma's magic held the Indian National Congress in thrall, there was no dearth of dissent and democratic contest for leadership. Subhash Chandra Bose decisively defeated Gandhiji's candidate for the party presidency, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, in 1938. In May 1939, because of continued opposition to him by the Congress Right, Bose was forced to resign and replaced by Rajendra Prasad.

On becoming Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru set the wholesome norm that someone else should hold the office of Congress president. He departed from this sound principle but briefly and under rather extraordinary circumstances. In 1949, Nehru had suffered the kind of defeat in the party presidential poll that the Mahatma had 11 years earlier. In a bitterly fought election Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's nominee Purushottam Das Tandon easily vanquished the Prime Minister's candidate, Acharya Kripalani. Since no two men could be so unlike in ideology and social outlook as Nehru and Tandon, the struggle between them continued until 1951, when shortly after Patel's death, Nehru got rid of Tandon. However, he did so through the perfectly democratic method of a vote in the All-India Congress Committee.

At that time there appeared to be no alternative to the Prime Minister taking over the post of Congress president, too. By 1955, however, Nehru absolutely insisted on giving up the party job and U.N. Dhebar was elected. There were several Congress presidents after Dhebar, including Indira Gandhi herself. The last of the line in Nehru's time was K. Kamraj, who masterminded Lal Bahadur Shastri's succession to Nehru and Indira's to Shastri. Kamraj's successor, S. Nijalingappa, though at loggerheads with the Prime Minister, continued to head the party right up to the Congress split of 1969. Afterwards, Jagjivan Ram and Shankar Dayal Sharma served as Congress(I) presidents, with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi reigning supreme. Even during the Emergency Dev Kanta Borooah held the top party post.

The pernicious practice of the Congress Prime Minister holding both the offices began with Indira Gandhi's return to power in 1980. Rajiv Gandhi inherited this from his mother, and P.V. Narasimha Rao excelled both in this respect. He not only stuck to both jobs for as long he was at 7, Race Course Road but also after the humiliating Congress defeat in the 1996 general election. He clung to both the Congress presidency and the leadership of the Congress parliamentary party. But his position became untenable when he faced criminal charges. Sitaram Kesri, not an ideal choice, replaced Rao as Congress president.

All this while Mrs Sonia Gandhi had stayed aloof from developments within the Congress. But she evidently changed her mind after the Congress suffered a second shattering defeat in 1998 and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance rose to power. At its hurriedly summoned meeting on March 14, 1998, the Congress Working Committee summarily sacked Kesri and elected Mrs Sonia Gandhi as Congress president. The operation bore all the signs of a coup. Two years later when the time came for her re-election, quite a few party members felt that there ought to at least a token contest even if her landslide victory was certain. Jitendra Prasad offered himself as the alternative candidate. For his "effrontery" the sycophantic Congress Party so harassed, hounded and humiliated him that no one else has dared to ask for a token contest ever since.

Admittedly, the situation did become complicated because of Mrs Sonia Gandhi's decision in 2004 not to accept the office of Prime Minister. But if she can retain her overriding power with someone else as Prime Minister, can't she do so with someone else as Congress president? Indeed, she should encourage him/her to bring back the vanished electoral process in the party organisation down the line.

If this were not done, India would earn permanently the dubious distinction of being the world's largest democracy that is propped by a clutch of political parties totally bereft of democracy within themselves.







The Recent ordering of a court martial of a lieutenant-general in the Indian Army in connection with a land transfer case brings to mind my first experience of a court martial. It was in Indonesia in 1946, as a defending officer. I had to defend Aslam Khan and Mohammad Shareef of 4/8 Punjab Regiment. They had deserted with their weapons and had been taken prisoners in battle wearing the uniform of captains in the Indonesian Army. At the summary of evidence they had stated that they answered the call of Islam and were fighting for their Indonesian Muslim brothers. They were charged with waging war against the King and for desertion with arms in war. Capital punishment is prescribed for both offences. I was at a loss as to how to defend them. When the summary of evidence was recorded they were not told that it was not incumbent on them to make any statement, but should they make one it could be used as evidence against them in a court martial. My request for a fresh summary of evidence, on this ground, was accepted. The accused now stated that an Indonesian girl had offered them cigarettes and that they had passed out on smoking these. When they recovered, they found themselves in an Indonesian Army camp. They joined the Indonesian Army so that they could get back to their regiment at the first opportunity. They were convicted and sentenced to seven years' rigorous imprisonment, a light sentence considering they could have been executed. Little did I know that Aslam Khan, grateful to be alive, would have another role to play.

Pakistan invaded Kashmir in October 1947 but denied complicity, saying it was a freedom struggle that was raging in Kashmir. I had to collect evidence of Pakistan's involvement to be presented to the UN commission due to visit India. I went to Yol, where Pakistani prisoners were kept. I met Aslam Khan there. He told me that after Partition he and Shareef were released from Jhelum District Jail and hailed as heroes as they had fought for Islam in Indonesia. They were reinstated in the Army and promoted to junior commissioned officers. He was prepared to depose before the UN commission that he was with his battalion fighting in Kashmir. On return to Delhi, I learnt that Pakistan now accepted that her Army was fighting in Kashmir as the war in Kashmir was a threat.

I was associated with courts martial in all capacities except one. I have been a defending officer, a prosecuting officer, a member of the court and a presiding officer, but never an accused. However, in 1949 this prospect haunted me. All the civilian Dakotas of private airlines, totalling 50, were requisitioned in October 1947 to airlift troops to Srinagar. The enemy was approaching Srinagar. The situation was very critical. Working round the clock as General Staff Officer, Operations, I was given the additional responsibility of organising the airlift. Eight hundred sorties were flown from Delhi to Srinagar in 15 days. This saved Srinagar. Commending this, Mountbatten wrote, "In my long experience of war, I have not come across such a massive airlift carried out at such short notice and so successfully". After the war the airlines submitted their bills, running into a couple of hundred crores of rupees, to the government. It was found that there was no government sanction for this airlift. There was also no record kept of the flights as I had not maintained any. Some people thought I must have received a cut from the airlines. An inquiry was ordered. My bank account was checked but they found it had been perpetually in the red. I heaved a sigh of relief when a government order was issued giving the President's approval for waiving all the irregularities and sanctioning payment of the bills of all airlines.

In 1978, I took over as adjutant-general of the Army and in that capacity had to deal with courts martial at the highest level. I sent for the proceedings of the oldest available court martial and of the Indian National Army (INA) trials. The former was of Tantiya Tope in 1858. He was arraigned on two charges — waging war against the Queen and the massacre of British civilians in Kanpur. Tantiya Tope asserted that he was in the service of his ruler, Nana Saheb, and it was his duty to fight the British. He pleaded not guilty of the massacre charge as he was neither aware of it nor present there. His involvement in the massacre was not established. The court pronounced him guilty of the first charge and not guilty of the massacre. He was sentenced to be blown from the mouth of a cann on. In the latter case Bhullabhai Desai, the leading lawyer of India, defended the INA officers at their trial. Jawaharlal Nehru joined the defence panel. Desai's long address to the court was brilliant. He did not argue that these officers had fought for a noble cause, i.e. the freedom of India. He concentrated on establishing that Azad Hind was a full-fledged independent state, as per intern ational law. It had its own territory (Andamans), Army, currency and postage stamps. The INA officers had to be treated as prisoners of war, as per the Geneva Conven tion, and should have been relea sed after cessation of hostilities. The court convicted the INA offic ers but under tremendous popular pressure the government was forced to release them. I ordered that the originals of both these historical court martial procee di ngs be sent to the National Archi ves and photocopies be kept in the records room of the Judge Advocate General.


The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.








In September this year a summit will be held in New York under the auspices of the United Nations to review the progress made during the last 10 years in achieving the targets set under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by member nations of the UN in 2000. The MDGs represent a global common minimum programme for sustainable human security and well-being.

In spite of the modesty of the goals set, progress in achieving them is inadequate in many developing countries, including India. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations points out that the number of children, women and men going to bed hungry now is over a billion (this number was 800 million in 2000). There is obviously a need to review our strategies and redouble our efforts in achieving all the MDGs, particularly the very first one relating to hunger and poverty by the year 2015.

The Economic Survey of India (2008) contained the following observation: "While poverty rates have declined significantly, malnutrition has remained stubbornly high. Malnutrition, as measured by underweight children below three years, constitutes 45.9 per cent as per the National Family Health Survey, 2005-06. It has also not significantly declined from its level of 47 per cent in the 1998-99 National Family Health Survey… It is evident that existing policies and programmes are not making a significant dent on malnutrition and need to be modified. While per capita consumption of cereals has declined, the share of non-cereals in food consumption has not grown to compensate for the decline in cereal availability".

For achieving sustainable food security, concurrent attention will be necessary to ensure food availability, access and absorption. Access depends upon opportunities for employment, while absorption will be conditioned by clean drinking water, sanitation and healthcare. Thus, both food and non-food factors impact food security. All this will need greater attention to science and technology as applied to agriculture and food security. The following are some areas which need urgent attention:

Biodiversity: 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. On June 11, 2010, delegates from 90 countries, meeting in Busan, Republic of Korea, approved the establishment of an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, on the model of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).


It will be prudent to set up a National Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in order to generate synergy among ongoing programmes.

Biotechnology: Recombinant DNA technology has provided powerful tools for moving genes across sexual barriers and for developing novel genetic combinations. It is important to use this tool for solving present and potential problems arising from unfavourable temperature, rainfall and sea level. During the last 20 years, scientists at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) have concentrated on identifying genes for salt water and drought tolerance. A US patent has been granted for the dehydrin gene from Avicennia marina responsible for salt tolerance in plants. Similarly, Glutathione S Transferase gene from Prosopis juliflora, conferring resistance to drought, has also been granted a US patent. These are very valuable genes and have to be combined with crop varieties having desirable agronomic and culinary characteristics. This has already been done by MSSRF scientists. Another area where recombinant DNA technology can be useful is in biofortification. Iron (Ferritin) rich rice varieties have been developed using genes from Avicennia marina. Thus there are uncommon opportunities for developing climate-resilient strains of crop plants, farm animals and fishes. Genes like Sub-1 in rice provide opportunities for breeding varieties for flood tolerance. There is need for setting up gene banks for a "warming India".

Ecotechnology: Knowledge is a continuum. We cannot place traditional and modern knowledge into two different pigeonholes. Modern knowledge has its roots in ancient wisdom. Ecotechnology helps to blend traditional ecological prudence and techniques with frontier science and technology. Ecotechnology gives concurrent attention to ecology, economics, ethics, equity, energy and employment generation. A method of converting ecotechnology into jobs and income is through biovillages. A biovillage is one where concurrent attention is given to natural resources' conservation and enhancement, improvement of small farm productivity and profitability, and generation of non-farm employment. The aim of the biovillage is to provide every individual in the village an opportunity for a productive and healthy life. The National Policy for Farmers placed in Parliament in November 2007 calls for as much emphasis on farmers' income as on production. Such an income orientation to farming can be achieved only through Rural Systems Research. Unfortunately, agricultural universities and research institutions are yet to adopt such an integrated approach to improving agrarian and rural prosperity.

Information, Communication Technology (ICT): Bridging the urban-rural digital divide helps to bridge economic, skill and gender divides. Biotechnology, space technology and ICT are transformational technologies. We should make every village a knowledge centre in order to take the benefits of modern scientific knowledge and techniques to rural professions. Mahatma Gandhi urged that there should be a marriage between brain and brawn if Indian agriculture is to progress. This can be achieved through the effective use of ICT based on location specific needs and language. The Grameen Gyan Abhiyan provides a great opportunity for taking the benefits of ICT to the rural poor based on a last mile and last person connectivity. Synergy between the Internet and cellphone, or FM radio and cellphone helps to take the benefits of right information to the right place at the right time. "Rural knowledge revolution" is vital for ending all forms of divides and substituting them with the technological and skill upgradation of rural professions.
Food Security: In recent years there has been a paradigm shift from patronage to a rights approach in relation to information, education, employment and, in the case of tribal families, ownership of land. The Government of India has committed to bringing food security under the category of legal rights. A sustainable food security system will depend on adequate production, procurement on the basis of a minimum support price, preservation in modern silos or other forms of storage, and above all an efficient and corruption free public distribution system. The National Food Security Act provides a great opportunity for stimulating the conservation of natural resources, cultivation using new technologies, consumption of a wide range of grains, and farmer centric marketing. While Right to Information can be enforced through files, the right to food has to come from the farmer and the field. Right to food can be maintained only if there is increase in productivity in perpetuity without ecological harm, i.e. the evergreen revolution, spearheaded by families with small holdings.
The future of our food security system will depend upon the scientific and policy support we extend to our farming community who constitute one-fourth of the global farming community.

The green revolution was the result of a small government programme getting converted into a mass movement led by farm men and women. Today, our educational and research institutions are more obsessed with bricks rather than with brains. We must reverse the paradigm and nurture brains which can help to promote knowledge-intensive agriculture.


M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered to be the father of India's green revolution.








The Supreme Court has rapped agriculture minister Sharad Pawar on his knuckles. A couple of days ago, Pawar had said he could not implement the apex court's "suggestion" to distribute free of cost the foodgrains that were rotting in godowns across the country. The Supreme Court said it had not made a suggestion but passed an order.


In what might be a brewing battle between Pawar and the SC, there is very little to choose. In India, nearly 40% of the population lives below the poverty line drawn by the World Bank (the Planning Commission doles out the more benevolent figure of 27%) and most of them go to bed hungry. To allow food to rot in this situation isn't mere negligence, it is criminal.


The trouble is that Pawar, once considered a dynamic minister and a potential prime minister-in-waiting, appears to have too much on his plate. He is engrossed in cricket and its murky dealings, in expanding his political party, and in various quarrels with the Congress, both at the Centre and in Maharashtra.


Yet, as minister of agriculture and civil supplies, his foremost responsibility is to reach food to the people, especially the poor. Pawar needs to spend time with bureaucrats and experts in the subject to find a solution rather than merely dismiss the SC "order" as one that cannot be implemented.


Meanwhile, India needs to rethink its entire grain storage policy. It is currently storing over 57 million tonnes when the storage capacity is about 31 million tonnes, putting at risk 26 million tonnes. The storage facilities need to be improved to minimise wastage. India also needs a better approach to inventory management. The Food Corporation's job is to ensure food security, and making grains available when they are needed.


This does not mean storing more and more grain. A policy to sell grains in the world market when we have excess and buying in the forward market to cover the shortfall could be one option worth studying. A cautious approach is needed, but we need new ideas when the alternative is to let grains rot and rats have feeding of it.







A British poll screams out loud that many adults do not want to share space with brats when flying. They want any potential wailing incidents — for all they care — to be contained in designated family-only sections. Those who choose to bear children must bear the collective stress of child-rearing in solidarity, in one pocket of the plane. The rest should be allowed to have their peace.


Nothing surprising in this, for the British invented the idea of propriety. But there is surely a message in this for us Indians, where bawling kids are much the norm even in public spaces.


Brats go unquestioned in cinema halls, aeroplanes and hospitals, thanks to the philosophical parental assumption that kids will be kids. We've been conditioned to invest in the unprofitable proposition that the worst must be borne to be transcended. So while we develop immunity to a certain strain of brattiness, new, more potent versions emerge. And that is directly linked to the surplus fruit of prosperity.


At this point, it is worth mentioning that we are world's number two when it comes to the rate of increase in high net worth individuals. The new rich have a lot to learn, and parenting is a sore spot. They are currently struggling to find a work-life balance, feeling guilty of every minute spent away from their children. So the little time they do get for a Sunday brunch out, a movie or a vacation — that is where you might end up to escape the world's great stresses, too — is not the time for discipline and decorum.


Double-income parents find it less stressful to step back and watch while their little darlings point the red laser torch at the bosom of the woman sitting on the next table at dinner.


Admonishing is just not worth it. Let the bystanders learn to cope, while the Indian parent refuses to grow up. They'd rather delegate the responsibility than take it on themselves.


This over-indulgence of our children reflects on the maturity level of parenting in our country. Parents struggle to establish for themselves a comfort with laying down boundaries and being firm. If the children run riot, it reflects on wishy-washy parenting.


Having broken away from the joint family system that had strictly


defined rights and duties, it is as if nuclear parents are incapable of deciding for themselves what the right amount of discipline is. Too bad for the rest of the world.








Janamashtami celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. Ashtami is significant as it indicates a perfect balance between the seen and the unseen aspects of reality; the visible material world and the invisible spiritual realm.


Krishna's birth on Ashtami signifies his mastery of both the spiritual and material worlds. He is a great teacher and a spiritual inspiration as well as the consummate politician. On one hand, he is Yogeshwara (the Lord of Yogas — the state to which every yogi aspires) while on the other, he is a thief.


The unique quality of Krishna is that he is at once more pious than the saints and yet a thorough mischief-monger! His behaviour is a perfect balance of the extremes — perhaps this is why the personality of Krishna is so difficult to fathom. The avdhoot is oblivious to the world outside and a materialistic person, a politician or a king is oblivious to the spiritual world. But Krishna is both Dwarkadheesh and Yogeshwar.


Krishna's teachings are most relevant to our times in the sense that they neither let you get lost in material pursuits nor make you completely withdrawn. They rekindle your life, from being a burnt-out and stressed personality to a more centred and dynamic one. Krishna teaches us devotion with skill. To celebrate Gokulashtami is to imbibe extremely opposite yet compatible qualities and manifest them in your own life.


Hence the most authentic way of celebrating Janamashtami is knowing that you have to play a dual role — of being a responsible citizen of the nation and at the same time to realise that you are above all events, the untouched Brahman. Imbibing a bit of avadhoot and a bit of activism in your life is the real significance ofcelebrating Janamashtami.








Here we go again. The uneasy and artificial calm in Sino-Indian relations of the past few months has given way to tit-for-tat visa cancellations and testy exchanges that more truly represent the unresolved tensions between them.


So beguilingly calm were matters all this while that environment minister Jairam Ramesh even claimed, somewhat fancifully in May, that the 'Chindian' cooperation he forged at the Copenhagen climate change conference last year had fortified the two countries' "strategic" relationship. It now appears that the thin ice on which that exaggerated claim rested has melted away in the heat of a cruel summer.


China's brazen challenge to India's sovereignty over J&K and the presence of Chinese troops in large swathes of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, ostensibly to secure Chinese commercial interests in the disputed territory, are more than a little disquieting.


Taken along with increasing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, which faced a concerted pushback by countries in the region and even a US challenge, they appear to point to a China that's signalling the rise of the Chinese Empire.


But in fact China's recent 'iron fist' approach is as much a manifestation of a security paranoia as of the artless outreach of an empire that believes it's time is at hand. Despite the heavy-handed crackdown on Tibetan and Uighur disaffection in recent years, China remains unsure about the firmness of its hold on Tibet and Xinjiang. Its needling of India, and its security cover for an imploding Pakistan — the global hotbed of jihadism, which spills over into Xinjiang — are motivated by this sense of insecurity.


That sense of perceived infirmity extends beyond just the security space in China: today conspiracy theories — about China being the 'target' of hostile forces — are being peddled with disturbing frequency. For instance, at least three such conspiracy theories are currently gaining traction. The first of these, articulated by financial journalist Li Delin, author of the best-selling book Goldman Sachs Conspiracy, claims that the Wall Street investment bank's "ultimate goal" is to "hunt and kill China".


The jingoistic and borderline anti-Semitic tone of the book, which has been well received, feeds the prevailing "they're out to get us" mindset in China.


Similarly, a second book, Low-carbon Plot: The Life and Death War Between China and the West, advances the climate-change skeptics' view that the developed countries' campaign for a low-carbon economy globally is a "sinister attempt" to deny developing countries their right to development. And a third book,


Who is Auctioning China?, peddles the line that international auction houses are colluding with wealthy collectors in the West to exploit China's treasures, and are creating an enabling environment for the smuggling of Chinese artefacts.


More bizarrely, in recent days sensational (and completely discredited) rumours began circulating that the governor of China's central bank had defected overseas ostensibly after the bank lost nearly half a trillion dollars on its US Treasury investments. They were easily disproved, but they nevertheless served to feed the paranoid narrative — that "Western traders" were out to sink China's investments.

Taken together these point to the prevalence of a societal 'siege mentality' that is at variance from outside-in perceptions of a confident,assertive China. For anyone who deals with China, it makes for a rather more disturbing narrative.








China has surpassed Japan to emerge as the world's second-largest economy. Not surprisingly, it has used its economic prowess to modernise its military and soon it will be ready to take on the US military might in the Asia-Pacific.


The balance with its main adversary, Taiwan has already tilted in Beijing's favour and now it's aiming to counter other major regional powers such as Japan and India. Geopolitical competition between China and the US is in full swing in the region with the main regional actors rapidly reconfiguring theirpolicy responses towards China.


Beijing has started claiming that the bulk of South China Sea constitutes Chinese territorial waters, defining it as a "core national interest," a phrase previously used in reference to Tibet and Taiwan. This has come as a shock to regional states such as Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan who also have territorial claims in the sea. This sea passage is too important to be controlled by a single country and that too by one that is located far away from these waters.


China would like to extend its territorial waters, which usually run to 12 miles, to include the entire exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 miles. China is challenging the fundamental principle of free navigation. All maritime powers including India have a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea.


China has made strident claims to virtually the entire South China Sea in recent years. This has resulted in detention of hundreds of


Vietnamese fishermen, the harassment of US and other navies and threats to international oil giants aimed at ending their exploration deals with Hanoi.


The US has been forced to respond to preserve its leadership in the region. At the recent ASEAN meeting, Hillary Clinton suggested that the US was willing to help in mediating conflicting claims in the South China Sea, thereby drawing clear red lines for China.


After being on the sidelines of the South China Sea dispute for the past two decades, the US has now decided to change its posture to reassure its allies in the region that China's growing regional dominance would not go unchallenged. The dispute in South China Sea is not merely about resources, it is also central to


China's ambitions for a blue water navy able to operate away from its shores.


In the last few months, there have been reports of confrontations involving the Malaysian Navy, the Indonesian Navy and the Vietnamese Navy, each separately with the PLA Navy. Last April, a flotilla of 10 ships of the Chinese navy's East Sea Fleet conducted exercises that involved passage through international


waters between the main island of Okinawa and Miyakojima Island. During these exercises, two Chinese navy helicopters came within about 90 meters of a Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) destroyer of Japan watching over the exercises, causing an outcry in Japan.


More significantly, some three weeks before the April incident, six ships of the Chinese navy's North Sea Fleet based in Qingdao, Shandong Province, passed through waters between the Okinawa and Miyakojima islands, headed to the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines, and went on to operate in the South China Sea. By purposely deploying the North Sea Fleet, China was demonstrating its great


interest in this sea area. Japan's dispatch of large SDF transport vessels to participate fully in the humanitarian aid operation "Pacific Partnership" led by the US early this year was meant as a response to China's moves.


South Korea too is re-evaluating its ties with China. In recent years, China has had no better friend than South Korea in the region — a cultural admirer, with residual memories of the close political and cultural ties that existed in Ming times, and hopeful that Beijing would help stabilise the situation in the peninsula. It is


China's largest trading partner in the region and has been eagerly hospitable to Chinese visits.


Today Seoul stands disillusioned with Beijing's shielding of North Korea from the global outrage over the Cheonan incident when North torpedoed the 88-metre-long warship, the Cheonan, killing 46 South Korean sailors in March. Rather than berating Pyongyang, China watered down the presidential statement from the UN Security Council condemning the attack in which North Korea was not even identified as the culprit. As a result, no punishment has been meted out to North Korea for its brinkmanship.


China's soft power in East Asia lies in tatters and the entire premise of China's 'peaceful rise' has come under a cloud. Indian policy-makers need a realistic assessment of what China's rise and growing assertiveness means for Indian foreign policy priorities. China has already targeted India in many ways and once it is able to gain hegemony in East Asia, New Delhi will find it difficult to preserve its vital interests. The time to hedge bets against such an eventuality is now.








The statistics of those killed during protests and clashes with security forces and police continues to swell even as the protests on the streets have become less violent in nature, and despite the repeated claims of both the state and the central government of asking the forces to maintain restraint. The latest victim is an eleven year old boy, taking the toll to 65 since June 11. Besides, there are countless number of injured, many maimed for life and some who might take months and years before they can fully recuperate. This is such a colossal human tragedy that humankind, leave alone the Kashmiris, find it difficult to cope up with. What makes the tragedy grave is not just the huge number in such a short span of time but also the response of the government in failing to honour its commitment to restrain its security agencies from being so brutal on the streets and its abysmal denial to ensure justice to the victims as per the laws of the country. Why does it become extremely difficult for the mourning families to even get a basic first information report lodged after their dear ones are killed. Certainly, the laboured argumentative lies of all protestors being paid agents and members of Lashkar network are not something the public any longer believes in. There are instances of unprovoked firing, even at places where there were no violent protests and the easily available evidence of how the triggers of the guns and the tear gas shelling target the bodies of the people, it is clear that such feeble voices by the authorities to ensure some discipline in crowd control is not being heard. Majority of those who have been hit severely by bullets and tear-gas shells have injuries waist upwards, many of them hit on the heads and chests, belying the claims of the governments about maintaining restraint, firing in self defence and firing in the air. Retired army generals, unnecessarily given attention by the television channels, have been further trying to mislead the public with theories of possibility of the tear gas shells falling on the ground and bouncing back like projectiles and accidentally hitting the heads of the victims. Such logics may not sound too atrocious if it were just one or two odd cases of tear gas shells killing teenagers, youth and children. In Kashmir, there are hundreds of cases, many of them still surviving, who received tear gas injury on the head, shoulders or the chest. This is too much of a co-incidence that the tear-gas shells fired by CRPF and JKP men on the ground would bounce back from the ground and start hitting protestors or innocent people. It is an even bigger coincidence that such miracles are not performed elsewhere in the country but are exclusive to the Kashmir condition, unless of course it is believed or proved that the salubrious climes and weather of the place effect such a possibility. It is said that to hide one lie, you have to speak a hundred lies. This is precisely what happens when human rights abuse in Jammu and Kashmir is cloaked with hushed up stories and concocted lies. But the point is that after twenty years of continuous repression and increasing impatience and anger, there is no market or consumer anymore for such beating about the bush. 

The governments both at the centre and in the state can no longer remain in denial mode. They need change of strategies, not just statements and rhetoric, drifting between jingoistic and the cosmetic. Whether it is the chief minister oscillating between the extremes of blaming CRPF for 'going out of control' and showering accolades of praise on the forces just two days later, or it is the union home minister turning his bellicose rhetoric of Lashkar paid agents into optimism of close to reaching out to the angry protestors, such lip sympathies don't work. They neither offer any justice, nor any balming effect to cool down tempers. The cosmetic Commission Inquiry to probe the first 17 killings is a non-serious attempt; there is not an iota of whisper about the 48 killings that followed. If those in the establishment really mean business in Kashmir, they have to get down to the very initial step, before talking of political resolution and addressing the long pending dispute, of ensuring genuine confidence building measures like end to human rights violations and ushering in a process of fairly probing all previous allegations of human rights abuse, starting with the 65 killings in the last two and a half months. The very first step to this ladder should begin with accepting that wrongs are being committed on the streets almost on a daily basis and that it is indeed unjustified to respond to violent protests like stone pelting or even attempts to set ablaze buildings with point blank firing. These are not the usual practiced methodologies, atleast nowhere else in India where instances of even more violent protests than the blazing streets of Kashmir are galore.







The central government's proposal not to pay any interest on Provident Fund money of the contributors after settlement appears to be misconceived on the part of the Provident Fund Organisation (PFO) which handles about two crore accounts of the employees of the centre and other state governments. This is particularly so at a time when the centre and its agencies have putting to use the money collected through PFO for funding various development schemes in the larger interest of the people. The basic purpose of providing security to its employees central and state agencies have been collecting money up to 12 percent of the salaries paid to their staff throughout their service career will be defeated if no interest is paid on the PF contributions. Already the employees have been agitating on the issue of higher interest on their contributions from the government and the centre agreed to increase the interest rate so that the employees can withdraw this money at the end of their service for looking after their families. At present the centre's plea that the administrative expenses have been increasing on their maintenance cannot be accepted on its face value. Other than this, there has been no security for the contributions of the government employees. If this proposal is accepted and approved, the employees will start withdrawing their money from the PFO and park their contributions in other financial institutions which may not otherwise provide a guarantee to their deposits in the long run. This proposal will also open a new pandora's box and the employees may be forced to take to agitational path in near future. The government needs to reconsider this proposal and provide alternate ways and means for securing the contributions of the employees during their service period. It will not be out of place to mention that such contributions have been taken due care of by the governments all over the world through alternate means and guarantee their return to the employees after their retirement.








TWO facts stand out in the wake of China's offensive refusal of a visa to one of India's top generals bound for Beijing to lead the Indian delegation in a high-level exchange with the northern neighbour and the calibrated Indian reaction of "suspending" but not snapping military exchanges between the two countries. The first is that both sides are trying to play down the friction generated by the ugly episode though China is doing so vigorously and this country in a low key. The Chinese defence ministry has gone to the extent of announcing that China has "not suspended military exchanges with India, and has received no word that India has stopped military exchanges between the two countries".

Secondly, it is not the first time that China has acted in this contradictory manner that bespeaks of double-dealing and doublespeak, nor is it going to be the last. Such a combination of aggressiveness and friendly noises seems to have become second nature of the fast-rising and traditionally arrogant country that has already become the world's second largest economy by overtaking Japan. This approach may be particularly pronounced in the case of India but is in no way confined to it. Beijing treats most countries, including the United States, in a similar though not identical manner. It would be no surprise if China's effrontery towards India at this juncture is partly addressed also to US President Barak Obama in the run up to his visit to this country in early November.

It is also possible that there are divisions within the Chinese leadership because the issue of succession to President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, scheduled to retire in 2012, is still unsettled. Some China watchers believe the leadership of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is more assertive and aggressive than the political leadership and even tends to act on its own. Be that as it may, the fact is that this time around the Chinese military is treating the incident as a mere visa-related "misunderstanding" that should not affect the "wider bilateral relationship" on which both India and China should "focus".

None of this sophistry can be allowed, however, to divert attention from what is the core of the current Chinese challenge: the questioning of the Indian position in Kashmir. Beijing's impertinent reasoning for denying the visa to Lieutenant-General R. S. Jaswal, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Northern Command, is that his command includes Kashmir "which is a disputed territory". The whole world treats Kashmir on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) as a de facto though not de jure part of India, and the "Azad Kashmir" and the Northern Areas on the other side as de facto but not de jure part of Pakistan.

