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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month september 02, edition 000615, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- LAUGHABLE CONDITIONS
- BLOOD-STAINED TALKS
- A STRANGE OBSESSION - G PARTHASARATHY
- SPIKE SEPARATISM, NOW - SANDEEP B
- ADDLED THINKING! - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
- PEACE TALKS AS AN OBSTACLE RACE - BARRY RUBIN
- AFTER THE PHARAOH, IT'S HIS SON! - MAGGIE MICHAEL
- EDUCATIONAL TRIBUNALS BILL A VICTIM OF GOVT INEPTITUDE
- STOKING THE FLAMES AGAIN
- INVEST JOB WITH POWER
- DON'T TRUST GOVT WITH YOUR PRIVACY - BY MANOJ JOSHI
- INDIAN DIET INCREASES DIABETES RISK - DINESH C. SHARMA
- MUCH MORE TO DENGUE THAN JUST THE GAMES
- SOCIAL' ANTS HELP STUDY LONGEVITY
- PLAYING CUPID FOR THE SAKE OF BIOFUEL
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- STEM THE ROT
- CRICKET'S CRISIS OF CONSCIENCE - BORIA MAJUMDAR
- LET INDIVIDUALS DECIDE
- PLENTY IN A NAME - AJAY VAISHN - V
- HOW BLACK IS MY BERRY
- BACHI KARKARIA
- INDIA'S EMPTY UNDERBELLY
- COOKING THE BOOKS
- IS RAHUL READY? - SAMAR HALARNKAR
- A LOSE-LOSE SITUATION - KANWAL SIBAL
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- A LIFE MORE ORDINARY
- PARTY, MINISTRY
- AGAINST THE GRAIN
- WHEN TWO BECOME ONE - COOMI KAPOOR
- HE ART OF GIVING - SUNIL JAIN
- MODERATE TERMS, HARDLINE VOICE - MUZAMIL JALEEL
- SIZING UP TO THE SMALL SCREEN - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
- THE FIBBERS OFF THE FIELD - TREVOR CHESTERFIELD
- RISE OF THE MACHINES
- JUDICIAL RESTRAINT
- FINMIN VS RBI?
- MINERAL DEFICIT IS ALL SET TO RISE - P RAGHAVAN
- SEZS PACKED OFF IN THE DTC BUS - ARADHNA AGGARWAL
- A FILLIP FOR ULIP - MUTHUKUMAR K
- PROTECTING WHISTLEBLOWERS
- PERSISTING UNCERTAINTY
- DILEMMAS OF EQUALITY IN EDUCATION - PHILIP G. ALTBACH & ELDHO MATHEWS
- THE PROBLEM WITH EVMS - SUBRAMANIAN SWAMY
- SECURING LIFELINES DURING A DISASTER - VINOD THOMAS AND RONALD S. PARKER
- INSIDE THE SALMONELLA SCARE FARMS - ED PILKINGTON
THE ASIAN AGE
- MUCH MORE LEFT TO DO ABOUT BHOPAL
- A SIGNIFICANT OPENING
- NOT SO SPORTING
- JETTISON JAMMU AND KASHMIR FROM INDIA-PAKISTAN IMBROGLIO - V R KRISHNA IYER
- BEAUTY RESERVATIONS..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- HAPLESS GILGIT
- DOUBLE TRAGEDY
- JANAMASHTAMI SPECIAL
- THE ULTIMATE REALITY
- DTC BILL - BY RAMESH KANITKAR
- PAK CRICKET CRYING SHAME BY RAJU BHARATAN
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
- KEEP IT UP
- HISTORY OF CHALO-II - ZAHIR-UD-DIN
- INDIA AND KASHMIR - MAASID SIDIQ
- WHY VENOM FOR PENNING TRUTH? - HAMID NILAGI
- REFRESH YOUR CONSCIENCE - FAYAZ AHMAD
- AN OPEN LETTER TO OMAR ABDULLAH - NIYAZ CHAPOO
- RETHINK STRIKE STRATEGY - ER HUNEEF MOHAMMAD
- HAS NEW DELHI ANYTHING 'NEW' TO OFFER? - LIMAN ALI
- MAGICIAN AND POLITICIANS - MOHAMMAD IMRAN MUZAFFAR
- FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- BHOPAL CASE RETRIAL
- PARTY KNOWS BEST
- INDIA'S NEIGHBOURHOOD POLICIES - BY G. PARTHASARATHY
- HOW TO CLEAN UP THE MESS IN CITIES - K.C. SIVARAMAKRISHNAN
- ODDS AND ENDS - BY UTTAM SENGUPTA
- MASTER PLANS IMPERATIVE - SUKHBIR SINGH SANDHU
- FROM FIREMEN TO FIREMAN
- DOWNSIDE TO THE UPSIDE
- TIME TO PUT A LID ON DABBA
- WHAT A HIGHWAY CAN DO - SHYAM PONAPPA
- SECOND-HAND SELF-ESTEEM - KANIKA DATTA
- TOUGH NUTS IN DOHA TALKS - T S VISHWANATH
- EUROPEAN DELUSIONS OF STABILITY - SATYAJIT DAS
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- MIGHTY BRAND
- AN ALPINE HAVEN DISAPPEARS
- THE COST OF CRICKET
- BANKS, RELAX UNTIL THE NEXT CRISIS - T T RAM MOHAN
- ON GOVERNANCE - LAMAR PIERCE
- OF TAXES AND AVOIDANCE - JAIDEEPMISHRA
- RADICAL ISLAM & POLITICS TO BLAME - SUMIT GULATI
- INFECTIVE EMOTIONS - VITHALC NADKARNI
- MUCH MORE LEFT TO DO ABOUT BHOPAL
- BJP'S PROGRESS REPORT - BY NIRMALA SITHARAMAN
- OBAMA'S 2 MISSIONS IMPOSSIBLE IN W. ASIA - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- THE BACK SCRATCHERS - RAGHUVANSH P. SINGH
- FOR THE LOVE OF THE BLUE GOD - BY SWAMI TEJOMAYANANDA
- CRICKET AS A METAPHOR - BY IRFAN HUSAIN
- CAMPUS TRIBUNAL
- IPCC ON NOTICE
- CHINA'S PRESENCE IN POK - RAJINDER PURI
- CRICKET HAS NEVER BEEN JUST CRICKET
- WOMEN IN POLITICAL DYNASTIES NIVEDITA CHOUDHURI
- MAKING WAY FOR BRAND THAILAND - KAVI CHONGKITTAVORN
- NOT VERY NEW
- MAMMOTH TASK
- PREPARING FOR OBAMA - KANTI BAJPAI
- A BIT OF THIS AND A BIT OF THAT - NEHA SAHAY
- THE MYSTERY OF DISAPPEARING NUMBERS
- DANGEROUS GAME
- MISSED OPPORTUNITY
- A REFRESHING SIGHT - BY M K BHADRAKUMAR
- HUGO CHAVEZ FACES A MAJOR CHALLENGE - BY IGNACIO RAMONET
- MOMENTS TO CHERISH - BY RAYMA G NAYAR
- ABBAS HAS THE WILL, AND THE WAY
- BY AVI ISSACHAROFF
- NOT AT ANY PRICE
- A DIFFERENT APPROACH - BY ARI SHAVIT
- A RESPONSE TO PFC. BENN - BY GIDEON LEVY
- DID HARPAZ REALLY ACT ALONE? - BY AMIR OREN
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- THE REAL SAY ON PAY
- ON COURSE FOR A CLEANER HUDSON
- WHEN WARRIORS HURT THEMSELVES
- KATRINA, FIVE YEARS LATER
- A DREAM HOUSE AFTER ALL - BY KARL E. CASE
- CLEANING THE HENHOUSE - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- SARAH'S AMAZING RACE - BY GAIL COLLINS
- OUR VIEW ON PRICE TRANSPARENCY: DISCLOSE AIRLINE FEES UP FRONT
- OPPOSING VIEW ON PRICE TRANSPARENCY: WE'RE ALREADY TRANSPARENT - BY JAMES C. MAY
- WHEN CONGRESS RETURNS, EXPECT THE WORST - BY ROSS K. BAKER
- CANTOR: BEWARE OF THE OBAMA TAX INCREASES - BY ERIC CANTOR
- NAMING THE SEVEN WONDERS: IT'S ALL ABOUT ME
TIMES FREE PRESS
- ENDING COMBAT IN IRAQ
- UNFORTUNATE RECALL CONFLICT
- 'OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM IS OVER'
- MORTGAGE TROUBLES FOR ONE IN 10!
- SOME ILLEGAL ALIENS LEAVING DALTON
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - COSMETIC MOVES NOT ENOUGH FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - POSTPONING THE EDUCATIONAL PROBLEMS
- IRAQ WAR ENDS FOR A SECOND TIME; GOOD FOR TURKEY - CENGİZ ÇANDAR
- MILITARY SERVICE AND THE PRINCIPLE OF EQUALITY - AHMET İNSEL
- MANDATORY MILITARY SERVICE ESSENCE OF MILITARISM - ORAL ÇALIŞLAR
- COULD THE SAUDI'S BE MORE FLEXIBLE ABOUT THE INTERNET THAN THE EU? - ERSU ABLAK
- JEWISH GENE, MUSLIM BRAINS TALK TARNISHES BUNDESBANK - MATTHEW LYNN
- THE SAME OLD BATH - YUSUF KANLI
I. THE NEWS
- THE SIALKOT REPORT
- NEW CRISIS
- LEARNING TO THINK
- OUR STATE OF NATURE - AMEER BHUTTO
- CLIMATE CATASTROPHE - MALIK AMIN ASLAM KHAN
- WAITING FOR ANARCHY? - IKRAM SEHGAL
- NEED FOR PERSPECTIVE - TAYYAB SIDDIQUI
- A FAMILIAR ROUTE TO 'CHANGE' - KAMILA HYAT
- 'US' AND 'THEM' - CHRIS CORK
- CIA OFFICIAL'S COMPLIMENTS TO TALIBAN
- RISE IN DIESEL PRICES
- MALIK RIAZ EMERGES AS A MATCHLESS PHILANTHROPIST
- LECTURING ON HUMAN RIGHTS BY US IS IRONIC - ASIF HAROON RAJA
- INDIAN GROWING INFLUENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA - SAJJAD SHAUKAT
- TRAIT OF DISEASED MIND, ARROGANCE 22 - SIRAJUDDIN AZIZ
- A CALL FOR MARTIAL LAW - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
- SINO-BANGLA LINK
- ANTI-GRAFT CAMPAIGN
- RELAUNCHING FACE-TO-FACE TALKSA CHARADE!
- CRITICS OF ISLAM NOT DECRYING ISLAMOPHOBIA
- CULPRITS OF AUGUST 21 TRAGEDY MUST FACE TRIAL
- AMERICA ENDS COMBAT OPERATION IN IRAQ
- WILL THE US LEARN THE LESSONS?
- THE FIRST AMERICAN TO DISCOVER ISLAM
- TURNING THE PAGE IN IRAQ
- IN PRAISE OF GOOD PATRIOTS AND REASONABLE PEOPLE
- PITCHFORKS, PORK NO WAY TO RUN COUNTRY
- HUNG PARLIAMENT IN WARTIME WAS ONE OF OUR BEST
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- THE TWO-SPEED ECONOMY IS BACK
- GREENS DEAL TO CALM THE HORSES
- GILLARD TURNS UP THE HEAT BY ENLISTING GREENS
- THE NUMBERS KEEP GETTING BETTER
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE TALKS: BACK TO THE FUTURE
- TONY BLAIR: SOMETHING TO EXPLAIN AND TO SAY
- IN PRAISE OF GONE WITH THE WIND
THE JAKARTA POST
- MISSION 'ALMOST' ACCOMPLISHED
- IS BALI OVEREXPLOITED? - ANAK AGUNG GDE AGUNG
- THE IMPORTANCE OF PRIVATE SECTOR
- SUICIDE AMONG THE POOR - INDRASWARI, BANDUNG
THE JAPAN TIMES
- JAL REVIVAL PLAN TAKES FLIGHT
- HABITAT FOR MILITARY AIRCRAFT?
- A SHIFT IN STRATEGY NEEDED TO REVIVE JAPANESE INDUSTRY
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- WHY MEDVEDEV BACKED DOWN ON KHIMKI - BY BORIS KAGARLITSKY
- THE COMPUTER CHIP VS. POTATO CHIP DEBATE - BY JAGDISH BHAGWATI
- SUPERPOWER AMBITIONS WEAKEN RUSSIA - BY IRINA BUSYGINA AND MIKHAIL FILIPPOV
GEELANI CANNOT SET TERMS FOR SEPARATION
All-Party Hurriyat Conference hardliner Syed Ali Geelani's 'pre-conditions' for talks with the Union Government deserve to be trashed with the contempt they deserve: If conceded, these demands will amount to handing over Jammu & Kashmir to the separatists who will then happily deliver it into Pakistan's hands. This is not an alarmist view, given Mr Geelani's unabashed desire for Islamabad's rule in the State. So, as a first step in that direction, he has demanded complete demilitarisation of the region and New Delhi's acceptance of the 'Kashmir issue' as an international dispute. Considering the fact that the military is not deployed in the Valley it has occasionally conducted a flag march in recent times to control violence but stationed along the Line of Control, he clearly wants the Army to facilitate Pakistan's takeover of the region by vacating its strategic positions. Mr Geelani also wants Central forces, deployed to assist the local police in maintaining law and order, to be withdrawn. This can happen only when he and those like him stop their disruptive activities, desist from imposing 'protest calendars' and refrain from instigating civilians to resort to violence. It is ironical that the Hurriyat hawk should blame the security forces for the violence that has wracked the Valley for three months, since it is his frequent calls to defy curfew and take to the streets, apart from his support to stone-pelting mobs, that has resulted in untamed violence, resulting in the death of men and women, and widespread arson. In sharp contrast, the local police and the CRPF have exercised restraint in the face of grave provocation. No less laughable is Mr Geelani's demand that the Union Government should officially acknowledge the 'Kashmir issue' as an international dispute: What purpose can there be to this condition other than to legitimise Pakistan's involvement in what is an internal matter of India? If the pro-Pakistan separatist leader who takes instructions from Islamabad is indeed pained by the violence in the Valley as he claims he is he would not have put forward impossible demands but sought a dialogue with the Union Government on a workable solution. He could have called off his disruptive calendar of violent protests and shut-downs to begin with as a goodwill gesture, and then expected the Union Government to come up with solutions to resolve grievances. Obviously peace in the Valley is not what the hardliner wants. His purpose is better served if there is continuing unrest and discontent.
In any case, there is no point in talking to the Hurriyat hardliner since he desires a solution outside the framework of the Constitution and one that will compromise the nation's territorial integrity. The Government must tap the moderate leadership in the State that is willing to work towards a resolution and has the support of the people. Unfortunately, the moderate leaders, instead of standing up to the rabble-rousers, have chosen to remain absent from the political landscape. The vast majority in the Kashmir Valley is neither enamoured of the separatists nor interested in its vile agenda. It is this section of the people which must make its voice heard above the raucous cry for "azadi". Mr Geelani does not really matter.
BUT NETANYAHU, ABBAS MUST STAY THE COURSE
The ghastly killing of four Israeli civilians, among them a pregnant woman, by the Hamas militia near Hebron in the West Bank on Tuesday was clearly planned to scuttle the resumption of direct peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Hamas cannot, indeed it has not bothered to, disown responsibility for the killings: There were celebrations in Gaza after Hamas's military wing spokesman Abu Obeida told media: "The Qassam Brigades announces its full responsibility for the heroic operation in Hebron." That there is nothing but cowardice in slaying four unarmed civilians travelling in a car they were riddled with bullets by gunmen is lost on those who see themselves permanently at war with opponents among Palestinians as well as Israel. Blood-letting and brutality are the twin hallmarks of the Islamist regime that rules the Gaza Strip with the help of guns and bombs and is kept in power by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The purpose behind the slayings was to spike the peace talks, set to resume in Washington, DC between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, September 2, even before they could take off. But the Hamas appears to have failed in achieving that goal; the talks will take place as scheduled, although it is anybody's guess as to whether there will be any real movement forward from the standstill that has prevailed ever since the Annapolis initiative was abandoned after the Kadima lost power in Israel.
Three factors will play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the latest attempt to kickstart the stalled peace talks. First, the determination with which Mr Abbas approaches the negotiating table. If he decides to play it safe and not rile extremists in Palestinian territories, including in his own Fatah faction of the PLO, then it will prove to be a meaningless engagement. Second, Mr Netanyahu has to take a call on whether to extend the freeze on the construction of settlements in the West Bank beyond end-September: At the moment, the Palestinians are insistent that there can be no dialogue if construction of settlements is resumed. Third, both Mr Abbas and Mr Netanyahu have to try and revive the spirit that marked peace talks when Kadima leader and then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was leading them. For Mr Abbas, this is a difficult proposition, not least because his own position in the Palestinian Authority has been vastly weakened. On the other hand, Mr Netanyahu could use this opportunity to recast his coalition Government and bring Kadima in while excluding the far Right. Ms Livni's return to office could work wonders on both sides of the Wall. Meanwhile, it is to be hoped that the talks in Washington will not be an entirely wasted effort as that would greatly embolden the murderers in Gaza.
A STRANGE OBSESSION
India is far too occupied with an ever recalcitrant Pakistan to focus attention on its other neighbours. This is doing us no good
India's neighbours h ave often complained about their disappointment that New Delhi is so obsessed with Pakistan that it tends to either ignore or miss opportunities to cooperate and expand ties with them. There are legitimate complaints in Nepal about our diplomats in Kathmandu behaving like proconsuls, where even India's friends are today dismayed by what they see as crude "meddling" in their internal affairs. In Myanmar, we have delayed action for over 15 years on development of a 1,500 MW hydroelectric project and lost access to natural gas, by delays and procrastination in determining how the gas would be transferred to India. It is perhaps in Bhutan alone that performance has matched promise in our economic and political engagement. This is perhaps more due to the statesmanship of Bhutan's royal family than our imaginative diplomacy.
Inertia and procrastination now similarly appear to be setting the stage wherein we may well lose a historic opportunity to put our relations with Bangladesh on a sound footing. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League swept to a decisive electoral victory in December 2008, winning 230 seats and securing a two-thirds parliamentary majority. Showing immense courage, Sheikh Hasina has moved to get Bangladesh declared a secular republic. Agreements with India on mutual legal assistance on criminal matters, transfer of sentenced persons and in combating terrorism have been signed. Anti-India Islamists from groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, apart from separatists like United Liberation Front of Asom's Arabinda Rajkhowa and National Democratic Front of Bodoland's Ranjan Daimari have been quietly put behind bars, though for understandable reasons Bangladesh avoids publicising its actions. Pressures in Bangladesh have forced top ULFA leaders to flee to safe havens along the Myanmar-China border.
The visit of Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi earlier this year produced a broad road map for future cooperation. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Dhaka on August 7 and inked an agreement extending a soft loan of $ 1 billion for 14 projects in Bangladesh. He proclaimed, "I am sure this credit line will be a stepping stone for a shared destiny and will transform our bilateral relationship." The Line of Credit will finance projects ranging from railway lines and equipment to the dredging of rivers and the supply of buses. India has also agreed to supply 250 MW of electricity from its grid to Bangladesh. Our image and credibility will be seriously compromised if the promised electricity is not supplied expeditiously.
Bangladesh has, for the first time, agreed to transit of Indian goods across its territory to our North-East for the Palatona Power Project. But, given the opposition to such transit within Bangladesh, India would be well advised to fulfil its commitment of improving the road network within Bangladesh to Tripura, before it is accused of damaging Bangladeshi roads for transit of its goods. Moreover, the Indian bureaucracy has little enthusiasm for upgrading and modernising border-crossing points in remote areas. This needs to be addressed. Politically, the agreement for India to construct a bridge across Feni river to facilitate trade would dilute former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia's anti-Indian rhetoric, as it would promote border trade through her constituency. After agreeing to a long-pending request from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh for according transit rights of Chittagong and Mongia ports, India has to act expeditiously to fulfil its commitment.
India has shown an overly protectionist attitude in is approach to SAARC neighbours like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka by placing key items of interest to these neighbours in a 'negative list', denying them duty free access. This is short-sighted, given that we have a trade surplus approaching $ 3 billion with Bangladesh. It would be statesmanlike if India moves to expeditiously end restrictions on import of around 61 items of specific interest to Bangladesh. It is ridiculous to pretend we are a rising economic power if we behave like an economic pygmy with smaller neighbours. There would be immense political benefit if our Commerce Ministry ended these restrictions before the end of this year.
Sheikh Hasina is facing domestic criticism, spearheaded by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami, for allegedly having sold out to India. She will have to show that relations with India are producing tangible and visible benefits for Bangladesh and that long-pending differences are being resolved. Under the 1974 Indira-Mujib Agreement, India is required to hand over 111 enclaves to Bangladesh and in return get 51 enclaves. It took us 18 years to lease a small corridor of land near Tin Bigha to Bangladesh, which we were required to do, under the 1974 agreement. Barely 6.5 km out of the 4,096 km land border remains undemarcated. Measures need to be agreed upon so that the border is expeditiously demarcated. The 'Tin Bigha Corridor' gave access in perpetuity to the Dahagram-Angarpota Enclave. It was agreed during Sheikh Hasina's visit that while Bangladesh would provide electrification to the affected population, India would build a flyover for unfettered Indian use, while Bangladesh would use the ground under the flyover for its citizens. India should fulfil this commitment, which is regarded as a litmus test of our sincerity, without any delay.
Given the misgivings among our neighbours about our obsession with an ever recalcitrant Pakistan, the time has come to realise, as Mrs Indira Gandhi realistically did, that relations with Pakistan are not going to materially change any time soon and that Pakistan regards Indian readiness to plead for better relations as a sign of weakness. A policy of 'benign neglect', together with low key diplomatic engagement, is the only realistic way to deal with Pakistan. Our other neighbours need to be engaged more purposefully bilaterally and regionally, through the now dormant BIMSTEC, as Pakistan appears determined to undermine the entire SAARC effort for economic integration. There is also need for a dedicated inter-disciplinary team at the Secretary-level to seek imaginative ways for forward-looking engagement with other neighbours. The primary role of this team would be to anticipate problems, assess opportunities and see that promises made by us are fulfilled, with the National Security Adviser and the Prime Minister constantly overseeing its work. While Pakistan entraps itself in a rising tide of Islamic extremism and terrorism, India has a vital interest in ensuring that Sheikh Hasina succeeds in building a secular and economically vibrant Bangladesh.
SPIKE SEPARATISM, NOW
There is no merit in even discussing autonomy for Jammu & Kashmir: It's no more than a ploy by the separatists to tilt the State away from India and towards Pakistan. What is being witnessed in Kashmir Valley today has its roots in history when ruthless invaders laid to waste lives and land
Rajatarangini, the definitive history of ancient Kashmir, begun by Kalhana and then continued by Jonraj, records the invasion of Zul Qadir Khan (Dulchu). Dulchu was an early Turkish Tatar who raided Kashmir with a 70,000-strong savage horde. His plunder lasted eight months and left behind thousands of massacred Hindus, expansive swathes of burnt crops, razed towns, and industrial scale destruction. Dulchu would've stayed on if not for the severe winter that foiled his plans. He took with him about 50,000 Hindu men, women, and children to sell them in the lucrative slave markets of Turkistan. However, a terrible blizzard ensued when he was crossing Devsar Pass and he perished with his entire retinue. The place was subsequently known as Bata Sagan, meaning "the death oven of Brahmins".
Dulchu's ransack marks the beginning of the first genocide-cum-exodus of Kashmiri Hindus in and from their homeland. Some history texts on Kashmir record seven such exoduses where line after line of cold prose records horrible carnages of a peace-loving and innocent people who had attained colossal heights in culture, arts, and learning.
This happened in a State that had nixed Mohammed Ghaznavid's incursions twice. However, it eventually succumbed to repeated attacks from barbaric Muslim armies. The decisive turn came with the Tibetan refugee Rinchan Shah, who converted to Islam so he could occupy the throne. He lasted only three years after which the Shamiri dynasty ruled for over 200 years. Starting with the fourth ruler of the dynasty, Sikander, Islamic zealotry flourished. Sikander was honoured with But-Shikan (iconoclast) title to celebrate his large scale decimation of almost all Hindu temples in Kashmir. He rounded up the Hindus and cut off their sacred threads and ordered them burnt, a feat that yielded him a harvest of seven maunds (1 maund=37.3 Kgs) of sacred thread. Then he had them killed and threw their bodies into the Dal Lake. Today, this place is known as But-mazar (or Batta Mazar), "grave of Brahmins". Sikander's atrocities caused several Brahmin families to flee to the Panchal range where they lived as refugees. A large percentage of present-day Kashmiri Pandits are the descendants of these refugees.
The story of Kashmir ever since has been an unending nightmare of barbarities on Hindus by successive Muslim rulers except for a brief respite by Akbar. His son, Jahangir described the place as a "heaven on earth" but went ahead and destroyed Hindu temples and imposed the Jeziya tax. Shah Jahan proved a worthy successor. Francois Bernier, a contemporary French historian and traveller describing Shah Jehan's Kashmir summer palace says, "the doors and pillars were found in some of the idol temples demolished by Chah-Jehan and it is impossible to estimate their value".
Aurangzeb appointed 14 special governors to Kashmir. Iftekar, one of the governors, was especially brutal. He converted thousands of Hindus at the point of the sword and caused the exodus of thousands others, who settled in Delhi. His brutality reached such a pitch that Kashmiri Hindus sent a delegation to the Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur. Moved by their plight, Tegh Bahadur met Aurangzeb who received him well but deceived him and had his throat slit. After Aurangzeb's death, Ahamad Shah Abdali, the Afghan marauder, gobbled up whatever remained of the Mughal Empire and opened a new chapter of even worse atrocities on Kashmiri Hindus. Mir Muquim Kanth, Abdali's henchman in Kashmir was a persecutor par excellence.
Peace returned in 1819 when Diwan Mohakam Chand, a General of Maharaja Ranjit Singh decisively routed the Afghans and assimilated Kashmir into the Sikh empire. In other words, about one thousand years had elapsed before Kashmir was ruled by a tolerant king. After Ranjit Singh, Kashmir eventually passed on to the British.
And then we cut to the present.
This lengthy history was necessary because this history is precisely what our candle-kissers and dialogue-mongers in the media and elsewhere want the nation to forget. As history shows, there's no real difference between the Kashmiri Pandits who fled to the Panchal range and the Pandits of our own time who live as refugees in their homeland and are otherwise scattered across the globe. Equally, there's no change in the ideology that motivated Sikander and Aurangzeb and continues to motivate the worthies in Kashmir and their counterparts across the border.
The facade behind the 'complexities' involved in settling the 'Kashmir issue' is just an exercise in national deception because it hides an important fact. Towards the end of the first India-Pakistan war it was clear that the Pakistani Army had been outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and outgunned in every sector. However, India lost the real war. By calling for a unilateral ceasefire, Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister ever to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The nation continues to pay the price for his colossal folly. But because the Dynasty can never do wrong and because it largely controls the levers of public discourse, this blunder has been obscured to the extent that today we face the real possibility of Kashmir seceding from India.
In other words, the revival of Pakistan-sponsored jihad, which began to accelerate in 1992, is near-successful today. Revival because the historical sense makes it impossible to ignore that this jihad began with Dulchu. The similarities are again marked-within a decade, Kashmir was ethnically cleansed of Hindus. One wonders why the call for an "azad Kashmir" translated into the death and exodus of about four lakh Kashmiri Hindus. Also recall that in the first India-Pakistan war, Pakistani irregulars and soldiers alike killed large numbers of Hindus. Let's also not forget that in the wake of the recent violence in the Kashmir Valley, Sikhs received anonymous letters from Islamist militants asking them to either embrace Islam or leave the Valley. Sikhs number about 60,000 making them the largest minority group in the Valley. Thisjihad is slowly extending to a Hindu-majority Jammu: Why didn't we witness any Amarnath-like social disruption even five years ago? The obvious answer lies in changed demographics and/or accumulation of more power and influence by people sympathetic to Islamic separatist causes.
However, the mischief-makers within are no less dangerous. The secular brigade, which had maintained that "Kashmir belongs to India no matter what", now wants us to believe that granting autonomy will resolve India-Pakistan tensions forever. The media posts heart-rending pictures of "heartless Indian soldiers" gunning down "innocent" Kashmiri Muslims and carries well-crafted pieces by "wronged victims" of Army brutality. On talk shows, it invites an India-baiter who threatens a Kashmiri Pandit live on TV. "Irresponsible journalism" is an understatement to describe this dangerous form of journalism that undermines the morale of our armed forces and weakens the sovereignty of the Indian state. A recent case in point is the happening in Kerala, which shows tremendous promise of becoming the Kashmir of the South.
Azad Kashmir is not about freedom for Kashmiris. It's the freedom to make Kashmir an Islamic state, which will become a satellite of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Granting autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir in any form simply means the Indian state has accepted defeat at the feet of Pakistan's jihad machine. We already have a foretaste of the 'Islamic Republic of Kashmir'.
Perhaps the only way out is strong state intervention and a determined crackdown on all hues of separatists. Which is like expecting the impossible from the current dispensation, which places more emphasis on IPL scandals than national security. The Opposition has to take the UPA to task firmly on Jammu & Kashmir. The long-term solution is to infuse the country with a strong nationalist spirit. This spirit is what gave us political freedom from the British. Surrendering Jammu & Kashmir is surrendering that freedom. It's still not too late.
Confusion marks Delhi's offer of aid to Pakistan
The utter confusion that bedevils India's policy towards Pakistan has once again been shockingly underlined by the contretemps over its offer of aid to that country in the wake of the floods devastating it. India first offered aid valued at $ 5 million. Pakistan refused to accept and then, mainly under pressure from the United States, agreed but stipulated that it should be routed through the United Nations. New Delhi gave in and hiked the amount to $ 25 million.
Many in India have argued that, however grim the tragedy that has befallen Pakistan, New Delhi had no business to offer aid given Islamabad's continued unconventional warfare against this country through cross-border terrorism, refusal to act against the perpetrators and the masterminds of the terrorist strikes in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 and the manner in which it insulted India's Foreign Minister and Home Secretary during the recent Foreign Minister-level talks in Islamabad. Some have further argued that there was, in any case, no point in providing any assistance because much of it would disappear through the black hole of Pakistan's institutionalised corruption or be diverted to organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Jaish-e-Mohammed waging Islamabad's proxy wars against New Delhi.
One can hardly brush the view aside. Even assuming, however, that they are wrong, one needs to question the objective behind the exercise. Diplomacy can hardly be de-coupled from objectives and purposes, and particularly so in respect of mutual India-Pakistan relations which have remained hostile ever since both countries became independent in 1947.
If the purpose was to lend a generous helping hand to Pakistan in its moment of crisis, then whoever thought up the figure of $ 5 million needs to have his head examined. The amount is peanuts given both Pakistan's needs and India's capacity to give considering the state of its economy which continues to prosper growing at the rate of 8.8 per cent during the quarter ending June 30 despite the generally gloomy international scene. If the objective was to win Pakistan's friendship through this gesture, then nothing could be more stupid than that, and not only because of the pathetic quantum of the first offer. Even the amount of $ 25 million offered subsequently would not have helped. The Pakistani military's continuing unconventional warfare against India is based on its fundamental strategic approach which holds that Pakistan can never be secure without India being balkanised.
Apart from the fact that Pakistan's military establishment has a visceral hatred for India because of its defeat in the war of 1947-48, failure to make any headway in the one in 1965, rout in the war of 1971 and defeat in the Kargil conflict in 1999, its dominant role in its country rests on its projection of itself as the only protector of Pakistan's safety and integrity which, it says, is threatened by India. Any argument that the offer may help because Pakistan now has a democratically-elected civilian Government would ignore the fact that the latter is completely under the thumb of the country's military. Long before the three-year-extension granted to Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as the Chief of Pakistan's Army Staff, this had become clear in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on Mumbai on November 26, 2008 in the context of India's demand that the chief of Pakistan's Directorate-General of Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, be sent to India. Both the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan had agreed. The ISI chief was getting ready to come. Suddenly, pressure from military led to a complete reversal of the decision!
Finally, if the intention was to show the world that India was a magnanimous neighbour that wanted peace with Pakistan and was rushing to its aid irrespective of what it had done, then nothing could be more ridiculous than offering aid worth $ 5 million. It only served to create the impression that New Delhi was trying to score a publicity point on the cheap. If this was pathetic, so was our move in agreeing not only to route the aid through the UN at Pakistan's insistence but also enhancing it to $ 25 million, thereby projecting the image of a country that not only plays diplomacy with human misery but is ever ready to give into pressure!
PEACE TALKS AS AN OBSTACLE RACE
Today's Israeli-Palestinian direct talks won't lead to a dramatic shift in ground realities. The reason for this is Palestinian intransigence and refusal to read the writing on the wall
Prior to the start of the new round of Israel-Palestinian Authority direct negotiations on Thursday, September 2, a high-ranking US Administration official has briefed the media on what to expect. Having read the transcript prior to its official release, I will summarise here the most interesting points.
The basic structure of the talks is as follows: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas plan to meet every two weeks, starting on September 2. There will be more frequent meetings at a lower level on various issues. The United States will watch closely but the talks will be bilateral and the US side will make no formal proposals.
In the words of the briefing:
"It does not mean that the US will simply stand aside and not participate actively. We will operate in a manner that is reasonable and sensible in the circumstances which exist, but the guiding principle will be an active and sustained United States presence." The word "presence" is an alternative to the word "involvement," signalling a role as observer at this point.
Is the idea of solving this in a year realistic? The US official insists it is a "window of opportunity" (heard that one before?), citing statements by both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas (neither of whom believes this for a moment) to that effect. If they don't make peace now, he added, they will face "far greater difficulties and far greater problems in the future."
It is noteworthy that making a deal is always deemed never to pose any greater problems in the future. To set as the two choices: Continuation of a long, bloody conflict or its solution bringing about total peace and happiness obviously signals which is the preferred option. In this case, both leaders would love to make a deal, right? Of course, this is not the real world. Mr Netanyahu has to worry not so much about domestic reaction (a real but overstated factor) but about making such concessions that Israel would be in a worse, more dangerous situation, faced round two, escalated Arab demands, and a lack of Western support no matter how much he listened to Western advice. Mr Netanyahu has to deal also with the details of borders, most notably pertaining to east Jerusalem, and retaining a limited number of settlements near the frontier.
Mr Abbas has an even worse problem. First, he himself doesn't want to give up certain demands, including the "right" of return for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to live in Israel, which would consequently (as Mr Abbas and Mr Netanyahu both know) would not remain Israel for more than a few months.
Second, Mr Abbas lacks the political power to offer any solution that would conceivably be acceptable to any Israeli leader since his colleagues almost unanimously oppose such an outcome.
Third, he has not prepared his own people for such a compromise deal. On the contrary, he and the PA have been telling them daily for 16 years that Israel is illegitimate and by waiting they will get everything.
Fourth, he has no control over Hamas which will do everything possible to destroy any such agreement and overthrow the PA.
Fifth, he cannot depend on real Arab support, even if the dying Egyptian President and weak Jordanian king are present.
Sixth, he can depend on the violent opposition of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Muslim Brotherhoods, and huge portions of the Arab world's population.
Seventh, he and his colleagues reject almost all the Israeli conditions: That a treaty end the conflict forever, that they recognise Israel as a Jewish state, that the Palestinian state have limits on its military and cannot invite in foreign troops, and that all Palestinian refugees be resettled in Palestine. He might be able to agree to minor border changes but even that is in question.
Finally, he has an alternative strategy: Ensure the talks fail, blame Israel, and seek Western support for a unilateral declaration of independence without making any compromises or concessions to Israel. Virtually none of these eight points is ever addressed by the US Government or the mass media!
--The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.
AFTER THE PHARAOH, IT'S HIS SON!
AFTER MUBARAK, WHO? IT'S GAMAL WHO IS LIKELY TO TAKE OVER THE PRESIDENCY, WRITES MAGGIE MICHAEL
An Egyptian-American dissident and former advocate against heredity succession in Egypt has signed a petition backing the President's son to run in next year's elections. Sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim gained prominence for being one of the first to criticise a trend toward sons succeeding their fathers in the Middle East in 2000, which earned him the ire of the regime and a three year court battle to stay out of prison. "I signed (the petition) to support his right as a citizen to run, but I don't endorse him," Mr Ibrahim said in a brief comment to the Associated Press on Monday while getting ready to board a flight to the United States.
Mr Ibrahim's apparent reversal has stunned the Opposition which has coalesced around the issue of stopping the President's son from succeeding his father.
The petition Mr Ibrahim signed on Sunday is part of a campaign to nominate the 46-year-old investment banker-turned-politician even while President Hosni Mubarak himself has not said if he will serve another term.
The signatories of the petition "authorize" Mr Gamal Mubarak to nominate himself for the presidency and represent all Egyptians. Mr Magdy el-Kurdi, the coordinator of the new pro-Gamal campaign, described Mr Ibrahim's endorsement as "a positive change in his position toward Mr Gamal."
"Dr Saad used to say that nomination means heredity succession, now he says if Gamal secures popular support, this won't be hereditary," said Mr el-Kurdi, a previously unknown member of a Left-wing Opposition. After Mr Ibrahim criticised apparent efforts by Mr Mubarak to secure the presidency for his son in interviews and articles in 2000, he was charged with embezzlement and tarnishing the image of the country.
Over a period of three years he battled the charges in a string of court cases and was imprisoned twice until his final exoneration in 2003.The US Administration criticised his incarceration and the issue became a sore point between the two Governments. According to Mr el-Kurdi, Mr Ibrahim's move will give a boost to his campaign, known as the "the Popular Coalition to Support Gamal Mubarak for Presidential Elections," which emerged out of the blue last month, covering the streets of lower income neighbourhoods with pro-Gamal posters.
Mr el-Kurdi said so far 1,00,000 signatures supporting Mr Gamal's candidacy have been collected. The campaign is widely believed to be a trial balloon by certain factions of the ruling National Democratic Party testing Mr Gamal's popularity ahead of a possible presidential run.
Mr Hassan Nafaa, coordinator for Opposition movement which is backing the nomination of Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of atomic watchdog, condemned Mr Ibrahim's move. "He's either lost his mind or there is a deal with the ruling regime," he said. "This is a miserable fall for Saad and no one is going to believe him anymore." Mr Ibrahim has also signed Mr ElBaradei's petition calling for constitutional changes to open up the political process so that more people can participate, but Mr Nafaa said there was a major difference between the two measures.
"The Opposition are deprived of the right to run while Gamal's door is open in front of him and running for elections is just up to him and to his father," he said.
EDUCATIONAL TRIBUNALS BILL A VICTIM OF GOVT INEPTITUDE
THE scuttling of the Educational Tribunals Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, after objections were raised against it by Opposition members, as also some from the Congress party, reflects the ham- handed manner in which the United Progressive Alliance government goes about its business. It may have been somewhat surprising that Bharatiya Janata Party MPs opposed the Bill's passage after the party allowed it to be passed in the Lok Sabha earlier, but this only goes to show that deep vested interests with political links are at work in the education sector.
As for the criticism leveled in the House against Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal by Congress member Keshav Rao, it is yet another instance of poor floor management by the ruling party. Mr Rao has a right to his views but as a senior party functionary he is surely not supposed to take on the role of an insurgent in Parliament.
Perhaps Mr Sibal is a man in too much of a hurry. A house standing committee had raised several objections to the Bill last month but instead of giving them a serious consideration, Mr Sibal tried to ram the Bill through Parliament.
Of particular significance was the committee's recommendation for ' wider consultation' with concerned stakeholders before the Bill became law.
There is no denying that a need for educational tribunals for adjudicating on disputes between different parties has been felt for long. And neither can it be denied that the plethora of private institutions set up as business ventures are in urgent need of regulation.
But Mr Sibal and his party need much better floor management to ensure that they can push through the required reforms and regulatory structure in Parliament.
STOKING THE FLAMES AGAIN
EVERY time Kashmir appears to be returning to normalcy, a reckless act by elements within the security forces plunges the valley back into a cycle of violence and protests.
Monday's attack on five people including Yasir Rafique a cousin of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Yasin Malik has done just that.
People have taken to the streets in Srinagar's sensitive Maisuma locality where the attack had taken place in spite of the curfew.
Moreover, the fact that the victim is a cousin of Yasin Malik one of the few separatist leaders who have been relatively open to dialogue undermines the possibility of future negotiations.
This is clearly an act of excess that the Jammu and Kashmir police committed as the five men were merely playing a game of carrom and were not combatants in any way.
Also, the shift to pellets as a non- lethal method of containing protests is ridiculous.
That the pellets have proven to be as deadly is beside the point. This approach has side- stepped the fundamental issue: that the security forces should not be attacking non- combatants anyway. There is a need for a much more thorough change in attitudes and methods on the part of the security forces than a mere switch from bullets to pellets.
INVEST JOB WITH POWER
THE idea of creating the office of an intelligence coordinator is a good one, only if the individual concerned is properly empowered.
As it is, the word " coordinator" is somewhat worrisome. It will require more than a coordinator to ensure a seamless flow of intelligence up and down the system.
The intelligence agencies the Research and Analysis Wing, the Intelligence Bureau, the Defence Intelligence Agency, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, the new National Technical Research Office and the various state intelligence outfits are notorious for their ability to protect their turf. It would be a good idea for the Cabinet Committee on Security to expend some effort to lay out a clear mandate for the job.
Unfortunately, only shock therapy seems to usher in reform in our system. The first impetus came after the Kargil war of 1999, and the more recent one has come after the Mumbai attack of November 2008. We should not have to wait for another such event to set the coordinator to work.
DON'T TRUST GOVT WITH YOUR PRIVACY
BY MANOJ JOSHI
HAVING brought Research In Motion aka BlackBerry to its knees, your government now intends to target your privacy in the name of protecting your liberty.
They want to read your Gmail chats and listen in to your Skype calls. Of course, they already have the ability to read your emails and eavesdrop on telephone conversations. In making this unprecedented demand for an invasion into our privacy, the government usually cites national security.
In a country scarred by terrorist attacks, the most violent being the one in Mumbai in November 2008 in which modern communications including VoIP were extensively used, such demands usually go unchallenged.
In the era of sophisticated terrorism, the government must possess the ability to surveil communications in all their forms. The question is its ability to balance the rights of the individual as against the larger security interests of the state. The issue is not so much about the morality or even the efficacy of tapping phones. It is about the trust people have in the government and its functionaries to do what they must do honestly and without malice.
While most Indians would defer to the governments in matters of national security, very few would characterise their workings as being fair, honest and reasonable. The average Indian citizen gets the short end of the stick whether it is in terms of corrupt public servants or the near criminal police. To what extent, then, can citizens expect that they will respect his or her right to privacy? As it is, India has a long and dishonourable history of phone tapping, the most notorious being the Intelligence Bureau's tap of the President of India's phones using equipment stationed in the office of the Prime Minister in South Block. You should not think that those days are past.
Our intelligence agencies remain unsupervised by any authority, save their own, and our politicians have become even more unscrupulous than they were.
It's a bit trite to lay it out like this, but people- to- people communications vary from the mundane exchanges between friends, lovers, and relatives to business and work- place conversations.
The communications of terrorists, their ilk, and assorted criminals, are a microscopic minority. For the first category of ordinary folk celebrities excepted having someone snoop on your messages will arouse embarrassment and annoyance. But the interception of work and business- related conversations can have consequences.
Take a hypothetical example: Mukesh Ambani and his advisers use BlackBerries to discuss issues relating to the purchase of 14 per cent of Eastern India Hotels stock. The real- life transaction was revealed after the stock markets had closed on Monday. The next day, EIH shares rose more than ` 15 per share. A hypothetical rogue spook could have accessed that information in advance because he had Black- Berry's encryption code. He could have bought shares that turned him a nice illegal profit.
While your BlackBerry and mine deal with boring and commonplace exchanges, there are people whose information can make a huge difference to someone's pocketbook or open them to blackmail on a matter that has nothing to do with national security.
It should hardly be a surprise that the edifice of the government's intrusive powers rests on colonial era statutes. Section 5 ( 2) of the Telegraph Act of 1885 permits interception or wiretapping at the time it was telegrams, but later it included telephones. Buttressing this is the secrecy with which this is done, which is based on the Official Secrets Act of 1922 which makes it illegal to transmit any information to any " unauthorised" person.
Surprisingly, it was only in 1997 that the Union government and the Supreme Court discovered that the Telegraph Act provided no safeguards for the citizens.
Based on a petition filed by the PUCL, the apex court concluded that the right to privacy, and for that matter telephonic conversation, was covered by Article 21 of the Constitution and that it could not be curtailed except through the due procedure established by law. The court said that to rule out the arbitrariness inherent in the powers under the Act, some safeguards were needed and so it issued a set of guidelines which it said would operate till the government notified specific rules. In 1999, the government notified new rules to the Telegraph Act which were based on the Supreme Court guidelines.
Essentially they provided a framework in which telephone taps would be authorised by the Union and State Home Secretaries and outlined the parameters under which the tapping could be done.
Similar rules were then created for the Information Technology Act of 2000 and notified last year to authorise interception by intelligence agencies and the police of computer- based communications like emails, chats and the like.
Here, too, the authorising authority were the Home Secretaries, but it expanded the list by including other officers if the " competent authority" was not available.
Indeed, it allowed police officers of Inspector- General rank to authorise taps in case of emergencies or in remote areas.
The authorisation has to be communicated to a review committee, headed by the Union Cabinet Secretary which was to meet once in two months and decide whether each order complied with the Act.
The rules are very clear on the manner in which private companies dealing with communications have to comply with the demands of the government.
Rule 17, for example, specifically notes that if a demand is made for a decryption key by the nodal officer of an organisation of SP or ASP rank that has got the authorisation, the key holder will have to disclose the key and provide decryption assistance. Clearly, BlackBerry then will have to agree to the government's requests because that is the law.
But even while demanding information, the government itself remains opaque. It has refused to provide information on the functioning of the Review Committee on grounds that they are classified under the Official Secrets Act. Instead of sharing information about how the Review Committee functions and thus building public confidence, the government treats its activities as top secret. Clearly, the body is born more out of a need to show that the government is concerned about providing safeguards, rather than actually providing them.
In the US the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act requires companies to engineer their systems to enable phone, VoIP and broadband tapping in other words even monitor the internet realtime. But the surveillance must be authorised by a special court whose judges are appointed by the US Supreme Court Chief Justice. US agencies have used other means to snoop on citizens, leading to stiff legal challenges.
Given the real threats India confronts no one will argue that the government should not access private
information, if it requires to do so. What we need are more credible guarantees that the information is not collected illegally and that it is not misused in any way. Recall that earlier this year it transpired that the National Technical Research Office had " inadvertently" tapped the phones of some leading politicians.
A guarantee of proper use can only come through the legal system, not the bureaucracy or the police which have been known to crawl, when merely asked to bend, by the government of the day. The functioning of the Central Bureau of Investigation is an obvious case in point.
There is no point in making these unprecedented demands on our privacy in the name of securing our liberties, when civil rights can be trampled upon easily.
manoj. joshi@ mailtoday. in
INDIAN DIET INCREASES DIABETES RISK
DINESH C. SHARMA
THE connection between diet and metabolic diseases is now well established. Yet very few dietary surveys have been done in India with reference to chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Now Dr. V Mohan who is spearheading a large ongoing study called the Chennai Urban Rural Epidemiological Study ( CURES) has undertaken the first such survey in Chennai. Dietary intake of 2042 individuals was measured using an intervieweradministered questionnaire.
It was found that carbohydrates are the major source of energy ( 64 per cent) followed by fat ( 24 per cent) and protein ( 12 per cent).
Refined cereals such as polished rice contribute to bulk of the energy ( 45.8 per cent) followed by visible fats and oils ( 12.4 per cent) and pulses and legumes ( 7.8 per cent).
However, energy supply from sugar and sweetened beverages was within the recommended levels. Intake of micronutrient- rich foods, such as fruit and vegetable, fish and seafoods was far below recommended level.
A diet rich in refined cereals with low intake of fish, fruit and vegetables is a sure recipe for increased risk of diabetes, says Dr.
Mohan. Regular dietary surveys need to be done to gauge changes in dietary patterns of Indians.
MUCH MORE TO DENGUE THAN JUST THE GAMES
THE LATEST threat looming large over the beleaguered Commonwealth Games comes from a lowly creature the mosquito.
