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Friday, September 10, 2010

EDITORIAL 10.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 10, edition 000622, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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


































































While it is the prerogative of any sovereign Government to decide its economic policy and tailor it to the requirements of national interest, in a globalised world where economies are inter-dependent on each other and guided by WTO rules there are limits to the extent to which protectionist barriers can be raised. Yet, the US appears to be unmindful of the consequences — both short-term and long-term — of aggressively pursuing a protectionist agenda by stretching the limits of what would normally be deemed to be acceptable even if not justifiable. What is all the more surprising is that a country which has been in the forefront of promoting free trade and economic liberalisation should now opt to raise barrier after barrier, seeking to isolate its economy (and its people) from the rest of the world. This is obviously driven by the conviction that the only way to shore up the American economy, whose indices continue to slide despite desperate attempts to nurse it back to health, is to hit back at other economies that have survived the financial meltdown and are doing far better. There is the additional factor of US President Barack Hussein Obama battling rapidly diminishing popularity — the latest poll says his approval rating is as low as 49 per cent — in his second year in office, which is bad news as Americans prepare to vote in the November mid-term polls. Mr Obama has revived his campaign chant of 'America for Americans', a slogan that seeks to delink the US economy from the global economy. Worse, he believes that punishing others who do business in and with America is the right course to choose; hence his reiteration of imposing penalties on firms that do not hire Americans, regardless of the contribution they are making to the US economy and without which the world's so-called sole superpower would find itself as helpless and powerless as many European countries with empty coffers. If guarded protectionism over the past two years has not yielded any results by way of creating more jobs and making 'local', all-American businesses viable, then it is unlikely that recent measures like hiking visa fees for foreign workers and prohibiting outsourcing of Government work to offshore firms will prove to be a miracle cure.

The problem, really, lies elsewhere. Mr Obama rode a tidal wave of great expectations to office; he marketed himself as the man who could make America shine again -- both morally and materially; and, he promised a lot more than he could actually deliver. With the sheen wearing off and his Administration floundering on both domestic and foreign policy fronts, Mr Obama stands exposed as being no different from any other politician: The 'hope' has long evaporated; Americans are no longer sure that salvation lies in either the Democrats or Mr Obama. A fallout of this unravelling of the Obama mystique has been the revival of the political fortunes of the Republicans who are now upbeat about their chances of sweeping the November elections and unsettling the equation in the US Congress to the President's disadvantage. Mr Obama fears this more than anything else. Not only would it mean his having to deal with a hostile Congress but it augurs ill for his seeking a second term in 2012. 







We were told that things had changed for the better in Bihar following five years of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's rule, and that such betterment would be the main campaign issue for the JD(U)-BJP alliance in the coming Assembly election. Few objective observers will dispute that the State has indeed undergone dramatic changes under the NDA regime. Infrastructure projects, including roads and bridges, have been implemented at an astonishingly fast pace and the Government's various social welfare schemes have benefited people in far-flung regions that had remained not just untouched by development but virtually forgotten by previous rulers. But, what Mr Nitish Kumar flaunted as the feather in his cap was the taming of anti-social elements and musclemen who had flourished through political patronage during the previous regime. It was therefore presumed that the days of these musclemen terrorising voters were over. Unfortunately, that is now turning out to be a naïve presumption. Politicians, including Mr Nitish Kumar, have begun hobnobbing with known history-sheeters and musclemen in the State, leaving people to wonder if the development plank is not strong enough to attract voters. Mr Kumar is not alone in this questionable quest. Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav has been brazenly seeking the support of malcontents. Not many people, however, would be shocked by the RJD leader wooing musclemen, because he has been known to patronise them. Hence his visit to Siwan jail to meet notorious criminal Mohammed Shahabuddin serving time there. 

It could be argued that an election is not about being nice and losing the vote, but beating your opponent at the game and thus retaining power for the large good of the masses. There is no doubt that Mr Nitish Kumar is any day a better choice than Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, not least because he has demonstrated that good governance is possible in Bihar which was turned into an impoverished wasteland by the RJD regime. Yet, the Chief Minister must exercise caution while preparing for this autumn's election. The people expect a lot from him; they hold him in high esteem; and, it would be in order to suggest that the majority in Bihar wants to see the NDA remain in power to carry forward the good work that it has initiated. Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav is free to do politics his way. That should not become the standard for the NDA. Bihar is much more than what hoodlums and goons would want the world to believe it is: A people held captive by musclepower. The voters, having tasted good governance after a long while, are unlikely to be fooled by either caste or communal politics of the RJD and Congress variety. Then why bother about what the other side is up to? The NDA should stick to its development agenda. It will work. 







Aam admi doesn't have the condescending ring of 'common' and 'commoners'. It's a more neutral description of the unempowered

A well-known actor was quoted the other day as saying that "Common people suffer the most" from bandhs like the one we experienced recently. The sentiment is laudable but the choice of words conveys nuances of the class hierarchy that is embedded in our language with its aap, tum and tu.

The actor was not half as crass, however, as the NDTV anchorman who blithely announced during US President George W Bush's meeting at the Purana Qila that "commoners" would be outside. That word, never heard nowadays from natural English-speakers except in a strictly technical sense, at once brings to mind its dictionary antonym. But who are the lords in our midst if Mr Bush's audience were commoners?

Many hold that politicians now occupy that feudal space. Remember Maharaja Karni Singh of Bikaner's blistering speech in the Lok Sabha when the Bill to abolish privy purses was being debated? Pointing at the Treasury benches, he declared that that was where India's real rajas and maharajas could be found.

Presumably, a man of Maharaja Karni Singh's birth and education had discernment enough not to speak of "the common people" or, even more stupidly, "commoners". Those words imply that the speaker himself is not to be confused with the lumpenproletariat he is speaking of. He may sympathise with them, but only from an elevation.

Both comments recall a passage from Goldsmith's comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, where a young man mistakes his prospective father-in-law for an innkeeper. "Surely he didn't think I was a common innkeeper?" the latter expostulates to his old friend, the prospective groom's father. "No," the friend chuckles. "He thought you were an uncommon innkeeper!"

Real-life social attitudes allow no scope for flippancy though, admittedly, we can go overboard with our sensitivities. The furore over "neech jaat" on All-India Radio's air waves was one occasion. Another was the complaint of being casteist I had to answer at the Press Council (after the courts commendably threw out the petition) merely for saying the bulk of East Bengal refugees in those years were Namasudras. Going by today's political correctness, Mahatma Gandhi would have been in the dock for calling Dalits Harijans. 

I may be wrong but talk of Aam admi doesn't have the condescending ring of 'common' and 'commoners'. It sounds a more neutral description of the unempowered majority. One can speak of Aam admi without implying that one's own reserved seat in the Diwan-i-Khas is secure for all time, which is what facile talk of "the common people" and, worse, "commoners", implies. 

Ironically, it's fashionable for the richest and most aristocratic Indian politicians to identify with the poor and the lowly ('commoners'?) because they comprise the majority and thus represent the most votes. The US target is different, as President Barack Obama's speeches make clear. "These are the folks whose policies helped devastate our middle class and drive our economy into a ditch" he thundered recently when launching the Democratic campaign for the Congressional mid-term polls in November, and accusing his Republican opponents of being anti-middle class.

The assumption is that most Americans have some education, some investments and some savings and are, therefore, eligible to be classified as middle class. In fact, a leading political analyst, Ruy Teixeira, and the well-known scholar, Alan Abramowitz, argued in a paper titled 'The Decline of the White Working Class and the Rise of a Mass Upper Middle Class' that the key factor in contemporary American politics is the expansion of the highly educated, white-collar professional sector.

It's neither here nor there that others parade impressive statistics to dispute this theory. What matters is that the middle class is an aspirational definition. It's what everyone in the West hopes to become. Lord Northcliffe, the British Press baron, used to urge his reporters to assume that Daily Mail (a respectable popular paper at that time) readers earned £1,000 a year (a fortune in those days) or, more important, liked to think they did. 

Wish-fulfillment also explains why Mr Obama is more hung up on the middle class than anyone since Aristotle. He made no fewer than four references to it in his September 1 speech announcing the end of the US combat mission in Iraq but really appealing for votes to the majority, or those who hope to comprise the majority. 

Aristotle saw this "middle group" (as he called it) bridging the gulf between rich and poor. He believed that in "those states in which the middle element is large, and stronger if possible than the other two together, or at any rate stronger than either of them alone, have every chance of having a well-run Constitution." But Aristotle also recognised the difficulty of achieving this. Athenian democracy and Sparta's oligarchy ruled out middle class supremacy.

The English writer, Nancy Mitford, identified the highest class in England — she dubbed them "U" — as a group of people who had neither power nor money but could be recognised by their unconscious choice of words. For instance, telephone was "Non-U" but wireless was "U". Nothing was more Non-U, however, than mugging up U words. They have to flow from the subconscious.

Such sophistication is unknown in India where money and power, especially money as the source of power, rank above all else, often obliterating even ancient caste divisions. VS Naipaul once asked me what Jawaharlal Nehru's father did and when I explained that Motilal Nehru was an advocate, exclaimed, "Then why do they call Nehru an aristocrat? He's middle class!" This is where Indian materialism comes in. Motilal Nehru was rich. Therefore, he was aristocratic.

Caste and the legacy of colonialism have stood on their head many Western definitions. But caste — the less exalted the better — is still a powerful card to play, and the story is told of the late Dr BC Roy introducing one of his Ministers to Prince Philip as "a Depressed Minister", depressed being the pre-Mandal code for today's OBC. The Prince reportedly took one look at the beaming politician and remarked, "He doesn't look at all depressed to me!"

Naturally not. He had money, power and the caste status that today arouses the ire of many so-called forward castes. He might have called himself a 'commoner' but that would have been a rewarding political affectation. For others to do so is 'common' in another sense. 






Ever since it came to power in 2004, the UPA Government has announced a large number of social development programmes. But none of these has proved to be a success due to poor delivery mechanism. We should now look at the Public-Private Partnership model

Since 2004, the UPA Government has come out with several development schemes which at first glance look very impressive. Welfare schemes like NREGA, NRHM, mid-day meal, universal education, JNNURM and many others not only have aimed at uplifting the underprivileged but also have had the objective of bringing about some uniformity within the existing regional and social imbalances.

But what is being experienced is something that defies these aims and objectives. There is no doubt that these schemes have done small wonders, but these wonders are confined to select pockets of society. For instance, if NREGA saw success in some south Indian States, then it also saw rampant corruption in most of the other States, especially in the north. Same has been the case with most other development schemes. Great initiatives, but equally great failures.

It doesn't require rocket science to gauge the gaps. And it is also nothing new. The nation's development schemes would have delivered their promise if and only if the State Governments had not been suffering from inadequacies in their delivery mechanisms. Most of the time, if not almost every time, it is the State-level bureaucracy and administration that fails to effectively execute and implement national schemes. Not just that, the State Governments are invariably found to be careless about preventive and precautionary communication emanating from the Union Government.

Recently, all the major cities of India experienced a massive outbreak of malaria and dengue. In spite of regular and pre-emptive alarms raised by the Union Government, most State Governments have failed to act. So much so a few States have found their hospitals and medical centres incapable of coping with the rush. The hospitals are not only full to the brim but also lack necessary manpower and facilities to tackle the outbreak of these diseases.

A similar situation is being experienced with respect to food security. There is much talk about the distribution of foodgrains among people living below the poverty line, but it seems there is still a state of complete crisis over the issue. The state delivery mechanism is so weak and porous that huge amounts of these foodgrains find their way to the black market — or are found rotting in warehouses.

In spite of having food stocks that are enough for food security, the States mostly waste time deciding whether to sell the foodgrains in the open market or through Public Distribution System, knowing very well that PDS does not have a great track record. A March 2010 CVC report concludes that corruption is pervasive in the entire chain and foodgrains are distributed for two to three months only although the Union Government allocates `30,000 crore for this.

Year after year our annual Budget allocates and disburses hundreds of crores of rupees to States for development programmes — universal education, health and sanitation, etc. But often either the funds are returned unused or find their way to bureaucrats' and politicians' coffers. Recently, it was reported that the States have managed to use just 20 per cent of the funds allocated by the Union Government for the backward regions.
What is worse is the fact that the biggest offenders are the States which have the maximum regional imbalances. It was reported recently that Uttar Pradesh has indicated its failure to allocate funds for implementing the Right to Education Act even after the Union Government had agreed to bear 75 per cent of the budgetary responsibility. Such examples abound.

The Public Accounts Committee report for 2008-09 tabled in the Manipur Assembly in July reveals the grim fact that the State failed to achieve the target mentioned for road connectivity to rural habitations under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana project. The Comptroller and Auditor-General found Meghalaya's Education Department to be very inefficient with the implementation of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme. The list of such failures is endless. It is incredible that most State Governments shamelessly seek funds in the name of development.

Failure in implementing projects is one part of the problem; the bigger worry is that despite knowing about this the Union Government and the State Governments persist with the projects. Recently, The Economist reported how the Obama Administration and the Cameron Government have embarked upon a new mission to reach out to the masses with development programmes. They have entrusted the task of implementing the initiatives to large NGOs and social entrepreneurs with impeccable records. It is time our Government starts thinking along similar lines.

The world is embracing the Public-Private Partnership model to implement social development programmes. We should do that too. It is time our Government looks at social development as its key business.


The writer is a management guru and Editor, The Sunday Indian. 







The Yamuna Expressway protest tells a familiar story

The Uttar Pradesh Government's offer to scrap the plan to build five townships along the Yamuna Expressway, linking Noida with Agra, if the farmers continue their protest will no doubt gladden conservationists. They were earlier worried about the additional pollution more urbanisation and industrialisation would inflict upon the Yamuna and Taj Trapezium Zone as well as the detrimental impact of such a scheme upon farmers, divested of land and traditional livelihood. They want the Ganga Expressway project, linking Noida with Ballia, also to be shelved for similar reasons.

Ganga, like Yamuna, should not be subjected to a greater pollution load. And many farmers, peasants and others, divested of land and hereditary vocations, are likely to get criminalised. The alarming growth in crimes in western Uttar Pradesh's 'badlands' and Haryana, where lush agricultural areas have given way to townships, and farming and livestock/dairy-related work have been replaced by frenetic construction activity and property dealership, is ascribed by sociologists to this very change in the past two decades. 

Killings over land and property deals or disputes have become routine, with families fragmenting and relationships crumbling. Access to easy money via sale of land and real estate development not only radically alters the value system and social equations but takes away farmers' safety net once their money is spent or wasted. The dispossessed are tempted to turn to crime in the absence of education and vocational skills.

Wielding guns instead of farm implements, and driving cars instead of tractors, they seek shortcuts to the good life, having tasted it. Flush with money, huge dowry demands and ostentatious weddings have become the norms among farming communities. The high incidence of honour killings and dowry deaths among them is synchronous with their sudden rise to riches via the simple expedient of cashing in on land. The threat of land and property passing out of their control through marriages that defy convention — with the amendment to the Hindu Succession Act giving daughters the right, equal to sons', to a share in ancestral property and wealth — has spurred killings of errant couples.

Whether the decision to scrap the five townships is final or not is uncertain in view of the demand raised by a farmers' group that the project be revived. Kshetriya Gaon Samiti is agitating to compel the Government to go ahead with the plan. The earlier farmers' agitation was meant to force a hike in the rate of land, sold for the expressway. Subsequently, the price was raised marginally. It is a piquant situation, with the townships project being reportedly shelved because farmers wanted too much money. This will eventually be to their benefit as agriculture is a sustainable source of livelihood whereas those left without land are bound to rue the loss as their progeny scatter and leave in quest of work. It is a floating population that consists of the marginalised and displaced.

In the case of people who are ousted from their homes and land by the State for the purpose of building dams, mining, special economic zones or some other development activity but not amply compensated or resettled, the injustice done lays the ground for insurgency. Disaffection among tribals and several ethnic groups is ascribed to flagrant misuse of the draconian Land Acquisition Act, dating back to 1894, and, therefore, clearly outdated. This relic of the Raj was meant for the colonial masters to bully natives into submission, and not for free India's Governments to deprive people of their legacy. Sadly, it has been deployed to silence protests by those displaced, and push through projects of doubtful value.

In the meantime, the city's farmers are coming together to assert their rights, following reports of the Delhi Government's intent to acquire panchayat land for planned development. Rural Delhi and its vicinity have been fighting a losing battle against the builders' lobby, which, in connivance with policy-makers, is bent on appropriating all agricultural land. Rules are bent and changed so that this purpose can be served. Farmers are not blameless either as they have actively connived to build unauthorised colonies by selling their holdings to local developers.

Urban slums within the city have thus sprouted, ill-equipped to meet the needs of their inhabitants. Now with giant real estate companies hoping to cash in on Delhi's burgeoning housing needs, farmers stand little chance of retaining their land. The privatisation ethos, under the guise of economic liberalisation, ensures that the Government will go along with the big players. And a population of ill-educated rustic folk will be left to fend for itself. Many of the dispossessed are bound to turn to crime, making the city more unsafe. 






Unnerved by widespread talk about drift in the Government and rift between him and the Congress, Manmohan Singh wants all to believe his authority remains undiminished

Eyebrows were raised at the aggressive posturings of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during one of his rare interactions with a group of editors this week. What do these mean? Is the Prime Minister fed up of criticism against him not only by the Opposition but also by the media and the party? Has he reached the limit of his patience?

There are two intriguing things. The first is the timing of the interaction. The second is what might have been the immediate provocation. No doubt, his media interactions have become rare. There has been one Press conference in the past 15 months. It was high time he communicated his views through the media. Moreover, for the past few weeks, there have been consistent orchestrated attacks on the Prime Minister and he was said to have been naturally quite upset with all the negative publicity. What better way than to explain his part of the story by talking to the top editors?

For the Prime Minister, the tenure of the UPA2 Government is not going very well. For the past few months, stories and articles have appeared in the media about the growing differences between the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, and Mr Singh. The revival of the National Advisory Council and drafts of the food security Bill and communal violence Bill are some of the issues. Eyebrows were raised when the Prime Minister addressed the nation after the passage of the Right to Education Bill and his omission of a mention of Ms Gandhi in his speech. While intervening during the debate on the women's reservation Bill in Rajya Sabha, he even gave credit to Ms Jayanthi Natarajan, chairperson of the Committee on Women's Empowerment, but did not mention Ms Gandhi's name even while the whole world knows that it was because of her determination that the Bill went through. The revival of the NAC as a super-body is yet another source of controversy.

Even during the tenure of the UPA1, it was standard practice that the party distanced itself from any embarrassment and left the Government to handle controversies while the credit for good performance of the Government went to it. It is also no secret that Mr Singh holds rightist views while Ms Gandhi airs leftist views. Some even think that it was a neat agreement between the two to keep both right and the left happy. It has worked well so far.


he Prime Minister holds certain views quite different from those of the party and would not budge on these. The first was the India-US nuclear deal for which the PM was even willing to resign. Initially, there was a difference of opinion but the party fell in line when Ms Gandhi and Mr Rahul Gandhi supported him. When the original draft of the National Rural Employment came to the Government from the NAC, he did not fully accept it and made certain changes. On the Association of South-East Asian Nations free trade agreement, Ms Gandhi wrote a letter to the Prime Minister arguing that it may go against the interest of the Indian industry but Mr Singh stuck to his decision to go ahead with the agreement. The Prime Minister, on his part, fell in line on going slow with economic reforms during the tenure of UPA1 and left it to Ms Gandhi to take a call on the sacking of Mr Shashi Tharoor and Mr Natwar Singh.

Insiders say that differences on various issues had been growing for some time and the revival of NAC is an indication of the same. The NAC's views on the food security and communal violence Bills are not totally acceptable to the Government. The recent example is the issue of free distribution of rotting food grains to the poor. The Prime Minister has made it clear that it is not possible to comply with the Supreme Court directive on the matter.

While the PM would discuss these things within the inner circle, this is for the first time he has spoken openly. Does that mean that he will assert his views further? In all probability, he may not but the message has been delivered. 

The first message from his interaction is that beyond a point he will not take things lying down. His talking about the differences in the Nehru Cabinet shows that he is now bolder when it comes to defending himself. The second message he has sent out is that he is not going to retire. This is to silence rumours that the Prime Minister will be changed mid-term. The third message is to Congress leaders like Mr Digvijay Singh, Mr Keshava Rao and Mr Jairam Ramesh who are openly attacking Ministers like Mr P Chidambaram and Mr Kapil Sibal with the apparent backing of Mr Gandhi. Mr Singh went out of his way in praising Mr Chidambaram and Mr Sibal during his interaction. The fourth message is that he will reshuffle his Cabinet and bring in younger faces.

Mr Singh knows he cannot be removed easily. There are still three-and-a-half years to go before the end of his tenure. If he is to be changed, he may be sent to Rashtrapati Bhavan when President Pratibha Patil retires. Mr Singh may have thought that if he has to be effective he must arrest this negative publicity and give an impression to the country and abroad that he is in charge. How else could he deal with US President Barack Obama when he comes calling in November? The party, too, should realise that in the long run the Government should not be discredited too much. Both 10 Janpath and 7 Race Course Road have their own political compulsions and political understandings. Neither would do anything to rock the other's boat. 







Corporate growth cannot take place in isolation. Financial reforms must reconcile the profit motive with employee and customer welfare concerns and be guided by an understanding of environmental and social realities

One of the major handicaps in expeditious financial reforms seems to be an absence of proper documentation on how the various financial bodies, regulatory bodies and financial projects have evolved. The knowledge of this is very often locked with individuals and several of them are now in a geriatric phase or are about to get there. Also, notwithstanding the emergence of behavioural finance, there is a strong need to understand the motivations of investment other than just for financial returns. One major motivation would be to gain status and leverage social mobility by the act of investment. 

