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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month september 09, edition 000621, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- INCORRECT, INJUDICIOUS
- BULLIES IN WHITE COATS
- TARGETING THE ARMED FORCES - KANCHAN GUPTA
- DEGRADING OUR ACHIEVERS - GAUTAM SAHNI
- IT'S TIME TO GET RID OF THE
- ULTURE OF SECRECY - MM ANSARI
- DEMOCRATS IN RACE SHUN SINKING OBAMA - ANDREW DEMILLO & LIZ SIDOTI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- PARTISAN APPOINTMENT
- WAY TO GO
- CHINA'S POWER PLAY - KANWAL SIBAL
- DON'T DEMEAN MILITARY RANK - JAY KUMAR
- BRAND AMBASSADOR FOR ARMED FORCES
- COMMON WOES GAMES
- PLACEBOS WON'T DO ANY MORE
- GET A REAL FEEL
- NOT A GRAIN OF TRUTH - SAMAR HALARNKAR
- NOT-SO-LITTLE GREEN MEN - BAHAR DUTT
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- ILLNESS AS METAPHOR
- THEY ARE BACK
- PLAYING WITH WATER
- MY DATA VERSUS YOURS - MK VENU
- KEEPING UP WITH GODOWNS - MIHIR S. SHARMA
- BUILDING ON FAITH
- SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
- THE SOUTHERN ISI
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- NTPC BLUES
- PAY THEM RIGHT
- RAHUL GANDHI'S LAND GYAN - RAJAT GUHA
- LOOK BEYOND JUST STOCKING FOODGRAINS - YOGINDER K ALAGH
- WHAT BANKING WILL LOOK LIKE IN 10 YEARS - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
- PERILS OF SQUEAKING THROUGH
- UNCOVERING SECRET HOARDS
- CHANGING FACE OF RUSSIA-PAKISTAN TIES - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN
- ISRAEL-PALESTINE: THE TALKS WHICH ARE MEANT TO FAIL - ARVIND SIVARAMAKRISHNAN
- MIGRANT BERRY PICKERS COMPLAIN OF CONDITIONS IN SWEDEN - MATTHEW SALTMARSH
- MILK AT LAST FOR FLY-PHOTO BOY - RANIA ABOUZEID
- RUGBY TEAM KNOWS THE VALUE OF PLAITS - EMINE SANER
THE ASIAN AGE
- BJP-JMM AS GOOD, AS BAD AS JMM-BJP
- OVERREACTING TO CHINA
- WELCOME TO MALLYWOOD
- SIDHARTH BHATIA
- LOOKS LIKE ELECTION SEASON 2014 IS HERE
- 9/11, Ground Zero mosque, Babri & their symbolism - Sanjeev Nayyar
- FORGOT ANNIVERSARY? BLAME MCI, NOT MEN
- IN MARRIAGE, THE FIRST THING OFTEN ISN'T 'LOVE'
- TIME TO FREE BANKS FROM OLD MINDSETS
- PM HAS TO STEP IN TO BOLSTER THE ANTI-MAOIST GAMEPLAN - RK RAGHAVAN
- WEIGHING THE PROS AND CONS OF GOING ON STRIKE - ANTARA DEV SEN
- SELECTION OF CVC
- POLITICS IN JHARKHAND
- WORK DISRUPTIONS
- NO 'DISPUTE' IN AGENDA FOR J&K - BY B.G. VERGHESE
- 'SPOIL-SPORTS'! - BY RANA NAYAR
- REMEDY WORSE THAN THE MALADY
- DON'T CONFINE REFORMS TO ELITE LAW SCHOOLS - JONATHAN GINGERICH & ADITYA SINGH
- POSTPONE THE GAMES!
- PAYING THE BANKER
- INDIA'S MORTAL COMBAT - INDICUS ANALYTICS
- GO PUBLIC, GO UNDERGROUND - BARUN ROY
- TEXTILES - THE NEXT HOT SECTOR - ARVIND SINGHAL
- INDIA'S HEALTH
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- BANKERS NEED BETTER PAY
- DESPERATE REGIMES
- WINE E-TEA-QUETTE
- SEBI VS ECONOMICS, WHO WILL WIN? - SANDEEP PAREKH
- UNDER THE STATUE OF LIBERTY - NAJEEB MUBARKI
- PLAYEST THOU SATAN, IN TRIBAL PARADISE? - T K ARUN
- ME, MINE AND MIND - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- BJP-JMM AS GOOD, AS BAD AS JMM-BJP
- OVERREACTING TO CHINA - BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN
- A SAUDI CHART FOR ISRAEL-PALESTINE TALKS - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- WHAT COLOUR YOUR TERROR? - D. RAJA
- BEAUTY OF LIFE LIES IN ITS FLAWS - BY AMRIT SADHANA
- DON'T TURN BACK THE CLOCK IN J&K - BY JAGMOHAN
- FOE IN DEED
- POWER PUZZLE
- RAINING ON THE GAMES - MUKUL KESAVAN
- PUBLIC SECRET - CHIROSREE BASU
- THE HEALING TOUCH
- SIX YARDS OF GRACE AND ELEGANCE
- WITHOUT APOLOGY
- STRIKE POWER
- ADOPTING TO TIMES
- TERROR HAS NO COLOUR - BY SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- MEETING THE CAUSE OF HUMAN RIGHTS - BY STEPHANIE STROM, NYT
- SPY VERSUS SPY - BY N N SACHITANAND
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- DEBATING THE ECONOMY
- TORTURE IS A CRIME, NOT A SECRET
- AFTER MAYOR DALEY
- THE HEALERS OF 9/11 - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- THE 5 PERCENT DOCTRINE - BY GAIL COLLINS
- THE MUSIC YOU WON'T HEAR ON ROSH HASHANA - BY MILES HOFFMAN
- CIRCULAR DEBT: AN UNENDING PROBLEM
- SWAT-LIKE OPERATION IN BALOCHISTAN!
- CASH GRANT PROGRAMME MISHANDLED
- THE CHANGE IS IMMINENT - DR GHAYUR AYUB
- HITTING THE NAIL ON THE HEAD - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
- STANCE TOWARDS HELPERS 29 - SIRAJUDDIN AZIZ
- UNRAVELLING CREDIBILITY CONUNDRUM - MALIK M ASHRAF
- HOW TO MAKE IT THROUGH THE FLOODS? - JULIAN MORRIS
- NEEDED: A POLICY FOR JULIA, DIRECTION FOR LABOR
- ABBOTT CAN BUILD ON HIS ADVANCE
- A NEW POLITICAL WORLD AS LABOR WINS BACK POWER
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- TAXING TIMES AS ECONOMY BOOMS
- A HOLLOW MAN OF OUR TIMES
- CRIME ROW PLAYS UP STRANGER DANGER
- THE GROWING WEST DEMANDS A SHIFT IN OUTLOOK
- DEEPWATER EXPLOSION: BP SHIFTS THE BLAME
- MPS' PRIVILEGES: POLICE, PRESS, PARLIAMENT
- IN PRAISE OF THE BBC'S BURMESE SERVICE
THE JAPAN TIMES
- BACTERIAL ASSAULT ON HOSPITALS
- CHINA CORNERS VITAL MARKET - BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON
- THE 'PERFECT STORM' BREWING IN CENTRAL ASIA - BY KENNETH WEISBRODE
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- 3 Priorities, 3 Solutions in EU-Russian Ties - By Janos Martonyi and Alexander Stubb
- SELL 4G IN CLOSED-BID AUCTION - BY KONSTANTIN SONIN
ENEMY PROPERTY ACT STANDS SUBVERTED
Inaction when faced with divided opinion within the Cabinet has become the hallmark of the UPA Government. Nothing else explains why it should have allowed the Ordinance that had been issued to negate the Supreme Court's judgement restoring property seized under the Enemy Property Act of 1968 to the son of Raja of Mehmoodabad. It was expected that the Government would replace the Ordinance with an Act of Parliament suitably amending the Enemy Property Act so as to bar courts from directing the custodians of seized property to hand them back to claimants. A Bill was introduced for this purpose early in the just-concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament. However, the Government developed cold feet after Muslim leaders of the Congress petitioned their party president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, demanding that nothing should be done to prevent the seized property from being restored to the Raja of Mehmoodabad's son. Hence, the Bill was never debated, nor an amended version incorporating the demands of the party's Muslim leaders introduced. A close scrutiny of the list of properties seized under the Enemy Property Act they originally belonged to individuals who opted for Pakistan would show that the Raja of Mehmoodabad's son is the biggest beneficiary of allowing the Supreme Court's flawed verdict to prevail. That has been achieved by not amending the existing Enemy Property Act and letting the Ordinance lapse. This is both a shame and a pity. At one level, it reflects the Government's inability to stand by its own decision, which was to block judicial intervention in the matter. This is primarily on account of Congress's Muslim leaders giving a communal twist to the issue and attaching manufactured 'minority sentiments' to what is clearly a matter of secular law. More importantly, those in the Congress who now want the restrictive clauses of the Enemy Property Act to be relaxed forget that the law was enacted in a particular context with a specific reason: Neither is irrelevant today.
The Prime Minister, by suggesting that the Ordinance should be allowed to lapse and the Government can move a fresh Bill in the Winter Session of Parliament, may have sought to appease those in the Cabinet who are opposed to succumbing to pressure tactics as well as colleagues in the party who want communal vote-bank politics to prevail over the law of the land. But this is not going to solve the problem; on the contrary, it will be perceived as the Government being deceitful and surreptitiously sending out a message to communal elements in the Congress and among voters. If we were to look at the large picture, we would find a pattern to this inaction by design which has become common practice for the Prime Minister and his team. Many proposed initiatives, including new laws to deal with crucial issues like land acquisition, apart from reforms by way of privatisation and disinvestment, have been put into the proverbial cold storage because Mr Singh lacks the gumption some would say authority to do what is right for the nation.
BULLIES IN WHITE COATS
GOVERNMENT MUST OUTLAW STRIKE BY DOCTORS
It is shameful that doctors who are supposed to be life-savers should have failed to try and save as many as 50 lives that were lost when they went on strike in six medical colleges in Rajasthan. The heat of the moment was enough to make them forget not only their duty but the oath they have taken in the name of the father of medicine to save lives. It is no one's case that doctors have no genuine grievances or that they should not seek their resolution. But whatever they do should not threaten the lives of patients who depend on them for their survival. The doctors in Rajasthan may have had reason to be upset they had been lathi-charged by the police but surely that did not merit a response that victimised their patients rather than the perpetrators of the misdeed. Their strike held to ransom thousands of patients across the State. By organising and participating in such a protest, they have lost the goodwill of the people, even if their grievances were genuine because their conduct is seen as being less than noble. How can they even get a peaceful night's sleep when they know that they were busy shouting slogans and waving placards while patients died for lack of treatment that was their job to provide? If the suffering of patients abandoned to their fate has not left them feeling repentant, they are unlikely to be bothered about the plight of thousands of others, many of them too poor to afford the services of private hospitals, who were left stranded without any healthcare during the strike. The State Government has behaved no less irresponsibly. For three days it dilly-dallied on the issue, allowing the situation to spiral out of control. Had it taken prompt action in punishing the policemen who were accused of brutality by the doctors, the strike could have been avoided. Tragically, this is often the case: Authority fails to respond in time although it is not unaware of the consequences of its delayed action. Perhaps a lesson has been learned by the Government of Rajasthan, though we can never be too sure.
Unfortunately, the phenomenon of doctors going on strike is pervasive across the country because the medical fraternity has realised the tremendous efficacy of holding patients hostage to force the Government to accept its demands, not all of them either fair or legitimate. It's a malaise that should be treated without allowing it to get any worse. While ensuring that doctors in public hospitals are not denied the right environment for them to perform their duties, Governments should devise provisions that render strikes by doctors illegal and ensure swift punishment for such agitationists. After all, patients have the right to life as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution and if they are denied healthcare by doctors when they need it most, that fundamental right stands compromised.
TARGETING THE ARMED FORCES
MANMOHAN SINGH IS BELIEVED TO BE WORKING ON AN 'EID PACKAGE' TO APPEASE SEPARATISTS IN KASHMIR VALLEY. WILL AFSPA BE DILUTED?
The Union Government, according to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is "groping for a solution" to the current unrest in the Kashmir Valley where separatists, with the help of their rage boys whom they pay to pelt the police and security forces with stones, have been virtually holding the administration to ransom for the past couple of months. Just in case people expect the Government to act firmly and restore the authority of the state without allowing the situation to worsen any further, Mr Singh has let it be known that "we are not dealing with an easy problem The country and the people must be patient". After all, a problem that has been allowed to fester for 60 years cannot be solved in six years; that would be an unfair expectation.
Yet, the need to do something, or at least to be seen to be doing something, in response to the worsening law and order situation in the Kashmir Valley and arresting the slide into separatist violence and chaos reminiscent of the late-1980s and early-1990s, cannot be entirely wished away. The Prime Minister, therefore, has called a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security to "discuss the Kashmir issue threadbare". It's amazing that he should have waited till now to do so. But, as the cliché goes, better late than never.
However, the manner in which the Prime Minister has phrased the agenda of the CCS meeting should cause disquiet and discomfort, at least among those Indians who still passionately believe that Jammu & Kashmir was, is and shall remain an integral part of the Union of India; that instead of conceding even an inch to the Pakistan-sponsored separatists, we should focus on governance and restoring law and order; and, that the best option at the moment is to ride out the storm while minimising collateral damage.
It is, in a sense, alarming that Mr Singh, given his penchant for 'thinking out of the box', should propose to "discuss the Kashmir issue threadbare" along with his colleagues in the CCS. That would imply discussing the entire range of issues raised by the separatists, including azadi, the demand for "autonomy" voiced by the National Conference (articulated in the voluminous report that was drafted and approved by the State Assembly when Mr Farooq Abdullah was Chief Minister) and the People's Democratic Party's insistence on "greater autonomy" (a delightfully undefined and vague concept which includes accepting Pakistani currency as legal tender in the State).
However, we can seek comfort in the fact that it is unlikely the CCS, after "discussing the Kashmir issue threadbare", will come to any definitive conclusions. For instance, it is unimaginable that the Government would be authorised to use its executive powers to grant either 'autonomy' or 'greater autonomy'. Apart from the fact that this cannot be done with a note being sent out by the PMO or a notification being issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the political backlash would be too strong for the Congress to risk, leave alone weather. India's corrupt, cynical and self-seeking urban middle-class may have become indifferent to the nation's unity and integrity, but the masses still carry the vote on polling day.
Any changes in the existing arrangement through amendments to the Constitution can similarly be ruled out. The BJP may not have sufficient votes in Parliament to force the deletion of Article 370, but it can block the strengthening of this debilitating Article through further amendments to the Constitution. The Government is presumably mindful of this simple arithmetical fact and will not make a promise that it will later regret having made to the separatists (and their masters in Pakistan).
But something is cooking, of that we can be sure. Or else Chief Minister Omar Abdullah would not have been summoned by Mr Singh for discussions, nor would a meeting have been convened to "discuss the Kashmir issue threadbare". We are told that the Prime Minister is keen on announcing an 'Eid Package' to restore peace in the Kashmir Valley. If there is any truth in it, then we should expect a dramatic gesture of capitulation nothing less than that would make the separatists feel they have won half the battle and ask their rage boys to take a break amounting to appeasing those who repudiate India's sovereignty.
And this is most likely to come in the form of the Government announcing its decision to amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Separatists and their stooges amongjholawallahs masquerading as human rights activists want the Act to be repealed. Since the Government wouldn't dare do that, it will seek to dilute the law that makes life difficult for the lawless. While it is anybody's guess as to what those amendments, which will probably be introduced through an Ordinance and then ratified by a Bill that will require a simple majority in Parliament (and hence cannot be blocked by the BJP), will be, but a fair guess can be attempted on the basis of the discussions that have taken place so far between the Government and the Armed Forces.
The amendments are likely to focus on three clauses in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. First, the right of Army personnel to search premises and arrest individuals believed to be guilty of terrorism and separatist violence without warrants will be sought to be curtailed. The Army has rightly asserted that without this power its counter-insurgency operations will be rendered futile.
For, it's frightfully stupid to expect the Army to deliver results without the element of surprise that is necessary to raid a hideout or arrest a terrorist. In Jammu & Kashmir, where the civil administration has been infiltrated by the separatists and their sympathisers, information about the Army seeking and securing warrants to raid a particular house where terrorists may be hiding or arrest a suspect will not remain a secret. Indeed, it will be communicated within minutes and the Army will be left looking silly; its men will become objects of ridicule and worse.
The second amendment that is being proposed will make it mandatory for the Army to hand over those who have been arrested to the police or a magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest. Given the terrain of operations and the logistics involved, this will prove to be virtually impossible. If implemented, this amendment will force the Army to abandon mopping up operations; jawans will have to rush to the nearest police station or magistrate's court instead of sanitising the area and ensuring there are no more militants hiding there. This is a patently absurd proposition and is designed to raise obstacles for the security forces rather than make their task easier.
The third amendment which the separatists and their jholawallah friends are pushing for is a sinister move to tarnish the reputation of the Indian Army and a devious ploy to prevent it from fearlessly performing its duties. The UPA Government, which has a pronounced bias towards jholawallahs, has apparently agreed to the demand for setting up 'grievance cells' in every sub-division.
This would be a perfect recipe for disaster. The right to file a complaint will be merrily misused and there will be a flood of allegations, dealing with which will become the main occupation of the Army instead of conducting counter-insurgency operations. Even without such a mechanism, the Army has been repeatedly accused of 'violating' human rights, more often than not with the sole purpose of tarring the dignity and honour of our men in uniform.
Along with financial sops at the tax-payers' expense, these and other amendments to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act would make a perfect 'Eid Package' for the separatists: They can celebrate a big victory in the proxy war they have been waging against the nation with the help of its foes. But the 'peace' such abject surrender may bring will be a prelude to another offensive for azadi which will be timed to coincide with US President Barack Hussein Obama's November visit. Make no mistake about that.
DEGRADING OUR ACHIEVERS
IF INDIA IS TO BECOME THE 21ST CENTURY'S KNOWLEDGE-PROVIDER TO THE WORLD, SCRAPPING EXAMINATIONS IN SCHOOLS, NOT RECOGNISING WINNERS, CLUBBING DISPARATE RESULTS INTO BOGUS GRADES, AND NOT ACKNOWLEDGING THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF GIFTED STUDENTS ARE ALL GIANT STEPS IN THE WRONG DIRECTION. SHOULD WE THEN PERSIST WITH SUCH MEANINGLESS REFORMS?
India's educational system is crying for reforms, but not for reforms based on subjective faith systems or pure whimsy. Unfortunately, some of the initiatives that have been announced by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in the recent past fall inescapably into precisely this category. Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal thus declares, "Henceforth students shall not have their results in examinations given in marks and specific percentages achieved, but will be awarded grades", and this measure, he is confident, will revolutionalise the learning process across the length and breadth of the country.
What is starkly evident here is that this measure fails entirely to focus on the real crises confronting Indian education, and engages, instead, in an exercise in futility on a national scale. This exercise would also end up cheating excellence of its just rewards even as it fails to address the needs of the less talented with adequate alternatives. What we have in place now is a Classified Educational Communism, with Comrades Grade A, Comrades Grade B and Comrades Grade C.
These grades are arrived at by marking the papers of the students with numerical values. Crucially, each grade still carries a certified percentage value: A1 at 91 to 100 per cent, A2 at 81 to 90 per cent, B1 at 71 to 80 per cent, and D at 33 to 40 per cent, leaving one wondering what this grading system sets out to achieve besides obfuscation.
The apparent motive of the substitution of the grading system for the percentage system is to protect children from the stresses of 'excessive competition'. This compounds another initiative for 'de-stressing' the children: The abolition of exams, including the CBSE Board, till the Class 12 level. [That children will be subjected to unprecedented stress, for which they would then be entirely unprepared, at the Class 12 Boards, is safely ignored].
Without going into the question of whether the Minister's alternative 'Continuous and Comprehensive System' would end up putting the children under the continuous and comprehensive stress of arbitrary assessments by teachers, it is necessary to note that there is nothing new here. These are ideas that have played out for decades, ruining education theory and systems in the West. It is useful to see what precisely the grading system does.
At one end this system denies any difference in the achievement of the student scoring 100 per cent and the student scoring 91 per cent. Nevertheless, it very definitely finds an unbridgeable difference between 80.99 per cent and 90.01 per cent. This is not how the real world works; Saeed Anwar scored 194 runs in a One Day International, a mere three per cent less than Sachin Tendulkar's 200, but the record books will forever show Sachin as the first man to score an ODI double century.
Excellence in the classroom, when justly rewarded, sets milestones for others and becomes the inspiration and motivation for better performances, and for excellence to be justly rewarded it has to be clearly shown in the degree achieved. Conversely, when not so rewarded, as will happen in the grading system, it promotes mediocrity and a sense of resentment in the high achievers. Recognising academic excellence through roll of honour and public awards encourages excellence in students and gives them a justified sense of pride in their achievements.
Ms Leta Hollingworth pioneered research in the education for gifted children, and discovered that there were also susceptible to extraordinary stresses. An experiment conducted by her on high achievers revealed that stress isn't just generated through exams, but mainly because the rest of the class tended to regard them as an oddity. However, when these students were segregated and put into a class that had all high achievers, they quickly adjusted to what was normal for them which was excellence. And the atmosphere conducive to their talents was a stepping stone to greatness: The geeks as they are known today have been instrumental in shaping the future of the world. Hollingworth advocated considering these gifted children as National Assets.
Some object to such segregation as detrimental to achieving an equitable platform in the classroom, something the grading system pretends to secure. But, as Bertrand Russell observes, "Bookmakers are not obliged to live with Clergymen, nor Clergymen with Bookmakers." What occupation a person follows, determines who he or she will fraternise with in general. Rocket scientists with rocket scientists, doctors with doctors and traders with traders this is not creating an unfair society. These segregations or fraternising patterns already exist and have always existed. Special courses with the relevant infrastructure, for high achievers are the answer. The grading system, instead, sends out an alarming and ominous message: Schools in India do not want winners.
On the other side of the spectrum, immediate remedial measures are certainly required to provide a better chance to the less talented. All children have an innate sense of curiosity and desire for learning. However, having a diminished aptitude for learning or, in most cases found at the bottom of the class, a differential aptitude to learning, requires special methods for teaching, consistency at a higher level, sensitivity and flexibility to understand the child's unique needs, and steps to ensure that children do not lose faith in their natural ability to learn. As in the case of high achievers, special courses and, in particular, specially trained teachers would be the answer.
An education is intended to best prepare children for the world, not to insulate them from its realities. Critiquing similar 'reforms' that had wrecked American education, Bill Gates, the world's top geek who created Microsoft, declared: "Your schools may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they will give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This does not bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life".
In an address to the Central Board of Secondary Education, the Human Resource Development Minister said, "We should create knowledge that will be used by other people. Now we are a recipient of knowledge, in the future we should produce the knowledge."
If India is to become this knowledge-provider to the world, scrapping exams, not recognising winners, clubbing disparate results into grades, and not acknowledging the achievements of gifted students, are all giant steps in the wrong direction.
-- The writer is Director, Mindsprings, an NGO that outreaches educational support to underprivileged children.
IT'S TIME TO GET RID OF THE CULTURE OF SECRECY
THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT HAS BEGUN TO CHANGE THE WAY WE THINK, ACT AND LIVE, EMPOWERING PEOPLE TO MAKE INFORMED DECISIONS, IMPROVING PRODUCTIVITY OF RESOURCES AND SECURING SIGNIFICANT GAINS IN THE WAR AGAINST CORRUPTION, WRITES MM ANSARI
The fifth annual conference of information commissioners is being convened by the Central Information Commission in New Delhi on September 13-14. This event is organised to share experiences in enforcing the provisions of the Right to Information Act 2005 and to explore ways and measures for strengthening the Commissions in terms of functional autonomy for performing its mandatory role. The participants include representatives of major stakeholders, namely the civil society, media, political parties and Government officials.
This event would also mark the end of the five-year tenure of the first batch of information commissioners, who were entrusted with the responsibility of implementation of the Act passed in 2005. Recognising the potential of information laws for dismantling the culture of secrecy and to contain corruption, a brief assessment of impact of implementation of the Act on governance and the agenda for reform is discussed below.
The Government's initiative of ensuring free flow of information and ideas to build a knowledge society and to create conditions for good governance is considered a most significant policy decision, mainly from the viewpoint of democratisation of knowledge resources that are critical for empowerment of deprived groups and their participation in the development process.
Freedom of information has begun to change the way we think, act and live today and we wish to shape our destiny for a brighter future. Under the RTI regime, there is mandatory requirement for maximum disclosure of the details of various public activities with a view to obtaining requisite feedback from the affected persons for designing and executing citizen-centric approaches and programmes to improve the quality of life of people.
Every public authority has put up the system in place for providing information to all those who ask for it. People seek details of development schemes, including their entitlements, to take advantage of public policies. Access to relevant information within a reasonable time frame of 30 days facilitates the process of taking informed decisions and improving productivity of resources, making the entire system efficient and competitive in the global economy.
There is considerable improvement in the quality and quantity of social services, mainly education and healthcare, which is also attributable to the fact that people have begun to question the authorities on the issues of effective implementation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Rural Health Mission. The media reports make us believe that there are signs of desirable impacts of RTI on our democratic institutions as well. For instance, access to information related to the use of Member of Parliament Local Area Development fund amid the provisions for other basic amenities such as drinking water, rural roads, transport and communication, electricity and the public distribution system has helped in identifying the political leaders who sincerely work for the welfare of people. Election results indicate that a number of leaders were voted out on the grounds of their involvement in corrupt practices or lack of concern for delivery of services promised to the voters.
The perceived corruption in public life, though still very high by any reckoning, has considerably reduced in certain departments, as demonstrated by a recent study jointly conducted by Transparency International and Centre for Media Studies. As a result, a considerable amount of financial resources, which were otherwise wasted due to corruption and leakages, are used for promotion of welfare of the people.
This is also reflected in higher growth rates of over eight per cent and declining poverty. More importantly, due to effective implementation of rural development programmes, migration of labour force to cities has decelerated, alleviating the burden on urban areas to provide essential services.
To reap the benefits of improved accountability leading to efficient utilisation of resources and reduction in corruption, some policy measures must be initiated.
First, due to massive use of RTI and filing of a large number of cases, about 2,000 per month at the Central Information Commission, pendency is increasing from two to 12 months or more, which is unacceptably high. As the utility of certain information have a shorter life, delays in the decision making process of the commissions may render orders futile. Information commissions should be provided adequate resources.
Second, an equally important concern should be passage of quality decisions for promoting transparency and good governance, which is, however, not possible if a commissioner is required to shed workload by quick disposal of a large number of cases everyday.
Third, all the agents of change, particularly the media, civil society and Government functionaries, should intensify efforts to evolve multimedia strategies to promote information literacy and create awareness among the masses regarding the Act.
Fourth, in order to ensure that citizens do not unnecessarily resort to invoking the Act, every department should make suo motu disclosure of information.
Fifth, the cost to the Governments in servicing an RTI application varies between `10,000 and `30,000, the ultimate burden of which is borne by the taxpayers. Even though the notional benefits or information laws may be more than the costs to the society, there is no reason why enlightened citizens should not refrain from putting up frivolous applications.
Sixth, over 60 per cent of RTI applications fall in category of grievances regarding recruitment, promotion, pension and insurance settlements, issue of permit and licences and tax-related disputes. To minimise such cases every public authority should put in place effective grievance redress mechanisms for dealing with employees and customer-related matters.
Finally, as everyone of us seems to be dissatisfied with the functioning of one Government department or the other, a roadmap should be drawn to encourage citizens to make use of the instrument of the right to know to effect changes in order to shape our destiny and to improve quality of life through effective and good governance.
The writer is Information Commissioner, CIC.
DEMOCRATS IN RACE SHUN SINKING OBAMA
WITH HIS APPROVAL RATING AT 49 PER CENT, NOBODY WANTS HIM TO CAMPAIGN FOR NOVEMBER'S POLL, WRITE ANDREW DEMILLO & LIZ SIDOTI
The days of US President Barack Obama traipsing around the country to States like Montana, Indiana or Arkansas in free-wheeling campaign mode and with sky-high popularity lifting Democratic candidates are long over. With his approval rating sliding, the President in the next few weeks is primarily sticking to big cities Milwaukee, Cleveland and Philadelphia and other party strongholds, like Connecticut, where he can help fellow Democrats in the mid-term election homestretch.
Who was campaigning for Democratic candidates in Arkansas on Wednesday? Former President Bill Clinton, a former Governor of the State. "Judging from the polls I've seen on approval ratings, President Obama couldn't help many people in Arkansas," Democratic Governor Mike Beebe told reporters on Tuesday. "That's about as candid as I know how to be."
"Mr Clinton can still help some, but most people rise or fall on their own," Mr Beebe said, "There's probably something to that old adage about coattails, but not much."
Arkansas has voted Republican in the past three presidential elections, but Democrats control the Governor's office, the State Legislature, three of four House seats and both Senate seats. Mr Obama hasn't been in the State since 2006, when he helped Mr Beebe win the governorship.
Mr Obama lost Arkansas' 2008 Democratic primary to hometown favourite Hillary Rodham Clinton and lost Arkansas' six electoral votes that fell to Republican John McCain. Two months before election day, public and private polls show Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln badly trailing her Republican opponent, Representative John Boozman, even though she's stressed her independence from party orthodoxy. House Democratic candidates Joyce Elliott and Chad Causey also are struggling to keep in Democratic hands two seats left open by retirements.
Republicans are heavily favoured to win big this year, and Ms Lincoln is arguably the most endangered of Democratic Senate incumbents. But it was Mr Clinton who parachuted in to help his old friend during the primary runoff that she narrowly won this spring. And it's Mr Clinton who is seeking what some Democrats privately call a rescue attempt in her uphill battle against Mr Boozman. Mr Clinton, like Vice-President Joe Biden, has campaigned in places where Mr Obama hasn't.
Mr Obama's absence in Arkansas this year underscores just how much time has changed since he was a freshman Senator flooded with requests by candidates in 2006 and when he was the Democratic presidential nominee with exceptionally strong standing in 2008. Now he's the President and a polarising one at that. He has spent his first 19 months in office pushing policies such as health care overhaul that divided the country and drove down his standing in opinion polls. The latest Associated Press-GfK poll showed Mr Obama's approval rating was 49 per cent. It's even lower in Arkansas.
Republicans in Arkansas are trying to use the President against Democrats. Republican challenger Jim Keet refers to Mr Beebe, a popular incumbent favoured to win re-election, as "Mr Obama's silent partner" on issues like health care.
Democrats worry that Mr Obama's appearance in places like Arkansas could further turn off independents and boost turnout among an energised Republican base. Ms Lincoln has used the President's support sparingly, running a radio spot during the primary and run-off campaign featuring the President.
Certainly, there is only so much a President can do to help candidates when he's not on the ticket. Since Mr Obama's election in 2008, Democratic State-wide candidates in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts lost even though Mr Obama campaigned for them. Still, Mr Obama is well-liked personally, and particularly among Democrats who must turn out this fall in droves for the party to curb what are expected to be huge losses in both the House and Senate.
Mr Obama is focussed these days on raising money in big-dollar locations and boosting a lacklustre Democratic base in places with competitive Senate races, like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Some Democratic candidates are betting that Mr Obama will help them more than hurt them. He campaigned in swing States this summer with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada and Senate candidate Robin Carnahan in Missouri.
"We will go to places where candidates think that is helpful," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said last month. "We'll raise money in places where candidates and committees think that's helpful No, we're not going to go to places where people think it's unhelpful that we go. That would be crazy."
In Arkansas, Mr Causey has tried to distance himself from the Obama Administration. When asked at a recent forum to grade the President, Mr Causey quipped, "My mom said if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it."
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The appointment of telecom secretary P J Thomas as Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), despite encountering strong opposition from the BJP, is a clear case of the UPA throwing constitutional and legislative propriety to the wind. Ignoring opposition leader Sushma Swaraj's objections negates the very spirit of the CVC Act, 2003, which seeks appointment after obtaining recommendations of a committee consisting of the prime minister, home minister and opposition leader. By enforcing a decision based on the vote of just the first two, the message is that the opposition doesn't matter.
The opposition to the new commissioner is not without cause. India ranks 84 of 180 countries in the "Corruption Perception Index 2009" compiled by Transparency International, which only amplifies the gravity of the CVC's role. And with growing evidence of corruption around the Commonwealth Games, the government should have ensured that the new commissioner is beyond reproach. Minimally, he should have an impeccable character, the necessary skills and knowledge for the role and demonstrated competence. Thomas fails most of these criteria.
Even though his name has now been cleared, Thomas has been investigated in a palm oil scam in his home state of Kerala. This was a fairly serious matter and is a blot on his service record. Further, as telecom secretary, Thomas was duty-bound to defend the Department of Telecom (DoT) against the CBI, CVC and CAG probes. The CAG has already recorded damning evidence against telecom minister A Raja in its interim report. It is not every day that the CBI files an FIR against officials of a central government ministry, yet Thomas has defended these officials and their misdemeanours. Will Thomas now recuse himself from this ongoing investigation in which former CVC Pratyush Sinha is on record for ordering the 2G spectrum scam probe? The CVC is duty-bound to monitor these investigations. Yet, for Thomas, supporting Sinha's stance now manifests a conflict of interest. This was avoidable.
Thomas's competence is also questionable. During his tenure as DoT secretary, telecom operators lashed out against the government's spectrum allocation and pricing policies. Recommendations of TRAI on spectrum, mergers and acquisitions, and roll-out obligations have been in cold storage for the last four months. This weak scoresheet is accentuated by the absence of any exposure to investigative or police work. Given this dismal scorecard Thomas's appointment, apart from violating legislative spirit and constitutional propriety, suggests a bankruptcy of unblemished and competent officers for top constitutional positions.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WAY TO GO
India's tourist industry can now pat itself on the back, with the latest Conde Nast Readers' Travel Awards having voted India as the seventh best tourist destination in the world. India bested countries such as Thailand, Greece, Brazil and France to pole-vault into the top 10 list. This would not have been possible had the fundamentals of the tourism industry not been strong. India has a plethora of both heritage and natural beauty to offer. Inbound arrivals have gone up by 10 per cent in the first seven months of this year. This is not to say there isn't any scope for improvement. There are several key areas that need attention in order to derive maximum returns from the tourism sector.
It's well-known that many of our heritage sites are in a deplorable state of disrepair. The problem lies in haphazard management, divided between the Centre and the states. The possibility of a single nodal agency for preservation of all historical monuments along with the participation of private players in maintaining them needs to be explored. The future of the tourism industry lies in customising services. The government would do well to provide greater support to niche segments such as medical tourism and spiritual tourism by creating the infrastructure hotels, transport facilities, easier visa norms, etc to facilitate their growth. In the context of security for foreign tourists, a dedicated tourist police force is a good idea. An integrated approach whereby the tourism industry benefits from other sectors and vice versa is the way forward. The government should keep in mind that tourism generates more jobs for every rupee invested than almost any other sector. It's also more environmentally benign than, say, heavy industry.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CHINA'S POWER PLAY
We must understand the implications of China's denial of visa to General Jaswal, heading India's Northern Command, for defence talks in Beijing on the ground that he came from the "sensitive location of Jammu and Kashmir" and " people from this part of the world come with a different kind of visa".
China began giving stapled visas on the Indian passports of Kashmir residents to make the point that it does not recognise J&K as an integral part of India. Now it has gone a step further by denying a visa to the Indian army general in charge of J&K. The implication here is that those associated directly with Indian rule in J&K are not politically acceptable to China for visits even if they are travelling for purposes agreed to at the governmental level. This would suggest that the Chinese now consider India's presence in J&K as lacking in legitimacy. Even the legality of India's 'control' over J&K is being questioned.
Until now, China's territorial dispute with us has not gone beyond its claim to Aksai Chin in Ladakh. China has not hitherto directly contested the territorial status of J&K bilaterally, treating it as an India- Pakistan dispute in which it has traditionally leaned towards Pakistan's position openly or quietly. Its recent steps to question India's legal status in J&K referred to tellingly as ''this part of the world" in bilateral dealings constitute a new and grave provocation.
While being squeamish on J&K lest it gives cognisance to Indian sovereignty over the territory, China deals with the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) area as if Pakistan's sovereignty there is undisputed. It is involved in massive road-building and hydel projects, disregarding Indian objections. The Chinese have confirmed the New York Times report on the presence of People's Liberation Army ( PLA) personnel in PoK, but claim flood relief as the purpose. With energy security and the unrest in Xinjiang in view, China has begun to look at this territory illegally occupied by Pakistan with even greater strategic interest than before. Uighur separatists can be kept under a watchful eye from there, while through Gwadar, oil and gas from the Gulf can be transported to Xinjiang. China can link up its interests in Afghanistan too through this contiguous area. China would therefore want Pakistan's hold over this region consolidated economically and legally.
While massive infrastructure projects help achieve the former goal, questioning and contesting India's legal status in J&K serves the latter objective as it puts India on the defensive and erodes its locus standi in challenging Pakistan's illegal possession of PoK. With its new stakes, China aims to become an inescapable factor in any India-Pakistan final settlement of the Kashmir issue, with the objective, in such an eventuality, of denying India any future role in Pakistani-held territory. Moreover, by entrenching itself in this region firmly, China would want to be able to protect its strategic investment in it, should the Pakistani state slide increasingly towards failure.
China's visa denial to General Jaswal exposes other anomalies. It gave visas last year to the Leh corps commander and the present army chief then in charge of the Eastern Sector covering Arunachal Pradesh. Can it be that J&K is a more "sensitive location" for Beijing than Arunachal Pradesh? Further, how does China reconcile its questioning of India's legal authority over J&K with prolonged border talks with India that include the western sector? To enhance mutual trust and confidence, India and China are increasing military contacts, with India hoping to soften the PLA's antagonism. The defence dialogue for which General Jaswal was travelling to Beijing is intended to serve this objective. How can confidence at the military level be built if dialogue between those on both sides in charge of the most sensitive areas is impeded?
Our response to Chinese attacks on our sovereignty must not be confined to temporary suspension of defence visits, as China will gladly pay that price for the space it is creating for itself to pursue its strategic interests in the original J&K state at India's cost. We must project Chinese activity in PoK as a security threat, in particular to our control over Leh and Siachen. We should consider issuing stapled visas to Tibetans travelling on Chinese passports to underline that we had recognised a genuinely autonomous Tibet as part of China, not a militarised Tibet threatening our security and serving to make additional territorial demands on us. The prime minister's remark about Beijing exploiting India's "soft underbelly" in Kashmir and Pakistan to keep India in "low level equilibrium" indicates a new, refreshing realism about China, but a tangible response is needed.
China engages us, but has created room for itself to openly contain us because of our appeasing attitude. While we engage China, we too should create space for ourselves to impose costs on it for its hostile policies against us.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
DON'T DEMEAN MILITARY RANK
The Indian Air Force has granted 21 persons honorary ranks, from flight lieutenant to air marshal. This includes the latest anointment of Indian batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar as a group captain. The territorial army has conferred similar honorary ranks to cricketer Kapil Dev and Malayali actor Mohanlal. It is questionable whether the honorary ranks accorded by our forces serve any purpose, when the government and civil society have already devised numerous ways to recognise distinction and individual achievement.
Let's not ignore that our soldiers earn such ranks and distinctions through years of arduous life in inhospitable terrain, and sometimes are called upon to make the supreme sacrifice. Let's not confuse achievement in this area with achievement in other domains. Military honours keep them motivated and prepared for service to the nation. Conferring them indiscriminately on civilians would blur their meaning. The purported utility of 'brand ambassadors' in terms of actually motivating youth to join the forces also needs closer scrutiny. It is puzzling how cricketing legends like Sachin or Kapil can motivate someone to join the forces instead of cricket. More so, when cricket is one of the few sports in India that guarantees money and fame and can turn an individual's fortune overnight. Is there any comparison with the grit and grime that life in the armed forces would entail?
The question is, ought we to reduce our forces to mere 'brands' with a need to woo customers? Even if we answer that question in the positive, a brand can only work if it has credibility. For that to happen, the armed forces ought to bet on real war heroes who can better position them in the market.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BRAND AMBASSADOR FOR ARMED FORCES
India's premier cricket legend, Sachin Tendulkar, is not the first famous personality to be given an honorary military rank and, in all likelihood, he will not be the last. He is merely following in the footsteps of Kapil Dev who was made an honorary lieutenant colonel in the territorial army in 2008. Sportspersons are not the only ones to be accorded such distinction either; Nana Patekar and Mohanlal, actors both, hold honorary ranks in the territorial army as well, the former as captain, the latter as lieutenant colonel. And with good reason. All of them are people known across the length and breadth of the country. And in awarding them in this manner, the military co-opts that name recognition, gaining brand ambassadors of a sort. This is all to the good.
These are people who have risen to the top of their professions by dint of talent and tremendous hard work. They are, as Air Chief Marshal P V Naik said of Tendulkar, paragons of professional excellence, dedication and perseverance. These are precisely the qualities on which the armed forces pride themselves. At a time when recruiting new personnel is a problem and there are resultant manpower shortfalls, it makes eminent sense for the military to make itself more appealing to potential recruits in this way. The adulation that a large number of Indians feel for our cricket and movie stars should not be underestimated as an effective tool in this context.
The popularity that these personalities enjoy with the armed forces should not be disregarded either. There have been numerous instances of such celebrities travelling to interact with soldiers in difficult, sometimes dangerous postings. If the military wishes to recognise and reward this on its own initiative and benefit from it at the same time it should be absolutely free to do so.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
COMMON WOES GAMES
SERIAL CIVIC CHAOS? HEY DILLIWALEY WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD
It's really beginning to annoy us, this daily dose of Delhi grouses. Preparations (or non-preparations) for the Commonwealth Games are leading to traffic jams, dug up roads, fallen down bridges, spurt in dengue, drop in power, perhaps even a worsening of Shri D Bhalla's biliousness. Really? You know what, the rest of us who live in other Indian cities have suffered all this and more for years without even the excuse - or the opportunities -- of the Commonwealth Games. So don't come to us for any sympathy, much less expect us to join your morcha, boycott or party chatter against said CWG.
What's new, ji? Long ago, Dr B C Roy, who farst occoopied the chyer that Momotadi is now eyeing, had claimed, 'What Bengal does today, the rest of the country does tomorrow.' This proved truer of Kolkata. Over the decades, every other city went on a mass-copying spree as if exams were going out of style. Potholes, power breakdown, piles of garbage, pollution, problematic public transport, you name it, we all got it. No marks for guessing which metropolis was the last to fall in line , or simply to fall.
For as long as anyone can remember there was a kind of civic Article 370 governing Delhi. Granted, it was the capital, but that did not mean that all interest should be concentrated there, and the rest of us could go fall into the nearest pothole. But the argument was 'Dilli is the ma-baap sarkar, so what goes of your father if it is the whole and sole showpiece city of India?'
Well, nemesis, hubris or mere incompetence finally caught up with the Dilli Billis. 'Sceptre and crown must tumble down and in the construction debris be equal made', remember? So, the rest of watched with a sardonic smirk as DTC buses began to resemble a bottom-pinching sardine inside a tandoor. We gloated as the jhuggi-jhopdis bloated. We shrieked in glee when power stopped flowing from its thermal stations. Our triumph suffered from no load shedding even when we saw that swaggering kind of power continue to outstrip demand; it may light up the politician's eyes, but it isn't much use when it comes to bulbs, na?
Of course, Lutyens Delhi remained a surreal oasis while civic services deserted Dilli, and the visitor still had to look on in awe, envy and anger as armies of NDMC gardeners trimmed dead leaves off manicured hedges. In Mumbai, whole trees fall in the monsoon squall and are left to rot on the street, creating a literal log-jam that might soon require the services of a lumberjack, not a mere mali.
But finally, even the last bastion has fallen. The CWG has arrived to the strains of the AR Rehman anthem, and the stresses of the ordinary citizen, to complete the devastation, and make the capital look more like the rest of India. Hello-ji. Swagatam. Esho Moshai. Bhaley Padharo.
Now we can all be united in our diverse range of civic problems. We can, as one sweating, swearing mass, celebrate the many public inconveniences that are bestowed upon us city dwellers across the length, breadth and now centre of India. We hope that, instead of griping and grumbling like they have been doing these past months, Dilliwallas appreciate being part of the real world of urbania.
We will be more than happy to admit them as full-fledged members of the plight, blight and daily fight at common water taps that make up life in Mera Bharat Mahanagar.
PLACEBOS WON'T DO ANY MORE
Minister of State for Health Dinesh Trivedi is a busy man these days. In the last few days, he had to contend with two flash strikes by junior doctors one in Rajasthan and another in Delhi. Both have been called off for now after the state and the central governments (health is a state subject) assured the striking doctors adequate security cover. However, Mr Trivedi's initial response had been the usual: get back to duty or face consequences.