Reports of sportspersons being bitten by female mosquitoes infected with the deadly virus of dengue are sending shivers down the spine of athletes and officials who are planning to be in Delhi for the games. But this is hardly a surprise.
As far back as last year, officials from the World Health Organisation had warned that Games construction sites are breeding Aedes aegypti mosquitoes the vectors for dengue viruses.
In fact, dengue has become a seasonal affair in Delhi and some states like Kerala. Increasingly, vectorborne diseases like malaria, dengue and chikungunya the ones which are transmitted through infected mosquitoes are occurring more often, affecting more people and causing a lot of strain on the healthcare system.
The political leadership and policy makers are yet to recognise that this is a fallout of our economic growth, increasing migration and globalisation.
In the health sector, we need to undertake round the year surveillance, besides both basic and applied research to understand different viruses and develop new vaccines. For vector control, we need elaborate machinery at various levels. But is too serious a matter to be left to health inspectors and ward officers of local municipalities.
The solution to this problem lies in non- health sectors. We need to examine closely the socio- economic determinants of these diseases, carefully design communication strategies, make regulations and enforce them ruthlessly.
Active involvement of communities at all levels is also a prerequisite.
For instance, sanitation rules should mandate that if mosquitoes are found breeding in any school, hospital, government building, temple or a construction site, the head of the institution be it a principal or a building contractor will be fined personally and the fine should be heavy. It is most shameful that the country's premier medical centre the All India Institute of Medical Sciences has become a mosquito breeding ground and its staffers are dying of dengue. For long, leftover water in desert coolers has been blamed for mosquito breeding.
Thanks to the economic boom, coolers have been replaced by air conditioners in middle class homes but they have moved to urban villages and slums.
We need communication strategies targeted at these new owners of coolers and water storage tanks.
One suggestion is that one day in a week perhaps Sunday be declared a " dry day" when all coolers and tanks are emptied and dried. The same should apply to offices which have drinking water dispensers, potted plants and decorative fountains etc.
By all means, blame the Games for mosquito breeding and expose municipal agencies for the shoddy sanitation work they are doing, but also look around your offices and homes and see what you are doing. Let the war on mosquitoes begin from your doorstep.
PLAYING CUPID FOR THE SAKE OF BIOFUEL
IT SEEMS that setting right the adverse sex ratio holds the key to solving the fuel problems that might arise in the future in India. And here we are not talking of the falling number of females due to sex selection and female feoticide, but the adverse sex ratio in one of the most promising biofuel crops jatropha.
In wild jatropha plants, there is just one female flower for about 25 male flowers. This means diesel yield from such plants is bound to be low because it is only the female flowers that mature into fruits from which diesel can be extracted.
Now scientists have started tinkering with the genetics of jatropha to reach the ideal sex ratio of one male to one female.
A Hyderabad- based company, Nandan Biomatrix, has developed a hybrid variety in which female to male ratio has been increased to 1: 5 and another variety in which only female flowers grow. All you need to do is grow one plant with allfemale flowers and surround it with plants with more of male flowers. Bees and butterflies will do the rest.
This way the yields can be increased substantially, claim company officials.
They are also working on early maturing of the plant so that it starts flowering from second year onwards and continues to do so for about 30 years.
The plant is sturdy and can grow in any type of soil in rainfed areas.
SOCIAL' ANTS HELP STUDY LONGEVITY
ANTS are giving mosquitoes competition in hitting the headlines, but for a worthy cause. Scientists have sequenced the genome of two species of ant. They feel that ants are ideal species to study epigenetics how genes are turned on or off in response to changing conditions rather than altering actual sequences of DNA. Epigenetics determine which genes are expressed in cells and how modifications to gene expression can be passed on to future cell generations. They are particularly interested in how this may influence longevity as it has been seen that often queens live up to ten times longer than worker ants.
" Ants are social creatures and their ability to survive depends on their community much like humans," says Dr.
Reinberg from the NYU Cancer Institute, in his research paper in Science . The next step is to start manipulating the genome of ants to study the specific genes related to aging and behavior.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
STEM THE ROT
The Supreme Court's order that foodgrain be given free to the poor instead of being allowed to rot is a severe indictment of the UPA government. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar is in the dock, and deservedly. His handling of the sugar imbroglio sometime ago drew flak. On food inflation, he has seemed keener to spread the blame than to spell out how he, holding the key food and civil supplies portfolio, has helped consumers. And he seems more focussed on heading the ICC than his ministry. When shocking waste of foodgrain coexists with widespread hunger and spiralling supply-driven prices, the buck must stop somewhere. Clearly, India needs a full-time food and agriculture minister, and Pawar doesn't seem up to the job.
However, food management and distribution pose complex problems that one-off populist or charitable actions can't solve. Long-standing structural anomalies need addressing. Again, food procurement is not just for PDS but also to prop up farmers. Such paternalism is not always prompted by contingencies like poor rains. The fact is that agriculture is nowhere near realising its potential, thanks to official feet-dragging on reforms that would substantially free the sector from political meddling and mishandling.
The PDS's overhaul and the Food Corporation of India's professionalisation are a must, for starters. But, while logistical lacunae like beneficiaries' poor access to distribution outlets do contribute to wastage, the glitches are also systemic. With a mammoth food security project on the cards, there's urgent need to rethink the PDS's centrality in the distribution edifice since an estimated two-thirds of PDS grain get diverted to the open market. Alternative delivery systems must be considered, such as smart card-routed direct cash transfers to women heads of households in place of food subsidy. This way, food gets sold at market rates, limiting incentives for pilferage. Another option is bar-coded food coupons, as are being piloted in Andhra Pradesh, for use in all shops. Orissa's experiment with biometric smart cards to stem PDS's leakages is also worth watching. Financial inclusion and the UID project must take off to support such schemes.
Innovation can help beat storage constraints. MP, for instance, plans a "ration at doorstep" scheme, a kind of home delivery that'll spare consumers harassment at PDS shops and reduce warehousing pressures. But facilities too need beefing up, with the government building FCI infrastructure with the help of private entrepreneurs or even hiring private space if the need arises. If anything, India needs to create a countrywide integrated network of godowns and cold chains to reduce waste, be it of foodgrain or fruits and vegetables. Capacity-building is needed not only for public distribution but in private farms, food processing units, retail outlets and the like. Finally, outmoded rules on movement and marketing of commodities need jettisoning, so that market dynamics freely corrects demand-supply mismatches in food availability.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
HAATHI MERE SAATHI
Going by mere numbers, the Indian elephant, unlike the Indian tiger, has its future secured. The population of elephants in the country has been rising now between 25,000 and 27,000 but that's no guarantee that the animal is assured of a better deal in the coming years. That being the case, theElephant Task Force set up by the ministry of environment and forests has proposed new institutions and mechanisms to protect the animal and its habitat.
The government has accepted the task force's recommendations. The first step towards implementing the report seems to be conferring national heritage status on the elephant. None, including the elephant, is likely to complain since the beast has been an integral part of our imagination and economy.
The task force rightly identifies habitat loss as the main threat to the Indian elephant. A rising population and its economic concerns clash with the territorial needs of wild elephants, which require large areas to roam about.
The proposal to confer ecologically sensitive area status on elephant landscapes that include existing and proposed elephant reserves instead of declaring vast areas sanctuaries is a welcome suggestion. Equally important is to protect elephant corridors, transit routes used by elephant herds.
None of this is going to be easy. The concerns of people who may be living in areas frequented by elephants will have to be protected. But the government could avoid building roads and railway tracks through elephant reserves.
A key area that needs attention is the state of captive elephants. Campaigns and dialogue with communities should be initiated to discourage holding elephants in captivity, even if tradition and rituals sanction it. The elephant is a wild animal and the forest is its home.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CRICKET'S CRISIS OF CONSCIENCE
World cricket is at a crossroads. While it tries to come to terms with the latest round of events that have shamed the global cricket fraternity, it is also finding it difficult to ignore the compulsions of power politics that have always influenced decision-making in cricketing boardrooms across the world for decades.
The latest victim of these clandestine compulsions of power politics is the English Cricket Board (ECB). It is now known that its chairman Giles Clarke was unwilling to hand over the man of the series award to Mohammad Amir at the conclusion of the Lord's Test. So much so that he insisted the ceremony be moved inside the Long Room and not held in full public view despite the weather holding up in London. Clarke, who supported Pakistan by offering them a home away from their own country, found it difficult to digest the latest round of accusations.
Yet he agreed to the tour continuing. While the most apparent reason is the fear of losing 20 million pounds in television revenue from the Sky TV Broadcast deal, the deeper reason is to ensure that Pakistan isn't completely isolated, allowing India to further consolidate its hold over world cricket. A divided subcontinent is in the interests of the West, to ensure world cricket's power balance isn't completely lopsided. In the face of diplomatic manoeuvring, the ECB chief was left with little choice. Despite a large section of English players being unwilling to play against a team that has brought the game into considerable disrepute, they have now been forced by their home board to take the field in Cardiff come Sunday, September 5.
The other important player in this ongoing power game is the ICC. Headed by an Indian, the ICC is currently confronted with its most difficult challenge in months. It is important for Sharad Pawar to ensure that the Pakistanis are brought to book, especially with world public opinion firmly against them. At the same time, he is under pressure to ensure that Pakistan does not now make a case of 'conspiracy' against the ICC, especially with a key Indian hand in the decision-making process. It is certain that the Pakistani players will take the legal route and the ICC will have to ensure that it has a watertight case against the accused to avoid serious humiliation in courts of law.
Pawar's task has been made doubly difficult by the growing mistrust between the BCCI and the PCB. In fact, it wouldn't be unfair to say that we are perhaps witnessing the worst phase of India-Pakistan cricket relations in years, a phase that began when the meeting between Pawar and Ijaz Butt at Lord's in June 2009 failed to ensure that 2011 World Cup matches are held in the UAE as demanded by Pakistan.
While an agreement to this effect was reached at Lord's, the BCCI, on Pawar's return to India, overturned the agreement administering a royal snub to the PCB. Butt, discredited and humiliated, is now determined to stand against the ICC in defence of his players even if it means a case of defending the indefensible.
Back-channel diplomacy and intrigue aren't new to cricket. Despite being the gentleman's game, cricket has always been susceptible to shrewd and cunning political manoeuvring. The way the subcontinent ganged up against the West in doing away with the veto in the early 1990s is a case in point. More recently, the John Howard case was yet another example of such power play. Finally, the way India has been able to influence host boards to accommodate the IPL and release players shows that financial muscle wields ultimate power when it comes to determining what finally unfolds on the 22-yard strip.
The only tangible difference now, however, compared to the 1990s, is the amount of money involved. With the infusion of unprecedented amounts of cash into the game in recent years, greed that threatens to destroy the very edifice of the sport has grown manifold. Knowing full well there's easy money to be made, men in positions of power and affluence are now trying to gain control of the sport in clandestine ways which often leave cricket's governing body, the ICC, powerless and isolated.
For example, it is impossible to stamp out spot-fixing in the face of the increased number of unnecessary matches played. It is practically impossible to monitor the actions of adults round the clock when one solitary act of greed is capable of corrupting the entire sport.
What is the way forward for cricket? Can we justly leave its fate to the conscience of individuals who are immoral, to say the least? Or shall we concede that world cricket from now on will always have the taint of corruption? Can cricket fans ever again watch a match involving Pakistan without thinking that maybe, just maybe, something is wrong with the game? Frankly, it is impossible.
Faith, which brings masses to the game across the world, has been shattered and cricket will find it extremely difficult to restore the trust of the ordinary cricket fan that has been sacrificed at the altar of commercial considerations. But unless that faith is restored, the sport we all loved will never be the same again.
The writer is senior research fellow, University of Central Lancashire.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
LET INDIVIDUALS DECIDE
The suggestion of some scientists that people be obligated to pass on rare surnames to their children to prevent these from dying out ignores the issue of individual choice. It needn't be taken too seriously, not least because the supposed phenomenon of people increasingly sharing a limited number of common surnames is more hype than substance. True, certain family names have become rare. But there's no evidence that, apart from the lineages concerned, society is any poorer because of this. A surname is just one of the many social identifiers people have. Why should it be troubling if we have many more Kumars or Khans than other surnames among us?
If anything, obsessing over surnames can have negative consequences. In the past, the culture of fetishising surnames and titles created a social hierarchy where a family name became the mark of station and status. In India, surnames came to be intimately linked to caste. The culture of discrimination that this system spawned is only too well known. Hence, by putting an undue premium on family names, we might turn the clock back and undo much of the good that forces of modernisation have achieved. Besides, who is to say which surnames to promote and which to avoid? Given the persuasion of caste politics, in India the issue could open up a can of worms.
Having a policy or legislation that compels people to promote certain surnames is not only discriminatory but also infringes freedom of choice. Parents should be free to decide what surname they want to bequeath their children. Many people have compound surnames, from both parents' side, so that no one surname is carried forward. These are issues that can't be forced. "What's in a name?" Shakespeare said. It would be best to heed the Bard's advice.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
PLENTY IN A NAME
Scientists Harald Jockusch and Alexander Fuhrmann rightly wish to preserve rare surnames. Their efforts must be supported through legal means and active campaigns. We must protect our heritage and cultural diversity. Do we want a world in which the majority of Chinese are called Wang, the English are mostly known as Smith or the Germans have few surnames other than Mueller? The scientists say such standardisation is already occurring.
Who knows, a world that has a uniformity of surnames may eventually be replaced by depersonalised identifiers that contain only numbers. Or there could be names with special characters to distinguish people. Perhaps this is already happening. E-mail IDs of people with common surnames are distinguished only through special characters or numerals. The fact is, surnames are passed down the generations. Denoting ancestry, they are like bar codes that contain a family's lineage and history. Hence their immense personal and sociological value. They represent a link with the past and constitute a unique heritage. They create a firm sense of identity in a world where people are increasingly becoming rootless and anonymous.
In a country like India, surnames have a legal dimension as well. Even if they represent a decayed caste hierarchy, surnames broadly help identify those communities that could be included or excluded from the ambit of affirmative action programmes. In addition, the proposal of doing away with the custom of always naming children after their fathers is welcome. A child's name ought to include the surnames of both the mother and father, or the one that is rarer should be adopted.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
HOW BLACK IS MY BERRY
Ministry-BB razi toh kya karega kazi? BlackBerry has got a 60-day reprieve from its sentence of death by 'decryptation', though insiders say that it was the ministry of home affairs which had to scramble to save face. Who cares? All I know is that I am grateful.
The government's allegations had blackened the Berry, and given it a clandestine new image. Simply by being plugged into it, I too could wallow in the exciting guilt by association. With the staying of the ban, for the time being at least, I can continue to enjoy this sinister status, red in claw and blue in tooth.
Thanks to this controversy, I can now delude myself that that I am in the league of terrorists, tax evaders and sundry enemies of the state who allegedly operate under the cover of Enterprise and Messenger, the two BlackBerry services inaccessible to law enforcement agencies. Shukriya, Mr Pillai for giving me a persona so different from my usual mundane one. Not since Janaab Qureshi used you to sabotage the Indo-Pak foreign ministers talks have you served such a covert purpose. Now every time I press the speed dial number of my corner bania, I can conjure up a clandestine delivery of RDX instead of the usual detergent which can merely demolish dirt at the press of a programmed button.
Similarly, I can pretend that my pin-to-pin exchanges on Blackberry Messenger are not just innocuous time-pass. Indeed, Meenal, Anubha, Anisha are not really my friends but code names for a don in Dubai, a plotter in Pakistan, and pssst, Tere Bin Laden himself. Yes, my bada gupshup is actually Chhota Shakeel.
In terms of corporate sexiness, the little black slab was once the equivalent of the little black dress. But now it's even more wicked. Earlier, the BlackBerry was the CEO's Big O, and merely by owning the same instrument of access, I acquired his proxy power. But this pales before the cloak and dagger swagger which the ongoing controversy has bestowed on me via my BB. My adversary is no longer the lout who nightly shatters my sleep with a bellowing "Hell-oh, hell-oh. Kaun? Banwarilal?" Instead, I have clashed scimitars with the King of Saudi Arabia himself. Before a similar resolution, didn't he too block BlackBerry because RIM did not provide him the encryption for mails that were in fact plots to blow up his petrozillions? These too could have been as disguised as my message to Kalachowkie Kirana Stores ordering a packet seedless dates.
All my connections to the worldwide web of global intrigue would have been lost if our MHA had had its way, and blocked BlackBerry's disputed services like all the other governments who demand transparency while bundling their own operations in a burqa.
Mea culpa, I too have put my BB to surreptitious use. Slyly Googling on this little phone under the table may not be in the same class as an underworld exchange in the guise of Enterprise, which is supposed to be only for corporate emails. But it has served my purposes. They may not fall foul of the law, but, being as upright as the next stooped Parsi, I sometimes feel it is not entirely fair to have any information I want literally at my fingertips while my co-panelist has nothing more than an uncharged memory. Television appearances allow a furtive search if sleight of hand is as much your forte as shrill of lung. But, in a radio studio, you can do it khullam khulla, and project yourself as an authority on any subject that springs up. No wonder I'm a BB ka ghulam
INDIA'S EMPTY UNDERBELLY
DOLING OUT FOODGRAIN FOR FREE MAY NOT BE AN OPTION. BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN WE LET IT ROT
`I t was not a suggestion, it was an order,' is not a rebuke most selfrespecting people would like to hear. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is clearly made of sterner stuff for this is exactly what he heard from the Supreme Court in its order that he make the huge pile-up of foodgrain available either free or at very low prices to people before it rots. Mr Pawar, instead of coming up with a workable answer as to why foodgrain should go to waste in a country where at least 300 million live below the poverty line, has sought to waffle about saying he needs to study the court's order more closely. The issue of food and its availability to the poor is a highly emotive issue in India given its past famines and food blackmail by richer countries. But to blame Mr Pawar for all our foodgrain wastage woes may not be quite fair. Several ministries are involved in reaching foodgrain to those who need it. It would seem that they work at crosspurposes rather than in tandem with each other.
In any developing economy, it would not make economic sense to give food away for free. The apex court has clearly been prompted to suggest even this as a last resort given the fact that foodgrain is rotting in poorly-maintained godowns.
Rotting grain becomes toxic and is rendered useless for consumption even by animals. At least 14.5 lakh tonnes of storage space is needed to ensure that our stocks do not get left to the elements as is happening now. The government may choose to heed the apex court's order or come up with a feasible solution on how best to dispose of the foodgrain and still make ends meet. But it can no longer put off crucial steps in the food chain like streamlining its inventory mechanism and the downstream distribution system.
In ideal conditions, if the distribution system had kicked in after the harvest, this amount of stock would not have been sitting around with nowhere to go. There has to be greater coordination among the states and the Centre on the foodgrain distribution system, which, at present, is a major sticking point. With so many people below the poverty line, it makes for very easy politics to say that they should be given grain free.
This would, however, be detrimental to the economy in the long run. This makes it imperative for the government to ensure that it is not pushed into a corner by the courts on the disbursal of grain. But for the moment, it has the unenviable task of making the issue of food distribution more palatable to both the public and the courts.
COOKING THE BOOKS
Degrees in gastronomy could mean a whole new tasting menu to tease your palate. Take a bite of that
Don't know your puli pithe from a pochampally? Or are you the type who has given up on ever finding the solution for ending global hunger and are more interested in the delicate art of making absolutely sure that your food is well fed instead? Or even the kind who couldn't be bothered about the anomalous expansion of water but would stand by with a thermometer to test the temperature of your poached eggs? Well then, forget engineering courses and newage development degrees, and save that student loan for the soon-to-be-set-up culinary institute at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), which is getting ready to offer degrees, a doctorate even, in regional cuisines of the country and beyond. The courses are intended not just as a lifeline to dying cooking styles and cuisines across the country, but also to tie in with the booming hospitality and tourism sectors, as well as expand into serious research on social and cultural anthropology.
Think about it, this could well be the beginning of an academic crusade against all the Chinjabi joints, in all the world, which have been serving up that gastronomic travesty called Chicken Manchurian to the hungry masses. No more. For surely the soya sauce-drenched sight of mounds of chowmein by the roadside are sacrilege in an age of now-you-see-them-nowyou-don't molecular portions of unpronounceable delights.
Feeding your food before you eat it is the new way forward for sure, with questions like whether that Kobe beef steak on your plate comes from a cow who's downed the customary pint and had a good sake massage before it is served up for your pleasure demanding urgent answers. After stone and iron, we are now in the age of food that demands that all chickens must roam unshackled, what with free range eggs being all the rage with the discerning masses. Still, we think it is a good idea.
Something you can chew on perhaps.
. HINDUSTAN TIMES
IS RAHUL READY?
So, what do we know about Rahul Gandhi?
We know he's 40, the same age his father Rajiv was when he became Prime Minister of India.
We know he's an alumni of Modern School, New Delhi; Doon School, Dehradun; Rollins College (B.A.), Florida; and Trinity College (M.Phil in development studies), Cambridge (in Britain). We know he was an average student.
We know he went by a name he will never use again, Raul Vinci, when he worked three years at a global management company in Cambridge (in America).
We know that since he became an MP six years ago, he has moved slowly, gradually easing into being general secretary of India's grand old party.
We know he is "as his dogged reorganisation of the Congress grassroots shows" imbued with decidedly unIndian political traits of setting goals and attention to detail and execution.
We know he's rather personable and routinely winds up atop those tiresome lists of 'men you would like to date', though we don't know whether, as the rumours go, he really has a six-pack.
All this is pretty common knowledge, but it isn't enough if this young man stakes his claim to take charge of our collective destinies on a day that may rapidly be approaching. Much as I abhor dynastic politics, large swathes of India embrace it, as our past and present indicate. The latest poll on the issue, conducted by India Today last month, showed that 29 per cent of India wants Rahul to be our next prime minister (at second place, 11 per cent, the incapacitated Atal Bihari Vajpayee).
Polls and the people they poll are notoriously fickle, but they are indicators of the moment. The mood of the moment is Rahul.
So, what else should you know about him?
You should know he listens a lot. Though no one whom he's brainstormed with is willing to be identified, I gather that his political interests centre on tribal affairs, panchayati raj (local self-governance) and their links to the growing Maoist insurgency. Earlier this year, he quietly slipped into the Indian Rural Management Institute (IRMA), Anand, Gujarat, and spent a day listening to presentations on panchayati raj and the insurgency.
You should know that he wins over people quickly. One expert I spoke to recently was leery of the Gandhi family's dynastic politics, explaining how it clashed with the local self-governance ideals Rahul and his mother Sonia were trying to promote. As I was talking to him in Delhi, a call came from 12 Tughlak Lane. Would the professor please spend an hour with Rahul later that day? The chat went on for nearly three hours and after it the professor said: "Well, I must tell you, he seems really sincere and knows a great deal about the subject." He would rather I not mention the subject.
You should know that Rahul is not the politically naïve Gandhi he's often made out to be. There was no greater evidence than his I-am-your-soldier-in-Delhi speech to the tribals of Orissa's Niyamgiri Hills, two days after confidant and Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh denied a mining lease on tribal land and struck down the expansion of Vedanta Resources' aluminium refinery. Though it's a good thing for India's long-abused tribals, forests and the laws that govern them, there is a political design to Ramesh's environmental crackdown. To determine if Rahul's politics are not self-serving, we must now see if this crackdown widens into Congress-ruled states.
You should know that Rahul stays away from anything that might mar his widening appeal. This is why he flew to Leh during the devastating mudslide, but stayed away from the troubled Valley to its south. In these days of Kashmiri trauma and anger, a Rahul visit to a couple of Srinagar hospitals, some time with families of dead teenagers would have had an impact. Before the current intifada, two young Kashmiri men came to Delhi in response to his call for a few good men. It's another matter that the two men were picked up by the police for being Kashmiri, and are probably throwing stones now.
So, after a prime minister who shepherded an era of and talked about little other than economic growth (now at 8.8 per cent), we may get a leader who may focus on those left behind. In a selfish nation devoid of empathy for its poor and damned, this is welcome. But India is equally a young, entrepreneurial country with superpower dreams. It also requires clear political signposts, to roads allowed or forbidden, hammered into the ground by the man who would be king. Rahul and his mother's pro-poor proclivities are causing contradictions in the government because what they are thinking is not being articulated.
Rahul's carefully crafted air of inaccessibility could backfire. This is not the India of Indira, or Rajiv. There are still a few million who cannot identify their prime minister "even, incredibly, their own states" and so might vote in any Gandhi. But this is a nation whose politics are increasingly determined by a revolution of relentlessly rising expectations. These expectations require quick, clear, articulate expressions of governance, which the government isn't presently delivering. Rahul's silence makes it worse. One 60-plus Congress minister said to me: "Brother, why you, many of us do not know what he thinks about many things."For a nation sworn to a democratic destiny, that isn't good enough.
A LOSE-LOSE SITUATION
The Jammu and Kashmir problem has blighted our existence since Independence, draining us politically, diplomatically and militarily. Who should be blamed for this depressing balance sheet and in what measure? The actors have been Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris. Pakistan has used various means to either wrest Kashmir from us or destabilise it.
Pakistan largely absorbed the Muslim majority areas of Kashmir into Pakistan in 1948 itself when it occupied 2/5ths of the state by force. It obtained vital strategic gains as a result it got contiguity with China and India lost it with Afghanistan. Realism would have dictated a compromise solution, but hatred stumps rationality. By knocking on UN doors against Pakistan's aggression, India exposed the J&K issue to the cross-currents of the Cold War, the price of which we continue to pay with calls for a settlement "in accordance with the wishes of its people", a formula that tilts against India's territorial integrity, undercuts its secular polity already under stress by rising Islamic extremism around, besides giving terror-promoting Pakistan room to continue even today its cynical pretensions of only "giving political, diplomatic and moral support for the right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination".
India has remained on the defensive since and has not found the policy mix of diplomacy, force, military superiority and clarity of purpose and discourse to settle Kashmir. By allowing third party intervention, India itself has emboldened separatist forces in the past. In 1972, with the Simla Agreement, India bungled again in not clinching a final settlement. From December 1989 onwards cross-border terrorism has ravaged J&K. India has had no choice but to maintain a large security presence in J&K, not only on the LoC but also in the populated areas to maintain law and order and counter terrorist activity. This has exposed India to the opprobrium of oppressing the Kashmiris, of acting as an occupying power, of violating the human rights of Kashmiris, of denying veritable democracy to the Kashmiris by rigging elections etc. The Centre has subsidised J&K but its development has suffered because of continuing instability and violence.
The Kashmiris too are culpable for the chronic disorder and disarray in the state. They have constantly exploited India's discomfiture at the hands of Pakistan and international circles to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir. They have ignored India's geo-political concerns and threats to its security from hostile powers.
Instead of shoring up India's secular and democratic vocation in their own interest, they have preferred a highly self-centred pursuit of their relations with India's polity. Even in the most challenging external and internal circumstances, India has largely preserved J&K's autonomy, but the Kashmiris choose to overplay their hand on this issue. The separatist leaders confabulate openly with Pakistani leaders and work against national interest. They dialogue with India's enemy but not with Delhi.
They have let their 'Kashmiriyat' signifying a composite, non-religious view of their identity to become increasingly Muslim-centric. There is little anguish among the Kashmiri Muslims about the expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. The Sufi tradition is losing ground to obscurantist Arabised religious thinking.
The stone-pelting youngsters inspired by the Palestinian intifada reveal how the new generation Kashmiris look at their equation with India, and how their conduct is being influenced by toxic pan-Islamic propaganda networks and protest techniques. The narrative of Kashmiri victimhood has become narcissistic and tiresome. The biggest victim is, in fact, India. If the Kashmiris feel alienated from the rest of India because of the actions of the government, the people of India have reason to feel estranged from them because of their constant spurning of India. The Kashmiris fail to understand that they cannot win if India has to lose.
Kanwal Sibal is a former Foreign Secretary. The views expressed by the author are personal.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A LIFE MORE ORDINARY
For over two months now, students have not gone to school in the Kashmir Valley except on a few rare days of lull. Strikes and curfews have ensured that the schooling in the state has effectively crumbled. In an atmosphere so volatile and violent, when their own peers are getting hurt and killed in political protests, Kashmiri children and young people have no option but to stay away from school, even as their parents worry about the consequences.
Now, Delhi Public School in Srinagar has flown 155 Class XII students to Delhi to make sure that they are up to scratch for the all-important board exams. Several other private schools in Srinagar have been uploading lessons and assignments on the Web. These are, obviously, solutions available to the relatively affluent other children have no choice as their daily rhythm between home and classroom is suddenly suspended, their school-year interrupted and marred. The state government has clucked over the situation and promised to arrange special classes to compensate for lost time, but that remains a vague promise until some normalcy is restored. Some separatist leaders, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, have suggested that teachers volunteer their services, and urged students to improvise their own group-schooling arrangements. Others, like Asiya Andrabi, show less sympathy.
In a tense Kashmir, those who can afford it have long devised their own solutions, sending their children out of the Valley. But what about the majority that cannot insulate their families from their conflict-torn environment? A generation that grew up in the troubled decades after 1989 is now venting its rage and frustration on the streets. And if this new cohort of school-going children is also pitched into crisis, there will be no diluting their resentment. In order to address Kashmir's estrangement, it is vital that life resume its ordinary shape for these children.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Mamata Banerjee, Union railway minister, does not care about the railways her primary and, some would say, only charge at the moment. Yet, she is most willing to extract every bit of personal service she can out of the same. Managing coalition partners in an age of delicately balanced, multi-party coalition governments is difficult and, unsurprisingly, regional satraps get away with immensely more latitude than they should. Nor has the Congress, as leader of the UPA, been doing as much as it should to rein them in. But then, Banerjee is in a class of her own. Just how many railway accidents, major and minor, have already happened on her watch? And what has she done to redress the battered image and operational capability of the railways? She does not even bother to attend office as a rule.
Yet, this same indifferent, absentee railway minister deployed two companies of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) for her security during her August 9 rally at Lalgarh. If that is evidence of her readiness to treat the railways as her personal fiefdom, it was not her only offence. The RPF deployment at Lalgarh was made without informing the Union home ministry and the West Bengal police the latter being officially responsible for her security and maintenance of order at the venue, the former being responsible for clearing any deployment of Central paramilitary personnel. Banerjee didn't think seeking that permission was necessary, or perhaps she forgot the RPF is a Central paramilitary force. However, it is not as if she welcomes calls for deploying or dispatching the RPF elsewhere. She had refused to spare RPF personnel for poll duty in Jharkhand and Maharashtra, till the home ministry had to categorically ask her to. She didn't think it worthwhile to release RPF personnel for an FBI-sponsored training programme on railway security, of all things, in the US.
Banerjee's style is reminiscent of feudal politics at a time when our national politics has long begun directing itself out of old moulds towards certain solidifying aspirational goals. Shorn of any sense of responsibility to one's charge as a cabinet minister, to one's cabinet colleagues, to one's constituents, to those using the service one's ministry provides. Above all, Banerjee's politics is oblivious to protocol and political decency.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
AGAINST THE GRAIN
On many occasions the point is made that the Supreme Court of India is the most powerful court in the world. The ways in which its powers of judicial review and intervention have been widened in scope are a fascinating study. And this power has been based on the higher judiciary's credibility to be an institution of last recourse in matters relating to the functioning of the executive. Credibility is an unquantifiable thing, and the Supreme Court has been careful to preserve that credibility by not doing anything that could invite rebuff. In fact, just a few weeks ago the Chief Justice of India was firm in saying that the courts were not getting into the business of running the country.
This is why there's concern over the Supreme Court's "order" on distributing foodgrain free "to people who deserve it". A bench of the court, hearing a case related to corruption in the Food Corporation of India, took strong exception to Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's recent remark that it would not be possible to distribute foodstock free instead of allowing it to rot. The bench asked the Centre's law officer to tell the minister that it had not made a "suggestion", as Pawar put it in his August 11 comment, but an "order". On the face of it, the main point is unexceptionable. There is grain rotting in FCI godowns. Surely it's heartless and unconscionable to use the pretext of bureaucratic procedure to resist giving this grain to the poor. Surely! Opposition MPs in Parliament certainly thought so. One MP brought a packet of grain to Parliament House, while for some others it was just a logical step to call for Pawar's dismissal. Pawar, for his part, clarified that he would honour the court's decision.
Lost in this din is detail. There is confusion about what grain could be distributed. Also, the court makes a larger point on the FCI's storage problems. And the court's observation that the government procure what it can store and that the government conduct a fresh survey to determine the population below the poverty line is taking it into the executive's domain. India's food procurement, storage and public distribution record is problematic. It's bad in policy and execution. Fixing it is not just a complex undertaking, it is also bound to be political. Therefore, is it advisable for the court to get into that terrain?
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
WHEN TWO BECOME ONE
Wistful suggestions of the synergy that could emerge from an alliance between the BJP and the Congress are sometimes voiced, from well-meaning members of the chattering classes. The idea is canvassed in the context of the fractured electoral mandates in recent years, which hampers smooth governance and the orderly functioning of Parliament. The argument is that the two rival parties have actually much in common in their economic philosophy, social composition and foreign policy. In fact, sometimes they seem to have more in common with each other than with their allies. That's why some view the recent passing of the nuclear liability bill as a watershed of sorts the BJP cooperated with the ruling party in getting the bill through, and the government backtracked on numerous clauses to accommodate the main opposition party.
There were pressing reasons for both parties to forsake their traditionally antagonistic positions. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not hide his anxiety that the bill be cleared before US President Barack Obama's visit this November. In fact, the PM appeared more concerned about ensuring the speedy passage of the nuclear liability bill than either the proposed women's reservation bill or the food security bill that the Congress proclaims the landmark legislation of UPA-II. After days of wrangling, the ruling party agreed to drop several contentious provisions in the draft and accepted all the BJP's suggestions.
On the day the agreement over the nuclear bill was finalised, evidence of this new bonhomie was visible at BJP MP Shahnawaz Hussain's iftaar party. The prime minister turned up along with several key ministerial colleagues, obligingly posed for photographs with Hussain's family, and even recited a couplet. Unless thrown by a Vajpayee or an Advani, very few Congresspersons normally show up at such BJP dos . For decades the Congress, along with most other parties, has treated BJP politicians as pariahs. The politics of untouchability is so pronounced that in the last administration, the Congress refused to ask for the BJP's support for the pension bill, even though it had been originally proposed during the NDA regime. Even earlier this year, the government attempted to amend the Constitution and reserve 33 per cent seats for women in legislatures without bothering to first discuss the modalities with the main opposition. The Congress later climbed down when it realised that it could not get the legislation through without the BJP, given that the Mandal parties were dead-set against it.
The BJP recently displayed similar maturity in eschewing its Pavlovian response of opposing every government move on the assumption that its primary role is to embarrass the government at any cost. With the nuclear liability bill, the BJP was wiser from its experience in rejecting outright the Indo-US nuclear deal of 2008, its reservations stemming largely from the fond hope that UPA-I would fall over the issue. The subsequent parliamentary poll indicated that the BJP's opportunism had alienated a large section of its middle-class, urban voters, who turned to the Congress.
It would nevertheless be far-fetched to compare this heartening instance of consultation and cooperation with examples from elsewhere, like the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, traditional rivals, becoming partners in government in the UK. It is not really a viable option for either the Congress or the BJP to shed their longstanding prejudices and traditional rivalries, even if the Congress appeared to be batting on the same side as the BJP, by asserting that terror has no colour and declaring saffron terror a misnomer. There may be some thawing in the relationship, but one may expect to see the knives being sharpened over several contentious issues in the near future. For instance, the court judgment on the title deeds of the Babri Masjid and the decision on the perpetrators of the Godhra coach fire expected this month, are bound to see the fragile and strictly temporary truce fall apart. Significantly, while the BJP supported the civil liability bill, it effectively blocked other government legislation such as the amendments to the enemy property bill, the Wakf bill, the prevention of torture bill and the education tribunals bill in the recent Parliament session.
To retain their own constituencies and spread their influence, neither parties can afford to seem too chummy. The Congress and the BJP are direct rivals for power in most states. The former's dependence on the Gandhi dynasty and the latter's subservience to the RSS ensure that the two can never tango together for long. Nevertheless, a new breed of parliamentary leaders from both parties has managed to establish some degree of personal rapport, which has transcended the traditional mistrust. The BJP's leaders in Parliament, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, are more open to judging individual issues on merit rather than adhering to a narrow doctrine of perennial obstructionism, which in any case meets public disapproval. The nuclear civil liability bill could portend a new era of constructive engagement in politics.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
HE ART OF GIVING
SUNIL JAIN POSTED ONLINE: THU SEP 02 2010, 03:48 HRS
The Supreme Court's order, in the PUCL case on corruption in the Food Corporation of India, telling the government to distribute foodgrain free instead of allowing it to rot in godowns is curious. It is intuitively appealing since there is no sense in letting grain rot, or letting rats eat it as Arundhati Roy famously said, while there are people starving or at least malnourished. The order, however, is almost impossible to implement and also runs contrary to the view taken by the courts on so many occasions we will not intervene in policy matters unless there is some mala fide. While the agriculture minister has said he will implement the order, he would do well to read it carefully since it could well come back to haunt both him and the government.
But first, a larger point. It is well known the government mismanages the food economy it didn't offload stocks as it should have earlier this year when prices were rising unchecked, it allows the foodgrains to rot, it has stocks well above the buffer levels, it then sells them at a loss to exporters in order to clear the godowns for the new crop, the list goes on. But here's the problem. If the government was capable of meeting the SC's directions, we wouldn't even have been in this situation today. If the government was in a position to ensure the PDS worked, that it had enough PDS outlets, most of the grain procured would have been distributed. The PDS is bust, so the grain has to rot. Nor can the government plan how much is excess and how much will rot. It cannot, it simply has no idea offtake of wheat and rice from the PDS, for all schemes, rose from 41.4 million tonnes in 2004-05 to 42.1 million tonnes and then fell to 39.5 million tonnes in 2008-09. Logically, the procurement should have fallen it has, however, risen from 41.6 million tonnes in 2004-05 to 55.5 million tonnes in 2008-09.
The FCI, the court has said, must "procure only that much foodgrains which can be properly preserved". No one can object to that. But as long as the government is bound to buy stocks at the support price, it just has to buy the grain how do you stop this? Ideally, the FCI should have its own godowns, but we know that isn't happening and the system of getting outside agencies to store foodgrains, the court says, "should end forthwith" since the Justice Wadhwa report of Orissa had identified this as "one of the main thrusts of diversion of PDS foodgrains". Again, some numbers will help. Against the procurement of 55 million tonnes in 2008-09, FCI's total capacity to store was just 25.3 million tonnes. If this isn't bad enough, FCI's own capacity is just 15.1 million tonnes. Obviously the food is going to rot, and if the hired space is done away with, things will get even worse. Is the government willing to accept an eminently sensible, but politically infeasible, solution of fixing the delivery system before putting more into it?
One wonders if the agriculture minister, or anyone else in authority, has a view on the court's direction on how to tackle bogus PDS cards presumably the same thing applies to NREGA cards and so on. After citing a newspaper report saying there are 250,000 bogus cards in Orissa alone, the court says, "By a newspaper advertisement, a warning be issued asking all the bogus card-holders to surrender the bogus cards forthwith, in any event within two weeks of the date of advertisement, otherwise criminal prosecution may be initiated against the bogus card-holders. We have to develop a culture of zero tolerance towards corruption." Since the next hearing on the matter has been set for 2 pm on September 6, it would be interesting to see the government's response to what the court feels is a relatively easy job just requires some political will, that's all.
This, of course, is a lesson to all those in the government and its conscience keepers in the NAC. Since the plan seems to be to legislate more rights right to education, right to food, right to work, right to vote Congress (in the works?), perhaps even the right to happiness (as Surjit Bhalla says) the question to be asked is how the government plans to deal with the effects of it not being able to deliver. Right now, it may still be possible to appeal the SC order, but once the right to universal access to foodgrains (a hot topic of debate within the NAC) comes about, there is no escape. The thought of getting into contempt situations on a regular basis should send a chill up the collective spine of the bureaucracy.
It also highlights the essential contradiction in government policy in UPA-II. If more LPG connections are to be given, especially to the poor, how come the number of kerosene card-holders isn't coming down? If more people are to be covered under NREGA and get a minimum wage, why is the PDS coverage rising and why are we having a debate on universalising PDS if they have the money, why can't they buy the food?
The solution, of course, has been staring us in the face for several years now: cash transfers. Now that the UIDAI is close to becoming a reality, why not just transfer cash to people, forget job guarantees that don't develop infrastructure or subsidised food in the PDS. Link the UIDAI's fingerprints to bank accounts and transfer the funds.
The larger point, of course, is that of a collapse in governance. Once there's a vacuum, someone steps in the army in the case of Pakistan and, as we've seen in the PDS case in India, the judiciary. With increasing cases of corruption, we're just one step away from the courts looking at contracts. Chew on that.
The writer is opinion editor, 'The Financial Express' firstname.lastname@example.org
MODERATE TERMS, HARDLINE VOICE
After three months of intense street protests, 65 killings and the complete failure of the elected government, Kashmir's biggest hawk who spearheads this latest campaign has now emerged as a formidable voice of moderation. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, considered by New Delhi to be the biggest hurdle in its forward movement on Kashmir has made a significant move, providing the Centre with a rare chance to directly engage with separatist hardliners and thus lay the foundations of a meaningful and comprehensive process to resolve Kashmir.
Geelani's statement on August 31 exhibits a noteworthy downscaling of his traditional position on engagement with New Delhi a phenomenon that's always blamed for the failure of the Centre's dialogue with moderate factions within the separatist Hurriyat. In a clear departure, Geelani did not seek the involvement of Pakistan or make New Delhi's prior acceptance of the right to self-determination a condition for beginning engagement. In fact, for the first time ever, Geelani's statement didn't even mention Islamabad or its role in breaking the current impasse in Kashmir. An objective analysis of Geelani's single page statement will reveal that the biggest hawk in Kashmir's separatist politics has watered down his position significantly on the issue of direct engagement with New Delhi even as his language may still sound hawkish when compared with the euphemisms that doves among separatists use.
The five demands that he has made of the Centre begin with his long-term posture of acceptance of Kashmir as an "international dispute" an issue that could be resolved by a slight shift in rhetoric from New Delhi, rather than through any major change in stance.
The other four demands are linked to creating mere atmospherics and are not only doable well within the current political climate, but necessary, too. Geelani has sought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's public commitment that the troops on ground should be asked for absolute restraint. "The prime minister must commit publicly and ensure practically that henceforth no killings and no arrests shall take place. It should also discipline troops and order them to stop humiliating people and destroying public and private property," Geelani said. The next demand is release of "our children and political prisoners" besides "withdrawing cases against youth that are pending in courts." Then Geelani sought a "process of punishing the perpetrators of state violence" and asks for "conviction" of those responsible for the recent 65 killings during the street protests.
Geelani also besought New Delhi to "announce and begin the process of complete demilitarisation, to be monitored by a credible agency". Earlier, Geelani had made demilitarisation a pre-condition, but this time around, he wants New Delhi to "announce" and "begin" the process another shift. This demand, with a slight change in semantics, has been put forth not only by the moderate Hurriyat but the People's Democratic Party and the National Conference as well. While the separatists and the PDP called it demilitarisation, the ruling NC termed it as "troop withdrawal."
These demands are, thus, neither new nor limited to the separatists alone. The moderate separatists led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, as well as both the major mainstream political parties have been insisting on these measures to create a conducive atmosphere for talks. The choice of language in Geelani's statement may sound hawkish but the content is an absolute departure from his earlier pre-conditions for any engagement.
Remember, Geelani has always been against any direct engagement with New Delhi, making Pakistan's involvement compulsory for any dialogue. This time, though, Geelani has sought these five steps to "facilitate the creation of a conducive atmosphere enabling the Jammu and Kashmir leadership to meet, consult and consolidate public opinion for the peaceful resolution of Kashmir dispute." This provides a rare chance for the separatists across the hawk-dove divide to begin a process which can help New Delhi to engage them in a credible and comprehensive process of dialogue, rather than talking with one faction which in itself has been a recipe for disaster because of the opposition to such engagements from within.
Now that Geelani has spoken, New Delhi needs to seriously look at his five demands and begin a process that would not only find a way out of protests in Kashmir but also lay foundations for a political resolution. The hawk has finally come around to faith in a drawn-out dialogue rather than expecting New Delhi to deal directly with the Azadi and accession issue. If responded to constructively, this can open up a new window in Kashmir considering that Geelani currently enjoys far more confidence among Kashmir's people than any other leader. Besides, Geelani's overture also offers a rare opportunity for an across-the-board political consensus, not only among separatists but among major mainstream parties too.
For Geelani's new opening gambit is a set of demands which resonate with every political party in the Valley, including the ruling National Conference. The ball is now clearly in the Centre's court and what shape Kashmir's separatist movement takes will depend on how New Delhi reacts to Geelani.
SIZING UP TO THE SMALL SCREEN
The small screen can cut people down to size. Especially film actors. You realise this once you've watched them acting on television. It's different, boss. When they're the subject of a news report (if you can call it that), the camera and the story inflates them out of proportion. All of Monday, Salman Khan dominated Hindi news channels with "Salman ka drama", as Aaj Tak referred to it. They were obsessed with the actor and his Katrina Kaif relationship (what relationship?). India TV projected him as a weightlifter, carrying cement bags. He-man, He-man.
When an actor in a TV series plays a character (not himself), it's different. Anil Kapoor. was on 24 (AXN), playing President Omar Hassan of the fictional Islamic Republic of Kamistan. For all the stature of his office, Kapoor was suddenly diminished. Not at all Mr India. He acted well. But, because we're used to seeing him as a hero sometimes a bumbling one but a hero, nevertheless to see him play the victim of an assassination plot was difficult to accept; will take some getting used to.
Match fixing, on the other hand, is an old buddy. So the News of the World sting operation that we saw once,
twice and a million times thereafter, was no more of a surprise than rain during the monsoon. All of Sunday and Monday and Tuesday it was "spot fixing", interspersed with Salman Khan, A.R. Rahman's Commonwealth Games song and comparisons of it with Shakira's "Waka Waka" (Zee News). Shakira won.
The star of the no-ball show was not the ball or the no-ball, not the Pakistani cricketers allegedly involved in the fixed no-balls, nor Mazhar Majeed, the alleged fixer. It was Dhiraj Dixit, an innocuous-looking Indian with the attractive Pakistani model/actress Veena Malik as his co-star (that's why the French always say cherchez la femme). Dixit's was an extraordinary performance: he spoke often, at length but you never quite understood him. Frustrating. Ask Rahul Kanwal of Headlines Today. On Monday evening, he tried every trick known to a Spanish inquisitor and more, to elicit clear answers from Dixit on his involvement with the Pakistani players, Malik who had accused him of match-fixing, the spot fixing, etc., and received answers which left his nice big eyes popping with incredulity. Eventually, Dixit took off the earphones and simply refused to continue the exchange. Kanwal thought he had fixed his man that his media trial had nailed the suspect. So did we; but minutes later we found Dixit in Arnab Goswami's court (Times Now) defending himself in equally unintelligible language. Had he ditched Rahul for Arnab?
To the average viewer, the News of the World video juxtaposed with no balls during the Lord's Test was riveting and irrefutable proof of "ball fixing" if nothing more. The Veena Malik interview to Pakistani news channel Express News was a revelation. Here was an anchor, dishevelled (unlike our carefully suited, coiffed anchors) who didn't mind letting his guest talk. He was calm, he gave Malik a long and patient hearing without interruptions. He let her tell us her story without telling it for her. He made brief interjections, not full length question-answers. A completely novel and delightful experience. Let's import him.
Boria Majumdar illustrated the propensity of Indian anchors and commentators (and maybe Indians in general), to hector and harangue at high speed. The faster he spoke the less we understood. A pity since he had something to say. On Monday afternoon (Times Now) he was no more coherent than Dixit. Slow down old chap, slow down.
The other striking feature of "The Fix" was our smugness. Anchors and commentators, former Indian players across Hindi and English news channels (so we're not singling out any) had a supercilious air of superiority: this could happen only in Pakistan, never India. 'Should the Pakistan team be banned?' was the gleeful question. When Rajdeep Sardesai, during an exhaustive debate on Monday night (CNN-IBN), highlighted the Indian betting angle and then you saw Dixit tying himself up in knots, you did wonder whether the smugness was not entirely misplaced.