Confidence in the financial processes is another key ingredient of the support systems that will encourage investment. This is significant in an era where governmental intervention is considered essential to the turnaround of the financial organisations. Mismanagement at the level of governance of a company cannot be at the cost of the tax payer's money and certainly not when it is focussed on the amelioration of the lifestyle of certain key executives. This dimension of governance itself needs regulation. It is strange but true that people most widely affected by the slump had nothing to do with the causative factors. The answer, indeed, lies not only in just a more proactive and comprehensive regulatory regime but also in creating more accountable enterprises, more responsible decision making processes and more involved stakeholders. 

The marketplace, itself, too, needs to mature. It is obvious that corporate growth cannot be in isolation of environmental and social realities. It is important not only to have competent people in an organisation but it is equally important to have committed people. This is needed in making of a scientific employee satisfaction index. 

The Government, the corporate enterprise just as much as the institutions of the capital market, operates under pressure. These pressures come from the customers to stakeholders and the environment in which the enterprise is embedded. They can at times be contradictory and it may not be always possible to reconcile them. It is an unfortunate but a true evaluation of the situation to recognise that management research has not even begun to look at the way of reconciling these streams of pressure in a coherent manner.

Without this kind of reconciliation, there can be no hope for a scientific response. There was a time when economic development was considered a logical fall-out of industrial development. There is a time where corporate development is being peddled as a subset of economic development. The key seems to be ability to cope with turbulence and to do so in a manner in which the delicate equilibrium between social interest and corporate interest is not disturbed.

The emergence of professional ethics as an important branch of decision-making may provide some answers to this tricky question. However, very often one loses sight of a simple fact, namely, professional ethics, that must be defined in professional terms and be consistent with the genre of the profession itself. This is where branding can become an important tool of setting enterprise standards. At the end of the day, the nature of governance becomes critical to the overall health of not only the enterprise but for the society. The pursuit of profit has often been at the centre of investment. What has not often been debated is the extent of profit needed and the extent of energy investment which should take place in other cognate areas like employee welfare and customer welfare not to talk of customer education. 

Occasionally, this has tended to surface with talk of corporate social responsibility but the two are different things. The nature of the risk management process also often gets alerted if not confused. It is easy to talk of financial risk, business risk and indeed the risk of safety and more. The ability to understand the risk of a potentially volatile environment and social turmoil is a more subtle preposition and it is not always understood. This impacts corporate functioning through the very simple channel of consumer demand and manifests itself in the form of fluctuations recorded in the stock market. The social and economic dimensions of corporate functioning have a spread effect which needs to be understood if the preparation for the future is more sensibly done. To hope to contain it through legislative response and a regulatory mechanism would be churlish. What is required is the sagacity of a statesmanly approach to corporate affairs and the capital market. 








COMMON sense almost always tends to get martyred at the altar of electoral politics. A telling example of this is the executive order of Ted Strickland, the governor of the US state of Ohio, banning all outsourcing in the state for any forthcoming government project; a stricture that came into effect from August 31, 2010.


This order is expected to hit India the most as close to 60 per cent of India's $ 50 billion software revenue comes from outsourcing, and a large part of it from the US. Mr Strickland's job may well be to protect his state's residents from joblessness ( the US faces a record 9.75 per cent unemployment at present), but his action betrays an innocence about the nature of outsourcing. US companies are not shifting jobs to India for the love of it, but because they wish to take advantage of lower costs here which allow them to remain competitive.


As it is there is also the reflex advantage of Indian companies in the US setting up local offices to allow them to take advantage of US government tax breaks in exchange for creating local employment.


In an election year, there is every chance that other states could follow Ohio's populist measure. This protectionist ripple effect strikes at the very heart of free trade, and could hurt the US economy harder than it would affect India's IT sector which can aggressively chase other markets.


Instead of opposing such self- defeating measures, President Barack Obama has encouraged protectionist thinking. His administration has ended the tax breaks for firms that send jobs abroad and doubled the costs for H1- B and L1 visas.


For the sake of America's future, Mr Obama would be advised to rethink his course on this issue.







THE United States must desist from conveying the impression that a radical church group's plan to burn the Quran on the anniversary of the 9/ 11 attacks must be thwarted only because it could harm the war effort in Afghanistan. For a lot more is at stake here.


The issue is also about how far the right to free speech and expression can be stretched when its exercise affects the sensibilities of another community in a multi- racial, multireligious society. Unlike India where such acts are banned by law, the US has had a fairly simplistic take on such things, deeming actions such as that of pastor Terry Jones' planned attempt to burn the Quran as an instance of " free expression." However, post 9/ 11 when the contours of the cultural debate have changed irrevocably, this attitude needs to be re- examined. As it is Muslims are the fastest growing minority in the US. Islam treats the Quran as the word of God and so Muslims will be deeply offended by the action, which in all honesty, is meant to be offensive. The US authorities must also take the pains to create the awareness that while 9/ 11 may have been the handiwork of Islamist terrorists, the holy book of the Muslims had nothing to do with it.








EVEN an event of the importance of the Commonwealth Games has failed to create a sense of urgency in the Delhi Government and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi ( MCD) to tackle the outbreak of dengue fever. With the number of dengue cases rising by the day and the Games Village itself under threat, it is about time that these bodies get their act together.


The MCD has been particularly irresponsible in its handling of the outbreak. Instead of carrying out fogging operations across the city, the body chose to focus its energies on coercing hospitals into under- reporting dengue cases. In spite of the crisis, the MCD has been unable to end the deadlock with its own employees — the domestic breeding checkers — who are on strike.


As a result, the present fogging operations are woefully short of what is required to target such an epidemic. Former mayor Aarti Mehra's request to the Prime Minister's Office to directly supervise the dengue control operations is yet another attempt at passing the buck and reflects the sheer inefficiency of the MCD.








PAID NEWS is deceit. A publication that offers editorial space for sale in a manner that it is meant to look exactly like a news story is not just putting a "For Sale" sign on the sanctum sanctorum of editorial space, but is also peddling our trust.


Think about it: the reason any advertiser would want to buy "paid news", is that there is little that differentiates it as an advertisement from legitimate content. The latter is what we read and trust as an independent effort of a correspondent, and an editor taking a judgment call on what is to be communicated to us, the readers.


Paid news, on the other hand, gives you no indication that what you are reading is sponsored content. In newspapers, there is no difference in typeface or background colour to differentiate it from regular news. On television, we rarely see the word "advertisement" on the screen whenever there is a sponsored show that looks like a regular news show.


Large media houses have also begun taking equity in firms that don't want to pay by cash — a business model known as "private treaties". These deals are usually advertising- space-for-equity barters. As media houses are in the business of news, it becomes an open case of conflict of interest when newspapers and television channels become investors in companies that they might report on.




Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Securities and Exchange Board of India ( SEBI), the stock markets regulator, wants all media houses to disclose their private treaties investments in companies that are listed or are in the process of being listed.


This is a welcome move. If implemented earnestly, it will protect investors and readers.


The reader and the investor has every right to know about these private arrangements so that he is not fooled by media reports.


In paid news, the advertiser fundamentally wants to overcome " banner blindness", the changing of channels during ads, and indeed a certain degree of defensive scepticism that one associates with the pitch that an advertisement makes. Print sells text, television sells sponsored shows and radio, even though it doesn't broadcast news, sells what is euphemistically termed " anchor mentions". We may bemoan the quality of news being delivered to us but as readers, we don't just buy a publication, or just watch a channel. Consciously or subconsciously, we put our faith in the notion that the intent behind information and opinion being served hasn't been prostituted.


But what if the advertisers are individuals or even firms who merely want to insure themselves against unfavourable news in the future? We don't expect the publication to be up for sale or for negative coverage to be a precursor to extortion from an election candidate; the words " caveat emptor" ( Latin for " let the buyer beware") probably don't even occur to us.


As any public relations executive will testify, they're in the business of managing perception, and a key part of that is to manage the perception of our gatekeepers — the journalists. This is not new: journalists are wined and dined, taken on international " junkets", gifted " demo" products that are never taken back; as a result, some of them are more favourably inclined. But it can become ugly.


There is, for instance, a welldocumented investigation by SEBI highlighting collusion between a major business publication's journalist, a PR agency and significant shareholder of the Pyramid Saimira stock to manipulate its share price, by forging a SEBI letter, and then making public announcements to mislead investors, which were reported in the publication.


For some journalists, it's about favour and trust; for some, it is about the lure of power and a Rajya Sabha membership. But we don't know what happens behind the scenes, do we? What we perceive as readers or viewers is often our reality. This is the corruption of our beliefs at its subtlest, on par with the practice of rewriting history books.


Some media publications audaciously have rate cards, with the rationale: why not just do away with the middlemen — the journalists.




According to a report submitted to the Press Council of India ( PCI) by a task force assigned to investigate this malaise ( a copy is available at http:// presstalk. blogspot. com), it's not that many media organisations are selling just your trust: during the 2009 general elections, many of them resorted to extortion.


The report mentions allegations of publications denying coverage to politicians unless money was paid and even publishing negative coverage. Some news entities are upfront about their political or ideological leaning; paid news, on the other hand, is about putting these leanings up for sale. Funnily enough, the PCI report cites instances of specific newspapers carrying reports of two opposing candidates being likely to win the same elections.


What this amounts to is indirect mass rigging of elections, and strikes at the very core of our democracy.


Private treaties, however, are even more dangerous. Times Private Treaties, from the Times of India Group, won an award in 2009 in the " Innovative Business Models Contest" organised by the PubliGroupe and International Newsmedia Marketing Association. HT Media does both ads for equity and property deals; Network18 has Synergy18 for such deals. Business Standard had reported in 2008 that Dainik Bhaskar and Jagran Prakashan were also considering this model.


At its core, private treaties is much more than just a business model. While it is legitimate for media businesses to take a stake in any company, it creates a financial bond between the two, and the linkages are far deeper than those between advertisers and publications.


It is a marriage of their risks and growth. For its own financial growth, it is in the publication's interest to further the cause of the company it has invested in, since the value of its investment is directly dependent on the growth or decline of the value of the company.


An example of how a private treaty model works is available as a part of a draft red herring prospectus filing from Planet41, a mobile value added services company. The filing ( at http:// www. sebi. gov. in/ dp/ planet4 1. pdf ) indicates that Brand Equity Treaties Limited ( BETL) bought 2.88 per cent, by investing Rs 2.54 crore in Planet41, allowing the company to place advertising worth Rs 4.8 crore, of which Rs 80 lakh will be paid until the IPO. The company would have to pay BETL 33 per cent of the value of the advertising in cash, back, and post listing, 50 per cent. Once listed, depending on how investors perceive the company, the value of the 2.88 per cent stake will change. There is no mention of coverage, but favourable news coverage does tend to push up stock prices, and unfavourable reports can pull it down.


While this merely suggests that media companies are corruptible, and not necessarily corrupt, let's ask a simple question: over 200 companies having done such deals, most of them covered by publications that have invested in them, when was the last time you read disclosure from the news publication, accompanying the story? Now take into account the scale of operations — media companies have cross holdings across platforms — Print, Internet, Radio, DTH and Mobile.




To be sure, no amount of government or regulatory threats to censure will work because the advertisers pay for your eyeballs.


You can never tell if media houses haven't been promised bribes as full page advertisements, in order to go soft on an upcoming, disastrous and corrupt international sports event.


Readers must therefore demand accountability from their publications, and choose those which disclose their interests.


Advertisers need to be told that readers are more than just a constituent of a circulation figure or a TRP. We also have much greater access to content from various global sources. Twitter and Facebook are fast becoming key sources of news, with people who we trust recommending news articles. Online, there's always someone lurking to correct, critique or criticise coverage in the comments, holding the publication accountable. Sources that flaunt their disclosures and are open about their mistakes are those that value your trust as a reader. That's an opportunity in trust for media businesses to pursue: to aggressively use disclosures as a differentiator; else, the readers will make their own choices. And advertising will follow the reader, as it has done in the west.


The writer is the Editor of MediaNama ( www. medianama. com), an online publication








THE CONFLICT between the PPP government led by President Asif Zardari and the higher judiciary led by the chief justice of the Supreme Court ( SC) of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, seems to be heating up again after a brief pause in which the headlines were grabbed by the death and destruction wrought by the floods in August.


This confrontation has three unprecedented dimensions.


First, the government is dragging its feet over the execution of the orders and directives of the SC in certain outstanding cases. This is unprecedented. The SC knocked out the National Reconciliation Ordinance ( NRO) last December and ordered the National Accountability Bureau to reopen all the criminal cases against President Asif Zardari at home.


This has not been done. It ordered the government to write to the Swiss authorities and revive the money laundering case against Mr Zardari. This has not been done. It directed the government to appoint a new head of the National Accountability Bureau ( NAB) with the approval of the SC but this has not yet been done. In the latest instance, it has declared the appointment of Mr Irfan Qadir as Prosecutor General of NAB to be illegal and given the government 30 days to appoint a new PG. But Mr Qadir aggressively insists he will not leave until the relevant authority — the president of Pakistan on the advice of the prime minister — formally notifies his sacking.


His bravado is doubtless at the behest of the government which has decided not to concede any space to the SC until and unless it is absolutely necessary to do so because failure to obey might have unintended grave consequences.


SECOND, the SC has accepted a number of petitions challenging various aspects of the 18th constitutional amendment passed by an all- parties consensus in both houses of parliament four months ago. Indeed, by the looks of it, the SC is gearing up to strike down some clauses as being unconstitutional.


Both the all- parties consensus behind the constitutional amendment — which took over nine months to mature in committees that earmarked over 100 clauses for change — and the challenge to it in the SC, are unprecedented.


The SC has never, since the constitution was launched in 1973, overthrown any constitutional amendment by parliament on the ground that parliament is supreme and empowered to change the constitution lawfully without having to look over its shoulder at the courts whose powers of judicial review are confined to interpreting the laws rather than changing the constitution. The fact that this 18th amendment reflects an unprecedented parliamentary consensus makes the SC's action even most controversial.


Third, the SC's majority- view against parliamentary oversight of appointments to the high courts and supreme

court, as laid down in the 18th amendment, is unprecedented in the annals of global jurisprudence and system- practices among the democratic constitutions and nations of the world.


Nowhere in the world do judges appoint themselves without any reference at all to a democratically elected executive and also, at the same time, remain unaccountable to parliament. Even in India, whose example is always quoted in support of the prevailing mood among the judges of Pakistan, where a so- called selfaccountable collegiate system exists to sanction all judicial appointments, the judges are, in the final analysis, open to impeachment and sacking by the Indian parliament. But in Pakistan, it appears that the new judiciary is erroneously inclined to believe that it, rather than parliament, is supreme! Therefore, if the " necessary conditions" for confrontation and gridlock exist, what will it take to create the " sufficient conditions" for a constitutional breakdown that will invite the military to step into the fray and take sides openly and aggressively? Mr Altaf Hussain, the chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, has provided an indication of what is possible. He says that " patriotic generals" should seize power and set everything right by a martial law " type" of " revolution". What is this new revolutionary beast that is, and is not, martial law at the same time? To be sure, past SCs in Pakistan have argued that a " successful coup" is akin to a revolution ( and not a revolt which is an unsuccessful revolution) that creates its own sources of legitimacy.


But the current SC led by CJ Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry buried the notorious law of necessity, on which past coups and constitutional deviations and violations were pegged, in the famous judgment of July 31st 2009. So how is the same SC likely to respond to any military intervention that puts a gun to the head of the current parliament or government and shows it the door because of some state " necessity" or the other?


HERE'S something to think about. In the past the army seized power on the grounds that the system had broken down or been irrevocably derailed. It made no bones about the fact that it had carried out a coup d'etat against a constitutional government.


Therefore it sought the help of a newly sworn- in judiciary under a Provisional Constitutional Order ( PCO) to clutch at the " law of necessity" to make its coup lawful. But in the future, why can't the army intervene on the orders of the SC and send the government packing on the grounds that the army is acting in aid of the SC to protect and preserve the constitution rather than to overthrow it? Under such circumstances, there would be no constitutional deviation or violation, nor any need of a PCO or any " law of necessity" to legitimise any unlawful act because no such unlawful act would have been committed in the eyes of the SC. Thus, given the current scenario, and given the ingenuity of its politicians, generals and judges, anything is possible in Pakistan. But is this scenario probable? And will it work if it comes to pass? I don't think so.


For a host of reasons, and notwithstanding personal ambitions or institutional imperatives, any unholy alliance between the organs of the state like the army and judiciary, against the mainstream political parties and independent media that reflect the will of the people, however imperfectly, cobbled over many decades, will have dire consequences for state and society in Pakistan.


The writer is the editor of The Friday Times



LAST NIGHT we were invited to Mulloo's for iftar. Just us, Sunny, Akbar, Baby and Jammy. Mulloo's very religious na and she always keeps all her fasts and says all her prayers. Anyways, iftar was fruit chaat, aaloo channay, gol guppay, dahi phulki, chicken samosa, meat samosa, pakoras, sandwiches, patties, pizza, chicken nuggets, milk shake, nimbu pani and chai.

Of course Mulloo opened her fast with one khajoor only. She said, ' I'm tau very particular about doing sunnat. I never ever do my ifatr on anything else but a date.' ' Of couse not,' said Janoo. ' Mulloo, you are justly famed for your piety and simplicity.' I gave Janoo a kick under the table but I don't think so Mulloo noticed that he was being sarcastic. She gave a snug sa smile and straightened her hijab.


Then there was silence as everyone ate and ate until we were bursting and Janoo sat and watched and smoked. Then Mulloo went off to say her prayers, and we all watched latest flood coverage on TV. All those destroyed crops, starving children, sick people and swept away villages. So depressing, vaisay.


' If it hadn't been for the army' Jammy said with a burp, ' I don't know who would've done all that saving shaving.' ' If it hadn't been for the army,' said Janoo, ' we wouldn't have been in this mess. ' ' Yaar, are you saving army sent the floods? Haan?' ' No,' said Baby. ' Those tau India sent. They reverted all the river water to this side only.' ' And I suppose,' said Janoo, ' India also diverted all the rain clouds to this side.' ' You know what I'm saying,' said Baby folding her arms across her chest. ' No actually I don't know what any of you are saying,' said Janoo angrily stubbing out his cigarette. Uff Allah, I thought to myself, now he's going to do another out bust. So I made signs and symptoms at him from across the room but majaal hai keh he looked at me for even one second.


' The army bloody well ought to help,' said Janoo.


' That's what we pay them for. You talk of the politicians' corruption, it's chicken feed compared to the army's. But you don't think of all their lands, plots, businesses, industries, Defence Housing Societies, Fauji Foundation, arms deals and secret budgets as corruption. That's just the army's entitlement!' Thanks God just then Mulloo came in and announced dinner, which was aloo gosht, palak gosht, biryani, koftay, chicken karahi, seekh kebab and for desert, kheer, ice cream and chocolate cake.


' Hai, I'll miss Ramzan when it's over,' sighed Mulloo.


' I feel so cleansed during this holy month of fasting.' ' Bilkull,' said Sunny. ' And the goras think they invented the detox diet!'








It is disappointing that the US state of Ohio has thought it fit to ban outsourcing of government IT and back office projects to offshore locations, as well as ban government contracts to other US companies who do outsource. No doubt, the executive order was passed with an eye on the upcoming election to the US Congress and Ohio governorship. Reeling from high unemployment rates around 10 per cent American legislators are taking the wrong approach to creating jobs at home. Resorting to protectionist measures is tantamount to making the same mistakes that led to the Great Depression of 1929-32. At a time when American companies need business-friendly policies to stay afloat, cracking down on outsourcing will severely affect their margins. 

The reason why protectionism has long been discarded as a viable economic policy is that it simply doesn't work over the long term in a globalised environment. Whether it is the hike in H-1B visa fee to fund US- 
Mexico border security or cutting down on tax breaks for companies that outsource, the measures serve as serious roadblocks to growth and are detrimental to global trade. They also fly in the face of every commitment that the US has made to the G20 and the WTO to fight protectionism and facilitate the free flow of trade. The Ohio ruling sets a bad precedent and could very well set into motion a domino effect that could see other American states adopt similar measures. This directly impacts the Indian IT sector, which draws 60 per cent of its outsourcing business from US clients. 

No matter what costs US legislators impose on American businesses to deter them from outsourcing, enough jobs cannot be created domestically through the adoption of protectionist measures. Innovative thinking is required to tackle the problem of unemployment. This includes reforms in education over a period of time to create the right kind of labour pool. But there is no substitute for growth, which can only be facilitated by giving American businesses the freedom to pursue policies that cut costs and increase profits. 

Besides, protectionist measures could elicit reciprocal responses from other countries that would hurt American businesses further. Fortress America doesn't do justice to the best in the American spirit. In keeping with the spirit of globalisation and to protect its own interests, New Delhimust strongly protest the Ohio ban and take it up with American federal authorities ahead of Barack Obama's visit. If US companies are free to bag Indian contracts worth billions of dollars, American protectionist policies that hurt Indian companies cannot be encouraged.




                                                                                                                                                            C OMMENT



There's likely to be more than caste on the plate for the people of Bihar when elections get underway in the state next month. The incumbent government of Nitish Kumar wants its record on governance to dominate the campaign. His rivals, mainly the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Lok Janshakti Partycombine, have other ideas. The Congress, which sees scope for revival in the state, hopes to exploit the seeming disaffection among upper castes, as well as other factors, and regain relevance in Bihar politics. Then there is an assortment of Left outfits, ranging from election-friendly parties like the CPI(ML), the CPI and the CPM to the violently inclined CPI (Maoist) who are scornful of Nitish's development agenda. The outcome of the election is, clearly, hard to predict. What could bolster Nitish's claim for another tenure in office is the improved law and order situation in the state. Maoists in the state almost blotted the record by taking a few policemen hostage. The incident finally ended to the government's advantage when the hostages except one were released. 