It is true that medical service is an essential service, nothing is more precious than a human life and doctors are duty-bound to protect patients. Yet, one fails to understand why instead of demonising the doctors, the state or the Centre has always shied away from providing what doctors have been demanding for long: security. Ad hocism in handling such strikes has ensured that the issue of security, a just demand, has always been brushed under the carpet once the doctors rejoin work.
Junior medics form the backbone of the healthcare system and they are the ones who interact daily with the families of patients. In government hospitals, infrastructure is mostly inadequate, patient load is always disproportionately high and doctors often find themselves at the receiving end of public ire, as doctors in Delhi and Jodhpur found out once again. In this scenario, isn't it the government's duty to ensure that the junior doctors are allowed to do their duty minus any outside interference? In fact, from the patients' point of view too, such unnecessary interference by their family members can prove to be an unproductive exercise. Two years ago, the Rajasthan government promised to deploy policemen in medical colleges to contain recurring clashes between patients' families and medical staff but the Jodhpur incident shows that this promises has remained unfulfilled. If doctors fail to discharge their duties properly, they must be hauled up but that can only be done after it is established that they are at fault. A family that has lost a loved one cannot be allowed to discharge what in other times would be called 'mob justice'. In addition to the doctors, the ancillary staff is also routinely exposed to security hazards.
The Indian health system is in severe shortage of doctors, especially in the rural sector. If the government is keen on attracting young talent, we must ensure that they too are assured of certain basic essentials, security being the foremost. Hopefully, this time round, the government will keep its promise.
GET A REAL FEEL
We are a little disappointed at the reasons why India has been voted the 7th best holiday destination in the world at the recent Conde Nast Readers' Awards 2010. True, India offers value for money and a range of accommodation. But then so do other countries like Thailand. But what could have been better highlighted are some of our unique features that most would be hard put to match.
For those who are the outdoorsy type, why go to the trouble of climbing Mount Everest or Kilimanjaro? We can offer the same uphill experience, or downhill if you wish, on our city roads where you can navigate mountainous formations of rubble and swirling potholes that could put the Zambezi to shame. If the warmth of the people is something that warms the cockles of your heart, be assured that you can get a feel of our fellow feeling very much up close and personal. In fact, there is nothing some of our citizens like so much as to get a real feel of you. On our famed beaches, you could exercise your Hercule Poirot-like grey cells in a game called 'spot the predator'. Or a more physical one called 'fend off the tout'.
Unlike other places where national monuments are just a ticket away, here we make it a more interactive process. Not only do you have to cough up more for the ticket if you're a foreigner, you have to navigate carefully-crafted mounds of garbage and livestock to get at them. Historical gems don't come that easy when you are in our neck of the woods. Then we have our police officers who might just clap you in irons for asking directions. But that is what they do to most locals and this is just to make you feel really at home. And, of course, there is our street food which is often cooked in such exotic mediums as triple boiled industrial oil or boiled in water from locally available canals and ponds. You may feel a bit green about the gills after partaking of such fare, but you'll learn to stomach it soon enough. We could go on. But try it out for yourself. Incredible India does not begin to describe it.
. HINDUSTAN TIMES
NOT A GRAIN OF TRUTH
Exaggeration. Exaggeration. Exaggeration.
I was subjected to this tiresome litany from various angry officials and a couple of politicians after one of their colleagues who will remained unnamed leaked to me the perilous state of India's granaries and the rotting foodgrain within.
On July 26, I reported how 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat and rice had rotted away, unfit even for animals; how 17.8 million tonnes, enough to feed France for a month, was at risk of rotting, stored as it was under tarpaulin. For the last 40 days, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and its minister Sharad Pawar steadfastly refused to accept that so much food had rotted away. Pawar even told Parliament that the figure was 'quite exaggerated', that no more than 11,700 tonnes had rotted.
On Monday, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, the food ministry admitted the figure for decayed grain was not 50,000 tonnes, but 67,000 tonnes, or nearly six times higher than Pawar had admitted. That's enough to feed 1.9 lakh families for a month.
The court's commissioners, who advise it on food and hunger issues part of a nine-year-long case that has led to seminal policy decisions that should have been taken by the government had earlier confirmed to the court the figures quoted by this paper.
"Yes, the HT figure was correct," a senior official told me. "But we had calculated the figures differently." They did indeed, omitting to mention that they juggled numbers. When Pawar and his officials mentioned 11,700 tonnes, they were only counting the grain rotting in state warehouses. They left out the grain stored by the Food Corporation of India, the nation's main repository of wheat and rice, purchased from the farmer.
I don't mean to quibble about tonnage but to spotlight an attitude of carelessness and apathy, which forces the judiciary to intervene in matters clearly outside its prerogative something that the prime minister spoke so forcefully about on the same day his officials had to inadvertently acknowledge their number game.
Referring to the Supreme Court order to distribute rotting grain to the poor, Manmohan Singh said that the courts should not get into the "realm of policy formulation". He said this to editors on Monday: "How can foodgrain be distributed free to an estimated 37 per cent of the population that lives below the poverty line?" The PM's point is that giving away food would "destroy incentives" to the farmer to produce; so if there's no food available, there will be nothing to distribute. Fair point.
Here's my problem with this line of thinking: the PM is telling us what his government cannot do.
Now, here's what his food ministry told the Supreme Court: if the government buys from the farmer only what it can store, many farmers would not be able to sell their produce and in lean years the poor would be at the mercy of traders. What is the ministry saying? It's telling us what the government cannot do.
What is it that the government says it can do? What are the solutions it's offering to what it was even reluctant to acknowledge as a crisis and a national shame?
So, in this failure of governance, it's a bit rich when the PM suggests the courts stay away from governance.
It's not like he and his government had no options. His highest aides, the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM), of which Pawar is one, knew of the grain crisis since April, at least. If the PM and Pawar say that giving away the grain free is not realistic, many, including I, would be willing to go along with them on this. As the Minister of State for Agriculture K.V. Thomas explained to me, every kg of foodgrain stored has already cost the government R8-10 as subsidy. To distribute it would mean further costs.
But the EGoM had been offered a solution nearly four months ago: distribute the grain to India's poorest 150 districts. It would be a good way to use excess foodgrain now nearly double the buffer stock that India needs to hold in reserve for emergencies without letting it rot. This would also be a test-run for the expansion of food distribution envisaged under the forthcoming Right to Food Act.
Whether you agree or not, it's one idea. It is the government's job to put its collective thinking cap on and evolve more, instead of mechanically shooting down suggestions and letting foodgrain rot in a nation with more hungry people than Africa. The government's affidavit to the Supreme Court further reveals a proclivity to backpedal by using outdated poverty figures from 2000. It even ignores the government's own latest poverty count of around 400 million, drawn up by economist Suresh Tendulkar and used by the PM himself on Monday. The government's obvious logic: fewer the poor, lesser the pain of distribution.
Now, thanks to the Supreme Court, the government has to get the excess grain out from under the tarpaulin. About 15 million tonnes enough to feed about 75 million people for a year has to be sold or distributed. The government still hasn't worked out how it will do this. The government has no up-to-date poverty survey, and millions of poor people don't have ration cards (conversely, many people above the poverty line do). Perhaps we should ask the Supreme Court.
NOT-SO-LITTLE GREEN MEN
Kalahandi, once known for its starvation deaths, is today the epicentre of the 'environment versus development' debate. But it wasn't until the Minister of Environment and Forests (MoEF) Jairam Ramesh echoed the Dongriya Kondh tribe's complaints that the issue took centrestage. For now, it may seem that the green movement has won. But those being portrayed as 'green heroes' may have actually caused greater damage by their 'display of solidarity' with the tribals.
Perhaps the biggest damage comes from Rahul Gandhi's recent visit to Niyamgiri. He made a legitimate people's movement seem like a stage-managed show for his announcement of being the messiah for the oppressed in the corridors of power in Delhi. In his press conference, Ramesh kept asserting that "there is no politics" in his decision to stop Vedanta and that his orders were based purely on legal violation. But then why did Gandhi visit Niyamgiri just two days after the press conference? Does it mean that the N.C. Saxena report and the recommendations of the Forest Advisory Committee were all pre-dictated? Was it boldness on the part of Ramesh to issue orders against Vedanta? Or was he merely acting on the direction of Rahul and Sonia Gandhi? And what does this mean for the future of the MoEF?
In 2007, before the story hit New Delhi, Dongria Kondhs spoke on camera about the police atrocities for daring to raise their voices against the project. In Bandagudha, locals accused the state agencies of forced evictions. In 2006, to build the refinery, the police took the men of the village into custody for a night and sent them to a temple in Puri to "purify their souls". On their return, they found that a wall had been built and their community forest had been taken over. For years, no one asked why the state police took it upon themselves to take the tribals on a 'pilgrimage'.
But in 2009, Ramesh, using the newly-introduced Forest Rights Act, found out that Vedanta didn't have the required consent from the tribals for mining. But within 48 hours of his stopping the project, it was clear there were other factors at play. Rahul Gandhi used this golden opportunity to take a chopper ride into the hinterland of Kalahandi. Suddenly it all seemed too well orchestrated to be dismissed as a happy chance. If Gandhi hadn't taken that trip, Ramesh would have been justified in taking the moral high ground.
Ramesh has re-energised a defunct ministry. Today, he is being seen as the lone green warrior in the Congress, someone who loves the mangroves more than airports, who had the courage to say 'no' to BT brinjal and who sent a show cause notice to the Jindal group for violating green norms while setting up a steel plant in Chhattisgarh despite the owner being a member of the same political party as his. But what will he do in those cases where populist aspirations don't align with environmental concerns? The controversy around the Navi Mumbai airport is one example.
By belittling itself for a decision that favours the young Gandhi's political career, it is the role of the MoEF, and the minister, that will be under close scrutiny in the future. Will it follow legal procedure or work under pressure from the Gandhi family? These are genuine perception issues.
Perhaps Rahul Gandhi could have contributed to the welfare of the Dongria Kondhs in a bigger way by working from behind the scenes. But by reducing the MoEF to a 'rubberstamp' to Gandhi's political aspirations, there's now scepticism over the ministry's capabilities.
Bahar Dutt's documentary A Question of Land on the Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri was aired on CNN-IBN The views expressed by the author are personal.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
ILLNESS AS METAPHOR
Every year, as this season rolls around, Gorakhpur and surrounding districts in eastern Uttar Pradesh are ravaged by a form of encephalitis, which causes brain inflammation and kills hundreds of people. This year, over 250 children have died and many more disabled by the disease.
In no other place in India is an illness so predictable and so lethal. After an outbreak in 2005 killed 1,200 children, medical attention turned to Gorakhpur. While the early diagnosis called it Japanese encephalitis, and many children were vaccinated against it, it now turns out that the disease is in fact caused by an entirely different class of enteroviruses. The nature of the attack is still unclear, the illness is vaguely called "acute encephalitis syndrome" and has no vaccines yet.
While Japanese encephalitis is a relatively known quantity, and spreads through mosquitoes, and therefore, can be fought by larvicidal sprays and fogs, AES is far trickier to combat in the immediate instance. It spreads through what doctors delicately call the "faecal-oral route" in other words, it is produced by the persistence of highly unsanitary conditions and no satisfactory drainage systems. And it's not just AES, many other diseases spread because of this lack of hygiene (often from a lack of choice, because of poor sanitation systems). The afflicted region in and around Gorakhpur is particularly prone to the outbreak, given the practice of defecating in the open. When eating utensils are washed in the same area, the bugs spread and cause disease. In other parts of the world, many of the deadliest infectious diseases were sharply reduced in the first 40 years of the 20th century, only because of improvements in plumbing and waste water disposal, which keeps such pollution away. It is truly appalling that India, a hundred years later, cannot provide the bare minimum in sanitation practices.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THEY ARE BACK
Arjun Munda of the BJP has petitioned Jharkhand Governor M.O.H. Farook that he be invited to form a government. The move seeks to put back the BJP-JMM alliance that fell apart in May, leading to imposition of President's Rule on June 1. The BJP may or may not pull off a trust vote in the assembly. But the very act of staking a claim to forming the government demands that it be more forthcoming on what it is that has changed since the summer.
Opportunistic is a word that too easily attaches to many coalition arrangements. After all, a hung assembly nudges disparate political parties to forge some sort of common understanding to fulfil their democratic obligation to give the people a government they voted for. So if parties that fought against each other come together to form a government, so be it, especially when the option is President's Rule. Perhaps the BJP and JMM could have argued so when they forged a coalition after the December 2009 assembly polls. Though even then, it was glib on the part of the BJP leadership to betray no need to explain what its agenda for governance was with Shibu Soren. Till then the BJP had attacked the Congress-led UPA for allying with Soren, given the cases filed against him. Subsequently, when Soren voted with the UPA this summer on a cut motion in Parliament, the BJP cried betrayal, and eventually withdrew support in the Jharkhand assembly. Now, in a matter of months, Soren and Munda sit side by side and address meetings. What's changed? Or rather, what will change in the way a BJP-JMM coalition makes itself accountable to the House and to the people?
The absence of even a pretence towards an agenda for governance is shocking. Jharkhand was formed a decade ago on the belief that a more connected administration would provide development in this resource-rich region. Instead, successive (and tellingly short-lived) governments have coasted along (and fallen) on nothing more accountable than proof of numbers on the floor of the House.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
PLAYING WITH WATER
Why was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh forced to re-state the obvious on Monday? "Environmental concerns are here to stay, they cannot be wished away from public consciousness," he said. Nevertheless, "while environmental concerns are important and the environment must be protected, it can't be done by perpetuating poverty. The right balance must be found." That basic good sense perhaps needed to be heard again from the PM, because in UPA-II, the environment ministry has not exactly been a free-flowing fountain of such thinking.
Consider the "public hearings" that Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has announced will start on September 10, on the construction of large dams on various tributaries of the Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh. The public-sector hydroelectric power company NHPC has ambitious plans for the infrastructure-starved state plans which only scratch the surface. According to the head of the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation, "only 2 to 3 per cent of the 70,000 MW power generating potential of the Northeast with Arunachal Pradesh alone accounting for 50,000 MW has been harnessed so far." Yet expansion plans have met with typically small but noisy protests not, this time, from those displaced upstream by the dams, but from a "people's movement" that claimed to speak for those downstream. Now that drumbeat has been taken up, in that always-volatile region, by the All Assam Students Union and the Asom Gana Parishad (assembly elections are due in Assam next year.) What is telling, though, is that in the climate that the Centre's apparent softness has engendered, they have chosen to frame a standard inter-state riparian question in terms of environmental impact. Ramesh, however, seems content to ignore both these worries and his prime minister's instructions while blithely allowing sporadic disagreement to be co-opted and used to destabilise an entire region's development.
It is worrying that the environment ministry seems to think itself independent of the prime minister's stated policy. The Navi Mumbai airport has been repeatedly pushed by the PMO. And yet it had to intervene again, sending a reminder to Ramesh's ministry on September 3 that a decision was needed post-haste. The environment ministry, instead of gadding about looking for more fashionable causes to sponsor, needs to engage with the nitty-gritty of finding compromises that help growth-creating, poverty-reducing projects, while minimising environmental impact. Perhaps that message has gone home about the
Navi Mumbai airport. Hopefully any learning will extend to other projects. How often must the PM step in with good sense?
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
MY DATA VERSUS YOURS
It's been often asked why our officialdom, with all the intellectual capital at its command, is unable to quantify the number of the really poor in India. Is this such a difficult thing to do? It is all the more baffling because in recent times, the debate on India's poverty has only further confounded ordinary citizens. The Planning Commission had come up with an assumed deprivation ratio of 27.5 per cent. This meant 27.5 per cent of India's population lived below the poverty line, defined as a minimum per capita income threshold of Rs 3,816 per annum.
Of course, this figure has been hotly contested by those who believe poverty levels are being understated. With some variations in methodology, the Suresh Tendulkar Committee put the deprivation ratio at 37 per cent some time ago. Tendulkar used a slightly higher income threshold and showed many more living under the poverty line. The World Bank finding reveals that 42 per cent of the people are below the poverty line, which it defines as individuals living under $1.25 a day on a purchase power parity (PPP) basis. Effectively, $1.25 on a PPP basis works out to about Rs 20 a day in rupee terms.
The Arjun Sengupta Committee stunned everyone with its finding that 78 per cent of India's population lived on less than Rs 20 a day per capita. So with some variations in minimum income threshold and methodology, the assumed deprivation ratio, ranges from 27.5 per cent to 78 per cent! The question is, who should one believe?
If you ask economists or any thinking citizen, they choose any of these figures depending on their ideological predilection. Broadly, those to the left of centre tend to believe Arjun Sengupta and those to the right reject it saying that the actual fall in the poverty ratio has been quite sharp in the past two decades. The centrists, of course, are in a state of utter confusion. So they broadly go by the World Bank data which appears somewhat middle-of-the-road.
Interestingly, some of these findings have been challenged by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER)'s extensive and well-regarded surveys on asset ownership by Indian households. For instance, the NCAER data on how India earns and spends reveals that about 23 per cent of those categorised as below poverty line by the Tendulkar Committee own pressure cookers. Over 10 per cent of them own two-wheelers. This casts a serious doubt over whether this lot might indeed be so poverty stricken. The assumption here is only those who eat reasonably well would buy a pressure cooker or own a two-wheeler. The Financial Express had recently published the NCAER's asset ownership findings, correlating them with the bottom 37 per cent of the population that Tendulkar has shown as below poverty line. Tendulkar himself is a bit surprised by the asset ownership profile of the poorest 37 per cent of the population and is now looking at the NCAER data.
It becomes even more glaring when asset ownership is applied to Sengupta's deprivation ratio. Of the 78 per cent of the population shown as living on less than Rs 20 a day, a good 25 per cent own two-wheelers and 40 per cent own pressure cookers. About 25 per cent of this segment also own colour televisions. You could then argue whether someone truly deprived would be riding a two-wheeler or watching colour TV.
This clearly leads one to the conclusion that the traditional methods of calculating the poverty ratio must be reviewed, and new ways must be found to really determine the nature of consumption in rural India. It is now widely accepted that rural consumption kept India's growth ticking after the 2008 global meltdown. This is endorsed even by companies which actually sold products in rural India. If that is true, then it would be hard to believe that the bulk of rural India is living below the poverty line, as some surveys would seem to suggest.
The need of the hour is get away from the tired old methodologies used to determine poverty ratios and get down to some truly village-level exercises to find out how people consumed 20 years ago and how their lives have changed now. This is not rocket science. You just need common sense here, not some great statistical mind. The debate on poverty must be rescued from the current lot for whom dealing with poverty ratios has become an end in itself. It is not aiding public policy in any constructive manner except to add more bitterness in the ongoing debate.
In this context, a very refreshing village-level survey was designed and implemented recently by a group of economists and Dalit intellectuals in Uttar Pradesh (Devesh Kapur, Chandra Bhan Prasad, Lant Pritchett, D. Shyam Babu). UP has among the highest poverty ratios and Dalit households are historically the most deprived, both socially and economically. So this group concentrated their study on Dalit households in two blocks, one in Azamgarh district in east UP and another in Bulandshahr in west UP. The survey recorded changes in social and material well-being over the decades since 1990. This covers the entire period of economic reforms.
The survey has found major changes in both social and material well-being among Dalits, accompanied by better eating and grooming habits. The survey has also found a marked erosion in discriminatory processes that stigmatised Dalits. Compared with the 1990s, there is a much higher level of asset ownership, especially of basic consumer durables. Ownership of bicycles, fans, TVs and mobile phones has increased by 33-50 per cent of the households in 2007, compared to 1990. Besides, pucca housing ownership increased from 18 per cent to 64 per cent in eastern UP. In Bulandshahr district, pucca housing ownership has gone up to 94 per cent in 2007, from 38 per cent in 1990.
Similarly, another survey conducted by a scholar at the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies shows that Dalits are indeed moving towards self-employed entrepreneurial activities in and around places like Panipat, Karnal and Saharanpur. The study quantified 321 Dalit entrepreneurs in these small towns running shops and providing other forms of skill-based services in construction, etc. The bulk of the self-employed entrepreneurs have come up in the last 15 years. According to Surinder Jodhka, who conducted the study, "Dalits have developed the capacity to diversify into occupations other than those they were traditionally employed in." They are also helping other Dalits enter these services.
The larger point is, people-focused surveys done at the ground level do show a lot of improvement in material well-being in the traditionally poverty ridden pockets of India. Somehow, this does not square with the top-down data-led interpretations that poverty levels have not come down in any significant manner over the past 15 years or so. It is time we de-ideologised the determination of poverty level in India by conducting a more intensive people-focussed survey.
The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
KEEPING UP WITH GODOWNS
MIHIR S. SHARMA
Anger over the wastage and spoilage of foodgrain in the godowns of the Public Distribution System came to a head over the past few days. First, two Supreme Court justices told a government attorney they had ordered, not "suggested", that the government distribute that grain to the people. The prime minister responded, saying that "the Supreme Court should not get into the government's realm of policy-making." And now a group that calls itself the Right to Food Campaign, and that includes several members of the National Advisory Council, has waded in, saying "we are glad that the PM has finally spoken up on the food issue, as it has ended up further confirming that this government is so completely anti-poor."
In the midst of this heated exchange, the government's even-tempered chief economic advisor, Kaushik Basu, wrote up an analysis of India's foodgrain policy as a working paper and had it quietly put on the finance ministry's website. Basu takes issue with the frequently-expressed moralistic view that the government is sitting on rotting foodgrain as its people starve. That view is understandable, he feels, but misguided. Storage isn't the only issue. Production, procurement, storage and release; the entire chain of foodgrain policy is the problem. Try to fix only one link, and it may wind up making another one weaker, and indeed breaking the entire system at the first moment of stress.
He uses a simple game theory model, common in the industrial organisation theory which he used to teach at one point, to examine one such problematic consequence. If the government uses its standard method to distribute its current excess stock asking for tenders from traders for a bundle of foodgrain he demonstrates that the actual eventual supply of food will be higher the smaller is the bundle. Thus, if we want the price to actually fall, the bundle will need to be very small indeed. And that may not be possible.
Thus try and put our stocks out there and we'll wind up merely privatising the wastage. We try and give it out free and a lot of it will be sold back to us through our procurement policy. You simply can't fix one link by itself.
So how did we get here? Basu sails into the stupidity of the situation: in years of low prices, he points out, the government didn't buy more, as it should have. It bought less. Now prices are high and we aren't releasing more than we should. The system is too rigid, depending as it does on political, discretionary intervention. We need a system of automatic rules that will ensure it doesn't happen again. And we can't be paranoid about private profits if the millers make a couple of bucks, that's OK, as long as the system gets food to the poor: "the secret of keeping profits low and delivering food to the ultimate consumer is to release the procured grain in small quantities to large numbers of traders and millers and giving them the freedom to make profits."
Though that isn't enough, thinks Basu. The only real fix is to dump the entire chain, and replace it with a coupon-based system. This is something that Basu would dearly like to see happen as a result of his tenure as CEA: an entire chapter of the Economic Survey this year hammered away at the problem, answering an entire slew of objections to the idea.
It seems a pity that in all the outrage swirling about the topic, the quiet voice of reason is lost. Even more puzzling: why is there nobody giving this sort of excellent advice in the National Advisory Council?
What is the problem?
Food prices have been high since late 2009. What is troubling is the amount of food stocks that we have continued to hold during this period of high prices... We may not have succeeded in the role of evening out fluctuations in food production as effectively as it could have.
Are there larger implications?
A pervasive weakness that runs through India's foodgrain policy is that in the name of helping the farmer and the consumer, and likely even with the earnest intention of doing so, we have ended up creating a foodgrain policy framework that has not got high marks on either account. Many of India's poor households do not get adequate, nutritious food and many of our farmers remain impoverished... We have intervened and created special incentives which hold back large segments of the population in agriculture, who actually deserve to move out to industry and manufacturing.
What's the popular view? Why is it badly thought through?
The popular view, understandably alluring, that all the government has to do to support poor consumers and poor farmers is to direct subsidies at them, and make sure that anybody caught cheating the system and adulterating food is punished misses the important question: punished by whom? For that we have to rely on another layer of bureaucracy and police force, which will open another layer of opportunity for cheating the system.
...If the grain is just given away at a low price to whoever comes to buy, it is likely that a part of this food will get picked up by traders and resold to government through the procurement window. In other words, government will end up subsidising repeatedly for the same foodgrain. This shows that one has to take a holistic view of the system of foodgrain management production, procurement and release...
... While we no doubt should improve our storage facilities, it is important to be clear that that in itself will not lower the price of food. To achieve that we need to redesign the mechanics of how we acquire and release food on the market.
What should we change immediately?
First, we have to have a ready set of rules of how and when to release foodgrain, a kind of Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). There should be no need to have special cabinet committees to take the decision. If prices are rising, there has to be a rule about the automatic release of food... Second, after we release the food, we should not try to excessively monitor what the buyer of the food does with it. As per present practice, the food that is released through open market operations by the FCI is sold to millers, and only rarely to traders. These millers are then prohibited from selling the wheat to yet other buyers and make profit from this. However, if our aim in releasing food is to lower the price, it is not clear why we should prohibit further reselling of the food. The instinctive urge to prevent anybody from making a profit and creating a bureaucracy to monitor this does more harm than good.
What does basic economics tell us?
The price [poor people outside the PDS] face is above the price they would have had to pay in case there was no government intervention... Interestingly and this is a point that is not understood well at all in government the amount of dampening effect we have on food price depends critically on "how" the food grain is released. The same total amount of grain off-loaded on the market through different mechanisms can have very different effects on the price. Also note that, if the government procures more than it releases the average market price will be higher than [otherwise]. This is not surprising at all. If government becomes a net hoarder, its effect has to be to raise the average price.
... If the government's aim (in times of drought) is to lower the price of foodgrains, it is not enough to release a large quantity of foodgrains, X. In addition, this should be released in small batches to many traders or directly to consumers.
Extend that economic logic. What would it imply?
The basic idea is that the subsidy should be handed over directly to the poor household instead of giving it to the PDS shop owner with the instruction that he or she transfer it to the poor. This can be done by handing over food coupons to BPL households, which they can use as money to buy food from any store. The store owner can then take the coupon to any bank and change it back for cash.
Excerpted from Kaushik Basu, 'The Economics of Foodgrain Management in India', finmin.nic.in
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
BUILDING ON FAITH
As my flight approached America last weekend, my mind circled back to the furor that has broken out over plans to build Cordoba House, a community centre in Lower Manhattan. I had been away from home for two months, speaking abroad about cooperation among people from different religions. Every day, including the past two weeks spent representing the US on a State Department tour in the Middle East, I have been struck by how the controversy has riveted the attention of Americans, as well as nearly everyone I met in my travels.
We have all been awed by how inflamed and emotional the issue of the proposed community centre has become. The level of attention reflects the degree to which people care about the very American values under debate: recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship.
Many people wondered why I did not speak out more, and sooner, about this project. I felt that it would not be right to comment from abroad. It would be better if I addressed these issues once I returned home to America, and after I could confer with leaders of other faiths who have been deliberating with us over this project. My life's work has been focused on building bridges between religious groups and never has that been as important as it is now.
We are proceeding with the community centre, Cordoba House. More important, we are doing so with the support of the downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners. I am convinced that it is the right thing to do for many reasons.
Above all, the project will amplify the multifaith approach that the Cordoba Initiative has deployed in concrete ways for years. Our name, Cordoba, was inspired by the city in Spain where Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in the Middle Ages during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims. Our initiative is intended to cultivate understanding among all religions and cultures.
Our broader mission to strengthen relations between the Western and Muslim worlds and to help counter radical ideology lies not in skirting the margins of issues that have polarised relations within the Muslim world and between non-Muslims and Muslims. It lies in confronting them as a joint multifaith, multinational effort. From the political conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians to the building of a community centre in Lower Manhattan, Muslims and members of all faiths must work together if we are ever going to succeed in fostering understanding and peace.
At Cordoba House, we envision shared space for community activities, like a swimming pool, classrooms and a play space for children. There will be separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, Jews and men and women of other faiths. The centre will also include a multifaith memorial dedicated to victims of the 9/11 attacks.
Lost amid the commotion is the good that has come out of the recent discussion. I want to draw attention, specifically, to the open, law-based and tolerant actions that have taken place, and that are particularly striking for Muslims.
President Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg both spoke out in support of our project. As I traveled overseas, I saw firsthand how their words and actions made a tremendous impact on the Muslim street and on Muslim leaders. It was striking: a Christian president and a Jewish mayor of New York supporting the rights of Muslims. Their statements sent a powerful message about what America stands for, and will be remembered as a milestone in improving American-Muslim relations.
The wonderful outpouring of support for our right to build this community centre from across the social, religious and political spectrum seriously undermines the ability of anti-American radicals to recruit young, impressionable Muslims by falsely claiming that America persecutes Muslims for their faith. These efforts by radicals at distortion endanger our national security and the personal security of Americans worldwide. This is why Americans must not back away from completion of this project. If we do, we cede the discourse and, essentially, our future to radicals on both sides. The paradigm of a clash between the West and the Muslim world will continue, as it has in recent decades at terrible cost. It is a paradigm we must shift.
From those who recognise our rights, from grassroots organisers to heads of state, I sense a global desire to build on this positive momentum and to be part of a global movement to heal relations and bring peace. This is an opportunity we must grasp.
The very word "islam" comes from a word cognate to shalom, which means peace in Hebrew. The Quran declares in its 36th chapter, regarded by the Prophet Muhammad as the heart of the Quran, in a verse deemed the heart of this chapter, "Peace is a word spoken from a merciful Lord." How better to commemorate 9/11 than to urge our fellow Muslims, fellow Christians and fellow Jews to follow the fundamental common impulse of our great faith traditions?
- FEISAL ABDUL RAUF
The writer is the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative and the imam of the Farah mosque in Lower Manhattan.
SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Boy oh boy, the News of The World (NOTW) has a lot to answer for. It's ruined Sundays. That was a day of rest for doing everything but watch TV. If we began to experience severe TV withdrawal pangs by evening, we would get our fix through a movie. But watch the news what's that? Even the news channels don't know: Sundays are devoted to food, films, interviews there's not even an 8 pm news.
Until a fortnight ago, that is. Then the News of the World released its secret video recordings with Mazhar Majeed and Yasir Hameed and Sundays haven't been the same. You had to watch the news from the morning on, as the entire sting operation played out and you couldn't stop watching it. It's riveting: Hameed sitting back, languid but authoritative as he says that all the matches played by the Pakistanis have been fixed. There's a glass on the table before him and you're trying to discover whether it has water or alcohol did they try to get him drunk?
How can you stop watching when the sting is followed by interviews with Hameed, who denies having made all the remarks you just heard him make? And, how can you not watch Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi then wash his hands of all this mess? Or when there is every possibility that the Pakistani high commissioner may take to the air with accusations of a sinister Indian plot to get Pakistan banned from the forthcoming World Cup so that India have one team less to beat? Or, Veena Malik may share a few more delectable morsels of her life with Asif and her times with Dhiraj Dikshit (who has, by the way, suddenly disappeared for the scene of the crime). Impossible. So there you are on a Sunday hooked to television news.
Watching cricket is no longer what it used to be. When Pakistan played England in a Twenty20 match on Sunday, every time a bowler came into bowl, you were the umpire eyes glued to the popping crease to see if his foot crossed the line and by how much if it's more than six inches you know this is a spot of ball fixing. This obsession was not restricted to Pakistan's matches. On Monday, DD Sports telecast a match between an Indian and a Bangladeshi team, while Neo Cricket had the Raj Singh Dungarpur tournament featuring Indian company teams. Watching them was a torture: every time a batsman played and missed, or hit it straight to the fielder, you wondered was that deliberate? Was he paid to not score? The fun has gone out of the game, at least for now. That's a lot to answer for.
Much more profitable (sorry, that's a bad word these days) to watch Khatron Ke Khiladi 3 (Colors), not least because there couldn't be a better referee/umpire than Priyanka Chopra. She doesn't wear a coat, or run around the field after the players (like they do in soccer). She wears a lean fashion outfit (even though it is a freezing Brazilian night), plants both feet firmly on the shore and blows a long whistle. She pouts, she oohs and aahs and generally does everything to make you believe that one of the contestants is in mortal danger.
But she's comforting, nevertheless. There's something about Priyanka which is reassuring. Perhaps it is her easy-going personality. Akshay Kumar, the previous host, was big, brawny and bigger than the small screen. He was very encouraging, but he just seemed in another league. Whereas Priyanka seems very much one of us.
On Sunday, three delightful programmes when we weren't fixing the ball with a watchful gaze: Total Recall (Times Now) on Shyam Benegal, a special on Rajnikanth on NDTV 24x7 and The Week That Wasn't on CNN-IBN. If you have to watch TV on that day, watch these.
Salman Khan is another with natural TV appeal. The strange thing is that this is unexpected. You expect SRK, Aamir, Bachchan and even Kumar to have presence, but Salman Khan was a gamble. Yet anyone who watched Dus Ka Dum knows he comes out trumps. No wonder he will be your new Bigg Boss promos are on Colors. On Aap Ki Adalat (India TV), he was completely himself he's not playing a role and the suggestion of weaknesses makes him all the more attractive. He looked puffy, tired, but you felt he is for real.
And the good thing is that Rajat Sharma allowed him to speak. I'm going to compile a list of anchors who do this and send them to the telly awards for a new category.
THE SOUTHERN ISI
At a time when allegations of saffron terror are staring it in the face, the latest issue of the RSS' Organiser digs out a more than decade-old judicial commission report which enquired into communal violence that took place in Bhatkal town of Karnataka in the early 1990s. A front-page article quotes extensively from the report of the Justice Kedambadi Jagannath Shetty judicial commission which was submitted to the state government in 1997. It says that, according to the report, the footprints of Pakistan's ISI in Karnataka can be traced to as far back as late 1991 and early '92. It refrains from making any insinuations or allegations, but carefully quotes paragraphs related to the ISI and the local support it got from the 2000-page report. It even quotes a police officer's deposition that there were "Navayaths (a cash-rich group within the Muslim community who are predominant in Bhatkal), who are ISI agents and Dawood's agents, and who are instigating communal violence."
The RSS feels the UPA government has rubbed salt on the wounds of patients by issuing a discussion paper on compulsory licensing of patented drugs instead of first providing patent-expired, essential medicines at affordable prices. An article in Organiser accuses the government of dragging its feet over extending the span of statutory price control to 374 essential bulk drugs from the present 74, drugs as envisaged by the draft national pharmaceuticals policy (NPP) of 2006 which was prepared after an interim order of the Supreme Court in 2003. "In its first spell, UPA claimed that the draft NPP was in keeping with the promises it made to the aam admi in the common minimum programme that was unveiled in May 2004... Such a promise was blacked out from the Congress manifesto for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. It also did not figure in the UPA's reforms agenda for the next five years, as unveiled by President Pratibha Devsingh Patil in June 2009," it says. "The UPA obviously does not have the courage to take on influential domestic and foreign drug companies that continue to post super-profits year after year. It has not even realised that the delay in imposing price control over NLEM, comprising of 354 drugs, amounts to contempt of the Supreme Court," it says.
The lead editorial, in the RSS' official voice, takes a surprising dig at the BJP while mainly attacking the UPA. The editorial talks about the government's lopsided priorities; visible, it believes, in the allocation and spending of "Rs 1 lakh crore" on the Commonwealth Games on one hand while taking a view against the distribution of rotting foodgrain on the other. While slamming the government on various counts, it interestingly notes that at the end of the monsoon session of Parliament, the Congress had made the condescending assurance that several "pending bills", including ones like safeguarding "enemy properties" would be passed in the next session. "The opposition, meanwhile, lamented that the government could not pass as many bills as it promised despite complete support from them. It sounded as though for both the government and the opposition the tally of bills passed alone was the issue or mark of 'success.' These bills hardly have anything to do with the common man and his little concerns," it says. The editorial also comments on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being voted as one of the best "statesmen-politicians" in an opinion poll among world leaders. "He heads a government that is one of the most corrupt independent India has seen. Scams after scams running into mind-boggling thousands of crores have been unearthed by the media and enthusiastic social activists," it points out.
Compiled by Manoj C.G.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
The fortunes of key public sector units in the power sector seem to be heading in opposite directions. On the one hand, the funds-flush BHEL is sharply boosting capacity, getting ready to add 20,000 mw by 2012 to meet growing competition from Chinese power equipment and recapture a dwindling market share. It is also foraying into the non-banking financial sector to provide total solutions to power generators. On the other hand, NTPC, the other large PSE operating in the power segment, seems to be caught in a downward spiral. The company that was identified as a prize jewel and conferred the Maharatna status only recently has seen its fortunes dip sharply, mainly on account of growing competition from private sector units. Although NTPC was to commission an additional capacity of 9,220 mw by the middle of the Eleventh Plan, it was able to set up only 3,730 mw during the period. And the additional capacity commissioned steadily fell from a high of 2,415 mw in 2006-07 to just 990 mw in 2009-10. Plus, NTPC could only contribute about 14% of the additional capacities set up in the power sector over the last five years. Over this period, the share of the company has steadily declined from a peak level of 19.9% to 18.1% of India's total power generation capacity. Its prospects are not too rosy either, given that the company has not been able to successfully bid for the first four of the UMPPs as the private sector quoted lower tariffs. The prospects of bidding successfully for any of the remaining four UMPPs are also not very encouraging, given the rigid procedural formalities the PSEs have for purchasing power equipment and negotiating prices.
The situation will only deteriorate further once the government decides to go ahead with its decision to make tariff-based bidding mandatory for all power projects from the next year, as was reported in FE last week. Although tariff-based bidding would be beneficial for all consumers and especially industry, which bears the brunt of inefficiencies in the power sector, such a move will restrict the growth of all major power PSEs. Stock markets seem to have factored in the impact of the changing policy regime on NTPC, with its share prices stagnating/declining over the last year despite an IPO. Only greater autonomy to PSEs will enable them to stand up to private competition and avert a repetition of the BSNL story in the power sector.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
PAY THEM RIGHT
RBI governor Duvvuri Subbarao's pitch for higher compensation for public sector bank (PSB) employeesto establish a level-playing field with private sector bankscomes at a time when state-run banks are looking at another round of attrition when the central bank rolls out new licences. As the fight for talent intensifies alongside competition, PSBs, which account for 70% of India's banking sector, will have to look at their compensation model and chart out long-term career planning for their employees. Two recent reports, one by the Boston Consulting Group and the other by the Indian Banks' Association, have concluded that as the growing talent crunch in the Indian banking sector intensifies, PSBs, in order to maintain their current growth rates, will have to hire over 70,000 people each year over the next five yearseven after assuming a 50% jump in productivity. This means that in five years' time, almost half the employees of PSU banks would be newly recruited staff. The Financial Stability Board, which includes all G-20 major economies, has evolved a set of principles to govern compensation practices and has proposed a framework that involves increasing the proportion of variable pay and aligning it with long-term value creation. As the compensation structure of PSBs is determined by the central government and the variable component is very limited, these banks will have to work out a comprehensive structure of risk-aligned variable pay for their employees.
It is also time to look into the recommendations of the six-member Khandelwal committee appointed by the ministry of finance to suggest HR reforms in PSBs. The committee, among other things, had suggested that state-run banks should decide bank-specific wage and compensation structures. PSBs, the committee had recommended, should be allowed to adopt the cost-to-company model, something to which the corporate sector is more attuned than the public sector. Moving a step ahead from the conservative approach of fixed salaries, the committee had also suggested that variable pay should form a major component of wages. The committee further recommended introduction of performance-linked incentives and employee stock options plans for top performers. The performance-linked incentives must percolate down to employees of the branch level, which would motivate them to perform better. As the war for talent intensifies in the banking space, PSBs can no longer take current employment and compensation practices for granted, and matters relating to recruitment, nurturing and development of talent and career planning will now move centrestage.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
RAHUL GANDHI'S LAND GYAN
The government should create an amicable mechanism for corporates acquiring land from farmers for big-ticket projects. It must understand that these projectslike Singur (scrapped two years ago), Niyamgiri and Yamuna Expresswayare key growth drivers for the Indian economy. At the same time, the government must ensure that the farmers rendered landless after acquisition by private companies are given their dues, both in letter and spirit. Notably, key policymakers of the government have completely endorsed Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's proposals to make the draft land acquisition Bill more effective so that it is well-received by both India Inc and the farmer community.
Gandhi has proposed to the PM that the Centre redraft its current land acquisition policy along the lines of what Haryana has done. As part of the proposed amendment, there could be a huge jump in compensation for farmers as compensation is revised in tune with prevailing market prices in respective areas. Gandhi has also proposed that the affected farmers should be given sweat equity, in the form of a 10% share of the developed land after project completion. Indeed, the proposals have stronger foundations than the rules embedded in the existing draft Bill. The new proposals seek land for land, whereas the current Bill has demanded farmers' shares in projects. The former suggestion is far better in the sense that farmers should hold instruments that they fully understand.
Last but not the least, Gandhi has proposed that there should be a fresh definition for 'arable land'. According to Haryana's policy, arable land is land that is capable of growing at least two crops. If this clause is included in the Bill tabled in the Winter session of Parliament, corporates would be barred from touching arable land, no matter what compensation they offer.
Gandhi's focus is rightly placed. He is garnering people's support by pushing for a farmer-friendly land policy. He seems to be the flagbearer of a party that has realised that its roots lie among the people. This is not just an attempt at ensuring a secure future for farmers; it also aims at making farmers some kind of partners in prosperity that projects generate on their land, as farmers benefit from the appreciation that accrues to their land because of infrastructure development.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
LOOK BEYOND JUST STOCKING FOODGRAINS
YOGINDER K ALAGH
Under ideal conditions, grain storage options in India are built up from the buffer stock strategies. These, in turn, are derived from fluctuations in grain output and the need to ride through, say, two bad years. To the needs of the required buffer are added the demands from operational requirements and those of grains in transit.
Once upon a time, there used to be controversies concerning why should we separately account for buffers, operational needs and those in transit, since grain is grain and so there are moving targets within a year. But requirements are high before a crop comes in and low at the end of the season. There is no mention of all this in the mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Plan, so obviously these are the issues that are not considered of much significance. Actual storage tends to be much lower than the ideal. The public distribution system is considered a temporary need, depending on the crop, therefore long-term requirements become difficult to be met in operative administrative termseven though many committees, the latest being the Abhijit Sen Committee, have argued to the contrary. The Eleventh Plan mid-term appraisal has a passing reference to MSPs becoming incentive prices and so forcing resources to grains, but that is all.
This would mean that if the ideal is to have a maximum storage of, say, 25 million tonnes, actual stocks may end up being higher. Anyway, a lot of storage is done in rented stores and some in what is called "cover and plinth (CAP)", a euphemism for covered grain in the open. Whichever way it goes, more regular storage is needed and will be forthcoming if there exists some cost-benefit calculus for it; and that requires a medium-term perspective.
Also, there is the question of spatial spread and the benefits of storage, which means riding the price cycle will become apparent. There would then be questions concerning who will do thisPPPs being a good bet.
If storage is to be lean and mean or efficient, there will be questions about minimising it, as it is not an end in itself. Sometime in the mid-1970s, when Vijay Kelkar was working with me in the Planning Commission, he wrote a paper on marginal trade strategies to even out the weather cycle. We are a large country and there is the politics of grain and food trade, but there will be quantums of trade in the context of rapidly rising incomes. This will be an alternative to stocking the stuff at home, some say for rats. It's a little difficult for an outsider to say how much, although there are some interesting exercises done by academia. What is quite clear is that there is no logic whatsoever for banning trade of wheat and rice, particularly of extra-superior long basmati or like varieties and of durum wheat. In fact, around a quarter of the buffer could be ensured by trade, if the studies are to be believed. The private sector should be encouraged to trade and operational rules can be built up.
Economists like me, and at least two recent CACP chiefs, have argued for flexible tariffs to regulate trade. This is another way of letting the private sector take the risks but retaining the controls. I chaired a committee on integrating tariffs with MSPs. We worked out an efficiency price at which Indian farmers would be globally competitive and gave some calculations for meeting upfront costs until the farmer plays the global game. The idea was to integrate MSPs with tariffs and interest rate differentials. Not doing this means that the government does funny things like importing and then subsidising, which means subsidising foreign farmers. I walked away into the sunset but CACP chiefs and some of the best agricultural economists kept on pleading, arguing for variable tariffs, à la the Alagh Committee. The report was not heard of, but the agricultural ministryobviously sympatheticreleased a fairly detailed summary in reply to an unstarred parliamentary question. Five years later, I got to know that a PIB briefing said that the committee's objective of globally competitive agriculture was accepted but integration of tariffs with government polices in agriculture was rejected. Apart from the use of variable tariffs, which could shave off around a quarter of the higher level demands for storage being projected, we could use global commodity futures creatively.
Still, my experience in life is that governments come back to sense in time. Visiting abroad, I was told by an India-baiter that nothing ever succeeds in India. I agreed with him and said, you are so right and nothing ever fails in India either.