THE FIBBERS OFF THE FIELD
From the time they were exposed as cheats four years ago over the ball-tampering issue at The Oval, there has been a growing stench about modern Pakistan cricket which has developed the habit of eschewing openness and with it, integrity.
That was a moment when Darrell Hair, and the strict and fair umpiring levels employed, were questioned by those who knew they had been fiddling with the ball; then they lied about it to escape being shown up as villains in a dishonest caper, all against the tenets of fair play.
With such a background, it should surprise no one that such Luddites as these have again openly displayed how
their management is as dysfunctional, maladjusted and incompetent as it has been since the early 1990s. Ijaz Butt, the current president of the Pakistan Cricket Board is as fundamentally flawed in his administration as he was over the disastrous terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team's bus in Lahore in March 2009.
In the latest series of events in England, bowlers are said to have been involved in a no-ball betting scam. It is the tip of an unsavoury pile of garbage that has been collecting on its doorstep unmonitored for years that has only become worse post Ijaz Butt, a pretentious Test player whose one moment of fame on the field was as a substitute.
In Pakistan's first tour of the West Indies in 1957-58, during the third Test in Kingston, Jamaica, Butt managed to run out Conrad Hunte for 260 in his partnership of 446 with Sir Garfield Sobers for the second wicket. Sobers went in to score the then world record of 365 not out in a West Indies total of 790 for three, declared. Recalling the incident, the warm-hearted Hunte said how he and Sobers had forgotten Butt had been brought on for Saeed Ahmed, who had temporarily gone off for minor finger injury repairs.
Butt, in his new avatar, says that without "proof", there will be no suspension of players. Such an interesting premise he has adopted here, as Pakistan try to cover with bluff and jingoism their already tarnished image.
Back in June, during the Asia Cup, there was an incident where Mohammad Amir was shown on television doing something he shouldn't be doing: he had a mobile telephone clamped to his right ear just before going out to bat against Sri Lanka at Rangiri Stadium, in Dambulla. As it was caught, during a lapse of security, by a non-rights television channel camera pointed in the bowler's direction, it came out, and became an embarrassing moment. What a hissy fit it caused as well.
Caught in the act, management naturally tried to fib their sordid way out of this one.
"Oh, he was adjusting his helmet," was the official excuse.
The point of this is that that was the moment that Amir was being instructed by the new con-artist in the M.K. Gupta mould, Mazhar Majeed. If it can be taken at face value, the following is repeated from the News of The World where Majeed talks about the Asia Cup game.
Majeed: "We don't do results that often. The last one we did was against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup which was about two months ago. And you get a script as well."
Neither the Asia Cricket Council nor Sri Lanka Cricket have kicked up a fuss so far over this claim of how a game was fixed. The SLC hierarchy have a problem of their own to handle, with player indiscipline.
Rameez Raja, the former Pakistan captain and board chief executive, remembered on the BBC programme Test Match Special how, in Sri Lanka in 1994, team manager Intikhab Alam confided to him how legends of the game were "fixing" matches on that tour.
Weeks later, in South Africa, Salim Malik, peering at Hansie Cronjé with his characteristic obsequious smirk, sought confirmation from Cronjé at Newlands, in Cape Town, whether "John had called with an offer". This was January 10, 1995, as the two captains went out to the toss. Cronjé later admitted to a feeling of embarrassment at having to acknowledge there had been a call from "John". That was the point at which Cronjé had crossed the line. Since then they have been allowed to get away with a variety of misdeeds; it contributed to an institutional culture in which it is easier to deny and lie than tell the truth.
Butt, as did Javed Miandad, has an ego the size of the Himalayas. They bluster their way through while the corruption mounts, but little is done to curb the growing problems. Chris Broad and Simon Taufel still have nights of cold sweat over the way they were strafed in the Sri Lanka players' van, and left like "sitting ducks" on March 3 last year. These were claims Butt and other PCB officials also lied about. Why did it take 15 months or longer before pressure was brought to bear by the International Cricket Council on the report which condemned the PCB's role in March 3 security? Remember, seven policemen were left dead on the streets of Lahore; all the terrorists escaped.
This year, to give Pakistan a "home" venue, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) staged a "spirit of cricket series" with Australia. And this is how the team behaves, as well as its discredited management.
If cricket is to become a respected international sport, it needs to have a transparent image, not one where bookies can manipulate results. It is why all South Asia-linked agents need to be investigated by the ICC and register with them, as a way to get rid of the ogres and match-fixers now poisoning the game.
The writer, a cricket journalist for over 50 years, currently lives in Sri Lanka
RISE OF THE MACHINES
Joining the debate over whether electronic voting machines are tamper-proof, the RSS has argued that the Election Commission is being unnecessarily sensitive and cagey about EVM-related questions. The lead editorial in the latest issue of the RSS journal Organiser says that if the EC is convinced that EVMs cannot be not tampered with, then there is no reason to get embarrassed about opening them up to public scrutiny.
Not just the editorial. Organiser also carries a front page article by G.V.L. Narasimha Rao a known critic of the voting machines which talks about "flaws" in EVMs and the arrest of a Hyderabad-based researcher who it said had demonstrated "loopholes" in the machines. The article, titled 'Why is Congress so touchy on EVMs?' says the arrest raises serious questions about government intent. He says while it seemed the whole issue is merely the result of a "recalcitrant Commission" standing on prestige about the infallibility of its EVMs, recent statements by some central government officials that all EVM critics are engaged in a "conspiracy" to discredit the Indian electoral system is a charge with serious political overtones.
"With its desperate actions, the ECI and the government stand totally exposed and are betraying nervous signs. While earlier they seemed only guilty of being ignorant about EVM vulnerabilities, the latest actions raise question marks about their integrity and intent," he says.
The RSS sees a political motive behind Home Minister P. Chidambaram's talk of the saffron terror "phenomenon". In expected fashion, it disassociates itself from Hindutva terror but seeks to know whether a few such "alleged sporadic cases that took place during a period of 14 months can become a phenomenon?" In an article in Organiser, RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav argues that there is no such thing, and that neither the RSS nor any other known Hindu group ever espoused or supported terrorism.
He says the home minister, by talking about saffron terror, could be either trying to please his detractors within the party like Digvijaya Singh, or aiming for the coming Bihar elections. Madhav argues that the Congress might use this saffron terror tag to create unease in the ruling alliance in Bihar. Interestingly, he also wonders who exactly "created" the phenomenon to begin with. Before 2007, he argues, there was no so-called saffron terrorism; and, despite Chidambaram's claims, there was none after the Malegaon arrests in 2008 either. It existed for just 14-15 months. And the most important players in this 14-15 month "phenomenon" were people like Colonel Srikant Purohit and a self-styled "swami" called Dayanand Pandey. "Who are they? How come a serving army officer and a Congress-created Swami became the main players in this so-called Hindu/saffron terror? Who is behind them?" he asks.
In line with the RSS' hard line on Kashmir, the Organiser carries articles, somewhat rhetorical, on the situation in the state. While one article argues that New Delhi should shed its policy of "appeasement" towards "fanatics and separatists" and listen to the "sane voice of nationalist elements amongst Muslims", another says the Centre must "tell the Kashmiris that if they want anything at any level, they must take back the over four lakh Kashmiri Pandits" evicted from the valley. "The Pandits are the original Kashmiris. They should be welcomed back with open arms, every one of them, and adequately rehabilitated. Unless that is done to the last Pandit, Delhi must make it clear that there will be no talks with anyone, including the separatists," it says.
Another article says the widely held perception is that the mob violence in the valley is a change of strategy from the ISI that has realised that sponsored terrorism has failed to produce the results desired. "Terrorism is now a dirty word throughout the globe that no longer evokes sympathy and support from the international community. The fall and demise of the LTTE is a case in point," it says.
Compiled by Manoj C.G.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
The Supreme Court order in the ongoing PUCL case against corruption in the Food Corporation of India has serious implications, for both the government and the judiciary. For one, despite expressly avowing that it will stay away from getting into the nitty gritty of running the government, the Court has gone and done precisely that. The Court is on the side of the angels when it suggests the government look at giving foodgrains to the poor for free or at vastly reduced rates, but this cannot be the Court's concernand just in case the government thought this was just a suggestion, the Court was quick to say to the government counsel "tell your minister that distribution of rotting foodgrain was a part of our order and not just an observation." If the Court is looking at the nitty gritty of government action in case of the PDSthe amount of foodgrains the FCI should be procuring, how this is to be stored, whether rented storage space should be usedwhat's to prevent this from creeping into other areas in the future? Going by the McKinsey estimate, 40% of fruits and vegetables rot, so will the Court direct they be given away free?
What makes the order worse, of course, is its timing. The Supreme Court's rebuking the government counsel, for instance, came the same day it admitted a curative petition on a judgement given by the Court itself in the Bhopal case. A few days ago, the environment ministry came down on the Vedanta mining project in Orissa, which, the company was happy to say, had been cleared by the Supreme Court. The Court clearance may have been subject to the company fulfilling several criteria, in terms of getting the tribals to agree to giving up their land, but the apex court did not have a monitoring mechanism to ensure these were metit's good that it didn't since getting into a monitoring mechanism is pretty much like getting into the act of governance itself, and is replete with a host of attendant dangers. Apart from others, there is always the danger of the government, through Parliament, over-ruling the judiciary. India needs a strong judiciary, protected from the government's interference, but for that to happen the judiciary also needs to exercise due restraint on the areas it wants to get into. It is already at odds with the government on issues like transparency and on appointment and removal of judges. The last thing it needs is to add to its woes.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
FINMIN VS RBI?
The report of the working group on foreign investment, commissioned by the ministry of finance and headed by UTI AMC chairman UK Sinha, has recommended a slew of welcome measures to simplify the complex maze that governs foreign investment (other than FDI) in India. For a start, it suggests a simple rule for distinguishing between FDI and other foreign investmentany investment that amounts to less than 10% in the total shares of a listed or unlisted entity will qualify as foreign portfolio investment, while any investment over 10% will qualify as FDI and will, therefore, be governed by the rules that govern FDI. The effort to simplify rules is evident in the committee's recommendations on the classification rules for different foreign investors. The committee suggests abolishing the distinction made made between FIIs, foreign venture capital investors and non-resident Indians, and the separate rules that currently govern investments made by each of these investor classes. And the committee recommends a single window clearance for all classes of investors. The suggested Qualified Foreign Investors framework requires all investment to be routed through qualified depository participants (DPs) that will have a global branch and agency network. The DPs will be required to enforce an OECD-standard of know-your-customer norms. Of course, the DPs themselves will be tested for 'fitness' by Sebi and will be required to adhere to higher capital requirements. Overall, the recommendations, if implemented, will prevent entities from exploiting regulatory arbitrage and prevent them from camouflaging themselves to fit into a more 'convenient' category.
But will the recommendations be accepted? That probably depends a lot on how RBI views these recommendations. Interestingly, RBI opted out of being represented on the UK Sinha committee. And there are reasons RBI will resist these recommendations. At the moment, RBI has almost unlimited powers to interpret FEMA while taking capital account measures. RBI need not even offer a written explanation for its decisions. The committee recommends that RBI be held more accountable for its decisions, not only through explanations but also through the institution of an appellate panel that can hear appeals against decisions made by RBI. The recommendations, if implemented fully, will also make it harder for RBI to use the exchange rate as an instrument of monetary policy. That is without doubt a good thing. The report has set the stage for perhaps another turf battle between the finance ministry and the central bank. In the interest of promoting foreign investment, the finance ministry should come out on the winning side.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
MINERAL DEFICIT IS ALL SET TO RISE
The refusal of bauxite mining rights at Niyamgiri in Orissa marks a major turning point in the battle for natural resources in India. The clash between the investors, who argue about the need for tapping the rich potential of India's natural resource base to meet the growing needs of the fast growing economy, and the opposing interests who focus primarily on needs for protecting the claims of tribals and the needs of environment has now continued for decades. But despite the growing resistance to these development efforts, its impact on the mineral economy has so far been limited as the claims of the developers have always received the first priority of the government, since the country has historically been a net importer of minerals and metals, with the gap between demand and supply steadily growing with the rapid increase in income and consumption.
In cases where the costs of large new projects to the existing claimants or to the environment were too high, the permission was usually withheld in the initial stages of the project itself. The refusal of claim for resources to existing projects or the stoppages of project operations once already initiated were rather very rare. In fact, the first stoppage of a major natural resource-based project happened only a few years ago when the Kudremukh iron ore facilities were closed down after court orders as the mining operations were likely to infringe on the national park in the area. So, the recent refusal of permission for mining of the rich bauxite reserves at Niyamgiri and the decision to stop NTPC's controversial 600-mw Loharinag Pala hydel project on Bhagirathi river in Uttarakhand by the group of ministers, with both coming in close succession, has raised serious concerns among investors.
This is because the recent developments imply that the preferred government policy of giving the first priority to development needs and protection of environment and tribal interests through compensatory schemes like forestation of denuded lands and rehabilitation projects seems to have been shelved, at least temporarily. Planning Commission numbers show that this strategy, which has been successfully implemented till now, has led to the displacement of 21.3 million people between 1951 and 1990 for building development projects, including irrigation dams, hydroelectric projects, open cast and underground coal mines, and mineral-based industries.
So what has suddenly happened to reverse the government's emphasis on the primacy of development that has served the country so well for the last few decades and what would be its implications? To answer the first question, many will point to the growing competition to placate large political groups. Other policy experts like NC Saxena, member of the NAC, attribute the toughening of the stance to the efforts being made by the industry to subvert the systems set up to protect the environment like the requirements for compensatory reforestation, which largely remains on paper, as he pointed out in FE earlier this week.
But what is more important is to understand the implications of such restrictive policies for the growing demand
for land and minerals, which has steadily grown over the years with domestic production going up from a bare Rs 58 crore in 1947 to Rs 30,000 crore in 2000-01 and rising more than four-fold to touch Rs 1,27,921 crore by 2009-10. But despite the zooming output the demand far exceeded supply with imports of Rs 5,13,632 crore being more than four times the exports of Rs 1,08,837 crore in 2008-09.
The demand for minerals is expected to zoom up even faster now (especially of coal and iron ore, the foremost minerals in quantitative terms) as India's $1-trillion plus economy grows rapidly over the next few decades. Projections made by various agencies show that the demand for coal is expected to go up from 731 million tonne in 2012 to as much as 2,600 million tonne by 2032, with demand growing at an annual rate of 6%. The production of iron ore, which surged up from 165 million tonne in 2005-06 to 226 million tonne in 2009-10, is expected to go up sharply as steel consumption doubles or even trebles over the next few decades.
However, the prospects of meeting the growing demand for minerals is not very encouraging, given the sharp change in this policy stance. This is already reflected in the mining sector, as the most recent numbers show that the growth of mines has declined from 2,942 in 2007-08 to 2,729 in 2009-10. The shrinkage is extensive, encompassing both metallic and non-metallic minerals, indicating the growing impact of the restrictive policies. Even in the case of coal, where surging demand has raised imports to 59 million tonne by 2008-09, the number of mines have stagnated at 507 over the last three years. A state-wise analysis of the major mineral-producing areas also shows that production has declined in most. Certainly, all this is bad news for an economy already hit by a growing mineral deficit in recent years.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
SEZS PACKED OFF IN THE DTC BUS
The government enacted the SEZ Act, 2005, to signal its commitment to a stable SEZ policy regime. However, the last five years have witnessed numerous controversies related to SEZs and in response, dilution of the policy through frequent amendments in the SEZ Rules. The Direct Taxes Code (DTC) Bill, 2010, is now seeking to dilute the incentive package offered in the SEZ Act by covering SEZs under the MAT and DDT regimes and replacing the profits-linked tax benefits with investment-linked ones. By virtue of Section 51 of the SEZ Act, the provisions of the Act have overriding effect on the provisions contained in any other Act. A pertinent question is: If an Act passed by Parliament is not implemented in its entirety, should it not be considered as the subversion of the sanctity of Parliament?
It may be noted that the draft DTC Bill, 2009, released by the finance ministry in August 2009 had offered tax incentives only for SEZ developers; no such provisions were made for SEZ units. The commerce ministry, which fathers the SEZ scheme, voiced strong objections to the Bill and made several representations until the revised version restored some relief to the SEZ units. This is a clear demonstration of how uncertainty dogs policymaking.
The DTC can have both pros and cons. While citing only pros, the government claims that the investment-linked incentive regime is more efficient and better targeted, and that it will result in less revenue loss. An important positive effect of the scheme will, however, be that it would expedite the process of setting up of at least those SEZs that have already been approved. Since the investment-linked incentive regime simply means that the specified businesses will get accelerated depreciation, this will be less preferred to the existing one by most business houses. So, they will attempt to take advantage of the time limits set in the DTC Bill for the new scheme to be operative. In the long run, however, the change in the incentive regime will not only signal uncertainty and lack of commitment to the policy but will also affect the attractiveness of SEZs. In today's global economy where capital is highly mobile across boundaries and incentives-based competition is intense, the dilution of incentives would probably mean that the SEZ would not attract investment. Further, the new regime will tend to favour more capital intensive industries. Employment intensive industries, including the IT sector, which have less capital requirement, would be adversely affected. This is in direct contradiction with the primary SEZ objective of generating employment.
Experience of the successful countries indicates that a strategic SEZ policy requires a clear vision, concerted efforts, continuity in efforts, pragmatic and flexible approach, dynamic learning, and institution-building. China, for instance, announced the SEZ programme as a means of absorbing new technologies and testing liberal economic policies not destined for the rest of the economy. SEZs were subject to lucrative preferential policies. With superior geographical locations, attractive incentives, excellent infrastructure and extensive administrative powers, SEZs developed great competitive advantages over other areas in attracting investment. Encouraged by the sound experience of SEZs, the Chinese government extended the programme and developed a myriad of different investment zones across the country with lucrative incentives. Over the past three decades more than 3,000 SEZs have emerged and they have become areas with the largest foreign investment and the highest economic growth in China. National level tax incentives have now been withdrawn but these zones are still offered provincial level incentives with clear directives of promoting high-tech industries irrespective of ownership.
The first export processing zone in Taiwan was set up in 1966 as part of the government policy of expanding exports of the labour-intensive products. Between 1989 and 1997, the focus shifted to capital intensive industry. During 1998-2001, EPZs moved up the value chain when the government encouraged technology intensive units in EPZs. Since 2001, the emphasis has been on logistic firms. In this evolutionary process, the government used well-targeted tax incentives as an important tool.
SEZs have made significant contribution to those economies where they have succeeded. And they have succeeded where there is strong leadership support to them. Zones fail because of the hesitation of the governments implementing the benefits and the terrible temptation/pressure to set down prescriptions of different kinds. In this fiercely competitive world, India cannot be complacent and will have to accelerate efforts to promote SEZs.
The author is associate professor, Department of Business Economics, Delhi University
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
A FILLIP FOR ULIP
On the first day of new Ulip guidelines for insurers, a mutual fund house announces, "No exit loads on our equity funds." Its investors could now walk in and out of the fund at will. The new Ulip rules, in contrast, have freshly mandated a 5-year lock-in for investments along with reduced charges. It's no coincidence and only highlights the positioning the two competing saving products have taken in the minds of the prospective investors. The revamped Ulipwith 5-year lock-in and reduced annual chargesis the new Robin Hood out to save investors from getting cheated and mis-sold. Irda's advertising campaign to call its toll-free number, if investors have complaints, complements its positioning strategy.
Also after the new guideline, the revamped Ulip product is the new saving product for the 'long-term' investors. Talk to an insurance agent, and he would say, "if investment horizon is five years or more, choose Ulips or else mutual funds."
Mutual funds, in contrast, have done nothing to differentiate their products. Their marketing managers usually launch four to five NFOs a year in good times, collect the money and sit tight. The biggest folly of mutual funds is that they want to be everything to everybody. They launch different types of schemes for all classes of investors and end up making the investor confused. Ulips, in contrast, usually have two to three portfolio options, making it simpler to understand. Simple products are easily sold.
Annual charges for Ulip policies (more than 10 years) are much lower than those for equity mutual funds. This definitely makes it a compelling long-term saving product. It is likely Ulip will now get even more popularity because now the 'bug' of higher front-loading charges has been removed. On the distribution side, it is still lucrative to sell a Ulip as compared to an equity fund. Entry load ban is still a big deterrent to selling mutual fund products.
Interestingly, some of equity mutual funds have long track record of performance, yet haven't seen inflows in recent times. Perhaps, it's the mutual fund's mistake that they haven't highlighted it. Constrained by marketing budgets, often they are meek. Insurers, in contrast, have been heavy advertisers. Often their advertising campaigns build emotional connect. In the marketing world, where mindspace and positioning matter, certainly insurers have got it right.
The Bill to protect whistleblowers, introduced in the Lok Sabha, is a belated but welcome move to shield those who stand up, often at great personal risk, for the sake of truth and the public interest. The Public Interest Disclosures and the Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill 2010 is the circuitous and protracted outcome of the Supreme Court's strong pitch for a mechanism to protect whistleblowers. This it did while hearing a public interest litigation on the murder of Satyendra Dubey, the Bihar-based engineer with the National Highways Authority of India who was killed for exposing irregularities in road contracts. The pressure applied by the Court led the central government, in early 2004, to issue an order authorising the Central Vigilance Commission to receive and act on the complaints of whistleblowers and to protect their identities. This interim arrangement is finally set to become law, after a Bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2006 was allowed to lapse. Like other whistleblower laws around the world, the proposed legislation has two main aims: to protect the identity of those who call attention to corruption and misuse of power in an organisation, and to safeguard them against punitive disciplinary action. It empowers the CVC, which will have the powers of a civil court, to punish those who reveal the identity of whistleblowers.
The Bill, criticised for having been introduced in Parliament without a proper consultative process with stakeholders and the public, does not go far enough. While the whistle may be blown on malpractices committed by employees of the central and State governments, and companies and societies controlled by them, the Bill (unlike its predecessor in 2006) does not extend confidential disclosures to the private sector as legislation in some other countries does. The United Kingdom's Public Disclosure Act 1988 extends "protected disclosures" to private and voluntary sector employees. In the United States, a slew of federal and state laws protect all employees who complain about economic malpractices as well as actions that affect the health and safety of individuals and the environment. Another drawback: while promising to protect the identity of whistleblowers, the Bill is vague about the measures needed to ensure this. Whether the new law will be much more effective than the existing government order in encouraging the public exposure of corruption and malpractice remains to be seen. But it is a step forward insofar as it stands up for acts of ethical resistance and for those courageous enough to risk paying a high personal price for speaking out.
Economic indicators from the United States and other developed countries, since the beginning of August, strongly suggest, at the very least, heightened uncertainty over their near term growth prospects. That the industrial countries, as a group, were expected to trail the developing nations in the recovery phase was anticipated. But now even the modest growth rates they were expected to register seem to be slipping out of their reach. According to recent data, the GDP of the OECD countries increased by 0.7 per cent on a sequential basis in the second quarter of 2010, same as in the first. Germany with a 2.2 per cent growth, its highest since unification, tops the table. Growth in the United Kingdom at 1.1 per cent was fairly satisfactory, while the economies of Japan and the U.S. slowed to 0.1 per cent and 0.6 per cent respectively. Although there appears to be no real danger of a "double-dip" recession, it is clear that the rebound has not only been uneven but remains fragile in a majority of the developed countries. Recent developments in the world's largest economy, the U.S., are hardly reassuring. There is a realisation at the highest levels that the economy, which has slowed down, is not expected to recover soon. Recently, the U.S. Federal Reserve, while pledging to keep interest rates low, has identified major obstacles to growth that are of far-reaching socioeconomic significance: high unemployment, modest income gains, eroded housing wealth, and tight credit markets.
The financial markets, forever focussed on the macroeconomic news emanating from across the globe, have few definite trends to latch on. On balance, negative news outweighs positive ones. In the developed countries, investors are waking up to the painful reality that growth will be slow in many parts of the world. Policymakers in many countries are facing a difficult situation. Certain decisions, such as withdrawing the stimulus measures, are particularly hard to reach with any degree of confidence and, even if decided upon, are difficult to implement. It is highly unlikely that a consensus on the lines reached at the G20 is possible at this juncture. Indian stock markets, propped up by generally positive domestic economic news, nevertheless face a great deal of uncertainty as well. The theory that India and other emerging markets are "decoupled" from the developed ones has been disproved long ago. Not just stock markets, but the entire macroeconomy has to reckon with the trend of foreign capital inflows that have become crucial to the country's external sector. Either too little or excessive flows would entail substantial costs for the domestic economy.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
DILEMMAS OF EQUALITY IN EDUCATION
KERALA HAS DONE WELL IN THE FIELD OF HIGHER EDUCATION AND HOLDS MUCH PROMISE. BUT FURTHER POLICY INITIATIVES ARE NEEDED TO SUSTAIN THE MOMENTUM AND PREPARE FOR FUTURE CHALLENGES.
PHILIP G. ALTBACH & ELDHO MATHEWS
Kerala, almost alone among Indian States, has pursued a consistent and in many ways successful higher education policy. It educates 18 per cent of its young people, double the national average, and has universal literacy. It is worth looking at what might be called "the Kerala model" in this sector to see if it has relevance to the rest of India.
The State's approach to higher education is somewhat unique in the Indian context. Most higher education in the State was at one time supervised and funded by the State government. However, this situation has been changing, especially during the last decade. Resource crunch and budget constraints have forced universities to change their priorities. The Central government has, with a few exceptions, ignored Kerala in this sector. But, given its commitment to sponsor at least one Central university in each State, plans are on to build a Central institution in a rather isolated location in the northern part of Kerala. The rationale behind this move is unclear to most higher education experts in the State, for it is unlikely that such an institution located far from academic or urban centres can succeed.
In keeping with its egalitarian philosophy, the government has provided generally equal support to all of the universities and has not identified any one of them as a "flagship." Thus, there are few nationally or internationally prominent universities in the State. One exception is the Cochin University of Science and Technology. The Central Ministry of Human Resource Development recognised its excellence and supported its upgradation to the level of an Indian Institute of Technology. However, a campaign against its conversion into an IIT forced the authorities to shelve the plans. The Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology was recently established by the Central government in Thiruvananthapuram, the State capital. The Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology in Thiruvananthapuram is another exception: it has the status of a university and offers postdoctoral, doctoral, and postgraduate courses in medical specialties and health care technology. It is under the administrative control of the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India. The Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Thiruvananthapuram, established in 2008, can also be considered to be nationally prominent. It is an autonomous institution affiliated to the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development. Kerala might be well served if these high-quality institutions were closely linked or even merged in order to produce a world-class scientific institution.
Several arts and science colleges that have a long historical tradition such as the University College in Thiruvananthapuram, or the Maharaja's College in Kochi attract bright students. But the facilities in these institutions are far from world-class. Most of the top students prefer to take professional courses in engineering, medicine (which is an undergraduate subject area in India), and business. There are 96 engineering colleges in Kerala. Almost 90 per cent of them were started during the last decade, and only 11 of these are government-sponsored. Of the 96 colleges, 60 are purely in the private sector. In general, their facilities are no better than the average found in the State.
Kerala has instituted some significant reforms, suggested by national authorities but not initiated widely so far. These include the semester system and reforms in undergraduate examinations. The idea is to provide better assessment through more frequent examinations and evaluations tied closely to course content. This reform required significant changes in the way the curriculum is organised, how courses are taught, and how students are assessed. Policymakers hope that it will result in improvements in teaching. The Kerala State Higher Education Council was set up to provide advice to the State government, conduct research on higher education issues, and serve as a forum for discussion on higher education.
Kerala, like other Indian States, is grappling with the rapid and largely unregulated expansion of private
colleges and specialised post-secondary institutions. There is a need for greater access, which the new colleges provide. But many of them are of dubious quality and meant to earn profit. They serve high-demand fields such as management, information technology and related technical fields. A few are medical colleges. A good deal of grumbling about these institutions has taken place, but there has been little action to regulate them.
Although there has been an increase in the number of higher educational institutions and student enrolment over the last two decades, inequalities based on the quality of primary and secondary schooling have been on the rise. One of the most observable effects of this change is in the correlation between the type of school attended and admission to professional colleges. This is evident in the outcome of the medical-engineering entrance examinations conducted by the government annually. Entry to medical and engineering colleges is largely based on the examination. Students from schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations have a better chance to bag the top ranks in this examination.
The majority of the rank holders are from the middle and upper strata of society. Their parents have the financial capacity to send them to coaching centres. Students and parents these days are quite conscious about the link between academic choice and careers. The emergence of a new middle class in Kerala has accentuated this phenomenon.
Kerala has quietly provided acceptable-quality higher education, by Indian standards, to a remarkably large part
of its population. It has implemented meaningful reforms in recent years, and higher education remains an issue of concern for the government and the public at large. A few policy initiatives may be useful to further improve the system.
The State's higher educational institutions are largely similar in terms of quality, focus and funding. With the few exceptions noted here, none of them stand out either within the State or nationally. A mass higher education system needs to be differentiated with institutions serving different missions, patterns of funding, and quality. Kerala needs at least one "world-class" university that can attract the best students, be recognised among the top universities in India, and gain visibility abroad. This will not be easy since Kerala has a strong tradition of egalitarianism, but it is essential if the State is to fully participate in the global knowledge society of the 21st century. It is likely that the University of Kerala, perhaps merged with several high-profile scientific institutions located in the capital city, will be the logical choice, probably along with CUSAT. This does not mean that the other universities can be neglected. Some will focus largely on teaching and serve specific regions, while a few, perhaps those focussing on science and technology, retain a research mission.
As in all the regions of India, the large number of colleges affiliated to universities need to be appropriately supervised but at the same time permitted the leeway to start innovative programmes and have a degree of autonomy. A special problem concerns the growing number of new private "unaided" colleges, a majority of which are for-profit. Perhaps an effective accreditation system, supervised by the Higher Education Council or some other government body, could provide a basic standard of quality for colleges and remove some of the burden from the universities.
Kerala's universities have the potential to jump-start the State's move into the knowledge era. They can provide the training needed for a new generation of professionals ready to work in information technology and other knowledge industries. Kerala has the disadvantage of having started late. The giant info-tech superpower of Bangalore, for example, is far ahead even though the first "Technopark" in India was established in Thiruvananthapuram. But Kerala has a well-educated workforce, a tradition of hard work, and an ability to collaborate with people from different backgrounds.
An important step would be to immediately improve the quality of engineering education. The info-tech companies estimate that only one-fifth of the new engineering graduates can be immediately put to work; the rest need additional training. If Kerala can provide an engineering education that can produce engineers who can be put to work straightway without expensive further education or training, it will improve its prospects of attracting high technology. Moreover, these graduates will be quite competitive in the international job market.
The State's higher education future is complex but practical. Expansion will continue, although the pressures may be less than in other parts of India because of Kerala's impressive access rates. Careful attention needs to be given to the organisation of the higher education system. Additional funds are required to transform at least one university into a research-intensive institution, while at the same time supporting a better-defined differentiated higher education system.
(Philip G. Altbach is the Monan University Professor and Director of the Centre for International Higher Education at Boston College in the United States. Eldho Mathews is research officer at the Kerala State Higher Education Council.)
THE PROBLEM WITH EVMS
THERE IS WORLDWIDE ACCEPTANCE OF THE NEED FOR A PAPER TRAIL IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE USE OF EVMS. WHY IS THE ELECTION COMMISSION OF INDIA REFUSING TO ADOPT IT?
Electronic voting machines (EVMs) were supposed to be the cure for the malady of booth-capturing in elections in India, but in the present form of use they have only worsened the problems. Moreover, EVMs also do not meet the legal requirements set out in the Information Technology Act, 2000.
EVMs, as they are being used by the Election Commission of India (ECI), create worries about the very legitimacy of the choice of governments through elections based on them, and raise questions about whether the ECI has become partisan in its defence of EVMs.
The duties of the ECI as set out in Article 324 of the Constitution include ensuring that elections conducted by it are free and fair, and reflect the will of the voters.
To be considered free and fair, the international standards an election has to meet are:
individuals have to be accurately identified as eligible voters who have not already voted;
voters are allowed only one anonymous ballot each, which they can mark in privacy;
the ballot box is secure, observed and, during the election, only able to have votes added to it by voters: votes cannot be removed;
when the election ends, the ballot box is opened and counted in the presence of observers from all competing parties. The counting process cannot reveal how individual voters cast their ballots;
if the results are in doubt, the ballots can be checked and counted again by different people;
as far as the individual voter is concerned, he must be assured that the candidate he casts his vote for, actually gets that vote.
Over the last few centuries, the system of paper ballots was developed that could meet all these six requirements. But the pattern of use of EVMs in the last few general elections in India does not meet the fifth and sixth requirements set out here.
In correspondence with the ECI, I suggested that it incorporate in EVMs the safeguard of a "paper backup" or "paper trail" as is done in some countries. This will easily and in an inexpensive manner meet the last two requirements mentioned above.
As suggested and developed by many experts, this "paper trail" procedure is meant to supplement the procedure of voting, as follows:
"Once approved, the voter views the ballot and makes the desired selections If the voter confirms that the choices displayed are correct, the machine records the vote on some storage medium.
"The EVM then prints out a readable receipt, much like in automated teller machines (ATM), which is confirmed by the voter, who then deposits it in a ballot box on the way out of the booth, and which poll workers are monitoring.
"If the election is later disputed, officials can optically scan these paper ballots or hand-count them."
If the EVM is linked to the Unique Identity system being developed, and the EVM can check voters' biometric details before allowing them to vote, that will eliminate bogus voting as well.
But the ECI reacted as if I had violated its electoral chastity. It demanded that I go to the Commission's premises and demonstrate that EVMs can be rigged although I had not made such an accusation but had only wanted the machine to be safeguarded.
On September 3, 2009, I went to Nirvachan Bhavan along with Vemuru Hari Prasad, a software specialist from Hyderabad, to demonstrate that EVMs can indeed be tampered with. (Dr. Prasad has since been arrested.)
The proceedings at Nirvachan Bhavan were videotaped by the ECI, in the presence of officials of the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), which manufacture EVMs. But the ECI has refused to provide me a copy of the recording made.
Dr. Hari Prasad was given an EVM and asked to give a demonstration. He efficiently went about seeking to prove that it could be tampered with. When he was in the final stage of his work, suddenly the ECIL and BEL representatives began to protest, and claimed that he was violating the companies' 'intellectual property rights'.
I have obtained documents from the World Intellectual Property Organisation, with its headquarters in Paris, to show that ECIL and BEL had applied for a patent for the EVM in 2002. But in 2006 they withdrew their applications when it became clear that the applications would be rejected. The two outfits do not hold an international patent.
The ECI aborted the meeting despite our protests all recorded on tape. Now, much like Richard Nixon, it
does not want to part with the tapes. No further meetings have been scheduled; only Dr. Hari Prasad was called to the Commission to wear him down. His recent arrest in Mumbai was a desperate act motivated by the ECI to terrorise him, on the charge of theft of an EVM. It was much like the Manipur government issuing an arrest warrant in 1978 against Indira Gandhi for stealing chickens from the State.
It thus became necessary for me to file a writ petition before the Delhi High Court. When such an obvious safeguard as the paper trail is easily and relatively cheaply available, the ECI refuses to even consider it. Hence it is unreasonable and smacks of mala fide. The next hearing of my writ petition is scheduled for November 24. The ECI will then have to explain the patent fiasco and why it lied about it in public.
Doubts about e-elections
There is worldwide acceptance of the need for a paper trail in conjunction with EVMs. Electronic voting was introduced in many countries. But serious doubts were soon raised about the security, accuracy, reliability and verifiability of electronic elections. In October 2006, the Netherlands banned the use of EVMs. In 2009, the Republic of Ireland declared a moratorium on their use. Italy has followed suit. In March 2009, the Supreme Court of Germany ruled that voting through EVMs was unconstitutional, holding that transparency is a constitutional right but efficiency is not a constitutionally protected value.
The official stand of the ECI is that EVMs are 100 per cent reliable and tamper-proof, that the functioning chips
have their instructions indelibly burnt into them at the time of manufacture; that these chips are then "mother-sealed" into the EVM; and that this can never be altered. This claim is presented as an immaculate premise, a mantra requiring no proof thereof.
The field of hacking is continually developing, and ECIL's and BEL's advisers belong to an era of soldering two wires together (the "diode and triode era"). They are in no position to counter the averment of international scholars that no electronic machine has been devised that cannot be rigged or hacked.
The ECI must cut its losses and agree to a paper receipt. If it cannot arrange that, we should return to ballot papers. Ballot papers are riggable at a 'retail' level; but with EVMs, an entire election can be stolen with a chip.
( Dr. Subramanian Swamy is a former Union Minister for Law and Justice.)
SECURING LIFELINES DURING A DISASTER
FACILITIES VITAL TO CRISIS RESPONSE ARE LINKED TO NETWORKS THAT WILL NOT FAIL THEM.
VINOD THOMAS AND RONALD S. PARKER
The frequency and intensity of natural disasters have been on the rise in recent decades. Just in 2010, a catastrophic earthquake devastated Haiti, a far stronger seismic event battered Chile, and an earthquake brought destruction to the Chinese province of Qinghai. Disasters caused by tropical storms and heavy rain have been increasing rapidly. Pakistan has suffered economic damage and massive loss of lives from what has been classified as the worst flooding it has had in decades. And most recently, massive mudslides in north-western China are claiming numerous lives and destroying infrastructure. This tragic sequence of events is yet another demonstration that disasters are recurrent, and therefore national development planning should always involve increasing resilience and readiness over time.
The recent calamities not only produced casualties, they also triggered emergency relief intended to address the life-threatening problems of survivors. Therein lies a lesson worth taking to heart. Too often urgent care could not be provided because critical care facilities were no longer functioning, or there was no way to access services. While the headlines focus on damage, not enough attention is being given in the reconstruction efforts to the importance of ensuring functioning lifelines notably potable water and first aid during disasters.
Equipping human settlements to cope better with extreme natural events is a continuing process. However, much can be achieved in the immediate term by making vital installations, such as hospitals and emergency shelters, more disaster-resistant. They should have uninterrupted power supply, a network of protected access routes, and secure provision of safe water and sanitation. In too many places, facilities that are essential for an effective response are tied to networks which are almost guaranteed to fail.
In Haiti, Chile and other countries, potable water could not be provided to victims in reasonable time, and emergency medical facilities dropped off-line just when needed most. The ability to take early action in critical care also has a cascading impact on the whole recovery process. Where basic connectivity to emergency medical care and water continues, reconstruction is that much easier there are more able-bodied individuals when it is time to pick up the pieces.
It is unfortunate that the increase in disaster incidence and severity is taking place just as population density in
many vulnerable urban areas is increasing rapidly. Although increased density is a major cause of rising damage levels, disaster damage can sometimes be relatively light even in dense settlements when effective prevention measures are taken. Chile's relatively low level of damage given the severity of its seismic event is of interest to all. We see hopeful signs elsewhere too, that public officials are realising the importance of emphasising prevention while dealing with relief.
India has improved its ability to provide early-warning systems and hurricane shelters, and evacuate areas most at risk. By 1996, preparedness in India had advanced to the point where it minimised the devastation when a cyclone hit Andhra Pradesh. The 1996 event killed 1,057 people, while a previous cyclone in 1977 had killed 11,316. One action that made a difference was that mangroves planted under a 1990 World Bank-supported cyclone response project had grown enough to provide protection and they saved the lives of many shrimp farmers and fishermen six years later. During the subsequent 1997 cyclone reconstruction project, Andhra Pradesh did construct infrastructure to higher design standards, made vulnerability assessments, and received new technology for cyclone warnings.
While poor construction is a major reason why so many lives are lost in developing countries when disasters occur, the experience in Colombia and Turkey with earthquake-resistant building codes, enforcement of construction standards and oversight of materials procurement practices are likely to pay off significantly which is what the Chile earthquake so dramatically illustrated. And everywhere, better land-use planning is proving to be essential to ensuring that people are not putting up homes in harm's way.
Some 50 developing countries face recurrent earthquakes, mudslides, floods, hurricanes and droughts, yet many
of them do not seem to recognise that such events could recur. International agencies do not acknowledge these
risks as a systematic threat to their assistance, and almost half of the countries borrowing from the World Bank for disaster response, did not mention disaster prevention or reduction in their development plans.
This must change. If we are ready to invest sizeable funds to establish mechanisms to avert financial crises, we need to do the same with the escalating hazards of nature. In a few months the world's attention will no longer be fixed on natural disasters (until the next big one, that is). Once the tragedy drops off the front pages of newspapers, international donors, like the affected countries themselves, find it hard to stay engaged with prevention efforts. This reality is yet another reason to focus on the more easily achievable goal: when rebuilding, always ensure that facilities vital to crisis response are linked to networks that will not fail them. So when the earth shakes or the waters rise, critical networks will be disaster-resilient and the victims do not need to look at each other in desperation to survive.
( Vinod Thomas is the Director-General and Ronald S. Parker Senior Consultant at the World Bank's Independent Evaluation Group.)
INSIDE THE SALMONELLA SCARE FARMS
THERE ARE CALLS FOR MAIN U.S. EGG PRODUCERS TO BE BETTER REGULATED AFTER REVELATIONS OF A BREACH IN BASIC HYGIENE.
U.S. politicians are coming under pressure to increase regulation of the country's largest egg producers after a federal inspection of two companies at the centre of a salmonella scare revealed breaches of basic hygiene.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections of Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, both in Iowa, found piles of chicken manure up to 2.5 metres high beneath the hens' cages. Employees crushed flies underfoot and live and dead maggots were seen in a manure pit.
At Wright County, pigeons roosted in an air vent and wild birds flew in and out of the chicken house. Mice were observed at both farms, as were chickens which had escaped their cages and were seen moving between manure piles and caged areas.
Water used to clean the eggs was tested and found to contain the same salmonella bacteria that has been identified as the cause of the largest outbreak of the disease in the U.S. since records began more than 30 years ago, with 1,500 people infected.
Between them, the two farms have recalled more than half a billion eggs, 380m from Wright County and 170m from Hillandale. The two producers have almost eight million hens.
Food safety experts said the massive scale of the two operations was typical in an industry that has seen production concentrated in fewer and fewer gigantic farms. In 1987, 95 per cent of laying hens were in the hands of 2,500 farms. Today, that figure is accounted for by 192 egg producers.
Iowa has by far the largest presence of those big producers, partly because as the grain basket of America it can provide corn and other feed cheaply and partly because it has among the most lax regulation on egg farmers in the U.S.
The salmonella scandal has also put the spotlight on woefully inadequate federal regulation. The FDA, which is responsible for egg safety, had never inspected either of the Iowa farms before the recent outbreak, despite the fact that Wright County has been at the centre of numerous violations of safety standards.
"The FDA has failed to inspect this company regularly when it's a serial violator of other laws," said Jaydee Hanson, policy analyst for the Washington-based Centre for Food Safety.
Senators will come under pressure to focus on a food safety bill that has been languishing in Congress. It would dramatically increase the requirement for federal inspections of egg production, and give the FDA the power to order instant recall of eggs, in contrast to the current arrangement by which it has to ask the producers themselves to organise a recall.
In the absence of federal action, some States have begun their own tightening of regulations.
California and Michigan have introduced measures to sell only eggs from non-caged birds. California, where the rules would come into effect by 2015, is such a large egg producer that a shift from factory farming could have an impact across the U.S. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
THE ASIAN AGE
MUCH MORE LEFT TO DO ABOUT BHOPAL
There must be something intrinsically uncaring about the system we run. After the hue and cry over the extra mild punishment awarded by Bhopal's chief judicial magistrate in the December 1984 Union Carbide gas leak case, said to be the worst industrial disaster in the world, with a death toll close to 20,000 and another half a million people injured or otherwise affected, the government set up a Group of Ministers to examine how best to advance the cause of the victims of the tragedy 26 years ago, and how to correct the equation on the justice front. The only visible outcome arising from that step is that the CBI filed a curative petition in the Supreme Court asking that the provision under which top officials of Union Carbide India were booked be changed from Section 304(a) IPC accident caused due to "negligence" that the court had earlier sanctioned, to Section 304(b) IPC culpable homicide not amounting to murder so that the punishment attracted by the company officials may be enhanced from two years, with bail allowed, to 10 years. The Supreme Court has accordingly issued suitable notices to Keshub Mahindra, who was Carbide India's chairman at the time of the accident, and six others. This is all to the good. After all, the CBI's contention is that there is enough material to show that top company officials were aware that the plant designs were faulty and yet took no remedial action. If the new move succeeds, the top company bosses might just serve a prolonged spell in prison, although such an occurrence will do nothing to enhance the financial compensation for the victims' families.
It is noteworthy that the CBI has been silent on the question of bringing to trial former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson, who now lives in seclusion in the United States, although Mr Anderson is said to have sanctioned the lowering of the stringency of safety mechanisms at Bhopal in order to cut running costs. More than the CBI, it is the government's silence that is baffling, especially since the US authorities have recently changed their stance to say they will give due regard to an Indian request for Mr Anderson's extradition and trial. The government's lack of alacrity in seizing on this new opening might suggest one of two things: that it is not really interested in getting the former UCC chief before an Indian court although he is an absconder (not responding to a Bhopal court summons in spite of having been granted bail on condition that he will present himself when required), or that it thinks it doesn't have material against the octogenarian of a kind that might pass muster in America. In either case, for the sake of transparency, the government would do well to share with the people the constraints it labours under. The GoM has surprisingly also not seen it fit to take the battle to Dow Chemicals, which took over the obligations of UCC. If this can be done successfully, there is a very real chance of the compensation package being made more substantial even at this late stage. So far, the victims' families have got less than `20,000 for an accident whose enormity continues to shock the world.
The curative petition is a good thought. It is in line with the universal view that the punishment meted out for the disaster is less than notional, and must be raised. But a better idea might be to craft new legislation to deal with something the magnitude of Bhopal and then make the effort to make its application retrospective. The GoM's work cannot end with this, of course. Most important, it must address the issue of enhanced compensation, and getting the environmental mess left behind by the disaster cleared.
NOVEL WAYS TO FOCUS ON CLIMATE CHANGE
The Mongolian cabinet had met somewhere in Gobi desert. This was done to highlight the extreme consequences of climate change. Some time back, the Maldives cabinet held a meeting beneath the sea to make the same point how as a result of rising sea levels caused by climate change, the archipelago will be inundated. Perhaps the Mongolians are making the other point that due to the rise in temperatures, desertifaction will be the undeserved dessert for that landlocked country.
The stranger the better. That seems to be the leitmotif of novel ways of making a point. The climate apocalypse is a potent portent. It is not just the professional alarmists who are shouting from the rooftops about impending doom. Politicians do not like to be left behind in this game of grabbing public attention. Politicians in Maldives and Mongolia have set the trend. Those in the rest of the world will have to rack their brains to think of other, arresting ways of making the point.
Those who detest politicians, and there is much justification in the popular revulsion for the tribe, will have to concede that they do think hard of ways to attract attention. Yes. It is true that this is an infantile compulsion, but that is the name of the game. Of course, these are indeed empty gestures. But that is being a spoilsport. Let politicians enjoy their momentary one-upmanship.
CONGRESS MINISTERS FALTER IN UPA-2
It seems that the Congress and its UPA allies are getting a little fidgety in their second term in office. Many ministers are faltering. Three bills the Enemy Property Bill, the Prevention of Torture Bill and the Educational Tribunal Bill fell through for various reasons in the last two days of the monsoon session.
The Enemy Property Bill was an insignificant bill because it affected only a handful of people. The government wanted to push it through in haste. The opposition parties, each for its own reason, got it referred to a standing committee.
The Prevention of Torture Bill was brought in, it seems, half-heartedly. It had to be done because India had signed, but not ratified, the 1975 UN convention against torture. The bill did not have enough safeguards from the human rights angle, but the BJP saw red for theopposite reason, deeming it an obstacle to dealing with terrorism. The Congress did not have the conviction to argue that this was not a terror-specific law. Then came the Education Tribunal Bill, a single-window dispute settlement mechanism to deal with all problems relating to education. The government rode roughshod and did not include the amendments mooted by the parliamentary standing committee. This was exposed by a Congress member in the Rajya Sabha.
All this is suggestive of increasing incompetence in UPA-2, though the second term started off on a high note. There is nothing irreversible about incompetence, but there is an obvious reason for it: complacency. Congress members believe that theirs is the party of governance and so they need not take other points of view into consideration.
This attitude is like an open manhole in a coalition-led democracy, one which can swallow the high and mighty. The fate of the three bills is but a symptom of what is happening inside government.