One factor that could affect the prospects of the JD (U)- BJP alliance is the failure of the monsoon in the state for the second consecutive year. Droughts can wreak havoc in agrarian societies. Bihar is predominantly an agricultural economy and the drought has hit peasants and farmers. Will the fear of the government pushing through land reforms suggested by an official panel result in a polarisation of landed upper caste communities against the government? But Nitish may have made mobilisation based solely on caste and communal lines almost redundant by transforming the nature of political debate in the state. That could work to his and Bihar's advantage. 








In cricket, the nightwatchman is a lower order batsman who comes in to bat higher up the order than usual near the end of day's play. The objective is to shield the more seasoned batsmen for a fresh day's play. However, if the nightwatchman stonewalls his way to hit a stroke-less century or if the next day's play gets washed out, it kills the game. So much so that people lose interest in cricket. 

The Indian political scenario is experiencing an unusual ennui today, thanks to the prolonged stroke-less stay of a nightwatchman who has outlived his utility. So, while there is high discontent over the government's sheer non-performance on everything be it price rise, the Naxal menace, foreign policy, corruption, et al the fact that a nightwatchman cannot be blamed for the team's defeat has, by default, accorded Manmohan Singh a rare invincibility. 

If one were to ignore UPA-I for the time being and concentrate only on the last 15 months of UPA-II, here are just some of Singh's most glaring failures which demonstrate his inability to ever become a leader. 

For starters, Sharm el-Sheikh, July 2009. Barely two months after getting a fresh mandate, Singh, instead of consolidating his and the country's position, committed what would put 'hara-kiri' to shame. His joint statement with Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani de-bracketed terrorism from composite dialogue and included the unprecedented mention of Balochistan. The inclusion of Balochistan, where Pakistan has always unsuccessfully accused India of fomenting trouble, not only drew international attention, but also eased the pressure Pakistan was under post-26/11. That Singh found himself isolated within his own party showed that his move at Sharm el-Sheikh was perhaps an irresponsible, impulsive one of which his own party boss was unaware. 

It is noteworthy that our economist PM's lack of leadership gets manifested best in his absolute abdication of responsibility on issues concerning the country's economy. Even as the government fiddles on this critical issue, foodgrains continue to rot for want of storage space. What is inexcusable is Singh's assertion that the 
Supreme Court must not dictate policy a statement that seeks to absolve Sharad Pawar for all his failures. 

Then, even as Naxals continue to kill our forces at will, there seems to be utter chaos in the government on the very basic comprehension of the problem. While the home minister's response suggests it to be a 'law and order' problem, Digvijay Singh thinks otherwise. Even as the killing spree continues, the government's absentee railway minister addresses a massive rally at Lalgarh with Maoist support and even supports an investigation into the death of a Naxal commander. 

Pranab Mukherjee disapproves of Mamata Banerjee's antics. But soon the Congress's own heir apparent takes a dangerous left turn. Addressing a massive tribal rally alongside a suspected Naxal leader, Rahul Gandhi talks of being a soldier of the tribals in Delhi. At the end of it all, one is still left trying to decipher what Singh thinks of the problem. 

What is most unbecoming of the 'honest' Singh is his constantly looking the other way on issues involving gross corruption. No wonder then that telecom minister A Raja and CWG chairman Suresh Kalmadi have seemed to carry on their reported exploits with impunity. 

One does not need more instances to conclude that India deserves a more 'in-control' PM. However, the point is, what makes the PM-in-waiting, Rahul, choose to remain 'shielded' perpetually? Has he done a reality check and concluded that he is not prepared for the job? Is he worried that he might face the same flak when his opportunity comes? What is equally surprising is that our 'PM-designate' is just as invisible on almost all important issues. 

While Rahul has indeed been travelling to college campuses, interacting with the youth and drumming up interest among students for a career in politics, what is significant is that his views on almost every matter of policy remain a mystery. One populist tribal rally is an effective device to confuse people and keep them guessing. However, what the nation expects from its 'PM-designate' is some amount of clarity in his perception and comprehension of issues be it the Naxal menace, the Kashmir problem, China's bullying or price rise. His statements make good stuff for college interactions but it is high time he starts addressing what ails or concerns the people most. 

What Rahul might be as prime minister is anybody's guess. But the problem is that people, as much as the opposition parties, are growing tired waiting and guessing. To be fair to the opposition, it has performed far better in the past 15 months than it did during the days of UPA-I. But even opposition parties seem increasingly weary bowling to an irascible nightwatchman who has batted for more than six years now and seems to have taken the game away, without any apparent merit. For its own sake, the opposition is raring to have a go at the main batsman who seems happy cooling his heels in the pavilion. 

For its own sake now, the opposition would want to see Rahul become PM sooner. 

The writer is an author, columnist and scriptwriter. 


                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA





Has the concept of family planning changed over the years?

Yes, it is not just a question of controlling numbers; it relates to health, education and contraceptive services. That is why the ICPD was so significant. It did what no population conference had before, by adopting a 20-year framework of action. Family planning was broadened to include provision of reproductive health services, reduction of infant mortality, improvement in maternal health, education and women's empowerment. 

What has been achieved since 1994? 

Gains have been made in reducing infant mortality, and the concept of reproductive health has gained increasing acceptance around the world. 

What still needs to be done? 

There is a lack of sufficient funding: 120 million couples still lack access to reproductive health commodities and services, and maternal mortality sadly remains at a very high level. Education, particularly for girls, has not yet been fully achieved. 

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were laid down by the United Nations over two decades ago. What were the most important ones? 

The most important goal was reducing by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. There were about 1.25 billion people in developing countries living on less than $1 a day (defined as extreme poverty) in 1990. Since then, there has been an impressive reduction in poverty in Chinaand even in India the overall poverty rate has come down, though in Africa the rate has come down at a much slower pace. Other goals include universal primary education, with particular attention to girls, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. Promoting gender equality and empowering women, along with ensuring environmental sustainability, are two other MDGs that have acquired increasing urgency in recent years. 
How has India done? 

Better than many demographers claim. Most of India has moved towards population stabilisation. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, once part of the BIMARU states, have done well lately, but Bihar and eastern UP remain problem areas. India's maternal death rate is also much too high: if health services were within easy reach, the rate could be reduced by half. 

Some Indian states are passing legislation that does not permit candidates with more than two children to stand for political office. Will such measures work? 

I don't have the details but no country in the world has succeeded in making a serious impact on population growth by such coercive measures. 

There is a widespread perception that Islam is opposed to family planning. How correct is this? 

Not correct. Take IranIndonesiaTurkey and Tunisia, to name just four major Islamic countries. They all promote family planning and have been successful in reducing population growth, even more successful than India.








The US state of Ohio bans contracts that lead to jobs being outsourced overseas. Déjà vu anyone? In 2005, five states, led by New Jersey, passed or proposed similar legislation. What is the same about these two incidents is that the US was heading for a tight election during an economic turndown. The 2005 laws went nowhere and had no impact on  India's infotech services industry. The question is whether the present protectionist sentiment in the US, which includes an earlier increase in H-1B visa fees, will follow previous bursts of anti-outsourcing into oblivion.


A calm assessment of the drivers behind outsourcing seem to indicate India has little to worry about. One, the US private sector is the primary source of outsourcing to India and the recession has only increased the search for cost-cutting. Recent surveys have shown that even in more protectionist Europe 40 per cent of firms plan to increase outsourcing. This is also why calls for India to retaliate by not buying US products are foolish: US corporations are the loudest voice in favour of outsourcing. Two, the specific logic of government outsourcing has only been partially diluted by the recession. Namely, US voters still want better public services without higher taxes and, increasingly, higher government deficits. The most effective way to square this triangle? Outsourcing. Three, the truth is that despite record US unemployment there has been relatively little action against outsourcing. President Barack Obama may take a verbal dig at Bangalore every few months, but his words have translated only rarely into action. Ohio's action affects a handful of jobs going to Central America. The visa hike will take a very small bite out of the $ 50 billion India earns from outsourcing.


The greater worry for India lies at home. Despite millions of underemployed, Indian labour costs have risen so rapidly that it is losing its competitiveness in lower end outsourcing. Firms have said that because of the recession places like small town Ohio can now compete with Bangalore when it comes to outsourcing costs. This is a telling sign of the failure of India's educational system. In the long run, it is not US protectionism but Indian uncompetitiveness that should worry the infotech industry.







The last Gandhian is a banker. At least the ones working in what we Indians love to call public sector undertakings. These hardy undertakers lend shiploads of money to captains of industry entirely for the pleasure of doing so. Not for them seven-figure salaries or eight-figure bonuses, the bosses of our PSU banks choose to work for less than what their private, or foreign, counterparts pay their secretaries. The State Bank of India can swallow the top five private Indian banks without a burp. But the lunch served in its boardroom remains the humble idli and sambhar. Takes frugal management to an altogether different plane than the one we saw a particular political party embarked in the name of austerity or the grab-it-while-you-can din from a slew of over perky members of Parliament hankering for a raise.


Place yourself in one of these gents' shoes. You're being flown in a corporate jet to a project site fully in the knowledge that the flight alone costs more than a month's pay and the cheque you will sign at the end of it will have several zeros beyond your wife's comprehension. A man's perspective alters dramatically when he is sipping a 12-year-old red at 30,000 feet, and what would strike us on the ground as a sure recipe for greasy palms does not occur to our intrepid banker. Perish the thought, integrity is his middle name.


Look at the achievements of this selfless cadre. In a decade from 1969, when banks were first nationalised and told to go to the villages, the Hindu rate of growth crept up from 3.5 per cent to 5. Since then, as bank branches sprouted in every nook and cranny, our growth rate has sprinted to 9 per cent as more Indians put their savings in banks. Seven-figure salaries would be a small compense for the men who made it possible.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





In the first week of August, a senior woman Congressman with a home in Shimla was elected President of the Indian Hockey Association (or Hockey India as it is now called). Her election was both surprising and backward-looking, for the person she successfully contested against was the great full-back Pargat Singh.


Vidya Stokes's elevation to the most powerful position in what — Sachin Tendulkar and the Indian Premier League notwithstanding — is still India's national sport, provoked me to dig out some notes I had made many years ago in the National Archives in New Delhi. In the papers of India's first Chief of Army Staff, General K.M. Cariappa, I found several letters from the Minister of Health in the Union Government, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur. In so far as their political orientation went, the Minister and the General could not have been further apart — or opposed. One had been a loyal servant of the Raj; the other, a sacrificing patriot who gave up wealth and privilege at Gandhi's call. In 1942, when Cariappa was fighting to protect the British Empire, Amrit Kaur was in prison. Even now, after Independence, they affected very different lifestyles — whisky and braided uniform on the one side, and khadi and lime juice on the other.


What these two Indians had in common was a love of sport. Amrit Kaur was born into a family where women were encouraged to mix with men, in the home and on the playing field. As for Cariappa, as a Kodava and an army man, sport was in his blood and in his profession — he rode, shot, and played racquet games too.


In the summer of 1954, as a serving Cabinet minister, and a senior Congresswoman with (as it happens) a home in Shimla, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was elected president of the All India Lawn Tennis Association (AILTA). Soon afterwards, she wrote to General Cariappa that 'Like all other sports organisations I found it [the AILTA] completely bankrupt and full of intrigue.' She could be speaking of 2010, except that, unlike our current politicians-turned-sports administrators, Amrit Kaur was both a person of principle and a sportswoman herself. Vidya Stokes is not known to have ever raised a hockey stick; and who can remember when Sharad Pawar last or first raised a cricket bat, or Suresh Kalmadi first or last attempted the high hurdles?


On the other hand, Amrit Kaur had been an accomplished tennis player in her youth, retaining her love for the game even after she joined Gandhi and had, so to speak, to exchange an hour's hitting on the court for an hour's spinning on the charkha.


The historian of Indian tennis, P.K. Datta, informs me that Amrit Kaur served as president of the AILTA until 1958. The records of her tenure are scanty, but, given what's otherwise known about her, we can suggest that, as a good Gandhian, she would have combined integrity with pragmatism. Attempts would have been made to stem or stop corruption; attempts would also have been made to hold tournaments regularly. It can't be completely coincidental that it was in the late 1950s that Indian tennis first made its impact on the international scene, with Ramanathan Krishnan ranking as one of the top five players in the world. It was also Krishnan who, with Jaideep Mukherjee and Premjit Lall, came to constitute India's finest Davis Cup team.


In 1954, General Cariappa was India's ambassador to Australia. Amrit Kaur's letters to him speak of her interest in a fruitful exchange of ideas and individuals with that sporting nation. She had been instrumental in the establishment of the National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala. Australians led the world in tennis; Amrit Kaur thus asked her friend to send a good tennis coach to work at the NIS. Meanwhile, two outstanding Indian cricketers had been appointed as coaches — one was Vinoo Mankad, a slow-bowling all-rounder; the other was C.K. Nayudu, a batsman who had also been a first-rate fielder. What India now needed from Australia, Amrit Kaur told the General, was a fast-bowling coach and a wicket-keeping coach.


These suggestions display a deep knowledge of sport. From J.M. Blackham to Adam Gilchrist, via Dennis Tallon and Wally Grout, Australia has produced the finest stumpers in cricket. The line of great Australian fast bowlers is as long, and as honourable; it runs from F.R. Spofforth to Glen McGrath via Ray Lindwall and Dennis Lillee. In the 1950s, when India had no foreign exchange, Amrit Kaur's proposals could not be implemented. However, they were prescient. Three decades later, Dennis Lillee arrived in Chennai to start a pace academy that has helped transform Indian cricket. Now Adam Gilchrist passes on tips to young keepers in Hyderabad.


Sadly, despite the manifest mismanagement of Indian sports by latter-day politicians, their march continues. There are newspaper reports that the Presidency of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association is being fought over between a BJP and a Congress politician respectively. Neither can be relied upon to reverse the steady decline of cricket in Madhya Pradesh. A state that once produced the likes of C.K. Nayudu and S. Mushtaq Ali now languishes in the Plate Division of the Ranji Trophy.


Here is a suggestion — every politician seeking to become a cricket or hockey or athletics or football administrator should present himself before a committee consisting of two respected Gandhians and two experienced sportswriters, and allowed to proceed with his ambition only on demonstrating that he equals Rajkumari Amrit Kaur in integrity, and surpasses her in his understanding of sport.


Ramachandra Guha is the author of India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy


The views expressed by the author are personal








In the course of a debate in the Lok Sabha on Kashmir recently, some MPs pleaded for autonomy for the state as if it was a panacea for all the ills that have been plaguing the Valley. To a large extent, the current turmoil in the Valley owes its origin to the vested interests in J&K that want to exploit the issue of autonomy to build a power-base for themselves. More often than not, these interests have erased the line between autonomy and azadi.


After the execution of the Instrument of Accession in 1947 and adoption of the Constitution in 1950, J&K was brought under the jurisdiction of India. Article 370 provided for special relationship but it was temporary. The sum and substance of this Article 370 is that, in addition to the items included in the Instrument of Accession, the Parliament can make laws with regard to the subjects of the Union and Concurrent Lists, but only with the concurrence of the state.


To define these constitutional legal, financial and administrative relations, the Delhi Agreement was signed in 1952. Soon thereafter, unfortunately, Sheikh Abdullah started changing colours. Whatever provisions of the Agreement suited him, he got them implemented. But with regard to items that related to the linkages between the Union and the State, he adopted an obstructionist attitude. Those who accuse the Centre of 'breach of promises' will do well to ponder over the events of 1953. If they do so, they would discover that the real breach occurred at that time and it was caused by the excessive ambition of Sheikh Abdullah and his proclivity to hob-nob with foreign powers.


It was only after the coming into being of the new state government, headed by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, that the process of implementation of the Agreement began. Apart from establishing financial links between the Union and the State, the jurisdictions of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of India were extended to the State; Articles 356 and 357 were also made applicable.


With these 'extensions' and 'applications', the nomenclature, status, functions and mode of appointment of 'Sadar-e-Riyasat' and the Prime Minister of J&K became anachronistic. It was, therefore, considered necessary to change the nomenclature and mode of appointment of 'Sadar-e-Riyasat' and also the nomenclature of the PM and the necessary changes were made in 1966.


In the changed circumstances arising out of India's triumph in the Bangladesh War, Sheikh Abdullah threw hints for returning to the mainstream and an agreement, known as the 'Kashmir Accord', was signed in 1975. The only concession made by Indira Gandhi was to review any specific proposal, if received, in respect of 'extensions of the Indian Constitution made to the State with adaptations and modifications'. But neither the governments of Sheikh Abdullah nor that of Farooq Abdullah could send any proposal for 15 years, primarily because the changes made earlier were necessitated by practical considerations.


Those who are now asking for the 1952-53 status are forgetting this fact. Nor do they explain how, if only defence, foreign affairs and communication remain with the Centre, the financial needs of the State would be met. At present, it is the Union finances that provide funds for the State's Five-Year Plans and also for a substantial part of the non-Plan expenditure. In fact, while the State's share of India's population is 1 per cent, it has been receiving about 11 per cent of all grants disbursed by the Centre.


Further, the proponents of autonomy do not care to address certain questions. Do the Kashmiris not have all the fundamental rights that are available to individuals in modern liberal democracies? Has their identity, culture, religion or language been undermined by the constitutional arrangements that have been in existence for the last several years?  How would the common Kashmiri be benefited by changing the nomenclature of Governor to Sadar-e-Riyasat and of chief minister to prime minister? How would requirements of national security be met and how would certain other contingencies be dealt with if Article 356 is not applicable?


If all issues concerning Kashmir autonomy are subjected to considerations, it would be found that no material change in the existing arrangements is warranted. The nation is already paying a heavy price for the mistakes made in the past under pressure.  Let us not add another one to them by falling into a trap of those who, for their own narrow ends, are out to exploit the constitutional illiteracy of the masses on the subject of autonomy.


Jagmohan is a former Governor of J&K and a former Union Minister


The views expressed by the author are personal








When women choose not to marry these days — and many, as we all know, are opting to stay single — I begin to ponder the oft-pondered question: what manner of man does a woman look for when she looks to marry?


In Hindu mythology there are many gods we profess to worship. Who would fit the prototype? A Ram is impossible. He abandons his pregnant Sita. The last thing a woman would tolerate would be a rejection when she is at her most vulnerable. Lakshman is too weak. What woman would want her husband to be always following his brother's orders so blindly. A Krishna is a Casanova, too many women around her even if she was his Rukmini. That is not what she would want, no matter how high his philosophy. A Hanuman is too much of a follower, she wants a leader. Besides he is the perennial bachelor, yawn.


An Arjun would have been good, except that he rejects her the moment his supreme authority over her is

threatened. Yudhisthir does not mind playing dice with her as pawn, so please would he find someone else to marry? And keep his sense of justice and self-righteousness to himself?


A Bheem, aah, a Bheem is good. He loves her blindly, protects her. He is simple and caring. He has muscles, even if he has little intellect. She can control him. But even he cannot help but stray.


Now in modern times when a woman is financially independent, she does exactly what she pleases. She wants complete devotion, no authority figure. She wants her space and she wants girlie time. She wants him strong, and be his own man. But she wants him faithful. Oh the vagaries and demands of the modern woman.


She wants to have her cake and eat it too. After all, what is the cake meant for if not both the wanting and the eating?


Shobha Sengupta owns Quill and Canvas, a bookstore and gallery in Gurgaon


The views expressed by the author are personal








Polling in six phases for Bihar's 243-member assembly is to be spread over a month, from October 21 to November 20. This is presumably for reasons of securing the vote against violence and fraud. But the schedule also highlights the phenomenal stamina of Bihar's politicians to canvass the voters, to engage their broad political themes with local issues so that it's not just abdication of duty when forecasters predict a sum of 243 verdicts — and essentially to celebrate the drama of returning to the electorate. So it is once again mystifying that the men who lead their party campaigns are choosing not to stand for election.


Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is the first to go official. He says he need not contest a particular constituency because he already is a member of the legislative council, adding rather too glibly that "entire Bihar is my constituency". And there is speculation that Lalu Prasad, once again the RJD's chief ministerial candidate after the Rabri Devi interlude, may opt out too. As may Ram Vilas Paswan, fighting for political survival after his LJP drew a blank in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, and Sushil Modi, deputy chief minister who's done the heavy lifting to keep the JD(U)-BJP coalition intact. No state makes such theatre of its politics as Bihar does, and this level of refusal to personally face the electorate demands of its politicians answers more direct than are currently forthcoming.


There was a time when politicians showed off their popular appeal by standing from more than one constituency — it kept the party workers enthused and it helped the leader make a pan-India or statewide point about widespread acceptability. It took the fight to the rivals. Which is why it does not matter what reasons are put forth for the current flight from the fray. It reflects unacceptable evasiveness from politicians who have in the past presented themselves as political gamechangers.







Everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression: if you hold down one thing, you hold down the adjoining," Saul Bellow famously wrote. And whatever its logic, it is certain that the Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) has long been regarded a heavy-handed law, one that allows the army overweening powers and special immunity in areas that are deemed "disturbed". Primarily intended for the Northeast when it was crafted in 1958, it was extended to Jammu and Kashmir in 1990. In both cases, the law has been central to the region's resentments.


Though it has long been contested as disproportionate and "draconian", the armed forces and defence ministry have long objected to its withdrawal saying that the forces need that special cover to maintain control in volatile areas, and that taking it away could have serious security implications. On the other hand, there is unanimity in Kashmir that AFSPA should be relooked, given the new normal in the state, its clear investment in the electoral process and then waning of violence, and there were signs that this would be heeded, even through this new cycle of conflict in the Valley. The debate over the act continues but now, there is indication that AFSPA may be relaxed in six districts in Jammu and Kashmir — Srinagar, Ganderbal and Budgam, Jammu, Samba and Kathua (conveniently, NC and Congress bastions). This is not just a huge symbolic move, it will also compel security forces to reorient their actions in the interiors of the state and make a visible difference in daily life.