Until just over a year ago China too had broadly held the same view. Last year, however, it changed and began by issuing stapled visas, no longer normal ones, to Indian citizens belonging to Jammu and Kashmir carrying Indian passports. Despite New Delhi's protests Beijing persists in this pernicious practice. With the refusal of a visa to Gen. Jaswal, the Chinese are clearly raising the ante. Obviously because by twisting the Kashmir issue in Pakistan's favour, they hope to kill two birds with one stone: to corner India as much as possible, and to give succor and support to Pakistan it desperately needs. Pakistan's need for Chinese backing in furthering its nefarious anti-Indian designs is now much greater than ever before because the humongous floods have crippled it. Nobody knows how long it would take to cope with this gargantuan catastrophe. America's great hope in Pakistan, General Parvaiz Ashfaque Kayani has already notified the Pentagon that in the existing circumstances the Pakistani Army cannot do much for the US in Afghanistan. For China, Pakistan is the one instrument to keep India confined to South Asia rather than be China's competitor in the whole of Asian continent and indeed globally. Given India's rise this is a vain hope.

While appealing to India to ignore the visa episode, official and party-controlled Chinese media has also discussed - on the pretext of analyzing an article in the American magazine Forbes - the possibility of a "limited war" with India. This is also a device to shore Pakistani morale, especially now that more and more Americans are saying that their troubles in Afghanistan are really rooted in Pakistan. There is growing opposition, therefore, to the colossal military and financial aid to this duplicitous ally. US under-secretary of defence, Michele Flournoy, declared not long ago that America's relations with India and China cannot be a "zero sum game" and that both the Asian giants must have equal stake in the Asian security order.

In any case, India cannot and must not take lightly China's bellicose talk. It would be foolish to let an avoidable conflict with China take place. The new Army Chief, General V. K. Singh, has done well to discard his predecessor's concept of a limited war or a two-front war. But we cannot lower our guard, and should be in a position to give an appropriate response should China be foolhardy enough to launch a military adventure. Of course, the Chinese must know that 2010 is not 1962. For our part, we have got to ensure that our armed forces have all the equipment, ammunition and communications etc they need. Our infrastructure along the India-China border has to match the Chinese state-of-the-art infrastructure. A. K. Antony and others have made several announcements to that end since last year. But are these being matched by action? Infrastructure in the high Himalayas cannot be built the way it is being done in the case of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
It is no mere coincidence that China's provocation over Gen. Jaswal's visa, and its impudent suggestion that some other military leader be sent to Beijing in his place, have been accompanied by the presence of anything between 7,000 and 11,000 PLA troops in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Kashmir's Northern Areas under Pakistani occupation. Isn't it a disputed terrirory?

China's diplomatic assaults have also to be answered in kind. The moment the visa affair broke, New Delhi conveyed to Beijing that Kashmir was as "sensitive" to India as Tibet was to China. It follows therefore that we stop reaffirming in season and out of season that Tibet is an integral part of the People's Republic of China until China accepts that Kashmir is an integral part of India. Chinese nationals and officials from the Tibetan region should henceforth get only stapled visas. The US administration in its latest report on Tibet has regretted that the talks between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese have so far been futile. Washington has asked for "unconditional" talks between the Tibetan spiritual leader and the Chinese government. We should endorse this, and the matter should be reviewed during President Obama's visit to Delhi.







And as I read with horror about the match fixing by Pakistani cricketers, I wondered what was happening to the 'gentleman's' game?

Or rather where are the gentlemen?

As I grew up, there were two sets of game seasons that went side by side. One the season in my rather elitist school, of cricket, hockey and football, and the other outside of kites, tops and marbles. I do admit that for many seasons I did both, flew a kite at home and played cricket in school, played hockey and marbles and even kicked a ball and spun a top, but gradually had to leave one world for the other.

The problem with the match fixing people is that they want to live in both the worlds. They want to be scoundrels and continue playing a gentleman's game!

Sorry my friends you can't!

As I watched the video of the so called cricketers taking a bribe, as I saw footage of fast bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif bowling no balls I felt a sense of shame and anger. Why did these fellows not continue playing marbles, spinning tops or flying kites, why did they move up?

And in moving up, why did they not move themselves up?

And as I thought of these men I realized that many of us are the same; we work hard to lift ourselves from poverty, or semi poverty or whatever state we were in by getting an education, a better job and a fantastic salary, but even as we stay in mansion or palace we behave like hutment dweller!

If you are going to play the gentleman's game, then become a gentleman!

Many years ago, a young handsome lad came to my home and spent an evening with my wife and me. As he spoke, and he spoke the whole evening, I was a little puzzled, because one, his conversation was only about himself and secondly he seemed to be lacking in confidence and self esteem even though he sported a rather handsome face and athletic body.

As soon as he left I rang his cousin, who was a close friend of mine, "Did you find something strange about him?" asked his cousin.

"For a handsome guy, he lacks confidence!"

"That's because he hasn't followed his face!" laughed my friend.

"What's that?" I asked puzzled.

"He was an ugly fellow," said my friend, "and he went through plastic surgery last year, which changed his looks dramatically, but he still thinks he's ugly!"

And that's what's wrong with those cricketers, that's what's wrong with all of us, who do well in life and still act like how we acted in the life we've left behind. We've moved up into the world of cricket, but we're still acting like we're playing with marbles!







Normally it does not pay to be wiser after the event. But in the face of the nature's countless mysteries we have no option but to keep studying and analysing them. The underlying idea is to minimise their adverse impact. At the same time we should resist the temptation of saying "I-told-you-so" whenever our prophecy of doom comes true. It is like rubbing salt into the wounds of sufferers. It is doubtful whether anything can be said with certainty about the nature's behaviour. The world itself has swung between two conjectures of "global cooling" and "global warming" before currently settling for the latter. Our endeavour should be to develop the right focus to ensure that there is the least damage in the wake of storm, tsunami or cloudburst. With this background in view it is to be welcomed that the devastating occurrence in Leh district early this month is being closely studied. According to a news agency report, the Leh-based Defence Institute for High Altitude Research (DIHAR) has attributed the August 6 catastrophe to "prolonged winters being witnessed in the region." The scientists have analysed the weather data of the last five years in terms of monthly temperature, rainfall, humidity and snowfall. They have noted that increase in temperature and hot summers in the plains lead to increased evaporation and subsequent cloud formation in the hills. A relevant part of their findings is: "Since snow absorbed the latent heat also, the monthly maximum and minimum temperature remained low and did not shoot up as compared to previous years…The low temperature and high relative humidity lead to formation of dense low clouds in the valley. Since the vapour content in the clouds were high and on trying to cross the glaciers, the vapours further condensed. The clouds could not retain the water droplets that lead to the cloudburst. Since the rainfall was absent on 3rd, 4th and 5th August and was negligible on 7th, 8th and 9th August the theory of occurrence of a cloudburst in Leh due to prolonged winters may be reinforced." We don't wish to undervalue any scientific inquiry.


All we want to point out is that the climate change has not occurred in Leh all of a sudden. There is plenty of

material available to show that it has been a gradual process over the years. A recent paper brought by the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) has quoted from a 2004 book authored by senior IAS officer Pervez Dewan: "After the 1960s the government went in for a massive plantation of trees. By the mid-1970s Ladakh''s climate had begun to change. This cold desert had never known floods before, but in 1977, just one inch of rainfall caused a flood of sorts. The little snow that the plains of Leh receive is dry and flaky. But in autumn (not winter) of 1998 parts of Leh received snow that was at the same time wet, plentiful (almost a foot) and unusually early. This snow damaged many buildings, notably the Spituk monastery." However, it is debatable whether there is any connection between tree cover and rainfall. A director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has observed after a visit to Ladakh in 2005: "More rains…could be due to climate change or decadal cycle in precipitation…Lots of people think that more trees bring more rain but rainfall is determined by many factors on a much larger scale." In April 2008, in fact, more than 1500 local inhabitants gathered in Leh in events aimed at raising awareness regarding climate change. This get-together was organised by the Ladakh Young Buddhist Association in collaboration with a United States-based non-government organisation. It centred on the theme that "Ladakh, like more and more places around the globe, is already facing real challenges in face of climate changes --- unpredictable weather, floods and the prospects of diminished water supply from glacial melt." A year before that a non-profit organisation in Germany has noted on its website: "… more extreme weather is being recorded, including harsher winters and drier summers as is occurring in other cold deserts throughout the world. A change in the migration patterns of birds has many concerned about various adverse impacts of climate change in Ladakh."


It continues: "For its inhabitants, unique challenges have been brought on by climate changes, such as heavy rains (a phenomenon, which the infrastructure and even building materials are incapable of withstanding." A search on Internet reveals that a scholar Tsewang Namgial has been farsighted: "Ladakh a.k.a. Little Tibet, has many historical monuments and monasteries that attract a huge number of cultural tourists every year. They have managed to withstand high velocity winds and the intense sun heat of the arid Ladakh, but not rain, flash floods and mudslides. Climate change is thus threatening these cultural and religious structures. Heavy rains in the last decade have caused major damage to unique murals of several monasteries including the monasteries at Alchi, the oldest, and at Hemis, the richest. Glacial lakes in Ladakh are also bursting, causing damage to human property. For example, the Shang valley was flooded in August 2007 due to such an incidence, when roads were destroyed and trees washed away. The Indus river flows through Ladakh and frequent flooding from the tributary rivers of the Indus in the region will lead to increase in sea level. " An environmentalist scientist Vandana Shiva has written last year: "…heavy rainfall which was unknown in the high altitude desert has become more frequent, causing flash floods, washing away homes and fields, trees and livestock. Climate refugees are already being created in the Himalaya in villages such as Rongjuk. As one of the displaced women said 'when we see the black clouds, we feel afraid.' The arrival of black clouds and disappearance of white snow in the cold desert is how climate change is entering the life of the Ladakhi communities." It is possible that there are many more such research-based studies. Many of us have thus kept track of the weather revolution taking place in our trans-Himalayan territory. The warning now is that we don't have any more time to lose. We must draw proper lessons from all the findings we have before us. We have to practically answer them in a manner that Leh does not suffer again.











The fuelling of its first nuclear reactor by Iran with Russian help, which could facilitate production of enriched uranium, has shaken neighbouring Arab states who are losing faith in America's willingness to prevent neuclearisation of the region. For most of them Tehran crashing upon the world stage with a nuclear weapon in the foreseeable future presents a doomsday scenario. Though Iran vehemently denies harbouring nuclear weapon ambitions and insists its uranium enrichment programme is meant for medical purposes, there are few who take the clerical regime at its word. Mocking the West President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has declared that the Bushehr reactor was a symbol of Iranian resistance and determination and, as a further show of defiance, launched the first domestically-built drone bomber capable of carrying cruise missiles upto a range of 1,000 km calling it an "ambassador of death" to keep the enemy paralysed in its bases.

Iran's show of defiance of UN sanctions is bolstered by the support it receives from Russia and China. The Bushehr reactor is a joint venture of Iran and Russia, will be fully fuelled and operated by Russian engineers for at least two years and Moscow will take back the spent fuel to prevent its misuse, meaning further enrichment to bomb-grade material. To help Iran beat the sanctions, Russia and China have supplied it refined petroleum products, weapons and other goods and entered into lucrative contracts in the energy and other fields. They thus effectively challenged America's power and influence in West Asia and provided a shield of sorts against moves to knock out Tehran's uranium enrichment facilities. Even though US Arab allies feel greatly concerned, its inaction to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state seems to have demoralised them.
A Shiate nuclear bomb would be an unacceptable proposition for its Sunni neighbours because their security would be endangered. Iran's relentless pursuit of uranium enrichment -- for the present upto 20 percent purity -- and its refusal to take IAEA inspectors on board as regards all such facilities, has fuelled fears that its programme masks a weapon drive. While collaborating in the Bushehr atomic power plant, Moscow has pointed out that all its operations will be conducted under IAEA supervision and hence diversion of spent fuel for military purposes was not possible. The US State Department spokesman has poured cold water on the hopes of Iran's shaky neighbours by recognising that Bushehr was designed to produce civilian nuclear power. Apparently, with Congressional elections due in November, President Obama is in no mood to launch another Middle East adventure and thinks of a negotiated solution of the enrichment problem. The hardliners, who are not prepared to trust Iran, argue that Bushehr is a sideshow in the nuclear standoff and should not detract attention form the real issue of enrichment. 

The anti-Iran mood in a large section of the US establishment, together with the intense exertions of the non-proliferation lobby within the US bureaucracy has hardened attitudes. Iran acquiring nuclear weapons through the clandestine route of power reactors has increased the threat perception of the Arab states in general and the Gulf in particular. These states fear that a Shiate Iran armed with nuclear weapons will be better equipped to destabilise the region. Some of these states have sizeable Shiite populations which they fear could become breeding grounds for their internal destabilisation. The fear stalking the US and the West generally is that after acquiring nuclear weapons, Iran would emerge as the major power in the region with the strength of its armed forces and its oil reserves, making it impossible to contain it. It could also increase its hostility to Israel, whose right to exist is not recognised by Tehran even now. 

With such a strong rival to Israel emerging and the Gulf states finding themselves militarily vulnerable and open to destabilisation, core western interests in the region could be compromised and the balance of power would decisively shift against the west. With a nuclear deterrent in possession, at whatever point of time that happens, Iran would be in a position to impede vital western interests in a number of ways. The pressure on the US and the West to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is now likely to grow stronger, with Tehran having taken the first major step towards acquiring nuclear fuel. Iran could cheat by stopping the nuclear reactor midway to extract plutonium, which also is used for making atomic weapons, despite the IAEA inspectors and Russian assurances.

Most of the Gulf states being oil-exporters, Iran's capability to stop the flow of oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz presents a nightmarish scenario for them. In their view, a nuclear Iran would be well positioned to cause instability in some of its neighbouring oil-rich states. Saudi Arabia, which has the world's largest oil reserves, felt greatly concerned by the revelation of Pakistan's clandestine help to Iran with the supply of centrifuges for uranium enrichment and other equipment and know how related to nuclear weaponisation. Riyadh has always regarded Tehran as a potential threat to its security and has fully backed US efforts to prevent Tehran from enriching uranium and acquiring the raw material for a nuclear bomb, the design of which also formed part of the notorious A. Q. Khan network transfers. 

Iran insists that it needs 20 per cent enriched uranium for medical purposes though metals other than uranium are most frequently used in radiation treatment machines. The head of Iran's Atomic Energy estabilishment Ali Akbar Salehi has revealed that his country has already accumulated 17 kg of uranium enriched to 20 per cent, without revealing the source. He also claimed that Iran had the capacity to enrich uranium "to any percentage", and this was a legal right for the country. His statement removes all doubts about Iran's capability as highly enriched uranium refined to a level above 90 per cent can be used for making atomic weapons. Such enrichment is possible with the help of the latest centrifuges which it has installed without let or hindrance in defiance of the sanctions and through clandestine routes. 

The neighbouring Arab States argue that Iran finds it easier to pursue its weapons goal under sanctions because it is answerable to none for doing so. All its activities in that direction are not open to inspection. North Korea became a nuclear weapon state in this manner and continues its weapon programme unhindered, obviously under China's protection. The mediatory efforts by turkey and Brazil to bring Iran on board have not succeeded.

Although they agreed to take away low-enriched uranium from Iran and supply it stuff of 20 per cent purity, not a gramme of uranium has so far been transferred.

Apart from direct help from Russia and China, Iran is beating sanctions in a variety of ways. These include repeatedly renaming ships to evade port authorities' scrutiny and by bribing middlemen to route illicit shipments in round about ways to disguise their destination. Iran has also set up its own shell companies from the Caribbean to the Isle of Man. The UAE authorities recently closed some 40 Iranian companies suspected of channeling embargoes goods to Iran from across the world, but hundreds are known to be still in business.
Russia is going ahead with cooperation in the energy sector and with supplies of S-300 air defence missiles, in addition to massive hardware it has already given through commercial deals. Washington's frustration also stems from the fact that Russia and China have effectively neutralised the effect of UN sanctions by supplying Iran with its needs and pursuing economic, defence and commercial interests with it. Russia and Iran together hold 20 per cent of the global oil reserves and 42 per cent of natural gas. Russia's Gazprom has offered technical support and indicated willingness to finance a planned gas pipeline form Iran to Pakistan and India.
Although New Delhi has followed the UN sanctions it believes in a negotiated settlement of Iran's uranium enrichment issue. But, it has reservations about the unilateral US and EU sanctions which would hit its economic interests also. Indian oil imports from Iran are to the tune of 18 million tonnes annually and investment in the energy sector is about $ 100 million, which is slated to grow.

Future US strategy in the face of Iran's persistent defiance is still nuclear, but it seems unlikely that Washington and Tol Aviv will exercise the military option to knock out Iran's enrichment facilities. The Arab states are getting worried and are disinclined to accept what seems like fiat accompli. (NPA)








One reason why the country's future looks bleak is that national political parties are being replaced in the states by regional parties in the power centre of governance. The Congress party which dominated the national politics since independence is a shadow of its past reach and expanse. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which at one stage looked like replacing the Congress, too, has suffered in its march to be truly counted as a national party. Though the Janata Dal in its various avatars appeared to have future but it has turned out to be a sort of regional party.

Since the general election in 1989, there has been fragmentation of political process with the emergence of regional parties as an alternative to the Congress. The space vacated by the Congress has been filled by regional parties. The Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All-India Anna Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam had long back marginalised the Congress in Tamil Nadu.

The CPI(M) is strong in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala and the BJP has shown effective political presence in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttarakhand and Punjab. It has some presence in many other states. But the poll debacle it suffered in Uttar Pradesh has reduced its prominence as a dominant national party. The Janata Dal has autonomous state party units and its all-India claim is a political fiction because Naveen Patnaik of Orissa, Laloo Prasad Yadav of Bihar, H.D. Deve Gowda of Karnataka are purely regional leaders who operate under an abstraction known as the Janata Dal. Mr. Patnaik had tied up with the BJP in the state.

In a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious country like India, a political party may emerge to promote and protect distinct cultural or language identity. The DMK/AIADMK has been perceived by the Tamilians as defenders of the Dravidian culture; the Akali Dal in Punjab has openly mixed religion with policies to project itself as the defender of the Sikh identity.

Continuing electoral defeats of the Congress party and the emergence of regional political formations is integrally linked with the changes which are taking place in the power structure and social relations in rural India. During 1960s, new social forces emerged in rural society because of the implementation of land reforms. These new agrarian classes also belonged to the category of backwards in the caste hierarchy in India.
New landlords or peasant proprietors became uncomfortable in the caste and class coalition of the Congress party of the 1950s and 1960s, and sections of middle peasantry and backward castes started walking out of the Congress after its electoral setback of 1967.

Chaudhary Charan Singh who was the most articulate caste and class leader of the emerging peasant castes floated Bharatiya Kranti Dal which was the first peasant-based regional party in Uttar Pradesh. Since 1967, the Congress party has been making every effort to maintain its support base among the emerging powerful middle peasantry and it has been a difficult journey for the party.

S. M. Krishna and Veerappa Moily in Karnataka were making every effort to secure the support of dominant peasant castes like Vokkaligas and Lingayats for the Congress. These dominant castes shifted their support to the BJP, and the Congress party lost the elections in Karnataka. 

In order to win over the landed peasantry the Congress party promoted UPA Government passed the OBC reservation Bill in educational institutions and earlier job reservations. Will this help the Congress in parliamentary election in future is a million dollar question as the whole Hindu society is fragmented on caste lines? In case of the Muslim minority community the party is trying to garner the support by offering various incentives.

Two inter-related questions arise here with regard to the emergence of the regional parties and declining political power of the Congress. Why is it that the upwardly mobile middle peasants of the backward castes are leaving the Congress in favour of regional parties? And what are the implications for the governance of India in the context of emerging regionalism in politics?

The surplus generating peasantry wants state governments which will accord highest priority to their demands like high procurement prices, power and irrigation, subsidies, reservations in public services and educational institutions without the creamy layer among the dominant backward castes being excluded. Regional political parties and leaders can be relatively more accommodative than an all-India party which has to harmonise many conflicting and competing social interests. The Supreme Court in its latest judgement has put a dampener on some of the aspirations of the OBC community. 

Every regional party claims to care for "national interests" but objectively regional leaders protect and promote exclusive regional interests. Political parties operate on the basis of their social base. 

The all-India institutions of the Government cannot operate without a politically strong Central Government. The CBI raid on Darul-Uloom Nadwatul Ulema brought this fact into sharp focus-the chief minister of a regional party was interested in his electoral constituency instead of national interests. Mulayam Singh Yadav was the first person to de-legitimise an all-India institution of governance to win the favour of his local social support.

Such illustrations can be multiplied to prove that the emerging regionalisation of politics and the declining political power of the Central Government will create situations of "immobilism" in governance in India. Regional parties of economically developed states will come into conflict with regional parties of the backward states and arbiter will be required to implement the provisions of the Indian Constitution to deal with such inter-state conflicts.

Alternatively, it is time for like-minded political forces to work out a minimum programme so that a viable coalition can step in after the next general election. A coalition at the Centre per se need not create any fears in the minds of the masses or political leaders. The whole of Europe, including Britain is ruled by coalition governments. Such a set-up has neither affected the development nor stability in these countries. India has little option but to be prepared as the single party rule may come to an end. Such political portends could not be different.
In this context the non-Congress and non-BJP political parties which seem to have the potential for winning the people's confidence have a major responsibility. The sooner they come together and work out a minimum programme the better. If such an alliance lacks popular backing the front will have to be broad based. Sooner the like-minded parties appreciate the situation the better for the country. However, the votaries of regionalism in the absence of effective Central Government should be concerned about the serious crisis of governance in India. Multiplicity of regional parties instead of two or three national parties is unique Indian phenomenon and if this trend continues it will harm the country in the long run. (INAV)









The stand, by far the strongest in recent months, is a reflection of complex Sino-Indian relations which came under stress after the Chinese Government declined to issue visa to Lieutenant General B. S. Jaswal, who heads the Army's Northern Command. Beijing conveyed to the Indian Government that it could not allow a highly decorated officer because his operational area included Jammu and Kashmir, which it perceives as a disputed territory. After Lt. Gen. Jaswal was denied visa by Beijing, New Delhi took recourse to reciprocity by denying visa to three officers - of the Chinese People's Liberation Army - a senior colonel and two captains - who wanted to come for short visits to the National Defence College here and the Army Education Corps Training College and Centre at Panchmarhi in Madhya Pradesh.

The Chinese government's visa denial to Lt. Gen. Jaswal took place before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with exiled Tibetan leader Dalai Lama here earlier this month. The latest diplomatic imbroglio came to light soon after Beijing lodged a protest with New Delhi over an August 11 meeting between the prime minister the Tibetan leader and almost a month after Lt. Gen. Jaswal's visit was called off following the visa denial. The Government, however, maintained that the revered Tibetan leader was an honoured guest.

China and India have been conducting exchange visits of high-level officers of their respective armies over the past several years. This year, the General officer Commanding, Northern Command, was scheduled to visit China but policy-makers in Beijing reportedly conveyed to New Delhi sometime in mid-July that it would be difficult for it to welcome Lt. Gen. Jaswal as he heads the Indian Army's operations in an area which it perceives as disputed. 

Though China asked India to nominate another military official for the visit, New Delhi did not do so and sent a strongly-worded demarche to Beijing lodging its protest against the refusal to open its doors to Lt. Gen. Jaswal. 
Noting that India has "an important, multifaceted and complex relationship" with China, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vishnu Prakash said: "While we value our exchanges with China, there must be sensitivity to each others' concerns."

The Indian establishment's considered action on August 27 to freeze defence exchanges with China would remain in force as long as the two countries do not have a candid discussion to resolve the issue (Beijing's policy of questioning J&K status). New Delhi's decision was conveyed to Chinese Ambassador to India Zhang Yang when he met Joint Secretary (East Asia) Gautam Bambawale at South Block. India was concerned over the linkages between growing ties between China and Pakistan and Beijing's repeated attempts to question the status of J&K. 

In June, Beijing confirmed that China's National Nuclear Corporation would build two new nuclear reactors at the Chashma Nuclear Power Complex in Pakistan. China had earlier built two reactors for Pakistan before joining the NSG in 2004. India has since been lobbying with the members of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group to block the Chinese move to step up nuke cooperation with Pakistan.

Since November 2009, India has been persistently protesting Beijing's policy of issuing "stapled visas" - and not regular visas pasted on passports - to people hailing from Jammu and Kashmir, which is also seen as yet another Chinese means to India's claim on the state. Beijing, however, continued issuing stapled visas, which New Delhi does not recognise, to people from Jammu and Kashmir. 

"When China awakes," Napoleon is said to have warned, "the world will tremble." For more than a century and a half after his time, that prospect seemed remote. Historians get many things wrong when they interpret the past and most things wrong when they forecast the future. So Niall Ferguson may also be mistaken when he dismisses as hopelessly unrealistic the view of Adam Smith and his disciples that peace promotes prosperity, and vice versa, through the operation of free trade.

Market forces act in the moral world, said the 19th-century British politician Richard Cobden, like "the principle of gravitation in the universe - drawing men together and thrusting aside the antagonism of race, and creed, and language." Certainly this is an ideal to which China has at least paid lip service since the end of the cold war, asserting that globalisation fosters international cooperation.

Recall that at the start of the new millennium, a consensus existed among China-watchers that the Red Menace was as much of a mare's-nest as the Yellow Peril. Like the US before Pearl Harbour, China would concentrate on butter not guns, harmonising its interests with those of its competitors through the peaceful mechanism of the open market. There was much talk of an entente between China and Japan, even of a Chinese-American alliance to maintain stability, fight poverty, and tackle global warming and so on.

No doubt much of this was wishful thinking. Indeed, such soft soap may well have been part of a charm offensive by China, culminating in the Beijing Olympics of 2008, designed to mask the true character of a monstrous tyranny that was made manifest on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Whatever the truth, informed opinion is now divided about Chinese intentions. Some pundits maintain that the fundamental assumption of China's leaders is that conflict is part of the human condition, the only way of resolving differences in a perilous world.

A recent comprehensive survey of Chinese authors revealed that most anticipate a repeat of the "warring states era in Chinese history." Is not hostility toward "foreign barbarians" China's default state?

There are, at any rate, obvious signs that the awakened dragon is flexing its muscles. China's defence budget rose to be the second highest in the world in 2008, and its naval (particularly submarine) buildup has, in the opinion of the American journalist Robert D. Kaplan, caused "the loss of the Pacific Ocean as an American lake." In search of markets and natural resources, China is expanding its influence aggressively in Asia, West Asia, Africa and South America.

On the other hand, China's 6.6 per cent share of global expenditure on arms is dwarfed by America's 46.5 per cent. And, like the US during and after the reconstruction era, modern China is preoccupied by the problems associated with rapid growth: pollution, corruption, rural poverty, urban overcrowding and troubled labour relations. Above all, its leaders have to keep the lid on the simmering political and ethnic cauldron, while at the same time preventing the economic bubble from bursting - as Japan's did.

China may well keep its promise, for the moment at least, to follow the path of peaceful development. We can't know, of course. But doom-merchants predicting that China will topple America from its pre-eminence should recognise that history is not necessarily on their side. Thus, India needs to be aware of the Chinese menace looming large across the international border. (INAV)









Civil society intervention is imperative to hold governments responsible for the human rights violations in any part of the world. Indian civil society is known for espousing issues ranging from domestic and civil rights to environmental and industrial hazards.  They have also been actively campaigning against the human rights violations particularly in the North East and Kashmir.


Various civil society groups have been visiting the valley since 1990s, taking stock of the ground situation, compiling reports and urging New Delhi to address the genuine grievances of Kashmiris. They have also been highlighting the excesses committed by army and paramilitary forces as well as the militants. In the current scenario when Kashmir is witnessing unabated civilian killings, the role of rights groups, particularly the Indian groups, assumes important role. With no breakthrough presently in sight, they can help in seeking one. They can convey the real situation in the valley to Indian people who are largely fed on media reports and often lack proper perspective. The Indian mainstream media, with some exceptions, is known to toe the line of government as far as Kashmir situation is concerned. This gives the audiences and readers only one side of the picture. Here the civil society can serve as an objective alterative medium of information, uncovering the inconsistencies in the news coverage and revealing the truth.  By making people outside Kashmir aware of the situation in the valley, these pressure groups can help mobilize public opinion to question government's policy even seeking redress to the concerned issues. More the rights groups involved, more would be the impact. An Indian civil society team is currently in the valley to assess the situation arising of the civilian killings. The team led by noted social activist Swami Agnivesh visited SK Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Monday to enquire about the health of those injured in police and CRPF action over the last three months. They also staged a sit-in in solidarity with the victims on Tuesday criticizing the conduct of paramilitary CRPF and police and seeking an immediate end to the civilian killings. The team's visit augurs well as far as the need for civil society initiative in the current crisis is concerned more so as the local rights groups usually go unheard at New Delhi. The visit by Agnivesh and others should pave way for other such groups to come down to Srinagar so as to acquaint themselves of the ground reality. Once they are convinced about the real issues in the valley, they can convey the same back to people of India and build pressure on New Delhi to take concrete measures to restore peace in the valley.  









It should be noted that the demands of the people of Kashmir are not 'new'. When Jawaharlal Nehru visited Kashmir on November 2, 1947, he addresses a mammoth public meeting in the Lal Chowk saying, "We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people.


That pledge we have given and Maharaja has supported it; it is not only a pledge to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not, and cannot back out of it" (Kashmir: Desolation or peace, by Majid Siraj) . Moreover it was the then Indian leadership who approached United Nations on January 17, 1948 to seek a political solution to the Kashmir issue. The Indian delegation to the UN was represented by Gopalaswami Ayyanger, M.C.Setarlrad and Sheikh Abdullah. At that time a statement was made regarding the future of Kashmir, "Whether Kashmir would withdraw from India or accede to Pakistan or remain independent and claim membership of United Nations is a matter for the unfettered decision by the people of the state after normal life is restored to them."

At the top of it while endorsing his promise, Nehru writes to Mountbatten on February 13, 1948 contemplating a resignation from his position as prime minister of India, "I might consider my position in the government. I have given pledge to the people of Kashmir and I do not propose to go against them." (Jawaharlal Nehru, A Biography by Gopal Servepalli

Now it may be that Jawaharlal Nehru forgot his promise or failed to fulfil it, the promise which he made, and the resolutions which were passed by the UN are engraved in the hearts and minds of Kashmiris even after 63 years. The present crisis is not about roads and buildings nor is it about the employment, or about governance, it's about the people of Kashmir who have witnessed a thorny time all along.

The Kashmiri sentiments have their roots deep in history. It will be a misnomer to say that the present movement in Kashmir started from 1947 or even from the time of Maharaja Hari Singh. The emotions which the Kashmiris hearts possess are very much deep entrenched. The people of Kashmir have witness barbarity right from the early sixth century when Huns gained control over Kashmir valley. Since then we have witnessed the cruelty of Mahira Kula, Unmattavati, King Harisha, Zulfi Khan, Azad Khan and of Ranjit Singh. All of these rulers were different and in their style of living but what made them look similar for a common Kashmiri was that each of them was interested in loot and arson. The poor Kashmiris saw their mothers and sisters raped and massacred many times.