Disproportionate energy and attention was expended on the Nuclear Liability for Civil Damages Bill, which would have gone through anyway because of the tacit consensus. And the government just lost focus with regard to the rest of the legislative business. This is carelessness.
THE IRAQ WAR IS OVER, BUT WILL PEACE BE WON?
Finally, after seven years, over a trillion dollars spent, thousands of lives lost, international opprobrium earned, a volatile situation created, a dictator defeated, world stability threatened and a nation brought to the brink, US president Barack Obama has called an end to the war in Iraq. Started by his predecessor George W Bush, Obama had promised an end to this controversial war in his
campaign for the presidency.
However welcome the news may seem not least to the
soldiers in Iraq and their families as well as the people of Iraq themselves the task is unfinished. The US cannot just bid goodbye and go as if nothing has changed. Having dismantled all systems in Iraq and disrupted normal life, the invading countries notably Britain and the US also have some responsibility to help the local government to put it all back together so that the Iraqi people can get on the path to normal life.
Obama has stated that the US's domestic problems are his priority and there can be no argument with that. But an unstable Iraq, with daily violence and the entry of terrorist forces which ironically were absent under Saddam Hussein can easily become a flashpoint. Some attempts have been made to allow Iraq to take the first steps towards democracy but this is difficult when it is a command performance under the shadow of the gun.
Perhaps the task has to be handed over to the UN so that Iraq can put the war behind it and start coping with its losses.
The US withdrawal from Iraq is also a sign that Afghanistan will be next. Here the problem is equally, if not more, dire. The Taliban and al Qaeda are both based in Afghanistan and Pakistan and were never part of Iraq. For us in India, an Afghanistan left to fend for itself will be a disaster. Here also attempts to establish a democracy of sorts have been made but the government in Kabul does not control vast swathes of the country which are still in the hands of warlords or the Taliban.
Obama has kept his promise to end the war and must be commended for that. But as we know from experience, the bigger task starts now rebuilding and restoring Iraq to the polity of nations. If we do not do that, then we are all under threat.
ILLEGAL BETTING IS THE PROBLEM, NOT CRICKET MATCH-FIXING
One can discern a suppressed sense of gloating in India over the allegations of spot-betting and match-rigging by Pakistani cricketers. We shouldn't be. Pakistani cricketers are no more crooked or saintly than Indian ones; the only difference is that our cricketers make tonnes of money without much effort. Theirs don't. Hence the greater lure of short-term financial fixes with the help of slimy bookies.
Players in that hapless country have also been pressured by the waywardness of their cricket bosses. You never know whether you will be in the team or not; you never know what political alignments will decide your future. When uncertainty rules, anything goes. But the more important question is what should we do about the scourge of cricket betting?
The solution to illegal betting is legal betting, not foolish action by the International Cricket Council (ICC) or the various national cricket boards (though no one is stopping them from doing what they think is right). But they won't get anywhere. They can inserts spies and eavesdropping equipment into dressing rooms, but the problem lies in the nature of the beast.
Where there is easy money to be made through simple means like bowling a couple of no-balls which is what Pakistani cricketers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir apparently did in cahoots with a bookie it will be made.
On the other hand, the truth is no bookie can regularly fix entire outcomes. Fixing the outcome of an entire match needs the
involvement of many, many players. It is not something that can be easily hidden. This is why the real problem is not betting, but illegal betting.
If Ladbrokes were to offer unusual odds on an unlikely event, and it actually comes to pass, everyone would suspect it had been fixed all along. And for that reason alone it wouldn't be easy to pull off. In the harsh glare of sunlit transparency, everyone can see that the emperor (the crooked bookmaker, that is) has no clothes.
But where hundreds of crores of rupees are gambled through illegal channels, there is no accountability whatsoever.
In the dark shades of illegal betting, there is no question of bonafide behaviour. Both bettors and bookies know they are trying to outsmart each other by "fixing" the outcome. This is probably why the bookie filmed in the News of The World sting operation was promising no-balls when he should have been promising the match. He was probably trying to prove his closeness to players.
The only sucker is the fan who invests passion in the game, and the unwary gambler who thinks the bookie is Honest Sam (or Honest Shoaib or Shankar). This is why it is best to let some light shine on the operations of Honest Sam to make him more honest. In short, India and Pakistan ought to legalise betting in cricket and other games and regulate the bookies. Trying to police players and cricket administrators is like dealing with the symptom, not the disease.
The problem is our sub-continent's hypocritical attitudes to fundamental human tendencies and frailties. We are uncomfortable with the idea that homosexuality is part of
being human, so we try to convert it into a crime. The same applies to prostitution and imbibing alcohol. Or drug abuse.
In commerce, we want to ban insider trading in shares on the premise that company insiders should not benefit at the expense of other investors. But the reality is that only insiders know what's really going on inside a company. So what's the point in criminalising their acts? If an insider sells shares, it should not be treated as a criminal activity, but as an issue of transparency. The share market is full of experts who know what heavy share selling by an insider means.
By criminalising an act, we make it impossible to police it. Insider trading laws should thus only mandate complete disclosures, and
punishment should only mean confiscating a share of the gains made through insider knowledge. Plea bargaining should be the norm in insider trading crimes, not jail.
We are equally ambivalent when it comes to gambling a human instinct as old as prostitution or excessive drinking. The only thing is to bring it out into the open and regulate it. But once again, we are a confused lot. When horse-racing is permitted, when governments themselves run lotteries and private sector players are allowed to conduct games of chance, what's so unholy about legalising cricket betting and allowing the population to gamble a bit on the outcomes of a cricket match?
At the psychic level this can be win-win for the cricket fan who bets right: if his team wins, he gets his share of psychic happiness. If it loses, he can win an expertly placed contra-bet instead, and improve his bank balance. Let's not be killjoys and try too hard to fix fixing.
RESPOND, DON'T REACT TO SITUATIONS
Years ago, as a kid mortally afraid of mathematics, I remember being smacked and slapped by my father the moment I came home after a bad paper. Since mathematics was the first exam and would almost inevitably go wrong, my father's reaction to my saying that I fared badly would be a shrill cry followed by a flurry of slaps and disparaging comments.
In sheer disgust, I would not be able to concentrate on others subjects, the exams of which followed on subsequent days. I am sure most of us share this childhood experience. Had my father controlled his reaction and responded in a mellow manner, my scores in subjects other than mathematics could have climbed many notches higher.
The point I am trying to make is: 'respond, don't react'. There is a huge difference between reacting and responding. A reaction is a thoughtless, emotional impulse resulting in a negative view.
Contrarily, a response involves thought, and, shorn of emotions, projects a positive perspective. The listener finds it soothing and it might just make his day, maybe yours too.
Let alone a child, a reaction could have serious implications for a grown-up. I remember Joel Schumacher's film Falling Down, where actor, Michael Douglas, who plays an ordinary man, reacts to minor day-to-day provocations by picking up a gun to settle scores. In the end, he is shot by a cop. We face many hurdles in life whose answers lie not in violent reaction, but in tackling them with cool responsiveness, lest we 'fall' like Douglas in the film.
Sometimes, we have to make a split decision whether to react or respond. Our natural instinct is to react. A natural proclivity towards responding, however, comes with time and practice. Try it. You have all to gain.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
A SIGNIFICANT OPENING
NOW IT IS NEW DELHI'S TURN TO RESPOND SINCERELY AND SWIFTLY TO SALVAGE ITS CREDIBILITY
New Delhi's position on issues underlying the unrest in Kashmir has been so unrealistic and so elusive that it is hazardous to expect any worthwhile response to certain positive indications emanating from ground zero. During the past few weeks main players in the field, separatists and mainstream, have been putting across their respective concrete proposals aimed at lowering the temperature and eventually paving way for a purposeful dialogue. Understandably, different versions coming out from different political quarters do not add up to a coherent whole. Yet, there are quite a few common points which, if acted upon sincerely, could provide that 'elusive opening' which the central government, according to union home minister P Chidambaram, has been looking for. From Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, almost everyone has been emphasising the need for creating a conducive atmosphere for amicable resolution of issues. Some of the main points put forth in the process are: Lifting of the notorious Armed Forces Special Powers Act, rationalising troop deployment, release of detenues, legal proceedings against those responsible for fake encounters and recent killings of innocent protestors, probe into human rights violations and large scale disappearance of persons taken into custody. There is absolutely no rational reason to turn away from these very valid demands. The government's attitude in this matter will show how serious and how sincere it is in seeking early resolution of the crisis in Kashmir.
That this doable action plan forms a significant common theme of all the main players is perhaps a major breakthrough in itself. Till now some of the groups and individuals had been insisting upon acknowledging the priority of basic issues of the dispute over every other issue. Geelani has no doubt reiterated his position in what he said on Tuesday but, significantly, he has also set forth his five-point charter which includes issues of immediate importance over which there is a broad agreement across the board. That is perhaps the farthest that anyone in Kashmir can go without impairing his own credibility and thus reducing his eventual effectiveness to make any substantial contribution. Differences over some of the vital basic issues are there for sure. But the spirit behind dovetailing such demands with what is and indeed what should be the first priority reflects statesmanship. Unending loss of precious human lives at the hands of a callous state apparatus, prolonged disruption of normal life and its devastating consequences cannot be ignored any longer. No dialogue or peace process can proceed in the existing murky atmosphere stained with blood and gore.
Central government can no longer evade its response by resorting to its familiar tactics of arguing that there were no takers for dialogue in Kashmir and that there were no concrete proposals emanating from there. Geelani's five-point action plan, coming after what Mirwaiz has been saying, contains sufficient substantive points for the government to act upon immediately in order to indicate its genuineness in the matter. There is no room for evasion any more. Delaying the expected response would amount to New Delhi's disinterestedness in this course of action which has always been suspected to be there. There are no more excuses available for laying the blame upon the leadership in Kashmir. The political class in the Valley has put across a workable agenda in specific terms. It is now for the centre to make the next move. The government's response would show whether it is sincere in following up what it pretends to be aiming at or not. Leaders and their groups in Kashmir have gone farthest under the circumstances to offer a window of opportunity to New Delhi to display its goodwill, presuming, of course, that such a thing exists at all.
So long as the atmosphere remains vitiated as it is today and coercion continues to be the state's preferred option there is no scope for any meeting ground. That much is abundantly clear. People will not support or tolerate any course of action that ignores their plight or seeks to short circuit their grievances. Popular grievances have been the real motivating force behind turmoil, now as before. Sidetracking real issues and indulging in shadow boxing is not going to work anymore. Victims of suppression and oppression have reached end of the tether. Probably, this might be the last chance for the central government which is synonymous with 'India' in Kashmir to reclaim some of its lost ground. Every drop of innocent blood shed by the victims goes on to cementing alienation, anger and hatred. How much of it is already irreversible is difficult to say. There may be nothing left to retrieve should the worn out delaying tactics be practised endlessly.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
NOT SO SPORTING
TIME TO DELINK SPORTS FROM CORRUPT MAFIA
Cricket is once again caught in the shady embarrassing tales of match fixing, the latest expose having badly nailed some Pakistani cricketers in what some experts believe to be a 'water-tight' case. It is such a pity how much sports has been commercialised across the globe that it has encouraged corruption in the form of match-fixing or in finalizing contracts for sports infrastructure and sporting events, as is the case with India's brush with commonwealth games scandals. Such high level corruption, match-fixing or other kinds of scams, obviously thrives with the nexus of officials, politicians and bigwigs. It would be nave to believe that it is exclusive to any particular country or region. Recent years and increasing revelations have shown that it appears to be a world wide phenomenon. Why scams like match-fixing shock everyone is because they not only reveal the shady deals involving huge sums of money, they also bring a collective shame as sportsmen are almost hero-worshipped in their respective countries. The problem however continues to bog one country after another because never before any serious attempts have been made to investigate the scams after they are much sensationalized. Internal enquiries by cricket boards might be futile, there being a high possibility of a lot of give and take even at that level. Cricket, especially, has been dogged by increasing scandals for the last over a decade. But why have these allegations been swept under the carpet by the establishments of the countries that faced them? Was it out of sheer embarrassment it caused collectively to a nation? Or was it an attempt to cover up and hush up the investigations to save someone's skin? These are some of the crucial questions that governments in the countries with tainted sportspersons have to interrogate. What is probably needed is for the various countries, where such allegations have already come to the surface, to co-ordinate with each other and chalk out a joint strategy and conduct joint investigations to nail the racket of bookies once and for all. Otherwise, people's faith in sports, which are held in high esteem, will be eroded.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
JETTISON JAMMU AND KASHMIR FROM INDIA-PAKISTAN IMBROGLIO
SOLUTION-A UNIQUE TRIUNE CONFEDERATION
V R KRISHNA IYER
Well over three score and three years we two neighourly Republics have become indigent independent countries. India, that is, Bharat, a united Republic, would be a culturally powerful and resourceful nation. But while giving Freedom from the imperial Crown, a treacherous stratagem was practised. India was divided into Bharat and Pakistan ever to be on belligerent terms with communal hatred. And as disastrous history would have it, J&K, a Muslim majority State, has its resources wasted on arms and purchase from Big Business. Two crores of Indians starve as they spend sleepless nights to buy arms and US nuclear Big Business is doing a terrible crime! Deaths are mounting, security is vanishing, despair is spreading and bitterness inside and outside among erstwhile brothers is escalating. There is no good war, nor bad peace. Let us come together in amity and comity in the spirit of Pancha Sheel.
Now American arms dealers do good business and the common masses of both nations are under the illusion we are winning by inflicting more carnage. Every life gunned down is a grave crime before Shiva and Islam which stand for humanism and global happiness. The high divinity of universal brotherhood of Prophet Mohammed and the sublime cult of cosmic unity of Vedic glory stand outraged everyday. In this context remember the Pakistan General was, in a moment of despair, considering the possible use of nuclear Hiroshima in the Kargil crisis.
We continue the J&K battle. Stop it. If we do, the innocent masses of J&K win. Buddhism was once the J&K faith in Kashmir, that is, Truth and Non-violence. Islam too wants both these values of Allah the Merciful. Half-a-century back Nijalingappa, once the President of the National Congress, pleaded to end the war-give up Kashmir and be friendly with Srinagar and Islamabad. We will have no more religious estrangement and faction but federal comity will be a wonder.
A creative, dynamic political peace-oriented confederation with Delhi, Srinagar and Islamabad will be an epic historic victory promotive of world peace. The only disappointed devils will be the arms merchants and political bellicose militants of the West. Now China, with all our wasted bhai bhai is supporting Pakistan covertly. China is a dubious socialist now no more crimson and is pro-Pak. And Kremlin, once our powerful ally, is no more Red but Lenin and Stalin are buried history. Let not the Pak leaders go after the US which hanged Bhutto in barbarity. An Asian humiliation. A historic Confederation is the glory of Asia of the new century. Let the Pak people have peace, now torn with Taliban arbitrary violence and disruption. Nor is Delhi a nation of serene tranquillity. What with the Maoists killing soldiers and alas more people are in despair and destitution making Mao more bloody popular?
Delhi and Islamabad and Srinagar must produce more creative humanist statesmen, not belligerency. A Himalayan event indeed. Let all political parties in all the three countries ask for secular peace. Then the world wins. When the Berlin wall fell, did not John Kennedy appeal: 'My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man'?
THE articulate postmortem spirit of the 'half-naked' Mahatma admonishingly entreats the Prime Ministers of India-Pakistan and J&K. You statesman, I implore on behalf of humanity. Ye, the pathological political syndrome partition has caused so much of bloodshed, sweat, torture and tears, so much of carnage and casualties, so much of drain on the exchequer of both countries that we are free in print and plurality but live a life of dependencia syndrome. We were crown colonies and with dollar dependencia now, both India and Pakistan are obedient quasi-colonies leaving both peoples to suffer.
Any war in the sacred Indo-Pak soil is a stab on the right to life of every human, be his faith what it may. Fraternity is your Destiny, your divinity, your humanity. Please save the gift of life. Stop war. This earth is not to be wet with the flood of human blood. Let us prosper through creative peace and inner development and also for international cosmic comity. Ask not how? Be a friendly Federation and bless Asia and the global comity with finer felicity and fraternity bonded together in a wonder of grand confederation where each one's independence will remain sovereign but will consistently maintain mutual integrity and glorify this Declaration by decennial renewal by the three Parliaments.
This sacred trinity shall be Asian ancient human rights Might and Right and Justice. Pancha Sheel will win. The option is lasting stability, humanity and development or guns, nuclear weapons and cadavers galore.
*(The author, a distinguished champion of civil liberties and human rights, is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India.)
THE KASHMIR TIMES
I believe our girls aren't winning beauty contests anymore!
Miss Universe contest's just got over and I looked for Miss India on stage but someone politely told me she'd already taken the flight back the day before!
Back home, a former judge whispered in my ear, "It's our reservation system!"
"You mean they now have reservations for beauty contests?"
"I was a local judge last year," said the former judge, "was sitting waiting for the contestants to be announced and I remember suddenly a circular was given to each one of us. We judges at the beauty contest looked at each other stunned and aghast as we glanced at the government circular we'd just received before the contest began. I remember reading it out to all the other judges, "Fifty per cent of all the awards are to be reserved!"
"Ten per cent for girls below four feet height!"
"Four feet? They'll be trampled underfoot by the other girls if we send them for the Miss World and nobody will even know they're missing!"
"Another ten percent for our fat, plump and obese women!"
"We'll have to build a bigger stage!" whispered the organizer thoughtfully, "a heavy duty one!"
"Are there more reservation categories?" asked an old judge squinting at her circular but not daring to wear her spectacles.
"Oh yes! Ten percent for those with IQ's below average!"
"What sort of questions should we ask them?" asked the same judge.
"None," said the man who'd given the circular, "they're in automatically!"
"We judges looked at each other angrily, "What a terrible thing for a beauty contest!"
"I wish I'd not lived to see such a day!"
"Our country is going to the dogs!"
How will our girls compete in the international arena?"
"We should protest!"
"I'll burn this circular!"
I'll burn my bra!"
"Ladies!" Ladies, there's a last reservation you haven't read!" said the man who'd given us the circular. "It says twenty per cent reservations for women above sixty!"
"Yippee!" we cried as we judges ran on stage, "Who wants to be a judge.."
"Three cheers for the reservation policy..!"
Now you know why India's not winning anymore; too much reservations..!
Is there anything surprising about the Chinese games with Pakistan's concurrence in our Gilgit-Baltistan region which is under our neighbour's illegal occupation? In an article The New York Times (NYT) has observed: " a quiet geopolitical crisis is unfolding in the Himalayan borderlands of northern Pakistan, where Islamabad is handing over de facto control of the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region in the northwest corner of disputed Kashmir to China." The article by Selig S. Harrison, director of the Asia Programme at the Washington-based Centre for International Policy (set up by former diplomats and peace activists in the wake of the Vietnam War) and a former South Asia bureau chief of The Washington Post, notes "two important new developments" in the area: (a) there is a simmering rebellion against Pakistan rule; (b) there is the influx of an estimated 7000 to 11000 soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Its view of the unfolding drama is: "China wants a grip on the region to assure unfettered road and rail access to the Gulf through Pakistan. It takes 16 to 25 days for Chinese oil tankers to reach the Gulf. When high-speed rail and road links through Gilgit and Baltistan are completed, China will be able to transport cargo from Eastern China to the new Chinese-built Pakistani naval bases at Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara, just east of the Gulf, within 48 hours. Many of the PLA soldiers entering Gilgit-Baltistan are expected to work on the railroad. Some are extending the Karakoram Highway, built to link China's Sinkiang Province with Pakistan. Others are working on dams, expressways and other projects." At the same time, "mystery surrounds the construction of 22 tunnels in secret locations where Pakistanis are barred. Tunnels would be necessary for a projected gas pipeline from Iran to China that would cross the Himalayas through Gilgit. But they could also be used for missile storage sites."
There is another major change. "Until recently, the PLA construction crews lived in temporary encampments and went home after completing their assignments. Now they are building big residential enclaves clearly designed for a long-term presence." The article is based on "reports from a variety of foreign intelligence sources, Pakistani journalists and Pakistani human rights workers." Viewed from this State one will say that it is informative but not too revealing. It is only too well known that the local Shia majority in Gilgit is very unhappy with remote control by Islamabad which has tried to crush it by adopting various means including by floating a Sunni-dominated militant outfit at a point in time. It has been denied individual liberties and democratic rights. It has been given some concessions of late but these are hardly enough to constitute even a semblance of a democratic order. During a brief glasnost between India and Pakistan some journalists from the State were part of an Indian media team to have visited Gilgit in 2004. They had come across all that they had only read till then. Clearly there was oppression of the local population. There were some brave people who had the courage to stand up and be counted as bitter critics of Pakistan's sectarian and dictatorial approach. There were hardly any democratic rights and privileges. The Chinese influence in the area was palpable in the environment. Its concrete evidence was the Karakoram highway and a graveyard of Chinese workers. There was a market flooded with Chinese goods. There was every indication that the Dragon's influence would further grow in the years to come. From theNYT article it appears that an iron curtain has again been clamped on Gilgit-Baltistan. There is a thick blanket of secrecy of which China is a big beneficiary ---- of course, a matter of concern to the United States too.
It is logical to presume that any access to China in this or any part of the world affects the American interests in one way or the other. The two countries represent two different schools of thought and are engaged in a war of supremacy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is a comment in the article itself: "What is happening in the region matters to Washington for two reasons. Coupled with its support for the Taliban, Islamabad's collusion in facilitating China's access to the Gulf makes clear that Pakistan is not a US ally." It is something for the US to think over --- right now its official view of Pakistan's support to its fight against the Taliban is hazy. In no event, however, can it be oblivious to China's moves. What is relevant for us is that a part of our State continues to be a victim of international conspiracies. The wily role played by the British in Gilgit in 1947 is a part of our turbulent history. Pakistan has unlawfully grabbed it and severed it from the rest of the State in order to directly govern it almost as its fifth province at the moment without giving it either the status or advantages of other four provinces. Not very long one of our leading Central Asia experts had mentioned that the US might well have opened a strategic base in the mountainous belt with an eye on its campaign in Afghanistan. Gilgit's state is thus pitiable. It has being trampled upon by one country or the other as if it belongs to none. How can we help it sitting In Jammu, Srinagar or New Delhi?
It is unfortunate that the curtain has been rung down on the past week with suicides by two jawans on successive days. First, a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) man shot himself with his service revolver at a camp in Kishtwar district on Friday. Then, a Border Security Force jawan on sentry duty did likewise near the Indo-Pakistan International Border (IB) in Samba district on Saturday. Some unexplained family problem is reported to have caused the first incident. The deceased was to get married in November and had spoken to his family members before allegedly taking his life. No reason has been mentioned for the second occurrence. Both the persons were from outside the State. Off and on we come across such happenings in the country as a whole. Their figures have come down than what these were compared to a few years ago. The question is whether these can be altogether eliminated. A lot has been done in the recent past to address the reasons for uniformed persons to end their lives in a manner other than battles with enemies of the nation. This exercise has yielded results but clearly we have to continue it.
THE ULTIMATE REALITY
The entire Vedic literature in different places, primarily or secondarily, directly or indirectly, in purports or explanations, through innuendoes or inferences, always describes Sri Krishna as the Supreme, and no one else.
In Caitanya-caritamrita (Cc. Adi. 2.106) it is stated:
s vayam bhagavan krsna, krsna sarvasraya
parama isvara krsna sarva-sastre kaya
"The Personality of Godhead Sri Krishna is the original primeval Lord, the source of all other expansions. All the revealed scriptures accept Sri Krishna as the Supreme Lord."
And further (Cc. Adi. 2. 65):
advaya jnana tattva-vastu krsnera svar\pa
brahma, atma, bnagavan--tina tanra r\pa
"Lord Krishna Himself is the one undivided Absolute Truth, the ultimate reality. He manifests Himself in three features-as Brahman, Parmatma and Bhagavan."
And furthermore (Cc. Adi 2.24-26):
veda, bhagavata, upanisat, agama
`prna-tattva' yanre kahe, nani yan- ra sama
bhakti-yoge bhakta paya yanhara darsana
srya yena savigraha dekhe deva-gana
jnana-yoga-marge tanre bhaje yei saba
brahma-atma-rupe tanre kare anubhava
"Thus, the Personality of Godhead, Krishna, is the original primeval Lord, the source of all other expansions.
All the revealed scriptures accept Sri Krishna as the Supreme Lord. Lord Sri Krishna as the Supreme Lord is the
undivided one Absolute Truth, the ultimate reality. He manifests in three features-as Brahman, Parmatma and
Bhagvan. The Personality of Godhead is He who is described as the Absolute Whole in the Veda, Bhagvatam,
Upnishad and other transcendental literature. No one is equal to Him. Through their service, devotees perceive the Personality of Godhead, just as the denizens of heaven see the personality of the Sun. Those who walk the path of knowledge and yoga worship only Him, for it is Him they perceive as the impersonal Brahman and localised Parmatma."
Similarly, in the Svetashtar Upnishad (5.4) we find:
"The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, is worship able by everyone; for he is eternally present in
every living entity."
Lord Krishna is The Supreme Lord Over All
In defining who is Bhagavan, God, the Srimad Bhagavatam (SB. 1.3.28) declares:
"All of these incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord, but only Lord Sri Krishna is the original Personality of Godhead."
Lord Krishna, Himself declares in the Bhagavad-gita (Bg. 7.7):
mattah parataram nanyat
kincid asti dhananjaya
"O Conqueror of wealth, there is no truth superior to Me."
Also, Bhagavad-gita (Bg. 15.15):
vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyo
"By all the Veda, I am to be known. Indeed, I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Veda."
"Sri Krishna is the only Lord. Parmatma is His part and Brahman His effulgence. Sri Naryana in Vishnuloka is the majestic manifestation of Sri Krishna. The Veda and other scriptures clearly show this, clearing all doubt."
Sri Krishna's Sixty-four Transcendental Qualities
The Bhakti-rasamrit-sindhu enumerates sixty-four transcendental qualities of Sri Krishna (Brs.1.11-17):
"Krishna, the Supreme Hero, has the most beautiful transcendental body. This body possesses all good features. It is radiant and very pleasing to the eyes. His body is powerful, strong and youthful."
The extraordinary hero, Krishna, possesses these transcendental qualities: (1) beautiful features of the entire body; (2) marked with all auspicious characteristics; (3) extremely pleasing; (4) effulgent; (5) strong; (6) ever youthful; (7) wonderful linguist; (8) truthful; (9) talks pleasingly; (10) fluent; (11) highly learned; (12) highly intelligent; (13) a genius; (14) artistic; (15) extremely clever; (16) expert; (17) grateful; (18) firmly determined; (19) an expert judge of time and circumstances; (20) sees and speaks on the authority of the scriptures-the Veda; (21) pure; (22) self-controlled; (23) steadfast, (24) forbearing; (25) forgiving; (26) grave; (27) self-satisfied; (28) possessing equilibrium; (29) magnanimous; (30) religious; (31) heroic; (32) compassionate; (33) respectful; (34) gentle; (35) liberal; (36) shy; (37) the protector of surrendered souls; (38) happy; (39) the well-wisher of devotees; (40) controlled by love; (41) all-auspicious; (42) most powerful; (43) all-famous; (44) popular; (45) partial to devotees; (46) very attractive to all women; (47) all-worshipable; (48) all-opulent; (49) all-honourable; (50) the Supreme controller; (51) changeless; (52) all-cognizant; (53) ever-fresh; (54) sac-cid-änanda-vigraù-possessing a transcendental form of eternality, full of knowledge and absolute bliss; (55) possessing all mystic perfection; (56) has inconceivable potency; (57) uncountable universes are generated from His body; (58) the original source of all incarnations; (59) the giver of salvation to the enemies He kills; (60) the attractor of liberated souls; (61) the performer of wonderful pastimes (especially his childhood pastimes); (62) surrounded by devotees endowed with unsurpassed love of Godhead; (63) the attractor of all living entities in all universes by the expert playing of His flute; (64) possesses unexcelled beauty without rival.
Sri Krishna Possesses Four Extraordinary Characteristics
Of these sixty-four qualities, the first fifty are present in the jivas, the living entities, in minute degrees; however, in Lord Krishna they are present to an absolute unlimited degree. Again, the first fifty plus the next five qualities are partially manifested in Lord Shiva and the demigods. That fifty-five and the following five, i.e. the first sixty qualities, embellish the character of the Lord of the Vishnuloka, Sri Narayana, in absolute quantity. However, in Sri Krishna these sixty qualities are exhibited with extraordinary splendour. Beside these, Sri Krishna possesses a further four unsurpassable transcendental traits: (1) lila-madhurya (the performer of wonderful varieties of pastimes, especially in childhood); (2) prema-madhurya (surrounded by devotees endowed with wonderful love of Godhead); (3) rupa-madhurya (possessed of unparalleled beauty); and (4) venu-madhurya (the most expert flute player). These last four qualities are found only in Krishna.
Lord Brahma in Brahma Samhita:
isvarah paramah krsnah
anadir adir govindah
'Krishna who is known as Govinda is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes.' (Brahma-sahinta 5.1)
.There are so many avtaras but Krishna is the the Supreme Being, the Supreme Person. Krishnas tu bhagavan
svayam. This is the conclusion of the Sastras.
(Issued by ISKCON)
BY RAMESH KANITKAR
Most commentary on the new bill is focussed on the lowering of the tax slabs. The top line of this bill is that the basic income-tax that everyone pays will be reduced. However, when one looks beyond the obvious, what comes to mind is the Hindi proverb Khoda pahaad, nikli chuhiya (dig a mountain and find only a mouse). This is just about the best way to sum up the whole one year long Direct Taxes Code song-and dance that is now drawing to a close.
Taxes are a little bit lower, there are fewer exemptions, the Act is (at least at this point of time) simpler than the old one so there will hopefully be fewer ambiguities once the initial hump of interpretation is crossed. However, these just do not add up to the sort of ground-breaking, conceptual changes that the original August 2009 seemed to promise.
In a surprise move and to the disappointment of taxpayers, the Government has deferred the implementation of the DTC by a year to April 1, 2012, and sought to waive the preferential treatment to women in tax payment in the name of gender equity. The Bill has been referred to the Select Committee of Parliament for scrutiny. The government has sought to raise the income tax exemption limit from Rs. 1.6 lakh to Rs. 2 lakh while retaining a host of incentives for individuals.
While senior citizens (above 65- years) will enjoy a higher exemption of Rs. 2.5 lakh, women taxpayers will have no additional relief as they have not been categorised separately.
As for corporate taxes, the levy will be at a flat rate of 30 per cent with no surcharges or cesses. The minimum alternate tax (MAT) will be levied on book profits at 20 per cent.
The moderation of taxes along with concessions would result in a revenue loss of Rs. 53, 172 crore in 2012-13 if the present rates were to be applied. The gross tax revenue from direct taxes would come down from an estimated Rs. 5.80 lakh crore to Rs. 5.27 lakh crore under the proposed code.
Domestic companies too have been given a big relief both on the rate front as well as continuation of profit-linked deductions for industries enjoying tax breaks. The DTC also seeks to exempt long-term capital gains from the sale of shares through stock exchanges. The finance minister has refrained from introducing the reform he had originally proposed. This reform would have comprised bringing long-term capital gains to tax under a graded system.
The securities transaction tax will also continue. For domestic corporates, the tax rate has been pegged at 30 per cent, which is the current rate. However, there will be no surcharge. The Minimum Alternative Tax (MAT) rate will be 20 per cent and levied on book profits. Companies can carry forward MAT credit for 15- years.
In the case of foreign companies, the tax rate will be 30 per cent and there will also be a branch profits tax of 15 per cent.
Special Economic Zone developers will continue to get current tax breaks for all the zones notified up to end March 2012. For SEZ units, the existing tax breaks will continue to be available if they commence operations before the end of March 2014. However, both MAT and dividend distribution tax will now be applicable on SEZs and SEZ units.
On international taxation, Mr. Mukherjee has restored the position of allowing treaty override - an assessee can choose between domestic law or treaty provisions, whichever is beneficial.
The original draft proposed to take away the treaty override benefit and suggested that neither the treaty nor the code shall have preferential status. It had then proposed that provision of treaty or the code, whichever is later in time, will prevail over the other. Now, the concept of preferential status and law later has not been pursued.
For individual tax-payers, the DTC proposes to provide Rs. 1 lakh investment limit (the existing 80C level) besides introducing a new limit of Rs. 50,000 for tax-payers looking to spend on life insurance premia, tuition fee for children and health insurance payment.
They will also get Rs. 1.5 lakh of interest paid on home loans as deduction. The original draft had mooted investment limit of Rs. 3 lakh while proposing to introduce the concept of Exempt -Tax system of taxation on withdrawal of savings. Now, the Government proposes to continue with Exempt- Exempt-Exempt system of taxation, implying there will be no tax when an individual withdraws his savings from provident funds, pension fund commutation and post retirement schemes.
If we analyse the total proposed tax structure the expected whiff of fresh air, almost all of which has dissipated by now. What has followed is a long process of bargaining at the end of which we have something that offers is not much more than the kind of tinkering that goes on in every budget.
Not just that, while the code reduces the scope and the number of exemptions, it in no way delivers on the original promise of doing away with the concept of arbitrary exemptions. Similarly, it does not quite deliver on the promise of a simple tax law that would be understandable by ordinary taxpayers. The new law may be simpler than the forbiddingly complex old one, but that's not the same thing as being simple.
For the individual investor, the continuation of zero taxation on long term capital gains is a great relief. The threat of the re-imposition of such a tax was the biggest negative in the proposed law, and this is one rollback that is welcome.
However, one change that seems to take away from one hand what it gives from the other is that to the tax-saving investments that could be made under section 80C of the old Act. It appears that while this limit has been increased to 3 lakh, which is great, the list of permissible investments has been drastically shortened. All that remains are term insurance policies, NPS, Provident Fund and Public provident fund. I suppose this ought to give a fillip to the NPS, which is much in need of one. Unfortunately, much about the new law is still unclear and will have to await a closer reading by tax lawyers. There's plenty of time to do that since the implementation has now been postponed by a year to April 1, 2012. Thus, we are back with another version of the government reserving the right to decide which saving instrument would be taxed, and which exempt, including within the class of equity-linked savings. (INAV)
BY RAJU BHARATAN
Cricket as an international game faces its worst ever crisis with several Pakistani players being charged with "spot-fixing" during the recently concluded Test match against England at the Lord's. Unlike the previous allegations of match-fixing, which were mostly based on circumstantial evidence, damning evidence through a sting operation conducted by a British newspaper is available this time, directly implicating seven Pakistanis playing in that particular match. The cricket fraternity, administrators and fans around the world who have seen those video clips, have been completely benumbed with shock, turning into rage and disgust. The video showing the sequence of events on and off the field leading to the 1,50,000 pounds bribery scandal are so compelling and vivid that even Pakistan prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has been forced to admit that the allegations against its cricketers had made his countrymen "bow their heads in shame."
If Pakistan, at least in words, has reacted strongly, the International Cricket Council (ICC), the supreme body of cricket, not surprisingly given its past record, wants the allegations to be corroborated and probed further before any action is initiated. When half the Pakistan team now touring England has come under a cloud and their integrity called into question, the ICC president Sharad Pawar has allowed the remaining part of the itinerary to go on, obviously because the cricket boards and the ICC are loathe losing the revenue.
In fact, the ICC has been guilty of brushing under the carpet serious incidents of match-fixing ever since the Hansie Cronje-gate rocked the cricketing world just over a decade ago. The ICC has set up an Anti-Corruption Unit to sniff out erring players and investigate into allegations that surface from time to time, but it has utterly failed in its duty. The PCB has contributed more than its share to bring disrepute to the game through its kid-glove treatment of serious offenders, who have been allowed to mock at the so-called life bans. A time has come for the ICC to quickly establish the truth behind the latest scam and if it is proved, to impose a ban on the entire Pakistan's team at least for two years.
There was euphoria over the recent "resurgence" in Pakistan cricket. Pakistan drew a two match test series
against Australia 1- 1 in a "goodwill series" in England and after being soundly thrashed by England in the first two tests, won a splendid victory in the third. At the fourth and final test, it had England on its knees at seven for 102. The golden run ended there, England made 446 and Pakistan collapsed for 74 and 147 suffering its heaviest ever innings defeat.
Even to those who swear by the glorious uncertainties of cricket, this was too much to stomach. How can the brilliant Pak pace trio, Mohammad Ameer, Mohammad Asif and rookie Wahab Riaz, allow an eighth wicket partnership of 300 plus and even allowing for its fragile batting, collapse so dramatically in both the innings. Or was it part of riddle which was Pak cricket? Apparently, it was something more. Even as the Lord's test match was in progress, Scotland Yard personnel searched hotel rooms and seized the mobiles of some Pakistan players.
They were following up the sensational revelations in the British tabloid News of the World which conducted a sting operation involving a well known London- based contact man and bookie Mazhar Majeed. Arrested by the police (later released on bail without any charge sheet being filed), Majeed talked freely about his close association with the Pak players, many of whom he pointed out were interested "in wealth, women and food", rather than playing cricket. The videos made by the tabloid showed instances of "spot fixing" where players delivered programmed no balls which had been decided before hand between the fixer and the players.
Was this the latest development in the art of fixing and, if so, it was a serious development.
Rather than trying to fix the result of a match, the fixer now, can tempt errant players to play the nefarious game at its every stage. There were millions of bettors who would put their money on anything, the timing of a no ball or a wide, the exact moment a boundary would be hit and so on.
Thanks to the Pakistan players and fixers, every single action of cricketers could come under scrutiny! Pak captain Salman Butt denied the fixing charges, saying they were only allegations.
News of the World thrived on sensationalism and often treated truth with a pinch of salt. Couldn't the video tapes be doctored to achieve the desired result? Only detailed investigations by the police can decide these.
Cool breeze, lush green outfield, pitches which helped batters and bowlers, skies occasionally blue but suddenly turned cloudy, helping seam bowlers to pose challenges to batsmen. Into this scene marched a number of young Pak medium pacers led by Mohammad Ameer who was only 18. He bowled left arm fast, moved the ball both ways, displayed stamina and skill and in batting would not give away his wicket easily. From the other end, bowled Asif, a veteran at 25, who had faced drug charges in the past and now mesmerized batsmen with his late swing. When the third members of the pace trio, Umar Gul, broke down ( when did he ever complete a full series?), in stepped the burly, unknown Wahab Riaz, bowling left arm, unleashing a mean bouncer and taking five wickets in his debut besides batting sensibly. Seam and swing bowling was England's strength but the rookies from Pakistan outdid them in bowling skills and gave a torrid time to Pietersen, Strauss, Collingwood and other England batters.
The Pak batting was fragile, we saw startling collapses but newcomer Azhar Ali and recalled veteran Mohammad Youssuf steadied the ship. Had such talent been spotted in Australia, England or South Africa. We would have seen record breaking achievements and top rankings. But the Pak environment was so different. Players did not seem to be educated and unable to handle money and fame.
Perhaps that was why they succumbed to blandishments from shady fixers, sacrificing personal integrity and national pride. In the past senior players were involved in scandals, but now the rot began from the level of the youngsters. If this was not checked on time, Pak cricket would lose all its credibility.. (INAV)
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
KEEP IT UP
It is a good gesture to show solidarity with those who have been at the receiving end of the situation
Notwithstanding the scepticism, which has always cast a shadow over the activities of social activists from India, the ongoing visit of members of Indian Civil Society is not out of place.
The initiative was long overdue and it came after the killing of more than 60 people but better late than never. The delegation led by known Arya Samaji with former Indian Navy chief Admiral (retd) L Ramdas as a members has tried to reach out to the families who lost their dear ones to the bullets of forces and the injured who were the victims of excessive force used by CRPF and Police during past over two months. It is a good gesture to show solidarity with those who have been at the receiving end of the situation. Leaving behind the political differences, the Indian society as a whole has been callous towards the people of Kashmir who have been facing atrocities for the past 20 years. Except for announcement of ex gratia and the inquiries, which were never completed, the government's response has always been casual. In this situation the civil society plays an important role in building the human bonds and show that humanity is not dead. Occasionally the Indian Civil Society has responded to situations in which Kashmiris saw nothing but blood being spilled on streets. But that is not enough. Crisis in Kashmir, whether in 2008 or 2010, has its roots in the political problem, which has been craving for a solution for past 63 years. So waking up only after the killings of innocents does not fulfil their responsibility. Moreover, the past record of Civil Society members or the Track II activists is not completely above board, which leads to many suspicions among the masses. We have a glaring example of Kunan Poshpora mass rape case when a team of "eminent" journalists from India bungled the report on the directions of Army, which was involved in the crime. We do not doubt the intentions of the Swami led team and would extend all the support they need to "understand" the nuances of the problem but the real challenge before them is not to fail Kashmiris by singing the tunes, which would suit one quarter or other. One would expect that the initiative is strengthened at all levels. The team is also expected to reflect the ground situation once they go back to New Delhi and enlighten the Indian masses as to what actually was happening on the ground. The true account the team heard from the victims should be enough to make an opinion. At this stage the people of India need an impartial account of situation in Kashmir, which is devoid of any theory. And this team should grab the opportunity to take the lead. It will be a service to their nation and humanity as a whole.
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
HISTORY OF CHALO-II
NAYA KASHMIR DOCUMENT IS THE BEST ROAD MAP THAT HAS BEEN PRODUCED DURING THE PAST EIGHTY YEARS OF FREEDOM STRUGGLE
In August 1944 people were asked to assemble at Sopore. A special function was held with Sardar Budh Singh in chair. Sher-e-Kashmir released and adapted the Naya Kashmir document. This, according to Kashmir watchers is the best road map that has come up during the past eighty years of the struggle.
Contemporary Kashmiris hate Sher-e-Kashmir for `gifting Kashmir to India'. But, differences with him notwithstanding, the Naya Kashmir document is a well researched, well written and comprehensive document. It has answers to all the questions ranging from sovereignty to unemployment.
Unfortunately the historic document was tampered in 1975 when Indira-Abdullah accord was signed. Balraj Puri was assigned the job of modifying the document to suit New Delhi's interests. Provisions of sovereignty, compulsory arms training and granting asylum to foreign nationals involved in freedom struggles were deleted. But the provisions of unemployment, women empowerment and over all development of the state were retained.
Section 9, 10, 11 and 12 deal with rights of senior citizens, women and children. Section 11 makes mention of right to education. All Citizens shall have the right to education. This right shall be ensured by universal compulsory elementary education, free of charge. In addition a wide system of States scholarships shall be provided for poor students in the higher schools and universities. The mother-tongue shall be the medium of instruction. Free vocational technical and agronomic education shall be organised for adult workers in the fields and factories.
Section 12, women citizens shall be accorded equal rights with men in all fields of national life: economic, cultural, political, and in the state services. These rights shall be realised by affording women the right to work in every employment upon equal terms and for equal wanes with men. Women shall be ensured rest, social insurance and education equally with men. The law shall give special protection to the interests of mother and child. The provision of pregnancy leave with pay and the establishment of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kinder gardens shall further secure these rights.
One of the pioneer's of freedom struggle, G N Gilkar passed away at Rawalpindi on July 18, 1973. Kashmiris heard about the tragic news from Radio Pakistan. Next day Gayibana Namaz-e-Jinaza (funeral prayer in absentia) was offered at Pathar Masjid. Thousands of people participated in the Namaz-e-Jinaza (funeral prayer), which was led by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. On July 20, a condolence meeting was held in Gilkar's ancestral house at Fateh Kadal, Srinagar. Representatives of all the political organizations participated in the condolence meeting and paid glowing tributes to his memory.
Gilkar incidentally is the person who introduced Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah to politics. He would bring food for Sher-e-Kashmir from his house during the crucial days of 1931. Gilkar has the distinction of founding the Azad Jammu Kashmir government on October 4, 1947. After founding the Azad Kashmir state, Gilkar rushed to Srinagar to strengthen the freedom movement. However, he was arrested and was later sent to Pakistan in exchange for Brigadier Gansara Singh.
During the on-going movement frequent chalo programmes were given by the leadership. It is not possible to make a mention of all such programmes for want of space. A few of them are:
On February 24, 1990 around one million people from all parts of the valley rushed to Chrar-e-Sharief shrine. The call for Chrar-e-Sharief Chalo was given by a commoner, Zaffar Kawa. Shakeel Bakshi of the Islamic Students league (ISL) was very active on the political front then. People urged him to reject the call straight way to discourage such programmes. But Shakeel decided to go ahead with the programme.
A podium was erected in front of the shrine. Shakeel and many others addressed the people. Shakeel stressed need for unity. By this time (February 14, 1990) militant groups other than JKLF had came into being. Minor infighting was also reported at several places.
The 'Charar-e-Sharif Chalo' procession in the words of Ved Marwah was an unbelievable sight. The small town could not accommodate such a heavy rush. No arrangements were made for the the people. The local shops made a good fortune that day.
The JKLF commander, Ishfaq Majid Wani was killed on March 30, 1990. On April 2 more than five lakh people assembled in Eidgah to observe his Rasam-e-Qul. Once again Shakeel Bakshi controlled the proceedings. It was at this function that Shakeel launched his Operation Alfalah. He stressed need for self reliance. Anaaj Ugao Azadi pao slogan was raised on this day. This had an impact. People opted for kitchen gardens. The programme evoked massive response across Kashmir.
After Shakeel's arrest on April 18, 1990, the Islamic Students League (ISL) distributed vegetable seeds and carried forward the operation.
Chalo programmes of the past two years include, Lal Chowk Chalo (which was always prevented by the authorities) and has been suspended for the time being. Muzaffarabad Chalo (August 11, 2008) when the Jammu religious groups blocked the Srinagar-Jammu highway, the fruit growers sought an alternate route for selling their fruit. Senior Hurriyat leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz got killed during this march.
On August 16, 2008 Separatists called for Pampore Chalo according to rough estimates more than five lakh people assembled at Pampore to observe the rasam-e-qul of Sheikh Abdul Aziz. A few days later, one million people assembled at the TRC grounds. Geelani addressed the people. He, however, is accused of committing a blunder. He annoyed the leadership by his remarks. However, he apologized in the evening.
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THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
INDIA AND KASHMIR
WHY INDIAN LEADERS ARE AFRAID TO ADDRESS K-ISSUE?
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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THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
WHY VENOM FOR PENNING TRUTH?
SANDHYA JAIN SEEMS TO BE A SANGH PARVIAR IDEOLOGUE WHO HAS TRIED TO SUFFOCATE VOICE OF KASHMIRIS BY GIVING OLLOGICAL ARGUMENT ABOUT BASHARAT PEER
Like many other friends I too wished to write a review of Basharat Peer's internationally acclaimed book "Curfewed Night". Though I read this book just two months back, I thought it too late to write a review.
This book to me is very interesting and heart touching when we read the passages of Peer's own experience. Like his desire to go across the border to become a militant in early nineties and his grandfather's tearful admonition. Firing incident over an army camp which was just adjacent to the boarding school in which. Peer was studying in his school days. Heart rending account of a narrow escape of the bus following an army convoy in which Basharat was traveling from his village to Islamabad town. The description of his village, villagers and the local militants is worth reading. The other part of the story is equally good wherein he peeks into the lives of those people who suffered in this whole conflict over the hands of Indian state. An account by the survivor of the Gaw Kadal Massacre who is an engineer by profession is worth mentioning. The happenings of the rape victim (the lady was raped by the Indian troops) and the cold response of the Kashmiri society. The apathy of the Kashmiri society who even till now have not come to the rescue of this family. Thanks to the husband of this innocent lady who despite all odds have not left her. For me this couple is the greatest ever hero and heroine the Kashmir has ever produced. The tearful events of a mother who was able to save her one son from getting killed when used as a human shield by the troops but could not save others. The events of huge procession of the Hizb militant. Arif Khan so and so forth. The book is full of actual events rendered in a way seeming a concrete beautiful novel. The language has been kept William Wordsworthian, I mean quite simple for all people to understand. Any Kashmiri who goes through this book feels himself somewhere in and around this book which is too close to every Kashmiri. Despite all this I differ with the views of the author labeling the followers of Jamaat-e-Islami as following "personality cult" of Maulana Maudoodi and also calling Salafist thought a "dry one". Moreover his apparent tilt towards JKLF doesn't go well with many of us who think of Kashmir solution in a different way. Summarily, the book is one of the beautiful unique novel with historical base written over Kashmir.