However, now it all hinges on Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. He has received a tremendous boost, having demonstrated the Centre's backing on a core demand — the question is whether he can channel this newfound political capital into keeping these regions secure. Imphal witnessed a round of extortions and separatist trouble, after AFSPA was withdrawn, and the chief minister looks hapless. Omar must be careful not to become another Ibobi, and end up proving the necessity of a harsh act that no one really wants.







One of the most fraught questions of law — framed across the world in broader terms, of justice, of morality — is how to balance the rights of people to their property and the requirements of a community. Evident in the framing of that sentence is, indeed, part of the problem: the rights of the individual are typically easier to define clearly in liberal jurisdictions than are the inchoate requirements of a community. Taking on the issue requires considerable clarity of thought — which is why it is so often punted down the line, and, especially in poorer countries, the coordination so central to development activity is difficult to achieve. And this is precisely why Thursday's verdict from a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court on a case related to land acquisition on the Yamuna Expressway is a landmark moment.


The court said that "the scales of justice must tilt towards the right to development of the millions who will be benefited from the road... as against the human rights of 35 petitioners herein." This does not mean, of course, that a concrete "right to development" now exists. But that it has been framed in these terms by the country's highest court is nevertheless an important step — and one that places a focus on development firmly in the mainstream of how India's judiciary has tackled its responsibility towards issues of governance in this country. (The initial few words are themselves memorable, oddly reminiscent of the famous Martin Luther King quote, Barack Obama's favourite, that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.")


For too often the very idea of development has been questioned by some, as if the word contains something toxic, that it is irretrievably tainted by the occasional, unavoidable violence which sometimes happens alongside of it. It is inevitably at the expense of something precious, of someone's "right", we are frequently told, and thus thinking in terms of development means that you have more contempt for basic rights than do those that are willing to obstruct anything that appears in the slightest bit progressive. Such thinking means we wind up allowing a veto on any sort of project, if we fear any individual's rights have been violated. As the judgment detailed, that would delay the project in such a way that others' rights are violated, too. And that "urgency" and a "public purpose" allowed the acquisition of land in this manner. In the end, land acquisition is a political problem, and India's politics must articulate a long-term, progressive solution.









 It's not just the frequency of its appearance in Rahul Gandhi's increasingly frequent and pointed political messages that argues for our paying renewed attention to the "rich India/poor India" phrase. There's abundant evidence that Gandhi has a serious political programme and there's no doubt that the electorate's assessment of him will play a large part in shaping the politics of the near future. Therefore, despite the fact that a political strategy based — wholly or partly — on claims of soldiering credentials for the poor is unremarkable in India, Gandhi's use of it deserves fresh scrutiny.


From what he has said in public so far it would appear that Gandhi is taking two, related positions. First, that the poor have insufficient representation of the kind that matters when dealing with policy-inspired changes. Second, that he can deliver that substantive representation. Both claims can be objectively examined. But, let's for the sake of the more important and interesting argument agree with both claims. The question then is what kind of representation is Gandhi offering and what kind should he offer; assuming there's a difference.


What he should offer, what any intelligent politician should offer in today's India, is that scarce commodity in poverty-politics: the ability to play the pragmatic negotiator for the poor. When, for example, land has to be acquired for roads/factories /mines or when a dam has to be built, there's always a three-variable complex equation: public good (road, industry, etc. are good for the public), private profit (the entrepreneurs' calculations) and private adjustment (those who will be displaced).


The maximalist "pro-people" solution to this equation is basically saying "this land is our land", end of the argument, and the project. The maximalist "pro-project" solution is that big investment is its own reward. Governments, at the Centre and states, are struggling to provide a convincing solution. The reason is not only that India is home to sophisticated, organised activism. Political representation of the potentially "displaced" is playing right into the hands of maximalist activists.


The poor, as Raghuram Rajan has pointed out with the most intellectual coherence in recent times, have an informal social contract with the politician: you deliver some minimal services I should have got but don't get from the state and I will not always judge you on all the stuff that, say, agitates the middle class.


This contract, though, is anti-public good in a big project/big change/big activism (let's call it B3) scenario. In fact, as Rajan pointed out, such contracts incentivise the status quo in so far as change can eliminate/reduce the need for this political service. Most political representation of the poor in B3 scenarios happens under such an informal contract — I, the politician, will help you not to get displaced, for example — and that's fine for both routine politicians and all activists.


But that shouldn't be fine for the intelligent politician. He/she should work on a new informal contract: I, the politician, will get you the best deal you can get in a B3 situation because I know the state and the rich guys running the project aren't doing it, although they should. This, too, is a service the poor should have got anyway but frequently don't, but in this contract, the politician has an additional job: he has to explain, and bat for the future benefit. Getting a ration card for a poor Indian is a no-explanation service. Fighting to ensure that there's enough private investment on social infrastructure and for local project-related jobs is an explanation-heavy service. You have to convince the poor that project-related private adjustment will credibly lead to project-related private benefits.


In Niyamgiri in Orissa, the ruling BJD made virtually no attempt to do this locally. That was foolish. But it is fairly typical of B3 politics in India. The intelligent politician should spot this market gap and occupy it.


And it's not an impossible undertaking. Go to any B3 site where there's very little evidence of what we understand by minimal modern facilities and even if you feel that its tradition and pristine nature should be preserved for the next millennium, ask the locals whether they want jobs that pay regularly and schools that feel like schools. The answer will be yes. But the problem is fear — fear of the poor about change because they are usually right to think that they will be written out of the future. The intelligent politician must address this fear by saying I will intermediate in this process.


Problems? Of course. This approach robs you of easy oppositional politics at local levels. Relatedly, it makes local party units unhappy. It also means understanding and communicating details. But this last thing is done by maximalist activists all the time. They do it well. Why can't a major politician not do it, and/or not have people to do it? The key thing is taking the call — I, the politician, will offer a different contract to the poor.


This is not what Rahul Gandhi appears to be doing, going by his political work recently. His Niyamgiri stand seemed to be this: the project must stop, no land to be given for mining. But given that the BJD had left a political vacuum locally, was it impossible for Gandhi to have represented the local poor by using his political weight to question Vedanta and the state government, while not taking the maximalist stand? Both Vedanta and the state government made a poor case for change. There would have been votes for someone making a credible case, by promising political representation geared towards getting a better deal.


This of course puts such a politician in conflict with activists — and that's one of the most desired outcomes of intelligent poverty-politics. Activists can't promise to negotiate credibly for local jobs. Intelligent politicians can. Activists' space then shrinks. Negotiation can replace "struggle". The most basic reality of poor India is lack of regular work — the aam aadmi wants to become the kaam aadmi.


Given where he is in his political career and given who he is, Gandhi has the advantage that he can write a few new rules, start on the process of trying to write a new contract with the poor. He doesn't appear to be. But he can and should.


One thing more: consistency in the dictionary sense may not necessarily be a virtue in politics. But in intelligent poverty-politics, some consistency is necessary. Gandhi on the Polavaram dam project in Congress-ruled Andhra is very different from Gandhi on Niyamgiri in BJD-ruled Orissa. That the environment ministry has green-signalled Polavaram, and not Niyamgiri, is besides the point for ground level poverty-politics. The activists are making very similar arguments in Andhra.


This can be a problem for Gandhi's poverty-politics — unless his politics offers that different contract to the poor, then which party rules which state doesn't matter that much. He can be less inconsistent. That's the virtue of kaam aadmi politics.








The National Museum, India's most important and flagship museum, is reeling under staffing shortages. It has been searching for a director-general for three years now, and what's more, an estimated 150 out of its 207 positions are vacant. It was recently reported that the administration's primary concern was to fill up second and third tier positions "to keep things going." But things have only been "kept going" at the National Museum for a while now.


Without thoughtful guidance, the National Museum is likely to become a relic of little or no interest to the public in spite of its wonderful collection of historical artifacts. This is not just because museums now have to compete with ever-increasing leisure options on offer, but also because the National Museum has failed to keep pace with international debates and developments in museum practices.


In the last few decades, there has been a shift in the way that museum professionals regard museums. Questions have been raised about whether a museum ought to be a temple dedicated to knowledge, as it has been in the past, or a forum that generates new knowledge through the interactions of the community members it serves. Stephen E. Weil, in an influential article written a decade ago, pointed out that museums are increasingly focusing on visitors rather than their collections, that is, they are moving from being about something to being for somebody. This is not to argue that collections or objects ought to be relegated to the sidelines and that pure experience is sufficient. The experience, in a museum, hinges on the objects. Whether it is the wonder that is evoked in the presence of an Amrita Sher-Gil painting, or resonance felt upon observing the similarities between practices of Indus Valley craftsmen and those of contemporary Kutch craft technologies, the objects are what set the experience of going to a museum apart from watching a game of cricket, or going to a movie, or even visiting Disneyland.


The question, then, is how to evoke this wonder and resonance among visitors, and make their experiences in a museum personally relevant. It is hardly sufficient to just place the objects in a building and let visitors have free entry. Of course, free entry, as in the case of the National Museum, helps. It helps in as far as it removes a deterrent, but it is not driving the crowds in. If a museum is to have any function beyond being a mere repository for objects (in which case it may as well be a research facility), then it has to find ways to make its collections meaningful not only for its curators and a scant few researchers, but for its visitors. This is as true of public museums, such as the National Museum, as it is of privately run museums.


The latter have responded more urgently to this because they depend, to a much greater extent, on visitor fees and corporate sponsorships and endowments for their expenses. In effect, more and more private museums are being treated as businesses that need to provide services effectively and efficiently, as well as to produce profits, or at least, to not suffer losses. As a result, there is the building of such tourist attractions as the architecturally fantastic Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain. Or, there is the hiring of an ex-Disneyland executive as a "visitor experience designer" at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit. There is even the appointment of general managers with corporate experience, instead of curators, as directors at some institutions in recent years.


While such measures can hardly be recommended for public museums (or even sometimes, for private museums — one wonders whether a visitor to the Bilbao


Museum is interested in the exhibits or the architecture), their focus on the visitor is surely a crucial take-away. In a less radical manner, this may be achieved through increasing visitor access to objects (through optimal display techniques, multilingual guides, catalogues), or more opportunities for public interaction (through mixed-space use, hosting public events, and developing exhibits that challenge our current understanding and generate debate), or any number of other ways. Making the visitor central, however, is not a task easily undertaken — particularly when faced with deeply entrenched past practices and the understandably possessive attachments of curators to their collections. But if a museum can be made to engage its visitors as much as it engages its objects, it's got to be a good thing. Of course, this move requires a change in vision, determined leadership, and a commitment to the public. Which brings us back to the question of the National Museum.


There is no harm in touting the National Museum as the "pride of India", so long as this claim is made on the basis of what it provides to Indians and not on the basis of what it collects of India. India, after all, is hardly a relic and its history is being made every day — its time the National Museum engaged these present concerns.


The writer is a museum studies scholar








It does not matter if the recent reports from Nepal that China is helping the Maoists buy political support and win the prime minister's post are true. As Nepal's large neighbour to the north, China has always had considerable influence in Kathmandu. As its power rises, China's ability to influence the evolution of its immediate periphery in the subcontinent is growing rapidly.


Nor is new for Nepal's Maoists to play the "China card" against India. After a brief period, in the wake of China winning control of Tibet in 1950, when it had a tight alliance with New Delhi, Kathmandu saw opportunities in playing the China card as Sino-Indian tensions in the late 1950s boiled over into a brief conflict in 1962.


Put simply, Nepal's China card is nearly half a century old. All political parties in Nepal have played it whenever they wanted to improve their bargaining power vis-à-vis Delhi. Nepal's elite has often described the nation's geopolitical condition as a "yam between two rocks."


Kathmandu's China card is, indeed, a consequence of India's primacy in Nepal, which in turn is rooted in geography, demography and history. As China rises, its importance for Nepal will continue to grow too; but Sino-Nepalese ties are unlikely to ever match the intensity and intimacy of India-Nepal ties. That, as Delhi knows, is at once an advantage and a disadvantage.


Actually, India's current problems in Nepal have less to do with China than with the deep divisions within Nepal's political class. Since the turn of the 1990s, when Nepal became democratic, its political leaders have failed to provide even a bit of political stability and a measure of decent governance. As every political formation quarrelled with itself and others, India's special ties to Nepal repeatedly sucked it into Kathmandu's political vortex. All the fractions in Kathmandu demand India's support and deeply resent it when they don't get it.


The recent talk of India's "growing unpopularity", then, does not mean much. India has seen much worse before, for example after Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi imposed a blockade when the Nepali monarchy played the China card in the late 1980s.


In any case, India is not in a beauty contest in Kathmandu. It must live with the reality that Nepal's political classes want India's help to resolve the current political deadlock and at the same time fear that Delhi's intervention might go against their individual ambitions.


The question then is not whether India should intervene in Nepal, but when, how, and under what terms. Those decisions are not imminent, but they might not be too far away.


It was, after all, India's diplomatic interventions that united the mainstream political parties and the Maoists against the monarchy in 2005, prevented the then king, Gyanendra, from unleashing a bloodbath against peaceful protestors in 2006, and promoted a peace accord for the integration of the Maoists into the mainstream of Nepal's political life.


If it is India's burden to assist Nepal in resolving its frequent internal crises, China is a free-rider that can deal with whoever is in power at any given time, and exploit the inevitable differences between Kathmandu and Delhi.


The diplomatic challenge for Delhi is to prepare for that moment when it will have to step in to resolve the crisis in Nepal. India's political leadership, including the current one, tends to ignore Nepal until a fleeting headache becomes an unbearable migraine.


For the moment, though, Delhi is staring at three possible futures in Kathmandu. Under the first, the current stalemate between the Maoists and the mainstream political parties will continue, and the present "caretaker government" will have no option but to govern for much longer than any one had anticipated.


Under the second scenario, the Maoists manage to draw a few more parliamentarians to its side, win the prime ministership and move quickly towards a one-party dictatorship. That the Maoists have not kept their word on giving up their instruments of coercion as part of the peace process is proof enough that their options are still open.


A third possibility is that Maoists will recognise — after seven inconclusive rounds of voting for a new prime minister — the importance of reassuring other political parties, giving up the instruments of violence, and joining the democratic process.

Delhi's current diplomatic challenge is to prevent the second outcome and promote the third. There is no guarantee, however, that Delhi will succeed. To improve the chances of a peaceful resolution to the current deadlock, India must launch a sustained and intense engagement with all political parties in Nepal. While India cannot and should not write the script for that country's political leaders, it must press vigorously for a political consensus in Kathmandu.


Delhi must also do its bit to make the international environment more favourable to the peace process. The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) might have served as a valuable "Shikhandi" in the past, but it is no substitute to Delhi's own consultations with the major powers.


India must also reach out to Beijing for a frank discussion on the political future of the Himalayan republic. Any settlement in Nepal that does not meet the interests of major powers, especially China, is unlikely to survive for too long. India must offer China a substantive dialogue on finding ways to stabilise their shared and turbulent periphery. Nepal might be a good place to start.


Finally, India must also encourage the Nepalese themselves to define a new vision for their nation. Situated between the world's two fastest-growing economies, there is no reason for Nepal to remain one of the world's poorest places.


If Kathmandu can produce a bit of political coherence at home and demonstrate a measure of economic purposefulness, Nepal can thrive as the Himalayan bridge between India and China.







New York City just had its hottest June-to-August stretch on record. Moscow, suffering from a once-in-a-millennium heat wave, tallied thousands of deaths, a toll that included hundreds of inebriated, overheated citizens who stumbled into rivers and lakes and didn't come out. Pakistan is reeling from flooding that inundated close to a fifth of the country.


For decades, scientists have predicted that disastrous weather, including heat, drought and deluges, would occur with increasing frequency in a world heated by the rising concentrations of greenhouse gases. While some may be tempted to label this summer's extremes the manifestation of our climate meddling, there's just not a clear-cut link — yet.


Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist who investigates extreme weather for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calls any such impression "subjective validation." He and other climate scientists insist there's still no way to point to any particular meteorological calamity and firmly finger human-caused global warming, despite high confidence that such warming is already well under way.


One reason is that extreme weather, while by definition rare, is almost never truly unprecedented. Oklahoma City and Nashville in the United States had astonishing downpours this year, but a large area of Vermont was devastated by a 36-hour deluge in November 1927. The late-season tropical storm killed more than 80 people, including the state's lieutenant governor, drowned thousands of dairy cows and destroyed 1,200 bridges.


A 2002 study of lake sediments in and around Vermont found that the 1927 flood was mild compared with some in the pre-Columbian past. In fact, since the end of the last ice age, there were four periods — each about 1,000 years long and peaking roughly every 3,000 years — that saw a substantial number of much more intense, scouring floods. (The researchers found hints in the mud that a fifth such period is beginning.)


Many scientists believe that sub-Saharan Africa will be particularly vulnerable in the coming decades to climate-related dangers like heat waves and flash-flooding. But global warming is the murkiest of the factors increasing the risks there. Persistent poverty, a lack of governance and high rates of population growth have left African countries with scant capacity to manage too much or too little water.


As in Vermont, the climate history of Africa's tropical belt also makes it incredibly difficult to attribute shifts in extreme weather to any one cause. A recent study of layered sediment in a Ghanaian lake revealed that the region has been periodically beset by centuries-long super-droughts, more potent and prolonged than any in modern times. The most recent lasted from 1400 to 1750.


Though today's extremes can't be reliably attributed to the greenhouse effect, they do give us the feel, sweat and all, of what's to come if emissions are not reined in. Martin Hoerling told me that by the end of the century, this summer's heat may be the status quo in parts of Russia, not a devastating fluke. Similar projections exist for Washington, the American Southwest, much of India and many other spots.


With the global population cresting in the coming decades, our exposure to extreme events will only worsen. So whatever nations decide to do about greenhouse gas emissions, there is an urgent need to "climate proof" human endeavours. That means building roads in Pakistan and reservoirs in Malawi that can withstand flooding. And it means no longer encouraging construction in flood plains, as we have been doing in areas around St. Louis that were submerged in the great 1993 Mississippi deluge.


In the end, there are two climate threats: one created by increasing human vulnerability to calamitous weather, the other by human actions, particularly emissions of warming gases, that relentlessly shift the odds toward making today's weather extremes tomorrow's norm. Without addressing both dangers, there'll be lots of regrets. But conflating them is likely to add to confusion, not produce solutions.


- Andrew C. Revkin






Rashtriya Sahara , in an editorial on August 27, wrote: "Perhaps it is the first time that the home minister of any Central government not only identified the coming up of saffron terrorism but also instructed the heads of security agencies and the police to be vigilant about it." The paper adds: "As far as involvement of the persons connected with the saffron team ('bhagwa tola') in acts of terrorism is concerned, its beginning was made right from the assassination of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, when the first PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, had to impose a ban on the RSS."


Jamaat-e-Islami's Daawat, in a front page commentary on September 4, wrote: "Those people who, till yesterday, were raising the slogan of 'Islami aatankwad' (Islamic terrorism) have started saying that terrorism has no religion. Terrorism is terrorism. It is not proper to link it with any religion. When exactly the same thing was said by Muslims, the world was not willing to hear it."


The paper further wrote: "A certain group has been feeling very restless ('tilmila rahey hain') about giving terrorism a particular name and linking it with a particular colour. But its difficulty is that it cannot falsify certain factual evidence."


Hyderabad-based daily Rahnuma-e-Deccan (August 30) says that "it was the professional honesty of Maharashtra's ATS chief, Hemant Karkare, that unmasked the face of Hindutva terrorism." The paper has criticised the decision by the Congress to issue clarifications about Home Minister P. Chidambaram's statement about saffron terror. It wrote: "Instead of giving clarifications, leaders of the Congress should say in a determined manner that Hindutva terrorism is a serious threat to the country's internal security. These leaders should applaud ('daat deni chahiye') the confidence and courage of P. Chidambaram and say openly that the term 'saffron terrorism' refers to RSS and Sangh Parivar, and it does not refer to Hindus in general, who are neither connected with terrorism nor with the RSS."


A mosque at 'Ground Zero'?


The proposed mosque near "ground zero" in New York continues to be discussed. The widely-circulated Hyderabad-based daily, Munsif, in an editorial on August 26, wrote: "The first thing that should be kept in mind is that the entire proposed structure is not for a mosque. It is a cultural centre which also would have a mosque... The objective of the proposed centre is to strengthen mutual relations between different communities and present before the world the face real Islam... It should also be noted that the structure is not to be constructed on 'ground zero'. It will be two blocks away." The paper points out that five lakh Muslims live in New York and there are many mosques there. "Then why so much din is raised over this proposed centre?"


But eminent religious scholar, Congress MP Maulana Asrar-ul-Haque wrote in his column in Rashtriya Sahara (August 31): "The real question is that, after all, what will be gained by the construction of a mosque there? The objective of building a mosque, in Islam, is nothing except worship. But the decision of constructing the proposed mosque in America is politically motivated. If this mosque is constructed it will be a political mosque and in a society like America it will always remind people that, standing at that place, were America's historic business towers, and that they were destroyed in an air attack by Muslims. Thus, this memorial would cause the intensification of already strained relations."


Pakistan's 'Naapak Khel'


Rashtriya Sahara, in an editorial on September 1, entitled 'Paise Ka Khel', wrote: "Allegations of 'spot fixing' against players of the Pakistani cricket team are certainly quite stunning and greatly worrying for the future of Pakistan's cricket." Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj, in an editorial entitled 'Naapak khel' wrote: "This naapak khel of the fixing experts from Pakistan has indeed defamed them; it has also deeply hurt the greatness of this game... It seems the Pakistan Cricket Board is helpless before these players as it proves unable to take strict action."