Now today when we see a CRPF trooper firing dead a small school boy, the bloody moments of the time of Unmattavati and Zulfi Khan flash back in our minds. We have already witnessed the death of hundred thousand Kashmiris at the hands of Indian forces and the disappearance of thousands. A poor Kashmiri asks when it is all going to end?

After going through torturous phase, Kashmiris had looked at India as a ray of hope back in 1947, because Indians themselves had undergone more or less the same political, social, economic and physical oppression under the British rule. But Kashmiris witnessed a new India, which it never was supposed to be. The then leaders and masses of India never fought against the British-Raj to see a day when their own made 'democratic' government would have no respect for the sentiments, and feelings of the innocent people, leave alone oppressing them and indulging in their mass killings.

The leaders of India very well know the ground realities in Kashmir but they are not educating their people about the same. The present scenario is such that if the Indian government takes even an insignificant step towards the resolution of Kashmir issue, the opposition will be ever ready to blow it out of proportions.
A common Kashmiri challenges the sincerity of India in resolving the issue. The Indian government, be it Congress or BJP, resorts to the same age old tactics of indulging in talks, followed by talks and then further followed by talks when it comes to Kashmir. Moreover, miscalculating and misrepresenting the situation has become a common agenda! Poll results are compared with People's trust in India, stone pelters are associated with LeT and ISI, and general protests with Pakistan. All these things give a feeling that India wants to brutally crush Kashmiri aspirations and sentiments altogether. Moreover, central government is using the wrong tactics to tackle the Kashmir issue. This is what it has become, more of a 'tackling nature' than 'resolving' one. Where Kashmiris are demanding revocation of the draconic laws like AFSPA and troop reduction and demilitarisation in public areas, state government supported by the New Delhi is keen in pumping in even army, more units of CRPF and Rapid Action Force (RAF) is finding its stake in the valley too.

It should be noted that there can't be a total peace in South Asia, until the Kashmir issue is addressed and solved in accordance to the wishes and aspirations of the people of Kashmir. The leaders of India are putting their image, the image of their people and of the whole democratic India at stake by turning their faces away from the K issue and suppressing their voice.

Indian leaders live in a fool's paradise and force themselves to believe that Kashmiris are happy to be a part of India. If that is the case then why don't they carry out a plebiscite under UN supervision giving Kashmiris the options of continuing with India, acceding to Pakistan or stay independent. In fact this is actually what a common Kashmiri wants. Let India check its status in Kashmir and fulfil the promise of its first prime minister and apply the UN resolutions. By doing that each and every issue pertaining Kashmir will be resolved forever. On contrary to this, Indian leaders proclaim Kashmir to be an integral part of India when history itself is testimony that it never was. They just want to bombard it on Kashmiris and anyone seen opposing it openly is either put behind bars by hammering PSA on him or brutally killed. If Indian leaders think that they can make Kashmiris forget the mass massacre of Kashmiris, brutality and injustice done to commoners and the plunder of the honour and dignity of Kashmiri women, by giving Kashmiris especially the youth various economic and employment packages, then let them know that Kashmiris even after more than 1000 years have not forgot nor forgiven the oppressors like Mahira Kula and Unmattavati who had done more or less same to Kashmiris which the current day India is doing.

Why Indian leaders are afraid to address K-issue? Do they think that by giving the Kashmiris their birthright India will be prone to further partitions?  These concerns and their likes arise only when politics is known and played for power only. They need to come forward on the steps of Mahatma Gandhi, educate their people about the history of Kashmir, and do not fear about their 'being in office'. Why don't they make it all simple saying, 'Kashmiris want from India, just what India wanted from British'. If they are true in their pledge of making India peaceful and more prosperous than K issue has to be addressed.

History bears witness to the fact that no power has ruled any region forever. Kashmir will see the dawn of freedom and peace one day, it is only waiting for a brave and sincere leader, who won't fell to the propaganda of the opposition, who will educate the whole of India about the ground realities and will play an active part in granting Kashmiris that which is their birth right: the right to self Determination.

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Dear Mr Omar Abdullah, when you took over as the youngest Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir (acknowledged internationally as a disputed territory) many people in Kashmir felt that things may change as it is for the first time that a young mainstream leader was handed over the responsibility to handle the affairs of the most suppressed and militarized region in the world.


As change was expected but you failed in the very first test when Shopian tragedy befell the entire State. Then followed Bomai and Sopore incidents, Machil fake encounter and the ongoing spate of killings of teenagers. When all this was happening with the innocent people, your government was busy in attending conferences and festivals but a mere visit to the victims was not even bothered by the so-called representatives of people. When killings continued and situation worsened and people came to register their protest, the so-called elected government didn't allow peaceful protests of mourners. Is this the way to exhibit democracy and kill civilians who express their anger and demand their birth right and punishment to the killers of innocent people? Is this the way to deal with just stone pelters who show their anger when peaceful protests are not allowed? The same stone pelting is used world over but bullets are showered in Kashmir only. When people are denied their right to protest, the outburst cannot obviously be less than the current uprising, although the situation in world's paradise has been instigated by the shallow Indian democracy itself by denying justice and basic rights to Kashmiri people.

It is the same democracy which encourages and honours women like Rukhsana and deny justice to martyrs like Aasiya, Neelofer, Tabinda, Inayat, Wamiq, Zahid, Tufail, Fayaz, Manzoor and many more. Whenever justice is denied it carries an immediate and disastrous outburst. Incidents like Shopian serve better examples. Although Kashmir is witnessing these types of incidents since more than 21 years, it seems that the outburst has started just now. Mr Omar our hearts bleeds whenever we see our dear youth killed in cold blood. We go to school, college, university or play; the India forces serve bullets to us for asking our basic right.

You must be aware that in Kashmir even after protesting peacefully, losing millions of rupees, achieving martyrdoms and adhering the so-called democratic means to seek justice, Kashmir gets only one reply – no justice at all. All this is exhibited by the shallow democracy of Indian State endorsed by the state government which you head.

Whenever there is an uprising the local media is gagged and banned from reporting facts and miseries the government is forcing on people, while New Delhi-based media personnel come and report the loss of education, economics and development.

The Indian media, intellectuals and civil society do discuss terrorism, gay rights, honour killings but it always hides the war crimes and gruesome killings committed in the valley. It is the same media that created a hue and cry when women in a Bangalore pub were thrashed or perceived threats from Taliban but they forget to report the democratic shame which is demonstrated on peaceful people who are raising voice to seek their dignity, honor and birth right.

India misleads her own people by claiming to be the largest democracy and empowered nation, but reality is totally violent which Indian people must realize and introspect in the correct way at earliest. Whenever there is a peoples movement in Kashmir, we are martyred, jailed, tortured, and dealt with the most inhuman ways, however, the rulers must bear in mind that whatever measures are taken to suppress people, Kashmiris will never ever forget the courageous sons and daughters of the soil who sacrificed their future for our cherished goal.
How many caring Manzoor's, courageous Inayat's, hardworking Wamiq's, dreamful Zahid's and ambitious Tufail's will they martyr? Every time we mourn the martyrdom of our children we reiterate our oath to honour their blood with the wonderful fragrance of Azaadi, Islam and Independent Kashmir.

Mr. Omar your state is bleeding since January this year, tears jumble in our eyes while writing, reading or recalling the heartbreaking incidents since we grew up as matured adults. People are beaten to death by torture and most gruesome violations, till now about 65 civilians have been martyred in 83 days, but you are enjoying and watching the agony as mute spectator which was not expected at least from a political person like you.
First, innocent civilians are brutally murdered, then action-less condemnations are aired followed by useless probes which have lost credibility in Kashmir. One youth is martyred followed by six others and then 46 more in just a week's time and your government still watches and makes every effort to crush the sentiment and determination of the people and the pro-freedom leadership. You are watching our killings endorsed by the central government who want Kashmiri people to be killed for seeking their birth right guaranteed and acknowledged by the international bodies like UN, OIC Amnesty International and others.

Will these heart breaking incidents stop ever? Why cannot you stop all this as the head of the state? Your government claims to be representing people's sentiment, is this proof to the claims of zero tolerance of human rights violations. It seems that present government gives more preference to power than human life. Though you intended to resign when attacked personally by your assembly colleague which had no value for people, but when it was morally and administratively bound to step down as the head of the state unfortunately you didn't even bothered to show courage and understand peoples response, that would have not only acknowledged your sincerity and love but surely created space in the minds of people. It seems that your authority has been ceased by New Delhi. The fiery political speech which you delivered in Indian parliament in 2008 uprising was easy though commendable but being not in power was a big question mark on your sincerity. An action of that caliber is the need of the hour.

Mr Omar Kashmir has been witnessing bloodshed all through past  63 years, however, during last 20 years of  turmoil wherein youth like me grew up to adulthood has snatched thousands of precious sons, daughters, fathers, brothers, husbands and what not from this oppressed nation. If you as an individual and head of the state want to show solidarity and respect with Kashmiri people, you can do it by reversing or halting the destructive policy of India towards Kashmiris. All this can prove your claim to be an elected head of the state. The immediate steps needed to execute include, release of all innocent prisoners, scrapping of draconian laws Like AFSPA, demilitarization of troops from civilian areas. These changes, if implemented will surely restore peace and confidence of people on you.

It will also win you hearts of people and help start the process of finding the final solution to the most dangerous dispute of South Asia. At the same time we as a nation must defeat the forces that have done and are trying best to divide the leadership and people. We must show faith, trust and confidence towards leadership to achieve the cherished goal of self-determination for which our courageous generation is fighting with strong will and faithfulness.

Mr Omar may Allah bestow you the conscious, the heart and the wisdom to follow truth and may Allah bestow Kashmir with the cherished dream – Ameen.


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Along with New Delhi's criminal silence, Kashmir is slowly shaping up as a sinking ship. The killings, protests, curfews and strikes have disturbed synthetically-generated semblance of peace manufactured through decades of coercion, oppression, and repeated acts of application of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).


The killing of 65 people, mostly youngsters; over two months of strike; unending curfews to suppress protests; closure of offices; businesses, schools; shortage of food and medicine supplies and hospitals out of bounds for patients. This is the story of sinking valley of Kashmir caught in a vicious cycle of killing with justice and political resolution camouflaged under the garb of commissions and committees.

During these killings, separatists kept issuing weekly shutdown calendars, asking India to move ahead on the political resolution of Kashmir. India didn't move ahead in six decades.

The valley witnessed 1900 days of complete shutdowns in last two decades. India still did not move ahead. While it continued evading political resolution under one pretext or the other, separatists also failed to adapt and reposition there strategies to demand poltical resolution of Kashmir. Initially separatists used to call one-day-long strikes, now after having been saturated with insensitivity of India; they have started 24x7 doses in the form of protest calendars.

While separatists seem to use these calendars to prove their writ runs large in the valley, the calendars also convey the message that poltical resolution is being demanded by people of Kashmir they way the chart is being successfully followed.

However, at the same time, given the structure of already defunct economy, questions are being raised as to effectiveness of these strikes in achieving poltical resolution. There is thinking emerging out that see strikes and shutdowns as symbolic variables that just define the message but doesn't serve methods for seeking poltical resolution.

Looking at the long-term effects of continued hartals and clearly visible are effects like sinking economy, dependent force of population consisting of daily wagers, shop keepers, small businessman, uneducated burgeoning population. One more disturbing trend seems to have been completely ignored is students and working class that have started leaving Kashmir searching for jobs and study options outside state. This brings a picture before eyes of leaders who say that hartals and strikes are just symbolic variables that define message but are not part of solution, as strikes have potential to complicate the problem further.

This leads to another realization of states without intellectual layer that should contribute to political resolution of the dispute. Is this vacuum due to  six decades of political uncertainty and two decades violence in which 70,000 people were killed, 10,000 are missing, 8000 woman are waiting for the return of their husbands also known as half widows?. Is it that two decades of violence has punctured abilities of leadership circles? Is it that in conflict ridden areas, mature leadership never evolves? But then how can poltical resolution be secured.These are the tough questions which leaders must understand and answer.At the same time it also needs to be accepted  that conflict-driven regions cannot bear such a kind of economic genocide.

There are also questions about effect of long shutdowns on psychological health as well. Will constant hartals and curfews change the daily routines as well? What will be happen to a mind that has done nothing for 1900 days in a span of 21x365 days?

Amidst these scenarios, there are other questions as well from the perspective of vested interests? Will vested   interests on both sides of political uncertainty celebrate this self-inflicted genocide? Do these hartals make their task easy?

Looking at the way how strikes break the inner economy of society, disturbing whole life on a broader level, projected on a larger time frame, it seems to create a context for collective suicide of the entire society.

Will the person who inflicts pain ever feel the pain caused due to injuries to economy and society?
Economy is already punctured with employment rate so thin and industrial and corporate environment yet to mature or almost non-existent.

Will not these hartals and curfews further puncture sinking economy? Does this mean that Kashmir is sinking very fast?

It is a principle very well established that people in regions affected with conflicts need strong survival skills and they need to work harder than normal societies since they have long and hard way to go ahead. They have to meet two ends, raise families with good education and contribute to resolution of political uncertainty. These are not easy targets, however. In such scenarios, leaders adopt adaptive mechanisms to keep both ends going. They don't expect different results each time using same type of inputs. 1900 hartals observed so far have failed to achieve any political objective. Do we need any other proof to prove effectives of hartals?
How will a poor man react to this when his wife is dying with no money to buy medicines for her?
Leaders from all sides of opinion must demonstrate more maturity and creative means to demand justice and political resolution of long unresolved Kashmir dispute, rather than suicidal mechanisms that serves vested interests.

Hard-working and educated society is required to speed up the resolution process, which will not be produced by weekly calendars. At the same time state government must announce speedy special investigation courts for all unjustified acts of violence committed by troops and personnel of state machinery.

It's also time for New Delhi to re-start addressing Kashmir conflict immediately as it is this political insensitivity that is defining the present crisis.

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The protests in Kashmir have entered into third month with visible sign of let off. The young men and women storm streets, pelting stone and   raising slogans. The administration is determined to use force. The number of deaths increases with each passing day. The populace continues to be confined to their homes.


The situation is horrendous as people are full of anger. The pot is simmering. This time people are adamant like never before. So far more than sixty lives have been lost.

The writing is clearly on the wall: don't measure peace with the metrics of tourism, elections and other upbeat activities. The perpetual denial of basic demands to the people has been met with bullets, restrictions, and curfews. Where are we heading? How many more deaths do we need to wake up the conscience keepers? And how long India would continue to look at Kashmir through security prism?

Indian intellectuals, think-tanks and civil society are continuous working out new proposals and suggestions. They selling new ideas, drafting new policy; the aim is: how to end the present turmoil and how to bring the state to normalcy. Different opinions are emerging. The discussions revolve around the saga of sixty years of upheaval against the backdrop of Kashmir's history. The analysts are busy in discussing the historical background of Kashmir problem vis-à-vis Article 370, pre-1953 position, solution proposed by Kashmir Study Group (KSG), Andorran Solution, and Musharraf's Joint Sovereignty Kashmir Formula etc. One carries an impression that Kashmir is a vexed and complex problem.

Many believe that the need of the hour is withdrawal of Indian soldiers from the valley and to hold an unconditional dialogue among parties involved – India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. Everybody is voicing a common concern – be it intellectuals, thinkers, journalists, lawyers, et al – that the time is ripe for New Delhi to come out with something substantial to bail this population out of the long-drawn turmoil and help facilitate the initiation of a conducive environment where the common man in Kashmir can breathe free and with a live with a sense of security. There is a consensus in the group of opinion makers that the immediate need of the hour is to repeal AFSPA, PSA and remove the presence of security men from cities and towns. New Delhi, however, seems to be heedless to these suggestions. There is no clear indication from New Delhi and it is in no mood to accept the genuine demands voiced by the people of the valley. It is hard to understand what New Delhi is thinking. Is there an archaic approach of 'wait and watch' policy or is there some sort of review or reform in the thought process? Is New Delhi ready to see the obvious this time? Or does it hear, see and simply ignore? One fails to understand. Kashmir, in the meantime, continues to bleed and burn.

If New Delhi has anything to offer at all, it should be honour and respect for the human life, installation of democratic traditions, strengthening of institutional base, and culture of expressive politics, judicial independence, free press and free will in the state. It is a simple and sublime fact that all the progress made by the mankind in the development of the institutions world over has been concentrated on the basic idea that human life is precious– needs to be nourished, respected, empowered, and improved. No institution, no nation, no doctrine is above humanity. However when obsessive fervour of nationality overlooks the concerns of humanity, when nationalistic framework takes the shape of an imperialistic design then everything fall on deaf ears. The human dimension attached to the Kashmir crisis beseeches New Delhi to explore ways of handling the situation from a humane perspective.

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The recent assertion by Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah that New Delhi is working for political solution to Kashmir seems only to aim to rebuild his image, try to prove his loyalty to the valley but he can't fool those whose kids have been killed by state forces in cold blood.


He can't fool that person who was thwarted to hug his child's dead body after paramilitary forces beat him to death. Magician can no more fool people nor can a politician. Politicians have always looked onto the benefits from people like voting and political support but never look for problems of people in turn. There is a Chinese proverb that a magician and a politician have much in common: they both have to draw our attention away ... "Magic becomes art when it has nothing to hide." Today chief minister asserts one thing, tomorrow he may retrieve from what he said.  To work for Kashmir resolution is a big and a formidable task, isn't the chief minister in a position to order a transparent and independent inquiry in the 60 odd killings and bring the culprits to book. A lot of blood has flown down the Jhelum and people no more believe the hollow promises made by politicians. It is due to the follies of politicians, in past as well as in present, that people of Kashmir are suffering, the wrongs done by them were paid by the people heavily. The union minister, Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister asserts, 'Kashmir is an integral part of India' and in order to please people in New Delhi he say, 'what do Kashmiris want', despite knowing what Kashmiris want.

This is the high time for the father-son duo to respect the aspirations of the people and accept the ground situation in Kashmir.









THE Tribune report that out of 880 starred questions (440 in each House of Parliament), only 42 and 76 queries could be answered in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha respectively in the monsoon session of Parliament that ended on Tuesday is disturbing. This speaks poorly of our MPs' commitment to parliamentary democracy as precious time of Parliament was lost in petty quarrels and procedural wrangles. The Question Hour is an important tool in the members' hands to keep the government on its toes. But most are not interested in making the best use of it. The entire first week of the monsoon session was wasted on the Opposition's demand for an adjournment motion on the price rise that entails voting. MPs disrupted the proceedings demanding more pay. Even on Tuesday, there was uproar in the Lok Sabha during discussion on the Supreme Court's directive on distribution of food grains among the poor. The MPs are expected to be role models for the citizens. But their conduct suggests that they are an unruly lot with no sense of discipline and accountability.


Frequent disruptions and forced adjournments do not serve our democracy better than reasoned debates and the articulation of the people's problems in Parliament. If this noble institution is really an embodiment of the people's aims and aspirations, the members, cutting across party lines, must avail themselves of the opportunity to raise issues of concern on the floor of the House and seek their expeditious resolution. It is on this institution that the responsibility of sustaining people's faith in democracy as the most sensitive system to the people's problems rests.


It is time we learnt lessons from other countries and strengthen our parliamentary institutions. There is need for effective time management so that Parliament transacts maximum business during the sessions. The New Zealand Speaker takes up as many as 72 questions during the Question Hour. We need to replicate such successful models. Devices like "stopwatch" and "reverse clock" (recommended by Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari) will ensure that members and parties stick to their timings to transact maximum business in the minimum time possible.









LAST week it had received a rap on its knuckles from the Supreme Court over its mishandling of the situation after the Mirchpur carnage in April this year. This week it was the turn of the Parliamentary Committee on the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes to find faults with the state government's response. The apex court had voiced its disgust over the failure of the Haryana police to arrest 75 people who were part of the mob, which torched 18 Dalit houses and burnt a man and his handicapped, teeanged daughter to death. The court had served a week's ultimatum to the state to round up the culprits, who are at large even four months after the carnage. The parliamentary panel's indictment addresses several other failures of the state government. Coming down heavily on the Haryana government's decision to constitute a one-member commission of inquiry, the panel wondered why the state shied away from making it a multi-member commission and include at least one from the Dalit community. It also criticised the state government's offer to set up a separate primary school for Dalit children in Mirchpur. Rather than take the easy way out, the panel felt the state government should have taken action against the schools which had denied admission to the children.


The Haryana government appears to be a prisoner of its own police and the bureaucracy, judging by their knee-jerk reactions. Having mishandled the situation from the beginning and having failed to restrain the mob despite warning signals, the state government compounded it with its reluctance to upset a prominent caste group in the state. It took a surprise visit by the Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi and a supposedly stern message from the Congress president to force the state government to act and order a judicial inquiry and announce monetary compensations and jobs. None of these measures, however, seem to have restored the confidence of the Dalits in the state and even the 'peace committee' constituted by the district administration does not seem to have been effective in restoring harmony. Only one of the 31 members of the committee apparently called on the parliamentary committee when it visited the village in July, forcing it to wonder whether the peace committee exists only on paper.


Justice is blind and cannot be selective. But the Haryana government appears to have been trapped into believing that compensation in terms of houses, cash and jobs will be sufficient to heal the wounds and restore harmony. Its authority and credibility can only be maintained, however, if it swiftly brings the culprits to book.









DESPITE frequent bickering in public, the Akali-BJP marriage is here to stay. Playing an effective marriage counsellor, Yashwant Sinha has advised restraint to the sparring partners. For the moment, the "crisis" seems to have blown over. Anyway, Industries Minister Manoranjan Kalia, who had triggered the row by going public with his grouse of discrimination in fund allocations for the BJP constituencies, has no choice but to keep mum. The BJP national leadership's compulsions to have Akali support for regaining power at the Centre forces its leaders in Punjab to put up with a lot from the Badals.


Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has exploited this BJP weakness to the hilt. He gave Deputy Chief Ministership to his son. It is rare to see one coalition partner grabbing both the top two posts. The Badals' dominance in administration is unmistakable. The senior Badal insists on free power to farmers, his party's vote bank. The BJP opposes power tariff hikes for urban and industrial consumers. The opposition to taxes on each party's constituencies has slowed revenue collection. They agreed on a Kalia-Sukhbir committee, which has made feeble attempts at resource mobilisation.


The BJP charge of discrimination can well be an excuse to cover up its failure on urban development ahead of the elections in 2012. Funds are available aplenty under Central schemes like the National Urban Renewal Mission but the government has not met the conditions to get the benefits. Barring the Badals' constituencies, towns and villages have not seen any development as the state treasury goes empty after paying salaries, pensions, interest on loans and subsidies. Power and road projects the Badals boast of are being executed by private firms. The government is forced to divert funds and sell public land to raise resources. This has not stopped political and bureaucratic extravagance. A top-heavy administration, unwanted boards, a large battalion of parliamentary secretaries and needless VIP security have landed the state in an unmanageable debt of Rs 71,000 crore. That is an issue to fight over.

















OF the two high-born Mirabeau brothers who lived through the French Revolution, the younger would have been quickly forgotten but for his legendary alcoholic prowess and one pithy observation he made: "Other states have their armies; in Prussia the army has a state." Prussia no longer exists except in history books, but the truth in Mirabeau junior's 12 words lives. In the immediate neighbourhood of India in the west an army has a State called Pakistan and in the east Myanmar (Burma) has been turned into a property of its army. The Myanmarese Generals' grip on power is brutish. After refusing to abide by the electorate's clear verdict two decades ago they are going to stage another election with preconditions tailored to their determination to hang on to ruthless oligarchic power. With its Nobel laureate leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the 14th year of house arrest and many of her party comrades in prison, the National League for Democracy (NLD), the winner of the 1990 election, will take no part in the contemplated bogus polls. In Pakistan, geopolitically a far more significant state in global politics, the current moves by the army are subtle and call for more attention.


After many doubts and fears about its genuineness Pakistan's main political parties participated in the February 2008 general election and accepted the results as fair. The President Gen Pervez Musharraf went into exile and his successor as Army Chief Gen Ashfaque Kayani called all military officers heading civilian administrative units, including even dairy farms, back to the barracks. Pakistan today is trying to project an image of a civilian-ruled democracy. A low buzz of amusement mixed with incredulity inside the country as well as outside greeted the recent announcement in Islamabad that the Prime Minister had extended the tenure of General Kayani by three years.


The reality of the power equation in Pakistan had been demonstrated earlier. The civilian leaders of the government were made to realise that they must not venture into the army's domains. The government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was rapped on the knuckles when they ordered transfer of the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) to the Ministry of Interior. Within a few hours the Gilani government issued a second statement saying that the notification placing the ISI under the Interior Ministry had been "misunderstood" which meant that the ISI remained with the Ministry of Defence — effectively with the army. In its scope and nature of operations the ISI resembles America's CIA with the very important difference that in Pakistan it does not report to any civilian President.


In 33 of the 63 years since its creation Pakistan has been ruled by military Presidents. In the democratic interludes after the death of Gen Zia-ul-Haq the army got civilian Presidents to dismiss elected Prime Ministers — the late Benazir Bhutto twice, (in 1990 and 1996) and Mr Nawaz Sharif in 1993. Mr Sharif's second ouster was directly by the army when he tried to sack the Army Chief, General Musharraf, and was himself thrown not only out of office but of the country as well. This chastisement of Mr Sharif was endorsed by the Supreme Court under the "doctrine of necessity". After the make-believe restoration of democracy the shortsighted leaders of Pakistan's main political parties vied among themselves in handing over the whip hand to the army.


Ms Benazir and Mr Sharif assiduously spread well-founded reports of their corruption and lobbied the army for the dethronement of whoever among them was in power at any time. In brutally frank words, neither of them was above prostituting Pakistan's politics. In the current phase, politicians are trying to show themselves as more circumspect, but attempts at currying favour with the army leadership are evident. Pakistani commentators have interpreted the extension of the tenure of General Kayani as the Army Chief for three years as an insurance taken out for themselves by President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani.

As of now, no army sword overhangs the civilian regime. But a question has arisen about the relative importance of the civil and military authorities in the State of Pakistan. Mr Richard Holbrooke, a peripatetic American diplomat currently hopping in and out of Pakistan and Afghanistan, has revealed, perhaps inadvertently, to the embarrassment of the Gilani government that General Kayani "is an enormously powerful political factor" in Pakistan and "we have extensive discussions with him." This is confirmation of what was unofficially known to all: that Pakistan's foreign relations too are guided largely by the army. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi may be impolite to his Indian counterpart — as it happened the last time they met in Islamabad — but he has to be respectful to what the army says about the handling of his portfolio.


The cataclysmic floods in Pakistan have brought the army a huge harvest of gratitude from the people nobody could have foreseen. The Generals had for long been reviled for their suppression of democracy and turning the country into their fief. At the head of every profitable organisation of the government sat an officer of the armed forces. General Kayani ended this system and since mid-July he has been seen visiting the flood-hit areas time and again. By contrast, the misery of his people made no difference to President Zardari enjoying his visit to France and Britain. He would not forego even his scheduled visit to the 16th century chateau in Normandy which his late wife Benazir Bhutto's family had acquired and now belongs to him.


At home Prime Minister Gilani found coping with the floods beyond the capacity of his government and confessed it. He thought this was good enough reason why government officials were not seen trying to help the distressed people. Mr Gilani was taken on a visit to one relief centre and this one turned out to be a fake. The armed forces have filled all the gaps left by the government and are extracting all the credit for it. Wherever they go to rescue people or provide relief they advertise it with the help of banners.


Journalists are on frequent flood surveys in military helicopters, and Pakistan's TV networks are full of pictures of the army providing succour to the affected people. In some refugee centres cries — spontaneous or tutored — are heard: "Army zindabad". For the first time in Pakistan the armed forces are scoring high in winning the hearts and minds of the people — a fact testified by respected newspaper columnists. This will help General Kayani to guide Pakistan to wherever he intends to take it








IMMEDIATELY after entering Chandigarh from Punjab, we give deadly glances to each other pointing towards seat belts. As the car moves ahead we have to dip the high beam headlights. A little further, we frantically locate all documents of the vehicle and prepare our minds to answer policemen if something is missing.


When all is done, we sit straight and drive well below the speed limit of 60 kmph. We are one of those who feel scared at the sight of Chandigarh traffic cops, not forgetting their pink slip that would land us in the soup of challan, irrespective of who we are.


There are many other drivers from parts of Punjab and Haryana who commute to the city beautiful on their four-wheelers but as soon as they enter the city, sobriety takes over even the most roguish.


In Punjab, people moving with seat belts are frowned upon or even stared at. The moment an exhausted Punjab Police cop waves someone to a stop, the somewhat-influential drivers lose no time in flipping out their mobile phones like an AK-47.


The poor cop is left with no option. If a daring one challans the errant driver, he may end up being suspended or transferred.


The not-so-influential ones have no option but to part with a few crispy notes. Over the years, we have realised that traffic cops have a well "integrated" method of milking their victims. They never accept the money themselves and instead have "tie-up" with nearest juice-wallah or pan-wallah, who acts as proxy gift recipient.


Flaunting VIP numbers is yet another craze, especially in youngsters. In the words of a Punjab MLA, "I have a VIP number, but my son's motorbike has an ordinary number. He flatly refused to ride the bike until I got him a VIP number. Reason - every Tom, Dick or Harry waved him to stop for reckless driving with an ordinary number."


When the same belief is handed over through genes in youngsters, it results in the tragedy like the one at Chandigarh wherein two girls driving a luxury car in an inebriated state ran over a youth and a child, that too in a VIP area.


It is the same belief that dispels the fear of law and order from the young minds and makes them tread the forbidden territories.


Will this incident instil fear amongst us (the inhabitants of Punjab)? Or will it also get buried somewhere in the annals of history as just another police file?









FOOD is the first essential to a life of dignity and fulfilment. Hunger and lack of food sow the seeds of conflict and unrest. Dr Norman E. Borloug, a Nobel laureate, once said: "There is peace in the world until sufficient food is available".


To increase the availability of foodgrains to the masses, it is not enough to increase production. Proper and scientific post-harvest management of food grains is also the need of the hour. A study conducted a few years ago revealed that food grain waste at various stages is 9.33 per cent of the production. This wastage was 18.94 million tonnes, which could feed 1,400 million people for a month. In a poor country like India, where 27.5 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, food grain losses are a criminal waste.


According to press reports, a whopping 13.5 lakh tonnes of food grains have been declared as damaged in the last ten years by the five state procurement agencies and the FCI in Punjab alone. This is higher than the FCI's total national figure of loss of ten lakh for ten years. It may be stated that 5.79 lakh tonnes of wheat, rice and paddy lying with the FCI (Punjab region) were damaged in the last ten years.