The author is a former Union minister
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
WHAT BANKING WILL LOOK LIKE IN 10 YEARS
These days it's hard to visualise in what state the financial world will be even two years down the line. If we've learnt something from the financial crisis, it is that risk lies at every street corner and that scenario building can be tricky. To that extent, it's not even easy to gauge what the banking landscape in India will look like 10 years ahead. Nevertheless, The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), together with Ficci and IBA, has attempted some crystal gazing and has come up with 10 broad trends that one could watch out for over the next decade. The retail banking business should be brisk, the report says, with mortgages expected to cross Rs 40 trillion by 2020 on the back of the country's demography. The number may seem large, given that the total loan book of the banking industry today is approximately Rs 30 trillion, but with the economy expected to grow at 8% consistently over the decade, and considering the fact that there will be more young earners as we go along, it doesn't really seem impossible.
Within the corporate space, banks, says BCG, will tap the SME universe and configure new models to make money from this category of borrowers. This seems probable, because the bigger companies will increasingly have access to alternative sources of funding, making it less profitable for banks to cater to them. To sustain their margins, therefore, banks will need to work with smaller businesses also, given that they can't overexpose themselves to individual borrowers. That mobile banking will come of age with widespread access to Internet on mobile and play a key role in banking transactions is also not hard to believe; even otherwise, banks will need to consistently upgrade technology to become more efficient and to keep costs down.
This apart, BCG believes that half the nation's infrastructure assets, which could end up in excess of Rs 45 trillion in another 10 years or so, will be on the books of banks. If this Rs 20 trillion or so doesn't form a very huge chunk of banks' loan portfolios and is restricted to, say, less than 15% of total assets, then it shouldn't pose much of a risk. Of course, there's the problem of an asset-liability mismatch, which currently some banks are vulnerable to, unless banks in the future are able to access long-term money. One solution lies in a deeper debt market and also in banks lending to infrastructure companies in the form of bonds, which are tradable. Currently, banks are the biggest lenders to infrastructure projects; in the five years to 2008-09, lending to this space grew at nearly 50% annually, and about half the infrastructure loans in the system today belong to banks.
The BCG report also talks of the HR challenge in the public sector, which could cripple its ability "to innovate and stay competitive". As is known, high natural attrition from 2012 onwards will leave PSU banks short of experienced hands, with 80% of the middle-management retiring in the next 10 years. Also, contrary to perception, the average cost per employee in a PSU bank today is higher at Rs 5.6 lakh per annum compared with the private sector average of Rs 5.3 lakh. Nevertheless, the government will need to be more flexible when it comes to both recruitment and compensation at these banks; at some point, options such as variable pay and lateral hiring will need to be considered.
On Tuesday, the RBI governor Duvvuri Subbarao suggested that compensation to PSU banks be reviewed. The suggestion couldn't have come at a better time. After all, if the public sector banks lose out to the competition, it's the government that will lose out in terms of dividend income. Also, it will be hard for the government to keep pumping in capital, and banks will need to make sure they get enough of premium for their stock as and when they tap the stock market, and for that to happen, they need to be profitable. Again, unless the PSU banks have enough surpluses, there's no way they can work on the goals of financial inclusion. So, it's essential that there's enough management bandwidth at the PSU banks. If it means the teams need to be well-compensated, then the government needs to make sure that this happens, no matter what the bureaucracy feels. For their part, PSUs will need to connect with youngsters because that'll be the catchment area in the future. Without meaning any disrespect, some fresh blood wouldn't hurt.
The BCG report doesn't talk of consolidation in the banking space, but while that may not be a predominant
trend, there's likely to be a fair amount of M&A activity going ahead. As competition intensifies, what with new players expected to come in, scale and size will be important. The report, in fact, talks of how margins will be under pressure and it's the smaller banks that are likely to feel the pinch first.
PERILS OF SQUEAKING THROUGH
It is a sign of the times that the political battle in Australia began over climate change and was settled in favour of the side with the more advanced Internet vision. Labour's failure, under the leadership of Kevin Rudd, to implement a promised carbon emissions trading scheme led to a dramatic fall in the party's ratings. It also triggered an internal rebellion that catapulted Julia Gillard to the office of Prime Minister earlier this year. Ms Gillard called the August 21 snap election to legitimise the coup. But in a massive setback to her, it produced a hung Parliament, the first in 70 years, with Labour and the Coalition deadlocked with 72 seats each in the 150-seat House of Representatives. With the lone Greens member, the first ever in the lower house, and an independent announcing their support for Labour early on, the focus was on a group of three conservative independents. After 17 days of negotiations with both sides, two members of the trio decided to go with Labour, citing its campaign promise of a high-speed optical fibre national broadband network. That two issues that do not carry the here-and-now urgency of the kind voters usually look for in an election manifesto should have played such a big part in the Australian political drama is illustrative of the expanding agenda of modern democratic process. Still there's no getting away from the numbers in Parliament: Labour's wafer-thin majority, pieced together with politicians from the right and the left, signals plenty of difficulties ahead for Prime Minister Gillard.
The Greens have given their support on condition that the government will set a price on carbon emissions, a more ambitious scheme than Labour's emissions trading proposal. They support Labour's plan for a tax on the profits of mining companies but an independent supporter of the government has indicated he opposes the tax. With just two seats behind the ruling party and sore at losing the race for government formation, the Coalition comprising the Liberal and National parties has made clear its intention to underline the split mandate by acting as a "credible alternative government." The Coalition is sceptical about climate change science and it opposes the mining tax. The government's immigration policy the Prime Minister has opportunistically indicated she favours tightening of the rules may prove to be another flashpoint. Given the delicate political balance, international affairs may have to take a back seat, at least for the immediate future. All in all, this seems to be a good time to be in the opposition rather than in government.
UNCOVERING SECRET HOARDS
The recent protocol to amend the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) between India and Switzerland offers a glimmer of hope to those in India seeking access to bank accounts held by Indian nationals in Swiss banks. It paves the way for the sharing of certain types of banking information so far protected by the Swiss secrecy laws. The caveat is that only prospective information, and that too mostly tax related information, can be shared. An omnibus clause that provides for the use of information for purposes allowed under the laws of the two countries appears to be too general and in any case will not give a carte blanche to the authorities here to go after Indian money said to be stashed away illegally. As the Finance Minister has pointed out, the agreement is between two sovereign countries and it will be extremely difficult to wrench concessions relating to anything that is so closely identified with the other country's financial sector. In fact, it is the assurance of secrecy, besides some positive features notably, the extremely stable political and economic environment that has made Switzerland and some other countries most attractive for overseas investors.
Even the United States with far greater financial muscle has been only partly successful. In August last year, after a long and frustrating legal battle, Switzerland's second largest bank, UBS, agreed to disclose the names of 4,450 American account holders far fewer than in the wish list suspected by the U.S. authorities of tax evasion. In return, the case against the bank was dropped. In India, there is a deep-rooted public perception that huge sums of Indian money have been secreted away overseas. But the situation is unclear. As of now, there are only vague estimates and they range from Rs.30 lakh crore to Rs.70 lakh crore. Whatever the actual figure, it would be naïve to think that all of such deposits have sought foreign sanctuaries only to avoid Indian laws. A large proportion of them might well belong to those who do not come under Indian tax or other jurisdictions. The fact, however, remains that tax evasion facilitated by foreign tax havens is a big threat to India's public finance. Despite lower taxes and liberalised exchange control regulations, indications are that the flow of money to tax havens has increased substantially. Fortunately, there has been a growing international backlash against tax havens within the OECD and in other forums such as the G20. India needs to buttress its case through hard facts and evidence gathered through systematic investigation. The tax protocol with Switzerland is welcome but it is only the first step.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
CHANGING FACE OF RUSSIA-PAKISTAN TIES
INDIA WILL HAVE TO LEARN TO LIVE WITH THE NEW RUSSIAN-PAKISTANI BONHOMIE, JUST AS RUSSIA HAS TAKEN INDIA'S ENTANGLEMENT WITH THE U.S. IN ITS STRIDE.
Last month's quadripartite summit of Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan hosted by President Dmitry Medvedev at the Black Sea resort, Sochi, must have made South Block strategists sit up. From India's perspective, the main outcome was that Moscow decisively moved to de-hyphenate its relations with Islamabad and New Delhi. Little wonder then, that even three weeks after the summit there has been no reaction from New Delhi.
The focus of the Sochi meeting was on the situation in Afghanistan. But it also provided an opportunity for Moscow to turn a page on its relations with Islamabad. For decades these relations had been poisoned, first by Pakistan siding with the United States in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, then by its providing the stage for Mujahideen operations against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan and later by providing the training ground for Chechen rebels. Even after Moscow overcame its bitter memories of the past, relations with Islamabad remained low key. President Pervez Musharraf's visit to Moscow in 2003, first by a Pakistan leader in 33 years, helped to clear the air but failed to break the ice. Russia-Pakistan relations continued to be defined by Moscow's ties with India.
Sochi was a turning point. Mr. Medvedev's bilateral meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of the summit was marked by uncharacteristic warmth. Noting that "unlike in the past," he and Mr. Zardari established "very regular, frequent contacts," and were engaged in "good political dialogue," Mr. Medvedev called for the two countries "to expand our economic ties too." He lamented that Russia and Pakistan "have not made much progress in this area yet," and suggested that the two leaders look at "opportunities for our bilateral economic cooperation and development" as well as "possibilities of working together in a four-party format."
Mr. Medvedev invited Mr. Zardari to pay an official visit to Russia, while the Pakistani leader extended a similar invitation to his host. Mr. Zardari pointedly noted that it was his fourth meeting with Mr. Medvedev an unprecedented intensity of interaction, even though all four meetings were held on the sidelines of multilateral events. Next on the agenda is a stand-alone summit. According to Mr. Medvedev's foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko, "We are interested in a full-scale visit by the Pakistani President to Russia."
In another breakthrough for Pakistan, Mr. Medvedev in Sochi gave the green signal for an inaugural meeting of the Russian-Pakistani Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade and Economic and Scientific-Technological Cooperation in Islamabad this month. The two countries agreed to set up the joint commission 10 years ago but Moscow has, till now, blocked its launch.
Two main conclusions can be drawn from the Medvedev-Zardari meeting: the Russian-Pakistani dialogue has, for the first time, been promoted to the level of Presidents; and Moscow has overcome its reluctance to develop full-fledged relations with Islamabad. The only taboo for Russia still is sale of weapons to Pakistan but its defence technologies have been trickling into Pakistan, mostly through third countries. Ukrainian main battle tanks, T-80, supplied to Pakistan in the 1990s, had Russian-built key systems and components. Following a "private" visit to Russia by Gen. Musharraf and an official visit by army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani last summer, Russia lifted its objections to the supply to Pakistan of Chinese JF-17 fighter planes powered by Russian RD-93 engines. Many years ago, Russia had sold Pakistan over 40 MI-171 transport helicopters of a non-military version.
What has made the Moscow turnaround is the realisation that seeing Islamabad as part of the region's problems does not help to advance the Russian goal of playing a bigger role in the region. The Kremlin finally decided that Pakistan must be part of the solution. The format of four-way cooperation with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan should help Moscow prepare for the eventual pullback of the U.S.-led forces from Afghanistan: engage Pakistan, return to Afghanistan and tighten Russian hold over the former Soviet Central Asia.
Russia has assiduously been building the new format over the past year. Mr. Medvedev first met the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan in Yekaterinburg last summer on the sidelines of an annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. At their second meeting in Dushanbe, the trilateral format was expanded to the quadripartite configuration incorporating Tajikistan, which has by far the longest border 1,200 km with Afghanistan among the former Soviet states.
In Sochi, the new forum, which Mr. Medvedev described as "a working regional format," was institutionalised as a permanent arrangement, independent of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a defence bloc of former Soviet states focussed on Central Asia. The quartet announced that its next summit would take place in Dushanbe and that the foreign and economic ministers of the four countries would hold regular meetings as well.
A joint statement adopted in Sochi highlighted the problems of terrorism and drug-trafficking, which are a source of profound concern for Russia. However, it is joint economic projects that dominated the summit agenda. Russia agreed to join two long-planned regional infrastructure projects that would create energy and transport corridors from Central Asia to Pakistan across Afghanistan.
One project, CASA-1000 (Central Asia-South Asia), involves the export of electricity from power-rich Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Russia is prepared to help to build two hydropower plants in the Central Asian states that will supply electricity for the project. The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) earlier agreed to finance the construction of power lines to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The other project is a motor road and a railway from Tajikistan to Pakistan across the Wakhan corridor in extreme northeast Afghanistan a buffer the British created at the end of the 19th century between the Russian and British empires. The proposed transport link resurrecting the ancient Silk Road would be a strategic gain for the countries involved. Pakistan will receive direct access to the markets of Central Asia and Russia, while Tajikistan and Russia will get access to Pakistani ports. China will also stand to gain, as the road is likely to be linked with the Karakorum Highway connecting Pakistan with China's Xinjiang region.
"Russia may become a donor of economic, social and military-political security for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan," Chairman of the Russian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev said commenting on the Sochi summit. In Sochi, Mr. Medvedev renewed Russia's offer to rebuild about 140 industrial and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, which the Soviet Union set up during its 10-year military intervention. The deals may be worth over $1 billion, and may entail further Russian investments in Afghanistan's oil, gas and minerals. Russia's comeback will also encourage many of the 2,00,000 Soviet-educated Afghans, who fled the Taliban to Russia, to return to their homeland.
Putting behind it the painful experience of the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan, Moscow indicated the willingness to become militarily involved in Afghanistan. Mr. Medvedev told President Hamid Karzai that Russia was ready to supply Mi-17 helicopters and firearms, and help to train more Afghan police. The U.S., which is crafting an exit strategy in Afghanistan, welcomed Russia's new role in the region.
The Barack Obama administration has "a regional strategy for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Russia can play an important role along with other countries in the region," Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley was quoted as saying in a comment on the Sochi summit. Russia is giving considerable support to the U.S. in Afghanistan in line with the broader "reset" in their bilateral ties, but Washington of course is overly presumptuous to think that Moscow will toe its "strategy" in the region, assuming, of course, that the White House has one.
India could theoretically gain from joint economic projects mooted by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Some Russian analysts have even suggested that Russia might try to incorporate India in the new alliance. This possibility, however, looks highly remote given the current state of relations between New Delhi and Islamabad. Pakistan has dug in its feet on allowing Indian exports through its territory under the recently concluded Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement (APTTA). Meanwhile, the APTTA grants Pakistan the right to trade with Central Asia via the Wakhan corridor. Unless New Delhi succeeds in turning around its relations with Islamabad, it will stand to lose in a big way when a new transport corridor links Pakistan with Central Asia.
The Sochi summit also dimmed India's hopes of gaining a strategic foothold in Tajikistan. India and Russia had planned to jointly use the Ayni airfield, which India helped to renovate, but Indian presence there looks doubtful now in the context of the emerging Russia-Afghanistan-Pakistan-Tajikistan axis. India will, of course, remain Russia's close friend and strategic partner, but it will have to learn to live with the new Russian-Pakistani bonhomie, just as Russia has taken in its stride India's entanglement with the U.S.
ISRAEL-PALESTINE: THE TALKS WHICH ARE MEANT TO FAIL
A MAJOR PROBLEM IS THAT ISRAEL IS NOT EVEN DEALING WITH HAMAS, THE ELECTED MAJORITY REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PALESTINIANS.
Held in Washington at the instigation of President Obama, the first direct talks between Israel, represented by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinians, represented by President Mahmoud Abbas, for 20 months were presaged with much fanfare. The opening dinner was also attended by King Abdullah of Jordan and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak as well as the purported Middle East quartet's envoy Tony Blair. Analysts noted that Mr. Obama, who faces severe domestic problems in the form of a wretchedly depressed economy and a potentially resurgent Republican party in the runup to mid-term Congressional elections in November, was close to staking his reputation on the meeting. He needs an international success as much as his predecessors Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton did, the former with the Camp David Israel-Egypt deal in 1977 and the latter with the Israel-Palestinian accords in Oslo in 1993.
The rhetoric before the meeting was certainly ambitious, with the main stated aim being the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. The only substantive result so far, however, is that the two sides will meet again on September 14, in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh, and every fortnight thereafter. The U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will attend on September 14, as will former Senator George Mitchell, who is now Mr. Obama's special peace envoy to the Middle East.
Despite the grand words, nothing else has been decided, or even looks as if it could be decided. It is, furthermore, far from clear what could be decided even if the talks are not abandoned at some point in the forthcoming year, despite the fact that the requirements on either side are apparently easily expressed. The first key issue for the Palestinians is an end to the Israeli construction of settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war. Another is the right of return for millions of displaced Palestinians, both the victims of that war and those expelled by Israel in 1948; huge numbers still languish in camps around the region and in Gaza. A third point is the status of Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as a shared capital with Israel.
For his part, Mr. Netanyahu has said bluntly that the legitimacy and security of Israel are paramount. According to him, the demand for a nation-state for the Palestinian people must be matched by a Palestinian recognition that Israel is the nation-state for the Jewish people, though he adds that the million or more non-Jews living in Israel have full civil rights.
Not on equal footing
The negotiations, however, are not going to be between anything resembling equals. Mr. Abbas has nothing to negotiate with, and is not even head of the elected majority party in the Palestinian Legislative Council. That is Hamas, which has effectively been restricted to the Gaza Strip despite winning 74 out of 132 Council seats in the 2006 general election. Secondly, the Palestinian recognition of Israel has not been an issue since 1988, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), then under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, recognised Israel's right to exist within its pre-1967 borders. Yet that recognition itself meant that the PLO accepted 78 per cent of the area of pre-Israel Palestine; the Israeli occupation of the West Bank therefore means, as the great Israeli historian Ilan Pappé has said, that Israel now holds 100 per cent of Palestine and has turned something over 1.5 million Palestinians in the occupied territories into a captive labour force whom Israel intends neither to expel nor to accept as Israeli citizens. They remain some form of second-class inhabitants, politically invisible even to many dissident Israelis. Even those whom Israel is willing to consider as citizens live under outrageous restrictions. For example, some 3,50,000 Palestinians who remained after 1948 have the right to Israeli citizenship but not that of a return to the homes from which they were evicted by the new state; this is some kind of cruel inversion of the notorious Bantustan policies devised by apartheid South Africa. On top of all that, Mr. Netanyahu's coalition government has serious ideological problems with the very idea of a divided Jerusalem and will not accept it as a shared capital.
As if those factors were not sufficiently serious to undermine the prospects for any further talks, a major problem is that Israel is not even dealing with Hamas, the elected majority representatives of the Palestinians. It may be trying to pretend that Hamas does not exist, though it is prepared to go to war with it; Israel has also imposed an economic stranglehold upon Gaza which amounts to nothing less than the collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians, and it continues to bomb supply tunnels in southern Gaza. The physical departure of Israeli settlers and Israeli forces from Gaza over the last few years is therefore almost an irrelevance, and ordinary Palestinians' hostility to the reopening of talks is entirely unsurprising.
For the longer term, the really serious difficulty is Israel's manifest plan to establish a permanent presence in the West Bank. The purported Israeli moratorium on further construction of Jewish settlements is due to end on September 26. When leaned on by Mr. Obama, Mr. Abbas dropped his insistence that the moratorium be extended as a precondition for talks. In any case, the moratorium is a fiction. It was imposed under U.S. pressure in 2009, but Mr. Netanyahu cannot enforce it, even if he wants to, without risking his hard-right coalition government. Israelis have also treated the moratorium with contempt; officials collude with the settlers, and an Israeli rights campaigner who monitors violations says work has been stopped in only five settlements, with construction continuing in nearly 50 out of 120 in all. Physical infrastructure is excluded from the moratorium, so water and sewerage systems are still being installed, and Israeli subsidies, as well as tax-exempt private U.S. donations which have brought in about $200 million in the last decade, continue unabated as well. Officials ignore rights campaigners' complaints about illegal construction and, in a clear expression of Israeli double standards, over 250 illegal Palestinian homes in West Jordan have been destroyed by civic authorities.
The facts on the ground are that since the early 1990s the number of West Bank settlers has tripled, from 1,10,000 to 3,00,000. At current rates, over 16,000 Jewish settlers will move into the area each year. Many of them are now moving to the eastern part of the area, and will need to leave if a genuine peace agreement is finalised. Israel intends to occupy the whole of the West Bank and to make a viable Palestinian state completely impossible; it is not for nothing that Prof. Pappé's book bears the title "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine".
There is therefore virtually no prospect that the reopened contacts between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas can succeed. If Israel shows any willingness to make concessions, the Palestinian President will be under severe international pressure to accept, but will alienate his own supporters even further; if the talks break down for any reason, Mr. Netanyahu can blame the Palestinians.
All the evidence is that that is exactly what Israel wants. The next Israeli chief of military staff is to be Major-General Yoav Galant, who led the 2008-09 offensive in Gaza, during which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed, and in respect of which the U.N. fact finding report said there had been war crimes on both sides. Israeli rights groups have called for an examination of Galant's actions in Gaza, but, as is so often the case in such matters, those at the top can be sure they will escape, however tainted they are. In effect, Israel is ruling out any possibility that its own security could be ensured by a fair, just, and equitable settlement with all Palestinians. It clearly will not accept a tenable two-state solution, but a one-state solution would annul its claim to being a Jewish state. So Israel may well be moving towards the creation of a permanently demonised and subjugated Other, which may be essential for the very preservation of the idea of a Jewish, or in more extreme terms Zionist, state.
MIGRANT BERRY PICKERS COMPLAIN OF CONDITIONS IN SWEDEN
THE MEDIA HAVE REPORTED ACTIONS BY WORKERS, WHO ARE PRIMARILY FROM EAST ASIA.
The image of migrant workers freezing, living in squalor or demanding better pay and conditions is not typical in Sweden.
Yet these are among the cases involving Asian workers who are spending the season picking wild berries in the forests of central and northern Sweden.
They are occurring, union officials and aid workers say, mainly because collective bargaining rules are proving difficult to enforce and because of what appears to be exploitation by employment agencies based in Asia. The Swedish government is monitoring the situation and says it may adapt its rules, which were recently put in place.
In some cases, humanitarian agencies, local authorities and churches have stepped in to help the workers.
Ylva de Val Olsson, a Red Cross coordinator, said her organisation had intervened after discovering in August that 138 pickers from Bangladesh were crammed into four squalid houses in Bracke, in central Sweden. The accommodations lacked functioning toilets and the workers had inadequate clothing, shoes and blankets for night temperatures just above freezing.
"We're used to helping people abroad," she said. "But it's very seldom that we have an acute situation like this in Sweden."
Some of the Bangladeshis have gone home, but many remain and want to stay and pick berries to cover their debts. "They thought they would get a lifetime's income, but it's the opposite," she said. "It's sad."
The Swedish media has reported actions by workers, including strikes and sit-ins by Vietnamese and Chinese pickers. In one case, Vietnamese pickers locked up and reportedly assaulted their team leaders in a school, while 100 Chinese workers staged a nine-mile overnight march to protest salaries and conditions. Vietnamese berry pickers elsewhere in Sweden were reportedly shooting birds with catapults for food.
Laws giving the public a right of access allow people to roam forests gathering wild berries with few limits. But the practice has evolved from a bucolic pastime into big business.
Used in medicines, cosmetics
Wild berries are especially rich in vitamins and prized by food retailers, and by pharmaceutical companies for their antioxidant qualities. Their pigments can be used for colouring cosmetics, pharmaceutical syrups and nutritional supplements.
In Sweden and neighbouring Finland, over 30,000 tons are gathered each season, according to Polarica, the largest producer there. The most important are cloudberries, gathered in late July; blueberries, in August; and lingonberries, in September. Large quantities are also gathered in Poland, the Baltic states, Russia and Belarus.
And much like fruit-picking in France and Spain, low wages and tough conditions in this case crouching and tramping through damp, mosquito-infested forests dissuade native workers.
In Sweden, the labour has primarily come from East Asian countries. In Finland, migrant Ukrainians have found themselves in similarly precarious situations in recent years.
Officially, there are about 4,000 Asian workers in Sweden with permits this year. But the real number is higher, because many enter on tourist visas. Last year, official numbers were several thousand higher, though a poor harvest may have deterred some.
After pressure from unions and public unease, the government has acted. In March, the Migration Board said that it would start handling permit applications for pickers in the same way as for other work permit applications for people who are not citizens in the European Union. The head of the board's work permit unit, Alejandro Firpo, said his agency issued permits of varying duration but had a very limited authority to follow up on abuses, which was a matter for unions, employers and workers.
At the same time, the Swedish Municipal Workers Union, Kommunal, has won the right to organise and establish collective agreements for pickers. These include a monthly minimum wage of 16,372 kronor, or about $2,240, for pickers employed by companies operating in Sweden and slightly more for those employed by staff agencies abroad.
Hans Kotzan, Kommunal's international secretary, said the problems appeared to be continuing because many pickers were still not covered by the agreements. Kommunal has deals with about 15 to 20 major companies, but Kotzan said "the lack of agreements" across the sector was "lowering standards."
Where the pickers are not covered, the union cannot intervene. That appears to be the case for many of those recruited by agencies in Asia.
Kommunal says it is trying to work with regional and global union federations representing food workers to establish better supervision.
"Somebody has to pay a price for the cheap berries," Kotzan said. "Unfortunately it's the labourers."
© New York Times News Service
MILK AT LAST FOR FLY-PHOTO BOY
Fatima beamed broadly as she knelt in the mud outside her tent and filled two-year-old Reza Khan's baby bottle with milk. "Look, he's not crying anymore," she said, as he sucked down the liquid. It had been a month since the little boy had tasted milk.
The mother of eight kept an eye on her son as she lifted the lid on a blackened aluminium pot, her only one, that was bubbling over a campfire and stirred the yellow lentils inside. "Tonight my children will sleep until dawn on full stomachs," she said.
The Guardian first met the displaced Afghan family several days ago, after a photograph of Reza and several of his siblings, covered in flies, featured in the newspaper [September 1]. We tracked them down to a roadside camp in Azakhel, 19 miles from Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's insurgency-plagued Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan.
On September 6, a story in the newspaper and on the Guardian website highlighted the family's plight: the devastating month-long deluge had driven them from their mud brick home in the nearby Azakhel Afghan refugee camp. Fatima, her husband, Aslam, and their eight children, along with their extended family, were camped in an empty field relying on the charity of passersby.
The response to the Guardian story was immediate and overwhelming. Readers from the United Kingdom, North America and Europe contacted us with offers of help. Aijaz Ahmed from the Pakistani group save-humans.org had also offered immediate assistance.
The organisation, which describes itself as a group of Pakistani professionals who have "joined hands to serve humanity", immediately set about buying relief supplies. On September 7, three members of the group rented a truck, loaded it with Rs. 5,00,000 (Pakistani) worth of goods, including flour, rice, oil, lentils and milk, and headed north from Islamabad on a two-hour trek to Azakhel.
"The article compelled us to act," said Sufyan Kakakhel, 30, one of the three. "When I read that they were Afghans, I knew that they couldn't get rations from the government because they don't have Pakistani citizenship, and I didn't give a second thought about whether I should come here." Dozens of men, women and children, many barefoot, rushed towards the vehicles as they stopped near their encampment. "We have brought you some things and are going to distribute them in a very peaceful way," Kakakhel told the crowd. "It will be ordered."
His colleague Abu Bakr Shoaib, a 30-year-old IT professional who works in Dubai but was in Pakistan for Ramadan, went tent to tent, notebook in hand, to record the number of men, women and children in each tent. Bearded men in round, flat caps thrust their small green Afghan identity cards in Shoaib's direction. "Don't worry, we're going to help everybody," he said.
Some 53 Afghan families are living by the railway track and the parallel pools of stagnant water that separate this makeshift tent city from the wasteland on the other side that was once the Azakhel Afghan refugee camp, home to 23,000 people. Now, it is just a pile of muddy rubble, broken timber and straw.
The two men promised to return with fumigation equipment to reduce the vast population of mosquitoes and flies. They also promised to study ways to help the family rebuild their home across the railway tracks. Fatima kept her eye on the boiling pot perched on the campfire. She was smiling. Tonight, her children would have dhal for dinner.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
RUGBY TEAM KNOWS THE VALUE OF PLAITS
SIMPLE HAIR BRAIDS CAN MAKE ANYONE FEEL LIKE A WARRIOR.
"Most of my time is spent in my room, French-plaiting other girls' hair," said Rachael Burford, centre player in the England women's rugby team, over the weekend. No snide comments about this being what all girls do when they get together, please Burford, and her braided friends then go out on the rugby pitch where, if you caught any of the recent world cup, you will have noticed that the women are just as fearless as their male counterparts.
"It has got to the point now when I feel a bit weird if I don't do someone's hair before a game," said Burford. "Some of the girls look really tough with their hair plaited, so it's also a psychological thing a victorious thing." Sadly, victory wasn't tied up in those braids the team lost to New Zealand in the September 5 final but many of the players, including Danielle Waterman, Sarah Hunter and Katy McLean, looked fierce, like warrior women going into battle.
"Plaits are the earliest of hairstyles because before haircutting and hairdressing, people obviously had long hair and plaits were the simplest way of keeping it out of the way," says fashion historian Caroline Cox. For that reason, she says, we associate plaits with both women and men, and particularly those who are involved in athletic pursuits, such as war. Think of Legolas in "The Lord of the Rings", or the super strong Obelix in the "Asterix" cartoons. "For women, Boudicca or Valkyrie plaits seem to enhance their ferocity," says Cox.
"It was a practical hairstyle until we get to the 19th century, when it begins to be associated with female children. Even now, plaits on the whole have the meaning of the youthful schoolgirl." Not an image you will associate with England's nearly victorious rugby team.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
THE ASIAN AGE
BJP-JMM AS GOOD, AS BAD AS JMM-BJP
As low farce goes, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton re-tying the knot after a messy divorce can't match the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha emerging from a marital blow-up only three months ago to fall back into an unprepossessing clinch. For the two legendary stars of the silver screen, it was only a question of giving their wrought emotions another chance. The issue didn't concern morality or public trust. On the other hand, the BJP and JMM duo are playing ducks and drakes with the mandate of the people. Both are defeated parties. The JMM had crashed out of power in the last Assembly election in November-December 2009. In that electoral contest, the strength of the BJP had been nearly halved. Yet they had gone ahead to form a coalition government with the aid of smaller entities in January this year only to break up a few months later, necessitating President's Rule in June. And lo and behold, they are back in the saddle yet again. The difference this time round is that the chief minister will be Arjun Munda, from the BJP, and Jharkhand's power-hungry JMM leader Shibu Soren's son Hemant has agreed to be one of the two deputy chief ministers, showing he has inherited his father's gene for power-hunger. There is nothing in the dynamics of the politically blighted state to suggest that the BJP-JMM dispensation will be any better at rendering stability to one of India's poorest states than the previous JMM-BJP dispensation. It is widely believed that the BJP's recently appointed president Nitin Gadkari whose singular lack of experience in the conduct of high politics is the subject of talk within BJP circles has been working overtime behind the scenes to bring about the fly-by-night denouement. Of all places, the man chose Moscow from where to press the button.
How long the latest edition of the Jharkhand pantomime will last is anybody's guess. But even devotees of political opportunism will find it difficult to wager that the BJP-JMM-AJSU (a minor Jharkhand political group) can offer the state even routine, sensible, administration. If experience is any guide, the stress of the members of the new government is likely to be on economic and political aggrandisement. Other considerations, especially those to do with development and cleaning up the Augean stables of corruption, will take a back seat. The choice of Mr Munda as chief minister was probably the BJP's best bet once the party chose to throw political ethics to the wind. The incoming leader of the Assembly has some reputation for dynamism. But the leader of a government born in sin will find he has no choice but to look the other way when ministers and legislators of the ruling alliance place a premium on turning rules on the head with a view to making hay while the sun shines.
In the eight years that Jharkhand has been a state after the bifurcation of Bihar, it has seen seven governments, which looks to be something of a record. This unseemly spectacle can hardly fill the people of the state with confidence that public welfare will be at the centre of things. With hindsight, it may be argued that the Assembly should not have been kept in suspended animation when Central Rule was imposed in June this year. In order to stabilise the administration, go after the crooked politicians, and deal with both force and sensitivity in tackling the menace of Naxalism which is devouring the state, a reasonable spell of President's Rule may have offered the most exigent choice, leading on to fresh elections.
THE ASIAN AGE
OVERREACTING TO CHINA
China seems to have a knack for generating a periodic hubbub in our public discourse. The most recent one has been triggered by reports in Western media about the presence of Chinese troops in the Gilgit-Baltistan area and by the denial of a Chinese visa to the Northern Army Commander.?Coming on the heels of the earlier controversies, these have yet again excited our imaginations over the "threat" from China. Notwithstanding interventions by a phalanx of experts, the current debate tells us more about our own discourse on China than about Beijing's intentions or plans.
Consider, for a start, the claim that the recent moves indicate a significant hardening of China's position on Kashmir. China's stance on Kashmir has evolved in three distinct phases. In the 1950s, the Chinese took a largely neutral position. The evidence now available from Chinese archives shows that in their limited interaction, the Chinese were urging the Pakistanis to settle with India. Things began to change with the deterioration of the Sino-Indian relationship. For three decades, starting from 1963, the Chinese switched to a position of endorsing Pakistan's demand for a plebiscite. From the early 1990s, the improving ties with India led the Chinese to shift their stance yet again. They now held that Kashmir was a bilateral problem to be solved by India and Pakistan. This is, of course, close to the Indian position on the matter.
However, the Chinese have never acknowledged sov er eignty over Kashmir. Their visa policy is a way of simu ltaneously needling India and extending symbolic support to Pakistan. But it is nothing more than that. Indeed, given India's ability to respond in kind not least over matters like the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exiles the Chinese are unlikely to escalate tensions on issues of core concern. On more practical matters, such as developmental activities in occupied Kashmir or disaster relief, the Chinese will continue to extend assistance to Pakistan. And there is little that India can realistically do here. As Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel once remarked, possession is nine-tenths of the law. It is as unrealistic of us to expect our protests to bring these activities to a halt as it was of China to expect that it could block Indian developmental activities in Arunachal Pradesh.
The ongoing debate also highlights three important strands of our narrative on China. The first is the view that China is a highly strategic and deeply malevolent power that thinks in long-time horizons. The obverse of this is the claim that India lacks any strategic vision and is numbed by short-term expediency. In consequence, our experts urge us to remember that every small move by the Chinese is an integral part of a larger plan calculated to advance their power and interests and to undercut ours. That the Chinese have shown themselves capable of long-term planning, especially in economic matters, is undeniable. But the historical record also shows that they are capable of making enormous blunders mistakes that have usually defied any strategic logic. Think of the Great Leap Forward and the break with their most important ally, the Soviet Union. ?
Take the more recent example of China's position in East Asia. Until about a year ago, the smaller East Asian countries were loquacious in their admiration for China's "peaceful rise". But China's swagger and assertiveness over the last year has nudged many of these countries towards a more wary stance. The retention of the American military base in Okinawa, the strengthening of US-South Korea ties, the US-Vietnam naval exercises in the South China Sea: none of these work in China's interests, but all are a consequence of China's stance on a range of issues which have not been clearly thought through. The Middle Kingdom, then, can also be the Muddle Kingdom. It is important, therefore, not to read too much long-term strategy into every Chinese move.
The second, and related, strand is the assumption that China is out to encircle and box-in India in the subcontinent. The numerous ports that China is building in our neighbourhood are held out as evidence of this intent. That the military aspects of the Sino-Pakistan relationship are aimed at balancing against India is clear. Not so the assumption that every port built by China in our neighbourhood is a potential naval base for them. For one thing, the military implication of these commercial activities is not at all obvious. More importantly, we need to ask ourselves why we are unable to undertake similar projects. The answer is simple: India does not yet have a competitive world-class port construction industry. Instead of inveighing against the Chinese for allegedly making inroads into our neighbourhood, we might usefully turn the searchlight on our own capacities.
The third strand is the entrenched belief that China has deliberately refrained from coming to an agreement with India on the disputed boundary. This is a seriously one-sided reading of the record. For two decades after 1962, India was as uninterested as China in resuming the negotiations. Thereafter, too, India dragged its feet on a sensible framework for discussing the boundary and insisted on subsidiary negotiations to clarify the Line of Actual Control. It was only in 2003 that we agreed to a viable framework for political negotiations. True, the Chinese have adopted a tough stance over the last few years. But this is only to be expected in any such negotiation. Instead of harping that India is the only country with which China has not settled, it might do us some good to consider why India is the only country which has been unable to settle with China. The strategic thinker Basil Liddell Hart's prescription is apt for our China experts: "Avoid self-righteousness like the devil nothing is so blinding".
Taken together, these three assumptions seriously distort our debates on China. This is problematic because international politics is an interactive game. Our narratives about other states invariably end up influencing their behaviour. Unless we are careful, the "China threat" might well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.?
n Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi
THE ASIAN AGE
WELCOME TO MALLYWOOD
For some time now, critics and analysts have been observing that modern Bollywood cinema has forgotten the "real" India. A Peepli Live does not make up for the undisputed fact that most films are now made for urban multiplex audiences or the non-resident Indian market and the themes, stories, acting, songs and production design are completely alien to the masses. What relevance, for example, does Stepmom, with its designer apartments and colour-coordinated cast, have for the aam janta in the small town and villages? This, it is argued, is the real India for whom films were made in the past.
The potboilers of another era, even if set in the cities, worked for all Indian audiences with their mix of family drama, emotions and songs done in easy to understand Hindustani (as opposed to hybrid, English-Hindi mix which is the fashion today) and music rooted in the soil. An Aisha, where the heroine is little more than a model for international brand names, has little or no emotional connect with a small town viewer, and seems to have been made solely for the city-based, mall-visiting consumer.
Bhojpuri films are said to be fulf i lling the entertainment needs of the hinterland crowds. Their stories us u ally hark back to an earlier era but are still relevant for the mof u ssil viewer. Migration to the city, intra-family fights, class tensions are issues that are no longer the themes of choice of our urban filmmakers. For the hero of a multiplex movie, unrequited love is not usually a problem; how can it be when our couples often live together (Salaam Namaste) or are divo r ced (We Are Family). Nor are class differences such a problem. And the settings are uniformly middle or upper middle class. In Bhojpuri cinema the entire milieu is different, and has a distinctly lower middle class feel about it. These are made for the vast numbers of migrants who leave their homes in the Hindi belt to work in far away places.
But there is another viewer too the urban and semi-urban (small town) Indian who may have the mo ney, is no less a consumer than his (and chiefly her) city counterp art but feels alienated with films set in Australia, Miami or New Yo rk. Economically they may be in st ep with urban Indian, but their se n si b ilities are quite different. The mo re liberal commentator may find them regressive and backward, un a ble to come to terms with the rap id pace of social change in India; but they prefer to think of themse l v es as fa i thful to their roots. For th em tradition, culture, ritual, family and ri v aaz are the benchmarks of being Indian and they find urban mo der nity, with its emphasis on the individual, too foreign for their tastes.
To cater to this vast and powerful audience, a new entertainment industry has opened up and can be seen on a television screen near you. Night after night, these shows, with their peculiar take on life in middle India beam their programmes into our living rooms. Their titles are revealing Betiyaan Apni Ya Paraya Dhan, Kabhi Sautan Kabhi Saheli, Banoo Mein Teri Dulhan, Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo, Hamari Betiyon Ka Vivaah and, of course, Balika Vadhu. All of them have the whiff of the soil about th em, an earthiness missing in conte mporary Hindi cinema which see ms to have moved off to another planet.
The storylines too are different. These soaps are high on emotional content and on intra-family relati onships. Intra-family politics pl ays a big part in these stories. Along with that one gets a large dollop of "tradition and culture", which is manifested through honour killings, suppression of female rights, har a s sment for dowry, child brides etc. The honour of the family, nay the entire clan, rests on the shoulders of the female members. Often the most outrageous and re g ressive st o ry points are woven in child ma rriage, bride burning etc but ask the makers and they will tell you, "this is the reality and be s ides, we always make it a point to say th ese things are bad". A gratuitous def e n ce, but for the audiences wh i ch lap them up, it really doesn't matter.
It is incorrect to say that there are no viewers for such soaps in the bigger cities; after all that is where the bulk of consumers, whom the marketers want to reach, reside. But channels are aware that the vast hinterland out there is the real market, both for the soap operas and the products that are advertised during the breaks. The more sophisticated and progressive-minded viewers may turn up their noses at these shows, but no channel can afford to be without a few in its prime time band.
The channels will also claim that audience tastes dictate what they show; once the TRPs start flagging, these shows will die a natural de a th. This is too simplistic an argum e nt. A mass media must take its re s pon sibilities seriously, otherwise there is nothing to stop someone from showing porn films. The re can be no curbs on creativity, and certainly censorship should be kept to a minimum, (and of course we understand commercial compulsi o ns), but the channels need to take a look at some of the stuff they spew out. This is not "real" India either.
n The writer is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai
LOOKS LIKE ELECTION SEASON 2014 IS HERE
AFTER RAHUL GANDHI CALLED HIMSELF THE TRIBALS' SOLDIER IN
Delhi, it was the turn of his mother, Sonia Gandhi, to take up cudgels on behalf of farmers.
At an event in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday, she said land acquisition must not result in the loss of fertile land and the farmers who lose their land should be provided adequate compensation and alternative jobs.
Nobody should have any quarrel with these motherhood statements. Far too often, indigent farmers and tribals have lost their lands and livelihood to mega projects, gaining little in the bargain. That the dispossessed need alternative jobs is also true; they also need training to be eligible for available jobs so that they can lift their families out of penury.
Unfortunately, Gandhi's remarks also raise someuncomfortable questions. She chose to speak in Uttar Pradesh, where the state government, ruled by a party opposed to the Congress, was forced to back off from its plan to acquire land for building new townships.
The Congress party had backed the farmers' agitation but failed to come up with any better suggestions. Moreover, for Gandhi to say that fertile land must not be lost is questionable. The states along the Gangetic plain possess fertile land, but they are also among India's poorest. Some fertile land will have to be lost for industry and townships. The issue isn't land; it is livelihood. If weeducate and provide farmers with alternatives, chances are that at least those who own small holdings (and most farmers in India are small farmers) will happily quit farming, even if their land is fertile.
Both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi give the impression that they are staking out public positions with an eye on the next elections. Polls are due in Bihar this year, in West Bengal next year, and Uttar Pradesh the year after. These three states also send huge contingents to parliament, and if the Congress wants to form the next government at the Centre (when many expect Rahul Gandhi to become the prime minister) without troublesome allies, it needs to do extremely well in these three states. That desire might explain why the election season for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has begun so early!
The Gandhis are right to be concerned about poor farmers and tribals. But as persons at the helm of the ruling alliance and the central government, they should translate concerns into clear-cut policies that state governments and corporations can follow. Public posturing alone is not enough.
9/11, Ground Zero mosque, Babri & their symbolism
The controversy over the construction of an Islamic Centre near New York's Ground Zero has got everyone excited. Media, bloggers, activists and even president Obama have jumped in and out of the fray, with those opposing the centre being labelled "fascists" by the liberal media.
The right way to understand the controversy is through its symbolism. September 11, 2001, (9/11) was the first major terror attack on US soil.
There's symbolism in this date. Apart from 911 being an emergency dial-up number, September 11, 1683, was the date on which a Christian army defeated the Muslims in the
Battle of Vienna.
he battle was won by Polish, Austrian and German forces commanded by the King of Poland, against an army of the Ottoman Empire commanded by Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha. The importance of this date could not have been lost on those who planned the 9/11 attack an attack to defeat Christian America!
The Islamic Centre at Ground Zero was initially proposed to be called 'Cordoba House'. Cordoba (Muslim Qurdubah) is a city in Spain that symbolised Islam's inroads into the Christian world. The Arabs conquered the Iberian peninsula in the early eighth century and the St Vincent Church was torn down and replaced with one of the largest mosques of Islam. When the Christians reconquered Cordoba in 1236 they converted the structure into a Cathedral and set up an altar in the middle. In the 16th
century it was given its current look.
This is why even Christians who have not opposed the construction of mosques earlier are upset about Cordoba House.
They understand the significance of why Muslims (subliminally) want a mosque at Ground Zero. 9/11 is perceived as an Islamic attempt to take revenge for the loss in the Battle of Vienna, among other things.
Naming the building 'Cordoba House' reminds the Americans of the 800-year Muslim rule over Spain, just as two pilgrim places in north India do the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and the Krishna Janmabhumi. The original Kashi Vishwanath Temple was
destroyed by Aurangzeb and even today you see the Gyanvapi mosque standing on the old temple platform behind the current temple built by Ahilyabai Holkar (1780). The two domes of the temple were covered by gold donated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1839). At the Krishna Janmabhumi in Mathura, too, there is a mosque.
Just as these two temples have enormous symbolic significance for Hindu devotees, the symbolism of an Islamic Centre so close to Ground Zero can be a painful memory for those who lost dear ones on 9/11, and for those who understand the symbolism of that date. Constructing a mosque near where the Twin Towers stood is a reminder to the traumas of 9/11.