What forced me to write over the book and its author today is that few days back a friend of mine referred me to an article published in The Pioneer (Indian English Daily) on August 17, 2010 written by Sandhiya Jain titled "Sheikhdom crumbles". I will concisely put some of it before the readers for an overview. The lady starts first with scathing attack against CM Omar Abdullah's mishandling of the situation. Irony of the fact is that like other Sanghparivar writers she accuses even the state CM of being hand in glove with the protesting people to harness to what she says her grandfather's Autonomy dream. I think no saner person can believe this conspiracy theory after Omar Abdullah being in charge here of the police and troops who are responsible for 65 deaths, mostly youth that have taken place here. However, most of her venom which she spits is against Basharat Peer, a Kashmir Muslim writer both for his book as well as his recent work over Wall Street Journal Blog wherein he says that his nationality is disputed.
She doesn't stop here only she says that "Yet Basharat Peer demands sympathy for this intolerant community (Kashmiri Muslims) fattened for over six decades with the hard earned money of the Indians mainly Hindu tax payers." She further adds that Curfewed Night has "the complete omission of the rape, brutality and genocide that drove the miniscule Pandit community out of the valley; the unwillingness of the Muslim society to stand up for the human values and the combined reluctance and inability of families to prevent youth from crossing border, to be transformed into killers." She goes on to the cheapest level and even brings into picture the father of the writer when she says that. Basharat was helped out by his father to work in media houses in India . And more abject piece of writing by saying "Mr Omar Abdullah and the political establishment of Jammu & Kashmir must tell us if Basharat Peer's nationality is disputed, does the dispute also encompass his father's nationality? This deserves the attention of the Prime Minister and President of India. How can they countenance continuation of an IAS officer with an ingrate son working openly against national unity and territorial integrity from foreign soil?"
I want to ask Sandhya Jain which community is intolerant whose 90,000 young people were killed in only less than twenty years, whose hundreds of women were raped as a war weapon, whose 65 boys were shot dead in just two months and still over 400,000 yatris from Indian plains walk through the streets of Srinagar and Islamabad hassle-free. Sandhya Jain ought to know that Kashmiris are demanding self-determination for past six decades and she must also explain who is forcing Indian taxpayer, particularly Hindus to fatten Kashmiris. Basharat has lucidly touched the issue of Pandit migrants and their plight in hot tehsil of Jammu. He had personally visited the houses of these families to know their plight what Ms. Jain and her parivar has never dared to do. Moreover, it is not possible when a person has to deal with 90000 deaths on one side and 209 deaths on the other. Though it is true deaths, rape and oppression is painful for all but there is no comparison in the quantum of oppression both the communities have suffered. If killing of couple of hundred pandits is genocide, what would Sandhya Jain call killing of lakhs of Muslims in the State right from 1947? The lady must know that if Muslims were intolerant they wouldn't help Pandits leave safely from Kashmir but rather do what Gujrati Hindus did to Muslims.
Every son is helped by his father which is natural but that doesn't mean that Basharat Peer rode the ladder only because of his father. He has qualification; merit and work to back him which helped him grow. What is wrong in stating that Basharat's nationality is disputed? Most of the people all over Kashmir say it openly. There are more than a dozen UN resolutions calling Kashmir a disputed territory. United Nations Military Observer Group is stationed at the heart of Srinagar which signifies its disputed nature. Except Indian State most of the states in the world treat Kashmir as dispute. The then Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru had several times promised people an independent plebiscite. If it was not disputed why he promised so. We have personalities like Arundhati Roy, Shant Bhushan, Veer Sanghvi, Barkha Dutt, Seema Mustafa and many more stating the same position what Basharat said.
One fails to understand what Sandhiya Jain wants to achieve by bringing Basharat's father in her argument who happens to be an IAS officer in the issue. It clearly seems she is walking on old Sanghparivar ideology that never allows anyone to speak in opposition. Kashmiris condemn the language Sandhiya Jain has used against the Kashmiri people in general and Basharat Peer in particular. We cannot allow anyone to suffocate voices of our people. Basharat Peer by raising the plight of his own people has earned a niche for himself among Kashmiris whether anyone likes it or not we don't bother. We stand by Basharat Peer.
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THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
REFRESH YOUR CONSCIENCE
Kashmir has been facing the worst kind of atrocities since June, 2010. In retaliation to peaceful demonstrations more than sixty youth including women and children have been mercilessly killed by security forces, hundreds are injured and more than a thousand are put behind bars. Why have Kashmiri youth are on roads?
Do they cry for jobs or loans? Are they concerned about the developmental works? Aren't they conscious about their academics? The answer to all these questions is NO. They are protesting for freedom and dignity. They are striving for the right of self determination India had promised. They know education is subservient to honour; if former is derailed for some time can be put back on rails but the latter if tarnished once cannot be regained by any means. What is important in these protests is that people from all walks of life including labourers, traders, transporters, employees and lawyers are lending their support without caring for the consequences. Four junior doctors from SMHS have been chargesheeted by the Health Department and FIR has been registered against them for participating in a peaceful demonstration within the premises of their hospital. All this happened but alas! the state legislators who have become representatives by the vote of people have turned mute spectators. They seem to be unconcerned about the atrocities committed on their people. A teenager from Baramulla was thrown into river Jhelum by security forces without any reason and later on teargas shelled leading to his death and subsequent drowning. Numerous such incidents happened across the valley where teenagers were killed by brutal forces without a provocation. Mian Abdul Qayoomwas put behind the bars for raising his voice against the excesses committed by security forces. Media persons, the members of the fourth estate, were gagged and tortured for publishing the truth. What else remains? But to our misfortune, the legislators are in deep slumber. As an eyewash legislators locked the main gate of Civil Secretariat but a Kashmiri fails to understand the purpose it served. They call it politics and nothing else. I'm sure the gullible people of Kashmir who voted for their legislators might be cursing themselves for having committed such a heinous sin of participating in the elections. Hon'ble legislators, it's still not late. Refresh your conscience and resign to show solidarity with Kashmiris, the people you belong to. I salute the legislators of Telanghana who resigned in mass for statehood.
Author is a Research scholar, University of Kashmir.
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
AN OPEN LETTER TO OMAR ABDULLAH
IF YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL AND HEAD OF THE STATE WANT TO EXPRESS SOLIDARITY AND RESPECT PEOPLE, YOU CAN DO IT BY REVERSING OR HALTING THE DESTRUCTIVE POLICY OF INDIA TOWARDS KASHMIRIS
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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THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
RETHINK STRIKE STRATEGY
CONTINUOUS HARTALS KILL SOCIETY INWARDLY AND IT SERVES NONE OTHER THAN VESTED INTERESTS
ER HUNEEF MOHAMMAD
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 DAILY RISING KASHMIR
HAS NEW DELHI ANYTHING 'NEW' TO OFFER?
THE HUMAN DIMENSION ATTACHED TO THE KASHMIR CRISIS BESEECHES GOI TO EXPLORE NEW WAYS OF HANDLING THE SITUATION
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 DAILY RISING KASHMIR
MAGICIAN AND POLITICIANS
MOHAMMAD IMRAN MUZAFFAR
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.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
SUPREME COURT GIVES A WAKE-UP CALL
IT should not require the judiciary to tell the executive something as simple as this: don't let food rot, give it free to the poor. Since the Food Ministry, it seems, does not read court judgements on its operations, the Supreme Court had to clarify on Tuesday that it had issued an order, not a suggestion. Food Minister Sharad Pawar seems more interested in sorting out match-fixing by Pakistani cricketers than setting his own ministry in order, clearing in foodgrain mess, straightening out the distribution network or building additional storage capacity. He recently conceded in the Rajya Sabha that 11,700 tonnes of foodgrains worth Rs 6.86 crore stored in government godowns got damaged. A few days later he claims that reports about rotting foodgrains are exaggerated.
Implementing the court order is undoubtedly not easy. Giving away damaged grains to the poor will again
expose the government to criticism. What the court suggests is obviously free food distribution before the rot sets in. In the past year or so the minister could have released wheat and rice in the open market to calm the raging prices and make space for fresh produce. Identifying the poor eligible for free grains may be a herculean task. Perhaps, to start with, the government can give free food to every family in the 200 most disadvantaged districts as has been suggested by the National Advisory Council during the exercise to finalise the National Food Security Bill.
Making subsidised food available to the deserving is a global concern. The US introduced food stamps in 1964. Other countries like Sri Lanka and Mexico have followed the example. Still better is Brazil's practice of conditional subsidies available only to those poor families which get children vaccinated and send them to school. India's public distribution system has deteriorated with time. Studies show the poor get only 10 per cent of the food subsidy bill. The recent arrest of Arunachal's ex-Chief Minister in a Rs 1,000-crore PDS scam is an eye-opener. The court order should trigger serious introspection on efficient food storage and distribution.
BHOPAL CASE RETRIAL
ONUS ON CBI TO CONVINCE APEX COURT
TUESDAY'S Supreme Court ruling allowing the CBI's curative petition to review its 14-year-old decision, in which it diluted the charges against seven accused in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy case, is welcome. Even though the apex court will take the final call about the retrial of the accused only after hearing the parties concerned, the ruling by a three-judge Bench consisting of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice Altams Kabir and Justice R.V. Raveendran is bound to give relief to all those who believe that the 1996 ruling by a Bench presided over by Justice A.M. Ahmadi was a miscarriage of justice. In its curative petition, the CBI argued that the September 13, 1996 apex court ruling dropping charges against the accused under Section 304 Part II of the Indian Penal Code that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years suffered from "errors apparent on the face of the record".
The 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy is one of the world's worst industrial disasters. Naturally, when the 1996 Bench had reduced the charges from culpable homicide not amounting to murder (Section 304 Part II IPC) to causing death by negligence (Section 304A IPC) on the seven accused, including industrialist Keshub Mahindra, there was public outcry. Worse, when the trial court had let off on bail all the accused with a sentence of two years under Section 304A in June this year, it shook the nation's conscience. The Centre took note of the public sentiment and promptly constituted a Group of Ministers which, in turn, asked the CBI to file a curative petition seeking enhanced punishment for the accused.
The Supreme Court may have reopened the case, but it will order the retrial of the accused only if the CBI convinces it of the same. The accused could also seek dismissal of the curative petition on the ground that they cannot be forced to face retrial for no fault of theirs. The CBI would also need to explain to the apex court why it remained quiet for 14 years and why it filed a curative petition only after the trial court judgment on June 7, 2010.
PARTY KNOWS BEST
MPS FEEL THEIR LIPS ARE SEALED
PARLIAMENT is one place where a people's representative can raise his voice freely, right? Wrong. MPs in general are not quite so free to express their minds, according to a survey based on interviews with 100 serving and former MPs. It is the party which decides what they should say. And if an MP's view is different from that of the party, he is made to keep his lips pursed. That is a serious matter indeed, considering that democracy is all about freedom of expression. Toeing the party line has been the undoing of the Indian Parliament many a time, most noticeably during the Emergency, and this trend must be reversed in the larger interest of the country. Ironically, MPs also feel that even when their viewpoint is in consonance with that of their parties, only a chosen few are allowed to participate in a debate.
The study titled "Democratic Quotient of the Indian Parliament", which analysed MPs' views on the basis of the toolkit developed by the International Parliamentary Union, makes two other significant points. One, it highlights the frustration of most of the MPs that it is not the quality of work that gets them elected. As many as 66 per cent felt that caste and religion tags impacted voters' minds. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the Indian society is badly fragmented and even national parties choose their candidates on the basis of their caste and religion.
Two, it is becoming increasingly difficult for persons of average means to win an election. That is why the 15th Lok Sabha is the House of "crorepatis", with full 58 per cent MPs having declared assets of over Rs 1 crore each. That puts a question mark on the representative character of Parliament. Can such people really safeguard the interests of the have-nots? These are vital questions which must be answered with sincerity if the Indian system of governance is to have vibrancy and vitality.
INDIA'S NEIGHBOURHOOD POLICIES
THE GAP BETWEEN PROMISE AND PERFORMANCE
BY G. PARTHASARATHY
AS Ambassador to Myanmar, I had proposed in 1994 that, as Myanmar was interested in letting us develop the hydroelectric potential of the Chindwin river for the supply of between 1000 and 1500 MW of electricity to India, we should seek early implementation of this project, located close to Myanmar's borders with Manipur. After some hesitation by the Ministry of Power, which claimed that there was surplus power in our Northeast, successive Prime Ministers supported early implementation of this project. The Myanmar government was advised about our intention to go ahead with its implementation.
Sixteen years later, we have not even finalised a detailed project report. There are now indications that in recent days China may have well tried to derail this project a situation we could have avoided if we had acted more expeditiously. Delays in being unable to determine how we would transfer gas from an offshore field in Myanmar, in which both GAIL and ONGC had an equity stake, resulted in Rangoon deciding to supply gas to China.
While we may be able to tide over such developments in Myanmar, there now appear to be distinct possibilities that because of lack of attention, inertia and procrastination, we could well lose a historic opportunity to put our relations with Bangladesh on a sound footing. Sheikh Hasina's Awami League swept to a decisive electoral victory in December 2008, winning 230 seats and securing a two-thirds parliamentary majority. Showing immense courage, Sheikh Hasina has declared Bangladesh a secular republic. She has overseen the signature of agreements with India on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, the transfer of sentenced persons, and combating terrorism. Anti-Indian Islamists from groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Harkat-ul-Jihad Al-Islami, apart from separatists like the ULFA's Arabinda Rajkhowa and the NDFB's Ranjan Daimari have been quietly put behind bars, though for understandable reasons. Bangladesh avoids publicising its actions. Pressures in Bangladesh have forced top ULFA leaders to flee to safe havens along the Myanmar-China border.
The visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Delhi earlier this year produced a broad road-map for future cooperation. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Dhaka on August 7 and inked an agreement for extending a soft loan of $ 1 billion for 14 projects in Bangladesh. He proclaimed: "I am sure this credit line will be a stepping stone for a shared destiny and will transform our bilateral relationship." The line of credit will finance projects ranging from railway lines and equipment to the dredging of rivers and the supply of buses. India has also agreed to supply 250 MW of electricity from its grid to Bangladesh. Our image and credibility will be seriously compromised if the promised electricity is not made available expeditiously.
Bangladesh has agreed to the transit of Indian goods across its territory to our Northeast for the Palatona power
project. But, given the opposition to such transit within Bangladesh, India should fulfil its commitment of improving the road network from within Bangladesh to Tripura before it is accused of damaging Bangladesh roads for the transit of its goods. Moreover, the Indian bureaucracy has little enthusiasm for upgrading and modernising border crossing points in remote areas. This needs to be addressed. Politically, the agreement for India to construct a bridge across the Feni river to facilitate trade would dilute Begum Khaleda Zia's anti-Indian rhetoric, as it would facilitate border trade through her constituency. After agreeing to a long-pending request from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh for according transit rights for Chittagong and Mongia ports, India has to fulfil its commitment expeditiously.
India has shown an overly protectionist attitude in its approach to SAARC neighbours like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka by placing key items of interest to these countries in a "negative list", denying them duty-free access. This is short-sighted, given that we have a trade surplus approaching $3 billion with Bangladesh. It would be statesmanlike if India moves to expeditiously end the restrictions on the import of around 61 items of specific interest to Bangladesh. It is ridiculous to pretend that we are a rising economic power if we behave like an economic pygmy with smaller neighbours. There would be an immense political benefit if our Commerce Ministry acted to end these restrictions before the end of this year.
Sheikh Hasina is facing domestic criticism spearheaded by the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami for allegedly having sold out to India. She will have to show that relations with India are producing tangible and visible benefits for Bangladesh and that long-pending differences are being resolved. Under the 1974 Indira-Mujib agreement, India is required to hand over around 111 enclaves to Bangladesh and in return it will get 51 enclaves from Dhaka. It took us 18 years to lease a small corridor of land near Tin Bigha to Bangladesh, which we were required to do under the 1974 agreement. Barely 6.5 kilometres out of the 4096-km land border remains undemarcated. Measures need to be agreed upon so that the border is expeditiously demarcated.
The "Tin Bigha Corridor' gave access in perpetuity to the Dahagram-Angarpota enclave and it was agreed during Sheikh Hasina's visit that while Bangladesh would provide electrification to the affected population, India would build a flyover for unfettered Indian use while Bangladesh would use the ground under the flyover for its nationals. India should fulfil this commitment given by its Prime Minister immediately, given the sensitivity of this issue, which is seen as a litmus test of Indian seriousness and sincerity.
There are two factors which seriously undermine our ability to maintain a sustained effort in our relations with otherwise friendly neighbours like Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The first is the excessive importance and attention given to Pakistan which, as other neighbours believe, is at their expense. Surely, the time has come to realise, as Indira Gandhi realistically did, that relations with Pakistan are not going to materially change in a hurry and that on issues like trade and economic cooperation, we should stop giving the impression that we are yearning to get trade and economic concessions from our western neighbour.
A policy of "benign neglect" on economic issues and realistic and low-key political and diplomatic engagement is the only realistic way to deal with Pakistan. Secondly, there is need for a dedicated inter-disciplinary team at the Secretary level to seek imaginative ways for a forward-looking engagement with other neighbours. This team's primary role can be to anticipate problems, assess opportunities and see that promises made by us are implemented, with the National Security Adviser and the Prime Minister constantly overseeing its work.
ODDS AND ENDS
BY UTTAM SENGUPTA
It is not every day that you see a young man with no arms giving an award to another young man with no legs.
Yet, both of them were there in the photograph. Binod bending down with the certificate pinned on his shoulder with the side of his chin. And Sidikullah, who has lost the use of both his lower limbs, extending his arm to receive it.
One day in August every year, an unusual foundation honours such brave youngsters. Binod has not allowed the loss of his arms to come in the way of his sporting spirit. He is an ace swimmer and a footballer who dreams of playing in the big league.
Sidikullah cannot afford a rickshaw-ride to his school, which is 5 km from home. But he has not allowed his handicap to come in the way. The class XI student puts in a super-human effort every day to crawl to his school and back.
It is a tribute to the human spirit. The foundation identifies such cases , verifies them, sends representatives to check claims before inviting them to a glittering ceremony, where their stories are presented and they are put on the stage as role models, an inspiration to others.
Yours truly looked forward to this special day every year. For three hours and more, I and my wife would cry and smile at the same time, often giving standing ovations , along with the entire audience of some two thousand people, to the unusual men and women. Those three hours cleansed our soul and restored our faith in humanity, gave us the courage to take the day-to-day meanness in our stride.
This year we had to be content with looking at the photograph. But despite the distance, our eyes welled up with tears. Sidikullah's story, said the newspaper report, moved a couple into promising the gift of a 'rickshaw', hopefully a mechanised one, to enable him to attend school.
Life does play tricks while dealing cards to people. Safi Alam Sheikh, a class XI student, lost his father even before he was born. The poor man was murdered. The widow, Safi's mother, became mentally ill. And as if that was not enough, Safi himself was struck by polio and lost the use of one of his lower limbs. The only child is his own guardian. But he has not allowed the odds to cripple him. Safi, does odd jobs for a living and doubles up as a cook for one of the midday meal projects and , of course, attends his classes.
A few such people every year get lucky and are noticed. Many more obviously fight their own battles far away from the footlights. If only each of them can be lent a shoulder to lean on, how much better would this world be.
HOW TO CLEAN UP THE MESS IN CITIES
WHILE LAUNCHING THE JAWAHARLAL NEHRU NATIONAL URBAN RENEWAL MISSION, THE PRIME MINISTER DECLARED THAT IT WOULD BE A CITY-BASED PROGRAMME AND THAT CITIES WOULD MOVE TO THE CENTRE OF THE STAGE AND TAKE CHARGE OF THEIR DESTINY. HOWEVER, FOUR YEARS DOWN THE LINE, IT IS BUSINESS AS USUAL AND THE LUSTRE OF THE MUCH-ACCLAIMED MISSION HAS DIMMED
IN seminars and discussions, this writer has heard the remark that planning and projects are in inverse ratio. When there is no money, people start making plans but when money comes they plunge into projects and planning is forgotten. In a way this is what is happening with regard to the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). Never before in India's urban history has such a large programme of investment been undertaken covering 65 megacities, state capitals and other towns. In addition, the IDSMT (Integrated Development of Small and Medium Size Towns) launched during the Ninth Five Year Plan period refuses to die and has been rechristened as urban IDSSMT covering about 700 towns.
With a total bill exceeding Rs 100,000 core, half of it coming as a largesse from the Centre, the funds are adrenaline to consultants and contractors. Water supply, sewerage, sanitation and solid waste management are the staple items. Every one loves flyovers and there is ample provision for that. Genuflecting to the government's declared policy of inclusive growth and Basic Services for the Urban Poor, comprising mainly the construction of dwelling units as well as upgradation of slums is a major component of the programme.
Several of the JNNURM cities are in tier II. For Chandigarh's three projects in water supply, sanitation as well as 42,000 dwelling units for the poor, Rs 760 crore have been provided. Faridabad is getting Rs 770 crore for similar schemes. Dehradun's allocation is about Rs 300 crore. Bhopal's share is Rs 1400 crore including areas affected by the gas tragedy. Lucknow and Kanpur have an allocation of Rs 2,200 crore. This order of investment for a city's infrastructure has not been seen before.
At the state level, compliance with the 74th Constitutional Amendment by assigning to the municipalities and corporations the various functions listed in the 12th Schedule and establishment of District Planning and Metropolitan Planning committees are important stipulations. There are specific requirements on earmarking of funds and serviced land for the urban poor.
There is nothing startlingly new or unique in the Agenda. It is essentially wisdom received from the past. Yet, the hope was that when sanction and release of funds is made contingent on compliance to the reforms agenda, things would happen. The Prime Minister declared while launching the Mission four years ago that it would be a city-based programme; that cities would move to the centre of the stage and take charge of their destiny. Four years down the line, the lustre of this shining declaration has dimmed. Except in some cases, business has continued as usual with parastatal organisations, accountable neither to the city nor to the citizens but only to themselves and their political masters, have continued to hold sway.
Let us look at what is happening in our neighbourhood. In Faridabad, the Corporation is the principal implementing body with the NBCC as its main contractors. In Bhopal, the corporation is in a similar position. In Chandigarh, after the formation of the Municipal Corporation, the responsibility for handling the JNNURM schemes is theirs, but not in neighbouring Mohali or Panchkula. In Lucknow and Kanpur, the UP Jal Nigam and the respective development authorities handle most of the work. So it is in Dehradun.
This division of responsibilities, rather the diminution of the municipal domain, is sought to be justified on the ground that corporations and the municipalities do not have the capacity to prepare or execute projects. Should capacity follow empowerment or should it precede?
Unfortunately, though the 73rd and the 74th Constitutional Amendments carry the simple prescription that these rural and urban local bodies should be institutions of self-government, adherence to this provision has been downplayed and distorted. At the same time, elections have been held as a mandatory requirement. The large number of the municipal corporators and panchayat members signify the arithmetical success of decentralisation but little beyond. The absence of functional and fiscal domain encourages these elected representatives to exercise power without responsibility.
The reluctance to levy house tax in Chandigarh is an obvious example. Given Chandigarh's high per capita income and good level of services what is the justification for limiting property tax only to commercial and industrial premises but not residences? Are the citizens of other places like Mumbai, Bangalore or Hyderabad or even Delhi for that matter who do pay house taxes, children of a lesser god?
Punjab and Haryana found it was very convenient to abolish somebody else's tax when they exempted residences from taxation a few years ago. So did Rajasthan and Haryana. In one of the few instances of firmness, the Union Ministry of Urban Development kept harping on property tax management as an important reform of the JNNURM agenda. All these states are now in the process of getting back to a house tax regime.
There is another dimension to what is happening in the tier two cities. Infrastructure provision, location of economic activities, growth, spatial expansion and further demand on infrastructure are all parts of a growth cycle. Faridabad as a complex stretches beyond its boundaries. Dehradun's economy and employment is not confined to the Corporation boundaries but stretches towards Vikasnagar in the West and the airport to the East.
It was clearly foreseen that Mohali and Panchkula would be extensions and within a few years a larger urban complex would emerge. The Chandigarh Interstate Metropolitan Region was identified in 1998 itself, covering 2500 sq km and envisaging a staged development.
However, the process of taking a metropolitan view is still fraught with needless delays and disputes. Water supply is an important illustration and transport is another. When Chandigarh asked the RITES (Rail India Technical and Economic Services) for a mass transit proposal, the project did suggest linking Mohali and Panchkula. Leaving technology choice aside even a simple common agreement to permit buses of the three jurisdictions to move about the metro area could not be reached until recently.
Today Chandigarh is not a babu's domain. It has its range of institutions of regional and national importance. So do Mohali and Panchkula. All the three vie with each other in setting up industrial and trading centres. This is as it should be but without an agreed plan. In its absence, the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA), the Greater Mohali Development Authority and the Chandigarh Administration will all become public works empires pursuing their respective fiefdoms. Can the nation and the region afford this?
Jawaharlal Nehru had said let Chandigarh be "a new town symbolic of the freedom of India, unfettered by traditions of the past and expression of the nation's faith in the future". Can this vision be redeemed? Among others, the Administrator of Chandigarh who is also the Governor of Punjab is one of the persons with whom the answer may lie.
The writer, a former Secretary to the Government of India,Urban Development, is currently Chairman, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi
SUKHBIR SINGH SANDHU
WITH rapid urbanisation, the situation is becoming critical. Our Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), responsible for providing civic amenities, are plagued with many inherent problems. Due to high salary bills, unionism and poor work culture, these neither have funds nor efficient human resources for infrastructure development and maintenance services. Age-old manual systems are not able to handle the increasing workload and are also susceptible to manipulations.
Embezzlements and revenue leakages are very common, resulting in increasing litigation and huge loss to the ULBs. Mushrooming unauthorised colonies, with the connivance of officials and some politicians, also lead to more pressure on the ULBs for providing basic amenities. As a result, the ULBs are allowed to do only day-to-day fire fighting with no futuristic planning. The people are dissatisfied and don't want to pay taxes to the ULBs. This vicious cycle leads to collapsing of the ULBs' delivery system.
Not having Master Plan is a major reason for haphazard growth of cities in Punjab. Recently, the Punjab government has taken the pragmatic step of preparation of Master Plans for all the cities.
The ULBs' ills are curable through innovative delivery models including Public Private Partnership (PPP) and active community participation. During this writer's three-year tenure (1998-2001) as Commissioner, Municipal Corporation, Ludhiana, many solution-driven approaches were successfully developed to invigorate the Municipal Corporation's functioning.
We involved many senior and retired citizens, who wanted to contribute for the improvement of their neighbourhood. As the corporation did not have sufficient number of committed and effective staff, we channelised the energy and motivation of senior citizens and got dedicated 'managers without salary'. Through community participation, we could solve the problems of park management by setting up 'Parks Management Committees', and cleanliness through 'Neighbourhood Sanitation Committees'. All these efforts fructified in saving 85 per cent of expenditure, reduced workload, beautiful parks, no absenteeism, much better sanitation and no unionism.
We also introduced many innovative yet simple practices i.e. night sweeping in congested areas, night transportation of garbage, more tricycles in place of wheel barrows, etc. Advertisement hoardings were allowed to put up on BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) basis to conceal the garbage containers led to cleanliness and more income.
Unlocking the value of land was the other major breakthrough as we were able to unearth 820 hidden properties worth Rs 190 crore by reconciling 50-year-old revenue records and computerisation of land inventory. The setting up of efficient Management Information System through computerisation of most functions of the corporation further led to discovery of arrears of crores of rupees, saving of substantial manpower cost, making manipulations and interference impossible, less revenue leakage, proper backup of records and quick delivery system. Financial tools such as 'Zero Base Budgeting' were introduced to avoid inflated estimates and cut wasteful expenditure. Special emphasis was given to detect underassessment of taxes in the property tax.
With the help of all these measures, the total and capital budget of the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation increased by 221 per cent and 744 per cent respectively in three years. The corporation built three flyovers and an elevated road (the country's longest at that time) with its own funds. It funded the 2001 National Games in Ludhiana. These initiatives won the citizens' confidence and enhanced the corporation's credibility. People started paying taxes willingly.
Since any upward tariff revision punishes the honest taxpayer, before introducing such tariff revision, we need to plug the physical and financial leakages and widen the tax base. Most politicians oppose tariff hike. Though the upward revision should be the last resort, experience shows that people are ready to pay, provided efficient and credible services are provided.
The PPP is well tested in Punjab for development of physical and social infrastructure. A special drive is required to accelerate various PPP models in providing the basic civic amenities. Sometimes, positive judicial activism also helps in taking some tough decisions which are good for the city.
Political interference and favouritism is prevalent in the ULBs' functioning. Many politicians, by taking advantage of our weak systems, go out of the way to appease voters by preventing proper law enforcement. These wrong practices discourage our enforcement staff leading to further mess in the city management.
Surat became India's cleanest city only after the plague. Are we not capable of taking right decisions without a crisis even after 63 years of Independence? A paradigm shift in approach is required between officials, politicians and citizens. Instead of fighting with and blaming each other, we should join hands and fight the weaknesses in the system to have a better quality of life in our cities.
The writer, a senior IAS officer, is Managing Director, Punjab Infrastructure Development Board and Additional Principal Secretary to the Punjab Chief Minister
FROM FIREMEN TO FIREMAN
RICHARD SMYTH'S POEMS ON FIREFIGHTERS MAKE US SEE THEM AS HUMAN BEINGS AND NOT AS FACELESS RESCUE WORKERS
Ever since January and the kite festival, I've wanted to write a column (literary, of course), in praise of firemen. Since January, we've had to call them more than a dozen times to rescue desperate birds entangled in kite string. They've always been prompt and efficient, and never hang around for thanks or tips.
I started by looking for poems about firemen, and found dozens, both by firemen and about them.
Unfortunately, they were all full of stereotyped attitudes and feelings: the fireman is ready to lay down his life, his mother worries, his wife worries, (they would, wouldn't they?), he may be afraid but will do his duty. All very sincere, and all unreadable. I also found one deterrent: 'Unless you have lived with this kind of life, you will probably never truly understand or appreciate who I am, we are, or what our job really means to us'.
There was a reference to the 1902 Edwin Porter film on the life of a fireman, a cartoon series called Fireman Sam first made in Welsh, then in English, then in Gallic, a Bruce Springsteen song, Into the Fire, fire-fighter jokes, prayers, and offers of fire-fighter gifts with "personalized poetry, customised for your favourite fire-fighter." Inevitably, Matilda, the naughty girl of so many poems for children is there too: "Matilda told such dreadful lies,/it made one gasp and stretch one's eyes." This time she summons the fire-brigade as a joke. When there is a real fire, no one listens to her cries, and she is burned to a crisp.
The moral of all this may well have turned out to be 'don't write anything you know nothing about.' It was poet Melanie Silgardo who came to my rescue when I told her about my hopes, fears, and ambitions. She recommended the American poet Richard Smyth's Fireman Poems. These turned out to be poems about metaphoric firemen who understand the cold and darkness of the universe and the world of men, and bring fire to them. In fact, Smyth cautions us to make sure we are moving forward, that 'nothing nothing nothing/takes you back to that season of fatigue/that time of hibernation/when the sun was too far away/to make a difference'.
The fire here, as in so many beliefs is life-giving. But the poems are so wonderful that I thought I would talk about them anyway, even if one kind of fireman has turned into another on the way.
Here are some lines from the first poem in the series, 'The Fireman Sets the World on Fire'. 'A long time ago/before gods danced in the language of man/ ..there was this Fireman/and his bright red truck/shiny new/solar powered/thick tires mudbuggying through the soup/the first teenager driving wild/in the bright night/the first child playing with fire/in the nothing world.' In another poem, The Fireman and the Poet, the Fireman sees a poet scribbling in his notebook, and 'lightning bolting/through the pen./The poem is channeling powerful forces./The poem holds energy/ the way molecules hold heat'. In The Fireman Investigates Hydrogen Energy, 'the real question for him/is how to burn bright/and hot and clean:/ ' 'the real question is how to be/a small sun'.
One of the most attractive features of these poems is that everyone can relate to them. They refer to our feelings about ourselves, about the universe, about ways in which to think about life, write about it. Living a meaningful life includes awareness of the beauty of, for instance, blazing maple leaves in Autumn, 'in colours there are no words for/not even in the language of fire', and sunflowers.
Richard Smyth is editor of Albatross Poetry Journal, and is also involved in new technologies, and ways to move from a "literate society to an electrate one".
DOWNSIDE TO THE UPSIDE
EFFORT NEEDED TO SUSTAIN GOOD NEWS ON GDP GROWTH
The 8.8 per cent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter of 2010-11 (that comes on the heels of 8.6 per cent in the last quarter of 2009-10) should put to rest any doubts about the durability of the economic recovery. It could also mean that the economy is getting back on the 9 per cent growth trajectory of the pre-crisis years. Besides, the fact that GDP growth is being driven by industry, that grew 10.3 per cent in the quarter, should augur well for revenue mobilisation and the fiscal health of the government. The sustainability of this revival would depend on the extent to which investment activity is revived and employment generated. That said, there is usually no dearth of caveats when it comes to interpreting economic data and this week's data is no exception.
There are two specific sets of concerns. For one, the first quarter of this fiscal year was really the last of the post-crisis period to gain from a "low base" effect that would have pushed the current year's growth rate up (Q1 2009-10 posted growth of 6 per cent; in Q2 it picked up to 8.6 per cent). As this statistical effect wanes in the coming quarters, there would be a natural tendency towards deceleration. If that is accompanied by more "genuine" moderation, month-on-month, in some components of GDP, then the deceleration could be more acute. The index of industrial production (IIP) certainly points to the possibility of moderation for the "industry" component of GDP. The extent of deceleration in aggregate GDP would, of course, be determined by how components like agriculture fare but the consensus among economists appears to be that growth for the rest of the year would be tamer. Besides, analysis of the expenditure side of the GDP balance (that involves measuring GDP as the sum of consumption, investment etc.) produces some bizarre results. Aggregate GDP growth measured this way turns out to be a paltry 3.7 per cent. While the discrepancy is likely to be partly due to data error, there could be more fundamental problems underpinning this.
The expenditure side breakdown points to softness in both private final consumption expenditure (that grew by 0.3 per cent year-on-year) and gross capital formation (that grew by 3.7 per cent year-on-year). Though the government says this data needs a second look. The softness in private consumption continues an existing trend and perhaps points to the fact that high inflation has eroded disposable incomes of a large swathe of the population. The weak capital formation data is more alarming since it follows a healthy pick-up in the previous quarter. In the previous quarter, it had grown by a healthy 17.4 per cent. If this is indeed an indication that investment spending is tapering off after a spurt, the sustainability of the growth momentum comes under a cloud. Given the risk of moderation going forward, policy-makers need to be careful in withdrawing stimulus. If it does take the expenditure side symptoms seriously, RBI might want to go a little easy in setting monetary policy. The global economy seems to be losing steam and recent data prints from the US on housing and consumer spending have been nothing short of alarming. This seems to be impinging both on India's export performance and inward capital flows. In a scenario where India cannot depend much on help from its friends in stoking its growth engines, any sign of weakness in domestic demand has to be viewed with caution.
TIME TO PUT A LID ON DABBA
ILLEGAL COMMODITY FUTURES TRADING DOES NOT BENEFIT FARMERS
A parallel system of futures trading in commodities, operating outside recognised commodity exchanges, better known by its colloquial epithet Dabba, has been thriving unchecked and is believed to be now generating bigger trading volumes than the regular exchanges. This is chiefly because curbing this mode of trading is proving difficult under existing rules governing commodity futures. The Forward Markets Commission (FMC), the main regulator of this sector, in its present avatar does not have adequate powers to directly intervene in Dabba trading. Nor can the commodity exchanges do much to stop it, though the Dabba operators are known to be using the prices discovered at the exchanges to settle their unwritten deals. Couple of indirect measures taken recently by the FMC, such as imposition of a relatively more deterrent penalty regime for erring brokers and barring sub-brokers from commodity trading, seem to aim, in part, at thwarting theDabba operations, but they have failed to stop the racket. The FMC has now sought information on inactive members of commodity exchanges in the belief that many of them may be involved in this illegal business. It remains to be seen if a mere weeding out of inactive members would stop the Dabba trade. Those involved in the Dabba mode of futures trading find it financially attractive as they do not have to put in margin money or pay transaction fee to the exchanges. But they do not have any safeguards against default since the deals are without bona fide contracts. This apart, since many of the brokers in the Dabba trade often hedge their personal risks through recognised brokers dealing on regular exchanges, the repercussions of defaults in Dabba trading can spill over to the valid futures trading as well.
Perhaps empowering the commodity futures regulator can help. It is, therefore, unfortunate that the process of amending the archaic Forward Contracts Regulation Act, 1952 for providing more teeth to the regulator, initiated two years ago, has not yet been taken to its logical end. The Bill to amend this statute was not only drafted and formally approved by the Union Cabinet, but was also hurriedly enforced through an Ordinance in 2008. It aimed at converting the FMC into an autonomous, statutory regulator for commodity futures with full powers to act against unlawful practices and introduce futures trading in options, derivatives and intangibles like carbon credits. But, surprisingly, the Ordinance was allowed to lapse. Unless this Bill is revived and enacted into law, it may be difficult to deal with Dabba trading. An amendment of the law is needed also to achieve the main objective of reintroducing futures trading in commodities. Options trading in commodities will allow farmers to hedge their risks by giving them the right, but without any obligation, to sell their stocks at a future date. The government must take steps to this end and get the commodities regulator to put a lid on Dabbatrading.
WHAT A HIGHWAY CAN DO
DESPITE SIGNS OF TRANSFORMATIONAL CHANGE, WE NEED MORE - SOPS AND QUALITY
Even as the country reels from the extended rains and the imminent Commonwealth Games, there are unmistakable signs in Delhi's environs of an unprecedented transformation. To see and feel this, try driving to the Delhi-Noida toll bridge (the "DND"), and go past Noida on the expressway to Greater Noida.
It isn't perfect, and there are many details that could be handled better, from the assets built to how we use them. These include unfinished verges with construction debris near the Ashram crossing, cambers without proper drainage that get flooded in some stretches of the expressway, motorcyclists sheltering from the rain under the flyovers/overpasses spilling on to the expressway, pedestrians with no place to cross, trucks at night without even reflectors, trucks that are parked without hazard lights, tractors, and occasional cattle. Most dangerous are the undisciplined drivers who act as if they are puttering along at 30 km per hour while going at the 100 km speed limit or more, or who drive on the wrong side against oncoming traffic. And the resurfacing of the road in parts leaves much to be desired
The transformation under way
Ignore this cavilling and carping, however, and it is bliss. One can cover 30 km from the DND toll plaza to Greater Noida in 20 minutes legally, although within New Delhi, it may take as long or even longer to travel just a few kilometres. I was amazed recently driving from Shantiniketan to Greater Noida in 40 minutes. It was like driving in California quite different from the contentious driving that is customary on our roads.
The sheer ease and convenience apart, another, arguably greater, benefit is the gain in productivity. It is this potential for productivity that, if we can wring from ourselves, is one part of the equation in our pursuit of an improved quality of life. It is especially important because of our vast numbers, including the much-bruited potential demographic dividend, which is not new. As Babur put it in the 16th century*: " if they fix their eyes on a place in which to settle as the population of Hindustan is unlimited, it swarms in." Little has changed, and much needs to be built from the ground up, starting with sanitation and water, not to mention energy, communications, and transportation systems.
But just consider: the limited instance of the drive on the expressway reveals a productivity gain of three to four times at 20 minutes for covering 30 km, compared with covering only 7-10 km in the same time (or taking three to four times longer for 30 km). That's a gain of 300-400 per cent!
There's another noticeable change: a willingness of everyone to work very much harder at whatever they do. All levels of people, from entrepreneur-managers to electricians, plumbers, gardeners, and day labourers, work so hard that a major change seems to be afoot. I am familiar with the hardworking farmer and rural wage earner, having grown up on a farm myself. I have also experienced the recalcitrance of some public sector employees and private sector unions, as well as the productive, hard-charging PSU, government, and private sector employees. Yet, in the work attitudes of boomtown Greater Noida, I see impressive energy and application.
Let me not gloss over the weaknesses. There are big failures in delivery capability, and these arise from two critical lacunae:
a) SOPs, systems and procedures
b) A major failing appears to be the lack of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) even for simple construction jobs, like painting metal: the ramrod, sequential steps of first scrape, then clean, apply primer, apply the first coat of paint and dry off; then apply the second coat People simply don't follow sound work practices systems and procedures that, when applied, yield consistent good results. This is partly an endogenous failing, arising from lack of appropriate education/training and discipline. It is also partly attributable to the lack of organised systems and procedures.
An equally critical exogenous failing of the environment is reliable infrastructure, whether in the form of energy (power/electricity), communications, transportation excepting a one-off good stretch of highway, or water and sanitation. Take any single area, say energy. The extent of wasted manpower because of lack of adequate electricity supply is beyond imagination.
Add the bases for learning and functioning competently, and there's education (including training) and health care as a support function. Proper education and training and discipline are absolutely essential for learning and developing sound work processes, and for applying them. There was an impression many years ago that incompetence or recalcitrance in delivery resulted from the inadequate capacity of individuals. In the last several years, it is evident that we have good people, but they have very poor training, systems and organisation, and equally poor infrastructure. You could call it a lack of leadership and discipline at all levels.
What we need
We need two sets of fixes. The first is for our inherent failings: the lack of SOPs and the need to learn to work to inexorable checklists and timelines. It is imperative to learn the discipline of project management at all levels starting from the top, not the bottom! This is a sweeping change that entails shifting from feudal criteria to respect for professional competence and processes.
The second fix required is a supportive environment: good infrastructure and the appurtenances of good policies. Going by the figures, we will build more roads, power plants and factories in the next few years than in the last 60. But the net gain to society will depend on their quality. If they are shoddy, the gains will be much less. Assets that are not integrated into coherent systems will be less beneficial than if they are integrated to deliver results, e.g. isolated housing without a web of transportation and communication links near where people work; isolated good stretches of highway. It is imperative that we design and execute the infrastructure to support our productivity. This is an area of weakness we must address and execute more comprehensively.
*Babur-Nama, translated by Annette Susannah Beveridge http://www.farlang.com/diamonds/beveridge-baburnama/page_546
THE REAL SOURCE OF PRIDE WILL BE WHEN INDIANS WHO HAVE WORKED THROUGH THE INDIAN BUSINESS SYSTEM COME TO HEAD GLOBAL CORPORATIONS
The flutter of interest and comment over Anshu Jain's candidacy for the top job at Deutsche Bank highlighted just how much India Inc loves to applaud every time any businessman or executive of Indian origin makes it to the top in the developed world. The fortunes of Lakshmi Mittal, baron of the world's largest steel empire, Arun Sarin, who headed Vodafone from 2003 to 2008, Citigroup's Vikram Pandit and PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi, to name a prominent few, are closely covered by the Indian media and celebrated on muscular patriotic websites such as iloveindia.com. Last year, Warren Buffett's praise of Ajit Jain at Berkshire Hathaway found front page mention and triggered considerable speculation about his possible succession to the Oracle of Omaha.
For the most part, this is a harmless, even touching, past-time. In the midst of the rack and ruin of our urban environments and the very public embarrassment in the run up to the Commonwealth Games, such warm, fuzzy nationalism allows us to wallow in reflected pride and in the notion that, despite the odds, Indians can succeed in the tough, competitive world of global business where it is suspected that prejudices override objectivity. Is this vicarious self-esteem justified?
If you run an eye down the top 100 global corporations in the latest Fortune list, the national origin, if not the official citizenship, of the CEO mostly mimics the provenance of the corporation. This is certainly true of the 20 largest companies. Wal-Mart, the world's largest firm, for instance, is headed by an American, Michael Duke, and Chinese companies Sinopec and State Grid (the world's seventh and eighth largest, respectively) have Chinese nationals as CEOs.
But it is a person of Indian origin Vikram Pandit who breaks this trend as CEO of Citigroup, the 33rd-largest listed company and the world's largest bank (global corporation number four British Petroleum's recently appointed American head Robert Dudley can be discounted since that was largely a political appointment following the Deepwater Horizon disaster). For the next trend-breaker, you have to come to number 69 where Japan's Sony Corporation is headed by Howard Stringer, an American of Welsh origin an event that attracted considerable media comment when Stringer was appointed in 2005. To find the next CEO of Indian origin in an overseas corporation, you have to come down to number 171, PepsiCo, headed by the popular and iconic Indra Nooyi. But this is about as far as parochial pride can take us. That's because most Indian-origin corporate chiefs may have been born and educated in India up to a point, but it is in the first world that they have honed their managerial and business skills and it is from these environments that they draw their expertise.
In Pandit's case, this is strikingly so. He came to the US at age 16 and his higher education from his Bachelor's degree to doctorate was from Columbia State University. He cut his teeth in high finance first, in Morgan Stanley in the early eighties, during the demand boom for quants, and later with Credit Suisse. Despite facing what New York magazine described as "subtle cultural biases", Pandit's rise to prominence in the world of global finance was an entirely American experience.
Indra Nooyi is a little more "Indian" in the sense that her higher education was from Indian institutions a Bachelor's degree from Madras Christian College and a Master's from IIM, Calcutta. She also briefly worked in the Indian corporate world, though for overseas corporations such as Johnson & Johnson. Since 1978, though, her experience of the business world is entirely global, first via a Master's degree from Yale and later through positions in Boston Consulting Group, Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri (it is easy to see why she was thought to be in the race to succeed Ratan Tata).
Similarly, Anshu Jain is a Shri Ram College alumnus but emigrated to the US at the age of 20, took a Master's degree from the University of Massachusetts and worked in then US stalwarts Kidder Peabody and Merrill Lynch before making a career in Deutsche Bank, where he now overseas its profitable investment banking business. Berkshire Hathaway's Ajit Jain worked for IBM in India before it exited during George Fernandes' anti-multinational rampage and then developed a career in McKinsey before moving to Berkshire. Although it is okay to celebrate these successes, the real source of pride will be when Indians who have worked through the Indian business system come to head global corporations. That will be a signal that India has truly integrated in the global business milieu. Some are already half-way there by heading up Asia-Pacific arms of multinationals (such as Stanchart's Bindra). But if purely as examples the shortlist of possible worldwide chiefs for Ford and Microsoft were to include, say, Tata Motors' Telang or Infosys' Gopalakrishnan, Indians can truly claim a triumph of their own.
TOUGH NUTS IN DOHA TALKS
MEMBER COUNTRIES SEEK CONSENSUS BUT CHALLENGES REMAIN ON TARIFFS, SUBSIDIES AND PROTECTIONISM
T S VISHWANATH
The run-up to the G20 meeting in Seoul, South Korea in November will be busy for members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Starting mid-September, various small group meetings will be convened in Geneva to discuss and possibly resolve the outstanding issues in the Doha Round so that the political leaders of the G20 countries can provide a road map for concluding the stalled multilateral trade negotiations and help, revive and sustain global economies.
Several important bilateral meetings were also held in August to try and find solutions to the Doha impasse that has been eluding negotiators for the last nine years.
One important bilateral meeting was the India-US meeting in New Delhi. The US ambassador to WTO, Michael Punke, and Chief US Agriculture Negotiator Islam Siddiqui were in India to iron out the differences that have been on the table for the last two years since the collapse of the mini-ministerial in July 2008.
The meetings in Geneva will be important since member countries have evinced interest in completing the Doha Round. However, there are important issues in each pillar of negotiations that need to be watched to ensure that the negotiations deliver the promised win-win for all countries in the WTO.
The negotiations on industrial goods, for instance, contain an important aspect of what the developed world calls "real tariff cuts" by "emerging nations". This primarily means the BRIC nations accept tariff cuts below the existing applied rates of duty. Although this may seem logical to some exponents, it goes against the basic tenet of the WTO agreement that only calls for cuts in bound tariffs and not applied duties. India, for instance, is only expected to cut its existing bound tariff levels of 40 per cent or 25 per cent to lower levels of, say, 14-15 per cent at the most. It would also be expected to bind about 95 per cent of its tariffs at that level as well. What the developed world, however, is asking is way beyond the mandate of the Doha Round.
In the same pillar of industrial goods, the industrialised nations have been seeking "voluntary" negotiations for eliminating or substantially reducing tariffs in sectors that would constitute over 60 per cent of world trade. These include products like chemicals, industrial machinery, electrical and electronics, auto parts, raw materials, sports goods, toys, and forest products among others. This move seeking elimination of tariffs is certainly Doha-plus and developing countries like India have been resisting the inclusion of this agenda. The US and the EU, however, seem to have made this agenda a "must have" to conclude the Doha Round.