However, what is more shocking is that 7.56 lakh tonnes of wheat has rotted in the custody of five state procurement agencies. The state procurement agencies store only wheat. The storage capacity of the public procurement agencies for food grains in Punjab was 20.35 million tonnes at the end of March, 2009. Out of this, about 68 per cent and 32 per cent was covered and open (CAP) storage. About 49 per cent of the total covered storage capacity (13.76 million tonnes) is owned by the state procurement agencies and the FCI. On the other hand, 51 per cent of the storage capacity is hired.


As on July 1, 2010, the stock of wheat and rice was 57.85 million tonnes against the minimum buffer stock norms of 26.9 million tonnes in the country. The actual stock was more than double the minimum buffer stock norms. About 27 per cent of these food grain stocks are lying in the open.


It is very distressing that warehouses of the Punjab State Warehousing Corporation (PSWC) were stacked with cartons of liquor in Ludhiana district in spite of shortage of covered space for food grains in the state. According to press reports, the warehouses in other districts, including Moga, Sangrur and Ferozepur, too have been rented out to store commodities other than food grains.


The Union Agriculture and Food Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, recently stressed the urgent need to add 15 million tonnes of warehousing capacity at Rs 4,000 crore in the near term. The Eleventh Plan has a target of construction of additional storage capacity for 30 million tonnes of food grains. It may be stated that capacity building in warehousing has been progressively declining with every successive Five Year Plan. Keeping in view the storage problem, the Punjab Government recently formulated a plan to add about seven million tonnes of storage capacity at a cost of about Rs 2,000 crore.


The storage capacity for food grains in India was 58.36 million tonnes by the end of March, 2009. Out of this, 62 per cent was owned by the public agencies and the rest 38 per cent was hired. The policy planners at the national level should think of construction of additional storage capacity in the food grain deficit areas to reduce the pressure on the surplus states of Punjab and Haryana. It will result in better management of food stocks. Punjab and Haryana, being the major contributing states of wheat and rice to the central pool, can have transit storage


The Union and state governments want public-private partnerships (PPPs) in warehousing. There is scope for viable PPPs. To minimise storage loss and ensure efficient handling, silo storage for wheat may be preferred. The state-of-the art-silos have been constructed by Adani Agri Logistics on behalf of the FCI at Moga in Punjab and Kaithal in Haryana. Each silo has a capacity to store 2.25 lakh tonnes of grains. The plants have been built on a build-own-operate basis. The FCI has given a 20-year guarantee for using these storage facilities.


Under this project, two base depots have been constructed at Moga and Kaithal. While the first mother depot at Moga has been linked to three field depots in Chennai, Coimbatore and Bangalore, the Kaithal depot is linked to Navi Mumbai and Hoogly. Except for the Navi Mumbai field depot, which has a storage capacity of 50,000 tonnes, all the other four field depots have a storage capacity of 25,000 tonnes each.


A key feature of this storage is that the entire handling process, right from receiving food grains at the base depots, their cleaning, drying, storage and transportation to the field depots is carried out in bulk form, thus minimising waste. Such silos may also be constructed at other places in Punjab and Haryana with the participation of the private sector with a 20-year guarantee by the FCI for the storage of wheat. To attract private investment in warehousing, a tax holiday may be given on the pattern of the food processing industry. The new warehouses may be located near those areas which have a rail connectivity.


For sustainable agricultural development, the post-harvest management of the produce, particularly storage, is equally important. A delay of a few years in this regard will not be in the interest of the nation as the wastage of each grain is a national loss.


The writer is Professor and Head, Department of Economics & Sociology, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. The views expressed are personal









HUGE quantities of badly needed food grains produced with heavy investment, tireless efforts of farmers using scarce ground water resources of Punjab and Haryana are shamelessly allowed to rot year after year on the pretext of inadequate storage capacity with the procurement agencies.


In the recent flash floods inundating the low-lying tracts of Punjab and Haryana, a colossal loss of both openly stored and godown-stored food grains has taken place. Plastic sheets covering food grains stored in the open were blown away. Floodwaters entered the godowns and damaged the stored stacks of wheat.


The blame game has started as usual. The issue of huge national loss has been raised by the media. The Supreme Court has taken a serious note and has reprimanded those concerned for the lapse. The Punjab government is asking for more funds from the Centre to construct a large number of silos and some of our elected representatives will again go abroad to study as to how silos are made.


There appears a lot of scope for storing food grains under the large number of flyovers now being planned to expand the road network by building four-lane and six-lane state and national highways. In the expansion process, a number of bridges are being constructed over the existing canals, railway tracks, rivers, streams and khads.


Unfortunately, the approach roads to these bridges are being made by filling huge amounts of earth on both sides taken from a 200 to 400-metre distance to provide a gentle gradient to the highway. There are a number of examples close to Chandigarh where huge quantities of earth was filled up by the National Highway Authority of India to construct approach roads to over-bridges in the process of building four-lane highways.


As you go from Chandigarh to Kullu and Manali, the first such earth-filled approach to an over-bridge on a railway line is found in the heart of Kurali town. The second huge earth-filled approach road to a very high over-bridge now under construction over the Bhakhra main line canal is near the police lines of Ropar. The third one is again in the heart of Ropar over the railway line, the fourth on the Bhakhra canal near the village of Ahmedgarh and the fifth one is on the same canal near Bharatgarh village.


In all these, huge amounts of earth were transported, thoroughly compacted again and again and then an approach road was laid. Such examples are also available on the recently laid railway line from Chandigarh to Morinda and will also be found when the line is extended to Ludhiana. The proposed project to build a six-lane GT Road from Panipat to Jalandhar will also involve the construction of similar earth-filled high approach roads to over bridges.


Instead of using earth to raise the level of such approach roads to elevated bridges over canals, rivers and railway lines, reinforced cement concrete flyovers should be made on the pattern of those at Panipat and Zirakpur. These flyovers should be covered from both sides by pre-fabricated sheets now being used by the NHAI on these elevated roads. The concrete floors can be laid at the base. The space now filled by earth at a huge cost could be used as godowns to store food grains.


There appear to be some other advantages as well. The transport of grains would be easier as they would be stored underneath highways. The construction of additional godowns and silos would need additional land, which is already very scarce and costly to acquire. The same system can be applied to the Railways, which is planning to have new tracks. The Ministries of Surface Transport, Railways and Agriculture may have to work out a joint strategy.


The writer is a former Director of PAU, Regional Research Station, Ballowal, and senior consultant on natural resources management









The Emmy Awards, honouring the best in American television, took place a few days ago, and while winners like Mad Men and Dexter – seriously impressive dramas now thankfully broadcast on our shores as well – might be deservedly familiar to a lot of you, I strongly recommend a visit to the local DVD depository to pick up the complete first season of another of the night's big winners, the immensely accomplished Modern Family. 


Created by Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan – two massive sitcom legends who have, between them, created and worked on shows as brilliant and as far removed as Frasier and The Wonder Years – Modern Family is a rare achievement, a tremendously polished current comedy that you can (indeed, should) sit and watch with the folks. 


Similar to The Simpsons and Arrested Development in both lunacy as well as detailing intricate enough to make background events and people a massive part of the plot, Modern Family takes that now-overpopular mockumentary format of characters speaking to the camera bequeathed to television by Ricky Gervais' The Office and tones down the obvious madness. Things are riotously funny, yet aided by masterful writing and a rock-solid cast – out of which it won't be fair to single out any one, not even Eric Stonestreet, heh – they end up feeling relatably real. 


As insane as it is insightful, the show flips back and forth between members of three distinct, but warmly connected families, and keeps us riveted with fantastically nuanced, irresistible characters. A goof trying doggedly hard to be the cool dad memorises the lyrics to High School Musical 2 and remains convinced 'WTF' is short for 'Why the face?'; a massive gay man tries to keep a half-sober upper lip only to end up blubbering in defense of Meryl Streep, who, he feels, cannot be ill-cast, even as Batman; a sharp pre-teen convinces her gullible elder sister to recharge her telephone battery by rubbing it on her head; and a young Mexican boy drinks coffee, gives parenting advice and writes cloying poetry his stepfather laughs at. And they're just getting started. 


Family humour is born out of embarrassment. The most absent-minded, dorky, cratchety, mushy, precocious, politically incorrect and painfully inappropriate parts of every family lead to situations that would be absolutely mortifying – if they weren't so damned funny. And it is this rich repository of social awkwardness that Modern Family mines for laughs, and comes up with genuine gold. 


And sure, it's sentimental. There's anger and love and bickering and serenading and lying and hypocrisy and wholesomeness, but none of that gets in the way of the laugh. Be it a guy smiling inadvertently but sadistically whilepunishing his sun by shooting him with a BB gun, or an older man smiling wanly, exhausted at being repeatedly mistaken for his wife's father, there's enough reality behind the gag for it to matter, to rankle a little, and for it to be more than just a clever line. And so much of this show's genius lies in – via the sidelong glances to camera, boastful statements immediately belied by clumsy cowardice, confessions and allowances made wordlessly – the silences. 


And while the show initially wins you over with sheer relief - that this isn't your family, even though it comes close – the characters and that phenomenal ensemble cast soon start making you care. For despite the dweebiness and the jealousy and the wisecracks and the inadequacy and the gruffness, the show convinces you that these are a bunch of people thrown together chaotically but firmly, who do need, play-off and support each other, however begrudgingly. And we'd really rather see them get by, than not. And that's family.



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There are many good reasons for the cautious and conservative approach the Union finance ministry has adopted towards direct tax reform. Expectations of a radical reform of tax policy have understandably been belied because of the government's cautious approach. The most important reason for such cautious conservatism would be the likely revenue implications of the changes being proposed. The Union revenue secretary has let it be known that the government would be giving away as much as '53,000 crore in the first year of implementation of the new direct taxes code (DTC). Clearly, this fact may have also shaped the government's decision to delay the implementation of the new tax code by an year. No finance minister can afford to take chances with revenues and reform when the fiscal deficit and the budgetary deficits of the government are so high.


Fiscal policy and public finance purists may like neat and decisive reform, while taxpayers would like simplicity of procedure and clarity in language, but fiscal authorities worry more about the revenue implications of tax reform. The government cannot afford to risk reduced revenues at a time when there is such uncertainty about growth and deficit management. Further, given the recent decline in the savings rate, the government may have also been wary of reducing the incentives for saving. As a consequence of such concerns, the final DTC has proved to be less radical in scope and intent than was widely expected. Critics would say the government has missed an opportunity to undertake more wide-ranging reform. But the fact is that tax reform is always a continuing process and no government can afford to put a full stop to policy change unmindful of the revenue and deficit management implications of such change. Even so, it is necessary to ensure reasonable stability, predictability and transparency in policy. Hence, whatever the change the government now intends to bring should remain in place for a reasonable period of time to enable individuals and firms to plan and manage their incomes, savings and investment decisions.


 The government's decision to offer some comfort to lower middle-class families is well taken, especially when inflation continues to hurt them, and so also its decision to end gender preferences, considering that in India the phenomenon of single mother households is still not significant and most women taxpayers belong to double-income families. However, it is not clear why the government wishes to keep in place so many exemptions. The scope of exempt-exempt-exempt ought to have been reduced and that of exempt-exempt-tax widened. Health and education expenditure and retirement benefits are about the only items that ought to benefit from tax exemptions. There is no reason why any other sort of income or expenditure should attract tax exemption. It is the margin for discretion and the lack of clarity that complicate tax systems and their administration. These considerations must inform policy on general anti-avoidance rules (GAAR) so that the taxpayer is not at the mercy of tax administration and tax consultants. GAAR principles must be clearly defined by the government and not left to tax authorities to decide. At the end of the day, even the simplest of policies can become a nightmare for the honest taxpayer if authorities have the leeway to harass.








There is absolutely no denying the fact that the sight of rotting food stocks on the one hand and hungry poor on the other is a blot on government and governance in India. Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar deserves all the rap on the knuckles that the country's highest judiciary can give. Indeed, Mr Pawar ought to step down apologising for his inefficiency in handling the food and agriculture ministry. However, while harsh sentiments expressed by two judges of the Supreme Court (SC) are well taken, they have no right to interfere in the administration of the country's food economy. If governance can be improved and problems solved through judicial fiat and Santa Claus acts, India would be a land of milk and honey, and overflowing granaries. The idea that food stocks should be dissolved through free distribution of existing stocks is preposterous not because it is "unjust", but because it is counterproductive. What if India's farmers were to queue up outside godowns and demand free food and refuse to cultivate any? The court's angry directive can inspire food riots like the ones witnessed around the world two years ago. District administration could be besieged with people plundering the godowns of the Food Corporation of India and even private warehouses. Clearly the court has not applied its mind to the issue. Worse, the ministry concerned does not seem to have argued its case well either.


There are two important issues with respect to the problem of rotting food stocks. First, it is entirely possible that actual stocks are not as high as imagined and the rotting stocks, as shown on television, are old stocks that are no longer edible. Second, a one-time free sale of existing stocks can have the effect of encouraging such demands in future also. The problem of hunger cannot be solved with Santa Claus acts and Mary Antoinette declarations. Central and state governments must work together to put in place a public distribution system that can, in fact, deliver foodgrain at reasonable prices to the poor and hungry. This calls for hard work on the ground, not declarations from above. The SC's directive, along with public pressure, can help move the government's rusty wheels, but at the end of the day it is those wheels that must move. The government and India's political parties must accept the blame for the court's populism because it is they who have waxed eloquent about the right to food, without ensuring that government's agencies are capable of delivering on that promise. The SC's populist gesture should help wake up those in government who imagine that hunger can be banished by mere declarations of intent and legislation of rights. Time for some hard work. For starters, Mr Pawar should make public the actual position on food stocks, and what it means to run a national PDS. If Mr Pawar does not have the energy for the difficult job at hand, he must step aside and let the more energetic deliver on the ground.







India needs to be prepared as much for a surge of capital inflows as a shortage

At the beginning of each year, members of our tiny community of market economists and forecasters take a hard look at their spreadsheets, stroke their chins purposefully and conclude that the rupee will appreciate quite considerably over the year. Since 2007, their forecasts have, by the middle of the year, proved spectacularly wrong. This, of course, causes extreme angst and embarrassment and is usually followed by radical changes in forecasts and desperate (and usually futile) attempts at damage-control. In short, our community's credibility lies in tatters.

The reason for this consistent lack of success in predicting the fortunes of the currency stems from a somewhat persistent strain of the "India Shining" virus. Its most visible manifestation is the unshakeable belief that come what may, capital flows into India will be large and leave in its trail a hefty surplus of dollars that would, by the simple laws of arithmetic, translate into rupee appreciation. The financial crisis of 2007-08 was the first to blow a hole in this assumption. The lingering aversion to risk that came in its wake has also meant that despite apparently better "fundamentals", capital flows into India have been tardy in the years that followed. In 2006-07, the capital account surplus over the current account (the excess supply of dollars) was over $90 billion. This year, 2010-11, we will be lucky to get a surplus of $5 billion. That is, we should, on average, be left with an almost negligible surplus of about $500 million every month.

An associated symptom of this malaise is a tendency to overlook the current account deficit, the draft on capital flows that our persistent trade deficit entails. In 2008-09, the current account deficit was $38.4 billion. In 2009-10, it is likely to be in the range $42-45 billion. When forecasters tend to treat the rupee as part of a larger Asian pack and try and link the Indian currency's fortunes with that of the Asian basket, they tend to forget that most of our Asian peers either run current account surpluses or have relatively minuscule deficits. The data (see table) provide a hard reality check. In the April-August period, the Asian pack appreciated by 4.1 per cent. The rupee with its burden of the current account deficit has remained virtually flat. This despite the fact that portfolio flows into India have been higher than its Asian peers over the past few months.

There are implications that go beyond the narrow domain of currency markets. For one, the fact that capital inflows have been barely adequate to cover the charge on the current account is straining domestic liquidity. Excess dollars when purchased by the central bank lead to a release of rupees. With these flows falling short of expectations, RBI hasn't had much of an opportunity to buy dollars — the result has been a "core liquidity" shortage that is beginning to affect the banking system. The data on money supply illustrate this clearly — M3 growth is currently running at less than 15 per cent. A comfortable growth rate to support 8.5 per cent GDP growth rate and target 5 per cent inflation, going by a simple monetary targeting rule, should be close to 17 per cent, which is the level that is officially targeted by the central bank. To press the point further, monetary growth is running behind its target by a whopping 2 percentage points. Incidentally, some bank treasury managers anticipate the possibility of a resource crunch by the end of the year if credit demand does pick up. I suspect that a number of the liquidity projections made at the beginning of the year were based on a scenario where capital flows would be abundant. The risk of a sharp escalation in deposit and lending rates seems real.

What is the solution then? The first step is to recognise the problem. Both currency and liquidity forecasters (including RBI) need to jettison the "default" assumption that there will be an embarrassment of riches as far as external capital flows are concerned. While there is a chance that they will revive, there is strong probability that a decelerating global economy will put a lid on risk appetite and harness capital inflows. It is also important to recognise the fact that funding the current account deficit is going to be a problem and that is impinging on domestic liquidity. Thus, while it is important to have a contingent strategy in place to handle excess capital inflows, it is just as important to have a policy-mix in place to handle a capital shortage

What should be the elements of this mix? RBI could perhaps make a start by hiking rates on NRI deposit schemes. Attractive interest rates have been known to push up these deposits and there's no reason why this won't work again. The bond market provides attractive arbitrage opportunities given the obvious arbitrage window that low interest rates in the global markets open. It is perhaps time to raise the portfolio investment limits on both corporate and sovereign bonds. The central bank could simultaneously consider diluting some of the extant restrictions on external borrowings. If the capital shortage persists, there could be more radical policy measures — a programme on the lines of the India Millennium Deposit (IMD) scheme might seem a little aggressive at this stage but could be the policy of last resort. Finally, ramifications of the capital shortage are more acute for domestic liquidity than for exchange rates (some would argue that a weak currency actually helps). If the liquidity problem gets out of hand, RBI might consider slashing the cash reserve ratio by the end of the year when inflation pressures dissipate. What we need in these volatile times is a nimble central bank and not one that remains married to its stance.

The author is chief economist, HDFC Bank. The views expressed are personal









It is difficult to figure out why small investors should put their money in mutual funds. But millions of them across the world, including in India, do. The logic for such investing is simple and appealing. I, the lay investor, have neither the resources nor the ability to track individual equities. So, I will put my savings in the hands of experts who will do the job for me, at a price.


 (For the purpose of this discussion, we will stick to investment in equity-focused schemes which are popular with retail investors, and not go into debt- and sector-focused schemes in which firms and experts dabble.)


Trusting the expert is fine but how do you pick your expert — the particular scheme of a fund in which to put some or most of your savings? In India, there are no more than 500 actively traded shares of firms of any consequence. There are mid- and small-cap firms, with and without promise, not to speak of technology startups, the successful among which can make an aggressive investor a millionaire. But they are not for the risk-averse small investor. All she wants is returns which are several percentage points higher than what bank fixed deposits will pay — and this is important — the ups and downs averaging over a period.


There are now over 3,000 schemes, five times the number of established, visible companies. Well-known firms are touchy-feely things. You see their presence — factories, offices, employees, products — everywhere. But a fund house in comparison is a faceless post box, or a few floors in a financial sector office block.


A mutual fund buff will tell you that a little bit of research will enable you to select a few well-performing schemes and you are guided in this by the extensive disclosures and mountains of research and rankings that swamp the financial media. But if you have the gumption to research mutual funds, then you can research stocks too, and good ones are not cheap (nothing good is) but easy to pick. Most small investors have till now chosen schemes recommended by a commission-earning agent or a friendly adviser at your friendly bank who herself and her bank earned a fee on selling the product to you. Significantly, mutual fund sales have plummeted ever since Sebi, the capital market regulator, stopped charging the investor a fee for the selling agent.


After the quite unscientific selection on the basis of advice from commission-earning agents, the small investor's problem is not over. How long does he stick to a scheme? Is there a case for churning your investment once in a while, not too often though, to take advantage of new, attractive options, which again agents have been more than happy to recommend? If your investment is doing well, then the urge to churn is low.


But what if it is not? And, what if the fund management professional who was a bit of an industry acknowledged whiz-kid has moved? Typically, fund management professionals change more often than company managements. The latter happens when there is a succession or a merger or acquisition deal involving the company. Even otherwise, a CEO change in a firm is less discontinuous for it than a fund manager change in a mutual fund.


Now let's come to the returns that fund schemes bring. All funds taken together seldom outperform the market. If they did, the choice would be easy: invest in a fund of index funds.

Here again, there is a catch. An index fund is not really on autopilot. Stocks that make up an index change over time. By the time a stock drops out of an index, interest and activity in it and its valuation have usually waned. After the exit, the stock can go through the same process a bit more. A well-managed index fund will go light on a stock before it is dropped from the index.


The cardinal argument in favour of mutual fund schemes is that there are any number of them which outperform the market. They do. But it is more difficult to pick them than to pick a few good stocks. An additional plus point in favour of picking a scheme is that in the process you select an entire portfolio, which spreads your risk. If you have to pick your own stocks, then you have to pick several.


The key to sensible investing is to know your own preferences. If you are totally risk averse, go for bank fixed deposits. If you have a longer time frame, six years or more, then go for the public provident fund. If you can stay invested for over six years and agree to take on a small risk, then go for equities.


Make a list of say 20 best-known companies which are considered to be alive and kicking. Make sure that the list has both firms whose products are widely used and popular, like Maruti Suzuki, and firms with a strong physical presence (plants and townships) like Tata Steel and NTPC; don't end up with over-representation in one sector (too many software shares); then divide up your investment funds into five and make your investment at six-month intervals over a two-year period. Thereafter, forget about it for five years. My sense is that when year seven dawns, your portfolio will have a distinctly better chance of giving you a handsome return than going the mutual fund route.


In the long run, equities are the best bet and going to them via mutual funds doesn't make them any better. I suspect a lot of small investors know this. Then why do they fall prey to the hardsell of mutual funds? The best example of mass irrationality I can think of is personal care products — shampoos, fairness creams — that promise to transform you in weeks. The consumer knows that they will make no difference but she still succumbs. Hope always triumphs over reason. 










When the state performed only sovereign functions like declaring wars and quelling riots, it was above the law. But when it transformed into a welfare state and even when it entered the field of crass commerce, the arms of the law began to envelop its different activities. Auction of national resources and terms of government contracts have come under the judicial scanner.


However, the extent to which the courts can interfere in the government's foray into the market place and the procedure to do so have been grey areas for a long time. For instance, if the government or one of its companies commits a breach of contract, should the aggrieved party take the long and crowded route to the civil court or a short cut to the high court alleging through a writ petition that its rights have been violated? This is a question that the Supreme Court frequently faces. The latest instance was the case, Central Bank of India vs Devi Ispat Ltd.


 The dispute was between the government bank and a company that took loans from it. After some time, the bank suspected irregularities in the conduct of the company and its associates. So, it asked the company to shift its loan account to some other bank. The company chose the State Bank of India and repaid the loan. But Central Bank did not return the security documents to the company. So, the company chose to move the Calcutta High Court. It directed the bank to release the documents. The bank raised technical objections against the order and moved the Supreme Court, which, in turn, ordered the bank to return the title deeds within two weeks.


Central Bank, which is owned by the government, is "state" for purposes of law and a writ petition would lie against it under the Constitution. But the bank argued that the company should have gone to a civil court or the debt recovery tribunal instead of moving the high court through a writ petition. A contract is in the realm of private law and governed by the Contract Act. Moreover, there would be disputed questions of law, requiring the examination of documentary evidence and witnesses, and these are not the functions of a high court according to the Constitution. A high court can intervene only if the government action falls in the realm of public law.


But the issue is not as simple as it seems. Demarcating the frontier between private and public law has strained the brains of judges for centuries. The dilemma has been discussed in a Supreme Court decision in the case, LIC of India vs Escorts Ltd. It gave an illustration: if the state or an instrumentality of a state ventures into the corporate world and buys shares of a company, it assumes the role of an ordinary shareholder with all the rights available to a shareholder. In that judgment, the court suggested that "the question must be decided in each case with reference to the particular action, the activity in which the state or its instrumentality is engaged in and a host of other relevant circumstances".


In the Central Bank case, the Supreme Court reviewed the precedents and re-stated the rules of the game: "If the instrumentality of the state acts contrary to public good, public interest, unfairly, unjustly, unreasonably discriminatory and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution in its contractual or statutory obligation, a writ petition would be maintainable. However, a legal right must exist and there must be a correspondent legal duty on the part of the state. A writ petition is maintainable even in contractual matters in such circumstances."


It is true that ordinarily, the high courts would decline to take up disputes where evidence and witnesses have to be examined since they are the functions of a civil court. But there is no absolute rule that in all cases in which disputed facts are involved, the matters should be relegated to the civil court. The high court can call for affidavits to decide issues. The Supreme Court also does this.


Normally, there is an arbitration clause in commercial contracts. In that case, the course is clear. An alternative mode of dispute resolution has to be chosen. In such cases, the writ court should not invoke its jurisdiction. "The existence of an alternative remedy provided in the contract itself is a good ground to decline to exercise the court's extraordinary jurisdiction," the present judgment emphasised.


If there is no arbitration clause in the contract, government companies, banks and other state entities wearing business suits cannot commit breach of a solemn undertaking to the prejudice of the other party that acted on the undertaking or promise and put itself in a disadvantageous position. That liability is carried by the government when it forays into commerce.










The nuclear damage Bill has crafted a pragmatic provision to bind operator and supplier under contractual liabilities, but suppliers may find it tough to obtain insurance to back such contracts


Even the most stringent safety standards cannot completely eliminate the possible of nuclear accidents. The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill is a significant step needed to activate the 2008 Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement.


The amendment to Section 17 is a reasonable and logical step towards introducing suppliers' liability. The original Bill had not crafted any mechanism that could provide a right of recourse to an operator against the supplier. Nor did the Bill give any right to the victims of a nuclear accident to take suppliers to court to demand compensation. The amendment to Section 17 has set right these inadequacies to a major extent. It is only the operator (read government) who can take recourse to claim compensation from the suppliers. The revised Bill equips an operator with the right to demand money from the supplier who is responsible for causing the loss, for which the insurer (operator) would have already made an indemnity payment. Such a recourse can be taken against the supplier in the case of any defect or fault in service or equipment.


The earlier controversial text that would have permitted a liability claim only if there was a proof of wilful intent to cause damage has been recast. The provision of "prompt compensation to the victims of a nuclear incident through a no fault liability regime, chanelling liability to the operator", as inserted in the preamble, is a pragmatic step. The revised text squarely underlines the lawmaker's resolve to provide solace to victims of a nuclear disaster. A suitable mechanism has been introduced to bind the operator and supplier under contractual liabilities.


Another noteworthy change is the addition of clause 4(4). It provides for strict liability for the operator to be based on the no-fault principle.


The Atomic Energy Act, 1962 does not allow any non-governmental agency to generate nuclear power. The operation of a nuclear plant would require hiring services and equipment from a large number of suppliers. Under such a scheme, the government as the operator would perforce have to rely upon one or more suppliers to set up and run a power plant. Suppose the equipment or service provided by the supplier is defective and causes a nuclear incident. The Bill provides that the operator can call upon the supplier to make good the loss only after he has paid the compensation for nuclear damage. Hence, the loss and injury to the victim are required to be taken care of first. What does this imply? Any direct or indirect defects or infirmities that could lead to an act triggering a nuclear incident will afford the operator the right to stake a claim against the supplier. Since the operator can only exercise his right of recourse after he has paid compensation, he would like to discharge his obligation as early as posible so that he can then confront the supplier with his claim.


The supplier's liability will be activated in all cases in which the nuclear incident can be attributed to an act of supplier. The liability will also come into play when the impugned act is committed by an employee of a supplier. In this manner, the legal doctrine of vicarious liability would stand duly enforced under which a master is answerable for the wrongdoing of his servant. Not only a deliberate act but even a wilful omission would vest a right to recourse in an operator.


There, however, remains one area of ambiguity. On the one hand, the operator has been defined to mean the central government. On the other hand, based on the explanation offered in clause 4(4), a transporter, consignor and consignee would be deemed to acquire the status of an operator. This may give rise to situations in which private companies can acquire the status of operator. This goes against the declared position that it is only the central government or its public sector undertakings that would operate nuclear power plants.


In any case, once the Bill is enacted, it will provide a suitable compensation mechanism for the victims in case of a nuclear incident. It will help draw international investment and technological co-operation for India's nuclear power generation programme.


The author is former judge advocate general (Army)




The question is very interesting and in the past few days, some opinions have been expressed in the media. To start with, the article "Moral hazard of indemnifying suppliers" in The Hindu (August 20, Suvrat Raju and M V Ramana) came out very strongly in favour of the suppliers being included in the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. But there are two other opinions from the real stakeholders in the nuclear business. First, Sudhinder Thakur (executive director, corporate planning and corporate communications, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.) wrote, "Undoubtedly, the government has powers to make laws, but in the process of making such laws we should not defeat the purpose for which the laws are made since with the current formulation of 17b, no manufacturer, Indian or foreign, would be able to serve the nuclear power industry."


Thakur added that in the process of setting up nuclear power plants a large number of suppliers contribute in varying degrees and they, in turn, have many sub-suppliers. All these suppliers provide material according to the specifications of the operator and their obligations in terms of latent or patent defects are incorporated in the respective contracts. "No supplier, Indian or foreign, would be willing to take the liability on account of recourse of the operator for the period of some 80-odd years after the contract is executed. Under the circumstances, the provisions of 17b are neither practical nor implementable," he concluded.


He welcomed the move to pass the civil nuclear liability Bill to provide prompt compensation to victims of an unlikely nuclear accident. "In this respect it is a welcome move and has become a pre-requisite for the rapid expansion of nuclear power in the country," Thakur said.


The other view is of A M Naik, chairman and managing director of Larsen & Toubro. He pointed out that typically, 300 to 400 suppliers and service providers (including small and medium enterprises) are engaged for each nuclear plant. The Bill has introduced clause 17, under which after settling the civil nuclear liability claims, the operator shall have a right to recourse against the suppliers. Naik pointed out that this clause on suppliers' liability beyond their terms of supply — that is for 60 years of plant life plus 20 years of the claim liability period — is neither practical nor justifiable. "Any clauses requiring a unreasonably high liability would deter participation from major suppliers," he said.


Naik also pointed out that since all suppliers are commercial organisations, they would not be in a position to accept contracts with unlimited liability. In the case of unreasonably high liability, most suppliers would not be in a position to obtain insurance coverage to back these orders and, therefore, will not be able to contribute to the programme. Alternatively, suppliers would have to pay extremely high premiums for insurance coverage during the life of the plant. The costs of this insurance coverage would be transferred to the plant operator and ultimately to the consumers. All this, put together, would deter large-scale participation in the programme by the Indian nuclear industry.


It is also worth highlighting that the nuclear industry is highly disciplined and maintains the highest standards and precautions in the design, construction, operation and maintenance of nuclear power plants. In particular, the Indian nuclear industry's track record is unblemished and there is no reason to believe that it would be otherwise in the future.