The supporters of the Ground Zero mosque have made the following arguments in their favour. One, it would promote inter-faith understanding between Muslims and the majority Christian community. It would be a blow to all fascist Muslims who proclaim that the US is anti-Muslim. It might result in fewer American Muslims taking to terror and make society more inclusive. It also affirms every American's constitutional right to religion and its propagation.
Opponents to Ground Zero could counter these by saying the mosque might be, in the Muslim mind, a symbol of Muslim victory over the Christian west and America in particular. The mosque will be on the same lines as the Babri Masjid in India, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Salimya mosque in Istanbul.
A few questions arise: when it comes to inter-faith understanding and pluralism, why do liberals living in democracies repeat these words as gospel but rarely use them when it comes to non-Muslims living in Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia and the Indian state of J&K?
More importantly, Cordoba House is an attempt to rewrite history. One hundred years from now Americans will only see the mosque, and the Twin Towers will be distant memory. Two hundred years later, Americans might doubt if the Twin Towers ever existed. Babar's general similarly attempted to rewrite history by destroying the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. If the temple had existed, no Indian court or political party would have doubt the existence of Sri Ram!
Some liberals may wonder why the past is so important when there are more pressing concerns in the present. When posed with a similar question, Swami Vivekananda said: "Nowadays everybody blames those who constantly look back to their past. It is said that so much of looking back to the past is the cause of all of India's foes. So long as they forgot the past, the Hindu nation remained in a state of stupor and as soon as they have begun to look into their past, there is on every side a fresh manifestation of life. It is out of this past that the future has to be moulded".
FORGOT ANNIVERSARY? BLAME MCI, NOT MEN
It is, legend has it, well known to all women that men are genetically programmed to forget birthdays and anniversaries.
Now, research done by the reputed American Mayo Clinic has found that men are more likely than women to have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) memory loss which is not consistent with ageing. According to the study, men are 1.5 times more likely to have MCI than women.
Of course, it is possible that women will have no opportunity to say those magic words: "I told you so".
Instead men are more than likely to use this research as an excuse for not remembering anything from those dratted anniversaries to calling the plumber and doing the child's homework. Thus, a woman's burden may increase as the stronger sex hides behind a weaker mind.
For generations however, women were seen as the weaker sex, incapable of doing anything except under a man's supervision (with the possible exception of housework).
The battle of the sexes, it seems, has just got a little more interesting. May the best woman or man win and please, someone, just mark the date when that happens.
IN MARRIAGE, THE FIRST THING OFTEN ISN'T 'LOVE'
A recent survey reveals that men now seek equally qualified wives, ostensibly to share the financial burden of running a household, and women prefer marrying into a family where prospective parents-in-law are well-educated and upwardly mobile.
While the nationwide survey was crafted keeping only educational preferences in mind, it can be asked again whether love remains a secondary concern in arranged marriages.
Could it be that educational attainment is a proxy for the universal subconscious need for dependability, emotional stability and understanding, at least to the extent education and a stable job seem to embody? Then what the survey reflects is a new social structure that comes with changing preferences; economic factors trigger it.
The findings are an extension of the increase in age at marriage which is associated with increases in educational attainment, urbanisation, and the emergence of new roles for single women.
Given that empirical work on intra-household behaviour suggests that the distribution of resources at marriage affects the
bargaining power between partners, the survey can be interpreted to mean the new economic situation has created a new man who has similar expectations of a woman as the woman has of him. In short, he is expecting to share space with an equal both financial and emotional. Marriage 'is' still the basis for family.
It isn't as if love itself is an abstraction; it is based on intellectual compatibility, similar value systems, and the spaces of interaction are likely to be similar social circles all factors of education, upbringing and family background. And within that, lovehappens.
Studies conducted in the field by Usha Gupta and Pushpa Singh of the University of Rajasthan in 1982, who used an American love scale called the Rubin Love Scale, suggest that love "happens" in arranged marriages, too.
Only, it develops gradually and endures longer when compared to "love" marriages, where the intensity of love goes down over time. It is hard to say people are hung up on 'love' necessarily, love being a given, sooner or later.
TIME TO FREE BANKS FROM OLD MINDSETS
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee wants Indian banks to go out and conquer the world. Speaking at the 105th anniversary celebrations of the Bank of India on Tuesday, he said while Indian banks had done well on the home front, they should become globally competitive.
A good idea, but we need to issue two caveats.
One, Indian banks look good and solid because they still have a protected market. Margins are fat as the wide spread between deposit and lending rates attests. Moreover, the near-collapse of the western banking system post-Lehman Brothers makes us look evenbetter than we are.
Winning the world calls fordifferent skills. You have to understand different cultures, customers, and you have to know how you are going to serve them better than the competition on their home turf.
The best place to begin is probably the ethnic Indiandiaspora, and then expand slowly to other non-ethnic markets. The second-best way is to acquire an existing bank with strong customer franchise, and then build on that.
But before we even begin forays abroad, we need to free up things here. On the same day when Mukherjee was urging banks to get their feet wet in foreign shores, Reserve Bank governor Duvvuri Subba Rao was lamenting the fact that public sector bank CEOs were being paid poorly. Since public sector banks are the biggest and most solid players in Indian banking, it is difficult to see them making a splash abroad when they are fretting about their own bank balances.
The second thing we need to fix is over-caution. While we have won bouquets for staying conservative when the world's regulators were indulgent, the fact remains that we are too conservative: the RBI plays nanny a bit too often, the finance ministry regularly leans on banks to lend to favoured constituencies, and competition is restricted by giving foreign banks too few licences to open branches here. We may not be obliged to do more under international law, but how are we going to compete abroad if we are scared of competing at home?
To create world-beaters, we also need to open up banking to new private sector players, and remove restrictions that tag banks as Indian or foreign. For example, the two main Indian private banks, ICICI and HFDC Bank, cannot be labelled as foreign banks because the majority of their shareholders are foreigners. The world needs to own more of Indian banks as we go global.
PM HAS TO STEP IN TO BOLSTER THE ANTI-MAOIST GAMEPLAN
The killing of a Bihar policeman on September 2 by Maoists demonstrates that they are desperate.
The fate of the other three officers in captivity has since been resolved, with the Maoists releasing them in the face of public opprobrium.
But for a while it seemed like chief minister Nitish Kumar would have to deal with pressure to free the Maoists held in state jails for various crimes in exchange for these three.
If the crisis had continued, it would have tested Nitish Kumar's skills, for the state government did not have options on who it could negotiate with, and what the outcomes would be if he gave in to the Maoists' terror tactics. In such crises, the home minister at the Centre can stand by and be supportive, but he cannot jump into the fray. This is the greatest advantage of being in the Centre and not heading the state government where the buck stops!
The Bihar chief minister is a well meaning person and a rare politician, who unlike many others, has no scandals in his closet.
But then, these are not the only qualities required to
handle a situation like a hostage crisis. At times during the crisis, he gave the impression of being a babe in the woods as far as quelling the Maoists was concerned. You cannot blame him because he is deeply involved in development work which has enhanced his image but has distracted him from taking his law and order responsibilities more seriously.
The one thing to his advantage is that he is not bigoted or rigid, and had at one point openly said he was willing to negotiate. The big question is whether he had wise and knowledgeable advisers who could bring in the needed counsel to tackle the Maoists, who seem to possess a capacity to strike at will and escape without suffering casualties.
The Maoist demand for the release of many of their cadres who are in jail for serious crimes that include murder was atrocious. No government worth its salt can yield to blackmail of this sort, even when so many police lives are at stake.
Interestingly, the Kandahar surrender by the NDA government 10 years ago is being cited. I wonder whether the analogy would have held good here. Nevertheless, one cannot afford to be rigid in such situations, without sacrificing the fundamentals of Constitutional rule. We may have to stoop to conquer. In a ticklish situation like this, when leadership qualities are severely tested, we need to look for standards of governance which do not reveal timidity but blend firmness with expedience.
I am in no doubt that the latest act of Maoist cruelty exposes the likes of Arundhati Roy, Medha Patkar and Swami Agnivesh. The Swami speaks well and is clearheaded. He does not
conceal his admiration for the Maoists. He evades questions on why his lawless friends are killing innocent tribals and police officers. When pressed hard, he makes perfunctory appeals to the murderers to stay away from violence.
Even a child will not be impressed by his entreaties, what to speak of the hardened Maoists, who tout what they think is an ideology, but actually try to disguise a naive attempt to unseat Constitutionally elected governments.
It is clear we are saddled here with a twin problem: defeating the extremists and reining in at the same time their misguided and popularity-seeking supporters, who are more dangerous than the former.
I am gravely concerned with the impact of these several Maoist attacks on the law enforcement machinery in several states. Far too many policemen have been killed for no fault of theirs. Operational blunders by senior supervisors have cost many lives. Unchecked, these killings are likely to demoralise the police at the grass roots.
Fear of the unprincipled enemy is likely to further erode the already low levels of professionalism in the district police. Even better-trained central forces like the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have emerged in poor light while handling the Maoists. When this is the case how are we going to upgrade the professionalism and morale of those in the states, who are less trained, less equipped and are hugely distracted by the opportunities for venality while interacting with the community? I am not being an alarmist but am only
describing what is happening in the field.
The Centre is no doubt doing all that it can to raise standards of policing. Its intervention may have to be only proforma and advisory, if New Delhi confines itself to the textbook.
The situation is, however, so critical that intervention will have to be from the prime minister himself and no less a person. He has a credible image for being apolitical.
He has an excellent equation with a majority of the chief ministers, all because he is straightforward and least condescending or abrasive.
Unless he takes an immediate personal interest something that he has shown in the case of the Commonwealth Games policing in the country will reach its nadir. This has serious implications for a democracy like ours.
WEIGHING THE PROS AND CONS OF GOING ON STRIKE
ANTARA DEV SEN
The indefinite doctors' strike that had paralyzed health services throughout Rajasthan has been called off after three days, almost 60 deaths and the government giving in to the doctors' demands.
Meanwhile, the doctors' strike in Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital is in its second day, as dengue, malaria and swine flu wreak havoc in the city.
Now the government has threatened to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA).
Ah, the terrible ESMA pops up again, ready to throttle our democratic right to strike work.
Perhaps this strike will be called off by the time you read this. But there will be others, in the near future. And should ESMA then snatch from us our right to protest in a democracy? I believe it should, when our means of protest compromise the democratic rights and freedoms of others.
For example, you may have been wrongly sacked, but if you hijack a bus and kill off the passengers one by one till your demand to be reinstated is met, you would be relinquishing your democratic freedom and right to protest. And your legitimate grievance would be drowned in the flood of disapproval at your criminal, deranged act.
The only difference between such a lunatic and doctors who go on indefinite strike is that the lunatic is alone and desperate. Whereas the doctors run in packs, and choose to discard
reason and humanity to perfect the art of the terrorist hostage taker: unless you meet our demands, innocent people will die.
Don't get me wrong. I love doctors. Some of my best friends are doctors. And they tell me that the long-term benefits of meeting their demands outweigh the short-term harm of letting patients die.
Unless medics have proper salaries and working conditions (including being protected from angry relatives of patients they fail to keep alive) our health care system would never improve. So don't worry about the hundreds who die or suffer every time there is a strike that's mere collateral damage.
The fact is, the doctor's responsibility is to his current patient flesh and blood people he is treating right now, vulnerable people who need help right now and not to an unknown, intangible future population of possible patients at a time when the doctor may or may not be in service. There is an unwritten contract between the doctor and patient. The doctors' blanket refusal to treat patients unilaterally nullifies that contract, where the patient has no say and is merely a hostage soon to become collateral damage.
Besides, in most civilised countries, on the rare occasions when doctors go on strike, emergency medical services are not affected. And they go on a one-day strike, enough to mark a strong protest and highlight their demands. An indefinite strike is a lowly tool for ransom. It forces you to agree to anything at all just to stop more suffering, no matter what the doctors' demand. It is no different from acts of hijackers who get terrorists released or kidnappers who extract crores from parents by threatening to kill their child. The validity of the demand is destroyed.
Of course everybody has the right to protest in a democracy, including doctors. But frequent, indefinite strikes is not the way. Your right to protest cannot curtail my right to live. The right to life is supreme. Affecting that by withdrawing life-giving services is indefensible. And we need democratic methods in a democratic
country not muscle power.
SELECTION OF CVC
QUESTION MARK OVER THE WAY IT WAS DONE
THE manner in which the Centre selected Mr P.J. Thomas, till recently Union Telecommunications Secretary, as the new Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), has kicked off an avoidable controversy. The BJP has protested against his appointment. The Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mrs Sushma Swaraj, one of the members of the selection committee (the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister are the two other members) that appoints the CVC from a panel of outstanding civil servants, has said that Mr Thomas should not have been selected because of his alleged involvement in the palmolein import scam. The case relates to irregularities to the tune of Rs 2.80 crore during 1991-92 when Mr Thomas was Kerala's Food and Civil Supplies Secretary and Member, Kerala Civil Supplies Corporation. Though Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has said that Mr Thomas has been exonerated in this case (the Prime Minister, too, has defended his selection), the government should have given due consideration to two others enlisted in the panel Union Petrochemicals Secretary Bijoy Chatterjee and former Union Fertiliser Secretary S. Krishnan.
A more serious allegation levelled by the BJP is that Mr Thomas, as the Telecom Secretary, had objected to the CVC's handling of the 2G spectrum allocation issue (with which Union Telecom Minister A. Raja is allegedly involved) as it is beyond its purview to look into policy matters. The BJP fears that the new CVC may circumvent the ongoing probe against Mr Raja and that the truth behind the 2G spectrum scam may not come out. In the absence of incontrovertible evidence, it would be unfair for one to blame Mr Thomas. But the fact remains that the government should have dealt with the selection of the CVC with utmost circumspection.
This is particularly important because in Vineet Narain vs Union of India (1998), the Supreme Court ruled that persons selected to constitutional posts such as the CVC and the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India should be of unimpeachable integrity and high moral character. As the CVC is expected to play a crucial role in tackling corruption in high offices, Mr Thomas' selection may have the potential of denting the government's track record and sending the wrong signals down the line. Indeed, by rushing through the appointment, the Centre has missed the opportunity to correct this impression and prove the BJP wrong.
POLITICS IN JHARKHAND
STATE DOGGED BY COALITIONS OF CONVENIENCE
THREE months after the Bharatiya Janata Party withdrew support to the Shibu Soren-led government in Jharkhand and accused him of betrayal, the two parties are back together. Soren had voted in favour of the UPA in the Lok Sabha on the Opposition-sponsored cut motions and the BJP was upset and embarrassed enough to sever its ties. The next month witnessed a familiar political see-saw with Soren tendering an apology and explaining that he had voted for the UPA "by mistake" as he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The BJP wavered and entered into negotiations but the two partners failed to seal the deal, leaving Soren with no option but to resign. It paved the way for the imposition of President's Rule in the state in June this year but the Assembly, which was barely six months' old after the election in December came up with a fractured verdict, was kept in suspended animation. The former allies obviously used the last three months to iron out differences and are ready once again to govern the state together.
Political instability has been the bane of the small but important state, which has 25 per cent of the country's iron-ore reserves and 40 per cent of its coal. The state had signed as many as 74 memorandums of understanding in the steel sector alone with a promised investment of Rs 3 lakh crore during the tenure of the BJP's Arjun Munda as the Chief Minister between 2003 and 2005. None of them has, however, moved much on the ground, partly because of the "weak administrative structure and delivery mechanism", as Governor M.O.H. Farooq was quick to point out, and partly because of rampant corruption. The state, which has the dubious distinction of seeing one of its former Chief Ministers along with several ministers put in jail for acquiring disproportionate assets, is unlikely to fare much better under the eighth government in less than 10 years of its existence.
While an indefinite or long spell of President's Rule is neither desirable nor a way forward, the onus clearly lies on the ruling coalition to prove the skeptics wrong. The state, reeling under drought conditions and Maoist violence, badly needs good governance and a sense of direction. After bleeding the state white for the past 10 years, it is time the state's politicians displayed more responsibility.
PUBLIC INCONVENIENCE IS NOBODY'S CONCERN
EVERY strike causes major inconvenience to the public. The disruption in everyday life is all the more serious when the agitation is by doctors. Residents of Rajasthan had to bear the brunt during the recent strike in hospitals. During three days of agitation, some 32 patients lost their lives. It does not matter to the victims whether the government was in the wrong or the fault lay with the doctors. It is they who had to pay with their lives for this stand-off. The government did accept some of the doctors' demands but only after the damage had been done. Why cannot there be a grievance redressal mechanism so that such ticklish issues can be solved amicably without causing so much misery? At the same time, the tendency to go on strike at the drop of a hat has to be discouraged.
More than 700 doctors of Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital also went on strike on Tuesday after one of their colleagues was allegedly beaten up by relatives of a patient. That was trigger enough for the doctors to strike work, leaving patients in the lurch. If those who are assigned to adjudicate on such matters are proactive, things would not come to such a pass.
Unfortunately, some agitators choose such a time to go on strike which can cause maximum disruption. Nearly half of mosquito breeding checkers of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi have struck work demanding regularisation of jobs, in spite of the fact that 68 new cases of dengue have come to light, taking the total number of patients to 1,438. Nobody seems to be bothered that if the dengue fear spreads, the holding of the Commonwealth Games next month will be in jeopardy. An agitation should be the last resort, not the very first, as is the current norm.
NO 'DISPUTE' IN AGENDA FOR J&K
THE OPPORTUNITY THAT BECKONS US
BY B.G. VERGHESE
THE chorus is the same. Syed Ali Shah Geelani has outlined a pre-dialogue "agenda" for Kashmir: India must acknowledge an "international dispute", commence demilitarisation under UN supervision, rein in the security forces, unconditionally release all youth and political prisoners, including Afzal Guru, and initiate proceedings against all those responsible for "war crimes" in the state. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq challenges accession, asserts that Kashmiris are not Indians and seeks demilitarisation, the repeal of "black laws" and a referendum. Masarrat Alam, the next-generation youth leader, talks of Kashmir being the "unfinished business of Partition" and demands "complete azadi". Delusive agenda items must be firmly put aside.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, crisply insists on a "result-oriented dialogue". He rewinds from Gen Pervez Musharraf's promising "out of the box" solution, fine-tuned by Dr Manmohan Singh, to hark back to the UN Resolutions. No one talks of the pathetic colonial situation in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the Gilgit-Baltistan Area where Pakistan firmly determines who is the "self" in question.
Some basic clarifications are in order if there is to be any progress. The problem is not about the fact but the nature of the dispute. India went to the UN on a question of aggression by Pakistan. Cutting through all the cant, this was upheld by the UN Representative, Owen Dixon, and endorsed by the UN Security Council in its defining Resolution of August 13, 1948. This called for the immediate withdrawal of tribal raiders and Pakistani military personnel from J&K and the disbandment of all "Azad" Kashmir forces as the first order of business prior to a plebiscite. Pakistan's deliberate default, subsequent invasions and cross-border terror through mercenaries and jihadis constitute the current problem. The UN Resolutions died long back.
Why not a plebiscite today? It is too late, with major demographic changes, natural and engineered across the LoC and ethnic cleansing in the valley. There is a totally different political context three generations down the road and a wholly new international geostrategic environment. Further, Pakistan, sections of the separatists and the jihadis would appeal to Islam thus reopening the still healing wounds of Partition to revive the fatuity of the two-nation theory that Jinnah himself eloquently repudiated in his first address to the country's Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, only to find himself hopelessly isolated. To sustain its sadly negative ideological identity as India's "other", Pakistan" has projected Kashmir as unfinished business and sought "strategic depth" to realise the warped dream of a Talibanised caliphate. This perverse goal feeds the self-aggrandising paranoia of the military-mullah cabal that holds the Pakistani people in thrall. India is simply not prepared to revive the madness of 1947 and self-destruct.
What then is the road ahead in J&K? The external aspect is not the most critical. We must talk to Pakistan but forward movement depends on Islamabad's willingness to end terror as an instrument of policy. Casting the blame on client "non-state actors" will not wash. This was brazenly pleaded in 1947, 1948, 1965, 1989, 1998, in between and thereafter. And churlishly refusing direct $ 25 million Indian assistance for current flood relief except, belatedly, through UN agencies, reveals a warped mindset that explains its irrational behaviour based on a cultivated Indophobia that ordinary Pakistanis do not share. That Pakistan agreed to accept the Indian aid later on is a different matter.
We should be wary but not alarmist about Chinese PLA units reportedly aiding relief activity and safeguarding Chinese workers engaged in road and other development projects along the damaged Karakoram Highway from jihadi attacks in Gilgit-Baltistan. A small Indo-Tibet an Border Police detachment in Afghanistan plays a similar role. The changing Chinese stance on J&K should be no surprise in view of Pakistan's strategic importance for gaining access to the Arabian Sea. We need to stay cool and continue to engage China on a host of common concerns.
An internal dialogue in and over J&K could lead the way to a just resolution that addresses local, regional and Centre-state-level grievances and aspirations and thereby makes it increasingly difficult for external actors to fish in troubled waters. An empowered panchayati raj would give real meaning to "azadi", self-determination and inclusive growth. The dialogue could cover (a) Geelani's five points minus the rhetorical flourishes; (b) the variant azadi-autonomy "sky is the limit" self rule formulations of the National Conference, the Congress, the PDP, Sajjad Lone, the Mirwaiz and others; (c) repatriation of the Pandits and those trapped in PoK, best done by creating a couple of new IT and food-processing hubs in the valley where other internally displayed and unemployed youth can also be relocated with due training; (d) matching progammes for Jammu, Rajouri-Poonch, Doda, Ladakh and Kargil; (e) investments by corporate India with suitable, time-bound guarantees and tax incentives, and (e) activating Srinagar as an international airport, expediting rail and road connectivity, augmenting power capacity and transmission networks and repairing the social infrastructure over the next five years assisted by a youth peace corps.
The reports of the Prime Minister's five Task Forces could provide the basis for progress along multiple tracks and help build confidence and trust. The Indian Constitution permits of extraordinary flexibility in accommodating diversity to match regional and sectoral needs through such instruments of entrustment provided under Articles 258 and 258A. Simultaneously, there must be a parallel dialogue with national parties and stakeholders in Delhi so that there is a matching consensus about directions and content.
None need fear that greater "autonomy" or "self-rule" within the terms of the 1952 Delhi Agreement and restoration of nomenclatures like Wazir-e-Azam and Sadr-i-Riyasat spell secession. The J&K and Indian constitutions are joined by an umbilical cord. What is removed from one can be incorporated in the other so that common values and principles remain.
Too much time has been wasted by little men on little things. Opportunity beckons.
BY RANA NAYAR
You know, things were going just right, but this media has queered the pitch," Mr Suresh Kalmadi was recently overheard, confiding to a close friend. "It's all your fault. Why do you give them so much of freedom?" pat came the reply.
"Freedom? If we had our way, we'd gag them all and dump them in some stinking backyard. That's where they really belong. Don't they?" The Chairman of OC was now getting a little edgy. Sensing the pain behind his words, the friend offered a quick-fix reassurance, "You are right, they do stink. That's because they are always out to raise a stink. And often enough, it's over such trivial things." "Trivial. Yes, that's the word. I tell you, they have no sense of priorities." It was as though the Chairman had found his voice, all over again.
"Yes, they always lose the big picture, and start swatting the flies. Trust them to do that!" The friend knew the magic of his words had begun to work on the Chairman. So, he picked up a little courage, "Can't they see that country's prestige is at stake? You tell me, what is more important, the Commonwealth Games or a few hundred crores? And how does it matter if money changes hands. It's our money, and it'll remain with us. And once it comes into circulation, via London or Sydney, won't it ultimately boost our own economy?"
"I wish there were more patriots like you. That is the real rub. Patriotism is at a discount these days. I see a foreign hand here. All these news channels, I suspect, are on the payrolls of a foreign agency. And this time, it's not the Pakistanis, but the Chinese who are behind it. They put up such a spectacular show during the Olympics last year, and now that we were going headlong into our preparations for the Commonwealth Games, they felt threatened. They knew we'd outdo them. It's plain and simple jealousy. Look at the way they have pulled all the plugs." Having analysed the situation threadbare, the Chairman now appeared more confident, even calmer.
"I think this is what you should have stated in your press conference. Why did you brandish that letter from the High Commissioner? That really put you in a tight spot. Don't you think so?" The friend was trying to be sympathetic.
"Don't talk about that! It's all cooked up. That fellow Arnab has gone off the rocker. What does he think he is! Super Prime Minister or what? When our PM is not asking any questions, who is he?" The Chairman's voice had a harsh, grating tone to it.
"You are right. After all, such things do happen, don't they? It's all in the game, no?" The friend was now downright obsequious.
"To tell you very honestly, I often miss those golden years of license raj and official secrecy act. Things were much simpler then. No prying eyes, no hidden cameras, no nosey journalists and no such bloody nonsense," the Chairman was almost bleary-eyed with nostalgia.
"Why the hell did you have to go in for things like 'liberalisation' and the RTI? It was perhaps Chanakya who once said, 'Politics is the art of concealment.'" This time, the friend was not too sure.
"We, in the government and bureaucracy, have been ruing the day we decided to open things up. I think, the fissures have become so wide that all our 'slips' are showing," the Chairman had unexpectedly turned reflective.
I think the Chairman has a point. After all, isn't he our torch-bearer? Nosey reporters should know that our politicians have been playing hookey (not hockey) with us and our future, ever since they got the reins of our destiny in 1947?
Only, this time round, they have won all the medals (in corruption) much before the games could actually begin? Hurray!n
REMEDY WORSE THAN THE MALADY
THE EXERCISE OF HAVING CHIEF JUSTICES FROM OTHER HIGH COURTS HAS NOT HELPED MATTERS. THE TIME HAS COME TO ASSESS ITS IMPACT UPON THE FUNCTIONING OF THE JUDICIARY. A FORMER SUPREME COURT JUDGE AND FIVE FORMER CHIEF JUSTICES OF HIGH COURTS CALL FOR A CRITICAL APPRAISAL
JUSTICE KULDIP SINGH, JUSTICE M.S. GUJRAL, JUSTICE R.N. AGGARWAL, JUSTICE S. S. SODHI, JUSTICE M.S. LIBERHAN AND JUSTICE S.S. DEWAN
NOT so long ago, whenever the post of Chief Justice of a High Court fell vacant, whether on retirement, resignation, death or otherwise, the Judge next in seniority would take over as the Chief Justice of that High Court. This long established convention has now become a thing of the past.
The Chief Justice of a High Court is today appointed not from amongst Judges of the same court but from those of some other High Court, keeping in view, of course, their seniority. What presumably impelled this change was to ensure objectivity in the role that a Chief Justice is expected to play.
Inherent in being the Chief Justice of a High Court is his position as leader of the court even though he is often described as being just the first amongst equals. Regardless of this, there are significant functions that lie exclusively within the Chief Justice's domain which are only for him to perform. Included amongst them being to recommend persons for appointment as Judges of the High Court and to assign or list cases for hearing before particular Benches besides dealing with the administration of the High Court by virtue of being its head.
It has also been seen that even in the matter of control which vests in the High Court over the subordinate judiciary which includes the cadre of District and Sessions Judges, the Chief Justice exercises considerable influence.
The appointment of Chief Justices of High Courts from amongst Judges of other High Courts has been the norm now for almost three decades. The time has come to assess its impact upon the functioning of the judiciary. Has it fulfilled the objectives with which this policy was conceived and put into effect? These are issues that call for a critical appraisal.
Experience shows that when a senior High Court Judge becomes eligible for consideration for appointment as Chief Justice, there is no scope for knowing whether he will get a chance to be Chief Justice as instances are not unknown of occasions when no Judge of a particular High Court was holding the post of Chief Justice of any court while at the same time there being two or more Judges of some other High Court functioning as Chief Justices. In other words, no Judge knows if at all he will be appointed Chief Justice and, if so, when and of which High Court.
It is in such situations that the cult of sycophancy flourishes. Sycophancy, as is well known, can take various forms whether it is courtesy calls on those that matter, be they the Supreme Court Judges, the Union Law Minister or other influential persons or calling them to preside over functions like seminars, conferences or laying foundation stones and the like.
Further, experience has shown that the usual tenure of a Chief Justice coming from another High Court is rarely, if ever, of a long enough period for such Chief Justice, to really get to know the state, its people, their customs and traditions or even his colleagues, the subordinate judiciary, including District and Sessions Judges and the members of the Bar and yet it is with their aid and advice that justice in the state is to be administered.
No wonder, the Chief Justice has perforce to rely upon and follow the advice of some of his colleagues. How good or objective such advice is remains a variable factor. And yet, as pointed out earlier, his is the dominant voice in recommending persons for appointment as Judges of the High Court and also in allotting cases for hearing to particular Benches of the High Court.
As regards the High Court Judges' appointment, it has to be borne in mind that those appointed will often be dealing with the lives, liberty and property of persons and, what is more, it is from amongst them that tomorrow's Chief Justices will be appointed. Clearly, much care and discretion is required in the matter of appointment of Judges.
The Supreme Court in the Second Judges' case (1993) has evolved the collegium system for appointment of High Court Judges. The Chief Justice of the High Court and two seniormost Judges constitute the collegium.The primary source for appointment of Judges is the High Court Bar Association. Almost 60 per cent of the total appointments are made from amongst the practicing lawyers in the High Court. It is thus of utmost importance that the most competent and legally sound lawyers with good practice and possessing unimpeachable integrity be considered for appointment.
A Chief Justice with a year's tenure or little more in a High Court cannot possibly form his own independent and informed opinion in the matter of selection from amongst the members of the Bar. He cannot justifiably undertake this exercise. He has thus perforce to fall back upon the opinion of his other colleagues in the collegium. Thus, the very purpose of having a Chief Justice from another state is frustrated.
It makes us very sad to hear people referring to the collegium system as no more than a division of spoils implying that the way it works is "you take my man, I take yours" rather than selecting the most deserving.
Turning to the other side of the senior Judge of each High Court being appointed Chief Justice on his predecessor vacating that post, it eliminates attempts at jockeying for the post of Chief Justice as it is known who will become Chief Justice and when. The flaw in this lies in the incumbent lacking or perceived to be lacking objectivity in performing his duties and functions of the office. It cannot be denied that caste, religious and regional factors have, unfortunately, been known to play their role even in the administration of justice. Though not expressly so stated, this appears to have been the underlying idea behind the practice of having Chief Justices from amongst Judges of other High Courts.
Be that as it may, it would be fallacious to assume that all or most Chief Justices would be found suffering from such a malady. If a particular Judge is found to be functioning in an unbecoming manner, appropriate action, whether denial of elevation as Chief Justice, transfer to another High Court or something else could be considered but to resort to the wholesale exercise of having Chief Justices from other High Courts is clearly a remedy worse than the malady sought to be cured by it.
Justice Kuldip Singh is a former Judge of the Supreme Court. All other writers are former Chief Justices of various High Courts
JONATHAN GINGERICH & ADITYA SINGH
THE Government of India's commitment to improving legal education is commendable. One important aspect of legal education that it should consider reforming is evaluation and assessment of students. Particularly, it should consider how law schools could improve writing requirements and examinations.
Aside from a small number of national law schools, most schools assess their students with examinations that require memorising legal rules and abstract theoretical concepts.
Another crucial aspect of student assessment at the National Law Schools and a handful of other law schools are research projects, or term papers. These law schools typically require students to write a research project for every course and students usually study 10-12 courses every academic year. However, students find it difficult to complete so many research papers every year, and feel that they often sacrifice quality for quantity, while professors struggle to evaluate and provide proper feedback on such a large number of lengthy projects.
On the other hand, many traditional law colleges do not require their students to complete any written work. An effective policy should neither impose unrealistic writing requirements on students and faculty nor leave students without significant experience crafting legal essays. It should help students to become creative and persuasive writers by providing them with the experience of thoroughly exploring a large body of information and applying their original insights to a problem that interests them.
To enhance the quality and inclusiveness of legal education, law school examinations and writing requirements need to be reformed to emphasise the importance of students' analytical skills. Two important and connected problems related to professional integrity are academic misconduct and ineffective evaluation in law schools.
Mr Gopal Subramanium, Chairman, Bar Council of India, has acknowledged the wide prevalence of plagiarism in law schools and proposed that the Bar Council partner with a private firm to develop software that law schools could use to detect plagiarism. This is an important step to promote integrity, but it will be most effective if coupled with the development of methods of student assessment that are less amenable to plagiarism.
With respect to examinations, to prepare legal professionals who can address the challenges accompanying the continuous developments of the Indian economy, more law schools should challenge their students to think critically about contemporary legal issues with problem-oriented examinations.
Evaluation reform is often treated as a technical matter best left to administrators. However, it should occupy an important position in the government's second generation legal education reforms. Academic evaluation is the primary extrinsic incentive for law students to learn and acquire legal skills.
When students do not receive meaningful feedback or have doubts about the accuracy or reliability of the evaluation of examinations and research projects, they become disillusioned with their assignments and are unlikely to take them seriously. The Bar Council and the government may design and implement outstanding curricular reforms for law schools, but such reforms will be meaningless unless students are appropriately incentivised to absorb the curriculum.
Because of the relevance of assessment reform to law students, discussing evaluation would provide an opportunity to involve students directly in the national consultation and enhance its legitimacy among all stakeholders. Reforms to legal education will be most effective when they incorporate examinations that encourage greater creativity and writing requirements that instil research skills.
Inadequate law student evaluation is not a problem limited to India. In the United States and around the world, a common complaint of law students and practising lawyers is that law school examinations neither prepare students to practice law nor predict whether students will be successful as practicing lawyers. By developing accurate, reliable and relevant assessments of law students, India can further position itself as a leader in global legal education.
The proposed reforms should reach all law schools in India. Currently, most reforms have been experienced at a small group of elite law schools. To make legal reforms fully effective while furthering the goal of inclusion, they must permeate through the entire system of legal education.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has recognised the fact that Indian legal education is characterised by a few "islands of excellence amidst a sea of institutionalised mediocrity." To remedy this mediocrity, the government and the Bar Council of India must commit themselves to making their vision a reality that includes student participation, better assessment and broad-based implementation.
Jonathan Gingerich is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and Aditya Singh is a final year student at National Academy of Legal Studies & Research University, Hyderabad
POSTPONE THE GAMES!
IF NEHRU COULD DO IT, WHY NOT MANMOHAN?
The cup of woe of the Commonwealth Games seems to be metaphorically and literally spilling over with unrelenting and heavy monsoon rains. Incomplete event venues, widespread corruption, serial stadium malfunction, leaks, dengue and malaria fears and general mayhem, including theft of imported fittings at the Games Village, have all added to a sense of gloom and doom. An already alienated middle class public opinion now anticipates some sort of Games-related disaster that will shame India globally. Even the ever-popular A R Rahman does not seem to have made a difference. Perhaps for the first time in his career, he is facing criticism for the Games theme song. Mike Hooper, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, said last week that some Games events may be cancelled for lack of timely safety certificates for various stadiums and the Games Village from the organising committee. "Things are surely going down to the wire," he told reporters bluntly. Hooper's comments come not only a little over a month before the Games are scheduled to start but just a week before the first batch of 5,000 athletes are scheduled to arrive and take up residence in the Games Village. Are three weeks enough to recover lost ground? If not, what should the government do? A practical option may be to postpone the Games, by five months, to March 2011. Spring in Delhi is better than late monsoon no dengue, no mosquitoes, no pot-holed roads! The solution may sound radical, but consider the arguments in favour of a postponement. One, there is a precedent and it has been set by none other than Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru when he opted to postpone the 1st Asian Games of 1950, due to be held in Delhi, by a year to March 1951, for lack of preparation! True, the world expects more from India 60 years later. India was then newly independent, today it is an aspiring global power. Still, if a personality as towering in global politics at the time could summon the courage to admit to a problem, it should not be difficult for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to do the same. If Mr Nehru could postpone by 12 months, Dr Singh need not shy away from a five-month postponement!
Countries host international sporting events as a means of showcasing their abilities and sending a message to the international investing community. By hosting an Olympic Spectacular in 2008, Beijing effectively bolstered an established global reputation. South Africa a country with an economy a quarter the size of India surprised the world by pulling off a hugely successful month-long World Cup football tournament. As far as the Commonwealth Games are concerned, India's reputation has already taken a beating. It is true that a postponement might create practical problems such as rescheduling a crowded sporting calendar and so on. But it would also demonstrate a sobre, realistic assessment of our capabilities that will do less harm than hosting a poorly organised global event.
PAYING THE BANKER
DELINK PSU PAY FROM IAS AND MONETISE ALL PERKS
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Duvvuri Subbarao has once again spoken the difficult truth. This time on the issue of the pay and compensation given to executives of public sector banks. Coming, as these views do, not just from the governor of the central bank but someone who belongs to the hallowed Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and one who has been Union finance secretary, they must be taken seriously. The governor is right to draw attention to the fact that in a highly competitive market for talent, public sector banks, indeed most public sector firms, are constrained from offering better pay to talented executives because of governmental restraints. The starting point of this problem is the unwritten rule that guides all government and public sector compensation that no chief executive officer of a firm or head of a government-funded institution should get a salary higher than that of his equivalent in the IAS hierarchy. Thus, a bank chairman or a university vice-chancellor, or indeed the director of an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) or Technology (IIT) is not allowed to draw pay in excess of that of a secretary to the Government of India. The pay of an IAS officer also defines the bar for other government services, including the defence services.
To overcome this barrier, most PSUs and other services have given themselves perks that enable their institutions to compensate them in other ways housing, company car, entertainment allowances, and such like. Thus, the perks of a public sector chief or senior defence staff may more than compensate them, compared to the pay and perks of their equivalents in the IAS. Thus, one simple way in which this entire issue of public sector pay can be handled is to monetise the compensation of both civil servants (Lutyens' Delhi housing, for example) and public sector executives, and estimate what may be dubbed "cost to taxpayer" CTT and bring out the real attractiveness of the jobs concerned. A public sector bank chief who gets company housing, fully furnished and with peons and security guards thrown in, in a plush south Mumbai locality would have much less to complain, looking at the pay package of a private sector executive who may have to pay for all that.
Governor Subbarao was right to draw attention to the threat of the flight of talent from the public sector, indeed even from the civil services, to the private sector. The government cannot respond to this challenge purely monetarily, because it does not have the fiscal means to do so. One way in which it can be helpful is, in fact, to respect public sector autonomy. Nothing irritates a senior PSU executive, a university vice chancellor or even an army general more than being bossed around by a joint secretary in the ministry concerned, in the name of Parliament and public accountability. Greater managerial autonomy, and the dignity associated with it, is itself a perk, and one that cannot be monetised. But no administrative system can be run based on the presumption of good behaviour of those in authority. There is, then, no alternative to curbing that authority. One way in which this can be done, without reducing the element of accountability to Parliament and government, is to, in fact, offer better financial compensation. In short, more money for less power!
INDICUS ANALYTICS: INDIA'S MORTAL COMBAT
THE COUNTRY HAS MADE PROGRESS IN REDUCING INFANT MORTALITY BUT IT IS STILL SOME DISTANCE FROM ITS 2015 TARGET
According to the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations, India has the target of reducing the infant mortality rate (IMR) to 28 per 1,000 live births by 2015. Where do we stand today? The latest estimates for 2008 put the IMR at 53 and with five years left, it is clear that we have a long way to go to achieve the target. In fact, the UN projects an IMR of 46 in 2015, flagging the high incidence of neo-natal deaths in the heartland states as the biggest challenge to be overcome.
While the overall rate is high, there is of course significant disparity across states and across the rural-urban divide. Not only does rural India have a higher IMR of 58 compared to urban India's 36, the states of Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh have rural IMRs higher than 70. These states would also require more targeted intervention in the most backward districts and social groups.
Even in urban India with higher access to health care, there are six states with IMR greater than 40 Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Bihar. When it comes to the most rapid progress in the past decade, the star performer is Orissa, with a 19-point fall in IMR over the period 2002-2008 the government's Navajyoti strategy adopted in 2004 is showing results; in urban India Rajasthan stands out with the highest fall of 17 points. Both these states, however, continue to have higher-than-average IMRs, so the progress needs to be accelerated. (Click here for graph & table)
There are essentially three important aspects to reducing infant mortality: improving access to healthcare for mothers and infants, nutritional status and sanitation. One positive point to note is that there has been considerable progress since 2005 on improving access to healthcare, especially in rural areas. The recent Coverage Evaluation Survey 2009 commissioned by the UNICEF points to the success of the Janani Suraksha Yojana in raising the share of institutional deliveries, coverage of ante-natal checkups etc. There is also improvement in access to oral rehydration therapy for diarrhoea, immunisation and so on and significant changes in practices with new-borns such as cutting the umbilical cord with a sterilised/new blade, proportion of new-borns checked within 24 hours. Moreover, under the Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illness programme, there is a coordinated action plan for preventive care and managing illness. Although we can expect such programmes to continue to make their impact on reducing infant mortality, when it comes to sanitation, the picture is much bleaker, with little change expected even in the future.
Indian States Development Scorecard is a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics that focuses on the progress in India and the states across various socio-economic parameters.
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GO PUBLIC, GO UNDERGROUND
MORE AND MORE ASIAN GOVTS ARE FOCUSING ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT THAT'S BOTH MASS-SCALE AND RAPID, AND, GENERALLY, SUBSURFACE FOR BETTER CONNECTIVITY
A friend, visiting from Dhaka, recently told me something about that city's notorious road traffic that was truly revealing. "When we moved to our new apartment in Dhanmondi from our rented place in Wari in 2003, I would hardly see five or six cars passing our road at any given time," he said. "Today, the traffic is always so dense that sometimes I've to wait up to five minutes even to get my car out of the garage."
Visiting NRIs say the same thing of Kolkata. There are cars, cars, and cars, and the city is literally choking. One could say the same thing of perhaps most other exploding cities in Asia, where privately-owned cars are jostling fiercely with buses and taxis and autos for the right of way. As traffic worsens, more buses, taxis and autos are piled on the very limited road space that most cities have, as if that's the only way to ease it up. The result is urban chaos that's going out of control and reducing urban liveability to the bones.
Yet, in the ten years that I lived in Hong Kong, the entire decade of the eighties, I never ever felt I needed to own a car. There was absolutely no need, public transport was so good. The subway became a matter of habit, and the Star Ferry almost second nature. Of course, like in any city, there were buses and minibuses and taxies, but it was the Mass Transit Railway, the MTR, that made the real difference.
That's the main thing about liveability connectivity. A city must be good enough for people to feel it's not a hassle to go out, either for work or business or leisure, even without the use of one's own transport. Otherwise, why would Singapore decide to have subways to cover every nook and corner of the island republic, even though it's small?
It's the liveability criterion that's driving more and more Asian governments to expand their public transport systems. But not just any form of public transport, it's important to remember. Not simply more buses or taxis or autos. If these alone were enough, Kolkata would have been Asia's most liveable city! Clearly, they are not, and are themselves the crux of the problem. The focus, therefore, is on public transport that's both mass-scale and rapid, and, generally, subsurface.
Malaysia, for example, is looking to overhaul public transport in the Klang Valley, the seat of its capital, Kuala Lumpur. The idea is to re-route buses through less congested roads, expand the existing light railway network, and create a 156 km MRT network within a 20-km radius around Kuala Lumpur city centre, so that travel by public transport doubles to 25 per cent by end-2012.
The Philippines is more ambitious. Bogged down under a huge mess of jeepneys, buses, Tamaraws, taxis, tricycles, and "trisikads" (bicycles with side cars), it now wants 66 per cent of all motorised trips in Metropolitan Manila to be on public transport by 2015, and has major new expansion plans for its mostly elevated MRT, known as the Blue Line.
Vietnam has taken a long time to make up its mind, but, having made it, is ready to proceed with determination. Ho Chi Minh City, where motorcycles account for 74 per cent of all non-walking trips made by its residents, is set to have its first metro line by 2014. Altogether, six subway lines are planned, forming a $9.7-billion, 161-km network to link the heart of the city with surrounding districts.
But it's China where real progress is being made. Eleven Chinese cities now have metros, Shenzhen being the latest. Shanghai leads the pack with 12 lines, 420 km of tracks, and an average daily traffic of 3.4 million passengers. Plans are for a total of 22 lines and 877 km of tracks by 2020. Beijing, with nine lines and 228 km of tracks already in place, isn't lagging far behind and has set a goal of 19 lines and 561 km of tracks by 2015. The Guangzhou network is being expanded to handle 4 million passengers daily. Five years from now, the entire country will have more than 3,000 km of subways (against 940 km at the end of 2009), involving a cost of more than $146 billion.
The message is loud and clear. After a point, buses are counter-productive in most Asian urban conditions. And taxis don't count as people movers, which is why London has only 2.9 taxis for every 1,000 people. New York has even less: 1.8 for every 1,000. If the concern is to create liveable cities, with painless connectivity from home to work and less pollution, mass transit railways must be the principal element of any urban public transport system for it to be truly mass, rapid, and credible.