Another related area to goods will be the negotiations for reducing tariffs on environmental goods. The developed countries are of the view that the there is a need to eliminate tariffs on environmental goods, while the mandate is clearly not seeking such elimination. It only seeks a reduction and, only if appropriate, elimination. There is also a lack of clarity on the approach for identifying environmental goods. While several developed countries seem to be adopting a list approach, others have supported a definitional approach. This is a crucial area of negotiations that needs to be watched closely.
Moving to services, the main area of concern for countries like India with an aggressive agenda would be the new protectionist measures that are developing across the world, and these are likely to hurt market access in movement of professionals. Industry associations like Nasscom have pointed out that India is only seeking access for short-term visas for moving professionals to complete projects. They have made this point to ensure that negotiators are clear that a distinction has to be made between migration and short-term work visas for business.
Finally, on agriculture, it seems that the main areas that were problematic in the beginning, like a special safeguard mechanism and special products for developing countries, seem to have moved forward. But several other issues including the commitments by the developed countries for subsidy cuts are still hanging fire. The main issue has been that these countries that provide over $15 billion of subsidies a year to agriculture would like to keep their bindings higher so that there are no real cuts in subsidies. This area will require a lot of political will to move ahead since subsidies for agriculture in the developed world are more politically important than commercially significant.
September, therefore, is expected to be a busy month in Geneva with negotiators working hard to conclude the stalled Doha Round.
The author is principal advisor APJ-SLG Law Offices
EUROPEAN DELUSIONS OF STABILITY
EUROZONE'S FINANCIAL CONTINGENCY PLAN IS TRYING TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF EXCESSIVE DEBT WITH EVEN MORE DEBT
Pre-summer debt concerns of Greece, Spain and Portugal have receded. Market volatility and angst have eased. As markets return after the summer break and normal activity resumes, caution is the watchword.
Greece passed its initial inspections carried out by the supervising "Troika" comprising the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In truth, there was no choice but to pass the student since money must be made available to enable Greece to continue to function. Despite the progress, the economy is slipping into a deep recession, thus impeding the recovery plan. Similar scenarios, albeit less urgent, are playing out in Spain, Portugal and Ireland. Slowing growth in North America and China is complicating the problem.
Negative or low growth, savage budget cuts and economic restructuring will need to continue for years. The plan requires these countries to run a four-minute mile over and over again for years on a lower-than-subsistence calorie intake. It remains to be seen whether this is feasible. The willingness of governments to impose and citizens to bear the decline in living standards necessary to avoid a debt restructuring remains uncertain.
The bank stress tests proved that the EU and the ECB believe in Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny and other munificent deities. This exercise did not seriously test likely losses in the case of sovereign debt restructuring and realistic falls in commercial real estate prices. As they were confined to trading books, the tests did not apply to the bank's banking books in which an estimated 90 per cent of the sovereign bonds are held, making the test of limited value. The definition of capital was generous. It was effectively a car "crash test" for which the testing authority deems the car cannot crash.
The exposure of Germany and France to troubled European countries remains around $1 trillion. According to the Bank for International Settlements, as at the end of 2009, French and German banks had lent $493 billion and $465 billion, respectively, to Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland. The ECB remains a key source of funding for vulnerable European banks, particularly in peripheral countries.
In short, the problems remain.
It is probable that in the coming months pre-summer concerns will resurface. Economic data, like growth, unemployment, budget position, and debt issuance will be key indicators of progress
Increasingly attention may focus on the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), which is a key component of Europe's financial contingency plan. Details of the structure reveal doubts about its efficacy.
The structure echoes the ill-fated Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDOs) and Structured Investment Vehicles (SIVs) (as pointed out by Gillian Tett in theFinancial Times). Klaus Regling, the recently appointed EFSF chief, also had a brief stint at Moore Capital, a macro-hedge fund, entirely consistent with the fact that the EFSF will be placing a historical macro-economic bet.
In order to raise money to lend to finance member countries, the EFSF is seeking the highest possible credit rating AAA. The EFSF's structure raises significant doubts about its credit-worthiness and funding arrangements. This, in turn, creates uncertainty about its support for financially challenged euro-zone members with significant implications for markets.
The ¤440-billion ($520-billion) rescue package establishes a special purpose vehicle (SPV), backed by individual guarantees provided by all 19 member countries. Significantly, the guarantees are not joint, thus reflecting the political necessity, especially for Germany, of avoiding joint liability. The risk that an individual guarantor fails to supply its share of funds is covered by a surplus "cushion", requiring countries to guarantee an extra 20 per cent beyond their ECB shares. An unspecified cash reserve will provide an additional support.
Given the well-publicised financial problems of some eurozone members, the effectiveness of the 20 per cent cushion is crucial. The arrangement is similar to the over-collateralisation that is used in CDOs to protect investors in higher-quality, AAA-rated senior securities. Investors in subordinated securities, ranking below the senior investors, absorb the first losses up to a specified point (the attachment point). Losses are considered statistically unlikely to reach this attachment point, allowing the senior securities to be rated AAA. The same logic is to be applied to rating EFSF bonds.
If 16.7 per cent of guarantors (20 per cent divided by 120 per cent) are unable to fund the EFSF, the lenders to the structure will be exposed to losses. Coincidentally, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland happen to represent around this proportion of the guaranteed amount. If a larger eurozone member also encountered financial problems, then the viability of the EFSF would be in serious jeopardy. There are significant difficulties in determining the adequacy of the 20-per cent cushion.
Investors will assume "wrong way correlation risk". The potential risk is that if one peripheral eurozone member has a problem, the others will have similar problems. This means if one country requires financing, guarantors of the EFSF will face demands at the exact time that they themselves will be financially vulnerable.
The structure also faces a high risk of a fall in the security rating. If the cushion is reduced by problems of a eurozone member, then the EFSF securities may be downgraded. Any such ratings downgrade would result in mark-to-market losses to investors. The recent downgrade to the credit rating of Portugal highlighted this risk.
Unfortunately, the global financial crisis illustrated that modelling techniques for rating such structures are imperfect. Rapid changes in market conditions, increases in default risks or changes in default correlation can result in losses to investors in AAA-rated structured securities. Given the precarious position of some guarantors and their negative rating outlook, at a minimum, the risk of ratings volatility is significant.
This means that investors may be cautious about investing in EFSF bonds and, at a minimum, may seek a significant yield premium. The ability of the EFSF to raise funds at the assumed low cost is not assured. The acronym EFSF could stand for "Extremely Fanciful Silly Fantasies".
Over the last decades, major economies have transferred debt from companies to consumers and finally onto public balance sheets. The reality is that a problem of too much debt is being solved with even more debt. Deeply troubled eurozone members cannot bail out each other as the significant levels of existing debt limit the ability to borrow additional amounts and finance any bailout. As Albert Einstein noted: "You cannot fix a problem with the kind of thinking that created it."
A huge amount of securities and risk are now held by central banks and governments, which are not designed for such long-term ownership of these assets. There are now no more balance sheets that can be leveraged to support the current levels of debt. The effect of the ESSF is that stronger countries' balance sheets are being contaminated by the bailout. Like sharing dirty needles, the risk of infection for all has drastically increased.
The ESSF is primarily a debt-shuffling exercise that may be self-defeating and unworkable. George Bernard Shaw observed that "Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that man can never learn anything from history." The resort to discredited financial engineering highlights the inability to learn from history, and the paucity of ideas and willingness to deal with the real issues.
Satyajit Das is the author of Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives Revised Edition (2010)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BRAND EQUITY HOLDS UP A MIRROR
KUDOS to Nokia, for coming out number one in ET Brand Equity's survey of the most trusted brands for the third time running. It is the top brand among chief wage earners, young adult males and young adult females housewives place the brand at the third slot, giving their first preference to Fair & Lovely, a brand that, reassuringly, does not figure among the top 10 brands for either young men or women. Kudos, also, to Hindustan Unilever for bagging six slots out of the top 10. Colgate retains its number 2 positioning. Vodafone is the only service brand to have registered an impressive gain, moving up from No 30 in 2009 to No 17 this year. Airtel has slipped so badly that it is behind Tata Indicom and out of the top 100 brands list. A wake-up call for the telco, surely. SBI and LIC have dropped ranks, too. Godrej's rebranding campaign seems to have worked, and is the only appliance maker to have made a significant gain, apart from Whirlpool, which has made it to the top 100 list for the first time. LG, Samsung and Philips have slipped. Titan, which had been Brand No 1 in the kick-off survey of 2000, has slipped again this year, down to 53 from 40. Britannia remains the strongest food brand, in a field where food brands have briskly gained ground, Kurkure breaking into the top 100, Maggi moving up from 35 to 18 overall and Amul climbing up to 35 from 47 last year and into the young women's top 10, to join Maggi and Britannia as the third food brand. Neither young men nor women list a fizzy drink among their top 10 brands, nor a digital gadget brand apart from Nokia. Young adults have pretty much the same brand preferences, regardless of gender: seven out of the top 10 are common. The men's list includes a bike, Hero Honda, a drink, Maaza, and a telco, Vodafone; while young women have opted for, apart from Maggi and Amul, a skincare product, Pond's.
Good products, good communication and competent, courteous customer support create and nurture brands. Multinationals excel in this and dominate the field. But there are no artificial hurdles in this race. And Brand Equity will bring you the winners, in the years to come, as well. All the best, all of you out there, for 2011!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
AN ALPINE HAVEN DISAPPEARS
FOR INDIA'S UNTAXED INCOME
INDIA has done well to rework its tax treaty with Switzerland to obtain information on Indians hiding their money in Swiss accounts. However, the new openness will come into force with prospective effect. Past transgressors cannot be brought to book with the new double taxation avoidance agreement that complies with the norms prescribed by rich country club, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This is unfortunate. For years, Swiss banking secrecy laws have made it impossible for foreign governments to pursue suspected tax evaders. With the G20 turning the heat on tax havens and the OECD keeping a watch on non-compliant jurisdictions, Switzerland is now under pressure to revise its bilateral tax pacts to share banking and ownership information. Bilateral tax treaties are inked after hard negotiations. India features in OECD's white-list of countries that have substantially implemented global tax standards. So, it is possible to argue that India should have renegotiated the treaty with Switzerland from a position of strength, to secure information on past transactions as well. Guesstimates on the money parked by Indians in Swiss banks run to several hundred billion dollars.
Both countries will adopt the OECD's rules on exchange of information in the revised pact. The stringent rules are aimed at nabbing tax evaders and hence welcome. This will mean that Switzerland cannot deny taxpayer related information to India simply because it is held by a bank or a financial institution. Also, Swiss authorities have to share data even if they do not have domestic interest in such information. However, fishing expeditions will not be allowed. India will have to make specific requests to obtain information on suspected tax evaders. The Swiss law also gives the accountholder the right to appeal against a request for data transfer. Judicial reviews could delay sharing of information. For India, the key is to establish audit trails on all financial transactions, making the fullest use of our information technology prowess.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE COST OF CRICKET
MONETISING THE GAME
HOW much does a no-ball cost? Time was when one could answer that question in purely cricketing terms: an extra delivery, a run or maybe more, if a batsman took advantage. Now, one can safely conclude that the precise monetary value of stepping over the line while bowling is £50,000. That's quite a few lakhs, depending on the exchange rate. Given that the sting operation to reveal match-fixing, or spot-fixing or whatever may be the right term, entailed the handing over of £150,000 to the main fixer for three no-balls to be bowled by the accused Pakistani bowlers, one assumes that amount was subject to a tripartite division. The rather sad part, however, is that the Pakistani players seem to have settled for far less. Reports have it that the man accused of taking money from undercover reporters may have kept around £140,000 for himself. Which would then mean that each no-ball's cost price is just £3,333.33.
How precisely can one be positive anymore that all those matches one watched, including some cliffhangers, were not, in fact, set up? Imagine the revisiting and rewriting of the record books needed, if several of the recent matches had indeed been fixed, as claimed. And are we sure that this fixing bug was restricted to just the Pakistanis? Maybe there are more skeletons to tumble out of the cupboard. And what could be of sedentary interest here is a revelation about just exactly each thing costs. What was the going price for that dropped catch, that wild stroke, perhaps, in order to get out, or that runout? If there is, as it seems, a price for everything that one would like to know just what each cricketing act costs. Just so that one is aware. Indeed, what does he know of cricket, who cricket only knows?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BANKS, RELAX UNTIL THE NEXT CRISIS
POLICYMAKERS AND REGULATORS SAY IT WOULD BE UNWISE TO GET TOO TOUGH WITH BANKS AT A TIME WHEN THERE IS STILL UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE ECONOMIC RECOVERY. BUT STUDIES SHOW SUCH FEARS ARE MISPLACED, SAYS T T RAM MOHAN
EVERY economic crisis gives rise to suggestions for radical reform. But these suggestions typically last only as long as the crisis. Once the crisis has blown over, it is business as usual.
In 1987, the steep fall in the US stock market prompted calls for rethinking capitalism itself. The US economy quickly shrugged off the stock market fall and the pundits were left looking foolish. In 1997, the east-Asian crisis evoked several radical proposals an international bankruptcy mechanism, an overhaul of the IMF, an Asian reserve fund. These too were quickly forgotten once the east-Asian economies began to recover.
In 2001, the internet and telecom bubble was followed by demands for rethinking the investment banking model. The storm passed and investment banks carried on with only cosmetic changes in their practices. The one big reform was the passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the US, which sought to make top management more accountable.
Following the sub-prime crisis, there has been an avalanche of proposals for reform of banking. A record number of committees has gone into the causes of the crisis and made proposals. Some three years after the crisis began, it is beginning to look as though it will be a case of a mountain of labour producing a mouse.
The sub-prime crisis laid bare the problems in the banking sector. Banks have too little equity and too much debt. In the advanced economies, they rely excessively on short-term funds. They tend to invest in large amounts of illiquid securities. Bank creditors think governments owe it to them to bail them out when a bank fails. Many banks are so large that they just cannot be allowed to fail.
After three years of debate, what do we have? A half-hearted attempt to tackle the first two of the issues listed above. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) will soon unveil proposals for bank capital as part of what is being called Basel-3 norms. (Global rules for bank capital known as Basel 1 were instituted in 1988. Basel 2 was introduced in 2007). The indications are that tier one core capital requirements will be pegged at 3% compared to the present requirement of 2%.
Banks will have time until 2013 to meet even this modest increase. Most of the bigger US and European banks have tier one core capital of around 10% so they are hardly likely to even notice the new proposals. We still do not know how much the total capital requirement will go up from the current level of 8%. Nor how much additional capital will be required for banks with a high level of trading activity or banks above a certain size. Banks can relax for now.
The world's policymakers and regulators refute suggestions that intense lobbying by the banking industry is why Basel-3 norms will be pretty mild. They say it would be unwise to get too tough with banks at a time when there is still uncertainty about the world economic recovery. They need to think again. Studies carried out by the BIS show that such fears are misplaced.
Getting banks to have more capital has costs as well as benefits. The cost arises when banks pass on the higher cost of equity to borrowers through an increase in lending rates. Higher lending rates mean lower economic growth. The benefit of higher capital is that it reduces the probability of a banking crisis and the consequent loss of output.
THE BIS has published a paper that captures the long-term net benefit of higher capital. The benefit varies from 1.9% to 5.9% of output depending on whether the permanent effects are moderate or large. We clearly stand to gain by getting banks to hold more capital. But only up to a point. The benefits of higher capital taper off once the equity to total assets ratio crosses 13%.
When the long-term benefits of higher capital are so evident, why are policymakers shy of implementing these? It is argued that there could be problems in the transition. The BIS has another paper that shows these problems at entirely manageable.
If the higher capital requirements proposed are phased in over four years, there is a loss of output of just 0.04-0.05 percentage points in the implementation period. Thereafter, output goes back to the original path. These conclusions belie the banking industry's own studies that showed an impact 10 times as large.
Regulators need to take a tough stand on the basis of the BIS studies. The leverage ratio must be pegged higher than the proposed 3%. Total capital must go up to at least 15% with additional buffers for systemically large institutions and institutions with large trading positions. There must not be too many concessions on short-term funding.
Would the higher capital and liquidity requirements assumed in the BIS study have kept banks from failing in the recent crisis? The BIS must provide a clear answer to this question. It was not just lack of capital and reliance on short-term funding that created the recent banking crisis. The third element was mark-tomarket losses on securities. We need norms for securitisation how much of each category of assets banks can securitise and what quality of securitised assets banks must hold.
Higher capital by itself will not lead to stability in banking. Banks will continue to pose headaches as long as we have banks that are so large that they cannot be allowed to fail. None of the solutions proposed such as getting banks to make 'living wills', having 'contingent capital' at banks that converts to equity in a crisis appears convincing. There is only one fix for this problem and that is to ensure that banks do not get too big for their boots. We must not have banks with assets greater than 5-10% of GDP. This will also make for greater competition in a sector where there is a dangerous level of concentration following the recent crisis.
Higher capital will make banks safer but it will also mean lower returns to equity, which means lower rewards for investors and bankers. Limiting the size of banks will mean breaking up some of the large banks. These reforms are essential but they will not proceed very far because they do not suit banks and banks have plenty of political clout. Basel 3 is unlikely to resolve the problem of recurring banking crises. We must await an even bigger crisis and Basel 4.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GOVERNMENTS have long debated which tasks should be outsourced to the private sector. Although often justified on the basis of the cost-efficiencies of market competition, outsourcing to private firms carries its own risks, which can reduce the quality of services provided. Profitseeking firms can present efficiency improvements when performing functions traditionally relegated to government. Yet these potential cost-efficiencies from market competition are often offset by poor enforcement quality resulting from moral hazard, which can be onerous when outsourcing enforcement of government regulation. The risk of poor enforcement quality is greatest among firms whose organisational scope includes products and services where enticing customer loyalty can enhance profits.
In this paper, we argue that the considerable moral hazard of private regulatory enforcement can be mitigated by the scope of organisations' product/service portfolios and by private governance mechanisms. These organisational characteristics affect the stringency of enforcement through reputation and customer loyalty, differential impacts of government sanctions, and standardisation and internal monitoring of operations. We test our theory in the context of vehicle emissions testing in a state in which the government has outsourced inspection and enforcement to private establishments. Analysing millions of tests, we find empirical support for our hypotheses that particular forms of firm governance and product portfolios can mitigate moral hazard.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
N EU RAL N ET
OF TAXES AND AVOIDANCE
IF 'PHILOSOPHY' denotes a certain kind of approach and thinking, the Direct Taxes Code Bill tabled in the Lok Sabha the other day is notable for its anti-avoidance provisions, and both for individual and corporate taxes. Now tax avoidance is supposed to be legal, while tax evasion is not. But the scope for avoidance can be hugely distorting, give rise to a host of unproductive activities like lobbying, and may have serious revenue implications to boot.
The Bill does propose to prune the tax rate for corporates, and rationalise the tax slabs for individuals. And as a general rule, proposals aimed at reducing the differences in marginal tax rates would be effective in reducing avoidance. It would reduce the possibility for tax arbitrage across different income streams facing different tax treatment, discourage resort to "tax-induced transactions," and generally speaking curb postponement of taxes. Also, more non-profit organisations are to come under the purview of taxation. The current income-tax Act does have provision for tax exemption for trusts, etc, with wide scope for tax avoidance. Area-based tax incentives, purportedly designed to boost industrial activity, are to be done away with, as per the Bill. Such tax sops clearly need to be discontinued and the policy objective ought to directly address such rigidities as the infrastructure deficit.
Further, the move to phase out profitlinked tax incentives for infrastructural facilities, and to opt instead for tax benefits only for the upfront investment, cannot be faulted. Providing for tax exemption on profits of infrastructure investments would be regressive indeed. There may be a limited case for profit-linked tax benefits for special economic zones, and for a strictly limited period, so as to allow for the follow through of stated policy intentions. But even for the zones, the Bill calls for the levy of minimum alternate tax (MAT) on corporate book profits. Also, the base rate for MAT has been marginally raised. It's another tax avoidance instrument in the Bill. There are others.
Take, for example, the plan to impose a modest 5% tax on dividend distribution of mutual funds or insurers, on the income distributed by them. It ought to be seen as another tax avoidance initiative, and given that the dividend distribution tax on corporates has been retained at 15%, the new impost would imply that the intention is that the total tax rate on dividend income adds up to 20%, the same as the MAT rate. There is no reason why insurance companies ought to be tax-exempt for their unit-linked insurance plans (Ulips) which seek to cash in on the generally rising trend in the capital markets. It is also noteworthy that for insurance policies with premium less than 5% of the sum assured typically term insurance products sans Ulips would be tax exempt.
There's after all a public policy objective to incentivise insurance cover for all, encourage savings, including long-term savings such as provident and pension funds, and also support much-needed investment like housing and education. And the Bill does propose to provide for tax deductions for such saving and investment plans, when it comes to tax on individual income. It is also notable that the idea of taxing saving and pension products on maturity and withdrawal, the socalled concept of exempt-exempt-tax (EET), has been dropped. A key principle of tax avoidance is simply postponement of taxes.
For the present discounted value of a postponed tax would be so much less than that of a tax paid in the here and now. However, for macro- and microeconomic reasons, the EET concept is plain unsuitable in the Indian context. It is very likely that decades hence, the government would be on a much stronger wicket when it comes to the revenue base. Also, we don't have the social security systems like those prevailing in the high-income economies. Which is why the plan to drop the idea of EET for saving schemes makes perfect sense. It can be counted as another anti-avoidance measure in the Bill. Additionally, the plan to have General Anti-Avoidance Rules (GAAR) for corporates, including for cross-border transactions, is commendable and should curb the widespread tendency of routing inflows via tax havens. However, the details of when and how exactly the GAAR rules would be invoked, absent in the Bill, do need to be clearly enunciated for transparency. We surely need tax administration sans arbitrariness.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SEREN DI PITY
RADICAL ISLAM & POLITICS TO BLAME
THE circumstances in Kashmir are special and solutions are not easy. In reply to the unknown Kashmiri, the unknown Indian too has questions of his own. So, what does he make of all the information and opinion being thrown at him by the unknown Kashmiri?
It is clear to everyone who can see that there is popular resentment. It takes a lot to get women and children out on the streets day after day. With the benefit of hindsight India messed up. But, is that the only major reason?
Then, the mind asks the next question how popular is this resentment? Other clearly identifiable parts of the region we refer to as J&K show no signs of the resentment seen in the Kashmir Valley. Jammu and Ladakh are distinctly different; India is not a bad word there. This leaves the Valley.
But, is India a monster for everyone in the Valley? Sadly, we can't reach out to a reasonably big chunk of the Valley's children. Kashmiri Pandits have been out of their homes for several years now. Even though they may be resentful of the (lack of) efforts India has made to get them back home, they certainly do not want to join the rest of their fellow Valley citizens in bouts of frenzied stone (or bullet) pelting. Also, recent reports indicate that Sikhs are not too keen to pick up stones either.
But why does this one set of people want azaadi? Separatists from the Valley say India rigged elections in the past, its armed forces treat them brutally, the Kashmiri has no respect and that India ignores their part of the region when it comes to development.
The arguments are only partly valid. If elections were rigged in the past, the last two elections have been as fair as any election can be. And, now that people have elected their own (Kashmiri) representatives, should they not demand answers from them and not from the security forces? Even if azaadi were to happen, Kashmiris would still be electing Kashmiris for Kashmiris as is happening now. Are they really sure that this same set of leaders or anothergroup of Kashmiri leaders would really deliver even if azaadi becomes a reality?
Many Indians also ask themselves if the Kashmir Valley, in its heart, is enamoured not so much with azaadi as it is with the prospect of a so-called Islamic land. Doesn't much of the azaadi call derive its strength from the jihad factories of Pakistan and Al-Qaeda? Would the disenchantment have lasted so long had it not been for the dubious assistance of Pakistan? Are Kashmiris blind to China's nefarious design in the region? Is there really no solution yet to the problem also because most Kashmiri politicians and vested interests in the Indian establishment make too much money running the 'business of violence in Kashmir'?
Ordinary Indians are also likely to say that the reasons cited are not unique to Kashmir. Election rigging was not unknown to parts of India. It's extinct now. Custodial torture, death, false framing of charges, etc, still happen commonly in every part of India even today. But, large armies of citizens are fighting (& winning against) the bad apples in the law enforcement forces using the might of Indian law.
Even today, a large number of state officials treat almost all citizens with incredible demeaning contempt. And, millions of people in India live in the most miserable squalor relatively wealthy Kashmiris can't even imagine of. So, the discrimination Kashmiris speak of exists in their mind. All this is no consolation or justification or even reason for inaction, but the point is that administrative arrogance and insensitivity is being confused with discrimination. Would the Valley not have a better chance if it joins hands with fellow Indians battling the same ills?
Armed forces brutality is real and incredibly sad. But, it also needs to be asked if there has been no extension of a helping hand from them, ever? But why are they out there? They live in cantonments in other parts of India away from the busy streets. Would the armed forces really be out there if the valley were to go about the routine business of life? Are the armed forces too victims of the vicious cycle of violence as the Kashmiris? Had India been brutal would the separatists have been allowed to meet officials of troublemaker Pakistan in Delhi?
If borders of country, state, caste, religion, language and ethnicity are regressive, what is the unknown Indian supposed to make out of Article 370? Even as the rest of India is successfully working towards accommodating 'Punjabiyat', 'Tamiliyat', 'Bengaliyat' (and several others) into one Indianness, why is Article 370 preventing Kashmiriyat from enriching the rest of India and getting enriched from the other influences of India?
The unknown Indian's conscience knows it has to give the Kashmiri some answers. But, he has questions for the Kashmiris of the Valley too. But, more importantly is the Kashmiri conversing with himself? Is the Kashmiri himself prepared to be the change he wants the rest of India to be?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CO S M I C U P LI N K
THE first sign is the steady rise of decibels. The scribe notices it while the care-givers are talking to his gravely ill parent. The patient's response does not have this handicap. He continues to answer with the resigned air of a father-figure quite used to dealing with a temperamental, even hysterical brood.
The scribe meanwhile seems to be waging a battle against 'wo-rstcase scenarios' that are threatening to overwhelm his mind. Excess of information and a lack of 'practical' imagination.
He looks into the book bag hanging from the shoulder. Psychologist and talk show host Daniel Gottlieb's Lessons on Living, Loving and Listening: Learning from the Heart is wedged against a tome on Molotov's Magic Lantern.
Dan Gottlieb's book talks about how we gain deeper wisdom and understanding from the unexpected events in our life. As a thirty-three-year-old, he was doing well in his profession. He had a beautiful wife and two lovely daughters, who were just beginning their school day.
One morning he kissed his family and walked across a frozen lawn to his car. "Today, I can still hear the crackle of the lawn under my feet," he writes.
He remembers that sound because those were the last steps he would ever take. One hour later, while driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he looked up in the sky to see a big black object coming towards his windshield.
The next thing he remembers is waking up in a hospital and learning that he was a quadriplegic. As he lay in his hospital bed, he began to observe that many people, even his doctors, seemed uncomfortable when they were around him. "I could tell by the way they raised their voices just a little bit when they spoke with me, or didn't make eye contact, or spoke too quickly." That matched the scribe's experience at the clinic too humans seem to get anxious when they face something or someone unusual.
"When I was with these anxious people, everyone's hearts were closed because of their anxiety (which was extremely contagious)," Gottlieb writes. Who would've thought I would come to a place like this to die?"
Then his physio reminded him: he'd come to live not die. He noticed non-anxious people like her were good at asking, listening and telling about themselves.
Others handled anxiety by talking about it. He felt safe with such people. Thus he came to know the contagious power of emotions, even unfelt, unexpressed ones.
MUCH MORE LEFT TO DO ABOUT BHOPAL
There must be something intrinsically uncaring about the system we run. After the hue and cry over the extra mild punishment awarded by Bhopal's chief judicial magistrate in the December 1984 Union Carbide gas leak case, said to be the worst industrial disaster in the world, with a death toll close to 20,000 and another half a million people injured or otherwise affected, the government set up a Group of Ministers to examine how best to advance the cause of the victims of the tragedy 26 years ago, and how to correct the equation on the justice front. The only visible outcome arising from that step is that the CBI filed a curative petition in the Supreme Court asking that the provision under which top officials of Union Carbide India were booked be changed from Section 304(a) IPC accident caused due to "negligence" that the court had earlier sanctioned, to Section 304(b) IPC culpable homicide not amounting to murder so that the punishment attracted by the company officials may be enhanced from two years, with bail allowed, to 10 years. The Supreme Court has accordingly issued suitable notices to Keshub Mahindra, who was Carbide India's chairman at the time of the accident, and six others. This is all to the good. After all, the CBI's contention is that there is enough material to show that top company officials were aware that the plant designs were faulty and yet took no remedial action. If the new move succeeds, the top company bosses might just serve a prolonged spell in prison, although such an occurrence will do nothing to enhance the financial compensation for the victims' families.
It is noteworthy that the CBI has been silent on the question of bringing to trial former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson, who now lives in seclusion in the United States, although Mr Anderson is said to have sanctioned the lowering of the stringency of safety mechanisms at Bhopal in order to cut running costs. More than the CBI, it is the government's silence that is baffling, especially since the US authorities have recently changed their stance to say they will give due regard to an Indian request for Mr Anderson's extradition and trial. The government's lack of alacrity in seizing on this new opening might suggest one of two things: that it is not really interested in getting the former UCC chief before an Indian court although he is an absconder (not responding to a Bhopal court summons in spite of having been granted bail on condition that he will present himself when required), or that it thinks it doesn't have material against the octogenarian of a kind that might pass muster in America. In either case, for the sake of transparency, the government would do well to share with the people the constraints it labours under. The GoM has surprisingly also not seen it fit to take the battle to Dow Chemicals, which took over the obligations of UCC. If this can be done successfully, there is a very real chance of the compensation package being made more substantial even at this late stage. So far, the victims' families have got less than `20,000 for an accident whose enormity continues to shock the world.
BJP'S PROGRESS REPORT
BY NIRMALA SITHARAMAN
0Leading the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre from 1999 to 2004, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had shown that a focus on good governance takes the country forward exponentially. Notwithstanding, the party was defeated in 2004 and subsequently in 2009, too.
But since the BJP's conviction lies in good governance, it continued on that path in the states where it was elected to power. And the results are now beginning to show, not just in a sector or two but across the board. Good governance's benefits reach not just a party's voters, but all citizens, and that is the high point of the good governance agenda. This sharply contrasts with the absence of a focused agenda, unfortunately, wherever the Congress is in power. Governance, and the lack of it, gets shown in performance. Let us see how:
In the last fortnight, there have been media reports, not so prominent, I may add, on states and the growth in their gross domestic product (GDP). There were also reports on unemployment and successful job placements by various state governments. So also was there a fleeting mention of states and their success in implementing the Prime Minister's minority welfare schemes. Through these reports we can broadly see where governments have delivered and where they have failed.
The top three states with highest growth, not surprisingly, are BJP-ruled. Chhattisgarh, which was carved out of Madhya Pradesh, topped the list it logged 11.49 per cent growth in the last fiscal (2009-10). Gujarat ranked second with 10.53 per cent growth and a surprise at the third place is Uttarakhand with 9.41 per cent growth.
Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand are just 10 years old both formed thanks to the NDA on the belief that smaller states are better for governance. Jharkhand too was formed then, however, it has suffered for want of governance.
Welfare pundits may justifiably argue that GDP growth alone is an insufficient measure. Growth has to be inclusive and equitable, and other welfare indicators such as health, nutrition and education have to go hand in hand. Chhattisgarh's performance is against heavy odds stacked up against it. A new state with typical demands on its resources may not be in a position to fight a well-armed guerrilla force with very high inter-state mobility. Chhattisgarh, however, has faced this challenge in spite of the incessant negative publicity human rights groups uncaringly throw at it.
Chhattisgarh stands out for two other remarkable initiatives, too. By the use of simple mobile phone-based texting, it has brought greater transparency to its Public Distribution System (PDS). Largely operated by self-help groups, right from the godowns to the retail outlets at the village level, total transparency has been achieved at the end-user level of the PDS. Similarly, Chhattisgarh's measures to restore all the Waqf property to the Waqf's control, wresting it from encroachments and illegal occupations, offering funds for fencing them and carrying out other necessary changes to make the Waqf Board financially self-sufficient have been done keeping everyone's dignity intact. Rather than doling out largesse, treating everyone as equal and giving their due has been Chhattisgarh's governing principle.
Uttarakhand, the other young small state's achievements are again against severe odds, but many of its projects are beginning to show results. Uttarakhand is heavily dependent on tourism. And to Uttarakhand's credit goes the fantastic organisation of Mahakumbh 2010 which was completely incident free. Over a span of three months more than 10 crore people visited Haridwar. Policemen, officers and volunteers engaged in crowd control did so without even a lathi in their hands. In any other country, the chief minister of the state would have been honoured for such an efficient, safe and smooth event. But achievements sit lightly on the shoulders of modest leaders.
Many would say that Gujarat, with a per capita income of $833 (national $627), is a developed state and hence its second rank need not surprise us. It is important to take note of the string of international awards the state has received every year since 2002, from reputed bodies such as the United Nations (United Nations Public Service Award), Unesco, the Dubai government, the Wall Street Journal, Institute for Transport and Development Policy, US, and the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management. These awards have been given for wide-ranging governance initiatives that use technology for citizens' grievance redressal, slum networking and rural digital inclusion.
Answering a question in the Rajya Sabha, minister of state for labour, Mr Mallikarjun Kharge, said that Gujarat topped the list in providing maximum job placements through employment exchanges. In three years (2007 to 2009) Gujarat placed 5.50 lakhs of people in employment. The second best in this category was Maharashtra (equally industrialised) which offered a mere 42,000 jobs. According to a news report, "Though Left-ruled Bengal and Kerala had the highest number of people registered with the employment exchanges, their placement records were dismal". It is worth mentioning that we are talking here of the years of global financial meltdown.
The Prime Minister's 15-point national plan for minority welfare was reviewed by the Cabinet recently, chaired by the Prime Minister himself. At this meeting Gujarat and Karnataka earned justifiable praise for having "put in place the Standard Operating Procedures to prevent and take action during communal riots".
They better do, we may say. It is useful to recall that there has not been any riot since 2002, fortunately. But as one media report noted: "Most Congress-ruled states such as Maharashtra, barring Haryana, have not". Maharashtra, as we know, is very communally sensitive. The Cabinet meeting also observed that Madhya Pradesh has been steadily upgrading madrasas under the scheme for providing quality education in madrasas.
It is fairly well known that the per capita income of Muslims in Gujarat is the highest in the country. On the three reported critical measures growth, employment and minority welfare BJP-ruled states have shown their performance. Good governance and not appeasement brings benefits. Benefits for all.
- Nirmala Sitharaman is spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The views expressed in this column are her own.
OBAMA'S 2 MISSIONS IMPOSSIBLE IN W. ASIA
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
U.S. President Barack 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 West Asia: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Shia-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 Shias and Sunnis do succeed in writing their own social contract on how to live together, one might be able to imagine a West Asia 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, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, and the newlyelected 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 West Asia 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 West Asia 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 per cent 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 Shias 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 West Asia.
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.
THE BACK SCRATCHERS
OPPOSITION NOW A MERE FORMALITY
RAGHUVANSH P. SINGH
In the second tenure of the United Progressive Alliance government, led by Congress, it is gradually becoming evident that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main Opposition party, is playing like a B-team of the ruling party. Be it price rise, the Bhopal gas tragedy, or the Nuclear Liability Bill, the Congress and the BJP have shown that they have struck deals and have a relationship based on quid pro quo.
If the trend continues, the BJP will soon be bereft of its relevance as the main Opposition party and a time will come when the Congress will rule the country unchallenged.
When the recently concluded session of Parliament began last month, the BJP vigorously publicised through the media that there were a lot of defects in the Nuclear Liability Bill and that the party will oppose it in the Standing Committee. But later, during the session, the news came that the BJP would support the bill. The very next day a news item appeared that the Central Bureau of Investigation had not found any evidence against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case.
Later, many members in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha asked how the chief minister could be given a clean chit when a minister in the Modi government was in jail in connection with the above case. The proceedings of both Houses were disrupted, but no credible response came either from the ruling Congress or the BJP.
Moreover, throughout the session it was felt that the two parties were working in tandem. Not on a single occasion could the BJP behave like a true Opposition party. What happened on the issue of sky-rocketing prices is for everyone to see. Except for a few days initially, and to my mind this was mere formality, the BJP could not stick to its stand of having a discussion under a rule that entailed voting. Later, the House discussed the issue under Rule 193 which does not call for voting.
Similarly, on the sensitive issue of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the BJP failed to corner the government although Congress was the ruling party at the Centre and in Madhya Pradesh when the tragedy occurred. In the circumstances, it seems fairly clear that the two so-called national parties have turned Indian politics into a cricket game in which only the Congress bats and BJP bowls. This has left the others with no option but to field. The great pity for the bowling side is that the pitch is a batting paradise!
Dr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, deputy leader of the
Rashtriya Janata Dal in the Lok Sabha
BJP-Congress bonhomie a myth
There is no camaraderie or bonhomie between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. The BJP is the principal Opposition party and we behaved as a responsible Opposition party during the monsoon session. Our support to the government was issue-based, from bill to bill. In the case of the Nuclear Liability Bill, we opposed it in the initial stage because there were certain points in the bill on which we wanted the government to make amendments. If we supported the legislation later, it was only after the government took into account all our concerns. If they had not done so, we would not have supported the measure.
It is wrong to say that there is camaraderie between the principal Opposition party and the ruling dispensation. On this issue, the government met the Left parties as well. There were allegations that we supported the Nuclear Liability Bill because the government decided to give a clean chit to our chief minister in Gujarat, Narendra Modi. I don't know how such news was concocted. The BJP was accused of using the government in return for support to the Nuclear Liability Bill. Look at the Enemy Property Bill. Like Prithviraj Chavan met us on the Nuclear Liability Bill and incorporated our views, the home minister met us on the Enemy Property Bill. He met me, Arun Jaitley and Advaniji. But we categorically told the government that we will only support the original ordinance in bill form and not the amended version. Although the government did introduce an amendment on the issue that we had sought, we still opposed the measure because you can't bring a legislation to favour one person while hundreds of others are adversely affected by it.
There are other issues where we criticised the government. On a number of issues we put the government in the dock, including the Commonwealth Games and the Bhopal gas tragedy. On Jammu and Kashmir, we continued to criticise government policy and our stand was entirely different from that of the rest of the House. Therefore, it is wrong to say that we have developed a friendship with the government. The BJP is the principal Opposition party and we would continue to put the government in the dock if we find that its decision on any issue is going against the interest of the people or the nation. Whichever issue we criticise or support, we also go before the people and discuss matters with them as well.
(As told to Yojna Gusai)
Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition, (Bharatiya Janata Party)
FOR THE LOVE OF THE BLUE GOD
BY SWAMI TEJOMAYANANDA
Today, as we celebrate Janmashtami, let us take a look at who Krishna was. The first thing to keep in mind is that Krishna was God incarnate.
The Lord, in his absolute nature, is unborn and imperishable. Keeping maya in his control, that formless Lord assumes a form in the world. Why does he incarnate? To accomplish certain tasks. Of course, He could have accomplished all His tasks even without incarnating. But then how would countless devotees have worshipped Him, heard of His stories and glories, developed devotion and transformed their lives, crossed over maya and merged with Him? Were it not for His incarnation, we would no be having this satsang!
Krishna himself famously says in Gita, "I incarnate to protect and bless the good; discipline, punish and destroy the evil (thus blessing them also); and to establish dharma". But behind all these reasons lies his love and compassion for all.
Krishna always wears a peacock feather tilted to one side. He is, therefore, called Pakshadhara, one who wears a feather. However, paksha also means "side". The Lord leans towards the side of his devotees. That seems contrary to His nature of being same to all. But it is not so. He says, "I am willing to help all, but only those who come to me receive it, others don't. Does that make me partial?"
Both Arjuna and Duryodhana went to Sri Krishna for help before the Mahabharata war. They were from opposite camps, so Bhagvan said, "I will remain on one side, but I will not fight, nor will I take up any weapons. I might advice if and when asked. On the other side will be one battalion of my Yadava army. Now choose".
Duryodhana thought, "What is the use of a person who does not fight and only keeps on giving advice? In a battle action is needed. I would rather have his powerful army than a weaponless Krishna". So he said, "I choose the army". Arjuna was relieved because he only wanted Krishna with him. Both were happy! The Lord was same to both, the one who disliked Him as well as the one who loved Him dearly. One who chooses the Lord prospers, wins and is glorified.
What is devotion to God? Sage Narada says, "Devotion is to surrender all actions physical, verbal and mental to the Lord and to feel intense grief on forgetting Him even for a moment". For this, Narada gives the example of the gopis of Vrindavan.
On the night of the sharada purnima, when Krishna played his flute, the gopis in utter ecstasy and longing, left whatever they were doing and ran into the forest of Vraja. Some were feeding their children, others were serving their husbands, some were tending their cows. They left everything and ran to Krishna, forgetting that it was dangerous for women to enter the forest at night. When Krishna told them to go back home, they said, "All duties are performed to attain you. Having come to you, we have no more duties left".
Krishna accepted their love and there began the maharasa, the dance of pure love and ecstasy. The gopis were in bliss, but for a moment they forgot their Lord and started thinking of how fortunate they were. The Lord immediately disappeared from their midst, leaving them utterly distraught.
The most wonderful thing about devotion is that you can establish any sort of relationship with the Lord. He is the father, mother, friend, grandfather, wife, husband, son, lover of all beings because he is in the hearts of all. Yashoda and Nanda loved Krishna as their son, the gopis looked on Him as their beloved, the cowherd boys saw Him as their friend. Whatever be our feelings and relationship with the Lord, He responds accordingly.
Swami Tejomayananda, head of ChinmayaMission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji,visit www.chinmayamission.com .
© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.
CRICKET AS A METAPHOR
BY IRFAN HUSAIN
ANOTHER day, another scandal. Judging from the media coverage of the cricket betting sting first reported by the News of the World, it would appear that there are no floods devastating the country; that millions have not been displaced; and that all is well with the country.
Indeed, it would seem that this innocent nation has just had its first experience of corruption. The shock and horror being expressed in newspaper columns, letters to editors, and on TV talk shows would make anybody think that nobody in our fair land has ever been accused or been guilty of misusing his position to illegally line his pocket. But as the brickbats begin to fly with many wanting to string up the accused cricketers some Pakistanis have begun formulating a defence. This is the default position we tend to take whenever we are accused of wrongdoing by foreigners. A friend has just sent me this email from a certain Dr Owais. I am reproducing it here, mistakes and all: "I believe they are not currupt or involve in any way. It's just british conspiracy to hide their mistakes especially the player who hit Pakistani player and attack him NO 1 talk about that every 1 is discussing against Pakistan Its show hate of english man toward us".
Another argument was presented in a TV programme featuring two popular anchors. To start with, they sneered at the News of the World for being a tabloid that had occasionally lost libel suits in the UK for printing allegations they could not prove. But they failed to mention the fact that nine times out of 10, the muckraking newspaper has nailed its targets, with politicians being forced to resign after unsavoury details about their private lives were published.
It is certainly true that we are often too swift to rush to judgment. But in this case, I would like to know how anybody outside Lord's could possibly predict precisely when a no-ball would be bowled by a particular bowler. Mathematically, such a coincidence is too remote to be even considered, especially when it happens three times. Combined with the footage the undercover journalist has provided of the sleazy character who collected £150,000 on camera, it would certainly seem there is a smoking gun before us. Finally, no British newspaper, no matter how sensational, would risk a major libel case by concocting such a story without solid proof. I feel particularly sorry for young Mohammed Amir, the rising bowling star who has been caught up in the sting operation. Here is a hugely gifted 18-year-old who sees a promising career collapsing before his eyes. Clearly, he became involved not just out of greed, but due to peer group pressure. When older players told him that bowling the odd no-ball was a harmless thing, and that it would net him some extra cash, he might easily have gone along. I recall starting smoking in college because cool friends of mine did. But then you don't get arrested for smoking; you just go to an early grave.
Another thing we forget in our hypocritical fury is that it is not possible to isolate one institution or group of people, and demand that they maintain higher standards than the rest of society. When just about everybody who can, milks the system, why should we expect our cricketers to be clean? The argument that they are well-paid does not hold water: most of the politicians, generals, judges, bankers, businessmen, cops and bureaucrats who are routinely on the take are not exactly starving. So when they grow up in an environment where corruption is the norm, not the exception, why pretend such surprise to find that these young men have tried to cash in on their position as international cricketers?
Then there is the question of the fleeting nature of stardom. While a few talented cricketers have long and illustrious careers, most fall by the wayside. Even top players retire in their mid-30s when their bodies and reflexes can no longer perform at the highest level. And with younger, fitter players snapping at their heels, the competition to stay in the national team is fierce.
Many young players are from lower-middle class families with little education and no qualifications other than their abilities with bat or ball. Having learned their cricket in lanes and rough fields, they are all too aware of what poverty means. Can one blame them for not wanting to return to the squalor they have risen out of? Without wanting to excuse the accused players of the crime they are being charged with, I am trying to understand the motives behind their actions.
For years now, rumours of match-fixing have swirled around our national squad. To be sure, our cricketers are not the only ones to face such accusations: India, Australia and South Africa have all contended with their share of similar scandals in the past. But it is our team that has been the focus of more controversy than any other. Suddenly, dismal past performances are being re-examined in a different light. Was the Sydney Test deliberately thrown away, as many suggested at the time following a miraculous Australian victory over us? Cynically, several recent results in England appear to be bizarre to the point of being suspicious.
This, of course, is the problem with match-fixing: people begin questioning the validity of past results, and the genuine ones also become suspect. In the past, there have been a series of cover-ups and fudges. Even when there was strong evidence, top players got off with a rap on the knuckles, or a fine. Suspensions were curtailed if a player was valuable enough. The signal this wishy-washy attitude sent out was that even if you were caught, you could still emerge from "enquiries" with reputation intact.
Our cricket administration has been very lax about team discipline, with stars being allowed to get away with all
manner of antics. Top players have effectively blackmailed the cricket board to meet their terms. But again, the administrators are a product of our society and a system that prefers to close its eyes rather than take tough action. Given these factors, it is hard to see how cricket can be cleansed of corruption when the whole country is so tainted by it.
DEFERRED BILL NEEDS REFLECTION
ITwill not be easy for the Congress and its government to contend with the double whammy of an embarrassment that was suffered in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. As the thoughts of Kapil Sibal grow in wild profusion, his brainwave of a National Education Tribunal Bill has been halted on its tracks despite its passage in the Lok Sabha. It has been deferred in the face of protests from the Opposition and, still more crucially, from the Congress MP, Keshav Rao. The HRD minister was stumped by Mr Rao's barb, administered tongue firmly in cheek, that the bureaucracy was struggling hard to keep up with Mr Sibal's fast thinking. As academics are generally a pampered lot ~ a raised retirement age may be another icing on the cake ~ it begs the question whether a tribunal to settle disputes involving teachers is really necessary. The logic was never convincingly spelt out by the Union HRD minister. This is one facet of the issue. The other is the half-baked initiative, precisely the reason why the House of Elders has sought more time. The three-tier appeal structure is cumbrous and virtually unaffordable to many.
A campus, after all, is a centre of learning that can't be expected to double up as another legal forum. If teachers have to be involved in litigation all too often, it calls into question the efficacy of the system. There are more frills than substantive content in Mr Sibal's agenda ~ world class universities, foreign universities, offshore faculties, private (aka) corporate enterprise et al. As a distinguished academic pointed out recently, their "collective research output to date is virtually zero". Above all, an education tribunal is a contradiction in terms, an oddity on the campus that Parliament ought not to allow. Should the teachers feel aggrieved, they have the right to move court. It is a pity that advancement of learning has been accorded a minor rating in Mr Sibal's scheme of things.