There are always apprehensions in the beginning but when things start moving according to the law, all the stakeholders would be happy to get the right business. Over time, as agreements are signed between operators and suppliers, the law could be suitably amended to account for possible problems in implementation that may crop up.


Now, the Bill has already been passed by both Houses of Parliament. The draft had been prepared by the best brains in the nuclear industry. While passing the Bill, it is unique that the government and the main opposition party shared the same thoughts. It is now the duty of all stakeholders to align themselves and follow the law in letter and spirit.


The views expressed here of the author and not of any organisation/company in which he was/is working or was/is associated with








THE headline GDP growth number for the first quarter of the current fiscal dazzles, the fastest in the last nine quarters at 8.8%, but only to deceive. This growth, to begin with, is over the first quarter of 2009-10, when the economy grew a mere 6%. This help from such a low base would not be available for growth in the remaining three quarters, and growth must average 8.4% for this period for the economy to achieve 8.5% growth for the year as a whole. Growth in investment is just 3.7% in real terms and, at market prices, the share of fixed capital formation in the GDP has slipped below 30%. And, there are some signs of growth losing steam: cargo handled at the major ports in the country was up only 1.9% and, likewise, the increase in freight handled by railways rose a modest 4.7%. The rise in industrial output too seems to have moderated over the past two months, partly a manifestation of the fading effect of a low base. Also, over the next few months, the effects of the Pay Commission awards will wear out, cooling demand for durables and other discretionary spending. The estimates of economic output from the demand side and the expenditure side show an abnormal variation this time, for which we hope the Chief Statistician would have a convincing explanation soon. 

All this, however, does not mean the economy is set to underperform. But what it does mean is that there is little reason for the government and the RBI to go into overdrive to save the economy from overheating. On the contrary, the task at hand is to ensure that growth sustains. The central bank's withdrawal of the extra accommodation unfolded during the post-September 2008 crisis is fair and predictable should probably be drawn out over a couple of quarters more than originally planned. But it is not the RBI, but the government that has to take the bulk of corrective action to consolidate growth. Speeding up state-initiated construction on roads, power projects, etc, and formulating a viable policy to release farm land for non-agricultural use, for starters. Growth, evidently, does not coast along on auto-pilot. It needs an active, vigilant driver.







THE Supreme Court has erred by directing the government to distribute rotting food grains to the poor for free. This is so regardless of the government's response that it would follow the court order. The court is, of course, entirely right to be outraged over grain rotting under government custody even as many people go hungry and some even starve. But this outrage should not allow it to upset the fine balance among the different organs of the state. The court should, ideally, stick strictly to matters of law, leaving policy and administration to the executive, held accountable by the legislature. It would be wrong for the court to step in to fill the action deficit by the executive and the legislature. Nature abhors a vacuum. So it is with the division of responsibility for governance among the organs of the state, too. When one arm defaults on its responsibilities, others tend to step in, to make good the gap. A short-term gain might arise, but the long-term loss is likely to far outweigh the gain. For example, the Supreme Court suffers, silently, daily contempt when the medley of two-wheelers, three-wheelers, cars and buses that constitutes traffic in Delhi violates the orders of the court on a routine basis with regard to the respective lanes in which each type of vehicle should move. 


The government has shown savvy in readily agreeing to comply with the court, and not oppose the directive on grounds of constitutional impropriety. Even if it would be entirely in the right to tell the court to kindly mind its own business while it tends to its, or pays the price for it at the court of the people, it would pick the wrong fight. It is unconscionable that grain is allowed to rot. Inadequate storage is no excuse. Why shouldn't there be inadequate storage? If the government, by policy, prohibits private trade from storing more than limited quantities of grain, it has the responsibility to build the requisite storage capacity, or to lease such capacity from the private sector. Failure to that is, indeed, egregious. The entire system of food security is in desperate need of thorough overhaul. How to do that is for the government to decide, not the courts.








EVERY breath of air you inhale, every morsel of food you chew and every drop of water you drink could be injurious to your health unless adequate precautions are taken, the electronic media has for quite some time been warning us in a manner reminiscent of Wendell Phillips' exhortation that 'Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty' even while TV commercials advertise the purity of branded, bottled aqua. And now we have been told that even every moment of the sport we love to watch on TV could be contaminated and that the world's most promising young fast bowlers have indulged in spot-fixing by deliberately bowling three noballs. Never take candy from a stranger, children were advised in the good old days. When presented with an unwrapped candy by its mother, today's child could be wondering whether she has bought a cheaper Chinese variety — laced with melamine, according to some media reports — or the purer, high-energy stuff recommended by nutritionists. Gloom and doom are all-encompassing and no longer just terms associated with the economy! 
    So much so that some Bangalore doctors are even advising their patients to stop watching TV news channels! Today, when watching TV has become the daily fix of the masses, the only alternative to news and sports programmes are the mega-serials that, in a multi-linguistic country like India, are often translated from one language to the other. However, the problem is that life in the serials is incredibly complicated. In one such mega-serial, not only are children kidnapped and rescued at regular intervals but the father literally forgets about his family after being hit on the head far away from home. In the good old movies, this situation would have been resolved in three hours or less, but in this serial, the amnesia has persisted week after week and month after month to an extent where the father is last seen getting married to another woman he rescues from a fate worse than death. Real-life spot-fixing in the form of three no-balls should be far less shocking!








ALL eyes are fixated on how Wall Street closed last night. We get our daily dose of Asian cues from Topix, Kospi, Hang Seng and Shanghai every morning. And thereafter, we follow the London FTSE, German DAX and French CAC as they open for trading as also Dow, Nasdaq and S&P futures, whom Indian stock markets track second-by-second. Every evening, we are all ears to FII net inflows and outflows. 


On one hand, we are asked to believe in the India story — and I, for one, am completely sold on it: India is growing at 8-9% plus, while developed West is decaying — so, it is prudent to invest in India 'alone' — I believe this is rather far-fetched — to generate alpha returns than venture into turbulent foreign waters. 


On the other hand, anxious analysts line up behind executives visiting our shores with hope they would endorse India as 'an investment destination of choice' (at least) or 'even better than China' (preferably). 


In the heat of financial crisis in 2008, emerging markets fell much more than developed markets. 


Why are plummeting US new home sales important to an average Indian stock market investor? Because slower US new home sales means slower consumer spending on washing machines and dryers, dishwashers and refrigerators. Copper, zinc and nickel, all near multi-month highs, could give back much of their recent gains if fixed investment growth merely slows than nosedives in China — alongwith fellow developing nations, China essentially represents incremental demand. Would this not impact revenues of Indian steel, aluminum and copper producers? And would it not impact costs of our airports, roads, highways and the Golden Quadrangle? And would it not lead to lower demand for Indian software embedded in the microprocessor chip that runs the washing machines, dryers, dishwashers and refrigerators? 


And why is high US unemployment relevant to Indian investors? Because it leads to lower consumer demand — reflecting in lower US GDP — which leads US companies to cut costs to maintain their bottomline. Thus far, they have been turning to low-cost destinations such as India. Now, they are trying to focus on topline growth. Besides, high unemployment levels have driven down wages of workers in states such as Arkansas to India-equivalent levels. 


Floods in Pakistan ravage cotton crops that, in turn, impact global cotton prices. Does this not affect our textile companies? 


Poor crop of tea in Sri Lanka affects world tea prices as much as poor crop of Arabica coffee beans in Brazil affects cost of our daily morning cup of the hot beverage. As the saying goes, 'if it rains in Brazil, it is time to buy Starbucks listed in the US'. 


The US is still the hub of world technological innovation, be it smartphones, e-readers, tablets or microprocessors — Apple, Google, eBay, Cisco, IBM, Research In Motion, Nokia and Intel have generated stellar returns for international investors, seeking to maximise country-risk-adjusted returns. 


The accompanying chart highlights the number of times over rolling 50-tradingday periods that US S&P 500 has gone in the opposite direction of the S&P Asia 50 index. Historically, the average number of trading days that the US has gone in the opposite direction of Asia over a 50-day period is 22. That means the US trades in the same direction as the Asian markets on a daily basis about 56% of the time. The Directional Indicator does fluctuate from low levels of correlation to high levels of correlation, and we just ended a period where they were trading in tandem more often than not. Over the last 50 days, however, they have gone in the opposite direction 22 times — right in-line with the historical average. 


ROBUST demand from countries outside G-3 economies — US, Europe and Japan — has added to resilience of Asia's export-dependent economies. South Korea, a big producer of electronic goods and cars, exports more than 40% of its output to the Brics — Brazil, Russia, India and China. 


In countries like China, higher consumption is being outstripped by faster rise in investment, lowering the consumption-GDP ratio. Besides, China's energy-hungry model is not sustainable. Beijing recently signalled a crackdown on heavy industry as a way of meeting self-imposed energy-efficiency targets. 
    China has recorded its biggest monthly trade surplus in a year and a half, as exports surged and imports faltered. That hardly suggests a decisive break with imbalances of old. It may be some time before Asia's economies can embark on a sustainable, selfreinforcing growth path that will insulate them from future tremors in the West. 


Besides, long-run evidence shows there is no correlation between economic growth and investment returns. 


Ranking countries over 110 years by five-year GDP growth rate, a study by Dimson, Marsh and Staunton of the London Business School shows that the country with lowest GDP growth rate had highest stock market return in percentage terms. The country with lowest growth rate, South Africa, had second-highest average equity returns. Italy, with half the growth rate, produced nearly four times the returns. 


Brazil and China further illustrate this. In 10 years since 1992, China experienced world's worst stock returns as investors saw their portfolios shrink, on average, by 10% per annum. A $1,000 investment in China at end of 1992 shrank to $320 by end-2003. Brazil, on the other hand, produced extraordinary good returns at over 15% per annum, with the same $1,000 investment in 1992 accumulating to $4,781. 


The conventional wisdom that investors should buy stocks in fastest-growing countries is wrong for same reason that buying fastest-growing firms is wrong. China was indisputably the world's fastest-growing country, but investors in China realised horrible returns because of overvaluation. On the other hand, stock prices in Brazil were cheap in 1992, and its economic troubles kept return expectations low over the subsequent decade. Consequently, dividend yield on Brazilian stocks stayed high. Patient investors, buying value instead of hype, won out. 


Stanley Druckenmiller, one of the masters of the investment world, recently announced his retirement saying he had become frustrated over the last three years with his inability to make outsize returns. Mr Druckenmiller was more likely to run with the wolves than the sheep. If even he cannot make serious money, novice investors should beware. 


World stocks should continue to correct in September 2010. 


(The author is CEO of Global Money Investor)









THE use of 'on-linear' performance-based incentive contracts is very common in many business environments. The most well- known example is salesperson compensation, though many other types of performance-based pay, including stock options, bonus systems based on defined metrics, and pay based on subjective performance, often exhibit non-linear characteristics. Research has demonstrated that non-linear incentives are highly distortionary because employees manipulate their work in order to maximise their pay. While some scholars have recommended that companies stop using non-linear incentives, little research has been done to investigate the possible benefits of nonlinear schemes. We investigate possible reasons for their widespread use by examining the relationship between convex pay schemes and overconfidence. In a laboratory experiment, subjects chose between a piece rate and a convex pay scheme.


We find that overconfident subjects are more likely than others to choose the convex scheme, even when it leads to lower pay. Overconfidence is valuable for certain job functions; for example, salespeople lose deals more frequently than they win them, and being overconfident may help them be effective. Second, non-linear systems allow employers and employees with fundamentally different beliefs form compensation agreements. Third, the non-linearity of an incentive system may allow firms to lower their wage bill










INCORPORATION of tax rates in the Direct Taxes Code, instead of keeping rates in a separate schedule, is a move that will provide greater certainty and lend stability to the tax regime. It will also assure the tax-paying community that rates will not be tinkered with frequently. To this extent, this is a major forward-looking initiative and Ficci welcomes it. The challenge for future is whether tax rates will be stable, irrespective of governments and ministers. Surcharges, cesses and supplementary levies have been part of the Indian budgetary exercise for many decades now. Can the government shun thetemptation of collecting easy revenues through such ad-hoc instruments? 


Looking at this move from another angle, we suggest that tax slabs and rates should steadily go southwards in a sustainable and pragmatic manner. The key issue is to cap corporate tax rate at 30% and ensure that this is not violated under any circumstances. 


Furthermore, the intent should be to go down to 25% — making it compatible with the current international average. Equally important is to bring down tax rates for individuals, which in our view will lead to greater revenue collection through Laffer Curve effect. 


It is striking that our highest tax slab is breached at Rs 10 lakh when in China this is reached at Rs 40 lakh. Tax slabs must, therefore, undergo steady change: allowing people to face lower tax rates at higher income levels. This will serve three purposes: incentivise people to come into the tax net, ensure higher collection from greater compliance, and encourage consumption and savings. It is interesting that in the draft code, Rs 25 lakh was proposed as the highest bracket for 30% tax for individuals. Unfortunately, during discussions, this has been brought down to Rs 10 lakh. 


Ficci is happy to see the culmination of DTC. However, we are apprehensive that tax rates proposed may not be found sacrosanct by future policymakers. We feel that the Laffer Curve has not been given full play both for corporate and individual taxpayers. We can only hope that these apprehensions will be allayed sustainably in future by the march of history.





 INDIAN income-tax legislation has closely followed the UK model since 1922. UK was the first country to introduce income tax in 1798 to meet the cost of Napoleonic wars. It has all along followed the practice of levying income tax as an annual tax reimposed every year in the annual Finance Act. The same practice was adopted by the British government while introducing the Income-Tax Act, 1922, which was continued by the government of India in the Income-Tax Act, 1961. 

    The concept of income tax had always been abhorrent to people. The justification in the beginning was meeting the temporary cost of wars. May be, that was the reason that it was designed as an annual levy to give the impression that Parliament will examine every year the justification to continue the levy. However, today, no welfare state can think of discontinuing the levy. In India, the opportunity to change the tax rate and other provisions every year through the Finance Act brought the scope for experimentation. 
 Socialist ideals led to maximum marginal rate of personal income tax to 97% and rate of corporation tax to 65%. Since liberalisation was introduced in 1991, tax rates have been slowly brought down to the present-day level. 


But the above feature of the legislation has also created unnecessary hype around the annual Budget exercise, which is unveiled every year as lottery results. Finance ministers in succession have found it politically expedient to tinker with tax rates or exemptions in their endeavour to produce a dream Budget. 


But sometimes, the result has been inconsequential, producing an annual tax relief for all taxpayers of an amount as little as Rs 1,000. Against such practices, it is better to introduce the tax rates in the Code, so that to change the tax rates, an amendment Bill will have to be introduced in Parliament, which will have to follow a more elaborate procedure in Parliament than the Finance Act. It will do away with the annual religious exercise of Finance Bill with all the antecedent lobbying. It will, instead, provide stability to the fiscal policy in terms of tax rates and income taxation.







    WE ARE very happy your company is interested in primary education. Can you help us computerise all the government schools in two districts?" the earnest bureaucrat had asked. In my previous life as the head of CSR of an IT company, I had taken him on a tour of the schools we were supporting. 
    We turned down the invitation, not just because of the size of our budget, but because we knew from our experience that his scheme would not work. Computer labs in schools do not make a computer-savvy generation. Much more is needed including teachers, local language software, maintenance, and electricity. Beyond all this are even more fundamental challenges, for example ensuring children, especially girls, come to school. 
    But governments in general don't seem to be able to appreciate this fact, not just in education but in most departments. They act in silos, assuming, in the example cited, that the job of providing computers belongs to one department, teachers to another, electricity to a third, and software to a fourth. 
    The debate on the speed of internet connectivity in rural areas smacks of this congenital flaw of governments. One influential strain of thinking holds that the speed of connectivity required is inversely proportional to the financial and social well-being of a region. Less privileged people need higher speed connectivity in order to get access to urban amenities like quality schooling and healthcare. There are plans afoot to provide 100 Mbps optic fibre connectivity to every gram panchayat. 
    The task of providing connectivity involves more than just laying the optic fibre. It requires making sure the electricity is available, skilled personnel are on hand for maintenance, and costs are manageable. Further, providing e-health and distance learning requires yet another step, that of ensuring that all the complementary elements of the service are available, economical and sustainable. 
    The oft-repeated defence that "ultimately things will come together," shows a callous disregard of the enormity of people's problems which need to be solved in the here and now. 
    Today there is a very low perceived need for the internet in rural areas. A survey in Uttar Pradesh and Meghalaya conducted along with Prof Rupamanjari Sinha Ray shows that even among relatively well off people, only 7% to 15% feel a need for any internet service including email, job search, and song downloading. A still smaller minority is able to afford the service. This would be true for the vast majority of our villages. 
    The lack of perceived need no doubt reflects the intelligence of the citizen, who realises that the internet has nothing to offer for his/her day-to-day needs. In districts where e-government services have been introduced a higher perceived need for the internet is observed. 
    While the optic fibre option reduces the per unit Mbps cost, we should remember that this is only under the assumption of full utilisation of the bandwidth. In a village with below a thousand people it would be highly optimistic to expect even 10 people to use the internet simultaneously. 
    There are likely to be two to three computers in total and a total capacity of 4-5 Mbps connection will do. We cannot expect there to be a tidal wave in the use of the internet in the next few years. Hence the cost per unit of the bandwidth that actually gets utilised is going to be higher with higher bandwidth provisioning. 
    Entrepreneurship and low energy solutions are the magic glue that will bridge the digital divide. A process must be initiated in which the connectivity and the associated content and services move in tandem, and inexpensive assisted services are provided. While the government has bid out the task of providing connectivity through its Common Service Centre (CSC) scheme, a better approach would be to subsidise connectivity entirely and tender only the remaining digital services. 
    This was the approach followed in many successful countries like Malaysia. This would ensure lower priced connectivity, and initiate a process of orienting rural consumers to the emerging benefits of the internet. 
    Given that in most villages there is no space for more than one internet kiosk, the government should allow one operator to function, with the stipulation that the price of services should be no more than in the nearest urban centre. The successful operation of the internet kiosk will enable another operator to naturally enter in a few years. 
    Only if such a gradualist approach is followed will a tipping point be reached five-tosix years later where a 100 Mbps line will be relevant for every gram panchayat. Connectivity costs will then also be much lower. When it comes to bridging the digital divide we need to make haste slowly, if we hope to get anywhere at all. 
    (The author is associate professor of economics, 
    MDI Gurgaon)








 THE Jnanpith award-winner Ravindrabab Kelekar finally met up with death last week. He often used to refer to it as my 'best friend'. In this the renowned Konkani writer was following the example set by his guru, Kakasaheb Kalelkar, who had authored a book Paramsakha Mrityu on the Grim Reaper. 


Kelekar begins his own rumination on mortality, by admitting how he started as a denier of death like almost everybody else: "Death was what happened to other people. I would accompany them to the crematorium. But deep down I'd never really believed that one day I would be the corpse. Even at my advanced age." 


Then Kelekar met a sadhvi named Rehana Tyabjee, who convinced him not to waste his time waiting for death. "There's absolutely no doubt he'll come," she said. "Just think he's already here, right in front of your face and he's going to take you away today itself. Fix this notion in your head, and then go about settling your accounts. 


Whatever you'd planned for today, do now itself. And, if you can, finish what you'd intended to do tomorrow. Only then shall you learn to live life as it should be lived, not simply pass through it. Unless one lives with the consciousness that death is going to take you away any moment, life will never have any depth. Life has some value if it has depth; not length in years. 


But Kelekar still wasn't able to overcome his denial of death. Then all of a sudden he got it, he writes: "Do I not have to die too one day? Then why not die today itself? Let me be done with it. If death came, it would only take my worries. So why shouldn't I, of my own free will, give them away? They won't be coming along with me when I go, and after I'm gone, they're not going to stay behind. The second I'm gone they'll vanish too. So why not get rid of them right now itself?" 


Kelekar writes about feeling of a whole load of worries vanishing in a flash of moment later; it was a sensation akin to suddenly feeling weightless as though he were swimming in a sea of blissful liberation! For a moment he felt that he had triumphed over death. He also realised that there were other ways of cheating him: one could take up such tasks that cannot be completed by oneself or choose those that cannot be accomplished in one lifetime. 


And one should put one's entire heart and soul into one's life work. "Death can take away such a man's body, not his works. So what if a man goes as long as his works remain?"






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The more things change, the more they remain the same... The bill to give effect to the new direct taxes code (DTC), unveiled in Parliament on Monday, makes it evident that the government has largely failed to deliver on the basic premise of what it promised — simplified provisions which could be comprehensible to assesses, easier filing procedures so that the average taxpayer did not need expert help, and specific clauses to ensure accountability — of the enforceable kind — by the tax authorities. The bill offers none of that.


One of the big surprises was the unexpected blow to women taxpayers: for the first time the principle of "gender equality" worked against women as they lost the preferential treatment they had been enjoying for several years in a higher income-tax exemption limit. Till now, the basic I-T exemption limit for male taxpayers was `1.6 lakh, while for women it was `1.9 lakh. The new DTC has erased this difference: from April 1, 2012, when it goes into effect, all taxpayers will get an exemption limit of `2 lakhs. Surprisingly, one more category of people slightly miffed are home loan borrowers — as the new proposals take away the benefit on the principal repaid on the housing loan. But since the interest is the major part of the repayment, the effect is not really all that negative for the borrower. Yet another uncertainty removed on Monday will the DTC bill's introduction was the question of taxing capital gains.


The new proposals will surely gladden the hearts of officials of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, who were recently involved in a very public spat with the insurance regulator over insurance agents selling mutual fund products such as ULIPs instead of pure insurance products. The new proposals now provide for tax exemptions only on insurance investments in which the premium is just five per cent of the sum insured — which according to experts means that in order to qualify for tax exemption, the investment period has to be around 20 years. A five per cent dividend tax on ULIPs is also being proposed.


Yet a cursory look at the 300-page DTC document indicates that overall the new proposals do not in fact encourage investments. Quite the contrary. Tax benefits are reduced for small savings schemes favoured by ordinary citizens — to cite just one instance, middle-class India's LIC premiums, which were tax-deductible upto `1 lakh a year, will now be deductible only upto `50,000 — and this includes mediclaim. But if the aam aadmi feel they have got a raw deal, they should pause to consider the plight of the seriously wealthy. While the wealth tax limit has been enhanced from `15 lakhs to `1 crore, the rich are in a tizzy because this includes assets like watches which cost over `50,000, pieces of art, sculpture, paintings and property such as multiple flats — all items of what is considered conspicuous consumption. The government is also delaying the rollout of DTC till April 1, 2012, a year later than scheduled, on the plea that everyone needs time to study the code. But as the revenue secretary has himself said — until the bill is passed, nothing can be considered final.








SONIA GANDHI'S unopposed re-election as Congress president was a foregone conclusion from the word go. So the completion of the formality is neither here nor there though it makes her the longest serving party chief in its 125-year history. What the whole episode does do, however, is to raise gnawing questions about the functioning of the Congress that once used to be India's Grand Old Party and still is both the principal mainstream party and the core of the ruling United Progressive Alliance. Sadly, this is not all. Since nothing is more contagious than a bad example, most other political parties — big, small or marginal — have become, like the Congress, family-controlled. Also in each, the incumbent of the top party post either holds it for life or, at a suitable stage, passes the baton to his or her progeny.


To be sure, there are a few exceptions to this rule but these have shortcomings of a different kind. For instance, by no stretch of the imagination can the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the only other mainstream party, be said to be a part of the prevailing dynastic pattern. But then right from the start it has been under the control of the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS), the karta of the Sangh Parivar. Nitin Gadkari is the RSS' appointee as the BJP president; the party cadre had no option but to formally elect him. There is no point saying much about the regional parties, be they the fiefdom of M. Karunanidhi's extended family in Tamil Nadu, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, Lalu Prasad Yadav's husband-and-wife diarchy in Rashtriya Janata Dal, Balasaheb Thackeray's brood running Shiv Sena's rival branches in Maharashtra or the Abdullahs and Muftis of Jammu and Kashmir or whatever.


The main point therefore is that if India, especially its much-frayed political system, is to escape this depressing and manifestly undemocratic milieu, the Congress would have to set an example for all others. It can do so only by returning to the party's fine traditions of the past that have been discarded and perhaps forgotten by the present-day members of the party that would celebrate its 125th anniversary in December.


Even in the era when the Mahatma's magic held the Indian National Congress in thrall, there was no dearth of dissent and democratic contest for leadership. Subhash Chandra Bose decisively defeated Gandhiji's candidate for the party presidency, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, in 1938. In May 1939, because of continued opposition to him by the Congress Right, Bose was forced to resign and replaced by Rajendra Prasad.


On becoming Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru set the wholesome norm that someone else should hold the

office of Congress president. He departed from this sound principle but briefly and under rather extraordinary circumstances. In 1949, Nehru had suffered the kind of defeat in the party presidential poll that the Mahatma had 11 years earlier. In a bitterly fought election Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's nominee Purushottam Das Tandon easily vanquished the Prime Minister's candidate, Acharya Kripalani. Since no two men could be so unlike in ideology and social outlook as Nehru and Tandon, the struggle between them continued until 1951, when shortly after Patel's death, Nehru got rid of Tandon. However, he did so through the perfectly democratic method of a vote in the All-India Congress Committee.


At that time there appeared to be no alternative to the Prime Minister taking over the post of Congress president, too. By 1955, however, Nehru absolutely insisted on giving up the party job and U.N. Dhebar was elected. There were several Congress presidents after Dhebar, including Indira Gandhi herself. The last of the line in Nehru's time was K. Kamraj, who masterminded Lal Bahadur Shastri's succession to Nehru and Indira's to Shastri. Kamraj's successor, S. Nijalingappa, though at loggerheads with the Prime Minister, continued to head the party right up to the Congress split of 1969. Afterwards, Jagjivan Ram and Shankar Dayal Sharma served as Congress(I) presidents, with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi reigning supreme. Even during the Emergency Dev Kanta Borooah held the top party post.


The pernicious practice of the Congress Prime Minister holding both the offices began with Indira Gandhi's return to power in 1980. Rajiv Gandhi inherited this from his mother, and P.V. Narasimha Rao excelled both in this respect. He not only stuck to both jobs for as long he was at 7, Race Course Road but also after the humiliating Congress defeat in the 1996 general election. He clung to both the Congress presidency and the leadership of the Congress parliamentary party. But his position became untenable when he faced criminal charges. Sitaram Kesri, not an ideal choice, replaced Rao as Congress president.


All this while Mrs Sonia Gandhi had stayed aloof from developments within the Congress. But she evidently changed her mind after the Congress suffered a second shattering defeat in 1998 and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance rose to power. At its hurriedly summoned meeting on March 14, 1998, the Congress Working Committee summarily sacked Kesri and elected Mrs Sonia Gandhi as Congress president. The operation bore all the signs of a coup. Two years later when the time came for her re-election, quite a few party members felt that there ought to at least a token contest even if her landslide victory was certain. Jitendra Prasad offered himself as the alternative candidate. For his "effrontery" the sycophantic Congress Party so harassed, hounded and humiliated him that no one else has dared to ask for a token contest ever since.


Admittedly, the situation did become complicated because of Mrs Sonia Gandhi's decision in 2004 not to accept the office of Prime Minister. But if she can retain her overriding power with someone else as Prime Minister, can't she do so with someone else as Congress president? Indeed, she should encourage him/her to bring back the vanished electoral process in the party organisation down the line.


If this were not done, India would earn permanently the dubious distinction of being the world's largest democracy that is propped by a clutch of political parties totally bereft of democracy within themselves.








One crucial element of the American subconscious is about to become salient and explicit and highly volatile. It is the realisation that a white United States is within thinkable distance of a moment when it will no longer be the majority. This awareness already exists in places like New York and Texas and California, and there have even been projections of the time(s) at which it will occur and when different non-white populations will collectively outnumber the former white majority. But it also exerts a strong subliminal effect in states like Alaska that have an overwhelming white preponderance.


Until recently, the tendency has been to think of this rather than to speak of it — or to speak of it very delicately, lest the hard-won ideal of diversity be imperiled. But nobody with any feeling for the zeitgeist can avoid noticing the symptoms of white unease and the additionally uneasy forms that its expression is beginning to take. For example, so strong is the moral stature of Martin Luther King Jr and the civil-rights movement that even the white Right prefers to pretend to emulate it. (This smarmy tactic long predates conservative political commentator Glenn Beck, by the way: I remember Ralph Reed trying it when he ran the Christian Coalition more than 10 years ago and announced that he wanted to remodel the organisation along the lines of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.) Thus, I find that it is really quite rare to hear slurs against US President Barack Obama that are based purely on the colour of his skin. Even Beck himself has tried to back away from the smears of that kind.


But it is increasingly common to hear allegations that Obama is either foreign-born or a Muslim. And these insinuations are perfectly emblematic of the two main fears of the old majority: that it will be submerged by an influx from beyond the borders and that it will be challenged in its traditional ways and faiths by an alien and largely Third World religion.


This summer, then, has been the perfect register of the new anxiety, beginning with the fracas over Arizona's immigration law, gaining in intensity with the proposal by some Republicans to amend the 14th Amendment so as to denaturalise "anchor babies", cresting with the continuing row over the so-called "ground zero" mosque, and culminating, at least symbolically, with a quasi-educated Mormon broadcaster calling for a Christian religious revival from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.


At the last Tea Party rally I attended, earlier this year at the Washington Monument, some in the crowd made at least an attempt to look fierce and minatory. I stood behind signs that read: "We left our guns at home — this time" and "We invoke the First Amendment today — the Second Amendment tomorrow". But Beck's event was tepid by comparison: a call to sink to the knees rather than rise from them. The numbers were impressive, but the overall effect was large, vague, moist and undirected: the "Waterworld" of white self-pity.


The Washington Post quoted Linda Adams, a Beck supporter from Colorado, who said, "We want our country to get back to its original roots". She also told the paper that "her ancestors were on the Mayflower and fought in the American Revolution". She was also upset that some schools no longer require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.


Well, the US population is simply not going to be replenished by Puritan pilgrims from England, and the original Pledge of Allegiance was fine with most people as a statement of national unity, until its "original intent" was compromised by a late insertion of the words "under God" in the McCarthyite 1950s. But one still sees what she means and can feel sympathy with the pulse of nostalgia.


In a rather curious and confused way, some white people are starting almost to think like a minority, even like a persecuted one. What does it take to believe that Christianity is an endangered religion in the US or that the name of Jesus is insufficiently spoken or appreciated? Who wakes up believing that there is no appreciation for American veterans and our armed forces and that without a noisy speech from former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, their sacrifice would be scorned?


It's not unfair to say that such grievances are purely and simply imaginary, which in turn leads one to ask what the real ones can be. The clue, surely, is furnished by the remainder of the speeches, which deny racial feeling so monotonously and vehemently as to draw attention.