TEXTILES - THE NEXT HOT SECTOR
WHAT IS NEEDED AT THIS TIME IS ONLY A MORE POSITIVE PERCEPTION ABOUT THE POTENTIAL AND THE FUTURE OF THIS SECTOR
For a sector on which the industrial foundation of the Tata Group was laid in 1869 (through acquisition and re-establishment as Alexandra Cotton Mill and then commissioning of its first greenfield industrial venture the Empress Mill in 1874) and one to which the origins of many other leading business groups of India can be traced (Birla, Shriram, Mafatlal, Singhania, Piramal, Wadia, Lalbhai and Ambani among others), it is ironical and unfortunate that India's textiles (including apparel) sector could not participate so much in the country's growth story of the last 20 years or so. In fact, the sector has slowly but steadily lost a lot of sheen in these last two decades. Its share in India's GDP and its contribution to the country's export basket have been steadily declining.
The contrast with China could not be starker, though. China's "manufacture for export"-led strategy had textiles (including apparel) as one of the major constituents. In 1990, China's textile and apparel exports were already about $16 billion, while India was at about $4.6 billion. India continued to adopt an inexplicably antediluvian and extraordinarily regressive industrial policy when it came to textiles with across-the-board reservation of complete links in the entire value chain for small scale industries such as knit fabric and garment manufacturing, and a highly distorted duty structure that favoured small, independent business entities rather than create large-scale, integrated businesses. By the time the textiles sector saw some pragmatism in its policy framework (around 2005), China's exports had already leaped to $104 billion, while India struggled at about $15 billion. More depressingly, the textiles sector was so enervated by the government's shocking apathy to its relevance and development (which, even today, remains the largest direct and indirect employer in the country after agriculture) that even countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and now Vietnam stole a march over India. In 2010, China will export more than $175 billion worth of textile and apparel products (nearly the same as the entire exports of India), while India will be lucky to cross even $24 billion!
Fortunately for India and India's textile (and apparel) businesses, the coming decade should turn out to be the most promising and their best ever. A number of factors are steadily turning in favour of creating the right opportunity for seeing an unprecedented resurgence in the fortunes of this sector, making it one of the hottest for years to come, and one in which several billion and multi-billion dollar businesses (and fortunes) will be made. China's textiles export juggernaut is likely to slow down as its domestic demand shoots up from the current $135 billion to as much as about $450 billion by 2020, and as its costs increase or currency appreciates. Bangladesh, which kept its wage costs absurdly low for years, is now being forced to let them rise to more acceptable levels. Sri Lanka has just lost its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) status to the EU, while Pakistan's risk perception (and recent flooding) puts more question marks on its future strength (largely in home textiles). India's own domestic demand is rising rapidly with its economic growth and favourable demographics. It could rise from the current $50 billion or so to about $140 billion by 2020. Overall, India's textiles sector could grow from its current $70-billion size to as much as $220 billion by 2020 with almost $80 billion coming from exports.
While there are already many successful business groups such as Vardhman, Arvind and Raymond that are reflecting this optimism through their recent financial results, several new stars have emerged in recent years. The most notable of them include Alok Industries (which has already become India's largest textiles business with consolidated revenues in excess of Rs 6,500 crore), SKNL, Bombay Rayon, Welspun, Trident/Abhishek and Mandhana to name a few that are poised to hit the $1 billion revenue mark in the next few years. While many of them have achieved this growth through very high debt, they should be able to sustain that. Fortunately, the current textile ministry and bureaucracy are also fully cognizant of India's opportunity and supportive of its growth. What is needed at this time is only a more positive perception about the potential and the future of this sector.
A HIGHLY SELECTIVE SUMMARY OF THE INDIA HEALTH REPORT 2010
Last week saw the publication by BS Books of the India Health Report 2010 (henceforth referred to as IHR10), edited (and mostly written) by Ajay Mahal, Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari. For anyone interested in India's health status, access to health care and medicines, emerging health problems, the infrastructure of health services, medical ethics, health-care financing, government programmes and regulations and key issues in health sector reform, this 138-page report is an excellent introduction-cum-survey. Here I provide a highly selective summary to whet the appetite of readers to peruse the full report.
The first chapter makes the case for much greater policy attention to health issues. For many years, analysts have noted the close positive correlation between a country's per capita income and the life expectancy at birth (LEB) of its people, as also the close negative correlation between per capita income and the infant mortality rate (IMR). Until 20 years ago, the general presumption was that economic development and the associated improvement in living standards led to lower IMRs and higher LEBs. Over the past two decades, research has accumulated, indicating that health conditions could be improved substantially even at low income levels through appropriate policy interventions. Thus, China's IMR in 1980 was only two-fifths the level of India's at a time when many believed their average incomes were quite similar (Table 1). Basically, China had already reaped the fruits of sustained attention (during the Maoist decades) to primary health care and integrated rural development with substantial focus on improved water supply and sanitation. In contrast, Indian government policy had accorded much less resources and attention to health care, including public health.
It is also somewhat shaming to note that Bangladesh has achieved a much steeper reduction in IMR between 1980 and 2007 than India, despite significantly lower growth in per capita income in the former.
Health and nutrition go together, especially for children. Table 2 presents comparative data for undernutrition over time. While child nutrition has certainly improved in India since 1980, the IHR10 emphasises that the rate of improvement is much less than in Latin America and Asian countries such as China, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
The IHR10 describes the well known diversity in the socioeconomic record across India's states. Thus, in 2005-07, the IMR in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh was around 65-70 per 1,000 live births, as compared to 13 in Kerala, 34 in Maharashtra and 35 in Tamil Nadu. Indeed, IMRs in backward Indian states are quite comparable to many sub-Saharan African countries; not what one might expect from an aspiring economic superpower.
The chapter on access to health care presents very useful data which support a number of important (if not novel) conclusions. First and most obviously, the overwhelming majority of Indians have inadequate access to quality health care. Access is particularly poor for rural households, scheduled tribes and women. Second, private health-care providers predominate in both institutional and non-institutional services. Third, "unqualified" practitioners are in the majority among service providers. Fourth, and distressingly given the above, the bulk of ailments among the poorest quintiles are treated at private facilities. Fifth, about 7-8 per cent of households drop below the poverty line because of medical expenses. Finally, there are critical gaps in healthcare infrastructure, especially in terms of health centres and trained staff.
The fourth chapter provides a succinct review of the status on major "inputs" for good health of a population: adequate supply of trained and motivated health-care providers, an adequate and equitably dispersed network of health-care centres and hospitals, a good water supply and sanitation system, decent nutrition and widely prevalent hygienic practices. Predictably India is found grossly wanting in all these dimensions. The chapter concludes, "Whatever the input, however, all suffer from one key constraint: the lack of a public health focus." It rightly notes that much of what needs to be done to promote better planning and execution of public health policies lies outside the domain of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW).
While this is a reasonable conclusion, it does not go far enough. In particular, the IHR10 does not recognise adequately the crucial role of states in promoting good public health and the varied record across states in this regard. Last year, I had drawn attention (BS, December 24, 2009) to new studies documenting the unusually good organisation, staffing, planning and execution of public health policies in Tamil Nadu, which may be well worth emulating by other states. Perhaps the next IHR could make public health its theme.
In chapter seven, we get a short but educative summary of the evolution of government regulations and programmes. It is instructive to know that the MoHFW runs 42 centrally sponsored programmes, ranging from individual diseases like AIDS, TB, leprosy and cancer, to various initiatives to support Indian systems of medicine and homeopathy. The chapter provides an useful summary of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and reports on the Planning Commission's broadly positive mid-term appraisal of this initiative as well as the important suggestions for improvement. Noting that a quarter of India's poor are in urban centres and that the IMR amongst urban poor is nearly 73 (compared to 52 for the average urban population), the IHR10 is supportive of the proposed National Urban Health Mission, which was drafted in 2008 but is awaiting implementation.
The final chapter places efforts to reform India's health sector in historical perspective. It notes that since the Bhore Committee of 1946, there has been no fewer than 21 committees and commissions looking into major facets of the health sector. The IHR10 does a great service to scholars, policy-makers and practitioners in providing thumbnail summaries of each of these reports. What they show beyond doubt is that there has been no lack of diagnosis and recommendations for reform of this key sector. The problem lies in forging ahead with the many sensible recommendations. The chapter highlights some institutional impediments in taking reform forward, including a veritable procession of weak ministers of the MoHFW, in the last 20 years and a more general lack of priority to health in other policy organs like the Planning Commission, the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Finance.
However, the relatively recent efforts through the NRHM and certain other initiatives suggest that long overdue reforms may be gathering some political and administrative support in the public policy system. For the ailment-plagued people of India, let us hope so.
The author is honorary professor at ICRIER
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BANKERS NEED BETTER PAY
BUT LINK PAY TO PERFORMANCE
RBI governor Subbarao has done well to argue for better compensation for public sector bankers. Their pay is a ridiculous fraction of what their private sector counterparts get and this is not just unfair but also unsustainable. Given the quality of our education system, a talent crunch will hit our fast-growing economy, leading to wage inflation in every sector. If public sector banks cannot offer competitive salaries, they just would not have quality personnel to fill the numerous vacancies that will arise, as banks gear up to service the huge numbers who will enter the workforce over the next few years. But just hiking salaries is not enough. It is just the easy part. The real challenge is to incorporate the principles of sustainability evolved by the Financial Stability Board, in the wake of the global financial crisis. These are worth reiteration: (i) avoiding multi-year guaranteed bonuses; (ii) requiring a significant portion of variable compensation to be deferred, tied to performance and subject to appropriate clawback and to be vested in the form of stock or stock-like instruments, as long as these create incentives aligned with long-term value creation and the time horizon of risk; (iii) ensuring that compensation for senior executives and other employees having a material impact on the firm's risk exposure aligns with performance and risk; (iv) making firms' compensation policies and structures transparent through disclosure requirements; (v) limiting variable compensation as a percentage of total net revenues when it is inconsistent with the maintenance of a sound capital base; and (vi) ensuring that compensation committees are able to act independently.
The governor patted the RBI on the back for ensuring that the variable pay component of banks is limited. This is not the point. Rather, the effort should be to have a sizeable variable pay component, but linked to the performance of the assets originated under the banker's charge, most easily captured in the bank's stock price, so as to create incentives for bankers to promote long-term financial health rather than short-term profits on the back of risks that undermine sustainability.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ANOTHER EXPERIMENT IN JHARKHAND
GIVEN the chronic political instability Jharkhand has witnessed since its inception in 2000, with attendant rank political opportunism and deal-making shenanigans, it is a moot point whether the BJP's move to stake claim to form the government will lead to a stable regime. Indeed, the state is an example of how issues of governance are kept subservient to the scramble for power. And it manifests in acute form the larger problem of politics obsessing on capturing and retaining power to the exclusion of everything else. The problem in Jharkhand is that the fractured verdict means that getting to the half-way mark of 41 in the House involves permutations and plain horse-trading. It is also not clear, in case the potential BJP government also maintains the state's tradition of short-lived arrangements, whether calling for polls would help resolve matters. After all, Jharkhand has had seven governments in 10 years, with one particular one being uniquely led by an independent MLA. But in case instability thrives once more, there may well be no way out but elections. For, while political parties might be reluctant to seek a fresh mandate, long periods of President's rule do no good to a state.
The problem, in its current avatar, began when the BJP withdrew support to the Shibu Soren-led JMM government, after Soren voted with the central government in the Lok Sabha against the cut motions introduced by the BJP on the Finance Bill. A farcical tussle between a BJP desperate to form the government and a Soren equally desperate to stay put ensued. One will thus have to keep one's fingers crossed on the fate of this new BJP-led coalition experiment. What has been particularly troubling about political events in Jharkhand is that opportunism and total absence of accountability and transparency seem to have been established and accepted as a self-evident truth. The state has become a patent case of the acceptance of the 'politics is self-interest' paradigm. Stability is sorely needed, but so is trying to move away from such political practice.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MASTERY OVER MYSTERY
EVERY Indian who feels wary of wines can now heave a sigh of relief: we are not the only people who flub Wine 101. In the comity of wine buying and drinking nations, Britain ranks right up there with the US and Japan. India comes considerably lower down the list, as our billion-plus population means an average consumption of about a teaspoon per head. So we should not feel sheepish when our wine etiquette evokes smiles of condescension from denizens of more 'evolved' wine-swilling world, for it seems lots of Britons are equally clueless. They fumble over French grape names with their silent consonants, ask for a slice of lemon in their wine glasses, and complain that enough wine has not been poured when actually they were meant to sip a drop to taste for approval. Some of the other faux pas chronicled in a survey released this week by a pub chain are common in Indian restaurants too: swirling the wine so vigorously that it spills out, sly complaints of 'corked' wine (though the impugned bottles had screwcaps), making a fuss about the temperature of red wine, and insisting that glasses be topped up instead of being one-third full. The overwhelming opinion of the respondents that the oenosphere is fraught with snobbery would also find a resounding echo in India!
Mystification, of course, has a purpose. If there was no ceremony, no secrets, no time-honoured rituals in the world of wine, there would also not be so much blind adulation and a desire to be in the know. Indian tea has much the same 'complexity' and 'structure' as any grape juice fermenting in vats, but we have meekly acquiesced to it being positioned as cheap chai, so there is no cachet. The Japanese and Chinese have made a fetish of the same beverage, so westerners revere it as much as a premier cru wine. The lesson for Indian wine and chai drinkers is obvious.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SEBI VS ECONOMICS, WHO WILL WIN?
SEBI'S RECENT REGULATION DEPRIVES THE MUTUAL FUND DISTRIBUTOR OF ANY INCENTIVE TO SELL THE PRODUCT, AND THIS IS KILLING THE INDUSTRY. THE MISTAKE CAN AND SHOULD BE RECTIFIED, SAYS SANDEEP PAREKH
SEBI has faced strong currents of vitriolic anger from mutual fund distributors and the mutual fund industry. This venom is rarely displayed in the mainstream media, but a look at comments on websites discussing the issue bares the raw fury of the industry as a whole and the distributors in specific. While the anger may be seen as a sign of self-preservation by a profession, there is a fundamental problem with Sebi's regulations. The problem is that Sebi is trying to fight economics.
The issue in brief is as follows. The mutual fund industry has three cogs to its wheel, the asset management company (AMC), the distributor and the investor. Over 80% of all funds are sold by distributors to investors, the balance being sold directly by the AMC. The distributors provide many valuable services and provide advice to investors and were compensated by the AMCs, who shared expenses/commissions/loads charged to investors with such distributors. Clearly, like any other financial product, there is mis-selling by several distributors to favour the products which generate the best commissions rather than those which were most suitable to the client.
From June to August 2009, Sebi changed the rules of the game to curb mis-selling and conflict of interest which arises out of a distributor selling the most lucrative product. The regulator outlawed entry loads (a charge on purchase), capped exit load at 1% of redemptions (a charge on sale) which could previously have gone up to 7% and barred AMCs from paying distributors a commission out of the initial kitty. Distributors now need to negotiate with investors the initial commission and the amount must be paid by separate cheque to the distributor. This is of course great for investors who don't need to shell out an inbuilt fee with their purchase and also the rule change reduces the conflict of interest of selling with the motivation of earning commissions. Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences results in the product not being sold at all and the industry has shrunk dramatically since the rule change was introduced.
So where did Sebi go wrong with this seemingly benevolent action? The answer is economics 101. Imagine going to the market to buy a packet of biscuits, and imagine a law which says the packet must be sold at cost, and that must be the cost to the retailer with a virtual ban on the manufacturer to pay the retailer any mark up. Now imagine that the same law says that the profit must be negotiated between the consumer and the retailer. The system is unlikely to work which is why such laws don't exist for ordinary products. A version of this economics resulted in the fall of communism. The theory of getting products at cost to the consumer would result in the product not being sold, and in further consequence, the product will not be manufactured leading in turn to demand remaining unsatisfied. The conflict of interest exists in the market for biscuits as well, how often will a retailer sell you the product with the lowest margins? Thatis hardly an argument for selling at cost with negotiable profits.
THE Sebi board agenda note, which discusses the issue seems to solve the issue at hand inappropriately and uses partial material from the equivalent US law. First, the note goes into issues of transparency of commission structure, but ends up outlawing commissions instead. Clearly, few would quarrel with the right of a regulator to mandate higher disclosure norms i.e., mandate that the product bought be marked separately from the commission the distributor makes on the product. Investment products are indeed different from the market for ordinary goods and thus do require higher regulatory protection. The disclosure of such commission and also of trail commissions (paid on a continuing basis) would have dramatically reduced the problem of conflict, of misselling and of churning.
Instead, the action of Sebi has the consequence of eliminating the returns of the intermediary in fact (though in theory a fee could be negotiated). Second, distributors have abandoned the low cost mutual fund structure to sell the even more load bearing insurance product Ulips which gives them juicy returns. This move was the genesis of the very public and unnecessary spat between the securities and insurance regulators to regulate Ulips. Third, with ever lower expenses and loads mandated by the regulator (not all countries mandate a cap on expenses and loads), the extent of mis-selling and conflict is more on the fringe rather than an urgent issue to be resolved.
Forth, the note ignores public comments of which less than 1% support the move, on the grounds that the comments seem to be rigged. Fifth, it relies only on one regulation from the US regulations of mutual funds ignoring that the US system allows not only what is known as 12b-1 distribution fees (which is capped at 1%), but a whole host of other fees like purchase fees, redemption fees, exchange fees, account fees and operating fees many of which are shared with distributors. An entry load, which can go up to 8.5%, is given by the AMC to the distributor, an exit load which also goes to the distributor has no cap. Thus to rely on the cap on one out of a dozen fees from the US context is inappropriate and to outlaw distributor commissions after talking of transparency is not even solving the issue at hand.
Clearly, Sebi is not all knowing and is allowed to make mistakes, specially if they are made with good intentions. But the writing on the wall is quite clear after months of shrinking of a well regulated industry. There is no shame in rectifying the error even at this stage. Instead of going back to business as usual, a good middle ground could be to mandate clear disclosures in simple language in the offer documents and maintain the overall caps on expenses, while remaining agnostic as to how much of the expenses and commissions are shared with the distributor. We don't need a wonderful operation with the patient dead.
(The author is the founder of Finsec Law Advisors)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
N EU RAL N ET
UNDER THE STATUE OF LIBERTY
IF THE Pastor of a small Church in the US has his way, September 11, nine years after the terrorist attacks on US soil, might see the public burning of copies of the Qur'an. Pastor Terry Jones likes to call it 'The International Burn a Koran Day'. And he avers the idea is to send a message to radical elements within Muslims. Not that he discerns much diversity anyway, given that he holds that Islam is, well, plain evil (the subtle title of a book the man authored: Islam is of the Devil). But around this idea, if one can distinguish it as such, and the outpouring of anti-Muslim/Islamic feelings from the right-wing in the US, are key issues of liberal democracy, freedom of speech and minority rights.
Much has been written about the creation, or manufacturing, of suspicion about Muslims in the Western world post 9/11. But it has taken the proposal of building a Muslim community centre/mosque on or near the 'ground zero' site to bring out and sharpen those feelings of antipathy against Muslims and their faith. And it is likely to culminate in an act even if just a few people actually go ahead and burn copies of the Qur'an which will indubitably create some more militants, some more terrorists, a few more suicide bombers, around the world. It is a neat little unholy inversion, if one can call it that for one is writing about an event, a few days before it might happen, which will almost certainly lead to strife, violence and deaths in other parts of the world. An idea that was supposedly about 'building bridges' between Muslims and the West, a Muslim centre near 'ground zero', has led to an idea which will create yet more divisiveness.
But the real issue isn't some fringe elements burning copies of the Muslim holy book. The issue is also about whether, given the claims and narrative of liberal democracy, Muslims have the 'right' to build a mosque or something that symbolises their faith near that site. So, was it a good idea? Tricky question, but perhaps, the answer would be 'no'. For, the entire premise of having such a structure is that in a situation of real or perceived conflict between two sections of people or communities, forms of faith, of a certain religiosity can be used better than actual political dialogue, or even purely cultural forms. Of course, the motive of the Muslims behind the project would have been to demonstrate that neither is Islam antithetical to Western spaces, nor Muslims, per se, antagonistic. But the idea, as has been made manifest, was, in a 'strategic' sense, idiotic. Seeking some form or religious mediation in a context of a hopelessly mismatched narratives, given the wholly disproportionate matrices of power both narratives are located in, is plainly no replacement for unravelling the political situation that has put those narratives in contestation in the first place.
The other facet of the fracas, given that it isn't just right-wingers or nutcases arguing against the construction of the structure, but also many 'plain' Americans, is that it shows the limits of a Western form of liberal democracy. The slightly unpalatable fact is that for all their enshrined liberal thought and laws, most Western societies just haven't had a historical, organic sharing of space and life with very different cultures and communities. It was, after all, just a few decades ago that racism was an legally sanctioned practice in many parts. Such societies, often, while having a discourse of rights for minorities, often stop just right there. 'Rights' extend only up to a point. Qur'an burning, opposition to a 'mosque' at the site, then, is at one with the bans on minarets or even veils, as manifestations of an anti-Muslim sentiment, elsewhere in the world.
Positing a religious symbol as an attempt at 'integration', bereft of any real political impetus, arouses, curiously, queasiness about that religion on either side. The Muslims behind the project, for instance, seem to take pains to not call the proposed structure a mosque. It's called 'prayer hall' or 'community centre' et al. And, in turn, even the supposed non-bigots on the opposing side cite a 'lack of sensitivity' about the prospect of a Muslim structure on 'ground zero'.
The Muslim 'reclamation project', as it were, must first work within, just as the strands of power, bigotry and xenophobia woven into much of the West's narratives must be unravelled before religious symbolism can stand a chance
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PLAYEST THOU SATAN, IN TRIBAL PARADISE?
T K ARUN
ABALANCE must be stuck between concerns of the environment and development, said the prime minister recently. But, of course. So must a balance be struck between protecting the fragile cultures of tribal societies and carrying out 'development', particularly mining, in the areas where they reside. The real question is, how is that balance to be struck?
At a conceptual level, the physical environment is relatively easy to handle. Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek is fond of citing the coal and oil reserves that mankind happily taps for its energy requirements as evidence of the massive environmental catastrophes that are endemic and internal to nature without such catastrophes, there would be no carbon and hydrocarbon deposits for us to tap. The point is not that nature has to be forever preserved in its pristine form, nor that nature needs protection from humans. The point, rather, is that human beings sometimes need protection from the consequences of their own shortsighted actions that might force nature to strike a new equilibrium, one in which human survival becomes that much more difficult. Sustainability, in other words, is not to protect nature and the environment in themselves, but to protect human society from its own thoughtless actions, whether burning a hole in the ozone layer, or saturating the atmosphere with noxious gases. Here, the question really is of studying the short- and long-term impact of a particular activity. The impact can be mitigated, but the cost goes up. Any deemed benefit, too, could come down, if penalties to mitigate the cost of the activity is factored in, say, a carbon tax.
Any project is viable, if the aggregate social benefit arising from the activity outweighs the aggregate social cost. The trick is to interpret social cost and social benefit as widely and inclusively as possible, allocating quantifiable values to things that are often difficult to represent by numbers: how valuable is survival of a species of butterfly or moth, or a lion-tailed macaque? How should the health of future generations weigh on the conscience of the present one, as it maximises happiness here and now?
This is tough, but it gets even tougher when it comes to tribal societies that face severe disruption if 'development' takes place on their land, in their midst. They themselves have no value for the mineral resources lying below the ground they live on, but mainstream, non-tribal society has plenty of uses for those minerals and wants to mine them. What would be dug up in the process of mining is not just the land, but also the life of the tribes as they know it. Should that mining be done, or should the tribal people be allowed to retain their lifestyle and culture, that lode of mineral wealth be damned?
A popular term for tribal people in India is adivasi, (the original inhabitant or autochthon, in academic jargon). This means that they were here before the others. Their lore has it that they were pushed to the margins by those who came later, and drove them off their land. Might was right. If that principle is to be used again, the tribes can be asked to take a walk, preferably a long one, and their lands dug up. But we have formed ourselves into a democracy, and morality and the greater good have taken the place of might as the rightful arbiter.
What is the morality of displacing the tribes and their way of life? Simultaneously, is it moral to allow the tribes to stay at their stunted stage of evolution, when mankind has attained so much of progress, in knowledge, in the arts, in its ability to subjugate nature? After all, weren't we all tribal people at some point or the other? When the serpent offered Eve the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge in Paradise, didn't he actually do her and Adam a service, making possible the subsequent progress of the human race?
Considering that poverty, disease, ignorance, violence and moral depravity mark modern humans, it is difficult to uphold their society as the ideal into which the tribes should assimilate, losing their own unique identities. In any case, all attempts to assimilate autochthons by force, whether in Australia or the Americas, have been disastrous, producing drunken, drug-addicted, broken outcasts, instead of an accretion to civilisation.
Nor does it make sense to celebrate the tribes' frozen-in-the-past existence, treating them as ideal exhibits for a museum of anthropology, where you take the kids out on a long weekend.
The most sensible course would be to let the tribes choose, with elbow room to make that choice, to engage with modern humans and their ways of the world, on terms they find appealing. Impossibly idealistic? Not really. State-owned SAIL and private sector Tata Steel have shown, in the areas where they operate their captive mines, that such integration is possible. That entails give and take.
It is possible to increase the give, and eschew grab. The most primitive, endangered groups should be left alone, while the rest can be offered dignified integration.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CO S M I C U P LI N K
ME, MINE AND MIND
VITHAL C NADKARNI
" IMAGINE araindrop," wrote
Yoko Ono in Grapefruit. "Imagine the clouds dripping." Her refrain sparked John Lennon's immortal song where he asked us to imagine a world without countries and religions.
Imagine grew out of Lennon's sublime belief that we are all one country, one world, one people. The same idea that inspired Yoko Ono's angst-filled poetry can be extended to the realm of slapstick and burlesque, as the Marathi comedian Dada Kondke did in his mega-hit number Dhagala lagli kala.
Kondke, who was greatly influenced by Chaplin, asks us to imagine a cloud in pain, dripping rain! When Kondke's fans substituted the cloud with a leaking tap or its cousins they had a double entendre that enraged the moral police.
But the second line of the lyric startles us with the metaphor of love growing as the spirit entangles with spirit! In the Indian spiritual tradition Siva is the larger counterpart of the individual.
So what happens when the individual loses his identity in the universal, oceanic soup of identities? In the great axiom of Vedanta that's exactly what transpires during self-realisation when your self is shot through and through with the universal soul.
That is why the great sentence proudly proclaims: Aham Brahmasmi; I am the Brahman. The second great sentence goes on to declare that this identity alone is the valid One (Brahmasatyam). Accordingly, the world as perceived by our limited self-senses is said to be false or invalid (Jagatmithya)!
In a famous interview, Lennon also alluded to a similar sentiment: Imagining yourself as a citizen of a country without boundaries leads you to an anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional and anticapitalistic view, he said. This became acceptable only because it was 'sugarcoated'.
An extension of this philosophy animates the universe whimsically. According to The Discovery Institute's blog, when reached for comment about Stephen Hawking's forthcoming book, the Universe said that Professor Hawking should receive no credit for the ideas.
"(For) he is merely an epiphenomenon of the laws of nature, otherwise known as Me, the Universe itself. Mindless physical stuff, the only thing that ever really existed, or ever will exist.
"Hawking, and that other guy what's his face, Dawkins have been stealing my royalties for years. I've got some lawyers working on that."
BJP-JMM AS GOOD, AS BAD AS JMM-BJP
As low farce goes, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton re-tying the knot after a messy divorce can't match the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha emerging from a marital blow-up only three months ago to fall back into an unprepossessing clinch. For the two legendary stars, it was only a question of giving their wrought emotions another chance. On the other hand, the BJP and JMM duo are playing ducks and drakes with the mandate of the people. Both are defeated parties. The JMM had crashed out of power in the last Assembly election in November-December 2009. In that electoral contest, the strength of the BJP had been nearly halved. Yet they had gone ahead to form a coalition government in January this year only to break up a few months later, necessitating President's Rule in June. And lo and behold, they are back in the saddle yet again. The difference this time round is that the chief minister will be Mr Arjun Munda, from the BJP, and Jharkhand's power-hungry JMM leader Shibu Soren's son Hemant has agreed to be one of the two deputy chief ministers, showing he has inherited his father's gene for power-hunger. There is nothing in the dynamics of the politically blighted state to suggest that the BJP-JMM dispensation will be any better at rendering stability to one of India's poorest states than the previous JMM-BJP dispensation. It is believed that the BJP's recently appointed president, Mr Nitin Gadkari whose lack of experience in the conduct of high politics is the subject of talk within BJP circles has been working overtime behind the scenes to bring about the fly-by-night denouement. Of all places, the man chose Moscow of all places from where to press the button.
How long the latest edition of the Jharkhand pantomime will last is anybody's guess. But even devotees of political opportunism will find it difficult to wager that the BJP-JMM-AJSU can offer the state even routine, sensible, administration. If experience is any guide, the stress of the members of the new government is likely to be on economic and political aggrandisement. Other considerations, especially those to do with development and cleaning up the Augean stables of corruption, will take a back seat. The choice of Mr Munda as chief minister was probably the BJP's best bet. But the leader of a government born in sin will find he has no choice but to look the other way when ministers and legislators of the ruling alliance place a premium on turning rules on the head with a view to making hay while the sun shines.In the eight years that Jharkhand has been a state after the bifurcation of Bihar, it has seen seven governments, which looks to be something of a record. This unseemly spectacle can hardly fill the people of the state with confidence that public welfare will be at the centre of things. With hindsight, it may be argued that the Assembly should not have been kept in suspended animation when Central Rule was imposed in June this year. In order to stabilise the administration, go after the crooked politicians, and deal with both force and sensitivity in tackling the menace of Naxalism which is devouring the state, a reasonable spell of President's Rule may have offered the most exigent choice, leading on to fresh elections.
OVERREACTING TO CHINA
BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN
China seems to have a knack for generating a periodic hubbub in our public discourse. The most recent one has been triggered by reports in Western media about the presence of Chinese troops in the Gilgit-Baltistan area and by the denial of a Chinese visa to the Northern Army Commander. Coming on the heels of the earlier controversies, these have yet again excited our imaginations over the "threat" from China. Notwithstanding interventions by a phalanx of experts, the current debate tells us more about our own discourse on China than about Beijing's intentions or plans.
Consider, for a start, the claim that the recent moves indicate a significant hardening of China's position on Kashmir. China's stance on Kashmir has evolved in three distinct phases. In the 1950s, the Chinese took a largely neutral position. The evidence now available from Chinese archives shows that in their limited interaction, the Chinese were urging the Pakistanis to settle with India. Things began to change with the deterioration of the Sino-Indian relationship. For three decades, starting from 1963, the Chinese switched to a position of endorsing Pakistan's demand for a plebiscite. From the early 1990s, the improving ties with India led the Chinese to shift their stance yet again. They now held that Kashmir was a bilateral problem to be solved by India and Pakistan. This is, of course, close to the Indian position on the matter.
However, the Chinese have never acknowledged sovereignty over Kashmir. Their visa policy is a way of simultaneously needling India and extending symbolic support to Pakistan. But it is nothing more than that. Indeed, given India's ability to respond in kind not least over matters like the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exiles the Chinese are unlikely to escalate tensions on issues of core concern. On more practical matters, such as developmental activities in occupied Kashmir or disaster relief, the Chinese will continue to extend assistance to Pakistan. And there is little that India can realistically do here. As Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel once remarked, possession is nine-tenths of the law. It is as unrealistic of us to expect our protests to bring these activities to a halt as it was of China to expect that it could block Indian developmental activities in Arunachal Pradesh.
The ongoing debate also highlights three important strands of our narrative on China. The first is the view that China is a highly strategic and deeply malevolent power that thinks in long-time horizons. The obverse of this is the claim that India lacks any strategic vision and is numbed by short-term expediency. In consequence, our experts urge us to remember that every small move by the Chinese is an integral part of a larger plan calculated to advance their power and interests and to undercut ours. That the Chinese have shown themselves capable of long-term planning, especially in economic matters, is undeniable. But the historical record also shows that they are capable of making enormous blunders mistakes that have usually defied any strategic logic. Think of the Great Leap Forward and the break with their most important ally, the Soviet Union.
Take the more recent example of China's position in East Asia. Until about a year ago, the smaller East Asian countries were loquacious in their admiration for China's "peaceful rise". But China's swagger and assertiveness over the last year has nudged many of these countries towards a more wary stance. The retention of the American military base in Okinawa, the strengthening of US-South Korea ties, the US-Vietnam naval exercises in the South China Sea: none of these work in China's interests, but all are a consequence of China's stance on a range of issues which have not been clearly thought through. The Middle Kingdom, then, can also be the Muddle Kingdom. It is important, therefore, not to read too much long-term strategy into every Chinese move.
The second, and related, strand is the assumption that China is out to encircle and box-in India in the subcontinent. The numerous ports that China is building in our neighbourhood are held out as evidence of this intent. That the military aspects of the Sino-Pakistan relationship are aimed at balancing against India is clear. Not so the assumption that every port built by China in our neighbourhood is a potential naval base for them. For one thing, the military implication of these commercial activities is not at all obvious. More importantly, we need to ask ourselves why we are unable to undertake similar projects. The answer is simple: India does not yet have a competitive world-class port construction industry. Instead of inveighing against the Chinese for allegedly making inroads into our neighbourhood, we might usefully turn the searchlight on our own capacities.
The third strand is the entrenched belief that China has deliberately refrained from coming to an agreement with India on the disputed boundary. This is a seriously one-sided reading of the record. For two decades after 1962, India was as uninterested as China in resuming the negotiations. Thereafter, too, India dragged its feet on a sensible framework for discussing the boundary and insisted on subsidiary negotiations to clarify the Line of Actual Control. It was only in 2003 that we agreed to a viable framework for political negotiations. True, the Chinese have adopted a tough stance over the last few years. But this is only to be expected in any such negotiation. Instead of harping that India is the only country with which China has not settled, it might do us some good to consider why India is the only country which has been unable to settle with China. The strategic thinker Basil Liddell Hart's prescription is apt for our China experts: "Avoid self-righteousness like the devil nothing is so blinding".
Taken together, these three assumptions seriously distort our debates on China. This is problematic because international politics is an interactive game. Our narratives about other states invariably end up influencing their behaviour. Unless we are careful, the "China threat" might well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi
A SAUDI CHART FOR ISRAEL-PALESTINE TALKS
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
It's been a week and the newly-minted Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have not broken down yet! Surely that is a good sign. It is a measure of how low expectations are for these talks that they have to be celebrated by the week. Now that they have begun, though, both sides will try to avoid being the one that scuttles them and not only to avoid the wrath of the United States. It is because one senses that after all these years of stop-and-start peace talks where someone declares "this is the year of decision, and if these talks fail the peace process is dead and buried" this time it might actually be true. If these talks fail, with 300,000 Israeli settlers already living in the West Bank, and with Hamas becoming ensconced with its own government in Gaza, talk of a "two-state solution" will enter the realm of fantasy.
But while the talks are alive, they lack any sense of drama or excitement or larger possibilities. That is partly because the awful violence that followed the breakdown of the Oslo peace process rung virtually all the romance out of this relationship. And it is partly because both Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, know that to make peace today with each other will require a small civil war within each of their communities.
Even if the two sides swap land and 80 per cent of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank get to stay put, 60,000 will have to be removed. Many will leave peacefully if Mr Netanyahu strikes the land-for-security deal he wants but thousands will not. Even if President Abbas gets 100 per cent of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, or its equivalent, Hamas will denounce any peace deal that is more than a temporary ceasefire with the Jewish state. And, with Iran's help, Hamas will employ whatever violence it can to overturn any deal. It will not be pretty.
What these talks could really use is an emotional lift, one that would remind Israelis in particular that peace not only has huge security risks but also huge benefits that at the end of this road lies something more than a civil war among the Jews. I know one way to do that.
Some eight years ago, in February 2002, I interviewed then-Crown Prince-now-King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at his horse farm outside Riyadh. I shared with him a column I had written suggesting that the Arab League put forth a peace plan offering Israel full peace for full withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza and Arab East Jerusalem for a Palestinian state when he feigned surprise and said: "Have you broken into my desk?" The Saudi leader said he was preparing the exact same plan and offered it up "full withdrawal from all the occupied territories, in accord with UN resolutions, including in Jerusalem, for full normalisation of relations". He added: "I wanted to find a way to make clear to the Israeli people that the Arabs don't reject or despise them".
It was an important, visionary move by Abdullah, and his plan was quickly adopted by the Arab League, with some amendments. It is time to bring it out of the air. King Abdullah should invite Mr Netanyahu to Riyadh and present it to him personally.
Abdullah need not go to Jerusalem, as Anwar Sadat did, or recognise Israel. He can, though, still have a huge impact on the process by simply handing his plan to the leader for whose country it was intended. I can't think of anything that would get these peace talks off to a better start. It feels to me as though
Mr Netanyahu is taking this moment seriously, but he is still very wary. By handing him the Abdullah plan, the Saudi monarch would unleash a huge peace debate in Israel. It would make it more difficult for Mr Netanyahu to continue settlement building and spur an Israeli public that is also still wary to urge Mr Netanyahu to take risks for peace and support him for doing so. The Saudis can't just keep faxing their peace initiative to Israelis. That has no emotional punch. It actually says to Israelis: if the Saudis are afraid to hand us their plan, why should we believe they'll have the courage to implement it if we do everything they suggest? Israelis are isolated. Seeing their Prime Minister received by the most important Muslim leader in the world in Riyadh would have a real impact.
Both Israelis and Palestinians are going to have to do something really hard to produce a two-state solution. Saudi officials have developed a reputation in Washington for being experts at advising everyone else about the hard things they must do, while being reluctant to step out themselves. This is their moment to do something hard and to do something important.
WHAT COLOUR YOUR TERROR?
BJP DYED SAFFRON IN HINDUTVA
Just because Hindutva as distinct from Hindu terror has been described as "saffron terror", all of a sudden for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) "saffron" has become an instrument of polemic and political discourse. Saffron, when used for Hindutva, is a political statement that represents all the ills of the Hindutva ideology as propagated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP. Hindutva represents perpetration of the "chaturvarna" system of inequality and the maintenance of the social order as enjoined by texts like Manudharma Shastra.
The BJP should understand that when they talk of "red terror", "red" does not exclusively mean Maoists but a political colour that symbolises a certain ideology. Red also means blood and sacrifice and valour. Why then did the BJP not raise objection to the use of "red terror"?
Saffron is the political colour of the BJP. The fact that terrorists who perpetrate extremist Hindutva ideology wear saffron robes does not accord them the status of a saint or a sadhu, or make them representatives of Indian civilisation. The argument that saffron represents Indian culture and valour is BJP's way to save itself by bringing in the semantics of colour through the prism of religion.
In the growth of civilisation every colour is only a colour. For Hindutva, "black" may represent demons. But can we say in the comity of nations that black is evil or bad or lowly or inferior because white empire builders and their remnants, or Hindutva ideologues, give it that meaning?
Hence, it is hard to get away from the fact that thanks to the BJP, the RSS and the Hindutva terrorists, "saffron" has come to acquire a special meaning. This contextualisation should be kept in view when we debate this issue. We should remember that Swami Vivekananda wore saffron robes, but this did not make him give Hindutva speeches around the world or become a part of the Hindutva bandwagon. It is a fallacy and distortion to suggest that the Hindutva forces represent Hindus. If Hinduism was a way of life, then the Hindutva ideology proposes to be an extremist way of life.
The BJP is far from being representative of Hindu sentiments, leave alone its sole representative. When it makes semantic noises about colours, shades and their relation to culture and valour, it is only seeking to survive politically.
D. Raja, MP and national secretary, CPI
Attack saffron, attack Hindus
Saffron is not just the first colour in our tricolour, it's the colour of Mother India. Hindu nationalism was always identified with Bharat's aspirations and her soul. Sri Aurobindo said that Sanatan Dharma, the eternal values denoted by Indian civilisation, is our nationalism. Nothing in India can be defined by taking Hindu dharma, the Sikh gurus, Mahavira or Buddha out of the Indian soul. They are all saffron. You attack saffron only to attack Hindus. Colours are sacred. Union home minister P. Chidambaram should try attacking green. He will have to run for his life. They take only Hindus for granted.
The defining core of us all is saffron a Hindu India gave shelter to all the persecuted people of the world. We are a Hindu- majority nation, hence we are the most democratic and secular. Attack this ethos, and you weaken the threads that hold India together. The pluralism, and a society that believes in a million fragrances of as many flowers of faith, can exist only in a Hindu majority framework our neighbours would stand testimony to this.
Mr Chidambaram was very clear when he used the word "saffron terror". He wanted to wriggle out of the Sonia-Digvijay attack syndrome, and to prove his loyalty to them he had to attack his own dharma. He wanted to convey that because some of those caught in the alleged terror acts were Hindus, their actions can be termed as Hindu terror, and later he called it "saffron terror". Hindu dharma has no exhortations to the youth to die for a sinful cause and get rewarded.
Should we say that because of a "tandoor case" involving a Congress leader, every rape and murder case should be known as "Congress terror"? We never termed terrorism in Punjab as Sikh terror. What an irony that a politician should have to plumb such depths to stay on in the corridors of power. Like it happened during Ghazni's time or during the British, royalty would bestow "knighthoods" only on the yielding satraps. Bhagat Singh was hanged on the testimony of those Indians who were rewarded by the British. It hurts that even after centuries of resistance to foreign invaders, Hindus are made to feel low in their own nation. Indira Gandhi would have never allowed this; she firmly showed her adherence to Hindu values. Under Mrs Sonia Gandhi's rule, everything Hindu is being insulted and denounced.
Tarun Vijay, BJP MP
BEAUTY OF LIFE LIES IN ITS FLAWS
BY AMRIT SADHANA
The art of story-telling is deeply ingrained in the Chinese wisdom as it is one of the most ancient civilisations of the world. Ancient people were not so talkative, they conveyed the truth indirectly, through stories. It was painting in words. It is difficult to capture the delicacy and the subtle simplicity that are so characteristic of Chinese folk literature in other languages.
I came across a beautiful story I would like to share with you.
An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole, which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house."
The old woman smiled, "Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house".
Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You've just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.
Our relations would be so much juicier and friendlier if every one of us remembers this. Basically everybody thinks that s/he is perfect and flawless, it's the other who is wrong. And the other person thinks the same way. So there is no common ground. But the irony is that we are living through relationships, it is part of our life. Imagine life without anybody to relate to. Won't it be utterly empty and boring? Relating is an art.
older woman in the story did not scoff at the pot or make it feel guilty about it. She planted some seeds instead so that the dripping water could be used in a beautiful way.
Wish we could do the same to each other: compensating for what the other person does not have, or use their flaws creatively. It needs compassion and love in the heart which can be developed by meditation. Remember the elderly grannies or grandpas in the family who always extended their shoulder to lean on, their hands were there to wipe the tears of sobbing hearts. They would cover up the mistakes of youngsters and save them from a reprimand. Such loving hearts are missing in today's system. This story is a soothing recollection of those days can they be ushered once again?
Osho says, relating to people is a sophisticated art, it is a great meditation.
The person who is not capable of being with others will find it very difficult to relate with himself because the art of relating is the same: whether you relate with others or you relate with yourself does not make much difference, it is the same art.
Be with people, and not unconsciously, but very consciously. Relate with people as if you are singing a song, as if you are playing on a flute; each person has to be thought of as a musical instrument.
Life has to be learned as an art: very cautiously, very deliberately... So relationship with others has to become a mirror: see what you are doing, how you are doing it and what is happening to the other? Change your ways. Beautify life around yourself. And when you are alone sit utterly silent, and watch yourself: watch your breathing, watch your thoughts, watch your memories, watch yourself in your totality without interfering. That is the art of meditation.
Amrit Sadhana is in the managementteam of Osho International Meditation Resort,Pune. She facilitates meditation workshopsaround the country and abroad.
DON'T TURN BACK THE CLOCK IN J&K
One of the tragic pointers of Indian history is that more often than not Indians have themselves proved to be their worst enemies. This stands reinforced by what the negative forces in our country did in early 1990.
It should be clear from the analysis of major events connected with Kashmir's post-1947 history that there is an overwhelming need to learn from each and every lapse and evolve a new framework of thought and action. Unfortunately, no one is attending to this need. With regard to the stone-throwing mobs that are now daily appearing on the streets of most urban centres of the Valley, old attitudes rooted in superficiality and "short-termism" are once again at display. So far, about 69 persons have died. But there is no sign of a sustained crackdown on the ringleaders, financers and those who are spraying the virus of militant fanaticism in the Valley.
What is worse, another "appeasement card" is being put forward in the form of a political package and additional autonomy, without bothering to consider that in the long run such a package and such an autonomy could provide stronger muscle to the forces of subversion and separatism in the Valley. Further, no one is showing any inclination to raise certain basic and pertinent questions in this regard.