IPCC ON NOTICE
INTERNATIONAL PROBE CALLS FOR REFORM
A year after its alarmist speculation that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been put on notice. In a sense, the UN's climate change agency, headed by the Nobel Peace laureate, Rajendra Pachauri, has been made to feel the heat by an international investigation. The Inter-Academy Council, an umbrella entity of the world's science academies, has advanced the caveat that IPCC must get its facts right about global warming. The call for "fundamental reform" and a major overhaul is clearly intended to forestall the recurrence of errors concerning the Earth. Indeed, the IPCC's credibility has been under a cloud ever since its forecast on glaciers had unnerved the world. The message of the international body is clear ~ the IPCC can't afford to be speculative with scientific claims. The prediction on glaciers was no more than grim foreboding of the Jeremiah, and bereft of geographical indicators. That it was advanced in the aftermath of the failed Copenhagen conference only deepened the sense of pessimism that has marked climate change. It is a commentary on the IPCC's functioning that the international investigation has called for better procedures, tighter scrutiny and most crucially, changes at the helm. To put it bluntly, the IAC's report is almost an expression of no-confidence in the IPCC's structure, such as it exists.
Ironically, both Mr. Pachauri and the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, had called for an international inquiry in the wake of the controversy. The immediate reaction of the IPCC head has been gracious enough: "We were prepared to accept whatever results were forthcoming." The air has been cleared, and follow-up measures are now imperative both in terms of scientific investigation and restructuring. Though Mr. Pachauri has ruled out resignation, the reputation of the IPCC has suffered a setback ~ first by its forecast, now reinforced by the findings of the international investigation. The IPCC made the cardinal mistake of using "non-scientific sources and non-peer reviewed material" to prepare its climate change assessment report. Such data has now been trashed as "vague", with the directive that assessment reports need to be more specific. Indubitable is the fact that the climate is changing and that the phenomenon is man-made. But the prediction on glaciers was made on a mistaken interpretation of science. It is fervently to be hoped that the IPCC will be on the right course before the next climate change conference in Mexico.
BEYOND THE VERDICT
LESSONS FOR PARTIES AND ADMINISTRATIONS
THE Supreme Court verdict upholding capital punishment for three arsonists held responsible for deaths of three university students on a bus in Tamil Nadu goes beyond the need to secure justice for innocent victims. It has come after a decade of the crime committed by AIADMK activists who were misled into believing that running amuck with deadly intent was the best way to express anguish over the conviction of their leader in a corruption case. It confirms trust in the judicial system and re-emphasises that criminals cannot escape the law. More significantly, the court has not only pronounced a deterrent sentence but has indicted the administration and political parties that may have prevented the ghastly act. There is little or no evidence of the AIADMK having condemned the senseless act of burning the bus and its passengers. If leaders, sometimes worshipped by followers, are aware of the line dividing partisan and public interests, that does not prompt them to use the language of reason when civilised behaviour is seen to be buried under a wave of ill-conceived passion. Cadres have been known to take their own lives out of an outpouring of sentiment. That is reprehensible enough. It is far worse when they kill unsuspecting citizens.
All this raises administrative and humanitarian questions that have now landed in court. While politicians often complain of judicial activism, all that the apex court has done is to remind policemen of their duty when sheer insanity prevails in broad daylight. It is almost axiomatic that police and administration respond by habit to centres of power ~ an evil that extends to parties across the board and in all states where unruly elements are used for political gains. The public has also been admonished for failing to reach out in an emergency just as it happened when a hill leader in Darjeeling was slaughtered on a busy thoroughfare with, again, the police looking on. That would involve raising the level of social awareness which is no easy task. On the other hand, administrations and parties have no excuses and, in this case, cannot afford to ignore the lessons that flow from the verdict. The least they can do is to acknowledge that the problem exists.
CHINA'S PRESENCE IN POK
GOODBYE SAARC, LONG LIVE HINDUSTAN!
Credible media reports from America have revealed China's latest thrust in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). China has tightened its grip on this region that was illegally ceded to it by Pakistan in 1963 in violation of UN Resolutions on Kashmir. China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) has substantially increased troops in POK, is constructing rail and road links to the Gulf and Gwadar port, building residential complexes suggesting permanent stay for its troops, and 22 tunnels ~ to which even Pakistanis are debarred ~ that can be used for storage of missiles. This is a huge game changer.
The reactions of official spokesmen and media pundits may be ignored. If the foreign inspired leaders shaping India's international relations are to be taken seriously one can might as well write off the nation's future. One must continue to think robustly in the certainty that one day India will be ruled by a government capable of independent thought. The far-reaching implications of the Chinese move should be appreciated in the light of the following background.
In 1980, this scribe met with a Chinese leader for the first and last time. It was Qian Qichen who later became the foreign minister and vice-president of his country who sought the meeting. We met at my residence. We talked frankly for over an hour. I asked him that if China's strategic concerns were met regarding access to the Gulf and from Xingjian to Tibet through Kashmir would China still give prime importance to Pakistan or consider it expendable. I reminded him that as a victim of imperialism China should appreciate the injustice of the subcontinent's Partition in 1947. I suggested that a genuinely friendly Sino-Indian relationship could be established if India's legitimate sphere of influence was respected. Qian was quite excited by the concept which he described as novel and worth considering. He neither endorsed it nor rejected it.
It might be recalled that this conversation took place almost five years before the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) was set up. With the emergence of Saarc, new prospects opened up. Subsequently it was advocated that the practical and sensible approach lay in creating a South Asian Union modelled on the European Union allowing India and Pakistan to have joint defence and a common market. To achieve it this scribe went even as far as to suggest self-determination for Kashmir leading to possible independence for the Valley provided it remained a member of the proposed South Asian Union. From India's point of view the only worthwhile rationale for Saarc was that it would evolve into such a union in order to create a cohesive and exclusive South Asian identity based on geography and history.
However, Pakistan and Nepal had other ideas. Both nations wanted China to become an equal member of Saarc in order to cut India to size. These differing perceptions about the role of Saarc led to its growing irrelevance. China, of course, was egging on Pakistan and Nepal to further its own hegemonic ambitions by whittling down India. Successive Indian governments tamely acquiesced in this by overlooking China's annexation of Tibet, its support to Pakistani aggression against Kashmir and China's repression of the Uighurs in Xingjian. In other words, India consistently accepted Beijing's encroachments into India's turf without any countering move in order to please its mentors in Washington.
The latest development by China in POK has irreparably altered the situation. Now there is not even the theoretical option of resolving the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan as this scribe had urged. China was not a part of the Kashmir problem. Now it has become an irrevocable part of any future Kashmir solution. It has become an irrevocable member of any future South Asian Union. It has irrevocably destroyed the prospect of creating a South Asian identity through the establishment of the proposed union. No doubt the government will continue to whistle in the dark and pretend nothing has substantially changed. Already official statements to that effect have started to surface. The mainline media is so heavily embedded that it will only echo the official view. But things will never be the same again.
Saarc is dead. The prospect of a genuine South Asian Union is dead. The prospect of India protecting its turf by the establishment of such a union is dead. So, as far as this scribe is concerned it is goodbye to Saarc. It is back to Hindustan as was hinted to Qian Qichen. That is why it is time for India to seriously consider the hard line suggested by this scribe. Diplomatic contacts with Pakistan should be ended. Trade ties with China should be cut. China will remain an export-driven economy for at least two years more.
India thrives on domestic demand. India must beef up security. The rich must learn to tighten their belts. Tibet should be recognized as a dispute between Beijing and the people of Tibet. Xingjian should be recognized as a dispute between Beijing and the people of Xingjian. India must recognize and extend moral support to the aspirations of Baluchistan. India must reach out to Pashtuns of all persuasions and support the implementation of the Durand Line Treaty by which Pakistan's NWFP region must revert to Afghanistan. After all there is thrice the number of Pashtuns in the NWFP as there are in Afghanistan. As long as the Pashtuns do not participate in terrorism against India New Delhi should least bother about how they conduct themselves within their own region. This is a long, tough journey to undertake. It is fighting a war without firing a shot unless forced to shoot in self-defence. China and Pakistan gave provocation for such war long ago. This approach will be dismissed as being crazy and reflecting the views of one person among a billion. Let Beijing and Islamabad take comfort in this. But history will determine whether India will forever be ruled by foreign advice or get a government that protects the national interest.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
CRICKET HAS NEVER BEEN JUST CRICKET
Full disclosure: a decade ago I authorised the payment of £1,000 in cash in return for a favour from the captain of the Pakistan cricket team, the great Wasim Akram. Then a newspaper editor, I had wanted to send a feature writer to face some deliveries from the first fast bowler ever to be recorded breaking the 100mph speed barrier, Shoaib Akhtar. All the negotiations had to take place via his captain, including the fee. Yet when our reporter turned up at the Pakistan team's training ground where the massively muscled Akhtar was pawing the ground and presented the cheque to Akram, he seemed most put out. The skipper wanted cash and seemed faintly incredulous that we would not have realised.
After much scurrying around the local cash-points, the bank notes were duly accumulated although I wondered at the time how much of the money would reach the young fast bowler who was actually doing the work.
There was, of course, nothing illegal or even contrary to the laws of cricket in what Akram one of the most talented cricketers ever to have played the game had done; yet I can't help recalling that episode in the wake of the News of the World's compelling allegations of how Pakistan's latest fast bowling prodigy, 18-year-old Mohammed Aamer, had delivered no-balls to order as part of a betting scam during the fourth Test match against England last week.
Much of the obloquy has been heaped on Aamer's young shoulders: the front page of the Daily Mail shows the chairman of the England Cricket Board, Giles Clarke, handing over the man of the match cheque to Aamer in an openly disdainful fashion, accompanied by the headline "The look that says: You've shamed cricket". I was in the MCC's Committee room that day, and my sympathy was entirely with the crestfallen-looking teenager; it was obvious to me from the text of the News of the World's taped telephone calls with the betting "fixer" that whatever Aamer had done on the field would have been under instruction from his captain, Salman Butt.
In international cricket teams, the captain has a particular power he is usually part of the selection process, and can make or break the careers of his players; in Pakistan, as in many Muslim countries, there is the added social factor of the deference the young are expected to show their elders. If the fix was in, and it was to involve Aamer, there was no way such a youth in his first season in the national side would defy the orders of his captain.
So I don't share the view of Andrew Strauss, the England cricket captain, that if Aamer is found guilty of having taken part in a betting conspiracy, he should be banned for life. One can understand Strauss's fury: his team had just completed a brilliant performance in crushing the Pakistanis, and now it seemed that would be devalued by the suspicion that their opponents were not on the level.
Yet perhaps Strauss should consult the England team's own spin-bowling coach one Mushtaq Ahmed. Mushtaq, known to one and all as "Mushy", was one of Pakistan's leading players at a time when the side had become a byword for match-fixing. When their activities were finally investigated by the Qayyum Commission, "Mushy" did not come out of it well. The retired High Court judge Malik Qayyum declared in 2000 that there were "sufficient grounds to cast strong doubt on Mushtaq Ahmed... He has brought the name of the Pakistan team into disrepute with, inter alia, associating with gamblers."
Qayyum recommended that Mushtaq "be censured, kept under close watch and not be given any office of responsibility in the team."
If I were a Pakistani cricket fan I might think that a call for draconian measures against my team from the English cricketing establishment would be more acceptable if it had not itself chosen to give a position of responsibility to someone so comprehensively denounced by the Qayyum Commission.
I don't believe for an instant that any member of the current England side is tainted by links to betting syndicates; but it would be equally preposterous to assert that while the Pakistanis are motivated by filthy lucre, our lads are in it only for the love of the game and country. While professional cricket in this country long ago broke with its corrupt gambling past in the 18th and 19th century it was run entirely as a conduit for (frequently fixed) betting the idea that it is about glory alone is strictly for the birds.
The former England cricket captain Michael Atherton recalled recently that when he got his first international cap one of the senior players told him: "You play your first for love; the rest for money." Atherton described this comment as "dispiriting", which it certainly must have been. Yet it also brings home the point that while cricket fans are intensely idealistic about the game they love, many of the players they idealise will see what they do as simply the grind of earning a crust for themselves and their families. Doubtless they will have started out with an intense passion; but towards the autumn of their careers, many of them will have become more cynical than ever emerges in their public pronouncements about the game.
Nor do I think that those playing for the national side are motivated more by patriotism than professionalism. Some, like Kevin Pietersen or Jonathan Trott, are only English by convenience, having rejected their homeland of South Africa, which seemed less likely to give them the international sporting exposure they craved. Yet even those who have been born and bred in England are spurred and this is not at all ignoble entirely by the desire to compete at the highest level. One month it will be as an England player; the next it might be as a member of a team in the Indian Premier League, where they will display an equal passion in the cause of victory.
No matter: those of us who love cricket are prepared to pay handsomely just to witness the sheer thrill of the game played at the extremes of the physically possible which is why we would be so sad to see the expulsion of a fast-bowling prodigy who fell among thieves.
WOMEN IN POLITICAL DYNASTIES NIVEDITA CHOUDHURI
The number of sons, daughters, wives and other relatives that Indian politicians come attached with reminds me of Bollywood. Talent takes a backseat and nepotism rules. Whether it is the Scindias or the Karunanidhis, India is a shining example of dynastic politics. In such a scenario, it is likely that the Women's Reservation Bill will serve only to strengthen political dynasties in India.
There are examples galore of politicians encouraging the women in their families to enter politics. Dimple Yadav, the daughter-in-law of Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, contested the bypoll for the Firozabad Lok Sabha seat last year. Kanimozhi and Supriya Sule, MPs, are the daughters of Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi and NCP president Sharad Pawar, respectively. Deepa Das Munsi, wife of former Union minister Priya Ranjan Das Munsi, is the Lok Sabha MP from Raiganj in West Bengal. Shruti Chaudhary and Jyoti Mirdha, first-time MPs, are the granddaughters of former Haryana chief minister Bansi Lal and the late Congress leader Nathuram Mirdha, respectively. Mausam Benazir Noor, MP from Malda North, is the niece of the late Congressman ABA Ghani Khan Choudhury. Agatha Sangma, the youngest member of Dr Manmohan Singh's ministry, is the daughter of former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma. The list is endless.
Facts like these take the shine out of the stories on the representation of women in the Lok Sabha having, for the first time, crossed the 10 per cent mark in 2009. Reserving 33 per cent of the seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies is not going to lead to the empowerment of ordinary Indian women. All that it will do is make political gharanas (dynasties) even more powerful with their women playing primarily the stereotyped supporting role of adding the weight of numbers to the family jaagir (estate).
According to an Internet report, as many as 36 women MPs in the Lok Sabha elected last year are widows, wives, daughters or daughters-in-law of powerful politicians. Of the remaining 22, there is reason to believe that most are in Parliament due to some family connection or the other. There are hardly any women who have made it to Parliament on their own.
The results of the last Lok Sabha elections have driven home the very disturbing fact that politics in India is fast becoming a family business. If this trend continues, as indeed it will unless major changes are made, India will soon find itself ruled "democratically'' by a few families who will fight among themselves every five years to send 543 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
Is that what we want to see happening? If not, then the Women's Reservation Bill needs to be opposed fearlessly for all the right reasons. Moreover, our leaders seem to have forgotten that the founding fathers of India's Constitution were opposed to the idea of reserving seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies. Constituent Assembly member Renuka Ray reportedly said that Indian women have been "fundamentally opposed to special privileges and reservations''. Her colleague Hansa Mehta rejected reservations, saying what women wanted were "social justice, economic justice, political justice''. But half a century later, the wheel seems to have turned full circle.
The writer is a freelance contributor
MAKING WAY FOR BRAND THAILAND
Thais are living in an age of cynicism. These days, the opening remarks greeting friends are no longer the traditional familiar ones such as "Have you eaten rice?" or "Where are you heading?" or "I am just hungry" or "You, look nice today". Instead, we tend to demonize our people and country with relish. The conventional wisdom: it is bad karma to be born a Thai.
Previously, Thais in urban and rural areas were known as happy-go-lucky people sabai, sabai. Foreigners often said Thailand was synonymous with the images of paradise and harmony. Now just one word about Thailand, pen khon-tai, would invoke hundreds or even thousands of negative qualifiers. For instance, new jargon includes "I will M79 my opponent." By the way, M79 is not a new perfume's name but a popular grenade fired from a small launcher. This type of grenade has been used often to stir a political crisis.
Strange but true, the self-derogatory traits of Thais have affected the perception abroad that the land of smiles is now the land of blood. The latest survey by Newsweek of the World's Best Country was a case in point. Thailand was ranked 58th behind our two immediate neighbours down south. Certainly, the country can score higher if political stability prevails.
Thais frequently draw national pride from admiration or applause from foreigners who have visited this country or read about it. In a globalised world, what Thais are going through can easily be experienced by outsiders. Whenever the foreign media wrote about Thailand, the people would get excited. For good or for worse, they want to know what those views are. Trouble is, these days most of the Thai views on their own country are quite gloomy.
While their pessimism may reflect different levels of cynicism, they share one common idea that Thailand could be a better place and and its people enjoy a better image abroad. In their hearts, they also know that their fellow countrymen and women are resilient and resourceful.
Come Friday, the government under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the foreign ministry are embarking on a new mission to get all stakeholders throughout the country to take part in a nationwide campaign to brand Thailand anew. After the horrible political experience in April and May, Vejjajiva set up a special committee chaired by his deputy, Trairong Suwannakiri, to improve the country's image.
Drawing on the response to the theme "Thailand in my heart", the foreign ministry has been able to tabulate messages under four categories: the country's image, local wisdom, tourism and investment. The first message is that Thais have a good attitude: open, adaptive and flexible. The second is about the value of Thai local wisdom that can have an impact on the world. The third focuses on the country as a place where visitors can do business and tourism, including eco-tourism. The last message is simple with its service-minded people, Thailand can be the economic hub of the region and the world at large.
These strong impressions will be published on postcards and the public can participate by ticking on one and submitting it to the foreign ministry. If they have their own versions beyond these four groups, they can add their own as the fifth group. In the coming days, there will be TV and radio advertising to promote the campaign along with road shows in provincial towns.
This is an interesting exercise that will enable Thais of all sections (and, of course, colours) to express their preference on what kind of image Thailand should have. Whatever image they choose, they have to bear in mind that they must be able to help make it a reality. This way Thais will have the opportunity to share in the vision of the country.
In a country liked ours, this campaign can consolidate the people. The foreign ministry will collect all contributions and prepare the future strategy to promote the country's image aboard. Since the inputs are from Thai stakeholders, they all have the responsibility. This could turn out be one of the best national reconciliation campaigns of the government. Brand Thailand will hopefully reflect the aspirations of all people.
NOT VERY NEW
Albert Einstein once said that filing a tax return is too difficult for a mathematician: it takes a philosopher. The direct taxes code bill tabled in Parliament on Monday is this government's attempt at reformist legislation that is crisp, certain and one that will make it easier for most people and companies to pay their taxes without lightening their wallets too much or burdening their conscience too heavily. But the final version of the DTC is neither reformist, crisp nor certain. The broad aims of a single DTC were to reduce the scope for litigation, make tax law simple and understandable (thereby reducing the cost of compliance), keep it flexible (reduce the frequency of amendments) and provide stability (helping individuals and companies to plan long-term). The original draft DTC envisaged a cut in slabs and tax rates that would result in 95 per cent of all taxpayers falling within the lowest bracket (10 per cent), and had capped the highest tax rate at 25 per cent. A rapidly changing global dynamic has, however, scared the government into retreating from such an audacious gamble: the highest tax rate has been retained at 30 per cent. In fact, many observers say the tabled version is vastly diluted from its first draft. The 'new' DTC isn't very new: it is longer than the current Income Tax Act it has more than 300 sections compared to the current 297, and 22 schedules compared to the current 14.
A big problem with current IT law is that certain sections permit a plethora of exemptions, many of which conflict with other provisions of the IT Act. With the discretion given to the tax authorities on interpretation, there are a few lakh cases pending resolution in various tribunals over the 'correct' interpretation. True, the language has been simplified: in calculating tax liability, the DTC uses mathematical formulae that are very specific, rather than ambiguous terminology. However, a number of exemptions still remain, like the one on interest on housing loans; at the same time, the DTC is silent on how house rent allowance will be treated.
It poses a larger problem for employers, who may find that their personnel costs could go up by a significant amount. Experts believe that there will always be amendments; for example, in clarifying long-term capital gains tax, the DTC allows for a 100 per cent deduction, rather than removing it entirely. In other words, future governments can reintroduce it. Other taxes have been raised: the minimum alternative tax is no longer 'minimum', and hiked to 20 per cent of book profits. Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the finance minister to King Louis XIV, said that the art of taxation consists of plucking the goose to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least amount of hissing. The DTC causes more hissing.
There is at least one category of Indians among whom the sex ratio is biased in favour of the female. Apparently, the Indian elephant has a sex ratio of one male to 120 females in some parts of the country. But more females than males cannot automatically make things right; rather, this particular topsy-turvy ratio just shows that male elephants are still being selectively and intensively hunted for their tusks.
Paradoxically, government figures show that the elephant population is increasing. Such optimism is an official habit; Indians still do not know how many tigers are really around. The government estimate of the elephant population is undermined by the experience of increasing elephant-human conflict all over the country. Elephants cannot come out unscathed from such encounters, particularly as the shrinking of their habitat forces them to enter the same areas of human habitation repeatedly and be chased or beaten out. Trains speeding along tracks across elephant corridors have long been killing the beasts on a regular basis, although there has been a drop in frequency recently. A government task force looking into the actual condition of India's elephants has recommended the formation of a national elephant conservation authority and funds for elephant conservation to the tune of Rs 600 crore in the 12th plan. It may come as a relief that elephants are at least visible, unlike the elusive tiger. There are real animals to look after. If the 'elephant landscapes' recommended by the task force in five main elephant habitats do become a reality, the animals should flourish. Protecting their habitat and travel corridors would also mean protection for human beings. So far, these are just possibilities. Although hope springs eternal, penalties for encroachment into elephant corridors, for trade in elephants, or even for inadequate care in captivity, however promising they sound, may remain as ineffectual as have been the penalties for poaching.
PREPARING FOR OBAMA
HOW CAN BOTH INDIA AND THE US BRING SOMETHING TO THE TABLE?
Barack Obama will come visiting in November this year. No American president has been to India in his first term in office, so the trip assumes somewhat greater significance. But symbolism alone will not suffice. Both sides will be keen to deliver on substance as well. A steady stream of American officials and influentials has started to arrive in preparation for the visit, starting with the American national security advisor, General Jim Jones. What can we expect from Obama? What should India want out of the visit and what can it give?
The central message of American visitors has been that the Obama administration sees the visit as an opportunity to affirm and deepen the strategic partnership. The administration is well aware that Indians regard the relationship as having gone off the boil ever since the new president came to office. The Obama team is keen to change that view. In doing so, it will be careful not to suggest that the United States of America and India are moving towards an alliance aimed at anyone or that the two countries agree on everything.
Certainly, there will be no attempt to cuddle up to India by criticizing either China or Pakistan. To do the former would be impolitic for both the US and India. As for the latter, the US needs Pakistan too much with regard to Afghanistan to risk any hard statements on that country's behaviour. So it is clear that Obama will not emulate the forthright words of the British prime minister, David Cameron, on Pakistan's support of terrorism.
What we can expect is for the American president to use the term, 'strategic partnership', a lot, essentially to signify a deep engagement with India across the entire realm of relations. Looked at from a historical point of view, this is not surprising. India and the US, even in the worst years of the Cold War, were deeply involved with each other across a number of sectors military, diplomatic, economic, cultural, scientific, educational. It is in this sense that the India-US relationship can truly be called a strategic partnership. The US has invested in a huge effort, in essence, to build capacity and resilience in India. George W. Bush's stated goal in dealing with India was to contribute to its rise as a great power. The Obama administration will want to underline that interest when the president arrives in November.
When he speaks publicly, New Delhi will be hoping that the president will find a way to say that India's unity and territorial integrity are vital to the US. At a time when Indian unity is threatened from within in Kashmir and in some of the northeastern states, this would be a powerful message. It would be a message not only for separatist groups, but will also be heard loud and clear in Islamabad and Beijing. Pakistan's army has, for many years, been dedicated to the disuniting of India, partly to pay India back for the separation of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. The US's affirmation of Indian unity and territorial integrity will have implications for the future of Kashmir. China also, over the years, has fomented separatism in India. It does not do so now in any significant way, but it does hold claim to large swathes of Indian territory. The US, over the past two years, has held back from saying much about the India-China dispute. It has conspicuously not taken sides. A statement on India's territorial integrity will be an indirect message on the conflict between Asia's two giants.
While India-US relations quite properly range over a number of areas and sectors, a strategic partnership cannot ignore strategic matters in the narrower sense. There are all kinds of strategic issues on which the two sides could work together alternative energy and space technologies, other high- technologies (computer software and hardware, biotechnology, materials), non-proliferation and missile defence, to name just a few.
However, there are at least two big and more immediate items of interest. The first is, of course, India's quest for a permanent seat in the United Nations security council. There are those in India who are sceptical about the utility of a permanent seat and think it will bring more trouble than good, but it is fairly clear that having a place at the high table matters to the Indian middle class, that in the competition in Africa and Latin America with China it would help, and that it would increase India's diplomatic confidence in a general, all-round sense. New Delhi will certainly be hoping that if strategic partnership means anything, it means much stronger US support for India's permanent seat. We should expect Obama to come up with a formulation that will signal a firming up of Washington's stance.
The second crucial strategic issue is US arms sales to India. The fact is that after 60 years of Independence, India does not produce any major weapon systems except missiles and nuclear bombs. It, therefore, will continue to need foreign systems in plenty. The door has opened for big US arms sales, but problems persist on both sides: the US remains suspicious of India's willingness to honour an end-user agreement; and India worries that the US is an unreliable supplier. In addition, there is the tortuous Indian procurement procedure. To the extent, however, that the problems are in Washington, New Delhi will be looking for a message from Obama to the effect that delays and doubts will be dealt with and that there will be an easing of export controls.
A partnership implies that both sides have a sense of being equal participants in negotiating their engagement. It also implies that both sides 'bring something to the table'. What can India bring to the table? Primarily, India will be expected to deliver on things economic, which are about the only things it can deliver. The most vital material gain from a relationship with India is access to its market. During a possible double-dip recession in the US, increasing market access assumes special importance. Far beyond the nuclear liability bill, which, as passed, will probably attract few, if any, foreign investors, is the US's interest in the liberalization of trade, a tougher approach to intellectual property rights, the opening up of retailing, and a friendlier investment regime. In all probability, India cannot do anything dramatic here that is the nature of its domestic politics. Washington will understand this. After all, it too cannot deliver immediately in terms of India's UN ambitions and the sale, licensing, or co-production of armaments. But there must be signs that India will move perceptibly in areas of US economic concern if the partnership is to be balanced and is to bloom.
The Obama visit will not be iconic. Indians admire Obama and will receive him with warmth, but they will be looking at the package he leaves behind. If there are no gaffes on either side, and if they can reach a solid, meaningful set of agreements in areas of concern for both countries, the visit will come to be regarded as a major success.
The author teaches international politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
A BIT OF THIS AND A BIT OF THAT
Twenty-year-old Sun Juan is both the epitome of the younger generation and its antithesis. The only daughter of highly educated parents university graduates Juan has just graduated from a prestigious university. To get there, she had to sacrifice the fun that goes with being a teenager in a country tuned in to young people. So while her classmates were at karaoke bars in high school, Juan stayed home studying. High school is residential in China, but after finding the atmosphere in the dorm too distracting, Juan's mother, a teacher in an international school, got permission for her to stay home on weekends.
Juan's mother was a schoolgirl during the Cultural Revolution, and remembers that era with fondness. The seriousness with which studies, and life in general, was taken has stayed on in her. Teenagers in uniform cuddling at bus stops are a common sight today, but Juan could have none of it 'no boyfriends till you finish your studies' was her mother's rule. If Juan had any spare time, it was spent on the piano.
It all paid off. In her very first year, Juan was selected to represent her university in music. She received an invitation to enroll for a six-week music course in France, but gave it up after the promised ticket never came. Now, she's topped the exam for post-graduate admission into an even more prestigious university, one she has always longed to be part of, in her favourite subject: history.
But even after having attained this goal all on her own, Juan can't follow her heart's desire. She is such a good student that one of her professors at the university she graduated from just won't let her go. He has decided she should do her post-graduation in International Affairs under him. Is she happy with the decision taken for her? The tall, slim, lady-like Juan, back home for the holidays, shrugs."He's the best in his field; and I want to be a diplomat. I guess I'll learn a lot,'' she replies.
Juan's life could have been that of any upper-class Indian student but for her recent trip to Africa. No one knows about it, not even her professors. Instead of going home to her parents during the Chinese New Year holidays, Juan volunteered to spend her new year in the Congo on a programme that involved teaching villagers. She spent four weeks in a remote mountainous village, a place with no electricity or running water, staying not in any guest house but with an African family. The programme organizers chose a house with an attached toilet, but Juan still can't get over the amazement she felt when she realized that she would have to take a bucket bath.
That one factor reveals the gap between India and China. Juan isn't part of China's elite; both her parents work, and own an apartment in a small, coastal city. Her grandparents were university professors. Yet, for her, a bucket bath is something that belongs to another world. That's also what makes Juan so unique. Chinese youth dream of a successful career, preferably in America. Social work, even in their own country where it's badly needed, isn't part of their world. Volunteering in Africa is simply unheard of. Perhaps Juan imbibed too much of her mother's memories of life under Chairman Mao, where schooling included working in the field, learning from peasants.
The 20-year-old is unique in another way too: true to her mother's admonishments, she's had no boyfriend. Now her grandmother, with whom she spends weekends while at university, wonders whether one so serious will ever find one. Juan wonders too
THE MYSTERY OF DISAPPEARING NUMBERS
Does theatre always have to be spectacular to convey a powerful message? Ananda Lalexplores this question with reference to two recent plays
Letters, numbers. The alphanumeric combinations we are advised to use in our passwords underlie all high civilizations. But according to A Mathematician's Apology (1940) by G.H. Hardy, who invited S. Ramanujan to Cambridge, "Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not. 'Immortality' may be a silly word, but probably a mathematician has the best chance of whatever it may mean." Hardy was defending pure maths from what he perceived as the crass utilitarianism of applied maths, but are numbers really more permanent than letters?
His statement reminds me of the Einstein-Tagore dialogue, in which the scientist insisted that "truth" would continue to exist empirically in man's absence, whereas the artist countered that it could not, simply because the parameters defining truth, having been invented by man's consciousness, would cease to exist if man did not. Do the numerals 0 to 9 exist independently outside planet earth, which undiscovered intelligent species know and understand?
Hardy also suggested that maths has a beauty equal to poetry or painting, which in itself implies an aesthetic equality rather than superiority, while opening up modes of non-literate human communication, like fine arts, for scrutiny along these lines. For instance, pictographs as symbolic signifiers, older than letters or numbers in social intercourse, eventually integrated into painting. Or body language, famously codified into the system of mudras by classical dance. Or tones and rhythms, like African talking drums, evolving into complex music.
Putting all these five aspects of cognition into one artwork was the ambitious goal of Complicité's A Disappearing Number, the stage event of the year that wowed Mumbai and Hyderabad last month. Theatre does not rely ostensibly on numbers in its craft, utilizing the other forms instead: physical performance, written text, visual art and musical score. By deciding to direct the Hardy-Ramanujan relationship, Simon McBurney embarked on perhaps his biggest challenge to date. Little wonder that it took ten years to complete. Since the friendship had its basis in maths, he wanted to express the arcane intricacies of that discipline to spectators not sweeping those esoteric details behind the wings as in other plays on science like Proof or Copenhagen.
Few companies have equally strong credentials for this kind of project. A movement-oriented, text-reduced ensemble that devises its scripts collectively, Complicité has become one of the top troupes in England for its technological innovations as well, co-opting digital multimedia with an ease that leaves the few Indians in the same field looking abysmally amateurish, their ideas imposed from the outside just to jump on the cyber bandwagon. Only Nissar Allana's designs in Delhi come close, but they (like Complicité's) are expensive. More of that later.
Bearing as motto Hardy's observation about the pattern in maths a truism, for all humanity seeks the pattern in everything Complicité creates one by splicing the Hardy-Ramanujan story with a fictitious couple in the present. A British lady professor who reveres Ramanujan and an Indian-American hedge-fund marketer (the numbers game) fall in love; as a mark of respect for Ramanujan's roots, she flies to Chennai where she suddenly dies, paralleling her icon's premature death due to TB. Two sub-plots appear: her husband tries to get her phone transferred to his name with the help of an Indian call-centre operator, "Barbara"; and the play's narrator, an Indian physicist, accompanies him to the banks of the Kaveri for the final rites. One comic, dealing with numbers again; the other serious, heading toward infinity. Too schematic a pattern? But then McBurney stresses mathematical convergences and divergences repeatedly.
I did think that Ramanujan deserved more space, that Complicité seemed pressured to contemporize the play, but they certainly made mathematical infinity more accessible as a concept. That infinity can move in different directions, not just forward but backward (to the past as well as to the future in a continuum), and even that an infinite quantity of numbers lies between two whole integers. The constantly disappearing trait of infinity the more we approach it, the further it goes away sums up our metaphysical quest in life. Like the perpetual series beginning 1+1/2=, 1+1/2+1/4=, 1+1/2+1/4+1/8=, in which the total will never add up to 2 because the last fraction eternally defers that fulfilment.
Numbers form the building blocks for technology, too, which Complicité exploited visually through seamless computer projections, from front, back and top, comprising video clips, to live feed to document visualizers in deliberately class-lecture idiom. Unlike Indian productions in which screen and stage remain separate components, the cast here fluidly interacted with the video like clockwork, virtually entering the huge screens that flipped over as the projections rolled on, displaying the illusion of depth of field, those actors living on as image-echoes that receded frame by frame into the background.
An engineering student of Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, who studied theatre under me and interned on the India tour, testified to the magical yet precision work backstage. Like the Rolling Stones, Complicité travels with its entire equipment (seventy trunks full) so that the crew does not have to adjust to strange technical conditions in limited time. Bhargav Rani, my inside man, told me that Complicité installed five projectors, two of which also had remote cameras that fed the stage action onto the screens. Projection itself involved 300 cues. The Hyderabad stage posed problems for their motor-automated screens, but Complicité's technicians improvised a solution with "basic engineering concepts and some common sense," as Bhargav put it.
Hi-tech wizardry, but does theatre really need it? The set ultimately dwarfed the actors. Half the pictures, whether of Cambridge or Chennai or the Kaveri, merely served as colourful backdrops, a 21st-century counterpart of 19th-century painted scenery. Beckett would have screamed, "For God's sake! This craze for explicitation!" (Catastrophe, 1982). And at what cost? Numbers also mean finances. The crores that the International Congress of Mathematicians (who brought the play to Hyderabad), British Council and Prithvi Theatre magnanimously shelled out to facilitate Complicité's trip would have made Tagore reiterate, "The cost which is incurred for mere accessories on the stage in Europe would swamp the whole of histrionic art in famine-stricken India" (The Stage, 1913, the year before Ramanujan arrived in Cambridge). Is less really more? Is more really less?
A British company can justify such budgets in an economy like that of the UK, but it embarrasses sensitive Indians. I would have preferred that Complicité left their kits behind and did an unplugged show like on their first visit to Prithvi in 2005. Realizing the small scale of the venue, they stripped Measure for Measure down to a reportedly amazing performance, as good as their regular one. In 2010, however, they did not live up to their worldwide reputation for "surprising, disruptive theatre", "dangerous and always unexpected" (phrases from their own PR). They did not take the kinds of artistic risks that hefty financial support should have permitted them to, leaving us to conclude that the latest technology alone does not guarantee great art.
By utter fluke or call it the convergence of calendar numerals I saw an American documentary monologue on technological advances in our times, staged in a diametrically opposite manner to Complicité. Mike Daisey, a journalist-storyteller, presented The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs, directed by his wife, Jean-Michele Gregory, on a five-city tour. Complicité occupied the nearly 2000-seat Global Peace Auditorium in Hyderabad; Daisey took the tiny Rotary Sadan hall in Calcutta. Theatre groups in both cities avoid these extreme venues. Complicité's spectacular set conformed to the layout of a conference session; Daisey used a simple table and chair, on which he sat like a teacher in class for the full 100 minutes. He proved my point, that a good performer needs no audiovisual paraphernalia at all to bolster him, that we grant all concessions of the imagination to enable person-to-person communication if the content and style can grip us.
Daisey, an improvisatory specialist, began by relating ironically his experiences in India, whose lifestyle he termed an art form in itself, and then his frustration at bandwidth deprivation, compared to web pages loading instantaneously in his homeland. The time taken here made him reflect whether he required the internet at all. Coming to Calcutta, he marvelled at the traffic, which he likened to a large river inexorably if slowly moving to its destination. Complicité, too, had depicted Chennai's traffic, but with projections of streets flashing by, as three men on chairs imitated a bumpy auto-rickshaw ride: a hackneyed scene in Indian theatre. Daisey conveyed it all simply with his hands curved and inching forward alternately, to show individual initiative in pushing ahead, without which Calcuttans would remain stuck in the same place eternally, he surmised.
Already he had introduced his subject of state-of-the-art technology, and its deficiency in India. He moved on to his own status as a gizmo geek, a nut especially for Apple gadgets. He relived the grand theatrical keynote launches of new equipment by Steve Jobs, anticipated with drooling desire by thousands like him. He then narrated how his love made him go to Shenzhen, the Chinese city near Hong Kong that makes a major portion of the consumer electronic products (including Apple's) sold anywhere in the world. Gradually his agenda dawned on the few of us in the audience.
China had converted Shenzhen, a sleepy fishing village 30 years ago, into a space-age special economic zone containing all the factories making these goods. Daisey entered one of the largest, Foxconn, which owned a sprawling campus surrounded by high walls guarded by sentries armed with submachine guns. Its three lakh employees, including children, worked unacceptably long shifts doing the same mechanical job on the assembly line, like Chaplin in Modern Times. They ate the same food in cafeterias on the premises and slept in cramped bunk beds. All about numerical efficiency. They earned enough, but in what living conditions? The suicide rate forced Foxconn to erect safety nets to pre-empt labourers from jumping to their deaths. Afterwards, I asked Daisey if he had exaggerated anything for effect. He assured me that he was reporting fact.
Look under your laptops for the manufacturing labels. We cannot live without the equipment made in these sweatshops. Without it I cannot compose this article and email it to The Telegraph. They create every conceivable technology, and Daisey hectored us that the American and other corporates know very well what goes on inside, but they profit by mercilessly chewing up the manpower underneath them (like the materialistic machine in Tagore's Rakta-karabi, where the slave-driven excavators have numbers, not names), and so they look away. Daisey quotes two proverbs. One Chinese: "If you have money, you can make the ghosts and devils turn your grindstone." The other American: "If you want to enjoy a good steak, don't visit the slaughterhouse."
Daisey may be a bleeding-heart liberal. But I recognized him as the man full of righteous indignation who mounts a soapbox in Berkeley, California, railing fire and brimstone at social injustice. I recognized him as the inheritor of the tradition of American evangelism, riveting and persuading listeners with the sheer passion of his beliefs and power of his delivery. This was nonfictional but pure performance, solo but forceful, opinionated but convincing, compelling you to think about human inequalities. Dangerous and disruptive in their most positive senses.
What do I do with my MacBook? I feel like exchanging it for one assembled in a non-SEZ Indian factory that follows humane codes of employment, even if it costs more. But no such option exists. Then I remember Daisey ending his harangue by warning that once expenses in China rise, as they must, the MNCs will come to India. We know that some have already arrived. Is our disappearing number up?
'MUKHERJEE'S SUPPORT TO MAMATA IS UNTENABLE.'
Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's defence of railway minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee's questioning of the government's policy on Maoists and steps to deal with the Maoist threat not only shows the government in a poor light but undermines the fight against them. In her speech at a rally in Lalgarh, which was a joint effort by her party and the Maoist front organisation, People's Committee Against Police Atrocities, Mamata was soft on Maoists, called for the withdrawal of the forces fighting them in the area and condemned the 'extra-judicial killing' of Maoist leader Azad. The nature of killing of Azad is disputed but the point is that Mamata was contradicting and challenging the government's version while being a member of the Union cabinet. She was playing a dangerous political game by making common cause with the Maoists in her fight against the CPM in West Bengal, and she continues to do so by reiterating her position.
Mukherjee's endorsement of her statements is equally prompted by political considerations. The Congress is in alliance with the TMC in West Bengal and in the UPA but that should not have made the senior Congress minister accept Mamata's public comments which went against the government's declared policy. By making a strained defence of her remarks and declaring that she has the right to make an independent statement he has overlooked the need for collective responsibility of the cabinet. A coalition does not give its constituents the absolute licence to question government policies, especially when they involve national security. Mamata's explanations have not lessened the gravity of her dalliance with the Maoists, as Mukherjee has tried to claim. His support has made it worse and has undermined the credibility and effectiveness of the government's fight against the Maoists.
Many aspects of the government's strategy to deal with the Maoist threat may be debatable. But it is not for members of the government to question it in public for narrow ends and create a situation in which the Maoists will be politically and morally stronger. The short-term gains that Mamata hopes to make in the state would ultimately harm the national interest. It is unfortunate that the UPA leadership does not realise this. There have been other cases of ministers in the UPA government speaking in different voices, but none as serious as this. Mukherjee, with his support for Mamata, has encouraged this trend.
'THE CHANGES IN DTC DON'T GO BEYOND TINKERING.'
The new Direct Tax Code bill which has been introduced in the Lok Sabha after a long preparation and a public debate has flattered to deceive. The promise of a radical overhaul of the taxation norms and administration, making the system modern and bringing it in line with the systems in the most efficient economies India is doing business with has been belied to a large extent. There are some positive features of change but they do not go beyond the tinkering that many finance ministers have done as part of their budget exercises. For example, the promise was to increase the threshold of personal income limit from Rs 1,80,000 to Rs 2.5 lakh but it has been kept at just Rs 2 lakh. Corporate tax rate is at 30 per cent instead of the promised 25 per cent.
The original plan was to simplify the tax structure, reduce exemptions and incentives, widen the tax base, increase compliance and minimise the scope for litigation which helps neither the tax payer nor the government. The bill can be seen as only as attempt to move towards those goals. One welcome feature is that those in the lower brackets may gain proportionately more than others. The decision to exempt long-term savings and retirement plans from taxation at any stage is right in a country where the social security support for individuals is weak. The tax rebate on home loans will partially continue as against the earlier plan to drop it altogether. Changes in the capital gains tax norms will also be welcomed by many as they can encourage investment. Corporates will be happy that the Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) will be calculated on profits rather than on assets. But this may open possibilities for tax evasion. Abolition of gender preferences in taxation is in line with the principle of reducing exemptions but it goes against the social imperative of greater financial empowerment of women.
Overall the bill makes many compromises between competing needs and compulsions. The chances of loss of revenue in the immediate future must have been a consideration in altering many earlier proposals. The reforms in the tax code can continue in future also but that will deprive the system of the essential need for stability and predictability. That is why the new tax code will be considered as a missed opportunity.
A REFRESHING SIGHT
BY M K BHADRAKUMAR
The high-profile visits to New Delhi underscore the importance given by Karzai to forging a strategic understanding with India.
The consultations by Afghan foreign minister Zalmay Rasul and National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta in New Delhi in successive weeks will be noted regionally and internationally. They took place at a critical juncture in the geopolitics of the region.
For Indian foreign-policymakers, Afghanistan assumes an unprecedented priority today as the stakes are high for national security, and harmonising our vital interests and core concerns with those of the international community becomes a formidable intellectual and political challenge.
To be sure, the consultations would have given clarity to our understanding of the intriguing undercurrents in the Afghan situation. Quite obviously, the war is in stalemate. In the past 5 days alone, 19 US servicemen have been killed and they are dying in vain. The 'surge' is fizzling out while the Pakistani floods provide the alibi for the top brass in Rawalpindi to plead overriding distractions. In short, the war is degenerating into a futile brutish operation by the US special forces.
Politically, the blame game has begun in direct proportion to the frustrations on the battlefield. A US-led vilification campaign against Afghan President Hamid Karzai has appeared, provoked by his dogged sense of independence and his growing proclivity to address policies through the prism of Afghan national sentiments and interests, and, most important, his disenchantment with his western partners and his consequential gravitation toward regional allies.
The regional milieu impacts in many ways. The US public opinion is wearied of bloodshed but Pentagon is nonetheless hell-bent on keeping its military presence in the region as part of the 'containment' strategy toward China and is beefing up its military bases in Afghanistan and even constructing new ones. The Afghan opinion will always militate against foreign occupation. Russia and China resent the US military presence but cannot do without it either, given the unfinished business of the war on terrorism.
Pakistan continues to project power into Afghanistan for gaining 'strategic depth' and estimates that time works in its favour even as US frustrations keep mounting. The US attempt to leverage Pakistan by doling out a multi-billion dollar aid package will not induce any serious let-up in the Pakistani military's support to the Afghan insurgents. Thus, the US and Pakistan make strange Siamese twins in their deathly dance of mutual accommodation.
Under the circumstances Karzai faces a tough choice in being called upon to talk to the Taliban through the Pakistani military and under close US watch, which effectively stymies his reconciliation strategy and threatens to alienate his allies in Kabul who include forces opposed to a Taliban takeover. Meanwhile, the 'Afghanisation' of the war remains a chimera and the western attempt to undercut Karzai's political standing and his need to expand an independent, native political base seem bizarre.
The visits by the Afghan dignitaries no doubt underscore the high importance given by Karzai to forging a strategic understanding with India. Karzai is keen to have India's support while navigating the choppy waters ahead. Certainly, there is a mutuality of interests in this regard, too, insofar as New Delhi shares Karzai's opposition to a force majeure Taliban takeover in Kabul and equally sees the imperative of a broad-based government reflecting the country's plural society as the key to enduring peace.
Curiously, the calculus holds similarities with the one in 1989-90 under Najibullah. Now as well, India's national security interests are best served by a democratic, independent, non-aligned and neutral Afghanistan free of foreign interference.
The consultations underscore that India will always remain a player in Afghanistan and that it is not gratis any third country in the region or outside of it that India remains so. Cutting across regions and ethnic groups, Mujahideen and communists, and royalists and democrats, there is goodwill toward India among the Afghan people.
Two, the consultations show up that India doesn't need fig-leaves of 'trilateral' or 'quadrilateral' formats for pursuing its relations with Afghanistan, since it has never been an adversary, an aggressor or an occupier. India's approach can be the same as China's, which too places primacy on an independent line of thinking.
Three, India has a steadily deepening and expanding strategic partnership with the US unlike Russia (which cannot quite make up its mind if it is the US' ally or adversary) or Iran (which peers through the prism of its standoff with the US). Despite the apparent contradictions in the US and Indian approaches, both wish to see a stable Afghanistan that acts as a hub bringing together Central and South Asia.
Delhi is uniquely placed to influence Washington's thinking. US President Barack Obama is due in November and he will have use for constructive inputs to go into his upcoming review of the AfPak strategy in December.
Of course, there is no scope for a military role for India. Nor is there any need of triumphalism vis-à-vis Pakistan, which will remain an influential player, thanks to the realities of geography, ethnicity, culture and history. But within these parameters, India can do much although it is a fine line to walk.
The warmth with which Rasul and Spanta were received certainly comes as a refreshing sight. The ingenuity of Indian diplomacy lies in transmuting the new thinking into practical measures that strengthen Karzai's leadership and contribute to the stabilisation of Afghanistan.
(The writer is a former diplomat)
HUGO CHAVEZ FACES A MAJOR CHALLENGE
BY IGNACIO RAMONET
The media fails to recall that since 1989 there have been 15 democratic elections in Venezuela.
Two decisive contests are fast approaching in the struggle for ideological supremacy in Latin America: the legislative elections in Venezuela on Sept 26 and the presidential elections in Brazil on Oct 3. If the democratic left doesn't win in the latter, the political pendulum would begin to swing continent wide towards the right, which is already in power in Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and Peru.
But this is unlikely to occur: it is inconceivable that Jose Serra, of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, could defeat Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party, supported by the current president Lula Ignacio de Silva, who could easily win a third term if the constitution didn't bar it.
Given this situation in Brazil, conservative forces are concentrating their attacks on the other front, Venezuela, trying to weaken President Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution. At stake are the seats of 165 deputies in the National Assembly. Almost all of the outgoing lawmakers are Chavistas because the opposition boycotted the last elections, in 2005. They won't this time. There is a myriad of parties and disparate organisations, all united by their anti-Chavez zeal in the umbrella group the Table of Democratic Unity against Chavez' Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela.
The Bolivarian government will inevitably have fewer representatives in the new assembly, which raises many questions: What will the new proportion be? Will the body still be able to push through Chavez' reforms? Will the opposition be able to put the brakes on the revolution?