]Concerns of this kind are not confined to the Tea Party belt. Late professors Arthur Schlesinger and Samuel Huntington both published books expressing misgivings about, respectively, multiculturalism and rapid demographic change. But these were phrased so carefully as almost to avoid starting the argument they flirted with. Islamic fundamentalism in particular has given energy and direction to such movements. It will be astonishing if the US is not faced, in the very near future, with a similar phenomenon.








In September this year a summit will be held in New York under the auspices of the United Nations to review the progress made during the last 10 years in achieving the targets set under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by member nations of the UN in 2000. The MDGs represent a global common minimum programme for sustainable human security and well-being.


In spite of the modesty of the goals set, progress in achieving them is inadequate in many developing countries, including India. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations points out that the number of children, women and men going to bed hungry now is over a billion (this number was 800 million in 2000). There is obviously a need to review our strategies and redouble our efforts in achieving all the MDGs, particularly the very first one relating to hunger and poverty by the year 2015.


The Economic Survey of India (2008) contained the following observation: "While poverty rates have declined significantly, malnutrition has remained stubbornly high. Malnutrition, as measured by underweight children below three years, constitutes 45.9 per cent as per the National Family Health Survey, 2005-06. It has also not significantly declined from its level of 47 per cent in the 1998-99 National Family Health Survey… It is evident that existing policies and programmes are not making a significant dent on malnutrition and need to be modified. While per capita consumption of cereals has declined, the share of non-cereals in food consumption has not grown to compensate for the decline in cereal availability".


For achieving sustainable food security, concurrent attention will be necessary to ensure food availability, access and absorption. Access depends upon opportunities for employment, while absorption will be conditioned by clean drinking water, sanitation and healthcare. Thus, both food and non-food factors impact food security. All this will need greater attention to science and technology as applied to agriculture and food security. The following are some areas which need urgent attention:


Biodiversity: 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. On June 11, 2010, delegates from 90 countries, meeting in Busan, Republic of Korea, approved the establishment of an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, on the model of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). It will be prudent to set up a National Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in order to generate synergy among ongoing programmes.


Biotechnology: Recombinant DNA technology has provided powerful tools for moving genes across sexual barriers and for developing novel genetic combinations. It is important to use this tool for solving present and potential problems arising from unfavourable temperature, rainfall and sea level. During the last 20 years, scientists at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) have concentrated on identifying genes for salt water and drought tolerance. A US patent has been granted for the dehydrin gene from Avicennia marina responsible for salt tolerance in plants. Similarly, Glutathione S Transferase gene from Prosopis juliflora, conferring resistance to drought, has also been granted a US patent. These are very valuable genes and have to be combined with crop varieties having desirable agronomic and culinary characteristics. This has already been done by MSSRF scientists. Another area where recombinant DNA technology can be useful is in biofortification. Iron (Ferritin) rich rice varieties have been developed using genes from Avicennia marina. Thus there are uncommon opportunities for developing climate-resilient strains of crop plants, farm animals and fishes. Genes like Sub-1 in rice provide opportunities for breeding varieties for flood tolerance. There is need for setting up gene banks for a "warming India".

Ecotechnology: Knowledge is a continuum. We cannot place traditional and modern knowledge into two different pigeonholes. Modern knowledge has its roots in ancient wisdom. Ecotechnology helps to blend traditional ecological prudence and techniques with frontier science and technology. Ecotechnology gives concurrent attention to ecology, economics, ethics, equity, energy and employment generation. A method of converting ecotechnology into jobs and income is through biovillages. A biovillage is one where concurrent attention is given to natural resources' conservation and enhancement, improvement of small farm productivity and profitability, and generation of non-farm employment. The aim of the biovillage is to provide every individual in the village an opportunity for a productive and healthy life. The National Policy for Farmers placed in Parliament in November 2007 calls for as much emphasis on farmers' income as on production. Such an income orientation to farming can be achieved only through Rural Systems Research. Unfortunately, agricultural universities and research institutions are yet to adopt such an integrated approach to improving agrarian and rural prosperity.


Information, Communication Technology (ICT): Bridging the urban-rural digital divide helps to bridge economic, skill and gender divides. Biotechnology, space technology and ICT are transformational technologies. We should make every village a knowledge centre in order to take the benefits of modern scientific knowledge and techniques to rural professions. Mahatma Gandhi urged that there should be a marriage between brain and brawn if Indian agriculture is to progress. This can be achieved through the effective use of ICT based on location specific needs and language. The Grameen Gyan Abhiyan provides a great opportunity for taking the benefits of ICT to the rural poor based on a last mile and last person connectivity. Synergy between the Internet and cellphone, or FM radio and cellphone helps to take the benefits of right information to the right place at the right time. "Rural knowledge revolution" is vital for ending all forms of divides and substituting them with the technological and skill upgradation of rural professions.


Food Security: In recent years there has been a paradigm shift from patronage to a rights approach in relation to information, education, employment and, in the case of tribal families, ownership of land. The Government of India has committed to bringing food security under the category of legal rights. A sustainable food security system will depend on adequate production, procurement on the basis of a minimum support price, preservation in modern silos or other forms of storage, and above all an efficient and corruption free public distribution system. The National Food Security Act provides a great opportunity for stimulating the conservation of natural resources, cultivation using new technologies, consumption of a wide range of grains, and farmer centric marketing. While Right to Information can be enforced through files, the right to food has to come from the farmer and the field. Right to food can be maintained only if there is increase in productivity in perpetuity without ecological harm, i.e. the evergreen revolution, spearheaded by families with small holdings.


The future of our food security system will depend upon the scientific and policy support we extend to our farming community who constitute one-fourth of the global farming community.


The green revolution was the result of a small government programme getting converted into a mass movement led by farm men and women. Today, our educational and research institutions are more obsessed with bricks rather than with brains. We must reverse the paradigm and nurture brains which can help to promote knowledge-intensive agriculture.


- M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered to be the father of India's green revolution.








Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit's comment: "Aisa lagta hai ki Indra devta humse kuch naraz hain" — meaning, "Indra seems unhappy with us" — absolving herself for not meeting the Commonwealth Games (CWG) deadline for completion of constructions was amusing. And got me thinking. There's a lot in Delhi for Indra devta to be naraz about, I mused.


The Bible tells of a time long ago when God was naraz. God "was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth" (Genesis 6:6). The text adds: "It grieved God to his heart... God saw that the wickedness of humankind was great on the earth and that the thoughts of the human heart were only evil continually" (6:5). God decided: "I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created" (6:7). God sends torrential rains.


World mythology is literally flooded with "Flood Stories" — reportedly, some 300 of them. Among these, the story of Noah's Ark (Genesis, chapters 6 to 9) is widely popular.


In India, the Shatapatha Brahmana and the Matsya Purana tell of sage Satyavata who was washing his hands in a river when a little fish swam into his hands and begged him to save its life. He put it in a jar, which it soon outgrew; he successively moved it to a tank, a river and then the ocean. The fish then warned him that a deluge would occur that would destroy all life. Eventually a boat was built and the flood left behind only one survivor with some seeds of life to repopulate the earth.


The Noah narrative flows through four chapters with interesting details: First, human wickedness is extremely grave; second, God decides to purge the world of its wickedness; third, God plans to save a pair of all living creatures, as well as Noah's family, for Noah is the only good man; fourth, God sends down rain for 40 days and nights destroying humankind; fifth, God resolves never to destroy humankind through a flood; sixth, God sets up the rainbow as a remembrance of his resolve.


Dilliwallahs will easily understand why Ms Dikshit referred to God being naraz about the "capital sins" committed in and around Delhi. Next, God deciding to purge evil is also understandable since God is good and seeks the good of humankind. Third, God's decision to save Noah is not unreasonable since there are some women and men among us who, like lotuses in mire, stand holy and blameless. What's problematic, then, is the meaning of the flood.


If the flood story is read historically, we could ask: Was God right in destroying humankind? Surely, the creator of the universe has the right to destroy it. Indeed, God did not end creation, but undid it so as to re-create the world. Seen metaphorically, the waters of the flood serve as a purifying agent. The 40 days and nights are not historical accuracies but merely indicate that it rained incessantly.


We tend to blame God for Pakistan's floods and Leh's recent cloudburst, called "acts of God" in legal language. They are, of course, events that follow the laws of physics, working within ongoing evolution. And, they are also meaningful somewhere within the large landscape of life.


Noah's story concludes with the rainbow being a sign of God's promise. "Look, I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant (pact) between me and you and every living creature" (9:13, 16, 17). The arms of God's multicoloured arch remind us of God's gentle embrace for all peoples, worldwide.


When a teacher instructed her little students that nothing is impossible for God, a smart child shot back: "There's one thing impossible for God. God cannot please all people!" True, Indra might not be able to fulfil Ms Dikshit's plea to bring some sunshine so that CWG work can be completed! Nonetheless, rather than expecting God to send sunshine and stop rains, let's live like Noah so that when our lifeline is over, we'll have met all deadlines quite comfortably — rain or no rain!


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







Mahatma Gandhi's dismissal of Katherine Mayo's book, Mother India, as a "report of a drain inspector" reflected the squeamishness most Indians feel when it comes to drains. We don't discuss drains at the dinner table, nor, unfortunately, in political or policy circles unless a crisis erupts. The price of that disdain is now being felt across much of urban India.


With the monsoon in full swing in many parts of the country, choked drains have become headline-grabbers. Delhi, as it undergoes a makeover for the Commonwealth Games (CWG), is the Aedes Aegypti mosquito's dream site — puddles all around, uncollected garbage, bits and pieces from construction sites piling up along roadsides, waterlogged streets, clogged stormwater drains, and the unsightly spectacle of various local government agencies blaming each other for the mess. At the time of writing, Delhi has already had two dengue deaths, more than 750 dengue cases and a warning from public health experts — the city could be facing its worst dengue attack ever. The poor and the posh are equally at risk since overflowing drains and debris are now all-pervasive.


Dengue, as we know, is a viral disease transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes which like breeding inside stagnant pools of water, typically in small spaces. The Delhi of today provides the best conditions for the Aedes mosquito to thrive. Though the debris from the construction work is indeed choking Delhi's main stormwater drains, which carry excess rainwater into the Yamuna river, the problem is not entirely new. The haphazardly timed activities in preparation for the CWG merely made it worse. Nor is Delhi alone in neglecting its drainage system. Mumbai, Bengaluru and most other Indian cities have pretty much the same story with some variations.


"There has been an increase in the number of dengue outbreaks in recent years in cities and towns due to mosquitogenic conditions, resulting from rapid urbanisation, development activities and lifestyle changes. The disease is now spreading to peri-urban areas also and lately, there has also been some spread to rural areas. Sewage drains do not play much of a role in fuelling dengue. However, stormwater drains do, when they get choked and overflow, leading to pools of water which create a fertile breeding ground for many species of mosquitoes, including the Aedes", a spokesperson of the World Health Organisation pointed out.


Constantly changing climate brought about by global warming is also said to be one of the reasons in the increase in the number of dengue cases worldwide. But while climate change is now an acceptable topic of conversation among policy wonks and in polite society, malfunctioning drains get the royal ignore till a disaster strikes.


But the sheer magnitude of the problem is triggering action.


"Stormwater drains is among the most neglected municipal issues. There is a lot of interest in widening roads, building parks, beautification drives and so on. But drains, no... But why blame politicians alone... Citizens and citizens' bodies are equally callous — throwing plastic bags and refuse into drains..." says Dr Marri Shashidhar Reddy, Congress legislator from Sanathnagar (a residential and industrial suburb of Hyderabad) and a member of the high-powered National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Dr Reddy is among the few people who have been stressing the importance of paying attention to drains for some 20 years.


Why drains get such short shrift is obvious — the visibility quotient of parks, roads, the big-ticket beautification drive is higher than a good drainage system. But all it takes is a good rain storm to lift the veil of pretence, as we have seen in Delhi in recent days.


Absence of a properly designed and maintained stormwater drainage system is one of the causes for urban flooding but till recently this link did not get the policy attention it deserved. Now with increasing urban floods, the issue is coming under the scanner of policymakers.


"Our drains were designed on the basis of rainfall in places like London. They did not factor in the intensity of rainfall in many Indian cities like Mumbai. Because of encroachment and other factors, we are not able to maintain even the original capacity of the drains... Indian cities are not fully covered by a sewerage system. Parts of the city where the poor live are often not connected to the drainage system. But this has to change", says Dr Reddy who is leading NDMA's efforts to deal with urban flooding and upgradation of storm water drains in the country.


"All these years, there was no manual at national level for stormwater drains. Now, the Government of India, through NDMA, is preparing a manual for stormwater drains. I do not think any political leader will have the courage to stop remodelling of drains", Dr Reddy adds. In the pipeline is the National Guidelines for Management of Urban Flooding which will address critical issues like the optimal design of stormwater drainage systems, adaptation strategies, management of water bodies, regulation and enforcement, guidelines for new developments, public awareness and preparedness, medical preparedness and epidemic control and several other things.


An exciting development is the raingauge station which will tell us exactly how much it has rained and where. Another recommendation is to ensure that the annual desilting of drains is completed by March 31, well before the monsoon sets in, so that there is no excuse for delay or incomplete work.


Taiwanese essayist and cultural critic Lung Ying-tai, once proposed a simple test to determine whether a country is a developed or a developing one: "When there is a rainstorm that lasts for three hours or so, take a walk. If you find the legs of your trousers are wet but not muddy, the traffic is slow but not jammed, the streets are slippery but not waterlogged, this is probably a developed country; on the other hand if you find that standing water is everywhere, that children are net fishing over the crossroad, you are probably looking at a developing country." When will India pass the test?


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









IF the citizen's right to know is concomitant with intimations of mortality, the Prime Minister must reflect on the chilling implications of what in 2005 was orchestrated as a flagship achievement. In death, Ramdas Ghadegavkar in Maharashtra and Amit Jethwa in Gujarat have called the bluff that masquerades as the Right To Information Act. Both were RTI activists, indeed the whistleblower victims of a parliamentary legislation that neither the Centre nor the states have been willing to implement fully.  Both were found dead in mysterious circumstances. That neither state has instituted an inquiry is at once a relief and a pity. A thorough probe is bound to open a can of worms. Equally, can it be a cover-up in accord with the official reluctance to disseminate information. It isn't only in CPI-M's Bengal that the information commission has been a disaster; the Congress-led coalition in Maharashtra and the BJP's Gujarat are no less culpable and mortally so.
Details are still rather hazy. Suffice it to register that the campaigns undertaken by the two relate to corruption in governance. They may well have been in possession of a detail too many. Ghadegavkar had gathered data under the RTI Act to expose the corruption in the public distribution system in Marathwada and the machinations of the sand mafia. Barely a week ago, Jethwa was murdered shortly after he had filed a PIL petition against the illegal mining in Gujarat's Gir forest region. The petition was based on information obtained under the RTI Act. It would be pointless to speculate on who the killers could be ~ the hatchetmen of the government or vested interests in the PDS and mining segments. Both are cesspools of corruption across the country. Clearly, the data wasn't meant for individual edification. Both had to pay with their lives in the follow-through. The Centre and the two states must get to the bottom of what the police have registered as "sudden deaths".  The RTI Act has failed in its objectives, and these two exemplars  are portentous enough.




THE Congress had provided enough indications in Parliament that it would not disturb its relations with Trinamul on account of Mamata Banerjee's outburst at Lalgarh on the death of Maoist leader Azad. If any doubt remained, it was removed by Pranab Mukherjee's firm rejection of any suggestion that the Trinamul leader was speaking at cross-purposes with the UPA. All that the Union finance minister needed to do was to clear the air with the disclosure that the Prime Minister had indeed discussed the matter with the Andhra chief minister (in the hope that it would rest there for a while). More important, Congress needs to demonstrate its belief that Mamata did not cross the line. Mr Mukherjee has been perhaps the most articulate face of the Congress, especially as a trouble-shooter. His endorsement was as significant as Keshav Rao's simultaneous declaration in Kolkata that the Congress is committed to "freeing'' the people of Bengal from Left "misrule'' with the help of "friends''. The friends didn't have to be named but it required no great insight to discover the Congress and Trinamul working to a plan, both in Delhi and Kolkata.

Trinamul couldn't have asked for a better cure for the nagging suspicions over Mamata's "soft approach'' to the Maoists. The Left and BJP have grabbed this as one of the two points of assault ~ the other being her handling of the Railways. Mamata may find her party brimming with confidence at the moment but can still do with moral support from her alliance partner. In providing just that, the finance minister also addresses the Pradesh Congress. After challenging Trinamul in the last municipal election to win on its own, he makes it clear that the situation has changed, that there is no room for dissent, and that the party is committed to being "on the winning side''. The message was thus loud and clear: if anything, Congress must also raise its voice against organised camps of armed Left cadres even if the outgoing Director-General of Police claims that there is no evidence. In other words, Mr Mukherjee is sending one signal to his own party and another to the Left which may have earlier believed it also had friends in Delhi. Now the tide has turned and, whether by accident or design, the finance minister is only completing the formalities.




A spy is not a spy until the cover is blown. And, a spy without a cover must acquire one to stay in the game. Or, if blown, must obtain another because the game has changed. But exposed Russian agent Anna Chapman took her quest a bit too far when she leaked photographs from an exclusive shoot meant for a magazine cover on a social networking site. The glossy wasn't amused and has threatened to sue Ms Chapman. It is not known what her bosses at Russia's external Intelligence service, the SVR, known as the KGB till 1991, think about it. Ms Chapman made headlines with nine others when a US sting in New York uncovered a ring of 10 Russian "illegals" ~ a euphemism for spies without a cover, diplomatic or otherwise. A row between Washington and Moscow ensued, marked by a curious mildness that stood in dark contrast to the Cold War era ferocity of such exchanges. At the end, Ms Chapman and her nine colleagues were returned to Russia in a swap that was apparently the biggest since the Cold War.

But analysts in the West scoffed at the spies who they insisted were not really spies. Seasoned espiocrats, who had got into the game long before the USA and Russia saw the need for turning civil again, shook their heads at the ease with which the New York "illegals" had allowed themselves to be caught. They sighed and longed for another chance to sink their teeth into a bona fide agent. Few were convinced when in London, Ms Chapman's befuddled former husband said he wasn't surprised since her father was very high up in what he still called the KGB. Obviously, Ms Chapman had been trying very hard to be a spy. And, when that failed, to remain in the news. Bolstered by her notoriety and burdened by the US embargo on telling her story for a fee, she decided to bare it, mostly all, for a magazine photoshoot. And then allowed the world a sneak peek. Since the all-knowing SVR let her do it, obviously, even the Russian spies, the real ones, don't think much of her.









ANY discussion on the scope and possibility of distance education is bound to be countered by the purist who believes in the infallibility of the conventional system of learning. While the anxiety to ensure purity in matters academic is entirely justified, any over-emphasis is likely to hinder the fulfilment of the proclaimed objectives of learning ~ access and equity. Shall we work on the premise that quantity runs counter to quality and, accordingly, restrict education to a few who can actually afford it? This would be a mockery of the latest concept of  "knowledge society", on which is based the agenda of education-for-all.

Distance education has come to stay mainly for two reasons. First, is its ability to reach the doorsteps of the learners irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds. Second, is its resilience to survive despite the extremely inadequate infrastructure, physical as well as human.  While the former has an appeal to the society at large, the latter is attractive to the funding agencies who are responsible for supporting the growth and expansion of distance education.  It is impossible to establish a large number of colleges and universities at the rate that has been suggested by the National Knowledge Commission (NKC). Distance education is the only method to maintain the gross enrolment ratio (GER). This is an index of the expansion of higher education to a respectable level, one that should be comparable to those of the developed countries.

It is not desirable to analyse and compare conventional and distance education because the two parameters are different. This presupposes that the compulsions are also different. Also, that they have varying objectives. This is at the root of the chaos and confusion over distance education. This has also influenced the perceptions of the stakeholders. These two systems must be examined under the same terms of reference because the content of the academic programmes is the same. Further, both conventional and distance education have a common objective ~ to produce effective and useful citizens.

However, the two systems differ in their  delivery mechanisms ~ one system is predominantly face-to-face; the other is a combination of face-to-face interaction and technology. The emerging technology is also being used in the conventional system of education. Distance education is essentially a technology-driven system of learning. Considering that almost all spheres of human activity are influenced by technology, how can education be far behind?

The institutions offering open and distance learning (ODL) including Netaji Subhas Open University (NSOU), the only open university in West Bengal, operate through study centres. In the case of NSOU, these study centres are located in government and non-government colleges for conventional courses such as Bachelor's Degree Programme (BDP), PG programmes, etc. These centres are run on Saturdays and Sundays by a few part-time personnel, supported by the university. Initially, the system worked well when there were few learners in each centre. 

But as the number of learners increased, the demand for higher education has also gone up to an unprecedented level. This  symbiotic arrangement with colleges appears to have collapsed as the study centres ceased to function properly any more. The situation has been aggravated by the fact that in some study centres the number of students enrolled for ODL far exceeded those of the parent colleges.

An increasing number of  students, fresh out of school, apply for enrolment in the ODL scheme for a variety of reasons. And these students have the same hopes and aspirations as their friends enrolled in the conventional system. The present generation naturally expects the open university to function as any conventional university. A fresh model of distance education is, therefore, imperative to cope with the situation.

The crumbling edifice of distance education, which depends heavily on the concept of study centres, can be protected and saved if the concept of  "dual mode colleges" is formulated. The idea isn't exactly novel as there are several dual mode universities. These proposed colleges can have two distinct wings ~ one for face-to-face education and the other for learning from a distance. Both the wings can work throughout the week with the help of permanent and regular staff, to be supported and funded by an appropriate authority. While the conventional wing can be affiliated to a conventional university as at present, the distance establishment should be affiliated to the respective open university of the state.

Such a model will free the open university from its dependence on the entities called study centres which have not been effective because of inadequate infrastructure ~ both human as well as physical. The successful introduction of such a model will also ensure greater transparency, credibility and effectiveness in the functioning of an open university.

The Open and Distance Learning system is destined to be more extensive and popular in the near future. Hence the need to evolve the appropriate methodology so that the system can be run to its optimum efficiency.


The writer is Director, Study Centres, Netaji Subhas Open University, Kolkata







Now a Union minister and three times chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah is a man of many passions, obsessively so. Being a Union minister and only a tool to help him play out one or the other of his pet obsessions. The other day, during the parliamentary debate on Kashmir, Farooq, for once, seemed to lapse into seeing the reality that confronts the country and Kashmiris in the state. 

In the middle of his speech, predictably a charged one, Farooq virtually hit the nail on the head. Azadi is a very nice sentiment but who wants it? Those who want to turn Kashmir into another Afghanistan. Yes, that's what azadi, as demanded by the separatists, would mean.

He did not exactly spell out what the allusion to Afghanistan meant. But the message was clear. The separatists, should they gain the upper hand in the Valley, would be only too willing to ask the Pakistani Taliban to take over. Is that what the Kashmiri freedom movement from 1931 onwards had stood for? The Kashmiris have suffered a lot under a much earlier Afghan dispensation and the present generation of Kashmiris, the stone-pelters included, would resist any recurrence. From the frying pan into the fire, that's what it would mean.
I recall Abdul Ghani Lone, the foremost separatist leader of the 1980s and 90s, who ironically fell to the bullets of Kashmiri terrorists, retelling the story of Kakar Khan sent by Kabul to take over the administration of Kashmir from another Afghan. Kabul had been plagued by Kashmiri complaints against the incumbent Afghan governor and the brutalities committed by him. A delegation from Srinagar, headed by religious leaders, went to Kabul to plead the Kashmiri case. And much to their delight, Kabul presented a number of would-be governors to the delegation. Kakar Khan, unfortunately for Kashmiris, appeared to be the most gentle and, therefore, acceptable. So Kakar's caravan set out for the Valley. 

After crossing the Banihal pass, he saw near Qazigund a group of villagers carrying the body of a man lying on a cot. Kakar dismounted, bringing the caravan to a halt. He inquired about the man on the cot. "Sire, he is dead and is being taken to the graveyard". Kakar ordered that the cot be lowered and just when the admiring crowd were about to thank him he took the dead man's ear between his teeth and lopped it off. "Tell those in hell (jahannum) that Kakar Khan has arrived in the Valley". That was the new governor's message passed on through the dead man to denizens of hell and those living in jannat above.

I don't know of the depth of Farooq Abdullah's understanding of Kashmir or its folklore but he would have done well to borrow this tale from the late Ghani Lone to strengthen his argument that Taliban was not the kind of choice the Valley Muslims were waiting for. Nevertheless, it was heartening to hear Farooq warning the Valley about the danger of being taken for a ride by those who keep harping on Pakistan.

I was a bit surprised that an incisive reporter like the Express's Muzamil Jaleel should have allowed Mussarat Alam, described as second only to Ali Shah Geelani, to get away lightly in an interview. Alam is responsible for announcing Geelani's weekly fatwas about the day of the month Kashmiris were free to work. He would stop the shutdowns in the Valley if only the government would let separatists protest on the streets of towns and cities in the Valley. Alam didn't explain and Jaleel did not ask who would check the protestors if they were allowed free run of the streets. Who would they target, assuming that the Army would have wholly returned to the barracks and the local police and CRPF elements were the only entities to keep them from destroying property, burn buses, etc? Probably, Alam would ask his volunteers to manage law and order.
Like, say, the Pakistani militants and Afghan Taliban are doing in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It would be of interest to the citizens in the Valley to know that the Pakistani government has been virtually marginalized by the Pakistani militants and the Pakistani Taliban. Facing one of history's biggest tragedies which uprooted or claimed the lives of some 20 million people, the Pakistan government could not get its act together, allowing radical Islamic charities like the Jammat-ud-Dawa, Jaishe Mohammad, Harkatul Mujahideen, the Sipahe Jhangvi and Harkatul Jehadul Islami to spread themselves all over, collecting and distributing aid among the victims. This, when the United Nations had issued an appeal for an unprecedented international aid effort and most of it was reaching Pakistan. 

But an inept Pakistani government chose to act in a leisurely manner. Even India's aid of five million dollars was first spurned before it was accepted. The Pakistani government did not allow Indian helicopters to drop the aid in the flooded areas even as it was shouting itself hoarse, urging the international community to make choppers available. There, obviously, are some political hands at work in allowing the militant groups to build on the goodwill they had generated by distributing aid during earlier calamities. This philanthropic turn, like the one seen at the time of the massive earthquake in Northern Kashmir, is obviously intended to make it impossible for Islamabad to curtail the activities of the various terrorist formations currently engaged in the relief effort.

The JUD chief Hafez Saeed has urged philanthropists to help his organisation mobilize help for the flood victims. According to the JUD, 2,200 members of the group have been spread across Pakistan to join local organizers in mobilizing help. While popular involvement in efforts to cater to the needs of the masses is understandable, the flip side is that the inefficient government of Pakistan has been exposed. Government sources point to Islamabad's entreaties. They are encouraging militant groups to step up the tempo of their relief effort. 

The upshot is that Pakistan will finally overcome the disastrous trail which the floods have brought in their trail but the ones to be remembered for their "selfless" relief work will be the militant groups. Punjab is ruled by Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League and riding two horses at the same time comes naturally to the Sharif brothers. They are only too willing to provide the jihadi outfits free space to build on their existing strength. There is a lesson here to be learnt by both New Delhi and Srinagar. Farooq Abdullah has given a significant hint and it is now for India to be wary of the growing Islamist threat in the valley.

The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor, The Statesman, New Delhi









"You call this food?" I shriek on seeing a "real authentic genuine" vegetarian railway meal served from the pantry car. Some things never change. 

"Rice, dal, roti, sabji, curd, salad, pickle ... full meal. Aur kya chahiye?" the insolent catering boy throws the words on my face. "Water, water everywhere," I observe as my eyes scan every dish, "nor a morsel to eat!" I wish I could retort that the "flood situation" on my plate must be due to an "overflow of powerful" crocodile tears from him. But I am his captive ~ take it or leave it. There's hardly any choice for an elderly passenger on a cross-country journey. 

Time was when as a young man fresh out of college and into my first job, I travelled second class across the breadth of the country at least twice a year to be with my parents. I never depended on the railway caterer to satisfy my gastronomic craving. No rice/roti for me on a journey. I would pop out of the compartment at some biggish station and head for the mobile stalls warming up their kadai (for puri or bhature) or tawa (if dosa was on offer). Standing in the midst of the din from a cross-section of Indians, I would devour a couple of dosas with coconut chutney, or a plate of chhole and huge bhatures. Everything would be piping hot, made right before my eyes. South Indians would be tucking heartily into chhole, while North Indians would be trying to hurry the manufacture of dosas with one anxious eye on the red signal. Sometimes, for a change, I would opt for omelette and bread at dinner. Thick slices of bread cut in the rough country way with a bulky omelette in between. I have never had such puffy omelettes as on a railway platform, crispy and dark brown with an exotic burnt taste. A drink from the tap would be enough to flush the whole thing down. What, tap water? How shocking it sounds today. But those were the "pre-bottled water" days. 

Down south, breakfast is a wonderful experience at any station, simply because fluffy, steaming idlis are available everywhere. But lunch is a torture, the so-called North Indian meals being unspeakable. So I had to take refuge in the mini meals ~ lemon rice or curd bath peddled by mobile hawkers on the platform. Nicely packed in a folded plantain leaf and covered with an old newspaper, then loosely tied with a thread. Open, eat and throw ~ bio-degradable and environment friendly unlike the plastic sachets of today. Of course washed down with a glass of buttermilk at the end. 

Once, while chugging along a branch line through rolling hills, I observed that my fellow passengers were not ordering lunch. It transpired that the entire train would get down a have lunch at a wayside station ahead. The halt was for a full 20 minutes, presumably to facilitate this "fringe benefit". No sooner did the train enter the station than everyone rushed to the dining hall that displayed the notice "Meals Ready", a trademark stamp of all meals eating joints in the South. In no time the entire crowd was orderly seated on long benches behind long tables, on which freshly washed plantain leaves had been laid out in neat rows. Like efficient robots, the food servers doled out unlimited rice, sambhar rasam, cabbage dry, curd, pickle, papadam and a bit of payasam. Soon satiated passengers could be seen trudging back to the train. Those who prolonged their stay at the table till the last second, to extract more than their money's worth, had to make a mad dash for it when the train blew its whistle, their pot bellies not helping them in any way. Though truly basic, it was one of the most satisfying meals I have ever had. Perhaps hunger too played a catalytic role. 

Today, when well-known restaurant chains have recognised the railway platforms as the last untapped frontier and descended on them with a wide range of dishes ~ from paneer masala to chicken biryani ~ I have no vigour left to make the 100 (sometimes 200) meter dash from my bogey and back, that too leaving my baggage unattended. Nor are the grimy stalls on the platform, like the tap war, a healthy option any more. So I have no option but to gaze pleadingly at the catering boy, as a dog would look up at its master at feeding time, and surrender myself to his autocratic rule.