The daily Sahafat, published from Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Dehradun, lamented in an editorial on September 1 that "cricket is no longer a gentlemen's game." It says that because of the understandable isolation of Pakistan in the cricketing world, the incomes of its cricketers has been greatly hit and "perhaps the only source of income left for them is match-fixing." The paper also notes that Pakistani cricketers are rather jealously looking at their foreign counterparts, especially Indian cricketers, who are making huge amounts of money through playing cricket and advertising endorsements, "adding to their disappointment and frustration."


Compiled by Seema Chishti








A minister in Gainesville, Florida, has created an international uproar by vowing to burn the Koran on September 11. This is under the theory that the best way to honour 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 centre in their neighbourhood 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 centre 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent 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, General David Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On the Republican side, Haley Barbour, the Mississippi 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 centre 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, Tennessee, whose community centre construction site has been vandalised twice in recent weeks. "We had a rough, rough time during the primary."


My memories of September 11, 2001, are still intense, and they are mainly about the outpouring of concern from the rest of the country. 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."









RBI's suggestion to deregulate the interest rate on savings account deposits in banks fits nicely with the wider plan to do away with administered interest rates, replacing them with market rates. The suggestion, made off and on for some time, was articulated clearly by RBI in April last year. This is the only interest rate for the banking sector that RBI controls through fiat. As the deregulation would need an amendment to the Banking Regulation Act, 1949—which means taking it through the Parliament—the government is uncomfortable. It will have to counter the charge of short-changing small savers, including pensioners, if the rates—allowed to move freely—begin to decline. That this is impossible in a period of rising or high inflation has to be stressed repeatedly. Instead, it is more likely that a deregulated interest rate environment will usher in more bank competition to offer higher rates to compete for deposits. Deregulating the savings rates would, therefore, draw more people into the fold of the formal banking system and help achieve financial inclusion in a commercially viable way. The current interest rate of 3.5% on savings bank accounts provides banks with a pool of low-cost funds and a correspondingly lazy credit appraisal culture as the spread is wide. Deregulation of interest rates will also be in sync with the new base rate system for lending started from July this year. Even on savings deposits, RBI had directed banks to calculate interest rates on a daily basis from April 1. Earlier, banks used to calculate this rate for the last 20 days of the month. Now, daily calculation has increased the cost for banks and bankers have demanded a cut in the savings bank interest rate.


That demand is understandable. With the changing banking scenario where competition is growing for more funds, it is crucial for banks to enjoy a deregulated interest regime on all sides. The actual rates are unlikely to vary by a large margin between banks. This deregulation is also important in the context of the global economic crisis, following which the central bank has been working on improving its monetary policy transmission. To give a direction to the overall interest rates, this July the government has constituted a panel headed by the RBI deputy governor Shyamala Gopinath to review the structure, interest rate and tenor of small savings schemes and recommend ways to make them more market-linked and flexible. When that happens, the interest rate arbitrage among retail investors will cease.







The Supreme Court has given the go-ahead to land acquisition for the Yamuna Expressway project. This comes as a welcome relief in an otherwise bleak scenario, where many major greenfield projects have been snuffed out one after another either for environmental reasons or due to the resistance of the local people. As noted by the court, the scales of justice have to tilt in favour of the right to development of millions instead of getting quagmired in just the landowners' human rights. But despite this verdict, there is still a question mark over a long list of projects that have already been scuttled, including those at Singur, Niyamgiri or even the most recent case of the Dow R&D project at Pune, which has been called off due to the opposition of local villagers. However, the verdict represents hope. Also, inspiring hope is the news that the government is setting up a data bank on 2 lakh sq km of land to aid new projects, as was reported in FE yesterday. The government will be spending Rs 5,656 crore on this project over the next three years. The project will not only ensure easier identification of the land available for major projects, but also ensure guaranteed title to millions of rural landowners.


In fact, one of the reasons why industry is in favour of land acquisition by the government is the absence of clear titles with most landowners in the rural areas, which leads to litigation for long years and renders any attempts at direct purchase of land by the industry a futile exercise. So, the integration of the 4,000 land registrar offices across the country under the project will be a landmark event that will help to reduce the forcible takeover of land by the government, give a greater role to the markets and ensure the optimum utilisation of available land resources in India. The move comes at a crucial time, when the interest in farmland is increasing not only in India but across the globe as worries about food security and environmental concerns gain greater emphasis. The demands for land will keep escalating, given the large infrastructure deficit of today and the urban growth that is inevitable tomorrow. By the government's own estimates, the spending on infrastructure would rise to a trillion dollar in the next Plan. And the size of the urban population is expected to more than double in the next two decades. More up-to-date and accurate information concerning the land market will help investors to overcome landowners' resistance and launch viable projects that also make local communities feel enriched—a win-win scenario for all stakeholders.








A fortnight's drop in non-food credit from the banking sector would not automatically presage a decline in investment conditions. Yet, since the first week of July, credit growth rate has slipped 237 basis points despite a low base of 2009. At the same time, this year, quite a few major private sector manufacturing companies have announced more projects to manufacture stuff at foreign locations than within India. Would they be using local credit to finance those plans? There are no good data sets to get an answer either way.


Generalisations are always trying but it does seem that a number of companies are shutting down their bank loan window as of now. As a short-term replacement, the volumes for commercial paper have shot up to about Rs 11,000 crore on Thursday; as per Prime database, debt mobilised by corporate India through private placement in the first three months of 2010-11at Rs 56,169 crore is 31% more, year-on-year. The HSBC Markit Purchasing Managers' Index for August, which measures business optimism, has also declined somewhat. Admittedly, it is way above the 50% mark that separates expectation of growth from contraction.


Tally those numbers with the slowdown in kharif cropping this year compared with 2008. Rice acreage, for instance, has gone down to 318.75 lakh hectare from 345.75 (this is as per the agriculture ministry that is comparing this year's acreage with 2009, which was a drought year, to show a rise). For two successive years, rural India will have less income to spend.


The credit numbers, in fact, would look worse if the telecom loans for 3G are netted out. That would shave off over 1% from the growth rate. So, corporate India is borrowing even less than what the headline numbers would indicate.


What these would mean for RBI is, of course, just anybody's guess. Because there are also the contra set of numbers, those for inflation and GDP growth rate that show the economy is on a sustained uptick. One could choose any combination of these and more but the broad indicators are that of an uncertain recovery.


Beyond the recovery, the weak credit offtake posits a possibly larger concern. In the immediate short run, this relates to the continued high prices of raw materials. In bellwether sectors like steel and power, the prices of coking coal and even iron ore are high. They have been hit by the quarterly price contract system to which the international mining companies have migrated this year, from the annual price mechanism. Steel companies expect their bottom lines to be under pressure, as a result, for the next quarter. For downstream sectors like automobiles, these are causes for concern and will push up prices. Companies planning to go for capacity expansion or even greenfield projects will also bear the impact of these higher prices. Since domestic credit is not exactly cheap even now, the offtake is becoming muted.


The bigger structural problem that I touched upon earlier as just beginning to surface is the possible migration of manufacturing from the Indian shores. In this edition elsewhere, FE has carried a report of companies that have moved lock, stock and barrel to overseas fabrication, mostly to China. These companies have adopted a model where they manufacture the stuff abroad and brand it within India.


The numbers are building up for sure and will impact the Indian manufacturing landscape very soon. As an aside, the services sector, especially IT, has already seen a version of this phenomenon predicated upon the availability of cheaper labour. A recent Nasscom report has identified post-war Sri Lanka as a huge threat to Indian BPO operations. In the manufacturing sector, however, this could be a far bigger story.


The process will get support from three factors. As India signs free trade agreements with credible trading partners, Indian companies will leverage the 'national' treatment in those countries to set up operations there. This is already happening with South Korea and is likely to extend to places like Thailand and Vietnam when the India-Asean FTA comes into force. The second factor is the flexibility of deploying labour. Indian labour laws trail the statutes of most major economies and so it is a significant advantage to disassemble the domestic plant and set it up abroad, with very low customs duty to act as spoilers. The third is the hassles of acquiring land that have already reached catastrophic proportions. A dipstick survey of industry shows there is an extreme reluctance to plan any project where a parcel of land has to be bought. It is not funny that in the last three years, even public sector NTPC has slipped up on its power production plans, able to add only a third of its 9,220 mw planned for this period.


So is it too early to raise an alarm? The numbers could reverse as the busy season gets sharper. But as of now, there seem to be very few countervailing thoughts to reverse a developing problem.









When Dilip Shanghvi, CMD of Sun Pharma, said on Wednesday that Israel's Taro should not waste any more resources in preventing the Mumbai-based company from increasing its stake in it, he was probably hinting at a resolve he himself would like to make—to put behind him three years of squabbling with Taro. Backed by a favourable ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court, he can now focus on the road ahead.


When FE met Shanghvi in December last year, and asked him whether there would be a point at which he would give up on the fight for control of Taro, he said the company would never give up on what it wants. Clearly, the Indian company felt it was acting in fairness and good faith as far as the Taro deal was concerned, and that there was no justification for Taro's demands for a better valuation, given that the Israeli firm was making losses and had not been transparent in revealing its financials to the public. Sun now stands vindicated, supported by the court decision. That should leave Shanghvi relieved. This has been a long and protracted battle; it has consumed a lot of management time and resources. There can now be no reason why the Taro promoters—the Levitt family that controls 41% of votes with a 12% stake—should not tender in their shares to Sun, giving Sun a 48% stake in the company.


The determination that Shanghvi showed in fighting the long-drawn battle was driven by the nature of opportunities that the Israeli company offered to Sun. As Shanghvi had put it at the time of announcing the acquisition, the objective was to add a "complimentary multinational organisation" to Sun's business. Although it was making losses when Sun bought it, Taro—a generic manufacturer with established subsidiaries, manufacturing and products across the US, Israel and Canada—gave Sun highly prized access to some of the world's largest pharma markets. Taro has a strong franchise in dermatology and topical products. It also boasts products in therapeutic categories like cardiovascular, neuro-psychiatric and anti-inflammatory. The company has world-class sites in Canada and Israel that manufacture topical creams and ointments, liquids, capsules and tablets dosage forms, which complements Sun's manufacturing and development capabilities in the US. Sun wanted to build on Taro's expertise in dermatology and paediatrics, along with speciality and generic pharmaceuticals, and over-the-counter products, Shanghvi had said then. As Sujay Shetty, India pharma leader at PwC, puts it, the potential opportunities thrown up in the US market through the acquisition was incentive enough for Sun Pharma to persevere through the lengthy litigation process and various high-voltage accusations.


At the time of acquisition, Taro US had more than 100 abbreviated new drug applications (ANDAs) in the US alone. Sun already derives more than a quarter of its revenues from US formulations. Taro itself is estimated to have revenues of $370 million in the US market. It should also cheer Shanghvi that Taro recently posted a net profit of $34.3 million for the year ended December 2007, compared to a loss of $82.6 million in 2006. Sun Pharma may still not be too happy that Taro had a cash flow of just $1 million in 2007, indicating that much of the company's receivables are lying elsewhere, but with the end to the court war, the Indian company can work on these aspects with vigour now.


There are not many examples of Indian companies acquiring firms in Israel, so there could be concerns as to how the Sun Pharma-Taro episode would reflect on potential cross-border deals from India to that country. But Israel is said to be a hot bed for technologies and several businesses, including pharmaceuticals. The irritants that have come in the way of what was expected to be a friendly acquisition will not be seen as more than a one-time issue. On the contrary, foreign companies too go through their own share of difficulties in India, as is evident from Wednesday's Bombay High Court decision to back the income tax department's claim in the Vodafone tax row. Sun Pharma, which has already said it will keep eyeing opportunities for acquisitions overseas, can now employ its time and resources in identifying new targets. While the US market has become extremely competitive owing to the cut-throat price war among generic companies, the Indian market too is seeing more consolidation and product influx. The Abbott-Piramal deal has now brought in a very serious contender into the Indian market, and companies like Sun can waste no time in preparing for the tough challenges that lie ahead.










What's up with RComm? The telco has been in the news for missing out on opportunities, whether it is M&As or fund-raising. RComm recently moved out of merger talks with tower firm GTL Infrastructure. A day later, Saudi Arabia's Etisalat, which according to media reports was in talks with the firm to acquire a strategic stake in the company, said it was looking at other opportunities here in India. In 2008, RComm had missed out on a share swap deal with South Africa's major MTN. This deal would have portrayed it as an international player and placed it in a position to give tough competition to its Indian rival Bharti Airtel in the South African market. Bharti recently managed to acquire Zain. At that time, RComm was supposedly to be in talks with AT&T and South Africa's Zain as well.


RComm currently needs huge funds to do away with its Rs 33,000 crore debt, which includes Rs 8,500 crore it paid for 3G licences in 13 circles. Even when the Indian economy was going through a credit crunch, telcos didn't face issues relating to raising debt. Most of these are from the government banks. However, RComm wants to become a debt-free company in the next two years. The GTL deal was supposed to have reduced its debt by about Rs 18,000 crore. Analysts feel it would be difficult for RComm to get such a deal any time soon. RComm and GTL haven't yet given reasons for the call-off. The media was abuzz with GTL's inability to raise funds and RComm's increased expectations post the due diligence of assets. Bankers said the firms didn't agree on certain conditions that came up late in the day.


The telco has put up a 26% stake for sale. But bankers say that M&As are currently seeing a time-out because of lack of clarity on the regulations in the sector. RComm is claiming that it would continue to explore the IPO option for its tower arm, but it has been doing this for almost two years—the new DRHP filed with Sebi is valid until January 2010. Another option is to raise funds through QIP for about 15% of the company's stake. The firm is expected to put the resolution before the board in its AGM to be held by month-end.







If the armed forces are going to be used within the country to deal with insurgencies and other serious internal disturbances, it is reasonable to expect that they must have the right to use force. But the requirements of democracy and even military discipline make it imperative that this right be exercised at all times and places in a lawful and reasonable manner. Regardless of what specific statutes may authorise, the use of force in both international and municipal law is considered reasonable only when it satisfies the twin tests of necessity and proportionality. It goes without saying that rules governing the use of force are meaningful only when there is some mechanism to ensure compliance. International law is often criticised for the absence of such a mechanism, especially when it comes to disciplining powerful states. But there is no excuse for civilised societies failing to take action when the laws that define what kind of violence is permissible are wilfully violated. By this yardstick, India is not doing well at all. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, which grants soldiers far-reaching powers to arrest and kill, has impunity scripted into it. In line with Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, Section 6 of AFSPA prohibits the prosecution of a soldier accused of misusing its provisions unless the central government grants sanction.


In Kashmir, the Army brass has used this section to protect its men from going to trial even in incidents where they stand accused of heinous crimes such as the abduction and murder of unarmed civilians. In States like Manipur, so powerless have the civilian authorities become in the face of the Army presence that no one is even willing to take cognisance of serious crimes allegedly committed by soldiers. In 2004, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised the people of Manipur that he would seriously consider replacing AFSPA with a more humane law. He appointed a committee headed by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy to examine the functioning of the law; and the committee, noting the way in which the law was being abused, suggested its replacement by an amended version of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. In the face of the Defence Ministry's objections, however, the report was quietly shelved. Now, in the wake of the resurgence of mass protest in the Kashmir valley, the central government has once again started making vague promises about amending AFSPA. The time to make these changes is now. Section 4 should be amended to explicitly incorporate the principles of necessity and proportionality and Section 6 must be changed to allow for the prosecution of illegal acts in all cases except where the government is able to convince the courts otherwise. Expedient steps like taking some districts out of the ambit of "declared areas" just won't do.







Three years after the world suffered its biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), have come out with two significant messages. First, the scars of the 2007-09 recession on the world's labour markets would last long. Secondly, a right mix of fiscal, monetary, and social protection measures needs to be put in place at the national and the international levels to ease the pain of unemployment and ensure job-creating economic growth. Two papers, one by the IMF on the human costs of recession, and the other by the ILO on building an employment-oriented framework for sustainable and balanced growth, take stock of the recent economic turmoil, and offer palliatives for a world that is just emerging out of recession. Unemployment increased by more than 30 million since 2007, taking the global figure to 210 million. The IMF's paper makes it evident that the human costs of the downturn will have a debilitating impact on the succeeding generation as well. Lower lifetime earnings, health impairment of the workforce, and diminished educational attainments of children are three important factors that will have inter-generational consequences. Moreover, youth unemployment and long-term unemployment have increased alarmingly in the advanced economies.


The ILO cautions that "a return to the pre-crisis unbalanced growth patterns could sow the seeds for future and perhaps even more damaging crises." It goes on to emphasise that for recessions to be avoided, national and global imbalances have to be corrected. The brunt of the downward economic spiral was borne by the advanced countries. Although these two assessments are intended as a discussion document for the forthcoming Oslo summit of developed nations, they hold some lessons for developing economies too. What stands out is the need to put in place measures that do not accentuate inequalities. As the ILO points out, an effective way to ward off a recession is to ensure that "employment growth matches the expansion of labour supply and that wages broadly keep pace with productivity." While this could be a long term goal, in the interim, the most important requirement is for governments to implement strong social protection measures that act as a cushion in times of economic adversity. The time has come for a rights-based basic social protection floor for all citizens in both advanced and developing countries.









The people of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, had a dream: that the new-born nation should not be revisited by military rule and the suspension of the Constitution by unconstitutional rulers. But this did not quite come true. The vices revisited it only three and a half years after its independence in 1971. Its founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was assassinated and military rule reappeared.


During the killings of 1975, four key leaders of the independence movement were gunned down inside jails. The bloodbath changed the course of Bangladesh's history. Following the path of Pakistan, the legacy of which Bangladesh had sought to discard, over-ambitious Generals grabbed power, changed the Constitution at will, even amended it with retrospective effect. The country saw killing and counter-killing, including that of Colonel Abu Taher: the national hero had lost a leg in the liberation war and was honoured with the highest gallantry award of Bir Uttam. The victims of the post-1975 killing spree were mostly freedom fighters who took part in the national war against Pakistan.


After over three decades, the ominous cycle of unconstitutionality that left deep scars on the country's democratic life has started changing. A gentle breeze of constitutionality began to blow, paving the way for a civilised democratic future. In the last few months, the country has seen two momentous developments that have restored the core national values enshrined in the Constitution, adopted on November 4, 1972, and its sanctity.


After the recent landmark verdict of the appellate division of the Supreme Court that nullified the 5th Amendment to the Constitution and thus declared the military rule of the first dictator, General Ziaur Rahman, illegal, the country that saw two usurpers in the last three decades got another occasion to rejoice over the recent High Court verdict that nullified the 7th Amendment to the Constitution. The 7th Amendment had legalised the military rule under General H.M. Ershad.


The August 26 High Court verdict is, in essence, similar to the one passed by the Appellate Division on July 28, upholding with modifications the August 29, 2005 verdict of the High Court that declared illegal the 5th Amendment to the Constitution brought about through martial law proclamations after the August 15, 1975 changeover.


These are two epoch-making verdicts through which the supreme judiciary has re-emphasised that martial law has no place in a civilised country that has a Constitution. These have upheld the sovereignty of the people, and not of guns. The verdicts, which have the potential to lead the country on a safe constitutional path, have invalidated the ordinances and rules issued by the two military rulers to justify their usurpation of state power through extra-constitutional means.


Bangladesh has welcomed the two verdicts. Simply put, the judgments nullifying the 5th and 7th Amendments have re-established as paramount the people's will, and not the will and the whims of military strongmen. As the first military ruler, General Zia, who ruled for nearly five years, had done, General Ershad, who usurped power on March 24, 1982, suspended the Constitution and validated all the military orders and proclamations by means of the 7th Amendment. General Ershad did not remove the fundamental principles of the country's Constitution, as General Zia had done.


General Ershad, who ruled for nearly nine years, followed the footsteps of General Zia, who had reversed the country's quest for secular democracy and rehabilitated 'anti-liberation' forces in politics. General Zia, who later founded the right-wing Bangladesh Nationalist Party, also brought forward the infamous Indemnity Act, which gave constitutional protection to the 'killers' of the founding father.


General Zia was fortunate enough to run his regime without any major political disturbances as the Awami League was yet to reorganise itself after Mujib's assassination. But, despite enjoying a longer tenure in power, General Ershad faced serious political turmoil, and finally faced a disgraceful ouster in December 1990. The currently ruling Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina and the main Opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by Khaleda Zia, waged a joint struggle to ensure General Ershad's fall.


The two landmark judgments of the apex court have paved the way, after 34 long years, to the discarding of an unacceptable political culture that was introduced by means of the assassination of Mujibur Rahman. The 1975 assassination of the 'Bangabandhu' was not just an act of murder; it was a national tragedy that paved the way for the rise of an era of killing, military rule and resurgence of religious militancy.


The apex court has thus brought the curtain down on an era of unconstitutional seizure of power, contributing to significant democratic advancement ahead. A number of politicians, civil servants and judges had collaborated with the military rulers. The regimes of General Zia and General Ershad, which saw the most shameful chapters in the nation's history, are now in the dustbin of history. Naturally, it may be thought that the doors are firmly shut on anyone who may aspire for illegal power in the future.


But how much Bangladesh will benefit from these two important verdicts depends on how the future of the country is shaped, and what lessons the politicians and military bosses learn. The verdicts have made it clear that the will of the people as reflected in an election outcome is what will be final and supreme — not the supremacy of guns. There is the possibility that as per the rulings, the Constitution will soon provide for rigorous punishment to anyone who tries to usurp power in future.