Are the Kashmiris, like the citizens of the rest of India, not already free under the Constitution of India? Do they not have all the fundamental rights which individuals in modern liberal democracies enjoy? Has their identity, culture, religion or language been undermined in any way by the constitutional arrangements that have been in operation for the last several decades? How would a common Kashmiri be benefited by changing the nomenclature of chief minister to Prime Minister or of governor to Sadar-e-Riyasat, or by ousting the jurisdiction of Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India? What would happen if the so-called pre-1952 position is restored and only defence, foreign affairs and communications are kept within the jurisdiction of the Union Parliament/government and all the remaining items are assigned exclusively to the state legislature/government? How would the state government then meet its requirements of finances which at present are provided by the Union government to the tune of 74 per cent of its needs? Could the "nuts and bolts" of objective reality and the need to have smooth and workable relationship between the state and the Union be dispensed with?
To these and allied questions, no satisfactory answers can be provided by the proponents of autonomy and the "political package". They merely harp on the promises supposed to have been made to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, forgetting that what matters is not the individual but the state government without whose concurrence nothing was done. They take advantage of the widespread ignorance that prevails in the country about the rather complex manner in which constitutional relations between Jammu and Kashmir and the Union have evolved. They hide the fact that Jammu and Kashmir already enjoys, albeit unjustifiably, far more powers than are available to other states of the Union. They also forget that at the time of the 1975 Kashmir Accord, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had made it clear that "the clock could not be put back", and that the "provisions of the Indian Constitution applied to the state of Jammu and Kashmir 'without adaptation or modification' were unalterable".
The only concession made in 1975, in the spirit of bonhomie, by the Government of India was to consider changes in the "adapted and modified" provisions, if a specific proposal in this regard was received from the state government. But neither the government of Sheikh Abdullah nor that of Dr Farooq Abdullah could send any proposal, primarily because the changes earlier made were all necessitated by practical consideration.
The State Autonomy Committee Report (1999), sent to the Union government 24 years after the Kashmir Accord, is nothing but a broad repetition of what was said on behalf of the National Conference in 1975. It ignores the huge volume of water that has since flowed under the bridges of Yamuna and Jhelum, and does not indicate how the changes that are being advocated now would improve the lot of the common man and how the expenditure on the state Five-Year Plans would be met. Nor does it care to explain how certain security and other contingencies would be dealt with? What, for instance, would happen if Article 356 is not applicable and if the state refuses or fails to comply with any requirement of the Union in respect of defence, foreign affairs or communication? Would this not cause an intractable constitutional deadlokck?
The acceptance by the Union government of any of the phoney ideas contained in the aforesaid report would add another blunder to the series of blunders committed in the past, which have so far cost the nation over 50,000 lives, besides several thousand-crores of hard-earned taxpayers' money.
While it is not likely to make even a slight dent in the criticality of the present situation, it could strengthen the forces of disarray in the Valley, give rise to fresh agitations in other regions of the state and become a precedent for separatists in other part of the country to quote and demand. Even otherwise, the unfortunate history of Jammu and Kashmir in the post-1947 period warns us in no uncertain terms that the decision taken under momentary pressures and on short-term considerations have proved disastrous in the long run. Too many infections have already accumulated in the body politics of Jammu and Kashmir. If we do not have the skill or will to drain them out, let us at least not add more to them.
The need of the hour is that we should make a new beginning, educate our brothers and sisters in Kashmir about the true position in respect of their political, social and cultural freedoms and tell them that we as fellow countrymen have already helped them to the tune of `95,000 crores from 1989-90 to 2009-10, and would continue to discharge our obligations in this respect in future to make them a happy and prosperous community of the Union.
- This concludes a two-part series
- Jagmohan is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister
FOE IN DEED
Scratch the surface and all sorts of unseemly things crawl out. The properties of those who left for Pakistan after its war with India in 1965 were given in charge of the Indian government as custodian by the Enemy Property Act, 1968. In 2005, however, the Supreme Court ordered the custodian to return the property of the raja of Mehmoodabad, who had become a Pakistani citizen, to his son and legal heir, who had always been an Indian citizen. This was the crucial scratch. Apparently unnerved by the number of claims from allegedly legal heirs within the country to property taken over by the government and then leased or rented out, the government issued an ordinance last July that annulled the court order. It allowed the custodian to repossess the property returned to the raja's heir. There is an embarrassing ugliness in this that has not been ameliorated by subsequent events. In the first place, an ordinance is reserved for pressing issues of governance that need to be acted upon when Parliament is not in session. The government obviously felt that this issue was of prime importance. Why? Second, the ordinance overturned a Supreme Court order. Encroaching on the judiciary's territory is the last thing the executive should be doing if it is at all concerned about the health of this democracy.
The unseemly realities behind the issuing of the ordinance were further exposed when objections to it prompted the government to bring in the enemy property (amendment and validation) bill, 2010. This allowed legal Indian inheritors of "enemy" property to reclaim their due, but also declared that leaseholders' rights would be protected. Faced with this mysterious bill, the Bharatiya Janata Party and groups of traders are insisting on the return of the ordinance, while leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad claim that the ordinance is "anti-Muslim". Unnerved all over again, the government has postponed turning it into a law till the winter session. So the ordinance could not be ratified within the mandatory six months. The government must decide whether it wants to look spiteful and greedy and retain control of the properties and consequent revenues of those Indian citizens whose only fault is that their fathers have left for Pakistan, or whether it will be a fair, democratic and secular government and follow the direction the Supreme Court pointed out in 2005.
India's interest in the political future of Australia is understandable. In recent years, Indian nationals working or studying in Australia are increasingly facing abuse apparently of a racial nature from white Australians. Many of these episodes have ended up in death. And yet, the administration of Kevin Rudd, the recently deposed prime minister and leader of the Centre-Left Labour Party, failed to take any decisive action on such racial crimes. So India may well hope that Mr Rudd's successor and party colleague, Julia Gillard, who became the first female prime minister of her country, would be more proactive in making Australia a safer and more equitable place for immigrants. Such an expectation is not unwarranted. After all, Ms Gillard has cobbled together a 'rainbow coalition' with crucial support from one Green and three Independent members of parliament. And the Greens want the new government to focus on humane treatment of asylum-seekers and other foreigners in Australia. So this is Ms Gillard's best chance of salvaging the global image of her country even as she tries to repair the schisms within her party.
Yet, it would be imprudent to describe the return of the Labour as the triumph of stability. Evidently, Labour had to forego a sizeable chunk of its support base as disenchanted voters defected over to the Greens. Although Labour did eventually manage to retain power, voting trends clearly reflected the people's desire for change. Scrounging a majority by one precious seat which implies that a single by-election can potentially wipe out the coalition can hardly be treated as a convincing index of credibility. Ms Gillard's foremost challenge, on taking office, would involve delicate, and perhaps shrewdly diplomatic, negotiations with her variously interested allies. Although a certain degree of consensus exists between the Greens and the Labour on the imposition of taxes on mining, the Independents remain firmly resistant to such measures. The latter wants the government to put more emphasis on rural development, an agenda that is also shared by the Opposition. The demand for the legalization of same-sex marriages, put forth by the Greens, is also under a cloud. Power always comes riddled with pitfalls. The new prime minister would do well to remember that bouquets are, most often, accompanied by brickbats.
RAINING ON THE GAMES
DELHI IN PREPARATION EMBODIES THE ARROGANCE OF THE RULING ELITE
We are past the first week of September and it is still raining in Delhi. After years of living with climate (hot and sunny for nine months and then cold and smoggy for three), this year we've had weather. There's green scum growing on brick, every other person smells powerfully of the damp and mornings darken with the promise of rainy-day holidays. And yet, most of us still leave home without umbrellas; after years, decades of spotty rain, it'll take more than a few weeks of wet to get us to believe in the monsoon.
My local taxi driver, in his capacity as absentee Sikh rich peasant, is delighted with the rain. But in his urban avatar, the rain makes him a ghoul. You wait, he says with gloomy satisfaction, the Jamuna will rise and wash the Commonwealth Games away. A quick vision of sprinters overtaken by water unspools in my head. Most of us in Delhi feel perversely vindicated when we come across a collapsed road or hear of a leaking stadium or pass labourers racing against the clock to pave the pavements. Dilliwallahs at the best of times feel no sense of belonging, and the disruptive run up to the Games has alienated us so completely from our city that we've become connoisseurs of our own suffering, Zen masters of self-directed schadenfreude.
In the normal course, if a municipality was to make a concerted push to supply its citizens and rate payers with properly flagged pavements, they would rejoice. Delhi has just acquired miles and miles of gorgeously tiled pavement; verges that divide arterial roads have been greened with nursery plants, stainless steel bus stops have mushroomed all over the city, distant suburbs and satellite towns have been hurriedly joined to the city's centre with Metro lines, but the hectic, last-minute style in which all this has been done has provoked cynicism, not satisfaction.
Delhi's citizens are convinced that billions have been skimmed off the top. In Lutyens' Delhi, the pavements and verges have been dressed in red sandstone. Sculpted bollards in matching sandstone protect these pavements from rogue motor-cyclists and scooter drivers who would encroach on them. In Khan Market, home to the most expensive retail real estate in the country, some genius decided to flag the pavements with polished slabs of granite. When kitty-party dowagers began skidding off their glazed surfaces and breaking their hips, the granite was torn off and replaced with textured Kota stone. There's an incommensurateness to this, a blitheness that feels wrong. Even in a city famous for its backhanders, the Games seem like a carnival of contractor-driven corruption.
As the party in government in Delhi and as the party to which the universally-denounced Suresh Kalmadi, the chief of the Indian Olympic Association, belongs, the Congress has to struggle to contain the fallout of this PR disaster. The current line is that the guilty will be punished, but after the Games; meanwhile we need to be patriotically uncritical till they're done so that India Shines. The problem is that the Commonwealth Games don't seem important enough for us to forgive the disruption they've caused. Forget the embarrassing comparison with Beijing's magnificent Olympiad, Delhi itself hosted the Asian Games (in athletic terms a much more important contest) nearly 30 years ago, more efficiently, more thriftily and with much less inconvenience to its own citizens.
If Delhi's Commonwealth Games symbolize anything, it is the conviction that the State owns the nation that it regulates. Reserved forest land was surreptitiously cleared to build sports facilities, college land was confiscated to build parking lots, college students in Delhi University were thrown out of their hostels for a whole term so that their rooms could be renovated to house sporting entourages. They were forced into paying- guest accommodation which they couldn't afford. University cricket grounds were commandeered and converted into rugby facilities. Their surfaces were relaid, their dimensions changed and all this for a sport that isn't played in Delhi's colleges. It isn't even clear if these 'upgraded' facilities will revert to the colleges and universities that own them or whether the Sports Authority of India will retain control over their use.
But the perfect illustration of the Indian political class's belief that people are props for the State to arrange according to its convenience was Kalmadi's letter to the sports minister, M.S. Gill, in early July, asking him to lean on the BCCI to cancel Australia's cricket tour to India because it coincided with the Commonwealth Games:
"I need not stress the importance of not having any international cricket in India during the Commonwealth Games," wrote Kalmadi. "I had written to Sharad Pawar as early as on July 1, 2009, seeking due consideration by the BCCI to ensure that it does not schedule any major cricket matches during the Commonwealth Games 2010 in in Delhi."
It's worth pointing out that the Australian itinerary did not feature any matches in Delhi. In effect, Kalmadi was demanding that there be no cricket on Indian television screens to ensure that the Commonwealth Games telecast owned Indian eyeballs by default. He wanted to use the government of India to regulate viewer preferences, to make the Commonwealth Games a ratings success by denying people the option of watching cricket. The most remarkable thing about this manoeuvre was that Kalmadi thought it was an entirely legitimate thing to do. Luckily for cricket fans and unluckily for Kalmadi, the one institution in India that's nearly as powerful as the State is the BCCI, so he didn't get his way. But it tells us something about the culture of governance in this country that he tried at all.
Meanwhile, three weeks from the Games, Delhi is still dug up, the new stadia and sporting facilities have overshot their completion deadlines time and time again and the lethal combination of relentless rain and a dug-up city has helped incubate a dengue epidemic in the city. Kalmadi continues to insist that these games will be the best Commonwealth Games ever, even as things continue to fall apart. A.R. Rahman's insipid theme song has been received with raspberries, Indian athletes are being disqualified by the dozen for drug abuse and as if all this were not enough, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has decided to pronounce on the Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi dispute 10 days before the Games begin.
In the normal course, misfortune on this scale would elicit sympathy, but the organizers of the Commonwealth Games have embodied the hubris and arrogance of India's ruling elite so perfectly that schadenfreude is the only reasonable response. I hope the awfulness of these Games forever discredits the idea that India stands to gain from hosting extravagant circuses. May the monsoon persist into October, just to rain on this parade.
Ranil Wickremesinghe was not on a holiday in India. In Chennai this month, he sought Indian assistance for agriculture in northern Sri Lanka and promised to hear out all 'stakeholders' to resolve the ethnic problem.
But should he not have been in Sri Lanka, where, as leader of the Opposition, he could have tried to build up a public protest against the Mahinda Rajapakse administration's attempt to pass the 18th amendment? After all, Wickremesinghe has always opposed executive presidency and its unbridled powers. Given that the government was so close to passing the 18th amendment bill which, among other things, would give his political opponent the right to rule in perpetuity was he not expected to strain every sinew to stop it?
No. Despite the fact that the 18th amendment would end Sri Lanka's liberal democracy and deprive democratic institutions (including the judiciary and the election commission) of the right to function impartially and independently, the main opposition party in the country hardly seemed to be making an effort to defeat the government's diabolical designs. There was no consistent attempt at building up public opinion. A few posters and the Sri Lankan media's hyperventilation apart, there was nothing to indicate that anything momentous was in the offing. Even now, there is scarcely much public awareness on what the amendment is all about. The 'public' demonstrations are either by hardened political cadre or by lawyers.
It is not that the Opposition had had no time to get its act together. Yet, strangely, it seems to have competed with the government in keeping all deliberations on the 18th amendment away from the public glare. Wickremesinghe was seen meeting the president, apparently to carry out negotiations on the amendment, but nothing much was made public about the tête-à-tête. Rajapakse now claims that much of the idea of the amendment had come from Wickremesinghe's United National Party.
But why had the Opposition looked so secretive and self-absorbed when it could have made a valiant effort to shame the government and defend the constitution? As things stand now, the opposition parties seem to have been preoccupied with a matter closer to their skin than the nation.
The matter will be made clear if one looks at the desperate excuse that Shafeek Rajabdeen, the national organizer of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, made while explaining the party's last-moment decision to support the amendment after opposing it all along. Its eight legislators helped the ruling alliance achieve the two-thirds majority it would require to pass the bill. Rajabdeen, said, "If we don't support... [the United People's Freedom Alliance] will surely break our party. Party politics is much more important than individual politics."
Opposition legislators have fallen like nine pins to the enticements offered by the ruling UPFA. Even if a party the size of the UNP could survive mass defections (as in 2007), smaller parties like the SLMC cannot. So they have made a judicious choice sacrifice national interest (which Rajabdeen believes falls within the purview of "individual politics") to save the party.
Wickremesinghe's UNP, too, has made a choice: not to make an issue of the amendment and allow legislators to vote as their political canniness dictates if that is all that is required to keep them in the party. After the Sarath Fonseka debacle, another mass defection is the last thing that the UNP could look forward to. But since such calculations could not be made public, it decided to keep the haggling on the amendment as far away from the people as possible. Who knows, Wickremesinghe may have even shed a few tears in India over the passing away of "individual politics".
THE HEALING TOUCH
TWO RECENT COURT RULINGS IN BANGLADESH HAVE ESTABLISHED THE PRIMACY OF LAW AND ATTEMPTED TO CORRECT THE WRONGS OF THE PAST, WRITES DEB MUKHARJI
Significant developments are visible in Bangladesh that could leave their imprint on the nature of the polity and on its future. Landmark judgments from the courts and decisions of the government have laid the foundation of a structure that goes even beyond what a commentator has described in The Wall Street Journal as "Bangladesh's Secular Revolution". Two recent judgments by the supreme court and the high court, respectively, have addressed fundamental issues that have remained unattended for decades.
Almost from the time of its birth in 1971, there evolved in Bangladesh a culture of impunity that ignored genocide and averted the gaze as killers of national leaders were rewarded with diplomatic assignments. Military usurpers took decisions that sought to change the fundamentals of the State. A time for reckoning may now have arrived.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman must share the responsibility of a less- than-focused stand on the perpetrators of the genocide in 1971, even as one acknowledges his international constraints. But what was obvious to impartial observers for decades has now been stated unambiguously by the high court of Bangladesh. On August 26, it stated that Ziaur Rahman, the founder of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, had "ravaged" the constitution, "released the anti-Liberation War forces that committed crimes like murder, rape, and arson during the Liberation War in 1971", and "introduced religion-based communal politics by replacing secularism" in the constitution. In the view of the court, the subsequent military takeover by General H.M. Ershad and the infringements on the constitution would not have taken place without the way shown by Zia. The issue under dispute, the Seventh Amendment which legitimized Ershad's rule, was struck down.
A month earlier, the supreme court had upheld an earlier high-court verdict and delegitimized the Fifth Amendment of 1979, which had, inter alia, sanctioned the rule of Zia and the martial law proclamations of his regime. These, in turn, had desecularized Bangladesh and redefined the persona of its citizens. As the latest high court order states, Zia wiped out the fundamental state principles secularism and Bengali nationalism that were the main guiding spirits of the Liberation War.
It will take some time before the implications of the judgments are analysed. And there will surely be appeals. Disentangling the sensitive skeins, woven over decades of manipulation and augmented by court judgments, will not be an easy task. The government has asked for a 15-member parliamentary committee to look into the future actions, which the Bangladesh parliament would need to take in view of the court judgments to guide the ship of state to the course that had been charted originally. The main opposition party has, so far, declined to participate.
Separate from the judgments of the courts which have delegitimized military takeovers and made the perpetrators subject to prosecution another effort is under way to bury past inconsistencies. Sporadic action during Mujib's governance and Zia's deliberate political calculations had resulted in the criminals of 1971 never being held to account. They went on to occupy the highest positions in the land. Mounting demands from the next generation and the singular persistence of the surviving sector commanders of the Liberation War have reopened that chapter. The time may have come for the bell to toll for those who had been guilty of crimes against humanity in 1971 and had yet been permitted to extract personal and political benefits from the nation whose emergence they had violently opposed.
The recent judgments have established the primacy of law and demanded accountability from those who have transgressed the constitution. This shall remain as a lasting legacy, with a warning for future adventurers. The war crimes trial would, in turn, serve to assuage the trauma of those who had suffered grievously at the hands of the Pakistan army and its collaborators. Investigations are under way separately to bring to book culprits of the co-ordinated grenade attack five years ago that intended to decimate the Awami League leadership.
The nature and pace of recent events in Bangladesh have been remarkable. Nor could these have been expected, given the decades-old history of impunity, be it for violence against the people, as in 1971, against the political leadership, starting with the assassination of Mujibur Rahman in 1975, or against the constitution by successive military regimes. If the judiciary has been in the forefront in recent weeks, one must assume that there has been a mandate from the people manifest in the massive endorsement to the Awami League for a proactive policy to sweep away some of the festering wounds of the past.
Events in Bangladesh will be shaped by the internal dynamics of that country. But it will be important for India's political leadership to be sensitive to the developments there and to the challenges faced by both the people and the state as they try to fashion a new present and a future relieved of some of the odious burdens of the past. In its relations with India, the present government of Bangladesh appears to have shown serious intent in meeting India's primary and long-standing security concerns. There are some issues, such as those relating to the sharing of waters, which have no instant solution and require understanding among all co-riparians. But there are many that can be resolved with a modicum of political will and some bureaucratic energy. The present would be a good time for India to provide tangible evidence of its goodwill in moving ahead expeditiously with all the agreements reached during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
India needs to be sensitive to irritants that impinge negatively on the public mind, such as incidents of firing on the border. Local political considerations, even if they are seen as important from the viewpoint of coalition politics in Delhi, must not be allowed to postpone the bringing of the boundary question to a final closure. A liberal trade regime should be announced at the earliest. India needs to ensure that the issue of Teen Bigha disappears from the radar screen of Bangladeshi perceptions about Indian non-delivery on commitments.
There has been an inclination in the media and among commentators in India to focus on the perceived growth of jihadi fundamentalism in Bangladesh. There were reasons for this in terms of India's experience and the complicity of past governments in Dhaka in such activities. While India's concerns shall remain, it is important that attention is focused on the difficult challenges that the people and the government of Bangladesh face today in their efforts to seek a new future.
The author is former ambassador to Nepal and Bangladesh
SIX YARDS OF GRACE AND ELEGANCE
The sari hardly needs to be revived, since it is alive and well
Ogaan, an exclusive, expensive designer store in south Calcutta has recently morphed into, well, another exclusive, expensive designer store the Sabyasachi Mukherjee store. The opening of the store was accompanied by the Page 3 pageantry that would, and should, accompany the name and label of one of India's foremost designers. Mukherjee's efforts to convert the Page 3 people of Calcutta into sari lovers is commendable.
Mukherjee has written elegies on the sari and has emphasized the fact that it is seen as a 'behenji' or 'aunty' option for the fashionable. The sari is dying "bit by bit" everyday, he fears. To allay his fears, many of his friends and clients turned up in cotton saris at the inauguration. "All the maids must be in full action all morning with safety pins... this is the biggest achievement... to connect these women back to their roots," says the designer without a hint of irony. There is some good news and some bad news for Mukherjee in all this. First the bad news: the pins are now off and a majority of his invitees are back to their muftis, not having been returned 'to their roots'. The aforesaid maids, possibly sari-clad, must have survived that taxing morning.
Now the good news. The sari's existence does not really depend on Mukherjee's charmed circle the garment is a survivor and will outlive its rejection by the size-zero brigade.
But it is true to some extent that the sari has lost its aspirational edge. Our mothers had role models ranging from Indira Gandhi, Maharani Gayatri Devi, Rekha to Sharmila Tagore, who wore saris wherever they went, without either apology or the need to prove a point. They wore it because they wished to. All of them were as much at ease in other forms of clothing.
If the sari is seen as a fuddy-duddy option today, it is because of Mukherjee's tribe, the designers. They have discovered a world beyond the six yards of the sari, and would uphold their creations as the byword of fashion since that makes good business sense. Even those who are known for their trousseau/sari lines occasionally do more harm than good to the cause of the sari. For example, Tarun Tahiliani has said that plus-sized women must wear saris when they go out, inadvertently sounding as if he thinks that thesari is the last resort of the obese.
The media also have a part to play in this. They have decided that there are areas of public life where the sari has no place. The college campus, for example. Recently, there was an outcry against a college that wanted its students and teachers to come insaris. While any dress code is objectionable, sections of the media went overboard in calling it 'Talibanization.' Welham, Dehra Dun, one of the most exclusive girls' schools in India, has a salwar kurta uniform. Nobody questions that, but when Muralidhar Girls' College recommends the sari, it's seen as Talibanization.
Mukherjee's zeal in making his fashionable friends take to the sari may or may not be successful, but he can get some consolation from the fact that the future of the sari does not depend on his endeavour. The sari does have competition, but it has enough grace and elegance to adapt and survive. Mukherjee would do well to brave the midday pre-Puja chaos and come to Gariahat to look at the women and the sari shops. Both were there before he came along and will be there long after us all. The sari is alive and well.
MALAVIKA R. BANERJEE
'BRAHMOS HAS MAINTAINED ITS RECORD OF SUCCESS.'
The successful test-firing of an advanced BrahMos missile from Chandipur in Orissa is no surprise because the missile has proved to be perhaps the most reliable of all defence equipment developed in India. It is a versatile missile which has seen many versions land to land, land to ship, ship to ship, etc and some new versions are being planned. It was a very advanced version of the supersonic missile that was tried on Sunday. In March defence scientists and engineers had achieved a remarkable feat by launching the missile vertically from a moving ship. This was technologically very challenging, and maintaining the speed and hitting the target with precision was equally difficult. A vertically launched missile has many advantages like greater range and flexibility and the need for less storage space. The ship-based missiles have already been inducted into Indian naval vessels and have given more strike power to the navy. They are deployed by the army too.
The air-launched version of the missile may have to wait for two more years but so far the missile has not failed any expectation. It is a result of collaboration between India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Russia's NPO Mashinostroyenia. The first missile was launched in 2001 and since then it has always maintained its remarkable record of success. The missiles can carry conventional warheads of up to 300 kg, have a range of about 290 km and move at three times the speed of sound. It is the fastest cruise missile and is technologically superior to all others of its kind. Its versatility and precision have made it an important tactical weapon for India's defence forces. The missile is very cost-effective and requires only very little reaction time. It is also a symbol of the co-operation between India and Russia in defence matters. The name of the missile is an abbreviation of the names of the rivers Brahmaputra and Moscow, to demonstrate the co-operation. A later version of the missile may be inducted into the Russian military also.
Though the production of the missile will be primarily scheduled to meet India's defence requirements, it has evoked interest among other countries. It has been reported that there are export orders worth $13 billion for the missile and India and Russia have taken a decision to export the missile to friendly countries after meeting their own requirements. This will mean impressive business also.
ADOPTING TO TIMES
'GENDER BIAS IN ADOPTION LAWS HAS BEEN REMOVED.'
The adoption by parliament of a bill to amend the adoption laws in the country is a welcome step that addresses a social need and removes a major problem of gender disparity. The number of adoptions has been increasing in the country but laws governing them have not kept pace with changing social practices and attitudes. The gender bias in adoption laws has been a major constraint and has given rise to a number of legal disputes. The Lok Sabha has unanimously passed amendments to both the Guardians and Wards Act of 1890 and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956 and they have given women a role independent of men in guardianship and adoption of children. The first law is applicable to Christians and Muslims and the second to Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs. Both the laws were biased against women.
The 1890 law made only the father the natural guardian of a child, when a couple adopted child. This created problems if the adopting couple separated or the father died. Separated women also found it difficult to adopt children under both the existing laws. After the amendments mothers can also be appointed guardians of minors and married women have the same rights as those enjoyed by married men in adopting a child or putting up a child for adoption. The legislation had been passed earlier by the Rajya Sabha and the laws, given assent to by the president, can now be said to be gender neutral. The amendments are a result of persistent demands from different groups, especially those representing women. A parliamentary standing committee had made a strong recommendation in support of the changes.
The attitude to adoption has been changing because of greater awareness. There are more number of children available for adoption with increasing activities of social organisations working in the area. The growing trend of divorces and separation of couples has also encouraged adoptions. But the discrimination against women was a major problem. Women can perhaps be better adoptive parents and guardians than men. They are also becoming financially more independent so that they can discharge their responsibilities as parents without help. Therefore granting them equal rights was long overdue. Many adoption rules and procedures also need streamlining and simplification. This should also receive the attention of parliament.
TERROR HAS NO COLOUR
BY SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
Sanity lies not in speaking of green or saffron terrorism, but in trying to analyse and understand the separate cause behind each outburst.
The controversy over home minister P Chidambaram's reference to 'saffron terrorism' should not be allowed to distract attention from an appraisal of the true nature of terrorism. Some terrorists might be Hindu just as others are Muslim or Christian, but what matters even more than what they do is who they are and why they do it. Without that differentiation, no country, neither India nor the United States, can ever come to grips with the political challenges that instigate gun-toting activists.
Janardhan Dwivedi, who heads the Congress party's media department, missed the point when he argued that saffron is not the issue and that 'the main issue is terrorism.' That is like a doctor proclaiming that disease is not the issue but death is.
He might as well say that medicine's only challenge is the heart since death means heart failure; not any of the many causes that lead to the heart stopping to beat. No other cause of mortality need be examined. No disease needs be treated. All the organs of the human body can be allowed to rot. The limbs might atrophy. The brain's disintegration need not be arrested. Heart failure being the ultimate end, it alone deserves attention.
Terrorism is the outward eruption, not the issue. There will be no solution to any of the many issues that prompt terrorist outrages if governments choose to ignore the underlying causes and treat the outrages themselves as the issue. Returning to the medical analogy, it's like doling out the same medicine for all boils that break out on the body. Some might be caused by blood poisoning, some by an unbalanced diet, some by a skin infection, of course, the boils have to be treated. But they will erupt again and again if ointment, hot compress or lancing is the only treatment.
Because of the American nightmare of New York's Twin Towers, we identify terrorism with Islamic fundamentalism. And, indeed, the bulk of today's terrorist movements are Muslim. But blind Islamophobia will get us nowhere. It was probably to avert that danger and break that mould of stereotyped thinking that Chidambaram recalled the 1998 Malegaon bombing and reminded listeners that Muslims are not the only perpetrators of violence.
They should have needed no reminding after Sri Lanka's experience with the overwhelmingly Hindu Tamil Tigers. Had the Union home minister ventured farther afield, he would have recalled that the hard core Roman Catholic Provisional Irish Republican Army holds the record for the world's longest terrorist campaign. Spain's Basque terrorists are also Catholic.
ISI not pioneer
As for official sponsorship of terrorist acts, the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence network's involvement in the Mumbai blasts was not the first of its kind. A notable feature of the First World War was the bombing of Turkish railway lines in West Asia by Lawrence of Arabia and his Arab allies as part of the British strategy of destroying the Ottoman Empire and winning over its Arab subjects.
Not only is terrorism never without a cause but the cause is often lofty in some eyes. Bengal's tradition of bomb-making did not end when the British left. Dozens of Naxalite groups re-enacted the Chittagong Armoury Raid in attacking police stations all over the state. It's a truism that one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. That would apply to Punjab's Bhagat Singh as much as to Bina Das in Bengal.
Many readers will be outraged at the comparison but that is only because they understand and approve of the motivation for what Bhagat Singh and Bina Das attempted. But not understanding the reason for jihadi violence and seeing themselves as the target, readers will naturally take a different stand.
Let them, however, pause to consider that young men who sacrifice their lives must have a reason for doing so. Further, no one who is not placed in exactly the same situation can ever understand a motivation that seems warped to others. Richard Baldwin, the black American writer, said once he would never know if he had to wait for the lift because the liftman was genuinely busy or because he was black and the liftman was white. Rarely can one man get into another's skin.
Sanity lies, therefore, not in speaking of green or saffron terrorism, or even in branding all terrorism as black, as one politician suggested, but in trying to analyse and understand the separate cause behind each outburst.
True, there is evidence of cross-border cooperation (Chechens among the Mujahedeen, Taliban with the Uighurs and Malaysian assistance for beleaguered Bosnians) but that unavoidable expression of globalisation is a relatively limited phenomenon. Cooperation doesn't always indicate ideological sympathy either: Palestinians were suspected of helping both the IRA and the Tigers for reasons of commerce as part of the global underworld trade in arms and armaments.
What matters more is that Kashmir, Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan and all the other current centres of unrest are as separate and distinct as were Ulster and Eelam. Lumping all these highly individual and sensitive political problems together as only terrorist threats will only further aggravate the situation.
MEETING THE CAUSE OF HUMAN RIGHTS
BY STEPHANIE STROM, NYT
Last year, in the depths of the recession, Soros gave the Robin Hood Foundation, a $50 million contribution.
George Soros, the billionaire investor and philanthropist, has announced that he is giving $100 million to Human Rights Watch (HRW) to expand the organisation's work globally.
It is the largest gift he has made, the largest gift by far that HRW has ever received and only the second gift of $100 million or more made by an individual this year, according to the Centre on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
"We're seeing noticeably fewer charitable gifts at the $100 million level from individuals reported than we did just a few years ago," said Patrick Rooney, the centre's executive director. "Between 2006 and 2008, an average of about 13 gifts a year of that size by individuals was reported. In 2009, it dropped to six, and this year, we know of only one other."
The largest known gift in 2010 was $200 million pledged by an anonymous Baylor University graduate, to be dispensed upon the donor's death, for medical research at the university.
Uncertainty about the direction of the economy has made even the wealthiest individuals more cautious about making big philanthropic commitments, Rooney said.
Just a beginning
Contrariness, however, is a hallmark of Soros, both as an investor and as a philanthropist. While others have held on to their money, he has made bigger gifts than ever. He said the gift to HRW is the first of a series of large gifts that he plans to make.
"This is partly due to age," said Soros, who celebrated his 80th birthday last month. "Originally I wanted to distribute all of the money during my lifetime, but I have abandoned that plan. My foundation should continue, but I still would like to do a lot of giving during my lifetime, and doing it this way, with such size, is a step in that direction."
Last year, in the depths of the recession, Soros gave the Robin Hood Foundation, a charity that fights poverty in New York, a $50 million contribution that helped it raise significantly more than that amount. He also gave $200 to every family with children on welfare in New York state to buy school supplies, a grant worth $35 million that enabled the state to gain access to some $175 million in federal money for which it would not otherwise have qualified.
So far this year, Soros has donated about $700 million to various causes. His hedge fund, Quantum Endowment, grew 29 per cent in 2009, earning him $3.3 billion.
HRW will use the gift to add about 120 staff members to its team of 300, expand translation of its reports and open new offices. The intent, said Kenneth Roth, the advocacy group's executive director, is to increase its influence in emerging power centres. The group, which is based in New York, investigates and draws attention to human rights abuses around the world.
Roth said that South Africa had more sway in Zimbabwe than the United States and other western powers. Similarly, India, China and Japan are more influential in Sri Lanka.
"We need to try to generate pressure on those governments, those emerging powers, now, which means expanding our capacity to deploy our information," Roth said.
Soros put it differently. "I'm afraid the US has lost the moral high ground under the Bush administration, but the principles that HRW promotes have not lost their universal applicability," Soros said. "So to be more effective, I think the organisation has to be seen as more international, less an American organisation."
He said the gift to the organisation was "also from my heart," an acknowledgment of the training in human rights issues and philanthropy that he received from the group when he was just starting to emerge as a major donor.
"Every Wednesday morning at 8 o'clock, a group at HRW got together and discussed issues with the managers," Soros recalled. "I was an active participant in that group, and human rights remains an important element of my foundation's current activities."
Roth said few people then knew who Soros was. "We were just trying to figure out what we were going to do that week and so on, and he was just a guy at the meeting," he said.
The grant is structured as a challenge that asks the group to raise $10 million from new, primarily international sources, each year for the next decade, but HRW will receive the Soros grant regardless. Roughly 30 per cent of its revenue comes from countries other than the US, but less than 1 per cent is from non-western countries, where much of the organisation's work is focused.
Soros wants to see the organisation raise more money in places like Brazil, Mexico, India and China, which will be challenging, Roth said.
"This is a transformative grant in more than one way for sure," he said.
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
SPY VERSUS SPY
BY N N SACHITANAND
It's a wonder why ISI's name has not figured in the fiasco in organising the Games.
Being a very patriotic person, I was getting more and more despondent about the manner in which Pakistan's ISI was always hogging the limelight. It seems our columnists, politicians, security experts, administrators and the 'aam admi' are convinced that the ISI is a super spy agency which can teach the CIA a thing or two about dirty tricks. All the mischief going on in our country, whether it be bombings or smuggling or rioting or train accidents is reported to be ISI-sponsored. It's a wonder why its name has not cropped up in newspaper reports about the fiasco in organising the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
In contrast, our own RAW, the IB and sundry other agencies seem to be a bunch of bumbling amateurs, depending on hand-me-downs from the CIA, the FBI, Mossad and the like to know who is plotting what in our own country. They seem to specialise in permitting suspected moles to quietly leave the country.
But, now, my humiliation is at an end and I can lift my head with pride. I have it on the authority of leading Pakistani news publications that RAW can be equally up to no good as the ISI or American spook shops.
The whole world was under the impression that the recent devastating floods in Pakistan were caused by unprecedented heavy rainfall over that country. However, the 'Nawa-i-Waqt', a prominent Urdu daily of Pakistan, has revealed that the floods were a machination of Indian intelligence agencies which prevailed upon the Indian government to open the dam gates in Kashmir and let all the stored water out downstream to Pakistan! Can the ISI ever match such a devilishly superb strategy to wreak mayhem on the enemy?
And now comes further news to bolster my ego about the efficiency of our intel folk. Pakistani English newspaper 'Daily Mail' has claimed that the spot fixing scandal involving Pak cricketers was all a diabolical plot masterminded by RAW to give Pakistan a bad name. According to the paper's investigations, some British journalists and the unsavoury character called Majeed were in cahoots with the Indian agency to bring down the fair name of Pakistani cricketers.
An Indian intelligence agency surpassing in deviousness the devilish ISI! I would not have believed it if I had not read it in a Pakistani newspaper. I now eagerly await the revelation, perhaps uncovered by PTV, that the fall from grace of the Pak hockey team was engineered by Indian spooks. Way to go, RAW!
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DEBATING THE ECONOMY
Americans are deeply worried about the economy and their jobs and about whether their elected representatives in Washington have a real plan for digging out of this mess. They are right to be worried. But this week, at least, voters were given a clear choice about the direction the country can take in November and beyond.
President Obama who took too long to engage this debate gave two sensible and, finally, passionate speeches. He said that to create jobs and stabilize the economy, the federal government will have to help businesses invest more, and it will have to spend some more, for a while longer. And he said that the country will never be able to wrestle down the deficit if Congress gives in to Republican demands to extend $700 billion in unjustified and unaffordable tax breaks for the wealthy.
The speeches were a pointed rebuttal to Representative John Boehner, the House Republican leader, who has spearheaded his party's implacable opposition. In a speech in Ohio last month, billed as the definitive Republican position on the economy, he declared that "the prospect of higher taxes, stricter rules and more regulations" was choking recovery.
The president was exactly right when he said that Mr. Boehner's proposals were nothing more than a return to the past decade of economic mismanagement; the same policies that helped turn budget surpluses into crippling deficits nearly destroyed the financial system and cast millions of Americans into long-term joblessness.
"Do we return to the same failed policies that ran our economy into the ditch," he asked on Wednesday.
The immediate battle is over President George W. Bush's tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of this year. Mr. Obama wants to make the tax cuts permanent for families that make less than $250,000 a year and let the tax cuts expire for those who make more about 2 percent of taxpayers. Mr. Boehner says he wants to extend all of the tax cuts for two years although there is little doubt that the goal of Republicans is to extend all of them permanently.
It makes good sense to extend the middle-class tax cuts temporarily because the weak economy needs the boost, but it makes no sense to extend them for the rich. Middle-class Americans spend tax breaks, while wealthy taxpayers generally save them. In the longer term, more revenue will be needed to keep rebuilding the economy and meet health care and other obligations.
We're not surprised that Mr. Obama avoided that hard truth. But Mr. Boehner and his party's position is an utter denial of reality. In the real world, it was lower taxes for the rich, lax rules and deregulation that hurt middle-class Americans and dragged the economy to this dangerous pass.
Mr. Boehner's much professed concern for small businesses is misdirection. The tax cuts that Mr. Obama would let expire would affect very few owners of small businesses how many do you know who make more than $250,000 a year? by any common-sense definition of that term.
Mr. Boehner said he was fed up with "Washington politicians talking about wanting to create jobs as a ploy to get themselves re-elected while doing everything possible to prevent jobs from being created." Amazingly enough, he was not talking to Republicans.
Mr. Obama did more than just rebut Mr. Boehner. He also offered some sound ideas some that also had Republican support, at least until Mr. Obama raised them. He proposed on Wednesday to allow businesses to write off all the investments they make in 2011, rather than over several years, to close loopholes that reward businesses that send jobs overseas and to permanently extend a research and development tax credit.
Mr. Obama again called on Congress to pass legislation that would make more credit available to small businesses legislation that Senate Republicans, for all their claims of concern for small businesses, have delayed passing.
If there is any good news from Mr. Boehner and other Republicans it is that they suddenly want to seem eager to shed their reputation as the Party of No. This week, they suggested that they might be open to some of Mr. Obama's ideas, which include a $50 billion initial investment to create jobs improving roads, rail lines and airports as long as those projects were not paid for by taxing billionaires, oil companies and other wealthy corporations. That, of course, is just how Mr. Obama intends to pay for them and just how he should.
Mr. Obama's speeches were a robust effort by the president to rally Democrats for the election. It has been a long time coming. And we wish that Democratic leaders in Congress could show the same clear thinking and the same willingness to go head to head with the Republicans. Some commentators are likely to say that Mr. Obama should not have given a national stage to Mr. Boehner, a relative unknown despite his immense power in Congress and his ambition to be the next speaker of the House. But that is just what he needed to do.
For far too long, Mr. Boehner and others have been dominating the political debate with insincere sound bites, Jedi mind games and plain bad economics. How can they claim to care about the deficit and insist on more tax cuts?
The answer, unfortunately, is that they can, and they have, because Mr. Obama has sat on the sidelines and most Congressional Democrats have run for the hills. We are glad to see Mr. Obama fully in the fight.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TORTURE IS A CRIME, NOT A SECRET
Five men who say the Bush administration sent them to other countries to be tortured had a chance to be the first ones to have torture claims heard in court. But because the Obama administration decided to adopt the Bush administration's claim that hearing the case would divulge state secrets, the men's lawsuit was tossed out on Wednesday by the full United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The decision diminishes any hope that this odious practice will finally receive the legal label it deserves: a violation of international law.
The lawsuit was brought in 2007 against a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, that the plaintiffs said had arranged the rendition flights that took them to Morocco, Egypt and Afghanistan to be tortured. One of the men, Binyam Mohamed, had his bones broken in Morocco, where security agents also cut his skin with a scalpel and poured a stinging liquid into his wounds.
But the merits of the case were never considered because the Bush administration argued that even discussing the matter in court would violate the state secrets privilege. Barack Obama told voters in 2008 that he opposed the government cult of secrecy, but once he became president, his Justice Department also argued that the case should be dismissed on secrecy grounds.
The Ninth Circuit was sharply divided, voting 6 to 5 to dismiss the case and overturn a decision to let it proceed that was made by a panel of three circuit judges last year. The majority said it reached its decision reluctantly and was not trying to send a signal that secrecy could be used regularly to dismiss lawsuits. But even though it is public knowledge that Jeppesen arranged the torture flights, the majority said any effort by the company to defend itself would pose "an unacceptable risk of disclosure of state secrets."
That notion was demolished by the five-judge minority that dissented from the ruling, pointing out that the plaintiffs were never even given a chance to make their case in court using nonsecret evidence, including a sworn statement by a former Jeppesen employee about the company's role in what he called "the torture flights." The case should have been sent back to the district court to examine which evidence was truly secret; now it will have to be appealed to a Supreme Court that is unlikely to be sympathetic to the plaintiffs.
The state secrets doctrine is so blinding and powerful that it should be invoked only when the most grave national security matters are at stake nuclear weapons details, for example, or the identity of covert agents. It should not be used to defend against allegations that if true, as the dissenting judges wrote, would be "gross violations of the norms of international law."
All too often in the past, the judges pointed out, secrecy privileges have been used to avoid embarrassing the government, not to protect real secrets. In this case, the embarrassment and the shame to America's reputation are already too well known.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AFTER MAYOR DALEY
So he is not Mayor for Life after all. Richard M. Daley of Chicago said on Tuesday that he would leave office next year at the end of his sixth term. A city that has seen more than half a century of father-son mayoral rule, give or take a few mayors, was dumbstruck.
A few paragraphs cannot contain the legacy of a man who took office to low expectations in 1989 and stayed and toiled until his reputation and achievements rivaled those of his infamous father, Richard J. Daley. He showed what a powerful mayor with big ambitions and an obedient City Council can get done.
Mr. Daley is a mayor who gets an idea in his head and makes it happen, and the evidence rooftop gardens, planters on Michigan Avenue, new libraries and schools, a glittering and redrawn lakefront is all over Chicago. He seized control of dismal public schools and built a stunning (though way overbudget and long-delayed) Millennium Park. His metropolis avoided Rust Belt rot. If it took, say, demolishing a lakefront airstrip in an authoritarian fit, at least his has been a city that works, that sets and achieves an ambitious agenda (his).
Mr. Daley's failures have been large, too. His city has a $655 million deficit, swollen debt and an undiminished reputation for patronage and corruption. Investigations and scandals have edged near but not quite entered the mayor's office. Chicago's bid to be host of the 2016 Olympics never happened.
And Mayor Daley's beautified city still lives under the curse of segregation that his father quite literally helped to set in concrete, with strategically placed highways and immense public housing projects that consigned poor black Chicagoans to living out of sight and mind of whites. Large parts of the city remain hostage to gang and gun violence.
The second Mayor Daley has struggled to heal Chicago's racial agonies, though his record is mixed. He is a leading voice for gun control. He demolished high-rise slums, block after desolate block, leaving public-housing residents to move where, exactly? The harmoniously mixed-race, mixed-income Chicago of the future has not arrived. That is an unfinished job that even this mayor could not stay long enough to complete.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE HEALERS OF 9/11
This weekend, a Jewish woman who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks is planning to speak at a mosque in Boston. She will be trying to recruit members of the mosque to join her battle against poverty and illiteracy in Afghanistan.
The woman, Susan Retik, has pursued perhaps the most unexpected and inspiring American response to the 9/11 attacks. This anniversary of Sept. 11 feels a little ugly to me, with some planning to remember the day with hatred and a Koran-burning and that makes her work all the more exhilarating.
In the shattering aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Ms. Retik bonded with another woman, Patti Quigley, whose husband had also died in the attack. They lived near each other, and both were pregnant with babies who would never see their fathers.
Devastated themselves, they realized that there were more than half a million widows in Afghanistan and then, with war, there would be even more. Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley also saw that Afghan widows could be a stabilizing force in that country.