British media has uncovered how Pakistani cricket players in Britain are heavily involved in corrupt match-fixing. A high-level Scotland Yard probe is on. Pakistan cricket officials have confirmed the news. It is expected that the probe may widen its net to scan other nations, including India. Indian cricket already was tainted but its corruption has been downplayed. The IPL scam has already damned the reputation of what was reputed to be the most gentlemanly game.

People are incensed with the greed displayed by cricketers. They need to take a charitable view. These are young men in their twenties and thirties living in an environment where money is all. Why single out cricketers for blame? It is better to accept the simple truth that cricket is no longer a sport. Cricket is commerce. 
Many politicians have muscled their way into managing cricket. They don't do this because of their interest in the sport. They want a share of the loot. The huge corruption cases launched against leading politicians of all parties that are never clinched do not seem to have satiated political greed. The brazen sell-out of their declared policies by politicians in exchange of favours in cash or kind does not abate their need to make more money any which way. Politics is no more about policy-making or about governance. Politics is commerce. 
The courts are unable to halt corruption. Senior judges have called the judiciary corrupt. There are corruption cases under way against sitting senior judges and former senior judges. The legal system appears to be no more about dispensing justice. Justice is commerce. 

The media often exposes scams. But, more often than not, it does so acting as the instrument of one warring party against another. The media is incapable of objective news coverage. It has institutionalized paid news. Leading media firms have entered into silent barter treaties with business firms offering advertisement space in exchange of ownership shares of that firm. The media has very little to do with journalism. Media is commerce. 
One might think that morality would restrain people from corruption. Right now there is a huge Rs 50,000 crore scam involving a leading temple in the south. This is neither the first nor the last corruption scandal involving priests cutting across different religions. Religion is no more about God. Religion is commerce.

One can go on and on to nail every single segment of society. One can summon innumerable examples not only from India and Pakistan but also from the most advanced nations of the world to prove that institutions have crumbled and systems are collapsing because of human greed and corruption. Socialism, capitalism, democracy and communism have all collapsed at the altar of corruption. Technology has led to the growth of wealth. The lure of wealth has made mankind greedy. Greed has destroyed all sense of honour. 

All this has made the world flat. The revolution to rescue mankind from the doom towards which it unthinkingly hurtles can emanate from any nation - rich or poor, western or eastern, powerful of weak. The crisis is moral. It has to be demonstrated to people that happiness does not depend on the acquisition of increasing wealth. It has to be demonstrated that wealth cannot be measured by the quantum of money. It can only be measured by the quantum of satisfied needs. The world awaits a moral revolution. Will it come? If so, from where? For a moral revolution, the world, from America to Bhutan, has become a level playing field. 

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist









To wake up robustly one morning and be told that one is dead or almost dead could be a disconcerting experience — even if one is not a human being, but a language. This is what seems to have happened to a number of Indian languages. A recent Unesco report has expressed concern over five Indian languages becoming extinct and another 191 critically endangered. Yet 60-odd, mostly tribal, languages from this casualty list, spoken in the Northeast and along the Indo-Nepal border, have been claimed as being alive and well by none other than those who speak and/or write them. These people are naturally offended and alarmed at being declared linguistically endangered. The Aimols of Manipur and Assam, for instance, are proud speakers, writers and historians of their own language, which has mutated into regional variants by absorbing other tribal languages in the vicinity. The Aimols have their own version of the hymns and will soon have the New Testament published in their language. However, a survey that is not properly informed about the geographical spread and variations of the language could come to mistaken conclusions about the state of the language through data collected from just one region. This is what seems to have occurred in the Unesco report. However, the Centre should not wait for something like this to happen to sit up to the possibility of languages being endangered, and should remain on its toes with its own surveys, white papers and policies to protect the country's linguistic and cultural resources.


Surveying what India speaks and writes could end up being a daunting exercise not only by the challenges posed by the country's demography and linguistic diversity, but also by categories created by the State itself in its own census operations (if one is working with the government's figures). It could be a real problem trying to classify what somebody speaks as 'language' (as defined by the Constitution), 'mother tongue' or 'dialect', especially when many Indians could speak and/or write more than one such category, or even mix them all up to create something difficult to label. The official definitions and guidelines used for the census are often not clearly thought through. To be told by the ministry of home affairs that "mother tongue is the language spoken in childhood by the person's mother to the person" could well lead to serious confusion.








Out of the chaos of differences in Parliament emerged a verdict in favour of the nuclear liability bill. This will enable India to enter into agreements with various international companies. In this sense, the nuclear liability bill is an important milestone in the history of India's emergence as a global player. The details of this bill were debated in Parliament and perhaps will remain open to controversy. But the fact that there was eventually an agreement and that the bill was passed by a huge majority is important as it sends out a signal to the world about India's intentions. The debate and the controversy are equally important since they are evidence of the vibrant character of Indian democracy. Even though the passing of the bill was the work of Parliament, its real author is the prime minister, Manmohan Singh. This was recognized by the kind of attack he was subjected to from the leftist benches and by the fact that he chose to intervene in the debate on the bill. The prime minister had to speak because the main line of criticism was that through the bill, India's sovereignty was being sacrificed to the United States of America and to the interests of multinational corporations. Mr Singh rebutted these allegations not through rhetoric but by deploying logical arguments.


One important aspect of the debate concerning the nuclear liability bill is the change in the position of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Initially, there was a strange congruence between the views and rhetoric of the BJP and those of the leftist parties. This could not have added to the comfort of either of the two groups. When push came to the vote, the BJP decided to stand by the government. One reason for this is that so far nuclear issues are concerned, in substance there is no difference between the present government and the one lead by the BJP. The latter's only grouse against the Indo-US nuclear deal and the nuclear liability bill is that it is the United Progressive Alliance, and not the National Democratic Alliance, steering these. But the fact that the BJP successfully stood above narrow party interests and supported the national interest is to be welcomed and seen as an example by other political parties. Mr Singh has prepared the ground for India's presence in the global high table. History will watch how India behaves at that table.








There is much, much more to the latest visa row with the Chinese than the simplistic explanation that the Northern Army Commander, Lt. Gen. B.S. Jaswal, was nominated for a military exchange, Beijing viewed his visit as undesirable, and New Delhi retaliated rather strongly by suspending all military contact with the Chinese, except routine border-personnel meetings.


Like many aspects of Sino-Indian relations, last week's media frenzy over the Northern Army Commander's non-visit can be traced to the shenanigans in Indo-US relations. The United States of America's military industrial complex and the American lobby in New Delhi needed to whip up fears about Beijing in the run-up to the trip to Washington, in the last week of September, of the defence minister, A.K. Antony. And the rancour over Jaswal, which has been beneath the surface in India's relations with China, came in handy. It was more than a month ago that the Chinese expressed their reservations about receiving Jaswal. Immediately, with a swiftness that took the Chinese by surprise, India suspended all military exchanges with Beijing. One of the more reassuring aspects of this episode was that, for over a month, the entire controversy remained under wraps.

The ministry of external affairs normally leaks like a sieve, but the discipline with which this extremely sensitive development in Sino-Indian relations was prevented from getting into the spotlight proved that the MEA's east Asia division and the Indian embassy in Beijing are run as tight ships. This is the absolute need of the times, an imperative to meet the challenges in bilateral relations with Beijing. The news that eventually broke, last week, of an impasse in Sino-Indian military exchanges was a deliberate leak, which, of course, is not unusual in New Delhi. But if the discipline of the MEA's east Asia division was reassuring, it was equally disconcerting that South Block has now traced the leak to those seeking to protect and promote US interests.

The American embassy in New Delhi has long boasted that it can do anything it wants with sections of the capital's media. The mission's officials have in the past narrated to this writer, off the record, instances where they have used their moles in the media to bring about policy changes within the Indian government. The manner of the spin of the army visa story is the latest example of the Americans doing it again. It is absolutely important for them that a paranoia should be whipped up in New Delhi over China's 'evil' intentions against India in the days and weeks before the defence minister travels to Washington. When Pranab Mukherjee was shifted out of the ministry of defence in the last big cabinet reshuffle of the first United Progressive Alliance government, the Americans miscalculated that Mukherjee's successor would be someone they could manipulate or push around. They found Mukherjee far too tough to crack, but they also mistook the soft-spoken Antony's demeanour and brevity as shortcomings in a defence minister.


After several firm and clear-headed meetings between Antony and the US national security adviser, James Jones, in the last 19 months, the American military industrial complex is wiser. So is the Obama administration, which was clearly struck by the way Antony recently found a way out of an impasse over end-user arrangements for US weapons sold to India, an issue which had dogged Indo-US defence relations for several years. The conventional wisdom on Indo-US defence relations is that the Americans are single-mindedly pursuing a lucrative order for 126 multi-role combat planes for the Indian Air Force, potentially the biggest deal in the entire history of military aviation. But such a view paints a distorted picture of the current nature of military exchanges between New Delhi and Washington.


The Pentagon clearly has been unhappy that the overall momentum of Indo-US defence engagement has significantly slowed down from the days of the previous Bush administration, when this segment of the bilateral relationship showed greater promise. The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, would like to see India's signature on three agreements related to bilateral military co-operation when Antony is in Washington in just under four weeks. All three agreements have been controversial: the communication inter-operability and security memorandum agreement, the logistics support agreement, and the basic exchange and co-operation agreement for geo-spatial co-operation. At the time of writing, the defence minister is disinclined to give his approval for any of these agreements although those in his ministry who wish to open India's arms to the American military industrial complex are strongly in favour of putting India's signature on these.


In this context, creating a scare about China helps Washington. Despite a change in administration and the bulk of political appointees in top positions, institutional memory at the US department of defence is good enough for those dealing with India now to recall the story of a sweeping turnaround in relations between India and the US on the one hand, and between India and China, on the other, under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Then, George Fernandes, the National Democratic Alliance's defence minister, had described China as India's "Enemy Number One". At the same time, the Vajpayee government blamed China for the compulsions behind India's decision to exercise its nuclear option in 1998.


Naturally, Beijing was furious. But eventually, China's anger gave way to its pragmatism. When the Chinese realized that the NDA government was moving closer to Washington in every sphere in a way that no previous Indian government had done, they feared that the US may well consider persuading India to be a counter-weight to China in Asia. They also anticipated that with ministers like Fernandes in the cabinet in senior positions, India may succumb to the temptation of being drawn into an alliance led by the US against China's rise.


So, China's then ambassador in New Delhi came down from his high horse and promptly called on Fernandes, quickly signalling that bygones should be bygones. The NDA's defence minister was pleasantly surprised that despite the minister's assertion of China being India's Enemy Number One, the ambassador extended an invitation to Fernandes to visit China.


The American effort now is similarly to turn the tables on China. The spin-masters dealing with India in Washington are convinced that just as fears of an Indo-US joint front persuaded the Chinese, a decade ago, to reach out to the NDA government in general, and to Fernandes in particular, fear of China — real or imagined — could now be used to convince Antony that he must provide a shot in the arm at the political level to catalyse Indo-US defence engagement. Of course, the Chinese provided a handy tool to the Americans by doing what they did to Jaswal and by insisting that Chinese visas for Kashmiris would only be stapled to, not stamped on, their Indian passports.


But the MEA is unlikely to play ball in this scheme. It wanted to keep the Jaswal controversy under wraps because it had taken the effective action of freezing all military exchanges with China in retaliation for the discourtesy shown the Northern Military Commander. While the MEA was convinced that this firm retaliation had rattled the Chinese, it did not want the situation to escalate through any emotive debate in the media over a holy cow that the army continues to be for an influential section of Indian public opinion.


The UPA's leadership believes that the issue has to be resolved at the political and diplomatic levels, and is looking at the military retaliation of freezing bilateral defence exchanges as merely a short-term tactic. There is a powerful school of thought in the UPA leadership which believes that the Jaswal episode may not have been a bad thing altogether and that its dramatic nature may help clear the air over where China actually stands on the status of Jammu and Kashmir.


Continuing the Washington- inspired spin designed to escalate the visa row, there were weekend reports that China's ambassador to India, Zhang Yan, had been summoned to South Block last Friday to be administered a rebuke over the treatment of Jaswal. Zhang and South Block officials have been discussing the issue for weeks now. Friday's meeting was to finalize the arrangements for travel to China by Gautam Bambawale, the MEA's joint-secretary for east Asia, who will reach Beijing this weekend to work out political solutions to irritants in Sino-Indian relations, including the Jaswal case. Hopefully, if Bambawale's mission, which is on schedule at the time of writing, is successful, Antony may not have to succumb to American tactics in Washington on September 27.







"He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." So, reportedly, Jesus answered a crowd of men who had brought to him "a woman taken in adultery", pointing out that Jewish law said she should be stoned, but what did he think? Surprisingly, instead of stoning him too, at his rebuke her accusers slunk away, while he told her to "go, and sin no more."


And what's odd about his answer? I don't mean its ethics, though I imagine that to anyayatollah, they're very odd indeed. No, just the wording. It comes from the great 1611 translation of the Bible, but you could easily find its like today.


The oddity is let him. We use that phrase often enough today, and still more often ones such as let's go. That let's go sounds pretty colloquial, but it's simply short for let us go, and there are thoroughly formal parallels: let us pray, for instance, used in church services. And the question is: why him and us, not he and we? After all, it is he who is to cast a stone, we who are to go or to pray.


Private grammar


The easy answer is to see him and us as merely the standard forms of those pronouns when they are the objects of a verb, as in, say, humour him or he'll shoot us. Not so. Thelet of let him cast or let's go is utterly bogus. It's no equivalent of allow him/us to. No third party is being told to do the letting. In practice, those phrases are commands, that he or we should carry out, and the let is hardly a verb at all, merely a meaningless part of the imperative mood of the verbs cast or go. To quote one expert, "let's is being treated as a quasi-modal". (And let's hope that leaves you wiser than it left me.)


Most languages have an imperative available for phrases like these. France's Marseillaise opens Allons, enfants de la patrie — let's go, children of the fatherland — not Permettez-nous aller, as if the enfants needed permission. The French equivalent oflet him cast is more complex, but it too uses their version of he, not of him.


In English, phrases like let he cast or let we go can be found as far back as the 17th century. But they were oddities then, and they're plain wrong now. You'll find today's usage in Shakespeare's Henry V: he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart. Or Henry VI: let's kill all the lawyers. Not that Shakespeare was above a bit of his own private grammar, as in Hamlet: break we our watch up, which is plainly a kind of imperative, a substitute for let's break — and is indeed at once followed by let's impart.


Spell out


So that's settled? Not quite. Even now, the we/us confusion is reflected in one subtlety. If you say let's go, would you spell out that us as you and me or you and I? Trollope went for I, writing and now, my dear, let you and I say a few words about this unfortunate affair. Half a century later, William Faulkner had a character say let's you and me take 'em on. However colloquial, that's surely correct: if it's us, it has to be you and me, not you and I.


Well, so I would think, and many a pedant would affirm (as indeed the great and unpedantic H.W. Fowler did, reproving Trollope). Yet in 1910 T.S. Eliot, hardly an illiterate, in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" was writing let us go then, you and I, exactly as if the two people concerned were the joint subjects, not objects, of let. As in real life they are. At which point, my pedantic friends — just how am I to put this?— let's admit we're beaten, you and me.







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





The hectic civil and military activities of China and the large presence of Chinese troops in the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Kashmir held by Pakistan should be a matter of serious concern to India. According to reports, intensive infrastructure development work is being undertaken by China in the region and over 11,000 Chinese troops are actively engaged in it. This cannot be considered a normal case of development collaboration between China and Pakistan. Roads, dams and rail lines are being built, tunnels are being constructed and the area is under the control of China. The Gilgit-Baltistan area is of strategic importance to both China and India. Its proximity to the troubled Xinjiang province and the access it provides to China to the Gulf region makes it important to Beijing. The area is of vital importance to India on account of its closeness to Kargil, Ladakh and the Indian territory under occupation by China after the 1962 war.

China's control of the area and the facilities it is setting up there will give it a big economic advantage by shortening the distance and time to reach the Gulf and the deep water ports it is constructing in Pakistan. The tunnels being constructed may be part of a proposed oil pipeline from Iran to China but they are also considered to be useful as missile storage sites. All the constructions have a military dimension also and the secrecy that marks them and the speed with which they are undertaken show the importance China attaches to its activities there. These should cause more disquiet in India than diplomatic pinpricks like the denial of visa to a senior Indian army officer, objection to an ADB loan to Arunachal Pradesh or protests about Dalai Lama's activities in India.

China's attempts to encircle India with a string of pearls —ports in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, bases and oil pipeline facilities in Myanmar and roads in Nepal — have been widely noticed. The Chinese military will soon be a force to reckon with in the Indian Ocean too. The activity in Gilgit-Baltistan gives it the advantage of control of land in a strategically important area, to complete the encirclement. The development of transport and other communication facilities in Tibet has already given it great strategic advantage along India's entire northern border. India should heighten vigil and take steps to secure its national security and interests against any threat that may arise in future








Almost a month after a landslide at a gold and copper mine in Chile caused a tunnel to collapse, entombing 33 miners about 700 metres below ground, the fate of the trapped miners hangs precariously on a thread. The miners were found to be alive only a week ago and the effort to rescue them has just begun. A half-metre wide shaft is being drilled to rescue them. This is expected to take between two to four months. Meanwhile, a narrow shaft has been opened through which they are being provided with food, water and medicines. A phone connection has been set up enabling them to talk for a few minutes with their families. Experts say that the extreme conditions, isolation and uncertainty that the miners are facing is far more serious than that encountered by astronauts who spend time in space. At the depth where they are trapped, the soil is moist and hot. Living in these conditions for months carries a serious health risk. Some of the miners have developed fungal infections and body sores; others are displaying signs of depression. During the months of shaft drilling, the trapped miners face the possibility of another collapse throughout the rescue process. 

Several accidents have occurred in the past few years at the San Jose copper and gold mine. In fact in 2007, it had been closed but was reopened a year later. Did the employers address safety issues or did they quietly reopen the mines without doing so? Investigations must provide answers to why the disaster occurred and the lapses on the part of the employers.

This isn't a situation that is peculiar to Chile's mines. Across the world, including India, mines are dangerous places to work in not only because of the inherent dangers of going so deep below the ground but also mining companies are among the most exploitative, rarely committed to safety and security of their employees. With mining companies giving priority to profits over safety of people, and economising by cutting back on safety measures, mining accidents are taking place with shocking regularity. It is said that in 2009 alone, Chile, witnessed around 2 lakh workplace accidents, including 443 deaths. The disaster in Chile should serve as a wakeup call to governments across the world to secure worker welfare rather than encourage corporate greed.







The authorities buried the bodies quietly as if it was all 'normal' and those living on the edge of society had no right to live.


The media generally reflects the concerns of the articulate sections of society, who are presumed to be the 'target audience' and about whom the advertisers are also interested. The revenue from advertising does matter, as otherwise, the media cannot sustain itself. However, there are complaints that the media has become so obsessed with the chattering classes that, of late, it has no time or space for those living on the margins of society.

Still, there are occasions when those working in the media suddenly suffer the 'pangs of conscience' which drive them to go after 'human interest stories' which, irrespective of class, have universal appeal. The stories emanating from the beggars' colony in Bangalore which dominated the media for almost a fortnight, served to highlight the virtues of good old journalism, which had become a blurred memory in these days of crass commercialisation.

It took four days of sustained coverage by this newspaper on the appalling living conditions in the beggars' colony in Bangalore before the authorities, including chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, woke up to take remedial measures to bring some relief to the unfortunate inmates of the colony.

It was the death of 13 persons on a single day on Independence Day at the colony which shook everyone out of inertia. From eye-witness accounts of the sub-human existence that the inmates were forced to live in thanks to the apathetic attitude of the officials, it came as no surprise that the colony had turned into a macabre chamber of death and disease.

The revelation that over 120 persons had died in August alone as a result of unhygienic food and living environs and lack of timely medical help, should have alerted those in charge of the beggars' colony to take quick remedial measures. But all that they did was to bury the bodies quietly even without a post mortem as if it was all normal and those living on the edge of society had no right to live.

Perhaps more people would have died unheard and those who survived would have continued to live in squalor, but for the media intervention. After Yeddyurappa and other leaders made a beeline to the colony, the situation has improved with the whole place being disinfected, the inmates being given new clothing and mattresses and better food. The chief minister has promised to post more doctors and para-medical personnel to the colony. There is also talk of outsourcing the maintenance of cleanliness and preparation of 'nutritious' food for the inmates.

It was the result of the vision of the then ruler of Mysore, Sri Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, that "the destitutes' rehabilitation centre" came up in Bangalore in 1944. The maharaja provided more than 300 acres for the centre, with adequate provision for taking care of the destitutes and those who had run away from home for various reasons.

When D Devaraj Urs was the chief minister of the state, the Karnataka Prohibition of Beggary Act, 1975, was passed with the intent to set up shelters at 14 places in the state to temporarily rehabilitate the beggars, give them some vocational training for a year and then release them to lead dignified lives. Begging was made an offence, giving police officers the power to arrest them.

Iconic symbols

The country has made enormous economic progress in the last two decades and cities like Bangalore are held up as iconic symbols of India's rise to the status of a 'super power.' But the disparities in income generation and acquisition of wealth are equally stark. It is a matter of embarrassment for the well-to-do that when they are shopping to their hearts' content at the glittering malls which are coming up by the dozens, there are still beggars on the streets with haggard, malnourished looks and nothing more than torn clothes on their emaciated bodies.

The officials of the social welfare department and the police routinely round up these beggars from railway stations, bus stands and street corners and dump them in the beggars' colony so that they are out of sight and out of mind and don't continuously prick our collective conscience and also spoil the 'image' of the city.

But there is no getting away from poverty and destitution forced by social and economic conditions and it is the society's duty to care for them in a humane manner. For a long time now, the citizens have been doing their bit by contributing 3 per cent of their property tax as beggary cess.

Bangalore alone contributes around Rs 24 crore annually towards beggary cess and if the funds are properly utilised, it should be more than adequate to manage the 14 beggar homes across the state. But, unfortunately, the government does not spend even a quarter of that amount for the welfare of beggars and the money is 'misutilised' for other purposes.

The government should ensure that the BBMP promptly hands over the cess collected for the welfare of beggars' homes and adequate staff is posted there to give them useful vocational training so that when the beggars come out, they have some means to stand on their own feet.

As regards the government's proposal to utilise about 160 acres of the beggars' colony for commercial purposes, there should be no objection as long as it is done transparently for a genuine purpose and the land is transferred only after the construction of better accommodation for the beggars.

Once the media glare is removed, the officials would have a tendency to go back to their old ways and that's where the media has a role to ensure that it doesn't happen.








There is little hope that the direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis will succeed.


The direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis which open on Thursday in Washington are the last hope of a West Asia peace settlement. If Israel does not halt its colonisation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank and permit the emergence of a viable, independent Palestinian state, the region is certain to suffer another century of warfare and instability.

If denied freedom, Palestinians are likely to resume violent resistance while former Premier Ehud Olmert warned that Israel would face the choice of granting Palestinians full citizenship and political rights in a binational democratic state or imposing an apartheid regime. This would undermine Israel's legitimacy and transform it into an international pariah.

Unfortunately, there is little hope the negotiations will succeed. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could pull out as early as Sept 26 if Israel does not maintain its limited construction 'freeze' in the West Bank. This involved a 10-month ban on new building that allowed the completion of 3,000 housing units already under construction. Since most of these have been completed, renewal of the 'freeze' would mean that construction of additional units would halt. This is totally unacceptable to the powerful settler movement and the right wing parties that comprise Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition which could collapse if colonisation is frozen. If the halt is not renewed, construction of several thousand homes could start promptly in 57 settlements.

Final status issues

If a compromise on this contentious problem is found, the sides will have to tackle final status issues on which their positions are very far apart: borders, Jerusalem, Israeli colonies, West Bank water resources, and Palestinian refugees.

Abbas insists that the border should be based on the pre-occupation line of June 4, 1967, with minor adjustments allowing Israel to annex major colonies straddling the line. Netanyahu refuses to commit to the 1967 line. He also argues that a Palestinian state must not have an army, Israel must control its air space and electronic activity, and maintain a military presence on its borders with Jordan and Egypt to prevent arms smuggling. His demands are totally unacceptable to the Palestinians.

They claim occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of their state; Netanyahu insists that the holy city remain Israel's exclusive, undivided capital.

The Palestinians want Jewish colonies dismantled and colonists repatriated to Israel 'proper'; Israel refuses to halt the expansion of its colonies and does not contemplate their removal. There are now some 5,00,000 Israeli colonists, 3,10,000 in the West Bank and 1,90,000 in East Jerusalem. Their presence in 60 per cent of the West Bank and in strategic locations in East Jerusalem makes it nearly impossible for the creation of a viable Palestinian state with contiguous territory.

Israel, which controls West Bank aquifers, takes 80 per cent of its water and has planted colonies on prime land which Israel is determined to keep but the Palestinians need for their state.

There could conceivably be agreement on one main issue: Palestinian refugees. Both sides could accept that those who became refugees at the time of Israel's establishment in 1948 and as a result of the 1967 war could 'return' to the future Palestinian state.

Little wonder that Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa observed, "We are hoping that talks will succeed but we are all very pessimistic about the viability of the peace process because of past experience. The only reason for hope is the sincerity of President Obama and his wish to achieve something good during his presidency."
If this is to happen Obama will have to lead a 'forlorn hope' — a Raj-era suicide mission to alter the tide of battle — into the politically deadly West Asian peace process. US envoy George Mitchell, who failed to secure Israeli engagement during five months of intermittent indirect talks, promised sustained US involvement and action to bridge differences.

But Obama's approval rating has fallen from a high 68 per cent to 43 per cent due to the dire state of the US economy and he could lose control of Congress in the November mid-term election. This means he is in a weak position to confront the US pro-Israel lobby captured many years ago by the rightist 'Greater Israel' camp committed to Israeli possession of all of Palestine as well as the Syrian Golan Heights. Unfortunately, Obama cannot marshal the support of the 70 per cent of US Jews who back the creation of a Palestinian state as the main means of ending the warfare that has engulfed West Asia since the Zionists began their colonisation enterprise in the 1880s.







In the Indian context, the term seems to be a perfect description.


The recent remark by a US Senator describing Indian IT companies, particularly Infosys Technologies as 'Chop Shops' has rightly hurt and angered many Indians for its insolence. Many had not even heard of this phrase, let alone know about its meaning as a place where stolen goods are dismantled and their parts disposed of.   

But when looked at in the Indian context, the term seems to be a perfect description. Take stolen vehicles for instance. Our 'gujris' are places where the dismantled parts of the stolen vehicles are available. There have been instances of owners stumbling upon the parts of their own vehicles. There is a well organised network of vehicle lifters who then pass it on to garages and workshops which are 'speciality centres' for dismantling them.

The parts are then handed over to the outlets where they are passed on to buyers. Next is stolen jewellery. Pawnbrokers specialising in such stolen items give them a coat of polish before they find their way to prospective buyers. Stolen clothes are washed and pressed neatly before appearing on the pavement. Stolen footwear, especially from places of worship and marriage halls are displayed on the footpaths after a coat of polish. The only difference in these cases is that there is no dismantling of any parts.

The public distribution system in India is a literal Chop Shop, where foodgrains meant for the poor and BPL cardholders find their way into the hands of bureaucrats, middlemen and corrupt politicians. Floods, famines and other natural calamities are happy hunting grounds where relief material in cash and kind can be chopped into easily digestible portions for the unscrupulous.  

Various government schemes to tackle unemployment, water scarcity and poverty alleviation provide opportunities for chopping off funds. Laying roads, building dams, large construction projects, etc are all best suited for chopping off public money. And the choppers? Of course, you are right. Who else but our bureaucrats and politicians? Getting elected to office is a veritable passport to chop the public and make mincemeat of their hard earned money. There is an intangible dismantling here also. The dismantling of the faith that has been reposed in them in the hope of good, clean and honest governance. And thereby the dismantling of an entire structure based on mutual trust, leaving society embittered, cynical, distrustful and devoid of any ethics. So, is not 'Hamara Bharat' one big Chop Shop?








If Netanyahu really is, as he says, interested in reaching an agreement within a year, he had best not waste time on barren discussions about bargaining positions or unrealistic stances.


More than 10 years after Bill Clinton summoned the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians to the Camp David summit, and nearly three years after George W. Bush announced at the Annapolis conference the start of direct negotiations, U.S. President Barack Obama will reinaugurate the Israeli-Palestinian track today.


In light of all the ceremonies that have not led to any change in the reality of life in the occupied territories, and lofty declarations of peace that have not been translated into the language of action, it's clear why the expectations of the Washington summit are low.


The controversy surrounding the construction freeze in the settlements is adding shrill tones to the formal event. Very powerful elements on both sides who oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state hope to add the Washington summit to the long list of failed peace efforts since the signing of the Oslo Accords at the White House in September 1993.


Above all, the meeting in Washington is a leadership test for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He refused to reply to the document on borders and security the Palestinians sent him during the proximity talks. He insisted that negotiations on the core issues take place during direct talks. Now, when Obama has forced Netanyahu's position on the Palestinians regarding the format, the time has come for the prime minister to show his outline for a final-status agreement.


Israel's changes in government have not changed a thing in the Palestinians' fundamental positions on the core issues. If Netanyahu really is, as he says, interested in reaching an agreement within a year, he had best not waste time on barren discussions about bargaining positions or unrealistic stances.


He must relate with all seriousness to the understandings reached laboriously and with forethought between Ehud Barak, now his senior partner, and Yasser Arafat, and between his predecessor Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.


The Washington summit and the ensuing talks are also an important test of leadership for Abbas, who must prepare his public for painful compromises. And this is also a test for Obama, whose involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian track has thus far not led to real progress.










I almost began this opinion piece by ceremoniously declaring, "The undersigned is a Zionist," but then I realized that this is exactly the kind of self-justification that those in the ideological camp of Im Tirtzu and the Institute for Zionist Strategies are hoping for, and gave up on the idea. If Zionism means blind extreme nationalism that is disconnected from all historical, humanitarian and universal contexts, then the undersigned is not a Zionist.


Both the institute and Im Tirtzu are the vanguard of a new orientation, one that carries out a brutal rape of the concept of Zionism. The concept has never before sounded so trite, shallow, frightened and aggressive. In effect, the "Zionism" of the "new patriots" consists of nothing besides the coarse division into "post-Zionists" (that is, deserters, draft-dodgers, Tel Avivans, those who are disloyal and "Arab-loving" leftists who are against the occupation ), and "Zionists" (that is, loyalists, patriots, preferably settlers, and anyone who is outraged by the slightest hint of criticism of the state and the army in particular, and Jews in general ).


What a tragicomic reversal this is. Precisely the two communities that battled against Zionism as conceived by Herzl and realized by Israel's founding generation (each in its own time and manner ) are now demanding to be recognized as the real Zionists, and anyone else is a traitor worthy of denunciation.