Sixty per cent of the seats will be assigned by direct election, the rest by proportionality. Of this 40 per cent, the ticket that receives over 50 per cent of the votes will receive 75 per cent of the seats. This is important because the constitution stipulates that organic laws need a two-thirds majority to pass while an enabling act, which would give the president the power to legislate by decree, must pass by a three-fifths majority.
In other words: the opposition would need just 56 of the total 165 votes to block passage of organic laws and 67 votes to block passage of any enabling act. Up until now, it was the latter that made it possible for the government to pass the major reforms.
Thus the battle in Venezuela in mobilising massive energy while the defamation campaigns launched against President Chavez are churning with malignancy. Recent months have seen an alternation of attacks. First came the focus on problems with water supplies and electricity cuts, blaming the government for both without mentioning the central factor: the drought of the century then afflicting Venezuela. Next came endless repetitions of the unsubstantiated charge made by ex-Colombian president Alvaro Uribe regarding a supposed "Venezuelan sanctuary for terrorists".
This accusation was dropped by the new president of Colombia Juan Miguel Santos after his Aug 10 meeting with Chavez, who said again that the guerrillas should abandon their armed struggle: "Today's world is not the world of the 1960s. The conditions of the country are not right for the guerrillas to take power. Instead, they have been transformed into the main excuse for the American empire to penetrate deep into Colombia and from there to attack Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Cuba."
Against all evidence, the hatemonger media continue to assert that in Venezuela political freedoms would be eliminated and censorship would choke off the freedom of expression. They fail to note that 80 per cent of radio and television stations belong to the private sector and only 8 per cent are public. Nor do they mention that since 1989 there have been 15 democratic elections unchallenged by any international oversight organisation. Journalist Jose Vicente Rangel writes, "Every Venezuelan is able to affiliate with any of thousands of political parties, unions, social organisations or associations and then move into the national arena to debate their ideas and points of view without any limitation."
Since Chavez was elected president, social investment in Venezuela has increased by a factor of five with respect to 1988-1998 levels; this was a crucial move, because of which Venezuela has already achieved almost all of the UN Millennium Development Goals, well before the 2015 target date. The percentage of Venezuelans living in poverty has dropped from 49.4 per cent in 1999 to 30.2 per cent in 2006.
Do such encouraging achievements deserve such hatred?
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
MOMENTS TO CHERISH
BY RAYMA G NAYAR
Step by faltering step he came with a smile on his face, right up to where I was sitting.
He came towards me, dressed in a formal dark suit, tall and handsome, smiling with his hands outstretched ready to go for a school dance and I am overwhelmed by memories of that day in our house in Cochin, more than 19 years ago.
I was sitting at my writing table when he came into the room through the door at the far end of the room, on all fours. He came in and saw me and ever so slowly he started standing up, slowly but with determination, till he was up straight and standing, enacting what that prehistoric homo sapiens did, all those million years ago, when he, a superman, stood up for the first time straight on his two legs and walked! And then this toddler started on the first journey he had taken on his two legs, and wonder-struck I stared, scarcely breathing.
Step by faltering step he came with a smile on his face, right up to where I was sitting... the whole length of the room. And then when he was there within reach of my arms I put them out and caught him, both of us laughing. It was such a beautiful moment... the first time he walked, all by himself. "Shall we dance?" I asked him, echoing the words of the unforgettable song from the movie 'Anna and the King of Siam' and whirred him round, both of us laughing, loudly.
And now it was another milestone, when he was about to step out of his home confines for his first big social engagement, wearing his first suit. But there was no whirring around this young man! But this time also I asked him "Shall we dance?" I put out my arms, murmured 'One, two, three, one two, three' and to the tune of that famous waltz 'The Blue Danube', one of my favourites. And full of laughter we both took a couple of steps before he softly warned me "Hush Ammumma, not so loud. My friends are in the next room and may hear us!" Alas! the world had caught up with us!
And again I remembered that rivetting hairless Yul Brynner and the beautiful Deborah Kerr. In fact the hairless coiffure became quite the rage among young men, even though they did not have the piercing eyes and the acting ability of Yul Brynner.
And so we danced, he the 19-year-old at the beginning of life's journey, and I, his 70-plus grandmother, well on the way along the same road... the road of Life.
ABBAS HAS THE WILL, AND THE WAY
In spite of Tuesday's terror attack and its tragic consequences, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remains a partner for peace. Over the next few days we will, of course, hear the same old slogans bandied about: "There is no Palestinian partner," or better yet, "Yasser Arafat could have made peace but didn't want to; Abbas may or might not want to conclude a peace with Israel, but he cannot."
But the attacks, for which Hamas took credit, occurred before the Palestinian Authority has been allowed to take control of the Hebron area. One must also admit that the West Bank has recently experienced one of its calmest spells since 1967.
Those pigeonholing Abbas have overlooked a number of facts. Over the past decade he has displayed the kind of political courage Israelis can only dream of their own leaders showing. As early as the first dark days of the second intifada, Abbas was the only Palestinian leader saying openly that the violence must stop. In early 2005, on the presidential campaign trail, Abbas denounced Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza, affirming that they are tantamount to political suicide and hurt the Palestinians' wider interest. In the end, he won the election.
Abbas' control may not extend to Gaza, but in the West Bank he has engineered a revolutionary transformation. Lacking Arafat's much-touted charisma, Abbas has quietly, obstinately changed the very face of the territory. Along with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, he has created a new way of life for the Palestinians. The armed men have disappeared, and West Bank cities for the first time know law and order. And yes, the number of terror attacks against Israelis has plummeted.
During Operation Cast Lead, as Arab countries erupted in anti-Israel protests, the calmest place in the Middle East - even more than Israel - was the West Bank. In public opinion polls, meanwhile, Abbas' popularity has consistently climbed (the sole exception being his tepid response to the Goldstone report ).
Abbas may not be as popular as Arafat, but the latter always saw public opinion as a foremost objective. Abbas' status within Fatah is better than ever, and opponents to his leadership have failed time and again to unseat him.
Top officers within the Shin Bet security service and Israel Defense Forces have voiced similar opinions about Abbas' leadership, even if in the wake of this week's attacks they haven't done so publicly for fear of a backlash from the Israeli right.
Members of Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, however, go one step further, getting hung up on Hamas rule in Gaza - or a single terror attack during an otherwise quiet period - to explain the stagnation of the peace process or their prediction of the failure of diplomatic talks. Israel must not find itself held hostage by Hamas, waiting for the Islamist group to agree to relinquish its rule over Gaza or stop terror attacks, before agreeing to sign a peace deal.
In word and deed, Abbas has made clear he has both the will and the way to make peace, but he can't do it under the terms the Israeli right is demanding. He can show flexibility over borders, maybe even over the right of return. But not over Jerusalem, just as Arafat refused to do.
The Netanyahu government must understand the price of ending the conflict. You want peace? Give Abbas the Temple Mount. Without Islamic sovereignty over what Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif, we won't have peace even a decade from now.
NOT AT ANY PRICE
On the instructions of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, the Justice Ministry has published a proposed amendment that would give police officers wide-ranging powers to body-search people in places prone to violence, even if there is no prior suspicion and no real evidence against those being searched.
Astonishingly, the Justice Ministry inserted the amendment into the Economic Arrangements Bill accompanying the budget, which led Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to ask the ministry to remove it. "The arrangements bill has crossed every possible line," Rivlin said. "The arrangements bill cannot include amendments that have serious consequences for basic human rights, regardless of whether or not they have some connection to the budget." In response, the Justice Ministry said it would consider removing the amendment.
The war on crime, and particularly on the rising violence in places of entertainment, is indeed a pressing need. But not all means are acceptable in this war. Current law already permits a body search of anyone entering a public place. The Justice Ministry and police should make do with that.
The police already have sufficient means to operate in places of entertainment. And what would truly improve security is an increased police presence on the ground, not ever more invasive and harmful powers.
A few months ago, Haaretz reporter Nir Hasson described what is happening in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood, where dozens of young neighborhood residents have been unnecessarily humiliated every night, without any real grounds for suspicion, by police officers conducting body searches on them - ostensibly to discover whether they were carrying drugs. Many young people have been humiliated in this way, and about 20 submitted complaints to the police, with the support of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
It is not necessary to amend the law in a way that would undermine human rights by humiliating and harming innocent citizens. And the way the attempt was made, through the back door of a budget-related bill, is even more galling.
The Knesset speaker should be commended for his initiative. Hopefully, the Justice Ministry will respond by promptly withdrawing its unnecessary amendment, which would do much more harm than good.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH
BY ARI SHAVIT
What do the following people have in common: Barack Obama, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao and Ban Ki-moon? A approach. Despite all the differences and contrasts among these notables, common to all is the commitment to try to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict via a comprehensive and immediate agreement. Full peace, final peace, peace now.
The founding father of the approach is Yossi Beilin. Right after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, that prolific and brilliant statesman realized that the agreement he had just produced would lead to a dead end. He therefore quickly opened a direct channel with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen ), and at the end of two years of talks put together the Beilin-Abu Mazen Document. For some five years, that document was the oracle of the Israeli peace community. It was perceived as final proof that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement was within reach. But when Ehud Barak went to Camp David in the summer of 2000, it turned out that it was not such an oracle. The Palestinians are not prepared to share the country peacefully.
Beilin was not deterred. He quickly opened negotiations with a group of Palestinian leaders and in 2003 spawned the Geneva Initiative. For five years that was the oracle of the international peace community. It was perceived as a kind of final proof that the failure of Camp David was coincidental and that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement was within reach. But when Ehud Olmert went to Annapolis in 2007-2008, it turned out to be nowhere near an oracle. Although the Geneva Initiative people were the ones to renew the diplomatic process, they could not get Abu Mazen to sign the peace agreement he had been promising since 1993. Once again it was proven that the Palestinians do not want to share the country peacefully.
And yet, despite its resounding failures, the approach is still with us. It still guides U.S. policy and dominates international discourse. The approach requires a number of Middle Eastern leaders to act based on a fundamentally flawed plan. At this very moment the approach is convening a useless peace conference in Washington.
We can understand Abbas. He is probably the last refugee to head the Palestinian national movement. For hundreds of years his family and mine lived in the same city: Safed. The possibility that a son of Safed would give up Safed is close to nil. The idea that a Palestinian refugee would give up the Palestinian refugees' right of return is unfounded.
Abu Mazen is a positive individual who opposes terror, but he has no interest in ending the conflict or the ability to do so. As Yitzhak Shamir went to the Madrid Conference, so Abu Mazen is willing to go to any useless conference that does not demand that he pay a real price for the political assets he has amassed.
We cannot understand the others: Obama, Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Netanyahu, Olmert, Barak, Livni, Mubarak, Abdullah, Abdullah, Sarkozy, Merkel, Cameron, Berlusconi, Putin, Hu and Ban. Have they learned nothing and forgotten nothing? Do they not know that even Beilin has wised up? Are they really ready to let political correctness blind them?
The only way to prevent the collapse of the process that is opening in Washington today is to quickly replace the failed approach with a realistic political one. Perhaps a Palestinian state with temporary borders, perhaps a partial evacuation of settlements, perhaps some other creative solution. But one thing is clear: Only if Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas forge some sort of interim agreement soon will peace come closer and an avalanche be prevented.
A RESPONSE TO PFC. BENN
BY GIDEON LEVY
Pfc. Aluf Benn spent his years in the army in the Military Police in Lebanon. Yesterday, with commendable courage, he revealed his military routines in these pages ("When I was Eden Abergil" ). He handcuffed and blindfolded people countless times and led many detainees to their cages. He saw detainees eating like dogs, as he put it - crouching with their hands tied behind their backs - and smelled their sweat and urine.
Benn tried to argue that everyone did this, thousands of soldiers of the occupation army for generations, and that is why he was not shocked by the acts of soldier Eden Abergil. That is a twisted but frightingly banal moral explanation: Everyone does it, so it's okay. I never saw aberrations, Benn wrote, immediately after describing the detainees' horrendous doglike meal. The occupation did not corrupt me, he added later, without batting an eyelash.
Well then, my excellent editor and good friend, Aluf Benn, your article is unequivocal proof of how much you have been corrupted after all - and, more seriously, how unaware of it you are. You didn't know and didn't ask who the prisoners were and why they were detained that way. Even their crouching to eat in handcuffs was deemed by you, a soldier who read Uri Avnery in his youth, to be normal, not a monstrous moral aberration. But really, what can you expect from a young brainwashed soldier?
The problem is that even today, with mature hindsight, you still don't consider this an aberration. Why? Just because everybody did it.
The occupation did not turn us into lawless criminals, you write with a pure heart. Really? You handcuffed thousands of people for no reason, without trial, in humiliating conditions, causing them pain that made them scream, according to your testimony. Is this not a loss of humanity?
You didn't return home to riot in the streets and abuse innocent people, you write, and that's all very well. But you were silent. You were a complete accomplice to the crime, and you don't even have a guilty conscience.
Try to think for a moment about the thousands of detainees that you handcuffed, humiliated and tortured. Think about their lives since then, the traumas and scars they carry, the hatred you planted in them. Now think about yourself, the soldier who has matured, become a family man and a respected columnist, a liberal editor to the bone, with independent and enlightened opinions. Could it be that you are blinder today than you were in your youth?
So that's what everybody did. You have made an important contribution to Breaking the Silence, providing proof of what the occupation does to the occupier, who doesn't even notice the ugly hump on his back anymore. The occupier you described is a grave development. An occupier who feels so good, so at peace with his past actions, is in need of profound self-examination.
"When I was Eden Abergil" is an important article. It honestly exposes what most of us don't want to admit. It can't be called false propaganda, and no one would dare accuse its author of being an anti-Semite. He was a dedicated soldier in the defense forces that committed (and still commit ) such criminal deeds.
But the lesson Benn took away from his military service is perhaps the most chilling of all: It is better to be the one taking the prisoner, not the prisoner. It is better to be the one placing the handcuffs, not the handcuffed. It is better to guard the detainee and then go to the dining room than to eat crouching, hands cuffed, in a stinking hall. This is the binary world of the former Israeli soldier: either a brutal soldier, or his victim.
And what about the third possibility, which is neither one nor the other? The world has plenty of these - neither torturers not torture victims, neither occupiers nor the occupied. But they have been entirely erased from the narrow and frighteningly distorted image of the world that Israel plants in its soldiers' minds.
Benn and his fellow soldiers just wanted to be on the strong side, and to hell with being on the just side. But those who forced people to eat like animals are not the strong side. Even the mighty, who once read the leftist Haolam Hazeh and now edits the op-ed page of Haaretz, has fallen.
Pfc. Benn certainly did not deserve a medal for his army service. Years later, he doesn't even understand what was wrong with it.
DID HARPAZ REALLY ACT ALONE?
BY AMIR OREN
James Lee Rankin, general counsel for the commission investigating John F. Kennedy's assassination, said after the Warren Commission released its report that the commission members had expected skeptics to question their conclusion that Harvey Lee Oswald was a lone assassin, leaving ample room for conspiracy theories.
"What can you do?" Rankin may well have said to himself. "Our scenario has holes in it, but all the alternative scenarios we considered had more holes in them. So until proven otherwise, Oswald acted alone."
In Israel, Yoav Segalovich, a major general in the police force, found himself in a position vaguely similar to Rankin's yesterday.
Segalovich confirmed the findings of the investigation into the Galant document: Boaz Harpaz acted alone to forge a letter purporting to show that Yoav Galant was seeking assistance from media consultant Eyal Arad in his candidacy for Israel Defense Forces chief of staff. At the moment, there is no evidence to contradict that statement. There are suspicions, assumptions, questions and speculations that IDF officers say have not been looked into (such as who authorized Harpaz's entry into the offices of senior officers, since the rank of lieutenant colonel in the reserves is not enough to get in ).
After police determined that the document featuring Arad's logo had been forged, they chose to ignore IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi's request to find out whether the substance of the letter was also false. Unlike Harpaz, Ashkenazi is not alone. Many top IDF officials are convinced the truth has not been revealed. If Harpaz signs a plea bargain, their fears that the real story is more complicated than a one-man job will intensify. They will see Harpaz as more than a charlatan who likes hobnobbing with VIPs and sucking up to them, as something beyond a gossipmonger who masterfully pasted together the not-quite-secret tidbits he had gathered.
They may be wrong, but the atmosphere in the IDF will not clear up as long as senior officers remain convinced that Harpaz obtained the material from those in the know, and is keeping his mouth shut to avoid admitting an offense worse than forgery (theft? wiretapping? ). Or perhaps he was promised money to keep mum.
Harpaz did not intend the forged paper to reach the media. After all, its publication is what triggered the investigation that led to the exposure of the forgery and the forger. The forger did not know the document would be published, and the person who led to its publication (indirectly and implicitly, through Gabi Siboni, a colonel in the reserves ) did not know the document was forged. The result was a chain of errors, a series of basic assumptions that went unconfirmed. Anyone who popped up on the radar of the detectives investigating the case was hurt. Such people were summoned to make a statement to police, and their names were released to the public.
The Harpaz story is not the private business of Gabi Ashkenazi, Ehud Barak or Yoav Galant. Closing the case hasn't cleared the air. The defense minister and chief of staff are only the peak of a large hierarchy, team leaders whose underlings' confidence in them is essential.
In this context, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot's refusal to serve as deputy chief of staff is significant. Eizenkot is one of the few senior officers on the track to chief of staff of whom one is entitled to believe that his ethics are stronger than his tactics. His display of no-confidence in Galant is guided by an ethical consideration rather than a self-serving one. If he has no confidence in Galant, but isn't saying why, what will officers and soldiers think of their new commander?
Harpaz should be indicted, but the authorities should also allow him to speak openly to Ashkenazi without fear that what he said could be used to incriminate him. If the IDF and the chief of staff are indeed dear to Harpaz, let him expose the truth. He, unlike Oswald, is in a position to do so.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE REAL SAY ON PAY
The Financial Times reported this week that lawyers for corporate America are warning of a "logistical nightmare" from a provision in the new financial reform law that requires companies to disclose the ratio between a chief executive's pay package and that of a typical employee.
The lawyers say that the ratio would be unfairly complex to calculate and could encourage false comparisons. But the real problem is that C.E.O.'s and corporate boards would have to justify to shareholders, employees and the public what are sure to be some very large gaps between pay at the top and pay for everyone else.
Federal filings already tell investors how much top executives make. The median salary of a Standard & Poor's 500 chief executive last year was $1.025 million, and the median total pay package including bonuses and nonsalary income was $7.5 million, according to Equilar, an executive compensation research firm. The median pay of private-sector workers in the United States was about $30,000 in 2008, the most recent year of data. With benefits added in, that comes to roughly $36,000.
Without company-specific data, however, it is impossible to measure and judge the effect of pay structures on companies and the broader economy. It is clear that C.E.O. pay has skyrocketed while workers' pay has stagnated; it is also clear that skewed pay and rising income inequality correlate to bubbles and crashes.
How does the pay gap between the boss and the workers figure into performance? Are companies efficiently providing goods and services or are they being run for the enrichment of the few? Disclosure of the gap could help provide answers and in the process, help investors, policy makers and the public understand the forces that are shaping business and the economy.
It is up to the Securities and Exchange Commission to develop rules to calculate employees' total compensation, including whether to include workers outside the United States. The best approach would be to measure the pay gap both against the global work force and the American work force, because company performance and the impact of corporate decisions on investors and the economy are tied to each number.
Corporate opponents of the law insist that pay-gap disclosures would be misleading. A company that outsources its low-wage work, for example, could have a smaller gap than a company that employs low-wage workers, even though the outsourcer is not necessarily a better-run company. That misses the point. The point is to calculate, disclose and explain the gaps as they exist for the way a company does business.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
ON COURSE FOR A CLEANER HUDSON
The cleanup of the Hudson River by the General Electric Company dredging industrial pollutants that have been poisoning the river for 60 years finally started last year. That is the good news. The bad news is that the project turned out to be full of unexpected problems.
This does not mean that the dredging of buried polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, should be abandoned. It does mean that changes need to be made in the way the company and the Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the project, tackle the second and much larger phase, scheduled to begin in May.
A draft report last month from independent scientists hired by the agency identified several serious but not fatal problems in the first phase, which ran from May to November last year and removed almost 290,000 cubic yards of sediment. Contaminated layers of sediment were thicker than sampling probes had predicted. Dredges got hung up on debris, their jaws unable to seal in toxic contents. The volume of PCBs released into the water and air was far higher than expected.
The panel said the dredgers needed better data on the location and concentration of the toxic sediment. It disagreed with G.E.'s suggestion of placing a limit on the mass of PCBs to be removed. That's sensible: Nobody knows how much contamination is still in the river, and the company is under a binding agreement to remove it all. With that uncertainty in mind, the panel also recommended that the project's five-year completion deadline be dropped. The E.P.A. now says the dredging might end up taking 10 years, which is fine. A job done slowly and right is better than one altered or abandoned.
Fortunately, we will not have to wait until the job is completed to see good things happen. When PCB concentrations start falling in the river, they decline in fish. This means the benefits of the project will start being felt long before the last load of toxic mud is pulled up from the bottom. This is the strongest rebuttal to G.E.'s old argument that the answer is to let the carcinogens lie in the river, decaying on their own.
If the cleanup of a river that has been tainted for 60 years and counting takes a few years longer than first planned, nobody should be complaining. The river would have been cleaner years ago if G.E. hadn't thrown its full power at delaying what it was finally ordered by a court to do. But if it takes a few more years and dollars to get to a cleaner river, so be it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHEN WARRIORS HURT THEMSELVES
"Dwell time" is military shorthand for the precious home-front visits back to family life that soldiers enjoy between the multiple deployments of modern warfare. The need for enough dwell time and for a fairer, less stressful distribution of repeat deployments is a keystone finding in a study of the alarming rise in suicides afflicting the military as it soldiers on in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Other factors stand out, including the continuing stigmatization of troubled warriors who dare to step forward for help. And, most surprising, perhaps, the lack of a top-level Pentagon office and prevention policy for the hundreds of antisuicide programs now pursued separately by the services.
The ambitious, yearlong study by military and civilian experts was ordered by Congress in facing the fact that the suicide tally has been increasing despite intensified prevention programs. From 2005 to 2009, more than 1,100 members of the military killed themselves, with the highest tolls among Army soldiers and Marines carrying the burden on the battlefronts.
No service has yet tracked the myriad factors involved in suicide. One of the more ambitious recommendations of the Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide is to set up an investigatory process to standardize the gathering and analysis of the facts of each case, much like an aviation crash is studied.
The services have hardly ignored the problem. But soldiers testified "they almost died from boredom listening to yet another suicide prevention briefing." The challenge is to make prevention more credible and urgent for officers and even more for soldiers wrestling with depression in a monolithic organization.
Suicides are doubly tragic casualties of war. They are increasing at a record rate higher than civilian suicide. The task force has laid out a mandate for Congress and the Pentagon to target suicide as a most vital wartime mission.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
KATRINA, FIVE YEARS LATER
New Orleans is rebounding well from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and could conceivably end up on a stronger economic footing than before the storm if the city redevelops in the right way. For that to happen, federal, state and local authorities must step up the effort to restore flood-damaged neighborhoods, some of which are heavily blighted and still have less than half their prestorm populations.
For starters, the state and federal government need to find more effective ways of working with community-based, nonprofit programs that have a good record of helping cash-strapped property owners restore their homes. (The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the State of Louisiana are collaborating on a pilot program, but more needs to be done.)
Congress, which has failed the city in any number of ways, must quickly extend the life of a crucial tax credit for corporations that invest in desperately needed affordable housing projects. Without that fix, the region will likely lose financing for thousands of apartments, many of them earmarked for the most vulnerable populations, including the elderly and the disabled.
A new report prepared by the Brookings Institution and the nonpartisan Greater New Orleans Community Data Center contains a great deal of good news.
Entrepreneurs are starting new businesses in significantly higher numbers than before the storm. Wages and median household incomes have risen compared with a decade ago. Arts and cultural organizations appear to be thriving. Thanks to reform-minded school leadership, the public school system has improved and become a magnet for teacher talent.
A new system of more than 90 community centers has given the city's poor residents better access to mental health services and preventive medical care. And the city now boasts a population that is more engaged civically and more deeply involved in matters of governance than ever.
But the region faces huge challenges. The dearth of affordable housing casts a long shadow on the city's future. At the moment, nearly 60 percent of city renters spend more than 35 percent of their incomes on housing. Nationally, about 40 percent of renters spend that much. These people skimp on nutrition and medical care, undermining the well-being of children, and are chronically at risk of homelessness. They move often one step ahead of eviction which leads to higher employee turnover, higher training costs and lower productivity. And without more affordable housing, some areas of the city could remain permanently vacant.
To stabilize its neighborhoods and attract a larger middle-class population government officials must solve the problem of blight. With 55,000 abandoned addresses, New Orleans is probably the most blighted city in the country, and few people want to live among darkened, abandoned buildings. The obvious first step is to expand investment in local nonprofits that solidify partly refurbished neighborhoods by renovating the remaining abandoned homes on a given block.
Homelessness also is a nagging problem. According to a distressing analysis by Unity of Greater New Orleans, a social service consortium, the dangerous abandoned buildings are now home to somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 people most of whom suffer from mental illnesses. More must be done to get these people stabilized and into supportive housing.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A DREAM HOUSE AFTER ALL
BY KARL E. CASE
IF you read the coverage of the latest figures on the sales of existing homes from the National Association of Realtors, you may well have come to the conclusion that the American dream is dead. It is indeed worrisome that sales in July were down 25 percent from a year ago.
But a little perspective is in order.
First, the bad news. What has happened in the housing markets since 2005 is a catastrophe that may take years for our economy to recover from.
Anyone who believed that home prices never fall has learned a tough lesson. The Case-Shiller price indexes released on Tuesday suggest that since their national peak in 2006, home prices have fallen by 29 percent. Some areas of course look better than others. Las Vegas is down 57 percent from its peak and Phoenix is down 51 percent. On the other hand, Boston is down just 13.5 percent and Dallas only 4.2 percent.
The effect on household wealth has been huge. Data maintained by the Federal Reserve show that the value of residential real estate directly held by households fell to $16.5 trillion in the first quarter of 2010, down from $22.9 trillion in 2006. It has yet to be determined who will end up bearing those losses. The decline in wealth has substantially reduced consumption, stifling the economy.
Depressing, yes but the end of a dream? Not exactly. I have never quite understood what the American dream really means when it comes to housing. For some people, it means having a solid and fairly safe long-term investment that is coupled with the satisfaction of owning the house they live in. That dream is still alive.
Others, however, think the American dream is owning property that appreciates by 30 percent a year, making a house into a vehicle for paying bills. But those kinds of dreams have become nightmares for the millions of foreclosed property owners who have found themselves sliding toward bankruptcy.
But for people with a more realistic version of the American dream, buying a house now can make a lot of sense. Think of it as an investment. The return or yield on that investment comes in two forms. First, it provides what is called "net imputed rent from owner-occupied housing." You live in the house and so it provides you with a real flow of valuable services. This part of the yield is counted as part of national income by the Commerce Department. It is the equivalent of about a 6 percent return on your investment after maintenance and repair, and it is constant over time in real terms. Consider it this way: when Enron went belly up, shareholders ended up with nothing, but when the housing market drops, homeowners still have a house. And this benefit is tax-free.
The second part of the yield on investment in a house is the capital gain you receive if it appreciates and you sell the house. Gains are excluded from taxation if the property is a primary residence and the gain is less than $250,000 for a single filer or $500,000 for a married couple filing jointly.
Consider a few other bonuses of buying a home today. You can deduct the interest you pay on the mortgage. Interest rates are about as low as they can get. And, don't forget, home prices are down by 30 percent on average from the peak. The mortgage-interest deduction and the tax-free income from housing cost the government at least $200 billion a year.
During this recession the government has been doing even more on behalf of the American dream. It offered a tax credit of $8,000 to first-time buyers, and eventually $6,500 to other qualified buyers. Not only did the Federal Reserve continue to keep the short-term interest rates it sets at essentially zero, it purchased $1.4 trillion in mortgage-backed securities so that lenders could keep mortgage rates low.
Do the math. Four years ago, the monthly payment on a $300,000 house with 20 percent down and a mortgage rate of about 6.6 percent was $1,533. Today that $300,000 house would sell for $213,000 and a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with 20 percent down would carry a rate of about 4.2 percent and a monthly payment of $833. In addition, the down payment would be $42,600 instead of $60,000.
IN fact, until about two months ago, it looked as if potential buyers were beginning to understand all these advantages and that the market was turning around. By May 2009, housing prices had stopped falling in a majority of the metropolitan areas surveyed in the Case-Shiller index. Sales were also up. In 2008, 4.9 million existing homes were sold. In 2009, the figure rose to 5.2 million; last November, sales hit an annual rate of 6.5 million (a boom-time number). Even new construction showed a pulse.
So, what happened to kill the momentum? For one thing, the first-time buyer credit expired at the end of April. And some longer-term demographic changes may also be affecting the housing market.
In the next several years, the Census Bureau and other demographers project that the number of American households will increase by 1 to 1.5 million each year. With new construction sagging, we should be experiencing a tightening market with low vacancy, as has occurred in every housing cycle since World War II. But instead of falling, vacancy rates remain at near-record levels.
My guess is that the number of households has not been growing as much as projected and may even be falling. We won't know for certain until the 2010 census is complete. This figure depends on many factors: immigration, emigration, the age distribution of the population and the number of young adults staying at home or doubling up. Unemployment is high, and we know that without jobs people tend to move in with Mom and Dad. And we don't make immigration easy, even for those with advanced degrees who would be most likely to enter the housing market. None of this bodes well for a quick recovery.
While demographic trends are uncertain, one important reason for the recent downturn is clear: The steady drip
of bad news about the economy has sapped the confidence of buyers, sellers and lenders. And there is no understating the importance of expectations and confidence in this industry.
Real estate sales are unlike other financial transactions. You can place a rough inherent value on a stock or bond by looking at fundamentals: a company's profits, price-to-earnings ratios, quality of its products and management, and so forth. But a house is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. That's a very personal, emotional decision.
And emotions can change on a dime. To try to track moods and expectations as part of our Case-Shiller data, the economist Robert Shiller and I send out 2,000 questionnaires each year to recent homebuyers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Boston, asking them what they think is likely to happen to the value of their houses over the next year.
In 2005, respondents felt on average that prices would rise 9.6 percent. In 2008, they anticipated a small drop. In 2009, the figure turned positive again in all four cities, with an average anticipated gain of 2.2 percent. We have just tabulated this spring's survey, which found that homebuyers anticipate a gain of 5.2 percent in the next year.
In a given year, the number of completed sales is about 4 percent to 5 percent of the housing stock. Thus it doesn't take a change in mood of a large number of buyers to change the overall direction of the market.
This financial crisis has made us all too aware that we live in a Catch-22 world: the performance of the housing market drives the economy, and the performance of the economy drives the housing market. But housing has perhaps never been a better bargain, and sooner or later buyers will regain faith, inventories will shrink to reasonable levels, prices will rise and we'll even start building again. The American dream is not dead it's just taking a well-deserved rest.
Karl E. Case is a professor emeritus of economics at Wellesley and co-creator of Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller housing index.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
CLEANING THE HENHOUSE
The latest salmonella outbreak, underscoring the failures of industrial farming, reminds me of the small chicken flock that I tended while growing up on a family farm.
Our chickens wandered freely, and one dawn we were awakened by frantic squawking. We looked out the window to see a fox rushing off with a hen in its mouth.
My father grabbed his .308 rifle and blasted out the window twice in the general direction of the fox. Frightened, it dropped the hen. Yet the hen, astonishingly, was still alive. She picked herself up, spun around dizzily a couple of times, and staggered back to the barn.
A month later, my aunt visited our farm with her Irish setter, Toby, who was always eager to please but a bit dimwitted. We chatted and forgot about Toby until he bounded up proudly to show a chicken he had retrieved for us.
It was the very same hen that had survived the fox. We shouted, and Toby sadly dropped the bird. She ruffled her feathers, glared at the dog, and then stalked off while clucking indignantly.
Perhaps that hen might have been ready to choose a cage over the perils of canines on the range, and, obviously, my family's model of chicken-farming was horrendously inefficient and no model for the future. But the other extreme of jamming chickens into small cages is a nightmare for the animals and the salmonella outbreak underscores that it can be a health hazard to humans as well.
Inspections of Iowa poultry farms linked to the salmonella outbreak have prompted headlines about infestations with maggots and rodents. But the larger truth is: industrial agriculture is itself unhealthy.
Repeated studies have found that cramming hens into small cages results in more eggs with salmonella than in cage-free operations. As a trade journal, World Poultry, acknowledged in May: "salmonella thrives in cage housing."
Industrial operations essentially factories of meat and eggs excel at manufacturing cheap food for the supermarket. But there is evidence that this model is economically viable only because it passes on health costs to the public in the form of occasional salmonella, antibiotic-resistant diseases, polluted waters, food poisoning and possibly certain cancers. That's why the president's cancer panel this year recommended that consumers turn to organic food if possible a stunning condemnation of our food system.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study in 2005 suggesting that in 2000 there were about 182,000 cases of egg-caused salmonella in the United States, including 70 deaths. That means that even without an outbreak in the news, eggs with salmonella kill more than one American a week.
"We keep finding excuses to keep this rickety industrial system together when the threat is very clear," said Robert P. Martin, the executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. "It's really a matter of when, not if, these serious outbreaks occur."
About 95 percent of American egg-laying hens are still raised in small battery cages, which are bacterial breeding grounds and notoriously difficult to disinfect. Hens are crammed together, each getting less space than a letter-size sheet of paper. The tips of their beaks are often sheared off so they won't peck each other to death.
They are sometimes fed bits of "spent hen meal" ground up chickens. That's right. We encourage them to be cannibals.
Industrial farms also routinely feed animals low doses of antimicrobials because growers think these help animals gain weight. One study found that 70 percent of antibiotics in the United States are used in this way even though this can lead to antibiotic-resistant infections in humans.
"Food safety has received very little attention since Upton Sinclair," notes Ellen Silbergeld, an expert on environmental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who is deeply concerned about antibiotic overuse. "The massive economic reorganization of agriculture has proceeded with little recognition of its potential impacts on these aspects of food. Cheapness is all."
But as Professor Silbergeld notes, unsafe foods are cheap only in a shortsighted way. The Pew commission found that industrial production produces hogs that at first sight are cheaper by six cents per pound. Add in pollution and health costs and that industrial pork becomes more expensive by 12 cents per pound.
Largely for humanitarian reasons, Europe already is moving toward a ban on battery cages. In 2008, California approved a similar ban, and other states are expected to follow.
So let's hope this salmonella outbreak is a wake-up call. Commercial farming can't return to a time when chickens wandered unfenced and were prey to foxes (and Irish setters). But we can overhaul our agriculture system so that it is both safer and more humane starting with a move toward cage-free eggs.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SARAH'S AMAZING RACE
BY GAIL COLLINS
Sarah Palin is going to Iowa to be the headliner at a Republican fund-raiser. In the state that will be the first to hold a contest in the 2012 presidential campaign, even if it has to do it in 2011.
Her staff says this means nothing whatsoever, but let us acknowledge that Palin is on a roll. She's got her own TV show, not counting Fox News. And she twitters! Or somebody does it for her. Hard to tell which. Her twit on the president's Iraq speech was: "may make u want to dig out ur old Orwell books so rewritten history can be deciphered."
On the one hand, the sentence construction does have that Sarah ring to it. On the other, how many of you think that Palin has old Orwell books hanging around the house? May I see a show of hands?
And she endorses candidates. In the Republican primary for the United States Senate race in Alaska, her pick, a hitherto unknown person named Joe Miller, beat the incumbent, Lisa Murkowski. Whether Palin's backing made any difference to the 28 percent of eligible voters who flocked to the polls is unknowable. But Palin's endorsement did inspire the Tea Party Express to give Miller nearly $600,000 for TV commercials, which he used to brand Murkowski as a liberal insider who changes her positions "more often than a moose sheds its antlers" and as a member of a family that regards itself as entitled royalty.
"We stayed on the high road," Murkowski said when she finally conceded on Tuesday. She originally got her Senate seat from her father, Frank, who held it before her and then decided to appoint Lisa as his successor when he moved on to the state's governorship. So the royalty ad may have had a point, although I'm sure the bit about the antlers was over the top.
Almost no one expected her to lose certainly not the Alaska Democratic Party, which had dumped its nomination on Scott McAdams, the affable mayor of Sitka, a town with 9,000 people and no road access.
He seems to be an intelligent and well-spoken guy. But the choice was apparently based on the fact that the party's state convention was held in Sitka and McAdams was, if not well known, at least extremely handy.
Anyhow, Miller's victory was another big win for Palin in this year's primaries, and it was followed by the news that she was going to appear at a fall fund-raiser in Iowa the Iowa of Iowa presidential caucus fame. "Iowa Republicans are going to look favorably on anybody that has come to this state this year to help us win in 2010," the state party chairman told The Des Moines Register.
So very hard to imagine Palin as a presidential candidate. So very easy to imagine her on a reality TV show. "Sarah Palin's Alaska," is set to premiere in November on TLC, the cable network that was known in happier days as The Learning Channel. One of the episodes will reportedly involve an educational visit to Alaska by Kate Gosselin and her twins and sextuplets, who also have a reality show on TLC that used to be known as "Jon & Kate Plus Eight" until her husband ran off with a large number of different women.
Kate Gosselin appeared last year on "Dancing With the Stars," and Bristol Palin will be competing on it this fall, holding what is apparently the Recent Break-Up slot in the competition. While Levi Johnston, the father of her baby, runs for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, on his own reality show. The Palins are now reality TV royalty, like the Blagojeviches and the Ozzy Osbournes.
In her spare time, the former governor of Alaska is making speeches at $75,000 a pop. To which she must be flown first class, as per her standard contract, or in a private plane that "MUST BE a Lear 60 or larger." This is a new, emerging "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" version of Palin. In her public comments, Sarah is still just a down-home gal, making moose chili for the kids and assuring an N.R.A. convention that she and Todd prefer sleeping in the back of their truck to paying for a motel room.
A new Vanity Fair profile by Michael Joseph Gross suggests that Palin does still cut costs by being an extremely bad tipper. The piece also resurrects the charge that she does not actually hunt, and claims that Todd had to scour the neighborhood to find some moose to put in that chili when a TV crew came to call.
This is not the first time Palin's hunting creds have been questioned. I think it is time for her to take a pool of reporters out into the woods, bring down a moose and dress it on the spot. Maybe she could compete with other allegedly outdoorsy politicians, like Joe Miller. Maybe they could call it "Shooting With the Stars."
OUR VIEW ON PRICE TRANSPARENCY: DISCLOSE AIRLINE FEES UP FRONT
Before you buy something, it's nice to know what it costs. For most products, that's not an issue. At the service station, for example, you see the price, including taxes, for every grade of gasoline before you pump.
Airline fares, however, are in their own universe. Since the advent of add-on fees for checked bags, food, pillows, legroom, seat assignments and everything short of oxygen masks, figuring out what a flight will really cost takes extra clicks on the Web, a calculator and maybe an advanced degree. All of which detracts from the power consumers gained with the ability to comparison shop for fares on the Internet.
Airline ads are also misleading. Advertisements for bargain flights typically don't prominently display government taxes and fees, which are substantial. Purchasers will find them added in before they buy, but not early in the shopping experience. Hefty baggage fees and other potential charges don't make it into the price at all.
Just how much do add-ons cost consumers? On several major carriers, one checked bag can tack $50 onto a roundtrip flight; two can add $120. Fly from New York's JFK to Los Angeles International with a single checked bag, and the fare climbs by 15%, according to a study done in July by the Consumer Travel Alliance.
We're not arguing about the cost of air travel, which has remained a relative bargain over many years. We're arguing that it shouldn't be so hard for consumers to find out the true cost.
After ignoring the problem for years, federal regulators and some lawmakers are moving to make the add-ons, as well as government fees and taxes, more transparent earlier in the game. Consumers can comment on the Transportation Department's proposed rules through Sept. 23. When Congress returns to Washington later this month, members will try to negotiate the details of a transparency measure.
Industry lobbyists are complaining that the big bad government is treating airlines differently from other industries. After all, the argument goes, hotels surprise consumers with fees for room service, mini bars, energy usage, phone calls and WiFi. Well, yes, but the idea shouldn't be to find the worst consumer treatment and copy it. At least hotels don't charge guests an extra $25 to bring a suitcase into the room.
The airlines sparked this problem by "unbundling" all the services that once came with the fare. They insist that passengers prefer the fees because now they pay only for the services they use. Never mind that the bag-checking charges have turned the boarding process into a tense, slow-motion battle for overhead bin space.
Not surprisingly, extra fees have become big business, adding $7.8 billion in revenue to the industry last year. The ailing airlines which lost billions for two straight years before turning a modest profit in the second quarter of this year have every right to make money and set fares as they see fit. But they have no right to try to hide those prices from their customers.
OPPOSING VIEW ON PRICE TRANSPARENCY: WE'RE ALREADY TRANSPARENT
BY JAMES C. MAY
Airlines, like other businesses that sell goods or services, compete for customers every day. Airline passengers have choices and vote for winners with their pocketbooks. In today's highly competitive marketplace, airlines offer passengers thousands of choices on fares, schedules and routes, customer service, loyalty programs and other amenities. Airlines price and package their product air travel in ways that they believe will persuade passengers to select their airline over all others; transparency is key.
Flexibility and creativity provide passengers greater choices and competitive fares. Some airlines believe that passengers favor a la carte pricing for optional services and package their product accordingly. Others believe that passengers prefer another approach. Airlines like hotels, car rental companies, restaurants and other businesses package and advertise their products differently. Some offer package deals; some do not. Some offer volume discounts; some do not. Some offer incentive programs; some do not.
Fierce competition makes airlines want passengers to have information to make informed choices. Airline websites provide information about fares and, if offered, optional services for purchase when they make a reservation, arrive at the airport or get on the plane. Passengers always know the price of the service before they are charged.
Airlines are as transparent as other industries and are committed to full disclosure of fares and fees. They support Transportation Department efforts to require a prominent Internet link on an airline Web page that would bring consumers more detailed fee data.
Buying air travel should be no different than the daily experience of buying other goods and services. A prescriptive fare/fee disclosure rule that treats air travel differently is unnecessary because fare and fee information is transparent. Likewise, a rule that forces airlines unlike any other business to provide their competitors with all of their fare/fee packaging details for free, is simply unreasonable and not in passengers' best interest. It is not how the marketplace should work.
James C. May is president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of America.
WHEN CONGRESS RETURNS, EXPECT THE WORST
BY ROSS K. BAKER
In his 1812 essay "On War," Carl Von Clausewitz expressed his famous dictum that war is politics pursued with different means. By that he meant that military campaigns always cloak political objectives, and no conflict is fought solely for the sheer exhilaration of shedding blood. The same principle applies to political campaigns and their connection to what goes on in Congress. And as Congress reconvenes next week after its August recess, the floor speeches and votes of the senators and House members will have more to do with the upcoming congressional elections than they do simply with the substance of public policy. The ferocity of the debate will reflect the stakes involved which is control of Congress after the November elections.
It is even more the case now than in other election years because Democrats are at risk of losing their majorities in both chambers. The GOP capturing the House majority has long been seen as a possibility, but now capturing the Senate also seems like more than an iridescent dream.
Factors other than the modest margin of Democratic control suggest that the six weeks of the post-recess session will be especially combative.
One factor is the long-recognized phenomenon that voter enthusiasm ebbs in midterm elections, and that those most likely to show up at the polls are the most motivated voters.
For Democrats, that must be the progressive wing of the party that rallied so enthusiastically to Barack Obama's candidacy in 2008. Lately, however, this group of very liberal voters has soured on Obama for his alleged pragmatism and lack of ideological fervor. From the moment the president ruled out the single-payer option on national health insurance, through his troop surge into Afghanistan and his alleged moderation on financial regulatory reform, the progressives have been sulking. What more bracing tonic to rouse the liberals from their torpor ahead of the election than a spirited debate on the expiring Bush tax cuts with Democrats in Congress vowing to soak the rich?
A similar dynamic prevails on the GOP side, where fear of alienating members of the "Tea Party" movement is likely to cause Republican lawmakers to gyrate with passion over the virtues of maintaining the cuts, using the hallowed argument that you don't raise taxes in a recession.
One other factor needs to be noted when considering the mood of Congress as it translates the campaign battles to the House and Senate chambers. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers feel underappreciated by the voters, including the all-important independents.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are puzzled and hurt and believe that none of their many good deeds has gone unpunished. They struggled mightily and, in their view courageously, to pass health insurance reform and tougher protections for consumers and investors. They even went back out onto the spending limb to keep schools open and teachers at work. For this, there has been no upsweep of thanks from a grateful nation. In their floor statements over the next six weeks, they will be reminding voters of the benefits that await them when all of this legislation kicks in like the medication in those timed-release cold pills.
Republicans are also at odds with some of their most dependable voters lacking the grace to ditch primary candidates favored by party leaders. In places as distant as Kentucky and Utah, Colorado and Nevada, candidates endorsed by top Republicans in Washington have fallen before the onslaught of outsiders, some of whom dwell on the further reaches of conservative ideology and espouse solutions that vary from simply unconventional to outright bizarre.
For leaders who want to augment their membership, such as Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. John Boehner, these candidates symbolize excessive risk. Yet, to disavow them is to alienate the Republicans most likely to vote. So they will continue to throw up a solid wall of opposition to almost any Democratic initiative, including judicial nominations awaiting Senate confirmation.
Room to agree?
Yet will September and October simply be a political battlefield in Washington, one in which the people's business must wait? On some issues there might be token bipartisan cooperation. A tax bill that benefits small business is likely to pass the Senate with some GOP support because no group stands taller in the eyes of both parties than small businesses, revered as the indispensible job creators. Aside from these tiny truces in this polarized political world, though, lawmakers know too well that trading with the enemy except for small trinkets will attract fire, not praise.
Americans, brace yourselves. For the political fireworks and rhetoric that have been exploding at rallies and fundraisers across the country will shift seamlessly into the House and Senate chambers in the days ahead.
Ross K. Baker is a political science professor at Rutgers University and is writing a book titled Profiles in Cover. He also is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.
CANTOR: BEWARE OF THE OBAMA TAX INCREASES
BY ERIC CANTOR
Listening to the Democrats this summer, you're unlikely to hear about an impending tax increase. In an effort to sanitize their historically irresponsible decision to raise tax rates in the midst of a struggling economy, President Obama and the congressional majority say they are merely "allowing the Bush tax cuts" to expire.
Skillful messaging perhaps, but cold comfort to the millions of Americans and small businesses who aren't concerned with what their effective tax rate was in 2001. For them, on Jan. 1, one of two things will happen: Taxes will go up, or taxes will stay the same. Coming to grips with this reality will be crucial to jumpstarting the economic recovery. Decisions on whether to buy an appliance, invest in a company, or expand a business are made by taking into account after-tax returns in the future not in the past.
Democrats want Americans to believe that by letting tax rates rise they have discovered religion as deficit cutters. But after a two-year assault on the federal trough in which Congress passed the notoriously wasteful stimulus and added a new health care entitlement, few Americans are even bothering to listen. In reality, the harm this tax increase will inflict on jobs and gross domestic product will strongly outweigh any presumed boost in tax revenues.
American businesses are sitting on top of a record $2 trillion in cash money that could be spent hiring more workers, funding new projects or paying out dividends to investors. But right now these dollars remain stuck on the sidelines.
Already grappling with weak demand for goods and services, businesses of all sizes have five main costs and expenses that impact their bottom lines. Thanks to the agenda in Washington, all are going up, turning the White House's much-touted "Recovery Summer" into the "Summer of Uncertainty." Here's a look:
Taxes will jump next year on everything from ordinary income, capital gains, dividends and estates. And with our national debt soaring, the prospect of even more tax increases in the future seems more likely.
Health-care costs are growing as a result of Obamacare's mandates and inflationary impact on premiums.
Energy costs remain in limbo as leading Democrats, led by Sen. John Kerry, float the idea of passing cap-and-
trade during the lame-duck session of Congress.
Credit is becoming more expensive and is increasingly out of reach for most small businesses, partly because the 2,300-plus page financial regulatory bill encourages banks to horde their capital rather than lend it.
Labor costs also threaten to climb higher as labor unions dig in their heels and gear up for another push to pass card check.