The two military regimes polluted Bangladesh's polity. They reintroduced military rule that the people of Bangladesh had discarded decisively. They moved the country away from the ideals of its liberation war, and the dream of a democratic Bangladesh.


Now the vital question is: will the verdicts alone safeguard democracy and ensure the supremacy of the Constitution? In order to honour the two landmark verdicts, national democratic institutions including Parliament must be strengthened. The judiciary, which has played its role now, must continue to play it with courage and conviction. The media must be made free, vibrant and independent. The Election Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission and other constitutional bodies and civil society movements must be strengthened to discharge their duties freely and fairly. The deep distrust that exists between the government and the parliamentary opposition must end. Unless these important conditions are fulfilled, the judgments that have set forth hopes for a better future may not have their desired effect.


Bangladesh's tragedy is the deep divide in its political system. The political parties are not in agreement on any single fundamental and important issue. Although the 'pro-' and 'anti-' liberation streams of politics are widening the national divide, the fact is that the 'anti-' liberation forces are gaining strength in the guise of 'pro-religious' campaigns. There is another factor that may have the potential to weaken the democracy: the rise of religious fundamentalism, which has foreign backers.


The philosophical and political nuances of the two verdicts will certainly be debated for days to come. However, both judgments are precise and leave hardly any room for ambiguity on one point: that extra-constitutional takeover of power by any quarter is nothing less than usurpation of state power and that the perpetrators should be "suitably punished and condemned" so that in future no adventurist, no usurper, would dare to defy the people, their Constitution, and a government established by them. The judiciary recognises that such a legal provision can only be made by Parliament.


It is mere coincidence that the two judgments were delivered during the Awami League-led Mohajote government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as it prepares to bring forward a major constitutional amendment since it has more than the required two-thirds majority in Parliament to do so. While General Zia was killed in 1982 during a mutiny, the lone surviving usurper, General Ershad, is still active in politics. His Jatiya Party, with 29 MPs, is a component of the ruling alliance. Nearing 80, he quickly welcomed the court verdict as 'historic' but remains sceptical of the future, particularly when demands for his trial in line with the court judgments are getting more strident. Once an ally of Khaleda Zia and now with Sheikh Hasina, he is clearly in some difficulty.


It will be interesting to watch how the politics of Bangladesh pans out now.


(The author could be reached at









He is bull-necked and barrel-chested, bald and foul-mouthed, the owner of a bejewelled Rolex and the hundreds of millions — perhaps billions — that go with it. His English is Russian-accented and salted with expletives. He is holidaying in Antigua, on a peninsula that he owns in its entirety. He is the kingpin in a brotherhood of Russian super-criminals, a financial whiz who until now has acted as a human Laundromat, expertly washing clean his fellow crooks' soiled fortunes. But now he has made covert contact with the British authorities: he wants to be an informant, a mega-grass who will reveal the secrets of the dark underworld he has inhabited for so long.


If that sounds like the plot of a thriller, that's because it's the set-up of the new and utterly riveting John le Carre novel, "Our Kind of Traitor". The Russian gangster is Dima, whose fate we follow as a rogue unit in British intelligence seeks to reel the would-be defector in to safety on England's shores.


Top banks and drug profits


Now here's another storyline. Leading banks around the world, desperate for cash in the financial crisis, turn to the proceeds of organised crime as "the only liquid investment capital" available, eventually absorbing the greater part of a staggering $352bn of drugs profits into the global economic system, laundering that vast sum in the process.


Sounds far-fetched, but that's no fiction. That tale was published in the London Observer in December 2009, when the head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime admitted that colossal piles of drugs money had kept the world financial system afloat when it looked dangerously close to collapse.


The story broke long after Le Carre had finished "Our Kind of Traitor", but it confirmed everything the new novel is saying: that a huge slice of the global economy, as much as a fifth on some estimates, is made up of the fruits of organised crime; that the criminals behind that money have found a thousand ingenious ways to disguise its origins — and those we might expect to stand in the way, including reputable banks and elected politicians, instead help smooth its path out of the black economy and into the white.


The problem is so vast, people somehow fail to see it. "Nobody picked it up!" a still incredulous Le Carre said of that U.N. statement when we met in his Hampstead, north London, home on September 7. "I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I really did have the feeling that it had been suppressed." He sees too many unanswered questions, starting with how exactly that $352bn came to pass into the legitimate economy. "What buttons do you press, who do you call? Whose consent do you seek?" Did someone in government wink to the super-crooks, telling them they no longer had to keep their money in cash in, say, the Cayman Islands, but could now buy government bonds? If so, who and on whose authority? If this seems arcane, a matter for forensic accountants, it shouldn't. Balzac had it right: "Behind every great fortune, there lies a great crime." And behind today's dazzling fortunes lie some very dirty crimes indeed: if it's not selling guns or hooking the vulnerable on drugs, it's trafficking young women as sex slaves and would-be economic migrants into servitude. When the profits of evil deeds like these are laundered, the world is saying that crime — even the gravest crime — does indeed pay.


From Russia and India


The scale is enormous. The U.K. Serious Organised Crime Agency — Soca — puts revenue from organised crime in the United Kingdom alone at £15bn and admits that is likely to be a very conservative (and dated) estimate. Add in profits from Russia, India and beyond and the numbers reach the stratosphere.


None of that wealth would be much use to the gangsters if it stayed in telltale cash, betraying its tainted origins. So these real-life Dimas devise ever more ingenious ways to pass it off as legit. Property is a favourite: buy a house, sell it on and the proceeds become clean. A department store works just as well, as does a football club. Or create a series of shell companies registered behind a brass plate in faraway Vanuatu or the Solomon Islands, one owning another owning another, financial Russian dolls that "exhaust and bamboozle investigators", according to Misha Glenny, whose book "McMafia" is the go-to guide to this new realm of international, multibillion-dollar crime.


He includes London in that roll call of safe havens, places attractive to those with illicit fortunes to bleach clean. Once Gordon Brown set his heart on London outstripping New York as the world's financial capital, Glenny argues, the inevitable result was lighter regulation, "no stress entry" for big fortunes, non-dom arrangements and an entire legal architecture hospitable to the mega-wealthy.


That's not to say the authorities are doing nothing. Soca boasts of denying criminals assets of £317.5m in the last year: but the words "drop" and "ocean" come to mind. Brown certainly tightened some rules in trying to crack down on terrorist finance after 9/11 but, the experts agree, the regime still tends to catch the minnows while leaving the sharks to roam free. As Hector Meredith, the principled spy in "Our Kind of Traitor", puts it: "A chap's laundering a couple of million? He's a bloody crook. Call in the regulators, put him in irons. But a few billion? Now you're talking. Billions are a statistic." What might explain the institutional blind eye turned towards these enormous, ill-gotten fortunes? Political influence. The Russian oligarchs, for example, have been tireless in their cultivation of political friends, sparing no expense. Le Carre passes on speculation that there is a substantial body of peers sitting in the House of Lords "singing for the Russian choir". His novel features an ambitious British politician who mingles with high-rolling members of the Russian criminal fraternity on a yacht, though no doubt the resemblance to any real-life figure is purely coincidental.


In Italy


And sometimes, in some places, it's more than a blind eye. Glenny reports that in Italy following the financial crisis the mafia has been allowed to assume the role of the banks, lending at reasonable rates to small businesses. The mafiosi can do it because they are cash rich — and in return their money is washed clean. For organised crime, a recession is good for business.


What can be done? A kind of defeatism stalks Le Carre's novel, as if this dragon is too powerful ever to be slayed. The author admits that he can't see how any country can "get on terms with it". Others suggest action will be possible only when Russia — where the white and black economies are entangled in a permanent shade of dark grey — chooses to join the international struggle against organised crime.


U.S. example


But there's more that can be done now. The United States has set a good lead, regarding any transaction done in dollars as within its jurisdiction (which is why the U.S. authorities are pursuing the Saudi/BAE episode long after Serious Fraud Office investigators abandoned it in Britain). To go further, governments would have to find the political will to chase the big villains, not just the small ones. Ending the non-dom regime would help too.


One reform is both surprising and easy. Oligarchs and their ilk don't come to London for the weather: a big draw is our draconian libel laws, which keep them safe from scrutiny. Change those, so that at last we can start debating this enormous criminal racket out loud — in the newspapers rather than on the pages of a novel, no matter how riveting.


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








As Frankfurt gears up for its annual gathering of publishers from around the world, the Frankfurt Book Fair, London is being promised what its organisers claim will be Britain's "first major event celebrating the rich and varied cultures of the South Asian region through the world of literature" — in plain English a South Asian Literature Festival.


A shortlist of five books for a new $50,000 award for South Asian writing would be announced at the end of the festival.


For 10 days (October 15-25), well-heeled Londoners who can afford to pay up to £10 for an event will be treated to what has become a staple diet of such ventures: a mix of a series of discussions, readings , musical events and workshops featuring familiar faces from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and U.K.-based South Asian literary figures.


Think of the India-themed Frankfurt Book Fair of 2006 or last year's India Focus at the London International

Book Fair or the Jaipur Literary Festival that, incidentally, is sponsored by the same company that is sponsoring the forthcoming London festival and you will get a pretty good picture of what is in the offing — "more old wine in another new bottle", as one critic remarked.


The question being asked is: why another festival which, on the face of it, seems to offer more of the same? People want to know what's unique about the DSC South Asian Literature Festival (its full name, DSC being the name of the company that is sponsoring it) and why should they spend money on what looks like a rerun of old shows?



The title of the festival has also raised eyebrows in the more purist circles. It might be just a matter of semantics but is it accurate to call it a "South Asian literature" festival when, judging from the programme, it is devoted almost entirely to writing in English thus excluding the vast amount of South Asian literature that is being written in regional and local languages?


Ticket pricing an issue


Ticket pricing is another issue. Most students and academics — the sort of people likely to be interested in such an event — believe that tickets have been priced too high.


"I don't know who their target audience is. I am a literature student and I would have liked to go to some of the events but all events are ticketed and some are priced at £8 to £10. So at best I can go to one or two. Some may not be able to afford even that. Students constitute a big audience for this sort of a thing and the idea should have been to attract them — not deter them. To me it seems more like a commercial exercise," said one student of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).


Organisers are strangely reluctant to discuss these issues. A request for an interview with Jon Slack and Bhavit Mehta, the two young publishers credited with having "founded" the Festival, was met with the reply that the "strategy" was not to give media interviews until after the "official press conference" on September 21.


The promotional material sent out to the media describes London as the "new home for south Asian literature" and breathlessly promises an "eclectic range of events" with a "stellar cast of authors, actors, poets and musicians" at London's "cutting edge venues".


More than 30 events


The festival, which has apparently been in the making for more than a year-and-a-half, will feature more than 30 events around themes and participants which would sound familiar to those who have "done" such festivals before.


Typically, these include a discussion on the role of writers in crisis resolution, ("Power of the pen: a resolution for Kashmir?"); a look at the new generation of Pakistani writers; and that hardy beast of literary festivals, a "lavishly illustrated presentation" by historian and BBC presenter Michael Wood on his "exotic journey" to south India. Equally predictable is the line-up of participants : Farrukh Dhondy, Fatima Bhutto, John Kampfner, Mohammed Hanif, Chetan Bhagat et al.


No disrespect is meant to these people. In fact, I admire many of them. But the purpose of such a festival should be to experiment with new ideas, discover new voices and challenge old orthodoxies and look ahead.


For example, one would have liked to see novelists discuss the limits of literary imagination in a world where real events are increasingly pushing the boundaries of imagination, and where science is going into realms that once belonged to fiction. How about slaughtering some sacred literary cows? Naipaul? Rushdie? Or challenging the idea that freedom is a necessary condition for great literature? Or exploring how much of the so-called literary "boom" in south Asia is driven by western publishers' search for markets in the region?


There is a sense that literary festivals are increasingly becoming like "travelling circuses" presenting the same acts night after night. Where's the joker in the pack?









Twelve American soldiers face trial over a secret "kill team" that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies.


Five of the soldiers are charged with murdering three Afghan men who were allegedly killed for sport in separate attacks this year. Seven others are accused of covering up the killings and assaulting a recruit who exposed the murders when he reported other abuses, including members of the unit smoking hashish stolen from civilians.


In one of the most serious accusations of war crimes to emerge from the Afghan conflict, the killings are alleged to have been carried out by members of a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.


Began with sergeant's arrival


According to investigators, discussion of killing Afghan civilians began after the arrival of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs at forward operating base Ramrod last November. Other soldiers told the army's criminal investigation command that Gibbs boasted of the things he got away with while serving in Iraq and said how easy it would be to "toss a grenade at someone and kill them".


Investigators said Gibbs, 25, hatched a plan with another soldier, Jeremy Morlock, 22, and other members of the unit to form a "kill team". While on patrol over the following months they allegedly killed at least three Afghan civilians. According to the charge sheet, the first target was Gul Mudin, who was killed "by means of throwing a fragmentary grenade at him and shooting him with a rifle", when the patrol entered the village of La Mohammed Kalay in January.


Morlock and another soldier, Andrew Holmes, were on guard at the edge of a poppy field when Mudin emerged and stopped on the other side of a wall from the soldiers. Gibbs allegedly handed Morlock a grenade who armed it and dropped it over the wall next to the Afghan and dived for cover. Holmes, 19, then allegedly fired over the wall.


The second victim, Marach Agha, was shot and killed the following month. Gibbs is alleged to have shot him and placed a Kalashnikov next to the body to justify the killing. In May Mullah Adadhdad was killed after being shot and attacked with a grenade.


Posed for photographs


The Army Times reported that a least one of the soldiers collected the fingers of the victims as souvenirs and that some of them posed for photographs with the bodies.


Five soldiers — Gibbs, Morlock, Holmes, Michael Wagnon and Adam Winfield — are accused of murder and aggravated assault among other charges. All of the soldiers have denied the charges. They face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted.


The killings came to light in May after the army began investigating a brutal assault on a soldier who told superiors that members of his unit were smoking hashish. The Army Times reported that members of the unit regularly smoked the drug on duty and sometimes stole it from civilians.


The soldier, who was straight out of basic training and has not been named, said he witnessed the smoking of hashish and drinking of smuggled alcohol but initially did not report it out of loyalty to his comrades.


But when he returned from an assignment at an army headquarters and discovered soldiers using the shipping container in which he was billeted to smoke hashish he reported it.


Two days later members of his platoon, including Gibbs and Morlock, beat him and told him to keep his mouth shut.


Following the arrest of the original five accused in June, seven other soldiers were charged last month with attempting to cover up the killings and violent assault on the soldier who reported the smoking of hashish. The charges will be considered by a military grand jury later this month which will decide if there is enough evidence for a court martial.


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









Declaring the beginning of the "next phase" of a programme to combat childhood obesity, the first lady, Michelle Obama, called on Congress on September 8 to pass legislation that would make many of the programme's initiatives possible.


In a speech at an elementary school at Slidell, Louisiana, Ms Obama ticked off the main points of her "Let's Move!" campaign: encouraging children to exercise, providing more free and reduced-price school meals and making the food in schools more nutritious. Explicitly tying school nutrition to academic performance, she pledged to expand the programme on all these points.


But Ms Obama, who has typically not waded into congressional debates, emphasised that achieving much of this was dependent on federal lawmakers.


"It's important to be clear," she said, "that we can't do any of this unless we pass the Child Nutrition legislation that's before Congress right now."


Under the act, food sold in schools would have to meet new nutrition guidelines, but schools would get an increased amount of federal reimbursement money for meals. It would also expand the number of poorer students who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals.


Op-ed article


In early August, on the eve of the act's passage in the Senate, Ms Obama wrote an op-ed article in The Washington Post encouraging lawmakers to vote yes, which they did, unanimously. The bill is now expected to be on the agenda this month in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers have been working on a version that would add new elements, and more financing, to the $4.5 billion version that passed in the Senate.


"Congress is very close to getting this done but still there are a number of barriers," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, a group that provided input to the White House in the creation of a plan to address childhood obesity. "This would be a historic change to the programmes," Wootan said. "I'm agonising daily about it."


Ms Obama delivered her speech at an elementary school here that is one of 25 in the district — out of only 59 in the country — that have received $2,000 cash awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for promoting healthy eating and physical activity. It also sits just over the state line from Mississippi, which has the highest rate of childhood obesity in the country.


Shortly after she unveiled "Let's Move!" in February, Ms Obama travelled to Mississippi to appear with Gov. Haley Barbour. During a breakfast with reporters in Washington on Wednesday, Barbour said the first lady had been "enormously well received" in his state. (Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting from Washington.)


— © New York Times News Service







A batch of rare Chinese and Asian stamps with an estimated value of over 20 billion HK dollars is set to be auctioned in Hong Kong by Zurich Asia this weekend, according to a release by this leading stamp auction house. Items include an imperial China stamp dating back to 1897, which is estimated to be worth between 2.5 to 3 million HK dollars.


The small one dollar surcharge overprint on a three cents Red Revenue stamp is described as "one of the finest examples of its kind" and "the most cherished gem of Chinese philately" by Zurich Asia. Another star item of the auction is a horizontal pair of 1885 dragon-themed yellow stamps with an imperforate between variety.


Zurich Asia expects to fetch one to 1.2 million HK dollars by selling this piece. In addition, a complete sheet of 80 stamps of 8 fen "Golden Monkey" of 1980 has also got a lot of attention from buyers. It holds two annual auctions in Hong Kong, each time with a turnover of between 15 million- 20 million HK dollars. (U.S. $1 = 7.77 HK dollars.)










Whether he is a fanatic, as Arab League chief Amr Moussa has observed, or a plain raving lunatic, Terry Jones, pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, in the US, will be inaugurating the witches' season internationally if he goes ahead with his despicable plan to burn copies of the holy Quran on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on America. That date marked the beginning of a saga of horror around the world whose protagonists are votaries of an extreme rendering of Islam in quest of political power in Muslim lands, and to extract revenge for imagined wrongs done to Muslims. It is important to note that normal, ordinary, adherents of Islam do not subscribe to the creed of the misogynists who seek to wrap the world in a web of terror. This has been seen most conspicuously in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq where Al Qaeda and its affiliates are viewed as sources of misery, not as standard-bearers of Islam, although America is hardly an object of admiration in these societies. A succession of polls attest to this. However, if Mr Jones is not stopped in his tracks, it is not unlikely that the average Muslim person will be inflamed and rush to the defence of his faith, in the process strengthening the hands of the small minority of extremists. The wave of reaction we saw in Europe and elsewhere following the unfortunate episode of a cartoon depicting the Prophet should make this amply clear.

If pastor Jones and his cohorts are permitted to succeed, there is bound to be anger not only among the Muslims of the world. The ideological and political battle against terrorism will be irrevocably lost. Militarily, the tenuous progress in the so-called war against terrorism is bound to be rendered even more doubtful. There have already been protests in Afghanistan and Indonesia against the vile scheme of the Florida churchman. The atmosphere is likely to be vitiated elsewhere as well. General David Petraeus, the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, has had the good sense to warn that the torching of the Muslim holy book will endanger US troops in Afghanistan. Mr Jones has said he will take seriously the concerns of Gen. Petraeus, but someone like him cannot be trusted to do the right thing of his own accord.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has rightly noted that the burning of the Quran will be a "disrespectful, disgraceful act". And she is not alone in America to condemn the idea. The US leadership should, however, be quite clear that the tempo of international relations in the world will be rocked if the pastor is not restrained. Even non-Muslim countries might find it difficult to carry on business with the US in the old way if the hated idea comes to pass. In India, we have cohered with Muslims amongst us for more than a thousand years, and have at no point proclaimed the thesis of a "clash of civilisations". Muslims and followers of other faiths stand as co-equals in every domain, although there are occasional social strains. Indians speak from the standpoint of this understanding of social and philosophical existence and order when they urge the West to mitigate the fury unleashed by the super-individualism that has been spawned in everyday practice in some corners of the West since the Enlightenment and the rise of capitalism. It is being reported that unless Mr Jones commits his infamy, he cannot be proceeded against under the liberal US law. This is nonsense. For "un-American" activities, the liberties of thousands of Americans wee curtailed in the McCarthy period. The American authorities must not leave anything to chance in the case of the evil pastor.








The Congress as a political party is a fascinating entity. Its sense of tradition continuity, its obsession with youth, its sense of dynasty, its idea of the future make it appear as a conglomerate of confusions. I think the presentation of a confused self is an art form. It states one is incomplete, limited, open and ready for experiments. It allows for layers of complexity, and the hypocrisy that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) may not possess. The latter are more simplistic bunch as they are on a core competence of competing ideologies. Ideologies simplify while the Congress lives out the complexity of its confusions.

Earlier, the complexity of the Congress was coalitional. It embodied the rainbows of the political mind, becoming a meta-narrative of politics. Political scientist Rajni Kothari captured it brilliantly in his book Politics in India. But the Congress' current confusions and the creativity involved in it are of a different kind. One is focusing more on the Cabinet and the party leadership. There is a part of the Congress that spouts the best of management and believes in the gospel of capital. One sees it in the behaviour of Kamal Nath, the ideas of P. Chidambaram, even the worldview of Praful Patel. To parody them, they seem to hold that investm ent delayed is investment denied.

Opposed to them is a second network whose ideas have centred around the informal economy and eco-system. First there is Sonia Gandhi who provides a quiet thoughtfulness to issues, a tacit confidence to NGOs working on Narega or the need for right to information. Mrs Gandhi brings a housewife's sense of detail and economy to big programmes, demanding a sense of feedback or sensitivity that the old-fashioned call "conscience".
The second figure in this scenario is more flamboyant and controversial. Jairam Ramesh has been lambasted for political biases for harassing non-Congress regimes. Mr Ramesh's career was a collection of technocratic messages from his stint under Lavraj Kumar to his time with Sam Pitroda. The individuality of Mr Ramesh as a person has to be divorced from his social role as a minister. It is his role that is important because it emphasises issues that go beyond personalities. Mr Ramesh allowed environmental politics to move from shareholder to stakeholder politics. Environment becomes more widely representational. As a technocrat he also knows the power of method. As a politician he understands the validity of debate. By combining method as fairness with justice as a social concern, he becomes a challenge to the current ideas of development that are utterly indifferent to suffering. Ecology is back as a question of governance through all the rituals of regulation, assessment and feedback. Mr Ramesh the technocrat is a hero to the ecological movement. Tribals, whose ways of life were mere footnotes of development, have now acquired a different textual prominence in industrial clearances.