The first group is the Haredim. Many, albeit not all, of them have in recent years been showing clear signs of extreme nationalism: a burning hatred of Arabs, of course, but also adulation for the army (the Hasidic newspaper Hamodia covered the Gaza flotilla incident as if the finest sons of its readers served in Shayetet 13, the naval commando unit that boarded the Turkish ship ), and the use of the terms "enthusiastic Zionist" and "good Jew" as if they were synonymous.


To grasp the extent to which the Zionist idea has been distorted it's enough to simply scroll through readers' comments on the Opinions page of the Haaretz website: Among those who insult the commentators with remarks like "Go live in Gaza, you're not a Jew or a Zionist anyway," it seems to me that there are more than a few Jewish-American Haredim.


The second group is the settlers. After more than 40 years it may be difficult to explain just how ironic it is that Israel Harel, one of the leaders of Gush Emunim, has become the oracle of the "Zionist strategy." He and the institute he heads dictate the standards for who is a Zionist. If there is anything that is antithetical to the spirit of Zionism, the settlements are its embodiment. Zionism is a secular national movement that sought to sever the Jewish people from the ahistorical messianic religious elements, to create a normal national home that would join the family of nations as an equal member.


It's no coincidence that the most virulent opponents of the state (the non-Zionist national religious, as Rabbi Chaim Navon dubbed them ) grow on the hills of Judea and Samaria. That is what gave rise to the deadly marriage between messianic Judaism and racist extreme nationalism. An extreme example of this is the abomination known as the book "Torat Hamelekh" (The King's Torah" ), many of whose Haredi-religious Zionist fans define themselves as good "Jews and Zionists" and claim that the "leftists" are neither of these.


The purpose of nationalist movements is to liberate peoples from subjugation and to give them independence and a national identity. When this mission is completed, the movements are supposed to silently disappear into the pages of history and clear the stage for the vital phase of creating a normal society, for which the state is merely a tool. But Israel, which for 62 years has been mired in a struggle for self-definition (democratic, Jewish - where's the democracy, where's the Judaism? ), also mired Zionism.


The secular and the sane traditional religious public (the "silent majority" ) have long since been ready for the next stage, but the abovementioned two groups, and especially their leaders (and above all politicians from and to the right of Likud who know which way the bad winds are blowing ) won't let them. They will hand out "Zionist" tags to those who think as they do, and will silence everyone else.









The government has no policies, and its ministers have no idea what the prime minister will tell his Palestinian dialogue partners in Washington. The phrase "the policy of the Israeli government" is a fiction. The only policy is that of the prime minister.


It is Benjamin Netanyahu alone who will, in far-away Washington, decide the future of the country. His ministers will, like the rest of us, find out the details only after he presents his political doctrine to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other PA officials.


It appears that the power concentrated in the hands of Israel's prime minister has no corollary anywhere else in the democratic world. The media debate on the future of the coalition creates the impression that Netanyahu is a weak premier, subject to pressure from the right and the left; in practice, however, he enjoys full decision-making autonomy on issues of genuine strategic importance.


What was on the cabinet's agenda just before Netanyahu headed to Washington yesterday? Integrating mothers into the workforce and appointing a consul in Boston. The members of the cabinet did not even try to find out the contours of the map Netanyahu was taking with him to Washington or those of the agreement he wants to reach. In the same spirit, the prime minister decided on Monday to cancel a planned meeting of the forum of seven, in which the senior ministers were supposed to discuss his trip to Washington. There's no point in holding the meeting, he said, as it would in any case just be for show.


Thus, it has come to pass that the country's senior ministers, who are supposedly influencing policy, or are at least be involved in shaping it, are left guessing about Netanyahu's intentions. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is hoping Netanyahu plans to reach a deal involving some concessions on Israel's part. He "believes," as he puts it, he know what Netanyahu thinks. Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom says the prime minister must update the ministers on the peace process in a formal meeting. Neither Ben-Eliezer nor Shalom nor any of their colleagues around the cabinet table has the slightest clue as to how Israel's borders will look if Netanyahu gets his way.


The problem is not just that the cabinet members have no idea what the prime minister is planning, but that they willingly accept this state of affairs. And when, in an effort to exert some influence on Netanyahu before he left the country, Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman demanded a clear statement from Labor describing its position on peace talks, Ben-Eliezer said: "This isn't the right time to threaten Netanyahu with quitting the coalition. Now is the time we should be standing behind him, during negotiations."


Standing behind the prime minister is important and fitting, but only on condition that those doing the supporting know what exactly it is that they're supporting.


Netanyahu didn't come up with this flawed process. His predecessors also enjoyed the power that comes with

the autonomy their ministers granted them. Some took advantage of this to make critical decisions on their own and brought them to the cabinet for approval afterward. That's what happened when Ehud Barak decided to withdraw from Lebanon and when Ariel Sharon decided to pull out of the Gaza Strip. In both cases, the cabinet was notified about the new policy after it was formulated and brought to the ministers for approval.


There's no doubt this a serious flaw in Israel's policy-making process on issues that affect our future. All the same, the unparalleled power that has been given to the prime minister gives him the opportunity to be a reformist, a path breaker who cuts the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in one fell swoop.









The photographs of the female soldier Eden Abergil on Facebook with the young, bound Palestinians did not "shock" me, as did the automatic responses of people on the left who complained, as usual, about the corrupting occupation and our moral deterioration. Instead, the photos brought back memories from my military service. Once, I was also Eden Abergil: I served in a Military Police unit in Lebanon whose mission was to take prisoners from the Shin Bet's interrogation rooms to the large holding camp of Ansar. I covered many eyes with pieces of cloth, I bound many wrists with plastic cuffs.


I never knew who the prisoners were and what they had done wrong, and I was not trained to know how to treat them. Everything was improvised. They showed me how to cuff them, apply the piece of cloth and load them onto army vehicles. And off we went. Very quickly I learned four words in Arabic that soldiers used when handling the prisoners: aud (sit ), um (stand ), yidak (put your hands out ) and uskut (quiet ). In the basement for Shin Bet interrogations at Nabatieh, in an old tobacco factory that had been transformed into the regional division headquarters, I saw prisoners eating like dogs, bent over with their hands tied behind their backs. And I smelled their sweat and urine.


I never saw "irregularities." No beatings, no slappings, no maimings. But if the cuffs were put on a bit too tight,

half a centimeter that couldn't be reversed, the prisoner suffered great pain. The palms swelled because blood flow was restricted, and the trip became a nightmare when the prisoners begin to beg: "Captain, captain, idi, idi [my hands]." There were soldiers who tied the cuffs on too tight - a small torture that's not in the reports by Amnesty International or the Goldstone Commission. It's a torture that depends on a single soldier, without instructions from above or the military advocate general. An outlet for the hatred of Arabs during a routine mission.


And there were the humiliations. We did not force the prisoners to sing "Ana bahebak Mishmar Hagvul" ("I love you Border Police" ), as in the territories. The big hit back then was "Yaish Begin, mat Arafat" ("Long live Begin, Arafat is dead" ). In retrospect, it's not certain that our Lebanese prisoners were opposed to Arafat's removal; they may have even identified with that part of the song.


I once performed a leftist act of courage. I was guarding a truck full of prisoners who were waiting in the sun to be processed at Ansar. Suddenly a reservist thug showed up, with sneakers and no shirt on, and wanted to get on the truck and beat the prisoners. I refused to let him on. He made a threatening move. I had no chance against him one on one. I cocked my weapon, he took a step back and, enraged, said: "It's because of people like you that the country is in the state it is."


There was nothing special in my experience or in the photographs of Eden Abergil. Tens of thousands of soldiers who served in the territories and Lebanon, like Eden and me, were exposed to similar experiences. This is the routine of occupation: pieces of cloth, cuffs, sweat in the sun, aud, um, yidak, uskut. That's the way it has been for 43 years. When 18-year-old soldiers with weapons guard civilians with their hands and eyes bound, and see the prisoners lying in pools of urine in the interrogation basements, the situation is violent and humiliating without diverging from orders or regulations.


The occupation did not "corrupt" me or any of my colleagues in the unit. We didn't return home and run wild in the streets and abuse helpless people. Coming-of-age problems preoccupied us a lot more than our prisoners' discomfort. Our political views were also not affected. Anyone who hated Arabs at home hated them when he was defeated and weak in the army, and those who read Uri Avnery before being drafted believed that it was necessary to leave Lebanon and the territories even when they actively took part in the occupation.


But we learned one lesson: Regardless of politics, it's better to be the guard than the prisoner. Even those who dream of a permanent settlement and a Palestinian state and want to see the settlements gone prefer to tie on the cuffs than be cuffed. It's better to guard the prisoner and eat at the mess hall than to eat on your knees with your hands tied behind your back in a smelly room. The occupation did not transform us into law-breaking criminals, it only taught us that it's best to be on the stronger side.




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




We were glad to see President Obama go to Fort Bliss on Tuesday before his Oval Office speech on Iraq, to thank those Americans who most shouldered the burdens of a tragic, pointless war. One of the few rays of light in the conflict has been the distance America has come since Vietnam, when blameless soldiers were scorned for decisions made by politicians.


President George W. Bush tried to make Iraq an invisible, seemingly cost-free war. He refused to attend soldiers' funerals and hid their returning coffins from the public. So it was fitting that Mr. Obama, who has improved veterans' health care and made the Pentagon budget more rational, paid tribute to them.


"At every turn, America's men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve," he said on Tuesday night. He added: "There were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq's future."


The speech also made us reflect on how little Mr. Bush accomplished by needlessly invading Iraq in March 2003 — and then ludicrously declaring victory two months later.


Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction proved to be Bush administration propaganda. The war has not created a new era of democracy in the Middle East — or in Iraq for that matter. There are stirrings of democratic politics in Iraq that give us hope. But there is no government six months after national elections.


In many ways, the war made Americans less safe, creating a new organization of terrorists and diverting the nation's military resources and political will from Afghanistan. Deprived of its main adversary, a strong Iraq, Iran was left freer to pursue its nuclear program, to direct and finance extremist groups and to meddle in Iraq.


Mr. Obama graciously said it was time to put disagreements over Iraq behind us, but it is important not to forget how much damage Mr. Bush caused by misleading Americans about exotic weapons, about American troops being greeted with open arms, about creating a model democracy in Baghdad.


That is why it was so important that Mr. Obama candidly said the United States is not free of this conflict; American troops will see more bloodshed. We hope he follows through on his vow to work with Iraq's government after the withdrawal of combat troops.


There was no victory to declare last night, and Mr. Obama was right not to try. If victory was ever possible in this war, it has not been won, and America still faces the daunting challenges of the other war, in Afghanistan.


Mr. Obama, addressing those who either believe that he is not committed to the fight in Afghanistan or believe that he will not leave, said Americans should "make no mistake" — he will stick to his plan to begin withdrawing troops next August. He still needs to clearly explain, and soon, how he will "disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda" and meet that timetable.


As we heard Mr. Obama speak from his desk with his usual calm clarity and eloquence, it made us wish we heard more from him on many issues. We are puzzled about why he talks to Americans directly so rarely and with seeming reluctance. This was only his second Oval Office address in more than 19 months of crisis upon crisis. The country particularly needs to hear more from Mr. Obama about what he rightly called the most urgent task — "to restore our economy and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work."


For this day, it was worth dwelling on this milestone in Iraq and on some grim numbers: more than 4,400 Americans dead and some 35,000 wounded, many with lost limbs. And on one number that American politicians are loath to mention: at least 100,000 Iraqis dead.







To see what immigration hard-liners really have in mind, ride the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York or Boston. It is a daily Amtrak train that is regularly boarded and searched by the Border Patrol, even though it does not cross any international border.


As Nina Bernstein of The Times reported on Monday, border checkpoints aren't just at the border anymore. She rode the train in western New York and found agents roaming the aisles, questioning passengers about their citizenship and removing those who could not prove they were here legally. What she described looked like just the kind of aggressive internal immigration enforcement that right-wing politicians have clamored for, but is arbitrary, oppressive and dangerously prone to racial profiling.


The Border Patrol says agents ask for people's documents as part of a "consensual and nonintrusive conversation." Passengers could decline to answer, but some told Ms. Bernstein that was theoretical, if not fictional, especially on a darkened train at 2 a.m. And train riders and civil-rights advocates told Ms. Bernstein that the burden of document checks falls hardest on people who look like foreigners. A woman who encountered the Border Patrol while riding a train with her boyfriend, who is Mexican, said: "You're sitting on the train asleep, and if you don't look like a U.S. citizen, it's 'Wake up!' "


This should not be happening. We are well aware of the federal crackdown on illegal immigration, sparked by the clamor for fencing and troops at the border. But we do not recall any discussion of imposing internal immigration checks on public transportation, with agents with dogs and guns randomly hauling people off trains.


The Border Patrol's mission includes interrogating people as they enter and leave the country, and it is authorized to operate within 100 miles of the border. But as its budget and manpower have soared since 9/11, it is looking like an agency distorted by mission creep, especially on the relatively quiet northern border. In the Rochester area, in western New York, border agents removed 2,788 passengers from trains from October 2005 to September 2009. Rochester sits on Lake Ontario across from Canada, but it is no border city; the border is far out in the middle of the lake.


There is probably a reason the Border Patrol is waging its little-noted campaign on Amtrak and buses way out in rural and western New York and not, say, on the D subway to Coney Island, which happens to be near Kennedy International Airport. Border checks on New York City trains would prompt a much louder clamor about misplaced priorities and racial profiling, and harsher questions about whether the crackdown has anything to do with making the country safer.


Administration officials, including the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have recently said their top priority is catching convicted criminals, gang members and other dangerous immigrants. We welcome the call for restraint and discretion in using limited resources. Someone should tell the Border Patrol.







The Obama administration has proposed new stickers for cars and light trucks that will make it easier to see whether you are buying a fuel-efficient one or a guzzler, and how much it contributes to global warming. The stickers are a symbol of how far this country has come in providing a wider range of environmentally responsible choices to help ensure cleaner air and a healthier planet.


The present labels, created three decades ago, display fuel economy estimates for city and highway driving. The administration is offering two possible variants, the winner to be chosen after a public comment period.


Both would include the traditional miles-per-gallon metric plus an estimate of the vehicle's greenhouse gas emissions, expressed in terms of grams per mile, as well as an estimate of annual fuel costs. One would assign a letter grade for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions, ranging from A+ to D. The other would not, but both systems would provide enough information for consumers to make sound choices.


This achievement took 10 years, moving along several tracks. It began with a petition asking the Environmental Protection Agency to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to set vehicle standards for emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. First California, then a number of other states, joined the effort. In 2007, after the Bush administration balked, the Supreme Court effectively ordered the federal government to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles.


Two years later, President Obama announced a historic agreement combining the first major increase in fuel efficiency standards in 30 years (to a fleetwide average of 34.1 m.p.g. by 2016) with the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions. There is more to come. The new standards cover the model years 2012 to 2016. Within the next couple of years, Mr. Obama will propose even stricter standards for the model years 2017 to 2025.


By then we could be looking at cars that get 60 miles per gallon — with new stickers.








The head of Oxford University Press, Nigel Portwood, recently caused a stir by openly considering the possibility that the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary might be published in electronic form only. What prompted those thoughts was the success of the online version of the O.E.D., as it is usually called, and the limited sales of the printed 20-volume edition.


No decision has been reached, nor is one likely soon, since the third edition will not be ready to publish in full for another decade or so. And who is to say what publishing will look like a decade from now?


For Oxford, the decision to go online-only would make a great deal of economic sense. Current subscribers to the online edition pay $295 a year for access. The print edition is selling for $995. Which is the better deal for you depends on how you value shelving and the cost of leaving your desk to look up a word.


But the difference in price also represents linguistic currency. The online edition includes updates. The printed one contains what it contained in 1989, when the second edition was published: all of the words then in the language, their historical uses, etymology and pronunciation. Language is a living organism, and the O.E.D.'s help in understanding how we speak this instant is important. But even our spoken language is overwhelmingly historical in nature. That is the O.E.D.'s greatest value — as a guide to our spoken and written history.


We like the convenience of looking up a word on the fly on the screen, and the gravitas of doing it, not on the fly, from one of the O.E.D.'s 20 volumes. Somehow, we can't help thinking that when the power goes out and the candles are lit, we may want that print edition.











President Obama is embarking on something I've never seen before — taking on two Missions Impossible at the same time. That is, a simultaneous effort to heal the two most bitter divides in the Middle East: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Shiite-Sunni conflict centered in Iraq. Give him his due. The guy's got audacity. I'll provide the hope. But kids, don't try this at home.


Yet, if by some miracles the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that open in Washington on Thursday do eventually produce a two-state solution, and Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis do succeed in writing their own social contract on how to live together, one might be able to imagine a Middle East that breaks free from the debilitating grip of endless Arab-Israeli wars and autocratic Arab regimes.


President Obama deserves credit for helping to nurture these opportunities. But he, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, and the newly elected leaders of Iraq need to now raise their games to a whole new level to seize this moment — or their opponents will.


Precisely because so much is at stake, the forces of intolerance, extreme nationalism and religious obscurantism all over the Middle East will be going all out to make sure that both the Israeli and Iraqi peace processes fail.


The opponents want to destroy the idea of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, so Israel will be stuck with an apartheid-like, democracy-sapping, permanent occupation of the West Bank. And they want to destroy the idea of a one-state solution for Iraqis and keep Iraq fractured, so it never coheres into a multisectarian democracy that could be an example for other states in the region.


I hope that one of my personal rules about the Middle East is proved wrong — that in this region extremists go all the way and moderates tend to just go away.


Mr. Obama was right to keep to his troop-withdrawal schedule from Iraq. Iraqi politicians need to stand on their own. But this is tricky. The president will not be remembered for when we leave Iraq but for what happens after we leave. That is largely in Iraqi hands, but it is still very much in our interest. So we need to retain sufficient diplomatic, intelligence, Special Forces and Army training units there to promote a decent outcome.


Because all the extremists are now doubling down. Last week, insurgents aligned with Al Qaeda boasted of killing 56 innocent Iraqis. On Tuesday, Palestinian gunmen murdered four West Bank Israeli settlers, including a pregnant woman; Hamas proudly claimed credit. In Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who heads the largest ultra-Orthodox party, Shas, used his Shabbat sermon to declare that he hoped the Palestinian president and his people would die. "All these evil people should perish from this world ... God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians," Yosef said.


Trust me, this is just the throat-clearing and gun-cleaning. Wait until we have a deal. Even if Israel agrees to swap land with the Palestinians so that 80 percent of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank can stay put, it will mean that 60,000 will still have to be removed. It took Israel 55,000 soldiers to remove 8,100 Jewish settlers from Gaza, which was never part of the Land of Israel. Imagine when today's Israeli Army, where the officer corps is increasingly drawn from religious Zionists who support the settler movement, is called on to remove settlers from the West Bank.

None of this is a reason not to proceed. It is a reason to succeed. There is so much to hate about the Iraq war. The costs will never match the hoped-for outcome, but that outcome remains hugely important: the effort to build a decent, consensual government in Iraq is the most important democracy project in the world today. If Iraqi Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites can actually write a social contract for the first time in modern Arab history, it means that viable democracy is not only possible in Iraq, but everywhere in the region.


"Iraq is the Germany of the Middle East," says Michael Young, opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star and author of a very original book about Lebanon, "The Ghosts of Martyrs Square." "It is at the heart of the region — affecting all around it — and the country's multi-ethnic, multisectarian population represents all the communities of the region. Right now, what is going on in Iraq represents all the worst trends in the region, but if you can make it work, it could represent the best."


The late Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin used to say he would pursue peace with the Palestinians as if there were no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there were no peace process. That dual approach is one that Iraqi, Arab, Palestinian and Israeli moderates are all going to have to adopt. Mao said a revolution is not a dinner party, and neither is bringing revolutionary change to the Middle East. I hope the forces of moderation are up to it. The bad guys will be offering no timeouts. They know the stakes, and they will be going all the way.











If we had wanted earth tones in the Oval Office, we would have elected Al Gore.


(Oh, yeah, we did.)


On the night we were reminded that George W. Bush ended up in the White House and heedlessly, needlessly started the war with Iraq, President Obama did his Mission Relinquished address from his redecorated man cave.


The Oval Office was done over by the chichi decorator Michael Smith, who was previously paid $800,000 for his part in refurnishing the lair of the former Merrill Lynch C.E.O. John Thain (a $1.2 million project featuring the notorious $35,000 antique cabinet, or commode).


The Oval Office, the classiest, most powerful place on earth, is now suffused with browns and beiges and leather and resembles an upscale hotel conference room or a '70s conversation pit with a boxy coffee table that even some Obama aides find ugly.


It almost made me long for the Technicolor Belle Watling swagging and swathing style of the Clintons' Little Rock decorator, Kaki Hockersmith.


The recession redo, paid for by the nonprofit White House Historical Association, was the latest tone-deaf move by a White House that was supposed to excel at connection and communication. Message: I care, but not enough to stop the fancy vacations and posh renovations.


As Obama himself said in February 2009 when he released his first budget: "There are times where you can afford to redecorate your house, and there are times where you need to focus on rebuilding the foundation."


It might have been wise, given America's slough of despond, to hark back to a time when presidents just went to work and took their office pretty much as they found it, without the need to make a personal statement. As the former White House curator Rex Scouten once told me, in the era from Taft to Truman, the green rug in the president's office was changed only once, when it wore out, to a new green rug.


The new cream-of-wheat-colored rug is made of 25 percent recycled wool and features 100 percent recycled quotes around the border that have significance for President Obama. (Which means, of course, that the next chief executive will want to carpet copy-edit and put his or her own special quotes on the Oval rug. If the Tea Party triumphs, it might be "Don't Tread on Me." If Sarah Palin ascends, it will no doubt be a mama grizzly bear rug, personally bagged by her.)


The quotations chosen by Obama include F.D.R.'s "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself"; Martin Luther King Jr.'s "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice"; Lincoln's "Government of the people, by the people, for the people"; J.F.K.'s "No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings"; and Teddy Roosevelt's "The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us."


Given the cunning tableau created on the Mall over the weekend by Glenn Beck and Palin, in their artful and frightening mix of theology and Tea Party ideology, the president might be better served by a carpet that prompts him to get his groove back.


The first thing the once inspirational orator should embroider around the rug, the maxim that sums up so much of what's wrong with the administration now, is the immortal line from "Cool Hand Luke": "What we've got here is failure to communicate."


Sidetracked by the mosque fight and now admirably plunging into brokering a Middle East peace, Obama clearly needs a reminder about what really counts as the Democrats prepare to get their clocks cleaned. The rug should quote James Carville's famous admonition: "It's the economy, stupid!"


There should be a special message for John Boehner, the Republican leader who has been strutting around as the Speaker-in-Waiting and who led the Republicans on Tuesday in their inane effort to deny Obama credit for anything by spending the day reminding people that it was W.'s war. The president should emblazon Kathleen Turner's line from "Body Heat": "You're not too smart, are you? I like that in a man."


Obama needs his rug to remind him to toughen up. When the self-styled Republican "Young Guns" — Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy — pull their wacky ideas out of their policy holsters, they should have to look down and read the warning from Al "Scarface" Pacino about his machine gun: "Say hello to my little friend."


While he's at it, the president who naïvely yearned for unanimity when he had a majority might put this legend around the border of his carpet: "Post-partisanship doesn't work with Mitch McConnell."


And for all of us who have that sinking feeling that the economic rug is being pulled out from under us, the president might stitch in the famous warning from "Jaws": "We're going to need a bigger boat."









IT'S been 10 long years since the Palestinians and Israelis last came close to establishing a permanent peace, in January 2001 at Taba in Egypt. During my career in the Egyptian Air Force, I saw the tragic toll of war between the Arabs and Israel. As president of Egypt, I have endured many ups and downs in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Egypt's decision to be the first Arab state to make peace with Israel claimed the life of my predecessor, Anwar el-Sadat. Ever since the day in 1981 that I witnessed his assassination by extremists, I have tried to turn the dream of a permanent peace in the Middle East into a reality.


Now, after a nearly two-year hiatus in direct negotiations, we are opening yet another chapter in this long history. Many claim that this new round of talks — which begins with meetings between President Obama; Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel; the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas; King Abdullah of Jordan; and myself here on Wednesday — is doomed to fail like all the others.


However, President Obama's determined involvement has revived our hopes for peace and we must seize this opportunity. The broad parameters of a permanent Palestinian-Israeli settlement are already clear: the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 with Jerusalem as a capital for both Israel and Palestine. Previous negotiations have already resolved many of the details on the final status of refugees, borders, Jerusalem and security.


The biggest obstacle that now stands in the way of success is psychological: the cumulative effect of years of violence and the expansion of Israeli settlements have led to a collapse of trust on both sides. For the talks to succeed, we must rebuild trust and a sense of security.


How do we do this?


First, we must safeguard the peace process from further outbreaks of violence. To that end Egypt stands ready to resume its efforts to resolve the many difficult issues surrounding Gaza: mediating a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, bringing an end to Israel's blockade and fostering a reconciliation between Hamas and its rival Fatah, which controls the West Bank. All this is critical to achieving a two-state solution. The Palestinians cannot make peace with a house divided. If Gaza is excluded from the framework of peace, it will remain a source of conflict, undermining any final settlement.


For an Israeli-Palestinian peace to succeed, it must also be embedded in a broader regional peace between Israel and the Arab world. The Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed by all Arab states, offers Israel peace and normalization in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from Arab territory and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue. But in the interim both sides must show that this dream is within reach. Arab nations should continue to demonstrate the seriousness of their peace initiative with steps that address the hopes and concerns of ordinary Israelis.


For its part, Israel should make no mistake: settlements and peace are incompatible, as they deepen the occupation that Palestinians seek to end. A complete halt to Israel's settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is critical if the negotiations are to succeed, starting with an extension of Israel's moratorium on settlement-building, which expires this month.


For both sides trust can be built only on tangible security. Security, however, cannot be a justification for Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian land, as it undermines the cardinal principle of land for peace. I recognize that Israel has legitimate security needs, needs that can be reconciled with the Palestinians' just demand for a complete withdrawal from occupied territory. Egypt believes that the presence of an international force in the West Bank, to be stationed for a period to be agreed upon by the parties, could give both sides the confidence and security they seek.


Finally, Egypt stands ready to host the subsequent rounds of negotiations. Every major Palestinian-Israeli agreement has been reached with active Egyptian involvement, in close collaboration with the United States. The 2001 talks in Taba, on the Egyptian coast of the Red Sea, were the closest that the two sides have ever come to an agreement to end the conflict. Let us pick up where we left off, and hope that the spirit of engagement that accompanied those last talks engenders success.


We live in a world that is suffering from the bitter lash of extremism. A permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians would bring the light of hope to the Middle East and to people everywhere. As someone who has witnessed both the ravages of war and the hope for peace, I appeal to all sides to make this new round of negotiations the one that succeeds.


Hosni Mubarak is the president of Egypt.








Vancouver, British Columbia


"I ACTUALLY think most people don't want Google to answer their questions," said the search giant's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, in a recent and controversial interview. "They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next." Do we really desire Google to tell us what we should be doing next? I believe that we do, though with some rather complicated qualifiers.


Science fiction never imagined Google, but it certainly imagined computers that would advise us what to do. HAL 9000, in "2001: A Space Odyssey," will forever come to mind, his advice, we assume, imminently reliable — before his malfunction. But HAL was a discrete entity, a genie in a bottle, something we imagined owning or being assigned. Google is a distributed entity, a two-way membrane, a game-changing tool on the order of the equally handy flint hand ax, with which we chop our way through the very densest thickets of information. Google is all of those things, and a very large and powerful corporation to boot.


We have yet to take Google's measure. We've seen nothing like it before, and we already perceive much of our world through it. We would all very much like to be sagely and reliably advised by our own private genie; we would like the genie to make the world more transparent, more easily navigable. Google does that for us: it makes everything in the world accessible to everyone, and everyone accessible to the world. But we see everyone looking in, and blame Google.


Google is not ours. Which feels confusing, because we are its unpaid content-providers, in one way or another. We generate product for Google, our every search a minuscule contribution. Google is made of us, a sort of coral reef of human minds and their products. And still we balk at Mr. Schmidt's claim that we want Google to tell us what to do next. Is he saying that when we search for dinner recommendations, Google might recommend a movie instead? If our genie recommended the movie, I imagine we'd go, intrigued. If Google did that, I imagine, we'd bridle, then begin our next search.


We never imagined that artificial intelligence would be like this. We imagined discrete entities. Genies. We also seldom imagined (in spite of ample evidence) that emergent technologies would leave legislation in the dust, yet they do. In a world characterized by technologically driven change, we necessarily legislate after the fact, perpetually scrambling to catch up, while the core architectures of the future, increasingly, are erected by entities like Google.


Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere, one we visited periodically, peering into it from the familiar physical world. Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical. Making Google a central and evolving structural unit not only of the architecture of cyberspace, but of the world. This is the sort of thing that empires and nation-states did, before. But empires and nation-states weren't organs of global human perception. They had their many eyes, certainly, but they didn't constitute a single multiplex eye for the entire human species.


Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon prison design is a perennial metaphor in discussions of digital surveillance and data mining, but it doesn't really suit an entity like Google. Bentham's all-seeing eye looks down from a central viewpoint, the gaze of a Victorian warder. In Google, we are at once the surveilled and the individual retinal cells of the surveillant, however many millions of us, constantly if unconsciously participatory. We are part of a post-geographical, post-national super-state, one that handily says no to China. Or yes, depending on profit considerations and strategy. But we do not participate in Google on that level. We're citizens, but without rights.


Much of the discussion of Mr. Schmidt's interview centered on another comment: his suggestion that young people who catastrophically expose their private lives via social networking sites might need to be granted a name change and a fresh identity as adults. This, interestingly, is a matter of Google letting societal chips fall where they may, to be tidied by lawmakers and legislation as best they can, while the erection of new world architecture continues apace.


If Google were sufficiently concerned about this, perhaps the company should issue children with free "training wheels" identities at birth, terminating at the age of majority. One could then either opt to connect one's adult identity to one's childhood identity, or not. Childhoodlessness, being obviously suspect on a résumé, would give birth to an industry providing faux adolescences, expensively retro-inserted, the creation of which would gainfully employ a great many writers of fiction. So there would be a silver lining of sorts.


To be sure, I don't find this a very realistic idea, however much the prospect of millions of people living out their lives in individual witness protection programs, prisoners of their own youthful folly, appeals to my novelistic Kafka glands. Nor do I take much comfort in the thought that Google itself would have to be trusted never to link one's sober adulthood to one's wild youth, which surely the search engine, wielding as yet unimagined tools of transparency, eventually could and would do.


I imagine that those who are indiscreet on the Web will continue to have to make the best of it, while sharper cookies, pocketing nyms and proxy cascades (as sharper cookies already do), slouch toward an ever more Googleable future, one in which Google, to some even greater extent than it does now, helps us decide what we'll do next.


William Gibson is the author of the forthcoming novel "Zero History."





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