So at a time when the American government reacted to the horror of 9/11 mostly with missiles and bombs, detentions and waterboardings, Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley turned to education and poverty-alleviation projects in the very country that had incubated a plot that had pulverized their lives.
The organization they started, Beyond the 11th, has now assisted more than 1,000 Afghan widows in starting tiny businesses. It's an effort both to help some of the world's neediest people and to fight back at the distrust, hatred and unemployment that sustain the Taliban.
"More jobs mean less violence," Ms. Retik noted. "It would be naïve to think that we can change the country, but change has to start somewhere. If we can provide a skill for a woman so that she can provide for her family going forward, then that's one person or five people who will have a roof over their head, food in their bellies and a chance for education."
In times of fear and darkness, we tend to suppress the better angels of our nature. Instead, these women unleashed theirs.
Paul Barker, who for many years ran CARE's operations in Afghanistan, believes America would have accomplished more there if our government had shared the two women's passion for education and development. "I can only wonder at what a different world it could be today if in those fateful months after 9/11 our nation's leadership had been guided more by a people-to-people vision of building both metaphorical and physical bridges," Mr. Barker said.
A terrific documentary, "Beyond Belief," follows Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley as they raise funds for Afghan widows and finally travel to Afghanistan to visit the women they had been helping. Ms. Quigley has since stepped down from Beyond the 11th because she felt in danger of becoming a perpetual 9/11 poster widow, but she still is working on a series of Afghan initiatives. Ms. Retik, who has since remarried, remains focused on the charity.
Beyond the 11th began by buying small chicken flocks for widows so that they could sell eggs. Another major project was to build a women's center in the city of Bamian, where the women weave carpets for export. The center, overseen by an aid group called Arzu, also offers literacy classes and operates a bakery as a business.
Another initiative has been to train Afghan women, through a group called Business Council for Peace, to run a soccer ball manufacturing company. The bosses have been coached in quality control, inventory management and other skills, and they have recruited unemployed widows to stitch the balls which are beginning to be exported under the brand Dosti.
Ms. Retik's next step will be to sponsor a microfinance program through CARE. There are also plans to train attendants to help reduce deaths in childbirth.
Will all of this turn Afghanistan into a peaceful country? Of course not. Education and employment are not panaceas. But the record suggests that schools and economic initiatives do tend over time to chip away at fundamentalism and they're also cheap.
All the work that Beyond the 11th has done in Afghanistan over nine years has cost less than keeping a single American soldier in Afghanistan for eight months.
I admire Ms. Retik's work partly because she offers an antidote to the pusillanimous anti-Islamic hysteria that clouds this anniversary of 9/11. Ms. Retik offers an alternative vision by reaching out to a mosque and working with Muslims so that in the future there will be fewer widows either here or there.
Her work is an invigorating struggle to unite all faiths against those common enemies of humanity, ignorance and poverty reflecting the moral and mental toughness that truly can chip away at terrorism.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE 5 PERCENT DOCTRINE
BY GAIL COLLINS
A minister in Gainesville, Fla., has created an international uproar by vowing to burn the Koran on Sept. 11. This is under the theory that the best way to honor Americans who died at the hands of religious extremists is to do something that is both religious and extreme.
I am not going to mention his name, since he's already been rewarded with way too many TV interviews for a person whose seminal career achievement has been building a thriving congregation of about 50 people.
The Koran-burning has been equated, in some circles, with the fabled ground zero mosque. This is under the theory that both are constitutionally protected bad ideas. In fact, they're very different. Muslims building a community center in their neighborhood on one hand. Deliberate attempt to insult a religion that is dear to about 1.5 billion souls around the globe on the other.
This week, New York City was visited by another minister, with the depressing title of "Internet evangelist" who announced plans to build a "9/11 Christian center at ground zero" in response to "the lies of Islam." This guy, who is from Tampa, drew an estimated crowd of 60 people. Does that make him more popular than the minister from Gainesville? Plus, is there something in the water in Florida?
When this sort of thing happens, it is important to remember that about 5 percent of our population is and always will be totally crazy. I don't mean mentally ill. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, 26 percent of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. So, basically, that's just normal life. I mean crazy in the sense of "Thinks it is a good plan to joke with the flight attendant about seeing a bomb in the restroom."
There is nothing you can do about the crazy 5 percent except ask the police to keep an eye on them during large public events, where they sometimes appear carrying machine guns just to make a political point about the Second Amendment. And, in situations like a Koran-burning, make it clear that the rest of us disagree.
So far, the people lining up to denounce the burning of the Koran include the pope, Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On the Republican side, Haley Barbour, theMississippi governor and would-be presidential contender, stepped up to the plate. "I don't think there is any excuse for it," said Barbour at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
Unfortunately, Barbour followed up his bow to tolerance by suggesting that the public's confusion over Barack Obama's religion is because of the fact that "this is a president that we know less about than any other president in history." The governor claimed that Americans had been particularly deprived of information on Obama's youth, while they knew a great deal about the formative years of the other chief executives all the way back to the way the youthful George Washington "chopped down a cherry tree."
Let us reconsider the above paragraph in light of the fact that while Obama wrote an entire book about his childhood, Washington never chopped down the cherry tree.
But I digress. While a pope, a general and a cabinet member are speaking out, the candidates running in this year's elections seem to be superquiet about the Koran-burning. However, quite a few have been racing to bash the Muslim community center for Lower Manhattan. In Florida, the gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott has an ad railing against a mosque "just yards away" from ground zero, which is semiaccurate only if you believe "city blocks" and "yards" are the same thing. And in New York, the Republican candidates for governor appear to be running for the Mosque Removal slot on the ballot.
"Just before the primary, we had candidates who thought they might gain more votes by bashing Islam," said Saleh Sbenaty, a leader of the Muslim families in Murfreesboro, Tenn., whose community center construction site has been vandalized twice in recent weeks. "We had a rough, rough time during the primary."
My memories of Sept. 11, 2001, are still intense, and they are mainly about the outpouring of concern from the rest of the country. The piles of donated clothes and food piled up, unused but not necessarily unwanted since each bit was a token of someone's good will toward the city. Helping us achieve that state of public grace is the highest possible duty of every elected official.
But, lately, they've abdicated or worse. And the fight for public sanity has fallen to average citizens, like Professor Sbenaty, who is still trying to explain to the rest of the world what happened in his community. "Let me say first," he told an interviewer on NPR, "there are crazy people in every society."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE MUSIC YOU WON'T HEAR ON ROSH HASHANA
BY MILES HOFFMAN
TODAY is the first day of Rosh Hashana, the holiday that marks the beginning of the Jewish new year. For the next 10 days, through Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jews around the world will gather to chant the prayers of the High Holy Days to melodies that have been used for generations.
Some of the melodies will be simple and some complex, and some will be particularly beautiful. What almost none of them will be is "classical": Western classical composition, the dominant feature of Christian sacred music for more than a millennium, remains mostly absent from Jewish liturgical music. Given the number of extraordinary Jewish classical composers over the last two centuries, this absence is particularly striking.
But it's not surprising. The reasons for the dearth of classical music in the synagogue may be tangled, but they all lie in the familiar ground of Jewish history and experience: religious observance, rabbinic law, social and legal exclusion, systematic persecution, love of tradition and the complicated psychology of being Jewish in a largely gentile world.
Western classical music has various ancient antecedents, including, interestingly, the early music of the Jewish liturgy. But its modern history begins in the Middle Ages with music written for the Roman Catholic Church. And to a large extent it owes its subsequent evolution to the work of musicians trained and employed by the church, the great patron not just of musicians but of artists, scribes and scholars.
It's true that secular musical forms, training and traditions developed along the way, and throughout history one finds great contrasts in style and emphasis between sacred and secular forms in classical music.
But in terms of classical music's basic principles, the similarities outweigh the differences: Bach is still Bach and Mozart is still Mozart, whether in Masses or sonatas. The language of classical music, in other words, is the language of Christian church music.
Jews, however, were long excluded from the practice of Western classical music. Jews were barred from church schools, of course, but until the Italian Renaissance, and the later Enlightenment in other parts of Europe, they were likewise forbidden from public academies, organizations and functions.
As a result, Jews were for the most part limited to cultivating and preserving their own liturgical music, music for the synagogue and home prayer based on ancient chants and motifs and enriched over the centuries of the diaspora by borrowing from the folk music of local cultures. From the 12th century to the 14th century, for example, elements of German, Spanish and French folk tunes all found their way, modified and adapted, into Jewish liturgical melodies.
Rabbinic law tightened the limits still further by banning musical instruments in the synagogue and outside the synagogue, except during weddings. This prohibition dated from the destruction of the Second Temple, in A.D. 70, after which rabbis decided that the playing of musical instruments was inappropriate for a people in mourning.
But explanations based on historical exclusion and rabbinic law go only so far. What kept emancipated Jewish "classical" composers of the modern era from writing music for the synagogue, as their Christian colleagues wrote for the church? Where are the liturgical contributions of Salomone Rossi, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Jacques Offenbach, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, Erich Korngold and Aaron Copland, to name just a few?
The answers rest in the eternal dual longings of the Jewish people: the longing, on the one hand, for distinction, separateness and "chosenness," and on the other for acceptance and belonging.
These forces are always in conflict, but in the field of music, when Jewish composers were finally free from prohibitions and persecution and began to develop their talents within the cultural mainstream, their longing for acceptance triumphed.
In a way, they were still able to remain separate, or "chosen," if only by becoming musicians, members of a rarified profession. But in the thrill of their new freedom they sought the broadest possible citizenship, eagerly choosing to write for their countries, or for the whole world, rather than for the much narrower world of their co-religionists, and to define themselves by their secular accomplishments.
Rossi, for example, did publish a collection of settings of Hebrew texts, but he's better known, and plays a more important role in music history, as an innovator in early Baroque instrumental music and violin technique.
Meyerbeer and Offenbach, both German Jews, became more French than the French Meyerbeer as the king of French grand opera, Offenbach as the champion of operetta. Mahler, who went so far as to convert to Catholicism, was a giant of the symphony, and Korngold held similar sway over film music. Copland came to define American classical music and Schoenberg, although he did write works on Jewish subjects, including a setting for the Kol Nidre, the opening prayer recitation for the Yom Kippur service, will forever be identified with his internationally influential system of twelve-tone music.
It's certainly strange that their very liberation as Jews led to composers' leaving the substance of Judaism behind, at least artistically. But is it realistic to expect brilliant Jewish composers, exposed to some of the most magnificent artistic creations of Western civilization and struck by the universal impact and appeal of those creations, to be satisfied setting Hebrew texts for their local congregations?
Yes, it's possible that if some of these great composers had written monumental works for the synagogue, those works might eventually have found a broad public. And some have: Ernest Bloch's "Avodath Hakodesh" ("Sacred Service"), for example, is widely performed in concert halls more than synagogues and Leonard Bernstein's settings of Hebrew texts have not lacked for mixed audiences.
More recently, contemporary Jewish composers like Paul Schoenfield, Osvaldo Golijov and Max Raimi have made compelling use of traditional Jewish tunes and styles in music for the concert hall and found a sizeable audience.
But historically speaking, many Jewish composers simply felt compelled to strike out well beyond their parochial origins, and to avoid at all costs the possibility of being pigeon-holed as composers of "Jewish music."
STILL, the interests of Jewish musicians are only a part of the story. Perhaps even more important, many Jewish congregations over the years weren't particularly interested in changing their traditional musical practices in any fundamental way and in most cases still aren't.
Under the pressures of the diaspora and persecution, "home" has often been a fluid and elusive concept for Jews, a dream more than a reality. But if the forms of worship remain the same, if the music remains the same, then any synagogue anywhere can still feel like home.
This isn't to say that musical beauty in the synagogue is not highly prized. The Jews tend to have a deep appreciation, for example, for great cantorial singing, and many synagogues have fine choirs. It's also true that many distinguished Jewish composers have set liturgical texts to music the names Darius Milhaud, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Hugo Weisgall come quickly to mind and there's no diminishing their accomplishments or contributions.
Nevertheless, it's safe to say that despite its undeniable artistic quality, most of this music hasn't caught on in any widespread way in Jewish liturgical practice, and certainly hasn't replaced the age-old chants as the most comfortable and familiar way for most observant Jews to communicate with the Almighty.
When it comes to music for the synagogue, invention and innovation have simply not proved as important to the Jewish community as tradition and continuity. Whether this is a good thing is an open question. But if nothing else, it's a testament to the enduring power of music itself, and to the role it has played in sustaining a faith and a people.
Miles Hoffman is the violist of the American Chamber Players and a music commentator for the NPR program "Morning Edition
CIRCULAR DEBT: AN UNENDING PROBLEM
WITH economy suffering the worst damages in the face of devastating floods and no possibility of a take off in the short-term, the circular debt problem has assumed alarming proportions threatening Pakistan's future. The IMF and the US officials in their recent meetings with Pakistan Government have described the circular debt as a significant threat to the country's economy.
After the circular debt of the power sector which has not been fully settled as yet, another massive circular debt of Rs 400 billion in the food commodity operations has emerged as a monster. According to a report in this newspaper the other day, the Federal and Provincial Governments had borrowed the money from the banking sector for procurement of wheat. This debt was to be retired gradually during the year as the Provincial Governments release wheat stocks to flour mills and get the required payment in return. In our view the key players in the food commodity circular debt trap are the Federal and Provincial Governments who are getting money in return for supply of wheat but not repaying the banks and using the funds for unknown purposes. We would request the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister to get the entire case investigated and audited and see why the receipts from sale of wheat stocks were used unauthorizedly. At the same time officials of the Provincial Food Departments are exaggerating the losses to wheat stocks from floods. The reality is that most of the wheat stocks were in the areas which remained unaffected by floods and we would caution the governments to keep a strict vigil against wrong figures of wheat losses being given by these officials. We hope the Government would urgently look into the warning of the IMF and resolve the issue without any waste of time otherwise it would pose a gigantic problem. At this critical juncture we need to tighten our belts instead of doling out hundreds of billion of rupees for the clearance of circular debts which have become an unending problem only and only due to mismanagement and poor governance.
SWAT-LIKE OPERATION IN BALOCHISTAN!
INTERIOR Minister Rehman Malik has indicated that the Government was contemplating for a Swat like operation against those who are involved in target killings and bomb blasts in Balochistan. Speaking to media persons in Quetta on Tuesday, the Minister said he would meet Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani, officials of intelligence agencies and some other political leaders to develop consensus in favour of taking action against anti-social elements in the Province.
Apparently, a stage has come when some sort of action seems to be unavoidable in Balochistan where target killing of settlers, which invariably means people of Punjab origin, and attacks on State symbols and infrastructure have become order of the day. The writ of the State is openly being challenged by some terrorist organisations, which are being funded, trained and equipped by our enemies. Under these circumstances, it has become inevitable to take stern action to foil all such conspiracies as further delay would cause irreparable damage and things could go out of hands. However, even now, we firmly believe that the use of force should be the last option and, as stated by Interior Minister himself, consensus should be evolved for such an approach. The Government should, at least, do two things before resorting to any action in troubled areas of the province try to solve the problem through discussions and dialogue by involving veteran and seasoned political leadership of the troubled areas and intensive campaign to counter venomous propaganda of the disgruntled elements against Pakistan and to expose their real designs. The strategy must be to isolate these elements and deprive them of sympathy, if any, at people's level. We believe that both the previous and the incumbent governments are guilty of criminal negligence towards Balochistan issue due to which some of the highly commendable initiatives were rendered non-starters and irrelevant. Musharraf Government announced huge developmental packages while Mushahid Hussain Committee produced a valuable report but its selective implementation denied the country of the benefits that should otherwise have been there. Similarly, the present Government apologised from Baloch people for wrongs of the past and came out with a comprehensive package called "Aghaz Haqooq-e-Balochistan" but regrettably no one knows its fate. We would, therefore, urge the Government to enter into dialogue with all those who are inside or outside the country, take steps for implementation of the package in letter and in spirit and go for selective and targeted action if things did not improve.
CASH GRANT PROGRAMME MISHANDLED
THE good idea of providing some relief to the flood affected families well before Eid appears to have been mishandled, as usual. Originally, as per decision of the Council of Common Interest (CCI), Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira announced that the process would be completed before Eid but the following day he retrieved his claim and instead started scolding media for wrong reporting. The Prime Minister too jumped into the fray to explain that the process of disbursement would begin before Eid but it would take long forty days to complete.
Indeed, it is beyond imagination to expect of the Government to reach out to hundreds of thousands of families scattered all over the country in just few days ahead of Eidul Fitr. This is particularly so when all the provinces have still not provided lists of the areas to be declared calamity hit on the basis of which NADRA would prepare and verify lists of affected families. Issuance of special cards and opening of bank accounts too would take sometime and all this means that the job cannot be finished in few days. But it is pertinent to point out that the decision to provide cash grant of twenty thousand rupees to each of the affected families was taken by President Asif Ali Zardari over two weeks back, following which PML (N) leader Mian Nawaz Sharif had demanded raising of the preliminary compensation amount to one hundred thousand rupees. There was sufficient time to expedite the process and ensure that the amount is disbursed to the affected people before Eid as majority of them have lost each and everything in floods. Therefore, there are reasons to believe that the Government mishandled the programme and as a result the miseries of the affected people would prolong. Anyhow, we would urge philanthropists and NGOs to become instrumental all over the country and provide the much-needed cash assistance to the distressed people before Eid so that their miseries are mitigated to some extent.
THE CHANGE IS IMMINENT
DR GHAYUR AYUB
When everybody talks of a change; the change becomes imminent. This is the law of Nature. Today, every other person in Pakistan is aspiring for a change. Mass psyche translated as 'Zubaan-e-Khalq' (public dialect) is equated with 'Naqaraa-e-Khuda' (Divine beat) by wise men. Even the President declared, 'Pakistan will emerge stronger after flood tragedy'. The question is how. Will it be in the shape of a revolution? After all, revolution comes from a Latin word revolution, meaning "turnaround". This, in a way, points to a fundamental change in power or organizational structure. Aristotle described it scholastically as two types; complete change from one constitution to another; and a modification of an existing constitution. Here comes the point of interest for us in Pakistan. In a broad term, the change could be, "any and all instances in which a state or a political regime is overthrown and thereby transformed by a popular movement in an irregular, extra-constitutional and/or violent fashion" On the other hand, in a narrow term it could be "a revolution which entail not only mass mobilization and regime change, but also more or less rapid and fundamental social, economic and/or cultural change, during or soon after the struggle for state power."
The frustrated public of Pakistan are looking forward to either of them, while the educated influential are hoping for the 'narrow' version. But, both groups do desire a change. Maybe Mr. Altaf Hussain was also talking of the latter. Scholars like Jack Goldstone studied it in three major approaches: psychological, sociological and political. They saw the cause of revolution in the state of mind of the masses, and while they varied in their approach as to what exactly cause the people to revolt, they agreed that the primary cause for revolution is the widespread frustration with socio-political situation. Others saw, disequilibrium in resources, demands and subsystems in a society that cause revolutions. While still others saw it as an outcome of a power struggle between competing interest groups According to them the revolutions happen when two or more groups cannot come to terms within a normal decision making process in a given political system, and simultaneously have enough resources to employ force in pursuing their goals. Jack Goldstone further defines it as "an effort to transform the political institutions and the justifications for political authority in society, accompanied by formal or informal mass mobilization and non-institutionalized actions that undermine authorities"
Keeping these scenarios in mind and seeing the flow of various disasters hitting Pakistan indicate that something ugly is going to happen. For example, Mother Nature has shown its anger in the form of devastating floods. The custodians of the government are against the public by showing their oblivion towards their basic needs. The political stalwarts in opposition have not shown muscles to favour what the poor of the society really want. The judiciary seems helpless implementing its orders. The law and order is at the lowest ebb bringing sectarian, ethnic, linguistic and political groups face to face taking their revenge. The frustrated public is taking law in their own hands and show their rage by brutal killings of innocents in front of the law enforcers. To top it all, the crash of an aeroplane next door to the most sensitive areas of the country, producing suspicious theories and the stars of national cricket team putting Pakistan in a new corruption controversy.
So where does the society stand in all this? As pointed out by Orya Maqbool Jan in a talk show, the Quran talks about situation like this in Sura 6, Verse 65 in clear terms when God warns people that He, "is certainly able to pour upon you retribution from above, or from below your feet; or He can divide you into factions and have you taste each others' tyranny." We are confronting the one from above as devastating floods and faced the one from below in the shape of massive earthquake. That leaves us with the third peril. We are already fighting with each other in certain parts of the country. It is going to erupt violently at each nook and corner when over 30 million frustrated people take the law in their own hands and attack the elites of society on the streets, in their homes and in their offices. We have seen its rehearsal in places like Peshawar, Sialkot and Karachi. I am not talking about just a chaos in a society. It will be much worse than that. Some would call it a rebellion leading to a civil war; others would label it a revolution.
Looking at things from another angle, let us trace the incident which put the nation in its present situation and the state in a certain direction. One 'NO' by Ch Iftekhar on March 9th, 2007 turned out to be a turning point for the country as 9/11 was for America. Things started to change from then on. We saw the emergence of; a vibrant media; a strong superior judiciary; and awakened public willing to participate. The three became a Tsunami for the corrupt elites. If we had these three elements alive; the civilian or the arm forces custodians of governments in past would not have done to the country what they did when they held power. Both abused power, adulterating the resultant democracy and corrupting the already corrupt politicians. Not anymore. Pakistan is standing at the crossroad of a big change. That change cannot be brought by the already tested lot. Bloody revolution is knocking on the door.
The only alternative to such a change is to have a national government composed of; honest politicians; the upright technocrats; and the competent civilians. Let them run an interim government for one or two years on the following principles: (i). Cleanse the lower judiciary. The lower judiciary which deals with the public matters is still full of corruption. (ii) Make an independent Election Commission having competent and honest judges. They don't have to change the rules; all they need is to implement the existing rules. The corrupt practices which have been the routine in elections will disappear. We will get honest people coming to the parliament. (iii) Strict, fair and aboveboard accountability by judiciary, against those who misused their powers and looted the country; be that of NROs, Defaults, SROs or any other malpractice by present or past custodians. (iv) Let the army keep tackling terrorism and hunting the terrorists. (v) Tackle the post-flood development projects with utmost transparency and competence. Let Pakistan come out as Germany and Japan did after devastation of WWII with help of the world community. The world is willing to help us; only they don't trust our politicians and present leadership. (vi) The Media should not be gagged and let it flourish becoming the eyes and ears of the poor public.
The question is how an interim national government can be installed without flouting constitution. The constitutional experts tell us that it is possible under three conditions; by declaring emergency on the face of worsening law and order situation as a consequence of floods; by invoking clause 190 and asking the army to implement constitutional orders of the supreme court; or by calling for a referendum on setting up a national government. For the latter, only the President is empowered to give such a call. Would he do it? What is at stake for him, he won't.
That's where the cases, especially AAZ holding two posts being heard in the Supreme Court become so pertinent. Instead of seeing the public lava erupting, the SC would tell the president to opt for one. Feeling the pulse of the public, the new president will go for a referendum. The democracy in Pakistan needs thorough cleansing; otherwise, the raging lava of the public sentiments is going to erupt, which will burn everything in sight; the democracy; the corrupt politicians; the shady generals; the fraudulent bureaucrats; and most importantly the failed systems. It is utterly important to understand that the change is imminent.
HITTING THE NAIL ON THE HEAD
MQM Chief Altaf Hussain has hit the nail on the head when he expressed his intention to advise his party to table a land reform bill in parliament to abolish the feudal system in the country thus paving the way for real democracy to take root. He told a party meeting "we believe time has come to set the limit of maximum land holding through legislation so that excess land should be distributed among poor farmers. He asked MQM parliamentarians to start working on the proposed bill and collect details about cultivable and non-cultivable land held by feudal lords. He said feudal system and democracy cannot go together. In Pakistan, unfortunately, feudal lords, who are controlling the government ever since the country came into being, did not allow the real democracy to flourish and compromised with the Generals whenever they seized power.
Pakistan has a very sad story of democratic dispensation much against the wishes of its founder Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. From 1947 to 1955 four so-called democratic governments ruled the country without any election or a constitution. The first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan ruled for a little over four years till he was assassinated in a public meeting. The fourth Prime Minister Ch Mohammad Ali, who was a bureaucrat drafted a constitution in 1956 and left the government soon after. There were three prime ministers after him, each lasting one year or even less till Gen. Ayub Khan imposed martial law in the country which came to power as a result of palace intrigues of a sick Governor General Ghlam Mohammad and retired major general Iskandar Miza who catapulted himself from the post of defense secretary to that of a President. All trappings of democracy such as National and Provincial, Assemblies did exist but the country lacked the spirit of democracy as it is today.
Barring Mr. ZA Bhutto, who was the first democratically elected leader of Pakistan, and gave the country its first democratic constitution, all the rest were a blot on the name of democracy. However, Mr. Bhutto's luck ran out in 1977 when his government was toppled by his hand picked General Zia-ul-Haq who hanged him a couple of years later. Both military rulers Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq had the longest tenure in office of 10 and 11 years and ruled under the cover of false and deceitful trappings of democracy to pull the wool on the eyes of the nation and the world. It is said that democracy means different things to different people. How true! Most kings and civil and military dictators wield absolute power under the smoke screen of democracy. Late Benazir Bhutto and Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif both were democratically elected leaders but could not complete their terms in office and their governments were dismissed by the Presidents on charges of disregard of democratic norms and wide spread corruption and misgovernance. General Musharraf too who came to power after overthrowing the democratically elected government of Nawaz Sharif met the same fate. He also created a false democratic façade but finally had to resign and is now living in exile. The present democracy in Pakistan is also a sham. The leader who returned to the country to lead the democratic dispensation was eliminated. Her husband who was not a politician elected by the popular vote became the head of the party in her place and assumed the office of the President through the votes of those who were elected in a feudal system by voters who voted only for those whom their lords and masters wanted them to vote. How could such a democratic government give the country a clean and efficient administration free from corruption, injustice and greed. This is the reason that the present government has failed to control the faltering economy, galloping poverty and most of all the law and order situation which is going from bad to worse.
Only recently hundreds of people were killed in Lahore in a religious procession and in Quetta on the occasion in Al-Quds Day. Karachi is the victim of daily target killings and the people are afraid of stepping out of their homes. Over and above every thing the disastrous floods have broken the country's back and have created an unprecedented crisis which requires extraordinary measures. The proposal of Altaf Husain for land reforms is one such measure which will be the first push to demolish the feudal system and will give the tiller of the soil the ownership rights of his land. This, no doubt is a gigantic task which will require the support of armed forces of the country under the supervision of a Supreme Court Judge. Democracy failed in Pakistan because elected representatives were either feudal lords or their minions who did their bidding and served their interests. They were not aware of their rights and responsibilities, the political process came to a halt several times due to military intervention, the educated classes, mostly from middle class remained largely unconcerned about the political process and people by and large did not take any initiative to monitor the performance of elected representatives and left it in the hands of the feudal class. This is the first time that a political party of educated middle class has taken a major political initiative. Countries like Pakistan can never have a true and purposeful democracy unless political and military leaders reach a rapprochement as they have in India to let politicians to rule the country and the military leaders defend it. India which also became independent with Pakistan has continuously maintained democratic form of government with regular elections and peaceful transfer of power. Pakistan too can have true democracy only when a strong political leadership emerges through free and fair elections from amongst the educated classes rather the fossilized feudal system.
In 2006 fifteen distinguished Pakistanis including retired bureaucrats, former judges and failed politicians published an open letter urging the people of Pakistan to launch a struggle against the authoritarian regime of President Musharraf to save the country which is facing a grave peril of extinction. Since all these gentlemen had served all types of governments since 1947, democratic as well as military, they had a sense of shame for their failure to save the country. They said "today we feel ourselves unable to look our children in the eye, for the shame of what we did, and didn't do during the last 59 years. Pakistan, they observed, could not survive under military rule, with or without a civilian façade, because the military rule lacked legitimacy" By the way this was the third letter written by the same distinguished citizens against President Musharraf's credentials urging him to doff his uniform and restore "true democracy".
It is easy to publish well drafted letters in the press but it is very difficult indeed to prepare a well argued road map for democracy in a country which is in the grip of religious fanaticism, provincial insurgency and terrorism. These gentlemen are requested to write another letter in the press about the performance of the present government and give them some advice for handling the present chaotic situation in the country.
STANCE TOWARDS HELPERS 29
In today's fast paced life we have become immune to a luxurious lifestyle. We work round the clock the whole day, slogging it off at our respective tasks and fulfilling our responsibilities be it in the domestic purview or in the professional sphere. However for most of us once we get done from work there is someone who drives us back home, there is someone who dishes out hot gourmet, there is someone who keeps our suits ironed, dry-cleaned and hanged in the closets, our dressers spic and span, porcelain shining and sparkling and layers of dust, miles away. These are small blessings we have in the form of domestic help, be it our drivers, cook, maids, servants, guard whoever out of our crew, each one of them have a strategic role to play to maintain our sanity levels after a hard day's work.
However, despite the fact that we pay and feed them through the Grace of Allah, for their services that they render, we forget a very vital aspect of this relationship. We completely forget sometimes that these people are also human beings and they actually can have an opinion on the kind of treatment that is being meted out to them by us. Allah believes in equality of all mankind and endorses kindness in behavior amongst people irrespective of their caste, creed, color or background. He does not like distinctions and therefore privilege on the basis of any race or position. Therefore, he has instructed through his Messengers and His book fair and just treatment towards slaves (Helpers). In Arabia before and right after the advent of Islam the culture and concept of Slavery was replete. Although we do not operate on the same grounds as the dynamics have been altered slightly according to modern day life however the essence of it all, is, the same. The terminology of slaves has been swapped with servants to befit our lifestyle today, but the Quranic teachings remain unaltered. The history is saturated with class struggle and differences and eventually a rapturous revolt amongst classes.
Many sociologists of different eras have elaborated upon the class struggle, the most famous one being Karl Marx who titled his theory on Bourgeoisies and the proletariats. There is no religion or ideology except Islam, which guarantees the rights of the workers and servants i.e. the poorest and oppressed classes of the world. Islam not only guarantees the rights of labour but also of the capitalist class. Islam respects all kinds of work for ensuring one's livelihood so long as there is no injustice involved.
The economic aspect of life envisaged by Islam is based upon sound foundations and divine instructions. Earning one's living through decent labour is not only a duty but a great virtue as well. The Holy Book has given instructions to mankind in completeness with specific obligations on the part of the master and that on the part of the slave/servant. Islamic teachings fully subscribe to the notion that the master is ought to pay the servant in full immediately for the services rendered by him and the servant is to work dutifully and honestly in conducting his chores. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: "Your brothers are your servants whom Allah has made your subordinate, he should give them to eat for what he himself eats and wear for what he himself wears and do not put on them burden of any labor which may exhaust them." Hazrat Abu Hurrairah (RA) reported that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said "Allah says there are three persons whose adversary in dispute shall be on the day of resurrection, a person who makes a promise in My name then acts unfaithfully and a person who devours prices and the person who employs a servant and uses fully the labor from him and then does not pay the remuneration."
Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (PBUH) as saying: "When the slave of anyone amongst you prepares food for him and he serves him after having sat close to (and undergoing the hardship of) heat and smoke, he should make him (the slave) sit along with him and make him eat (along with him), and if the food seems to run short, then he should spare some portion for him (from his own share) - (another narrator) Dawud said:" i. e. a morsel or two".(Translation of Sahih Muslim, the Book of Oaths (Kitab Al-Aiman) Narrated Anas: "The Prophet said, 'None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother [this includes slaves, since a slave is considered a brother as shown above] what he likes for himself.' Ali reported that the last words of the Prophet (Pbuh), were: "The prayer! The prayer! Fear Allah concerning your slaves". Abir ibn 'Abdullah said, "The Prophet (Pbuh), advised that slaves should be well-treated. He said, 'Feed them from what you eat and clothe them from what you wear. Do not punish what Allah has created. "The prophet is reported to have said, 'Not one of you should [ when introducing someone ] say 'This is my slave'. He should call them 'my daughter' or 'my son' or 'my brother'. For this reason 'Umar and his servant took it in turns to ride on the camel from Madina to Jerusalem on their journey to take control of Masjid al-Aqsa. While he was the head of the state.Abu Dharr, applying the hadith literally, made his servant wear one half of his suit while he himself wore the other half.
From these instances, it was being demonstrated to succeeding generations of Muslims, and a pattern of conduct established, that a slave is fully a human being, not different from other people in his need for respect and dignity and justice. "The masters were obliged not to put slaves under hardship; slaves were not to be tortured, abused or treated unjustly. They could marry among "themselves with their master's permission - or with free men or women! They could appear as witnesses and participate with free men in all "affairs. Many of them were appointed as governors, commanders of army and administrators. In the eyes of Islam, a pious slave has precedence over "an impious free man."
The Prophet (Pbuh) had stipulated in his "last pilgrimage" speech: "And your slaves ! See that you feed them such food as you eat yourselves and dress them what you yourself wear. And if they commit a "mistake which you are not inclined to forgive then sell them, for they are the servants of Allah and are not to be tormented! "Serve God, and join not any partners with Him ; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours "who are strangers, the Companion by your side, the way-farer (ye meet), And what your right hands possess : for God loveth not the arrogant, the "vainglorious" Surah An Nisa, verse 36 The phrase "What your right hands possess" refers to one's slaves (male and female). Allah swt ordains the kind treatment of slaves in the same verse where He commands man to worship Him and to treat his parents, relations and neighbours generously, and this signifies the importance of this ruling.
UNRAVELLING CREDIBILITY CONUNDRUM
MALIK M ASHRAF
The true character of a nation is best known during crisis, catastrophes, disasters, adversities and natural calamities. The level of unity it exhibits; the way it faces the tragedy and the resolve with which it endures the sufferings and re-builds, determines the level of its resilience and prowess to secure a new and better future for itself. Because every cataclysmic event has a silver lining to it. The re-emergence of Japan and Germany as leading economic power houses of the world, after the drubbing and the devastation that they had to suffer during the World War II, are the classic examples of the wonders that the resilient nations can unleash or accomplish.
The misfortune that has overtaken us in the form of the snow-balling deluge and perpetrated devastation of incalculable proportions through out the country, is perhaps one of the biggest challenges that Pakistani nations has ever been confronted with. But it is so painful to note that we have failed to show the kind of solidarity and unity that any self-respecting and calamity-stricken nation would exhibit under such circumstances. We have been behaving like a fragmented and corrosive community rather than a united nation, particularly the politicians aided by a certain section of the media, have preferred to unleash a smear campaign against the government instead of extending an unqualified support to the national effort for the rescue and relief operations. To begin with, the government was accused of a slow response to the unfolding tragedy and later the focus shifted to casting doubts on the credibility of the government and it was vociferously bandied around that the international community was reluctant to extend help because of the low credibility of the present government in handling the assistance transparently. Some international media outlets took cue from the propaganda unfurled against the government on the domestic front and ran similar stories.
A particular section of the media was so bent upon to rub in the concept of lack of credibility of the government that it even tried to put words in the mouth of Hilary Clinton in anticipation of having their incantations endorsed by her. She was asked whether she believed that the slow international response to provide assistance was because of confidence crisis over Pakistani authorities ? But a seasoned and shrewd leader that she is, Hilary Clinton rubbished the idea by saying that the response did not come quickly because the international community was not aware of the enormity of the devastation. In response to another question she observed that the Pakistani authorities were doing what they could do to help the affected people. Hilary's thoughts perhaps provide a befitting rejoinder to the allegations hurled at the government as well as unravel the credibility conundrum. The truth is that the floods were so sudden and so devastating that it took every body by surprise and shook the nation to the bilge, what to speak of the government. It was simply not possible for the government or any international agency to assess the nature of the damage immediately and to compile and collate an authentic data on what kind of rescue and relief assistance and at what scale, was needed to provide succour to the affectees.
Similarly, the correct and comprehensive information required on the number of people affected and damage to the property was also difficult to compile while the deluge raged on. The international community needed that information to firm up its response. Therefore the time lag could not be avoided. Whatever information was initially given represented only a snapshot of the actual magnitude of the required assistance. The UN initially appealed to the international community for $460 million. The agency is now seriously considering to revise that appeal as the picture of destruction becomes more clearer. It has also revised the number of affectees from six million to eight million. Not to forget that the tragedy still rolls on.
However, the government and the international agencies are now in a better position to make as assessment of the damage. According to the National Disaster Management Authority more than 892,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed. The Federal Flood Commission report says that at least 1556 persons have been killed and 2088 injured while 10,963 villages have been ravaged by the floods. The government as well as different agencies of the UN, apart from the rescue and relief operations are also engaged in compiling data on the collateral damage wreaked by the floods and the kind and extent of effort that would be required to neutralize their negative fall out. Simultaneously, efforts are also underway to work up the figures for the financial resources that will have to be raised at the rehabilitation phase.
There is no denying the fact that as this information was compiled and disseminated to the international community, the response has been very encouraging. Everyday we are receiving new commitments and pledges for help. World leaders are calling the Prime Minister and the President every day to express support. The US and a number of UN agencies are also involved in the rescue and relief operations. Even India has offered assistance which has been accepted. These developments beyond any doubt belie the claims of the detractors of the government that the lack of response of the international community was due to the trust deficit. One wished that such shenanigans could have waited for better times as they not only reflect negatively on our national character but also work against the national interests.
HOW TO MAKE IT THROUGH THE FLOODS?
VIEWS FROM ABROAD
Millions are suffering and thousands have died from flooding in Pakistan and China. An extraordinary heatwave in Russia sparked fires causing dreadful pollution and wiping out swathes of the wheat crop. Are these weather-related disasters caused by global warming? Do they portend worse catastrophes? What can be done? Should Pakistan get more aid? In its most recent report, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserts that as the world becomes warmer, "flood magnitude and frequency are likely to increase in most regions." This seems plausible: a warmer world is also likely to be a wetter world, as more water evaporates from the oceans into the atmosphere. But, although rainstorms last week put out some of the fires, Russia has a drought.
The IPCC also claims that droughts too are more likely in a warmer worldand that they have become more frequent since the 1970s, partly because of reduced precipitation. In fact the number of droughts reached a low point between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s: the evidence shows there has been no statistically significant increase in droughts since the 1950s. Given that global temperatures appear to have risen considerably since then, it seems a stretch to blame the Russian drought on global warming. Underpinning both the floods in Pakistan and China and the drought in Russia is a change in the usual pattern of the jet stream. Each hemisphere has a "polar" jet (7-12km above sea level) and a "subtropical" jet (at 10-16km). In the Northern hemisphere, the polar jet pushes cooler air south and induces rain in mid-latitudes, while the subtropical jet pushes warm air north. But in mid-June, a kink appeared at the intersection, causing warm air to remain further north and east than normal and causing more cold air and rain to fall over northern Pakistan and China.
To make matters far worse, this kink in the jet stream was kept in place by a phenomenon called a "blocking event." This kept the Russian heatwave going for nearly two months and massively exacerbated the precipitation in Pakistan and China. Such blocking events are rare and there is no evidence of links with global warming. However, an explanation has been proposed by Professor Mike Lockwood, an astrophysicist at the University of Reading in the UK, who shows in a recent paper that blocking events in winter are related primarily to solar activity (although he cautiously said in an email to me that he "cannot say much (yet) about summer conditions as most of our work to date has been on wintertime which shows relatively strong solar effects in the Eurasian region."). So the culprit is quite possibly the sun, not human emissions of greenhouse gases.
As for remedies, the current disasters demand a major humanitarian response. Worst affected is Pakistan, where an estimated six million face cholera and other waterborne diseases unless they urgently get potable water. Pakistan's government responded slowly, making immediate national and international philanthropy even more important. But what of the longer term? Floods, droughts and other weather disasters have plagued mankind for all of history. But deaths from such natural disasters have fallen by more than 90 per cent in the past 100 years, in spite of dramatic population growth. Why? Because higher wealth and better technology enable people better to cope: continued improvements are what is needed. Last week, Pakistan requested that the IMF restructure a US$10bn loan because the floods prevent it meeting the conditions. But Pakistan's reliance on Western "aid" (including these soft loans) has undermined incentives for economic reform. When governments must rely on local taxes rather than taxpayers in foreign countries, they are more strongly motivated to create conditions that generate wealth at home. At present, Pakistan remains hidebound by restrictions on economic activity. Inefficient and expensive law courts make it difficult to enforce contracts. Restrictions on property make ownership insecure and undermine investment.
Employment regulations and corruption make it difficult to operate a formal business, driving economic activity underground, where it cannot be taxed. These factors put Pakistan near the bottom of every ranking of economic freedom and are the main reasons for its weak economy and slow growth. Instead of relying on foreign aid, governments of poor countries should remove these barriers to enterprise. Then next time they are struck by a natural disaster, people will be better able to copeand far fewer will suffer and die. The CG News
NEEDED: A POLICY FOR JULIA, DIRECTION FOR LABOR
JULIA GILLARD HAS SHOWN US THAT SHE CAN DO PROCESS.
Now the Prime Minister must show us she can do policy. The challenge for the new minority government scrambled together in Canberra this week will be to move beyond appeasement of the Greens and independents and prosecute the reform agenda Australia needs. As former Labor premiers Peter Beattie and Steve Bracks proved in their respective states of Queensland and Victoria, the only way to turn a minority into a majority is to govern as if you've got a buffer zone of 10 or 20 seats. Minority rule is not for the faint-hearted but a leader who acts on a vision will have a fighting chance of winning a clear mandate at the next poll. The evidence is there in the Beattie and Bracks experience. Yet it is not obvious to us that the Gillard government has a vision for our future. Nor is it clear what the Prime Minister herself stands for.
Three years of Labor has evinced no coherent policy framework, no synthesis of economic and social goals, no narrative for the nation. This is the first challenge for Ms Gillard as she seeks to prove her legitimacy and earn a mandate from her skin-of-the teeth retention of the prime ministership. She must define her government in a way that she failed to do during the election campaign and in a way her predecessor Kevin Rudd was unable to do during his term in office. Ms Gillard could start with a conversation or two with the governor of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, and his colleagues. They have a clear vision of what is needed, a strategy for "making the boom pay". For years, the RBA, like this newspaper, has argued for a comprehensive approach to addressing the infrastructure shortfalls that threaten to constrain national prosperity. Freeing up the bottlenecks, deregulating the labour market to improve productivity and approaching the mining boom as an opportunity, not a threat: these are the goals that should drive the thinking of the Prime Minister and her Treasurer.
Their record is not encouraging. As senior players in the Rudd government, they threw billions at the global financial crisis and claimed credit for saving the nation from a recession. But beyond the action against the GFC (for which we named Mr Rudd The Australian of the Year in 2009) there is little to show in policy terms. Wayne Swan, whose interest in redistributing wealth was spelt out in his 2005 book, Postcode, chose to address the challenges of the two-speed economy by punishing the wealth-creating miners rather than freeing them up to grow the economic pie. He advocated the ill-conceived 40 per cent resource super-profits tax which helped destroy Mr Rudd's leadership and almost proved fatal to Labor. The reworked tax, at an effective rate of 22.5 per cent, is an improvement but Mr Swan's inclination to old-fashioned redistributive policies is worrying, now that Labor has signed on to the Greens' economic agenda, which includes a 50 per cent mining tax. As a former party state secretary, Mr Swan is perhaps too mindful also of the limited short-term political dividend from long-term infrastructure reforms. While Ms Gillard has negotiated some impressive reforms in education, her Fair Work Act is a throwback to the 1970s and is inimical to the open labour market needed to exploit the boom. She needs to define her economic stance.
At least the independents have forced Labor to take tax reform seriously. It was always anomalous that virtually the only policy picked out of the wide-ranging Henry tax review was the mining tax. The proposals to overhaul personal income tax, state taxes and social welfare payments deserve attention. We believe tax reform equals lower taxes, but we are not sure Labor agrees now that it has to answer to high-taxing Greens and rent-seeking regional independents. Greens leader Bob Brown has accused The Australian of trying to wreck the alliance between the Greens and Labor. We wear Senator Brown's criticism with pride. We believe he and his Green colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation; and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box. The Greens voted against Mr Rudd's emissions trading scheme because they wanted a tougher regime, then used the lack of action on climate change to damage Labor at the election. Their flakey economics should have no place in the national debate. We are particularly tired of Greens senator Christine Milne arguing that "green jobs need a real green economy to grow in". What on earth can she mean?
Ms Gillard's embrace of the Greens underlines the vacuity of her party: this alliance would never have been agreed by Bob Hawke or Paul Keating, who led a party with a clear direction and beliefs. Back then, Labor understood it was the party of the workers, even if those workers were moving from factories to become self-employed tradies or small business operators. It appreciated that while Australia's demographics were changing, the basket-weavers of Balmain could not deliver electoral success to Labor. Now, as wealthy middle-class Labor voters switch to the Greens, Labor must decide who it really represents. Is it a party for the workers or a party for the doctors' wives, academics and anti-development greenies of the inner suburbs? Labor's values have evaporated in the face of a political machine motivated by power at any price. It now risks the fate that has befallen the trade unions -- a loss of support that would leave it speaking for a minority of Australians. Labor must determine a direction consistent with its history and beliefs but which accommodates electoral realities. The party's future no longer lies in inner city seats like Melbourne or Grayndler in Sydney. It must appeal to the swinging voters of the outer suburbs and the regions. For this it needs a philosophy, not just a marginal-seats strategy.