Mr Ramesh showed the same courage to tell the urban interests around the new Mumbai airport that environmental clearance is a gauntlet they have to run. After years of Mr Nath as environment minister, such behaviour comes almost like an ambush to investors and urban developers.

The debate on ecology and development still wavers at the middle range of the methodological. Method as science contends with participation as democracy. Representation becomes a turf war between the claims of experts and the arguments of NGOs dreaming alternative imaginations. But there is a new effervescence to politics creating a sense of debate between the ideas of civil society and the logic of the market.
The pendulum swings are still at the tactical level of politics. There is no reference to ethics or ideology, or to justice with a capital "J". Then comes Rahul Gandhi who clears the ethical and political decks. He states he is the voice of the Orissa tribals in Delhi. The effect is electric. It galvanises civil society and creates a sense of concern, ethics, care within what till now was a space of indifference.

I am not interested in personalities, but in the diversity of scenarios emerging in the debate. The argument of the investment-friendly trio of ministers mentioned earlier now meets the triptych of environmental sensitivity. The Cabinet has become a debating society of confusions where the left hand need not know what the right hand is doing. For the first time in decades there is a diversity of positions openly articulated in Cabinet politics. These differences cannot be reduced to personality politics or factionalism. What we have is a lattice of public debates providing a variety of mental models.

One senses the same over the violence of Naxalism. If Mr Chidambaram as home minister pl ays McNamara, Digvijay Sin gh provides a tutorial on the politics of negotiability to him. The Congress does not need Mamata Ba nerjee as it has a diversity of po sitions on the possibility of po li­t i cs within it. What is seen as an em barrassment actually adds to the dynamism of politics, especi a lly to its openness. There is no thing embarrassing about confusion. It might actually represent a new politics of authenticity.

I think the Congress should encourage such debates. Not all of it needs the public eye but one can look forward to a valuable public space where the policy is no longer rigid. The prospect is enticing. As one steps towards globalisation, clarity might be a reflection of the parochial. A whole range of issues, like terror, violence, poverty, rights, security and justice, need to be debated again. A Congress that is unafraid of controversy becomes open to new possibilities. Democracy acquires a new sense of gossip of intellectual debate.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not irrelevant to all this. His is a leadership that allows the diversity. At a time when other major parties are feeling insecure and umbilical about ideology, this is an openness that the future will celebrate.

Such an openness needs to be encouraged. It can create new thought experiments and possibilities in Kashmir. It can reopen the possibilities of the informal economy by re-creating a new politics of livelihood. The pomposity of experts need not worry us. A Congress open to the noise of politics might create a new music. Even if the goal is messed up, the process in a democratic sense is socially welcome.








Some months ago I read the story of a young couple in Delhi who decide to downsize their lives. They rented a small room-study-kitchen kind of place in Kumaon Hills up in the Himalayas where they now live without a fridge or a microwave. What they have is their laptops, a big window and a fantastic view of hills and snow-topped ranges. They said they earn less, but they also spend less, and seem very happy.

Recently, the New York Times carried the story of a couple in California, both 31, who make a conscious decision to live with less. They give up their cars and the comfortable apartment, and donate their belongings to charity — clothes, books, kitchen utensils, etc. They didn't do it overnight but gradually so that they could adjust to a life without TV. They moved into a 400 sq foot apartment in another city where they have four plates and two pots in their kitchen. They say their lives today are debt-free — which is saying a lot in the US — and they also have surplus cash.

Like the couple in Kumaon Hills, the Californians changed their lifestyle out of choice and not for any financial compulsion. They said they were inspired by a website called "The 100 Thing Challenge" that asks you to live with just a 100 physical possessions and no more, and that includes your wedding ring.
I cannot say much for the Californian couple because they live in the US and have their own set of reasons and priorities, but I can relate with the decision of the couple in Kumaon Hills. I envy them. They have reduced their needs to the bare minimum.

It's all very romantic to imagine but I am sure that living without things that you are so used to will not be easy. It must take a lot of courage — and patience. You really must want to do it.

People make life choices all the time. Some make a career shift though that has its own challenges: they give up a fancy job to start an NGO, become trek organisers in the mountains, or open a restaurant. They chase their dreams.

There are some who continue to live in the big city but change their lifestyle. The other day I ran into a friend, an eminent journalist who has dumped his SUV and cycles all around town. He was off to the airport on his cycle — a distance of 50 km up and down. I admire him for his conviction. There's a brand new Metro station around the corner from where we live, but every time I go downtown I hop into my car. I should embarrassed.
Some people move into their country home in the hills or an apartment in Goa with fully equipped kitchens and all the mod cons to enjoy a leisurely pace of life. That has its own charm.

But I am talking about people who make a more extreme kind of lifestyle choice: they decide to reduce their needs and possessions to just the minimum that one needs to live. It's not because they want to escape or run away from something, or are tired of chasing an elusive goal. It's not about success or failure. It's not even about spirituality, or seeking something that is missing in your life. I am talking about living simply, about giving up something and living with less. That's a more difficult choice to make.

I have no serious complaints about life. I am quite happy with my family and friends and enjoy my drink in the evening. I am not in search of spirituality either. I am not tempted by the splendid isolation of the hills. In fact, I would have been really jealous if that couple had moved to a shack by the beach. I love the sea.
I only envy them for their decision to divest.

There are moments when I, too, feel that perhaps that's the way one should go. We have too much clutter in our lives; we depend on too many creature comforts. But after reading their story I wonder if I can. Do I have it in me? Even if I could take my iPhone and my Mac (fully-loaded with music and movies) with me?
I have seen the hugely popular website "Zenhabits" that has close to two lakh subscribers, but for the life of me I cannot bring myself to reading "10 Benefits of Rising Early" and "How to Do It" (Tips: sleep early and put your alarm clock far from you bed) and "50 Tips for Frugal Living".

I know the benefits and I don't need tips. I also have age on my side. I tell myself, imagine the peace and the quiet they enjoy, and, of course, the fantastic view from their window. I just don't have the courage to take the plunge. Maybe one day.


Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at [2]







id Mubarak! Id-ul-Fitr is celebrated on the first day of the 10th Islamic month Shaw'waal, which marks the completion of Ramzan. The festival begins with the first sight of the new moon. For Muslims it is a joyous day of thanksgiving to God; for guiding them to follow His injunctions on fasting and softening their hearts with His remembrance during the sacred month.

Muslim communities all over the world begin the day by attending congregational prayers that are followed by a khutbah, sermon. It is then customary to embrace the persons sitting on either side, whilst greeting them. After the prayers, people visit their relatives, friends and acquaintances.

Prior to the prayers, Muslims are obliged to pay the Zakat ul-Fitr, a small amount of money to a poor person for every member of the household, including the staff and houseguests. According to tradition, Muslims don't get rewards for fasting till they have given this charity. Zakat ul-Fitr is usually three kilograms of the main item of grain consumed by a person during the year — rice, wheat, barley, etc. People generally pay the equivalent cash. Zakat ul-Fitr must be paid in the town one resides in. It is a way of sharing happiness with the poor, enabling them to enjoy the festival.

The day of Id is a day of forgiveness, a day of repentance and a day of allegiance to continue what one has done in Ramzan. Other days must also include fasting, prayer and charitable deeds. One must forgive those who have harmed or hurt us, and those who have transgressed against us for Allah clearly says that He forgives those who forgive others.

The Quran says that fasting is necessary to gain awareness of Allah and protect ourselves from harm. Fasting for six continuous days, beginning on the day after Id, is highly recommended in Islamic traditions. Prophet Mohammad said, "Whoever fasts the month of Ramzan then following it by fasting six days during the month of Shaw'waal, will be rewarded as if he has fasted the entire year".

After having renewed our relationship with Allah during Ramzan, the challenge lies in not forgetting the lessons. Ramzan goes away, but we must remember that the Lord of Ramzan is the Lord of every month and every day for Allah says never to curse time, for time is His. It is He who is the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth.
Those who have fasted and tasted hunger should not forget the experience of those who go hungry for lack of provisions. We live on a planet where millions live in slums, in poverty. Recognising the needs of poor people is one of the most important lessons of Ramzan. God warns us not to neglect the needs of these people for if Allah has tried them with poverty, He is trying us with wealth.

Another lesson learnt from Ramzan is to practise patience. This is something that should not be forgotten after Id celebrations. Allah says that the one who purifies his/her soul is the one who is successful. After a month of purification, we should continue resisting temptations that corrupt the soul.

Most Muslims read the whole Quran at least once in the Ramzan month. The primary lesson of the book is the law of spiritual cause and effect. People can get around the legalities of crime in this world, but there is no escaping the effect it has on the soul. This is a basic doctrine of every religion.

On this Id, may Allah shower His blessings on all of us, grant us with guidance and peace; may He be pleased with us and free us from fear, for whomsoever trusts the Lord, He suffices him. Once again, Id Mubarak!

— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at [1]











Almost 20 Indian athletes have tested positive for drugs over the past week, of which nine belonged to the Indian team for the Commonwealth Games.


At this stage, more embarrassment is not what India needs, but we have got it anyway. The athletes are from various disciplines,suggesting that there is a bigger issue here.


An argument has been made that athletes themselves are unaware of the substances which coaches give themand ignorant of the prohibited list. But ignorance of the law is not a defence.


When doping protocols are so strong and laws so strict, an athlete must take responsibility for what he or she ingests. If it is coaches who are to blame then the law needs to include coaches in the punishment.


There is a more sinister argument being made that India wanted a very high tally of medals at these Commonwealth Games which led to coaches and athletes resorting to whatever methods were available.


If this were indeed true, it makes the scenario with the current Games even more frightening and some serious

inquiries need to be made.






The New York Times recently reported that schools have not paid heed to the relatively new wisdom advocating effective learning techniques forwarded by cognitive scientists.


The reason cited, in the American context, was 'sketchy education research'.


For India, one more factor is at play. It is the limitation imposed by oversized classrooms where the 'individual' becomes peripheral when her centrality should be presupposed. The teacher becomes the centre of the class and the students collectively become the amorphous "class", turned out in batches (the class of 99 and so on). A "class" may be a convenient way to group multiple learners together in a room, but learning happens at the individual level, not the class. The high student-teacher ratio is obviously the culprit.


The key to any learning revolution is to understand that everyone learns differently.


Theoretically, learning has been divided into visual learning (underlining, highlighting, mind maps, symbols, graphs, diagrams; auditory learning), attending lectures, discussing and explaining what has been learned, and kinesthetic learning (engaging the senses).


Our current education system caters half-heartedly to the first and second. Everyone is supposed to align themselves to that approach. Little surprise, then, that those who do not fit in are alienated; they fall back and begin to resent the figure of authority that holds them responsible for not getting their act together.


Rather than the teacher playing facilitator, the onus is shifted to the students to figure out ways of making education interesting for themselves and discovering their strengths on their own. Sometimes they may be too young, or there may be a motivation deficit since they are being perceived as laggards.


This sort of thing has been known to have led bright individuals to hate school, some even dropping out mid-way. This list includes the likes of Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, and Charles Dickens, to name a few. While these examples give us reason for hope, these may be the exceptions that prove the rule.








The encounter between east and west has long been somewhat tricky. Good old Rudyard Kipling's endlessly quoted line "Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet" from his late 19th century The Ballad of East and West clouded the prism through which many occidentals (and indeed some desis too) saw the Orientals.


(The writer did not quite mean it that way if you read on — but that's not the point of this column.)


East eventually met west head-on in the arena of the arts, including the gastronomic.


Fusion became a buzz word, whether it was music or dance: think jugalbandi between Kathak and Flamingo, or Ravi Shankar and the Beatles. Sometimes it worked, but for the most part the tête-à-tête resulted in confusion. Fusion food has had a bumpy ride, with plenty of gastronomic horror stories en route.


But when the collaboration between the two works, the result is almost sublime. Such as the towering The Precious Stonewall installation, the wondrous 14-foot high wall made from 4,200 glass bricks-and draped with 150 glass bead necklaces. Conceived by French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel and made by the glass artisans of Firozabad and Purdil Nagar, this shimmering wall comprises blown glass bricks so well polished that they resemble "burnished ingots".


The Frenchman's installation in the foyer of Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi is a delightfully idiosyncratic rendering of his impression of contemporary India.


It was the sight of the ubiquitous piles of bricks lying about everywhere he went in India that spurred him on to make a wall to incarnate his idea of a rapidly growing India: the building boom in fourth gear represented for him a nation on a quick-step march to prosperity.


Interestingly, M Othoniel has orchestrated quite a literal homage to the slogan of India Shining. The bricks of the voluminous wall seem to glow from within, like liquid gold.


While it is the New India that inspired the artist to build his wall, it is the old and traditional India that helped him to do so. The glass blowers of Firozabad with their long pipes still use centuries-old techniques, long abandoned by the famed glass blowers of Murano.


M Othoniel is also intrigued by the differences in the approach to glass between European and Indian glass artisans. The Indians look at glass as if it were something to fashion jewellery out of, according to him. They cut it like diamonds. The huge-but-delicate bead necklaces adorning his wall bear this out.


M Othoniel has worked with glass artisans of Murano. But many of the glass factories have closed down because the Chinese have learnt the glass craft and taken over, like everything else — including our very own Kanjeevaram silk sarees.


Initially, it reminded me of the formidable brick wall in the film Anarkali. For a journalist friend who was quite enraptured by it, the wall looked like honey: "I feel like licking it," he said.


In his poem Mending Wall, the American poet Robert Frost writes: "Something there is that does not like a wall… good fences make good neighbours". Perhaps, glass walls would inspire different sentiments.


This installation will be showcased at the Centre George Pompidou next year as part of a major exhibition titled 'Paris-Delhi-Bombay'.


Wonder if it beats ping-pong diplomacy.








With New Delhi still weighing the pros and cons of scrapping draconian laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act and making noises about a fresh peace package the hopes of normalcy returning to the bleeding Valley in the near future remains only wishful thinking. As Chief Minister Omar Abdullah again air-dashed to New Delhi for a brief meeting with the Prime Minister to urge him to partially lift the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act from some of the areas where " peace prevails " and take some other measures for retrieving the situation his police in Srinagar again arrested the Hurriet leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani under the draconian Public Safety Act. Geelani, who was set free only recently was first put under house arrest, restricting his movements. There was no end to the repression let loose by the security forces including the state police on the innocent people, with most parts of the Valley remaining curfew and strikes and protests continuing unabated. The state police and central forces opened fire and resorted to cane-charging and tear-gassing at several places in Kashmir. Clearly, New Delhi has yet to understand the reality of the ground situation and the nature of the problem which it contemplates to tackle by unrealistic peace packages, totally unrelated to the problem. The reports emanating from the official sources in Srinagar and New Delhi suggest that the Cabinet Committee on Security is meeting on Friday to consider the so-called Peace package which hardly meets the demand for a realistic move for breaking the logjam. While the chief minister has been vacillating on his initial suggestion for scrapping the AFSPA and removal of troops by now suggesting a few amendments in the law and lifting it from some of the districts, particularly those of Jammu and Samba where it was not practically operative the people in Kashmir continue to suffer curbs and atrocities. In the absence of any clear thinking on the issue and the political will to move forward for the resolution of the problem justly and democratically, there can be no hopes for achieving any breakthrough. The talk of peace initiative and the unabated arrests of the political leaders, curbs on the people's movements and firing on the peaceful protestors cannot go together. No peace process can take off the grounds without first creating a conducive climate through confidence building measures for it. The struggling and suffering people of Kashmir are not demanding few crumbs or concessions but their right to determine their future and to live with freedom, honour and dignity.

The moves being contemplated in New Delhi at present do not meet even the needs for creating a climate of trust to initiate any meaningful dialogue process to resolve the basic political problem. The first and foremost need is to put an end to the human rights abuses and the reign of terror let loose on the struggling people by taking some appropriate measures. For this purpose, an independent commission should be set up to probe all the cases of killing of innocent youth and other people in Kashmir followed by the action against the guilty. No amount of compensation can console the families of the deceased as what they want is justice which has been denied to them. Not only the State government should refrain from arresting political leaders or curbing their movements and rights including the right to address rallies but even all the arrested political leaders and activists must be set free and cases against them withdrawn. The draconian Public Safety Act, brought on the statute book by Sheikh Abdullah in 1978 to silence all voices of dissent, must be revoked. Similarly, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act needs to go lock, stock and barrel and the Disturbed Areas Act too should be scrapped. The armed forces should be removed from the civilian areas and the state police and the central forces must be directed to resist from using lethal weapons to deal with the popular protests. These measures are necessary to create a conducive climate for initiating a meaningful and unconditional dialogue at different levels to find a just and democratic solution to the Kashmir problem.







Notwithstanding the haughty claims of the concerned authorities vis-…-vis the foolproof arrangements of bio-medical waste management, serious threat is looming large over the two capital cities of the state which are grappling with a nagging problem on this account given the despicable contempt of the helmsmen towards this issue. Reports suggest that the bio-medical waste of various hospitals of the two cities and their outskirts instead of being disposed of in a scientific manner is being sold in the market and is thus becoming a persistent source of spreading virulent infections. As far as Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) and Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) are concerned, they have dismally failed in the effective waste management, which is running on the papers only. Both the Corporations have not been able to devise satisfactory ways and means for the proper disposal and treatment of bio-waste and thus dump hazardous waste along the river beds or in the nearby water bodies, which is further alarming. As per the official statistics, both the capital cities collectively produce around 1000 tonnes of waste every day and this waste also comprises bio-medical waste, which being non-biodegradable in nature is very dangerous for all kinds of living species. In Jammu the waste collected from 71 wards of the city is dumped in the river Tawi at Bhagwati Nagar and that too without proper treatment. Ditto is the situation in Srinagar where Jhelum has been literally turned into a garbage dumping station and around 500 metric tonnes waste is dumped there everyday. In the absence of any proper arrangement for the effective disposal of non biodegradable waste, this hazardous waste in the form of big polythenes which are used in the hospitals for garbage disposal, plastic bottles, are picked up by the rag-pickers and after slight treatment, which is certainly not on scientific lines, are again sold in the market for re-use. These infectious polythene and plastic reach the homes and spread serious infections. This harmful 'recycled' waste also becomes source of deadly skin diseases, tuberculosis, cancer, gangrene, asthma, rashes and serious allergies among the users. To check the threat being posed by the polythene to the environment, the state government had enacted Jammu Kashmir Non Biodegradable Material (Management, Handling and Disposal) Act 2007 and had banned the use of all non biodegradable materials except polythene, however as usual the impact of ban is not visible anywhere rather it is being observed in breach with impunity.







On the International Day of Democracy (Sept 15), many Pakistanis may still wish their state to stay on the democratic path. Around the same date the crucial task of rehabilitating the flood-devastated people should begin. Success in either of these two areas will depend on performance in the other. 

The decision to observe the International Day of Democracy was taken by the UN General Assembly in 2007 in view of the need to support "the efforts of governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies". Pakistan obviously qualifies for such help because every few years it has tried to establish a new democracy and its record in restoring democracy has been more impressive than its performance as a democratic polity. 

Before referring to the special relevance of this day for Pakistan it may not be out of place to take note of what the international community expects on this occasion from states that claim to be democratic. 

The UN resolution referred to above first invites all member states, non-governmental organisations and individuals "to commemorate the International Day of Democracy in an appropriate manner that contributes to raising public awareness" (emphasis added). Secondly, the member states are invited "to continue to ensure that parliamentarians and civil society organisations are given appropriate opportunity to be involved in, and to contribute to, the celebration of the International Day of Democracy". 

Quite obviously the day is not meant only to be an occasion for a government to blow its own trumpet; its highlight should be a public-private joint effort to appraise the state of their democracy. 

Earlier in the resolution the General Assembly emphasises "the central role of parliaments and the active involvement of civil society organisations and media and their interaction with governments at all levels in promoting democracy, freedom, equality, participation, development, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law". Here we have in a few words the principal objectives and fruits of a democratic dispensation and the criteria by which it ought to be judged. 

In Pakistan the need to raise public awareness of democratic norms has again been underscored by a spate of statements by fairly privileged politicians who have called for a return to authoritarianism. According to one counsel an honest general is needed to clean the democrats' stables while some other counsels argue that there is no difference between the 'present democracy' and yesteryear's 'military dictatorship'. While there may be an element of fact in both these formulations, the conclusions will be rejected by any fair-minded student of politics. 

True, Pakistan is inviting ridicule on account of poor governance, and for its lack of respect for democratic norms. But neither the parties in power nor those in opposition are to blame entirely for this. To a large extent the authoritarian rulers who were in power for 32 out of the last 63 years are responsible for the mess the people find impossible to bear. 

Democracy is not a brand product that can be bought from the shelf, it grows only in an environment of open political activity. The worst crime of Pakistan's narrow-minded dictators is that by suppressing normal politics they destroyed the roots of democracy. They outlawed political parties and made their leaders permanent occupants of political gaddis. Rocking the boat now will push Pakistan back to square one and oblige the people to launch another movement for democracy within a few years, that is, if Pakistan can at all survive another lapse into military rule. 