For weeks, the party and the Prime Minister have focused on scraping over the line and salvaging something from the Rudd debacle. Now there are bigger issues at stake: the future of a once great political movement, and the future of the nation. Ms Gillard is a determined negotiator but she will need to get back in touch with her inner policymaker if her government is to do more than tread water. She should look beyond her risk-averse Treasurer and consider putting a moderniser such as Craig Emerson into a key economic portfolio. The Prime Minister must also lead her party in its search for meaning. Labor must regroup and work out who it really represents in the 21st century.
ABBOTT CAN BUILD ON HIS ADVANCE
THE LIBERAL PARTY MUST PUT ITS ORGANISATION IN ORDER.
TONY Abbott's frustration at missing out on office so narrowly should be tempered by the satisfaction that he took the Coalition from the doldrums to the brink of government in less than 10 months. While holding the government accountable, Mr Abbott's challenge now is to build on his hard work by strengthening his front bench and policies. He must also ensure that the Liberal Party organisation is overhauled after vital chances were squandered during the campaign.
Now that his leadership is firmly established, Mr Abbott, from the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, must bring Malcolm Turnbull, the figurehead of the NSW moderates, into a senior economic role in the shadow cabinet. Mr Turnbull, who has the best economic brain on either side of parliament, would pile pressure on Labor while strengthening the Coalition's economic policies.
If the Coalition is to remain competitive, both parties must maintain the discipline and unity they have shown in recent months. The Nationals must resist any temptations to undermine the Coalition leadership and focus on reclaiming two seats in particular, New England and Lyne, by endorsing good candidates early and presenting policies to local voters that are more appealing than those of the Labor/Greens/independents hybrid. The Coalition should also emphasise federal and state Labor failings in service delivery that have left voters in regional and outer suburban areas disadvantaged. The only state where such a strategy was prosecuted during the election race was Queensland, where Liberal staffer James McGrath, who has extensive experience in Britain, ran a skilled campaign that saw the Coalition win nine seats.
Mr Abbott was let down by his party organisation under federal director Brian Loughnane, who banished Mr McGrath to the north and got the campaign off to a slow start. It beggars belief that after directing preferences to the Greens in Melbourne, Liberal strategists failed to extract return preference deals in Victorian marginal seats. The Liberals outpolled Labor in Corangamite, Deakin and La Trobe, and lost them on Greens preferences -- Corangamite by less than half a per cent. In some seats, pre-polling was inadequate and the party was slow endorsing candidates in winnable western Sydney seats. Mr Abbott and his team cannot afford such failings to be repeated at the next poll.
A NEW POLITICAL WORLD AS LABOR WINS BACK POWER
THERE ARE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES IN MINORITY RULE.
AFTER an unprecedented election result, Julia Gillard has achieved a stunning outcome for Labor. The Prime Minister has methodically built on her party's fragile numbers to prosecute her case for power and form a minority government. She has engineered a remarkable turnaround of Labor's electoral drubbing on August 21. The stakes were high but Ms Gillard proved equal to the task of exploiting the self-interest of the independent MPs and Greens holding the balance of power as she calmly worked towards her goal. The task ahead of her is daunting.
As we noted just over a fortnight ago, the ambiguous election result took the nation into new and hazardous territory. Those challenges remain, but Ms Gillard has proved a formidable negotiator in the post-election process and has displayed courage and determination in this difficult period. The minority government -- the first at the national level since World War 11-- will test the political system and raises serious questions for the long-term direction of both major parties. But our first female Prime Minister, appointed by her colleagues in a desperate bid to salvage seats in the wake of Kevin Rudd's disastrous performance, battled extreme odds, including from within her own party, to achieve this result. On the day before Australians went to the poll, we noted that the challenge for Ms Gillard if she were returned was to discover a 21st-century mission for centre-left government. The Prime Minister now has the opportunity to put her mark on Labor, not only to jettison the worst of the wasted and wasteful Rudd years with its return to big government and intervention, but to reverse the influence of the party apparatchiks and hollow men who have so damaged the Labor brand. As one of the kingmakers, Rob Oakeshott, said yesterday, the new parliament will be "ugly" with Labor's mandate balanced precariously on a single vote. It will require all Ms Gillard's considerable skills to shepherd through the crucial reforms needed to ensure that the benefits of the resources boom are locked in for future generations. Labor, so battered at the polls last month, has won the numbers but now faces the bigger challenge of winning legitimacy in the eyes of a deeply divided electorate. As George Megalogenis writes, the solution of the 2010 poll reveals an inherently unstable electorate polarised around the mining states on one hand and the southern, urbanised states on the other. Labor and the Coalition face the dilemma of how to address this divide to achieve government in their own right.
The truth of yesterday's dramatic events in Canberra is that Labor remains in power thanks to the self-interest of two regional independents. Whatever spin they put on their decision, Mr Oakeshott and Tony Windsor cannot escape the suspicion that they have been won over by the offer of a frontbench role for one of them, a $9.9 billion package for the regions and the fast-forwarding of the National Broadband Network in the regions. In the two weeks since the poll, the independents approached their difficult task seriously, but in the end both men have been prepared to prop up a government that Mr Windsor acknowledges would be most likely to lose if it went back to the ballot box immediately. Mr Oakeshott even conceded that the independents had lined up with a party "they fundamentally don't believe in". Their admissions confirm what has long been apparent -- the minority government may not be in the national interest, but it is undeniably in the interests of independents. Ted Mack, the former NSW independent, got it right when he said recently that the independents had "not come down in the last shower" and knew that they would get a lot more money spent on them by Labor than by a Coalition government. That in their pursuit of self-interest, both MPs turned their backs on the Coalition, despite the strong Nationals base in their electorates in favour of a Labor Party now overwhelmingly based in the city and urban areas, is a huge wake-up call to the conservative side of politics.
Ms Gillard has been prepared to indulge in multi-billion-dollar pork-barrelling to win over the independents. But it is the alliance she forged with the Greens along the path to power that presents the biggest challenge to her management of the economy. The deal struck last week with Bob Brown makes the Greens the big winners in this realignment of Australian politics. Their broad-ranging agenda for a slow-growth, high-tax economy is now accorded a prominence in the national debate that it does not warrant. The chances of Labor pursuing the deep reform that marked the Hawke-Keating years must be diminished by this alliance with a party that wants to stop the coal industry and impose a 50 per cent tax on mining. This partnership with the Greens, however essential to holding on to power, pushes Labor to the Left in a way that could harm international perceptions of Australia's open, market-based economy. It also represents a risk for Ms Gillard as she attempts to win back voters on the Right who swung to Tony Abbott at the poll. It is essential that Labor does not waste the next three years in power. Australia is in need of urgent reforms to free up the labour market in order to bolster productivity and to address the infrastructure bottlenecks that continue to pose a risk to our international competitiveness. Despite Ms Gillard's commitment to the NBN as a big-ticket reform, we remain deeply concerned about the potential for the project to become a liability for taxpayers and believe that it must be subject to far more rigorous assessment. Labor's agreement to take an early look at recommendations in the Henry tax report, which it had previously shelved for the short term, is good news, although the fact that this was forced by the independents does not say much for the government's commitment to tax reform.
The return of a Labor government is a bitter outcome for the Coalition, which had argued that with 73 seats in its own right compared with Labor's 72 it had won the right to form government. The campaign proved Mr Abbott's leadership skills as he held together a party that only last year was racked by deep, internecine struggles. The Opposition Leader prosecuted his case for governing in a disciplined and inclusive method, showing an ability to connect with voters as an authentic and intelligent politician. He managed the seemingly impossible, taking the divided conservatives from a losing position in the wake of the 2007 election to the edge of government in their own right. For this, he deserves high praise: the Coalition revival has been nothing short of extraordinary. It won more votes and more seats but in the end was let down, in part by Mr Abbott's lack of leadership on the economy and in not coming up with a viable alternative to the NBN. The Opposition Leader says that NBN will be "schools halls on steroids" and promises to relentlessly pursue the government on the waste it could involve. But Mr Abbott was remiss in not coming up with a better version before the election. The Coalition's soft underbelly on the economy revealed through the costings debacle last week also weakened Mr Abbott's claim to govern. He was statesmanlike in his concession speech last night, suggesting he has the mettle to build on the advances he has made this year. Also welcome is the fact he has opened the door publicly to an early return of former leader Malcolm Turnbull to the Coalition's front bench. Mr Turnbull is the most able finance person on either side of politics and it is crucial that his talents are exploited in the next three years. Beyond ensuring that his shadow cabinet is structured for optimal results, Mr Abbott faces two key tasks -- to hold the government to account while addressing the crucial question of the direction of the conservatives, specifically how to work with the Nationals to win back the bush. Yesterday, Nationals leader Warren Truss labelled the restored Labor government as a rainbow coalition, warning that a mining tax and an emissions trading tax were now clear realities that would force up household bills. But the Nationals will have to engage in far more sophisticated analysis than this as they search for a way to be an effective force in the regions. Like Labor, the conservatives must grapple with balancing the demands of their urban and regional constituents in a way that does not harm the economy but that recognises the 30 per cent of people who live outside the urban areas.
A minority government represents a considerable challenge for Australia. But is it not necessarily a negative. As former state premiers Peter Beattie and Steve Bracks, who led first-term Labor minority governments in Queensland and Victoria, have noted in recent days, well-managed minority governments can be a springboard to long-term government as it was in both their states.
Elected in 1998 to a minority government with 44 seats out of 89, Mr Beattie resolved, from the outset, to govern as though he had a majority of 10. Such a bold approach took courage but it worked. Three years ago, we backed Kevin Rudd in his bid for power, but were deeply disappointed by his performance in office. On August 21, voters sent a clear message to Labor. We urge Ms Gillard to take note.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
TAXING TIMES AS ECONOMY BOOMS
AS THE nation focused on the independents' choice of government, members of the Reserve Bank board met for their monthly assessment of the economy. Their verdict? Much the same as that of the independents: steady as she goes, for now.
After the global financial crisis, the economy appears, remarkably, in much the same position as it was when Labor took power for its first term - buoyed by an externally driven mining boom which is putting strain on the availability of workers, wages and infrastructure. Prices for our main commodity exports have rebounded, economic growth is back to average. Inflation has slipped back into the Reserve's comfort zone - just - but wages are starting to regain momentum. Interest rates, the bank concluded, are appropriate, but only ''for the time being''.
How long before this uneasy truce between robust growth and low inflation gives way to a period of higher inflation and/or higher interest rates? Labor's most cutting criticism of the Howard government's economic legacy is that the proceeds of the mining boom were squandered instead of invested in infrastructure, skills and efficiencies. Labor promised to rectify this by getting started on a new wave of productivity-enhancing reforms, but was sidetracked by the global financial crisis. Having accurately diagnosed the problem in its first term, Labor must now dedicate its second term to doing something about it.
If Australia is to grow without sparking inflation, the economy's speed limit must be raised. We must do more with what we have. Resources - capital and labour - must be assisted to move to where they are needed. Government must get out of the way by removing inefficiencies in the tax system which distort behaviour. The new promise to revisit the Henry tax review is therefore welcome. Among proposals deserving a closer look are simplifying the personal income tax scale by raising the tax-free threshold to $25,000 and reducing the number of rates from from four to two; rationalising welfare payments; introducing congestion charging to relieve urban traffic; and a new cash flow tax on business to replace inefficient state taxes like stamp duty and payroll.
Labor must also move quickly to end the uncertainty about the mineral resource rent tax - is it agreed with the independents or not?
The Henry review was a good report released at a bad time - the beginning of an election year - and was treated as such: a hot potato. Let us hope cooler heads will prevail in this second examination of its recommendations.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
A HOLLOW MAN OF OUR TIMES
TONY BLAIR is an attractive, intelligent man. He served 10 years as British prime minister, and stepped down after three successive election wins. He has gone on to great honour as an envoy of the great powers in the search for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He is coining money by the millions for his speeches and writings. Why then does he have the air of a political fugitive?
The answer lies in the visible gap between the high-flown moralism of his public posture and the sometimes expedient way in which he and his minders and spin doctors wielded power. There were undoubted successes for the goodwill and power that he focused on difficult political problems, like the Northern Ireland settlement, helping the royal family deal with Princess Diana's death, and the interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. Yet the issue that is his albatross will continue to be Iraq.
Already Blair has been cruelly satirised in one television drama,The Trial of Tony Blair, in which he is sacrificed to a war crimes tribunal by the Americans, and in Roman Polanski's film The Ghost Writer, based on a novel by Robert Harris. Blair's own memoir, A Journey, seems likely to reinforce the picture of a man in deep denial of the blatantly obvious.
Blair's great ''crime'' was his wilfully blind belief that by engaging closely with George W. Bush and his close coterie he could steer the superpower towards wise decisions on the Middle East.
While France and Germany wisely cautioned against the rush to war in Iraq on the false pretexts of weapons of mass destruction and links with al-Qaeda, Blair became Bush's more articulate advocate. In return, he got no flexibility on the Middle East, just heaps of American flattery in return for his sycophancy.
Time has not given him any greater insight. His donation of the expected £4 million ($6.7 million) in royalties from the new book will make a small dent in his personal wealth. For all his professions of mental pain about the war and its casualties, and assumption of ''responsibility'', he continues to defend the invasion and insists that Bush is not stupid, but ''very smart''.
A better judgment about the Iraq war has come this month from Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, as American combat units withdrew: ''It will always be clouded by how it began.'' If Tony Blair truly believes what he is asserting, a fitting judgment is the line in Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American: ''I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.''
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
CRIME ROW PLAYS UP STRANGER DANGER
THE misuse of numerical data gave rise to the saying about lies, damn lies and statistics, and the political debate on crime lends weight to that view.
Victorians go the polls on November 27. As an unfortunate consequence, they have endured a hoary campaign over law and order. Naturally, the opposition says the government is soft on crime and selects data to make its point. Some media reports also portray a state under siege from crime. The government and police, in turn, pick out positive figures and claim whatever credit they can.
The debate would not matter so much if it did not make many Victorians overly fearful - at considerable cost to community well-being, despite this being a low-crime state.
This week's release of Victoria Police statistics shows crime is not out of control. The overall rate (as a proportion of the population, which is the only sensible measure) fell by 6.4 per cent in 2009-10 and is down 29.9 per cent since 2000-01. Even on raw numbers, recorded offences fell by 19.3 per cent in that time.
However, some crimes are of particular concern and the trends are not all reassuring. The rate of crime against the person rose 0.7 per cent and included rises of 10.8 per cent for murder, 1.7 per cent for assaults and 20.6 per cent for abductions/kidnaps. While the rate of crimes against property fell by 8.9 per cent, aggravated burglaries rose by 10.1 per cent. Pleasingly, the focus on knife crime achieved a 19.3 per cent decline and an 8.8 per cent fall in robbery rates included public transport and thoroughfares.
Further analysis, though, reveals some recorded crime ''rises'' are the result of a significant and welcome shift in policing, which ensures family violence is treated as the crime that it is. Of all assaults reported in 2009-10, 25.1 per cent involved family violence. When police adopted a new code of practice in 2004, the figure was about 15 per cent. The family-related assault rate rose 7.9 per cent last year. The rate of all other assaults fell by 0.3 per cent. Family incidents account for 23.8 per cent of abductions/kidnaps. Excluding family incidents, the rate of crimes against the person fell by 1 per cent last year and is 0.6 per cent down on 2000-01, compared with a 206.2 per cent jump in ''domestic'' incidents.
This rise in family-related violence reflects better reporting, not ''soft'' policies. Stresses on families may also be a factor, which poses different and more complex policy challenges. Such offences do count as crimes, but the public is not at greater risk of violent crime. If Victoria has a law-and-order problem, it is in the home, and don't expect police to solve that.
Source: The Age
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
THE GROWING WEST DEMANDS A SHIFT IN OUTLOOK
A FAST-CHANGING CITY BRINGS CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES.
PICTURE, if you can, the city's west about 20 years from now. Head out over the West Gate, which by then will have at least one extra lane, and you are in a prosperous, well-integrated boomtown with a population nudging a million.
The suburban housing estates of greater Werribee and Melton are cohesive, environmentally sustainable communities. Footscray has a bustling, CBD-like character; the ''knowledge'' workers who had once commuted to the city for jobs now work and live locally. Employment corridors in the manufacturing and transport sectors link Laverton and Sunshine in the south, to areas around Melbourne Airport and Broadmeadows and Craigieburn in the north. Werribee is home to a thriving, innovative technology cluster, with Victoria University and other institutions at its heart.
Train services from the west to the city are fast and frequent, with the $4.3 billion Regional Rail Link connecting Wyndham Vale with Deer Park and Southern Cross stations. And the west has undergone a cultural revolution to render Fitzroy the postcode of cringe: the best coffee and coolest bars are to be found here.
Well that's an ideal vision. Making it a reality depends on whether the state government can deliver vital infrastructure to an area now considered one of the fastest growing in the country. More by the accident of cheaper housing (house and land packages go for less than $300,000) than by the design of policymakers, population growth in Melbourne's west has quadrupled in a decade. In the 12 months to June last year alone, the local government areas of Wyndham and Melton gained more than 18,000 residents. The figure is astonishing when one considers that a mere decade ago the west grew by 4000 people a year. The data comes in research commissioned by AFL club Western Bulldogs and prepared by KPMG demographer Bernard Salt.
Clearly, economic interests are served by casting this trend as a good news story. And to some extent that is what it is. After all, a growth suburb such as Pakenham lies more than 60 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. The suburbs of the west are less than 35 kilometres from the city centre, which means residents don't have to spend quite so long travelling to work. The state government is also seeking to reorient growth to the west and north of the city through changes to the growth boundary. But with the west still suffering from decades of neglect and pockets of entrenched disadvantage, the challenges are immense.
According to the KPMG report, the recent growth spurt in Wyndham and Melton demands - using 2006 census averages as a guide - an extra 140 registered nurses, 110 primary school teachers, 25 GPs and eight dentists. ''Demographic growth at this scale,'' says the report, ''creates demand for medical centres, hospital beds, primary and secondary schools and, increasingly, tertiary institution places.''
The west will be won, to borrow a phrase, when its residents can live, work and play there. Building a strong local economy is therefore a vital piece of the jigsaw. The state government's planning blueprint, Melbourne @ 5 million, seeks to encourage businesses to areas designated as central activity districts in order to forge a polycentric Melbourne. But a more consistent, interventionist approach will be needed for this to work.
A report from Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Economic Studies identifies the influx of highly qualified professionals to the west as a positive trend, and the disadvantage in Footscray as a problem to be tackled. It warns that developing the Werribee Employment Precinct ''may best be regarded as a 50-year project''. The west's time has undoubtedly come, but a concerted effort is needed from politicians, planners and corporate leaders to ensure things happen fast enough.
Source: The Age
DEEPWATER EXPLOSION: BP SHIFTS THE BLAME
BP'S REPORT INTO THE DEEPWATER DISASTER REALISES ALL OUR WORST FEARS ABOUT THE OIL INDUSTRY
The explosion of the Deepwater oil rig this April killed 11 people, injured 17 more, led to the spilling of 5m gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, caused massive environmental pollution and caused yet another faultline in US-UK relations. It also forced the exit of Tony Hayward as boss of BP, and prompted the oil giant to set up a £13bn compensation fund. This was the biggest offshore oil spill in history and its repercussions are not over yet not by a long way.
Evidence of that came yesterday with BP's publication of its report into the causes of the disaster. At over 190 pages (not including appendices), it is certainly thorough and serious but it should not be treated as a dispassionate examination of a terrible industrial failure. This is BP's attempt to write the second draft of history one in which as little blame as possible is apportioned to BP itself. An example: of the report's eight key findings on the cause of the explosion, five read as though they are really the subcontractor's responsibility rather than BP's. Another example: appendix F is devoted to listing the "major parties involved", which include seven other entities working either for or alongside Mr Hayward's company. This does not mean that lines such as "Transocean was solely responsible for operation of the drilling rig and for operations safety. It was required to use all reasonable means to prevent fire and blowouts" are wrong. But they are surely meant to impress on the reader that BP alone should not carry the can for this disaster. No wonder that Transocean immediately blasted the report and pointed out that "BP made a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk in some cases, severely".
The curious effect of all this blame-shifting is that it provides the reader with a rare peek into the workings of the offshore-drilling industry and a very ugly sight it is too. Oil multinationals working so far from the coastline are not normally subject to this much scrutiny; and yet over the course of the report, it becomes clear how many things went wrong with the establishment and operation of the Deepwater rig. BP and the companies working for it are among the best in the business: just imagine how the cowboy outfits behave.
As this report suggests, throughout the life of the Macondo oil well, optimism and best-case scenarios were usually preferred over rigorous tests and evaluation of results. Yet BP's report will not be the last, and it surely will not be the harshest. It is merely the first in a series expected over the next few months, from the US Coast Guard and other government agencies. What is needed is not the application of corporate standards, but the more demanding benchmark of what is in the public good.
MPS' PRIVILEGES: POLICE, PRESS, PARLIAMENT
The constitution could not be clearer: the illegal monitoring of MPs is an extremely grave offence
Imagine the boot on the other foot. Imagine a prime minister or an MP, infuriated by repeated press leaks or investigations, trying to find out the identity of a journalist's source. A good place to start would be their mobile phone records. Who had they been talking to? Imagine the outrage if a government ordered the security services to get involved or (much simpler and cheaper) hired a private investigator to do the same. Actually, you don't have to imagine it. Something very similar happened in Ireland in 1983, when the minister of justice, Sean Doherty, ordered the phones of four journalists to be tapped in order to discover the source of leaks. It was all agreed an indefensible attack on the rights of journalists to go about their business without illegal intrusion from the state.
MPs take their rights pretty seriously too. Less than two years ago there was an all-party outcry when the police arrested the Conservative MP for Ashford as part of an investigation into material that had been leaked to him. David Cameron condemned Damian Green's treatment as "Stalinesque". Nick Clegg said it was a "Mayday warning" for democracy in Britain. So it is understandable that MPs have demanded the chance to debate today the implications of newspapers illegally intruding into records of their private communications and worse the strong likelihood that a number of them had their confidential telephone messages hacked into. The privileges of parliament date back to the 1689 Bill of Rights, and extend from proceedings in parliament to dealings between MPs and constituents. In addition, there is the so-called Wilson doctrine, a special ban on the interception of MPs' communications that has stood for 44 years. The constitutional position couldn't be clearer: it is an extremely grave thing for anyone to interfere with the ability of MPs to go about their lawful affairs without being illegally monitored.
Now of course MPs can be as self-righteous as journalists and are perfectly capable of whipping themselves into faux indignation, which can end up looking ridiculous see the arraignment at the bar of the house in 1957 of John Junor, the editor of the Sunday Express, for some disobliging remarks he had printed about MPs and petrol rationing. There are rotten and corrupt MPs, just as there are corrupt journalists and police. Journalists will want to assert their right to investigate anyone in power over the rest of us. But the greater the intrusion needed to uncover wrongdoing, the greater the need for an editor to be able to plead the highest public interest and to be honest in dealing with the consequences. It would have been open to Andy Coulson, editor of the News of the World at the time a number of MPs were targeted, to advance the argument made today by a former colleague, Paul McMullan, who admits numerous illegal acts but robustly defends them: "Investigative journalism is a noble profession, but we have to do ignoble things." That could have been Mr Coulson's stance, but it isn't. Backed by Mr Cameron, he has told parliament he simply didn't know. Mr McMullan, for one, doesn't believe him. Mr Coulson can't be surprised that MPs will want to test this assurance to destruction.
MPs will rightly want to delve into the behaviour of the third party in all this the police. The more they try to explain their actions at the time they arrested Clive Goodman supposedly the lone "rotten apple" in the newsroom the more extraordinary it seems. It is a smokescreen to be promising to investigate "new evidence". There are three questions: what evidence does Scotland Yard already have? Why did the police curtail their investigations in spite of clear evidence of the involvement of others at the NoW? And why were they so slow to inform the possible victims of intrusion including MPs, military and other public figures? The questions won't go away.
IN PRAISE OF THE BBC'S BURMESE SERVICE
The BBC's Burmese service serves an essential function and must be allowed to survive
Government departments often fight spending cuts by leaking plans to scrap something that no one can imagine losing. The threat of the cut is enough to prevent it ever taking place. That tactic may lie behind reportsthis week that the BBC World Service is considering axing its Burmese service, 70 years to the month since it began. If Foreign Office belt-tightening has to go this far, one wonders which other broadcasts will survive, for there can be nowhere more in need of a radio station that tells the truth than Burma. "People inside Burma cannot get free information. We are a lifeline service," one of the station's editors told the BBC last week as Burmese broadcasts entered their eighth decade. There is no free media in this oppressed country, only an established tradition of relying on the BBC, which has an estimated 8.3 million Burmese radio listeners a week on top of traffic to its Burmese-language website. Funded by the Foreign Office as part of its grant to the World Service, BBC Burmese is routinely accused by its Burmese state-run equivalent of "sowing hatred among the people". By that, the Burmese government means reporting honestly on dissent and humanitarian disasters such as cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 100,000 people in 2008. Other countries, too, depend on World Service broadcasts, and cuts sometimes have to be made. There were protests when many European services were axed, for instance. But the Burmese service is particularly necessary and must survive.
THE JAPAN TIMES
BACTERIAL ASSAULT ON HOSPITALS
Fifty-three patients at Teikyo University Hospital in Tokyo's Itabashi Ward have been infected with the multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter bacterium since August last year. Thirty-one of them died later of various causes, and nine of those deaths are believed to be directly attributable to the superbug. The nine were 53 to 89 years old.
It is regrettable that the hospital failed to take quick and effective measures to contain the spread of a hospital-acquired, antibiotic-resistant bacterium and failed to immediately report the in-hospital infections to authorities. These cases should sound the alarm bell for the nation's hospitals, while warning the public that hospitals are not necessarily safe places but are full of potential dangers, including hospital-acquired (nosocomial) infection. Hospitals must vigilantly guard against such infections.
A better known antibiotic-resistant bacterium is the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). According to a panel on infection diseases of Iryo Anzen Zenkoku Kodo (National Action for Medical Safety), a network of some 600 hospitals to promote medical safety at hospitals, MRSA is directly responsible for the deaths of an estimated 4,000 people every year through nosocomial infections.
The outbreak at Teikyo University Hospital shows that Acinetobacter is a new addition to the list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that cause in-hospital infections, which already includes MRSA, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Serratia marcescens. Acinetobacter widely exists in such places as soil, water and human skin. It kills by causing pneumonia or sepsis in patients whose physical strength or immunity has been weakened.
To prevent hospital-acquired infections by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, hospitals must use antibiotics with care; diligently disinfect toilets, human waste storage areas, intravenous drip devices and artificial respirators; and have hospital workers and patients wash their hands adequately and frequently.
In Europe and North America, multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter was identified in the 1990s. At Fukuoka Hospital University, 23 patients were infected by the bacterium from October 2008 to January 2009. Of the four who died, the deaths of two were directly linked to the bacterium. Stronger strains of multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter were detected among patients at the Funabashi Municipal Medical Center in 2009 and at Aichi Medical University Hospital in 2010. The patients, who had been transferred from hospitals abroad, were quickly isolated, and the infection of other in-patients was prevented. The experiences at the two institutions show that hospitals can prevent nosocomial infections by following basic hygienic procedures.
Teikyo University Hospital initiated steps to prevent in-hospital infections following Golden Week in May after multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter had been detected among about 10 patients in the internal medicine ward. A study showed that the first case of the infection had occurred in August 2009 and that a female patient died in October 2009 and a male patient died in January 2010. But this information was not conveyed to a hospital section in charge of preventing nosocomial infections.
Eventually patients on eight floors of the 19-story and two-basement hospital were found to have been infected with the bacterium. The hospital has not yet been able to control the outbreak of nosocomial infection. As of Sept. 1, nine patients were infected with the bacterium. It is clear that doctors, at least in the internal medicine ward, were not sufficiently aware of the danger of hospital-acquired infections.
In July, the hospital set up an investigation panel that includes outside people. But it did not report the establishment of the panel to the local public health center. On Aug. 4, the central and Tokyo metropolitan government carried out a regular inspection of the hospital, but the hospital did not tell them about the in-hospital infections. Not until Sept. 2 did it report the infections to the health ministry, the metropolitan government and the Itabashi Ward office. It was also found that three patients at the hospital had been infected with another antibiotic-resistant bacterium the multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa and that one of them had died. The hospital bears a heavy responsibility. If it had acted properly, it could have saved the lives of patients.
Multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter appears to have spread. In Aichi Prefecture, 24 in-patients at Fujita Health University Hospital have been infected with the bacterium since February and seven others at another hospital since October 2009.
On Monday, it was reported that a new type of superbug, a colon bacillus with the NDM-1 gene, which is resistant to most antibiotics, was found in one patient at Dokkyo University Hospital in Mibu, Tochigi Prefecture. The patient, who had returned from India in May 2009, was successfully treated.
All hospitals should heighten their awareness of the danger of nosocomial infections by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and strengthen measures to prevent them. The National Institute of Infectious Disease and experts must properly advise them.
THE JAPAN TIMES
CHINA CORNERS VITAL MARKET
In the race to build advanced industrial and military products, China has a key advantage: the world's biggest reserves of rare earth minerals that are essential to many of these products.
China dominates mining of the obscure but strategically vital rare earth elements (REEs) used in an increasing array of commercial and defense applications, ranging from batteries, magnets and electric motors to satellites, lasers and precision-guided munitions.
Last year China produced about 97 percent of the world's rare earth oxides. Just as important, Chinese companies, many of them state-controlled, now have a near monopoly on processing rare earth metals into finished materials.
This stranglehold is starting to alarm the United States, Japan, the European Union and other major economies that depend on supplies from China. Since 2005, it has been restricting output and exports, pushing prices higher.
The Pentagon is due to finish a report by the end of this month on the risks of U.S. military dependence on rare earth elements from China. Their use is widespread in the defense systems of the U.S., its allies including Japan, and other countries that buy American weapons and equipment.
Apart from satellites, lasers and precision-guided munitions, U.S. defense systems that incorporate REEs include communications, radar, avionics, night vision equipment, jet fighter engines, missile guidance, electronic countermeasures, underwater mine detection, antimissile defense and range finding. Some civilian components, such as computer hard drives, that contain REEs also have widespread military applications.
In a report to the U.S. Congress in April, the Government Accountability Office said that it had been told by officials and defense industry executives that where REE alloys and other materials were used in military systems, they were "responsible for the functionality of the component and would be difficult to replace without losing performance."
An official report last year on the U.S. national defense stockpile said that shortages of four REEs lanthanum, cerium, europium and gadolinium had already caused delays in producing some weapons. It recommended further study to determine the severity of the delays.
China recently cut its REE export quotas by 72 percent for the second half of this year. Shipments will be
capped at just below 8,000 metric tons, down from nearly 28,500 tons for the same period in 2009. According to one industry estimate, worldwide REE demand is expected to exceed supply by as much as 50,000 tons by 2012 unless major new production sources are developed.
Japan complained to China late last month that lower export quotas could have a major impact on industrial development outside China. REEs are essential for hundreds of commercial as well as military applications. The former include electric motors and batteries for gasoline-electric hybrid cars, wind power turbines, mobile phones, cameras, portable X-ray units, energy-efficient light bulbs and stadium lights, fiber optics, and glass additives and polishing.
The next high-technology REE application to achieve maturity may be magnetic refrigeration, which is considerably more efficient than today's gas-compression refrigeration. It does not require refrigerants that are flammable or toxic, deplete Earth's ozone layer, or contribute to global warming.
The diverse nuclear, metallurgical, chemical, catalytic, magnetic and optical properties of REEs have led to the ever-expanding variety of applications. Small, lightweight, high-strength REE magnets have enabled product developers to miniaturize numerous electrical and electronic components for consumer appliances, audio and video equipment, computers, cars, communication systems and military equipment.
However in replying to Japan's concerns, Chen Deming, China's commerce minister, said mass extraction of REEs would cause great environmental damage in China and that was why the government had tightened controls over exploration, production and trade. Poisonous chemicals are used to mine REEs in China, putting local water supplies and public health at risk.
Critics say that having developed a near-monopoly position in REE mining, China will give supply priority to Chinese firms and to foreign companies that are prepared to invest in China's REE-related industry and transfer technology. China bans foreigners from investing in REE mining but allows them to enter processing joint ventures with Chinese firms. However, officials say that export restrictions apply only to rare earth raw materials and that export of processed REE products, which are more valuable, is encouraged.
Meanwhile, the U.S. appears to be the victim of its own astonishing lack of foresight in security-related industrial policy. Although tagged "rare," REEs are relatively common and widely dispersed around the world. Yet in contrast to ordinary base and precious metals, REEs are seldom found concentrated in exploitable ore deposits.
Of the nearly 100 million tons of known global reserves that can be economically extracted, over one-third are at opposite ends of China, in the south and up north in Inner Mongolia. Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union have 19 million tons of reserves, the United States 1.3. million tons, Australia 5.4 million tons and India 3.1 million tons.
Until around 1990, the U.S. was self-sufficient in REEs and the world leader in processing and use. Yet within a decade, it had become more than 90 percent reliant on REEs imported either directly from China or from countries that received their plant feed materials from China.
Why? Environmental and regulatory problems made mining and processing unattractive at the main REE site at Mountain Pass, Calif., which closed in 2002. Meanwhile, lower costs in China, continued expansion of electronics and other REE-based manufacturing in Asia, and the size and concentration of Chinese REE deposits drove the shift in comparative advantage from America to China.
The surge in Chinese REE output initially flooded the market, cutting prices and stimulating new applications. Now, with increasing state control as China seeks to capitalize on its advantage, the U.S. and other advanced economies are trying to get alternative REE mines into production to reduce reliance on China and improve security of supply.
But this may take quite some time. The GAO report said that although REE deposits in the U.S., Canada, Australia and South Africa could be mined by 2014, rebuilding the U.S. rare earth supply chain might take up to 15 years.
Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
THE JAPAN TIMES
THE 'PERFECT STORM' BREWING IN CENTRAL ASIA
BY KENNETH WEISBRODE
FLORENCE, Italy Dean Acheson, U.S. President Harry Truman's secretary of state, liked to quote a friend who said that being in government made him scared, but that being out of it made him worried. To those of us not privy to the hidden complexities of NATO's military intervention in Afghanistan, the situation there and across Central Asia is extremely worrisome.
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai is said by his critics to be on the verge of casting his lot with Pakistan and the Taliban, the Pentagon has signaled its fear that the war may spread beyond the Pashtun heartland to the largely Tajik and Uzbek areas in the north of the country. The United States is reportedly constructing a $100 million "Special Operations Complex" near Mazar-e Sharif across the border from Uzbekistan.
It also planned to build a similar "counterterrorism training compound" nearby in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, the site last June of the worst outbreak of fighting between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Central Asia's Ferghana Valley since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Several hundred people were killed, neighborhoods were destroyed and an estimated 400,000 people were made into refugees.
There is little agreement about who lit the fuse. Possible culprits include various Russians, the family of deposed Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and criminal gangs in Kyrgyzstan and neighboring countries.
A favorite candidate for blame is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a group that has been allied with the Taliban in the past and has been active across Central Asia, including in Afghanistan. The IMU is also reportedly having success in recruitment drives in northern Afghanistan. But no matter where they go or what they do, the IMU's No. 1 target is Uzbeki ruler Islam Karimov.
Karimov, for his part, acted with unusual statesmanship during the recent violence in Kyrgyzstan. Unlike his neighbors, he opened the border to desperate refugees, mostly women, children and the elderly.
The refugees were Uzbeks, and Karimov had good reason to fear the possibility of a much bigger crisis within Uzbekistan, which is also home to many Tajiks, Kyrgyz and of course millions of Uzbeks who might have been inflamed by the persecution of their ethnic kin in Kyrgyzstan.
This is par for the course in the Ferghana Valley. As in much of Central Asia, including Afghanistan, national boundaries, enclaves and exclaves separate various groups that, historically, intermingled within a single region. Political boundaries have a powerful effect on the region's economy and culture. Differences, real or manufactured, are easy to magnify and exploit.
The precariousness of the situation throughout the Ferghana Valley has attracted the attention of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has much experience in defusing difficult border conflicts in the Balkans and elsewhere. And it just so happens that neighboring Kazakhstan currently holds the chair of the OSCE and will host an OSCE summit in its capital later this year.
But the OSCE was almost completely powerless during the Kyrgyzstan crisis, and only recently was it finally able to secure agreement to send a small police advisory group there. Of course, the OSCE had very few resources in the region to begin with, but some members, notably Russia, have been unwilling to give the OSCE a larger role.
Uzbekistan, which ought to welcome all the help it can get and probably doesn't object to greater OSCE involvement in principle, is nonetheless dragging its feet, supposedly because of jealousy over all the attention Kazakhstan is gaining from its chairmanship. (Karimov and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev are rivals.)
The keenest proponent of a revitalized OSCE now is the U.S. State Department. Not only does it want to use the opportunity to test the "reset" policy with Russia, but it also sees the OSCE as an important component of a long-term strategy to bring stability and good governance to Eurasia, as the OSCE was in Central Europe. For this reason, U.S. diplomats are lobbying hard for the OSCE, and Kazakhstan in particular, to be given a fair chance.
This is a worthy aim, but it is not clear that the main actors in Central Asia including China, which reportedly is quietly but firmly backing Karimov are playing on the same team. Uzbekistan, especially, has presented an extremely cautious, even ambivalent, face in public.
Even if serious dialogue with Uzbekistan is taking place behind closed doors and the Pentagon's new initiatives suggest that it is its low, almost undetectable, profile sends mixed signals that fly in the face of the open, transparent and collective ethos of America's big OSCE push.
Another explosion in the Ferghana Valley could be hard to contain if the pieces of declared and actual policy are not brought together, and if the most important regional leaders aren't brought on board. Among its first victims would be the noble aspirations of the OSCE and NATO's investment in Afghanistan. That is something big to worry about, regardless of whether one is in government.
Kenneth Weisbrode is a historian at the European University Institute, Florence. © 2010 Project Syndicate
THE MOSCOW TIMES
3 Priorities, 3 Solutions in EU-Russian Ties
Russia is our strategic partner and a major player in many areas. Russia is also a European country and our close neighbor. The time is ripe to give a new boost to European Union-Russian relations, while continuing open and sincere dialogue based on common interests and values. It is no secret that the relations between the EU and Russia have suffered from differences of opinion and action and that a lot of work remains to be done on both sides to optimize the potential that the EU and Russia share.
The questions we should put to ourselves are quite simple: What are the fundamentals in our relationship, and, more important, what do we want to achieve together in 10 years?
Finland and Hungary share a long history with Russia, and both have joined the EU rather recently. In future relations with Russia, we see three priority goals.
The first relates to the economy. The EU is the most important export market for Russia, and Russia is among the top-three trading partners of the EU. Of foreign direct investments to Russia, about 80 percent come from EU countries. In energy, the interdependency is evident. Geographic proximity could contribute to the competitiveness of both Russia and the EU, but that should not be taken for granted in today's world of global competition.
Currently, the most pressing issue is Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. Another key factor that would integrate our markets further is harmonization of technical standards. The EU has no reason to press Russia in this matter and no need to dictate the rules. But let's be frank. A set of carefully prepared standards and legislation is there for Russia to grasp that is, "euro standards" of proven high quality and earned consumer trust in Europe and elsewhere in the world. President Dmitry Medvedev, a committed supporter of modernization and innovation, has said European standards can't be that bad. Also for Russian consumers, the euro standard has been synonymous with good quality for decades. Russian companies would be the ones benefiting the most from harmonized regulation because that would bolster their competitiveness in the European market.
The ultimate goal is a free-trade area between Russia and the EU. We should not see our economies as rivals but make them more attractive by means of enhanced integration. This could open a new window of opportunity for both in the increasingly competitive global market.
Second, we need to facilitate interaction between our people. Visa-free travel would benefit tens of millions of people. The EU and Russia agreed to pursue visa freedom as a long-term goal in 2003 and are committed to reaching it. But all technical and societal criteria have to be met. Russian and EU experts need to continue the discussions and examine where sufficient progress has been made and where steps still need to be taken. This paves the way for the negotiations on a visa-waiver agreement.
The third goal relates to foreign and security policies. Partnership can only be successful in the long run if it is value-based and pursued in the spirit of mutual respect and confidence. Progress has been made in the area of external security for example, in international crisis management on the coast of Somalia and in Chad. But we could do much more together, including in the areas close to the EU and Russia, as well as in the civilian sector, like cooperation in emergency situations.
The initiative put forward by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Medvedev on deepening cooperation between the EU and Russia in foreign and security policies should be explored further. The potential of the existing Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and NATO structures can and should also be made use of more effectively. Such an approach could be a good starting point for finding solutions to conflicts. Any efforts to find solutions in conflict areas of common interest, however, can and must only be pursued through involvement of and cooperation with other Eastern European countries, especially the countries directly affected.
Our strategic aim should be a common area not only for external but also for European security as both the EU and Russia are stakeholders of European stability and security and keen to enhance it.
What steps need to be taken to improve the EU-Russian partnership?
First, the EU has to do its own homework. We should be more united and act faster. A strategic discussion on Russia within the EU would be very welcome. We also need to discuss our common priorities and actions together with Russia to move from partnership to equal ownership, that is, an equal and genuine commitment to enhancing our relationship.
Second, we need a modern, legally binding basis for our relationship. Both sides are already negotiating what is called the "New Agreement" to achieve this goal.
Third, more effective working structures are required to implement the New Agreement and the so-called four common spaces of cooperation including the partnership for modernization. We propose to start evaluation work immediately, together with our Russian partners.
With the new structures created in the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is now in a better position to strengthen its foreign policy. High Representative Catherine Ashton and the future EU's External Action Service, or EEAS, have an important role to play in fostering EU-Russian relations. These relations should be one of the priority areas for the EEAS from the very start.
Committed and active member states are essential for the EEAS to be successful. The EU-Russian relations rely to a large extent on bilateral experience. Bilateral relations and EU-Russian relations do not contradict one another but are complementary. It doesn't matter whether the spokesman is in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, London, Warsaw, Stockholm, Budapest, Helsinki or any other EU capital as long as the main messages are the same and we practice what we preach. For its part, Russia should be clear in its EU policy and willing to enhance its own working structures.
The most important factor in building a strong EU-Russian relationship is mutual trust and playing by the same rules. On many issues, the ball is now in Russia's court, but when the ball comes back to our court, we have to be ready and fit to play. Together, Russia and the EU can do a lot to help make the world a better and safer place.
THE MOSCOW TIMES
SELL 4G IN CLOSED-BID AUCTION
One reason Russia's economic policy often falls short of the mark is because the government believes that it is unable to carry out the recommendations it receives from economists. It decides that ignoring the recommendations is better than implementing half-measures. For example, in winter and spring 2009, the government considered a range of infrastructure investment projects similar to the "financial stimulus" measures in China that would have eased the burden of the financial crisis. However, those projects never got off the ground, in part because the government had no illusions about its own limited capabilities.
Perhaps this is the reason Prime Minister Vladimir Putin decided not to hold an auction to allocate frequencies for Russia's fourth-generation radio networks. After all, everybody knows that participants reach secret agreements beforehand, eliminating the competitive aspect of the bidding.
In fact, with only one exception, all major privatization auctions have suffered from this problem. These auctions were carried out English-style, not through sealed bids, and the item on the block went to the person who made the highest verbal bid. Controlling stakes in the two main production assets of the formerYukos oil company Slavneft and Yuganskneftgaz were sold at auction this way in 2000. Neither auction was competitive.
What is the problem with English auctions if bidders can theoretically reach agreements before any type of auction? The bids are made in the open, and each participant is able to make sure that the others are upholding their end of the bargain. But if one buyer breaks the prior agreement and raises the bid above the agreed limit, the others can join the fray and drive the price through the ceiling just for spite. Whoever finally does win will have to pay far more than was planned. Knowing that, participants tend to uphold the terms of their secret agreements and bid low.
But when the bids are submitted in sealed envelopes, all bets are off. The temptation to break prior agreements is much greater because the high bidder's real intentions become known only later. This kind of auction makes it much harder for participants to "fix" the results in advance.
The only example of a successful privatization auction in Russia took place in 1997 when a blocking stake in Svyazinvest was auctioned off through closed bids. The winner, George Soros, offered $2 billion, an enormous sum for that time, and later bitterly regretted having overpaid.
But if the government or in a broader sense, the public is the auctioneer, we should be glad to have put so much money in state coffers. Another proof that the auction was truly competitive is that the losing bidders proceeded to unleash a media campaign against the government aimed primarily at former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais.
Conducting such an auction for 4G networks would require political courage. But without such courage, effective government is impossible.
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