One is amazed to note how short public memory has become. Every time the people have fought for the restoration of democracy the battle cry has been "the worst form of democracy is preferable to the best form of dictatorship". Nobody has explained why this basic lesson has been forgotten. 

This does not mean that the present setup should not be criticised for its failings. Criticism and opposition are essential features of a functioning democracy but there is no sense in replacing an imperfect democracy with an extra-democratic system. Nothing betrays Pakistani politicians' bankruptcy of mind more than their yearning for unrepresentative regimes that have landed the state in crises of unmanageable dimensions. 

The argument that there is no difference between the present setup and the preceding military regimes is available only to those who maintain that in both cases the have-not majority has neither any say in governance nor is its concerns given due attention. But such people constitute a tiny speck in the political spectrum. That most of the political groups in the country are scared of this minority and have often joined hands to suppress it is another matter. For all practical purposes the political discourse in the country is dominated by the defenders of the status quo and for them change only means the replacement of faces. Besides, the incessant and venomous targeting of the present version of democracy itself shows that it is not indistinguishable from non-representative regimes, however slight the difference may be. 

Unfortunately, the unprecedented fury of this year's floods has dealt a severe blow to the country's fledgling democracy, not only by the extent of damage caused by it but also by the way the situation has been handled. The custodians of power lost sight of the opportunities the calamity offered. The political parties could have rehabilitated themselves by leading the people through their ordeal by water. 

Of course, the army as the best organised entity quickly moved into the breach and some other political groups and individuals have answered the call of duty but the performance of the larger parties, the PPP in particular, has been most disappointing. This was the time the party could have regained the people's confidence by throwing its cadres into the rescue and relief operations. 

It is difficult to say how much the PPP has lost by failing to utilise its pool of talent and human resources. The tours by ministers are no substitute for what party workers could have achieved by standing by the people in distress and helping them in their hour of need. To make matters worse, some of the stalwarts in power have attracted attention to their unsavoury activities. 

Some of the opportunities to reinforce democracy are still there. The choice is between restoring the villages as the ill-planned clusters of hovels that they were before the deluge and providing for abodes that offer a little more of comfort and convenience than they previously had. The difference in costs will not be much except for the quality of planning. Many communities in the world have won credit by creating improved settlements on the ruins of calamity-hit habitats. This can only be done through the democratic mobilisation of the people, through the participation of the flood victims, through giving them a sense of pride in rebuilding their lives and, to the extent possible, doing so as they wish. Such rehabilitation of the flood-affected people will give Pakistan's democracy the boost its restoration needs. Any other course might reduce the chances of its survival. 

(Courtesy: Dawn)






"..With the spectre of shoe throwing looming large, the police have tightened their security cordon." 
-TOI, Sept 8th


Shoe throwing has become a fashionable enterprise nowadays with most politicians warily watching the audience, not for unwieldy questions but for ugly footwear flying at them, so much so it's not easy anymore to buy a pair of shoes, I recently found out: "Yes sir?" asked one of the three policemen at the entrance of the shoe store.

"Yes what?" I asked angrily.

"You have a temper sir!"

"I have if I'm questioned even as I enter a store!"

"People with bad tempers are more likely to throw shoes!" explained one policeman to the other, "So why do you want to buy shoes sir?"

"Because my old ones are worn out!" I shouted.

"Take it off!"

"Take what off?"

"Your old shoes sir, now how did this scratch come here?"

"How do scratches come on shoes?" I asked exasperatedly.

"You tell us sir, did it hit a table?" asked the first policeman.

"Or did it glance of a microphone?" asked the second.

"Or even hit the mark? Are these red marks blood stains?" asked the third cop.

"Those red marks are from the betel nut juice you policemen go on spitting out!"

"Suspect has a violent temper and keeps making accusations!" said the first policeman into his walkie-talkie.

"All the symptoms of a shoe thrower!" agreed the second.

"Should we arrest him?" asked the third.

ÿ"Arrest me for what?" I asked, as an inspector sauntered over.

"Have you attended any political conferences lately?" he asked.

ÿÿ"I wouldn't want to!" I replied, "They talk rubbish!"

"Anger and bitterness against politicians!" said the first cop.

"You will have to come to the police station!" said the inspector a trifle harshly.

"For what? For wanting to buy a shoe?"

"Yes," said the inspector, "We have been asked by political leaders to screen anyone who goes to buy a shoe,

and question any suspicious people!"

"But you can't arrest me for buying a shoe!" I cried.

"No we can't!" said the inspector, "But you will have to sign an undertaking!"

ÿÿ"That I won't throw a shoe at a politician?" I asked.

"No sir, that you will wear your shoes only in your house and will never venture out wearing any footwear!"

"But your duty is to arrest shoe throwers not prevent people from wearing shoes!" I cried out.

"Solving a crime takes too much time and effort!" sighed the inspector as he handcuffed me and led me away, "we find banning something, so much easier..!"








Surely, the readers of this newspaper must have come across the following disturbing reports in its columns so far this month about the drug smuggling in and around this city. According to the latest such account, the police has nabbed two narcotic smugglers and recovered five kilograms of charas from them in Samba. One of them is a local person --- he is the buyer ---- while the other is the supplier from Kulgam in the Valley who has used a hotel in Jewel Chowk in this city for keeping a part of the consignment. Before that, in the adjoining Kathua district, the sleuths of the Excise Department have seized 10 kilograms of poppy straw powder at the Lakhanpur toll post. They have intercepted a vehicle in which the obnoxious material was found concealed in apple boxes. Two persons held in this connection belong to Punjab. Clearly the vehicle with a Punjab registration number was being driven out of the State. It was carrying the poppy powder from Srinagar. In a major haul earlier on September 4 the police had taken into custody four smugglers ---- two each from Pulwama and Kathua districts --- and recovered from them a total of 1.270 kilogram heroin worth about Rs 13 crore in international market. Their arrests were made in two separate operations in Gandhi Nagar and Gangyal areas. The bulk of heroin was with two of them who had arrived in this city from Awantipora in Pulwama district in a car and were heading for the national capital to dispose of the lucrative commodity. The month had begun with the arrest of two drug-peddlers at the New Dogra Chowk for carrying 4900 intoxicant capsules. They are from Resham Ghar and Krishna Nagar in this city.


From all these occurrences there are certain conclusions that are obvious: (a) there is illegal drug trade in this city and there are among us the inhabitants who are involved in it; (b) we are vulnerable to drug addiction which may in fact be widely prevalent ---- an evil trend that needs to be analysed closely and reversed for good; (c) the local operators are in collusion with suppliers and smugglers in the Valley and other states implying that the entire racket has wider dimensions; and, (d) the unlawful poppy cultivation continues to thrive in the Valley despite police, administrative and educational campaigns to abolish it lock, stock and barrel. It is only too well known that the south Kashmir districts of Pulwama and Anantnag are poppy-growing areas. The unscrupulous among the cultivators evidently don't want to put an end to their dirty business.


While they are required to be taught an exemplary lesson it is also important that the law-enforcing agencies do their homework properly. It is a coincidence that again this month the High Court has quashed detention of an alleged narcotic smuggler. The man was detained after being slapped with the charge of being a notorious and habitual smuggler with a huge network and a large gang involved in charas smuggling from Kashmir to Gujarat. The Court's ruling that it was done without application of mind says it all. We should proceed in these matters with surgical precision. In no way can we allow narcotics to play havoc with our lives particularly those of youth.






Any effort at tackling the traffic chaos in this city is to be welcomed. Let's first study the relevant statistics and

details about our habitat: (a) its population which was a little above 2 lakh in 1981 has risen to 7.78 at present (an average addition of 1.92 lakh persons every decade); (b) the urban area of greater Jammu has gone up from 73 square kilometres in 1986 to 170 square kilometres in 2010 (an addition of more than 4 square kilometres per year); (c) the total number of vehicles during the corresponding period have gone up from 28000 to 4.7 lakh --- an overwhelming majority of about 3 lakh of them being two-wheelers; (d) on an average 4000 to 5000 vehicles are added every month; (e) these come in all shapes, sizes, speed and load and have an unrestricted entry; and, (f) a "dangerous synergy of chaos" is created with the men and vehicles competing with each other for space on roads (58000 persons per week are added to the city roads during the Amarnath pilgrimage and more than double that number almost every day for the Vaishno Devi yatra. The effect of this is for all of us to feel. There is congestion on the roads. The safety of drivers as well as pedestrians is at risk not only in main bazaars but also in narrow lanes in which shrieking two-wheelers are recklessly driven. Almost all the roads including the popular and prestigious Raghunath Bazar have half if not more of their space, which in any event is not large, taken over by the parking of vehicles during day and night. The writing on the wall should thus be clear to us. We live in a city which is under great stress. Traffic snarls are virtually the order of the day. The management of vehicular movement is "lax and fatigued." What can one foresee if not further disorder on the roads? Clearly there is a mismatch between the expansion of the road network and rising figure of vehicles. We are not able to plan or balance our development requirements in advance. An observer has made all these points in a thought-provoking article in a Sunday magazine of this newspaper. He argues in favour of ushering in a subsidised commuter-friendly public transport system. This will help replace at least matadors which, it has been argued, are a major reason of messy traffic in view of their "small seating capacity, large numbers, uneven strength on different routes and no fixed stoppages."


Whether such a measure in itself would be enough is doubtful. With the State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC) already being in the red it may only be adding to its burden by taking up a city transport network which in turns also implies that in the long run there would be a bigger hole, though indirectly, into our pockets as commuters. One does not, moreover, see any chance of the people not opting for their own means of transport. They are aided by a liberal economy in which automobile industry and banking institutions have joined hands. A personal vehicle is a necessity more than a luxury in the present times. An immediate solution can be enforcing strict discipline on the roads and finding more parking spaces.











Over the past few weeks there has been a raging debate about the relevance and the effectiveness of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)of 1958 in the insurgency affected states of J&K and the Northeast. There are three distinct positions that have been taken in this debate: those who favour annulment of the Act; those who like to see it amended; and those who prefer the status quo. Most civil society activists condemn the Act on the grounds that it violates basic human rights and values, and therefore call for its abolition. Another view held by a mix of people argues that the law needs to be amended to align it with the values of a free, liberal and democratic Indian state. The security forces assert that the law is critical for the conduct of counter-insurgency (CI) operations. In its absence, they fear they will be significantly hobbled from carrying out routine CI operations. 

This debate creates an odd predicament amongst the common citizenry, who while clearly appreciating the role of the security forces, do not seem to recognize its acute legal necessity. 

Protagonists and opponents of AFSPA fail to explain as to why this law is necessary if the security forces are to resolutely contain the internal unrest and insurgencies that threaten the nation's cohesion and integrity. It is not implied that the other two views are irrelevant; but the argument needs to be viewed in the context of the enormity of security challenges confronting the country. Successive insurgencies have necessitated the deployment of the security forces to contain them. And the Central government consciously decided, and rightly so, to legitimise these deployments through legislation. 

In the given circumstances, the security forces' perspective can be argued at three broad levels: the administrative necessity of the Act; its relevance at the tactical level; and the risks of dilution in terms of undermining national security. 

It is often simplistically argued that the security forces need the Act. This is actually quite misleading since the state alone can under a constitutional statute declare an area as "disturbed" and decide upon the "deployment" of the Central paramilitary or the armed forces. It is invariably seen that the following circumstances drive the employment of the security forces: 

Administrative failures have time and again contributed to insurgencies in the past. Once they have erupted, the local functionaries and the police forces have proved inadequate in coping with them. As a result, the states are simply forced to turn to central paramilitary forces or the army for protection of life and property. 
Having undertaken concerted counter-insurgency operations over time, the affected states have simply failed to make capital out of the "peace dividend" delivered by the security forces. This has often resulted in their extended presence with no signs at all of return to normalcy. 

Consequentially, the security forces have a right to seek legal provisions to undertake operations for three fundamental reasons. One, a soldier unlike a policeman is not empowered by the law to use force. Next, while operating in far flung areas, it is simply not possible to requisition the support of magistrates every now and then. Lastly, their employment is an instrument of "last resort" when all other options have been exhausted. 
There is no gainsaying the fact that political necessity drives deployment of the security forces for internal security duties. The forces are aware that they cannot afford to fail when called upon to safeguard the country's integrity. Hence, they require the minimum legislation that is essential to ensure efficient utilisation of combat capability. This includes safeguards from legal harassment and empowerment of its officers to decide on employment of the minimum force that they consider essential. 

The absence of such a legal statute would adversely affect organisational flexibility and the utilisation of the security capacity of the state. 

It is equally relevant at this stage to examine the legal challenges at the tactical level. The Act, passed in the context of secessionist and separatist movements, confers certain "special powers" upon members of the armed forces in areas declared "disturbed" in the insurgency affected states of northeast, namely Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and the state of J&K. The principal articles of the Act, namely 4(a), 4(b), 4(c) and 4(d) empower the armed forces to undertake counter-insurgent operations at the tactical level. Article 4(a) authorises any officer, commissioned and non-commissioned, to use force for maintenance of public order. Article 4(b) empowers the forces to destroy a fortified position, cache or an arms dump. Article 4(c) empowers the arrest, without warrant, of a person who has committed a cognisable offence, but with the caveat (stated under Article 5) that the individual be handed over to the local police at the earliest possible opportunity; and Article 4(d) permits search, without warrant, of suspected premises to recover arms, ammunition and explosive substances. 

Obviously, the absence of these four legal provisions would render the security forces incapable of fulfilling their assigned role. In brief, it would imply that a soldier cannot fire upon a terrorist, take necessary action to destroy a hideout, arrest a suspect when in doubt, and lastly search any premises to recover arms and ammunition. It is therefore not at all surprising that while several activists often raise their voice against the law, the affected states are hesitant in recommending the annulment of the Act. They realise the consequences of dilution in governance in the absence of an effective law and order enforcement capacity.
The annulment of the Act, as being debated by sections of the civil society, could prove disastrous at the central and the state government levels. 

Three issues merit attention. Firstly, it would dilute the capacity of an important instrument of the state - the armed forces - to tackle the security challenges faced by the country. Secondly, it would motivate the insurgent leadership, field cadres and their over ground supporters to engage in reckless damage to public life and property. It may well result in a security situation which slides beyond redemption, necessitating major political compromise. 

Thirdly, the annulment of the law and the resultant lack of security cover would adversely affect the governance and development capacities in the insurgency affected states, and the eventual redress of local grievances. 
Even the mere dilution of the Act could have serious repercussions at the tactical level. It could result in loss of morale and reluctance amongst the security forces to undertake operations fearing litigation, thereby leading to a slow tempo of operations. 

A frail legal standing would embolden the insurgent/terrorist organizations and their over ground workers (OGWs) to level frivolous allegations resulting in the military leadership appearing more often in courts rather than in leading counter-terrorist operations. The judiciary too is likely to be targeted by the insurgents/terrorists to make them pliant thereby posing an additional security burden. Also, over a period of time judicial standards and rectitude could deteriorate leading to a loss of faith in the system. 

In the absence of legal provisions, the state and the soldier would be vulnerable, and in turn fail to provide the security, development and governance needed to prevent the insurgency affected states from descending into greater chaos. 

It is therefore extremely important that the security forces' perspective is not lost in the clamour for annulment of the Act. (INAV)








The orthodox lovers of sport in general and cricket in particular all over the world, brought up in the belief that cricket is a 'gentlemen's game', have reasons to feel greatly disturbed by the 'spot fixing' scandals that have hit the Pakistani cricket team touring England. The Pakistani players might have come under cloud after the sting operation by a British tabloid but it cannot be believed that players from other lands, India included, are as a rule above suspicion when it comes to ugly clandestine dealings in the game. 

In India a sense of disquiet already exists because of the amount of 'politics' that has infected the administration of almost all games. There is less of professionalism and more of vested interest in these bodies as influential men and women, mostly politicians, jockey for power and absolute control of various sport organisations. They have little time to attend to 'minor' matters, such as running the sport under their charge more efficiently and cleanly.

Pakistanis, or at least the Pakistani cricket lovers, have been equally, if not more, unfortunate in having their cricket administration dominated by inept and inefficient men who had little time to worry about the good of the game. Like their Indian counterparts, the Pakistani cricket administrators would take action against egregious cricketers found involved in any wrong-doing, including match-fixing. But where they differed significantly from their Indian counterpart was that while the Indian player could expect a punishment that would ground his playing career, the Pakistani player would more often than not be sure to come back into the national time after a brief interval for penance. 

Various theories have been floated as to why the talented Pak players fall easy prey to the bookies-Indian bookies, if you please-and other vices. One belief is that the Pakistani player can never expect to receive the kind of money his Indian counterpart does as his legitimate playing fee because apparently there is much more money in India than in Pakistan. Plus, India offers to the players plenty of other lucrative but legitimate means of earning money-modelling and endorsements, to quote a couple of examples. 

This is at best only a half explanation. The biggest reason why a cricket or any other player falls into a gambler's lap-trap?--is not just his personal greed but a conviction that no crippling punishment awaits him from the hands of the administrators or the court of law. In the latest instance when the whole world believes that at least prima facie three or four Pakistanis have been guilty of a misconduct by accepting huge sums from a punter for 'spot fixing', the Pakistani cricket administrations as well as the official machinery of the country has been in overdrive pointing fingers at India.

They make it sound that the Pakistani players are a bunch of innocent babes and it is the wily Indians-and RAW-- who had laid a trap for the poor Pakistanis. Assume for a moment that the Pakistani allegations against India are true. Surely, it cannot be o.k. if the Pakistani players had sung a tune composed by a punter from their land. 

The domestic audience in Pakistan might be pleased to hear the anti-India diatribe but the rest of the world is likely to be baffled and find it diversionary. Pakistan does not exactly enjoy a very healthy reputation internationally at the moment and acting or talking irrationally and peevishly will not help it. 
The concern of all cricket lovers, Indians, Pakistanis and the rest of the world, should be to find ways to salvage the reputation of the 'gentlemen's' sport. Many commentators have started foreseeing the end of the cricket craze in the sub-continent. If that becomes true, cricket will suffer elsewhere also. And at a time when efforts are being made to make the game popular in territories where cricket is virtually an unknown sport. 
The sad truth is that cricket ceased to be a game of gentlemen quite some time ago with the introduction of limited over matches which generated more greed than competitive spirit among players who gave up their traditional attire of white flannels to don colourful 'pyjamas' and shirts. They played with the white ball instead of the 'red cherry' under floodlights and in temperatures of over 35- degree Celsius, often hovering round 40-degree Celsius, rather than in cooler climes. The relentless Indian summer-not to speak of the 'Delhi belly' and similar complaints-- was no more a factor for the players from cooler climes, who found the rustle of crisp notes more comforting that the balmy British summer or mild Indian winter.

Cricket bodies in these parts tend to be run shoddily. The players and the administrators are constantly distracted by money. Big money! The ugly side of Indian cricket administration is being slowly unravelled in the current spat between Lalit Modi, the one-time Czar of the Indian Premier League, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India. The injection of loads of cash into cricket meant that lads who were struggling to find a durable place in their national teams could expect a windfall by playing just a season or two. An irresistible temptation for those on the threshold of a new life. It pushes out the 'old fashioned' pride of representing the country.

The vulnerable young players discover fast that some off-field activities yield a lot of money. All it requires is make friends with the bookies and then take instructions from them. For the bookies and gamblers, the huge popularity of cricket in the over-populated sub-continent (nearly 1.5 billion) presents unprecedented opportunities to make colossal profits. 

The bookies have to pay only a fraction of what they earn to win over certain players; the latter are pleased to discover an easy means of getting rich quick. The conscience is not pricked by 'dated' notions like 'playing and winning for the pride of the country' after it is mortgaged with the punters. If the scandal that has hit the Pakistani cricket team has shaken not just Pakistan but the whole cricketing world then it is clear that vigilance has to reach a level where it will be more difficult to keep under wraps the future match-fixing activities of the player-bookie combine. 

The business of match-fixing may not shut totally in the near future. Fixing the outcome of a match is not the only way the bookies earn their money. 'Spot' fixing reduces the chances of deduction. It keeps the cricket gamblers and bookies out of the reach of the law. After all, how does one know for sure that the bowler had bowled in a particular fashion on instructions from a bookie? Neither can one be ever sure that the fielder had dropped a particular catch deliberately.

It may be too late now to restore fully the leisurely charms of the old style of cricket. But the game has to be pulled out of the dark alley of vile men who have been able to convert many a cricketer into a mercenary who plays only for cash. Something has to be done for the sake of millions of fans who want to see a clean and spirited competition between bat and bowl, not a rigged match. (Syndicate Features)









My first reaction when I heard that the Lok Sabha was discussing a new 'enemy property' law was to laugh out loud. With more than a thousand antiquated laws that need debate and urgent change it sounded like a joke that the Lok Sabha in its last session should waste time on a law that should by now be irrelevant. But, then I noticed the passion with which the Bharatiya Janata Party's ever passionate Sushma Swaraj made her points on enemy property and noticed the inordinate amount of time the Home Minister dedicated to the subject and I began to think I might be missing a nuance of vital importance. Enemy properties, for those who may not remember, were a designation given to properties left behind by Muslims who went to Pakistan in 1947. But, that was a long, long time ago and the only 'enemy' properties left of any consequence are those that belong to my old friend, the Raja of Mehmoodabad. He has spent 63 years trying to prove that he is and always was an Indian.
For nearly half of those 63 years I have known Suleiman as one of the most refined and educated people I have ever known. We met in the seventies when he returned to India after studying Mathematics or Astronomy or something equally complicated at Cambridge University. And, in all the years I have known him since I have never heard him to whine about the horrible trials he has suffered to claim properties that are his rightful inheritance. My most memorable evening with Suleiman was in Lucknow where after a delicious dinner in a beautiful old dining room, full of sepia photographs of important historical events, he took me to one of the city's Imambaras, that the custodians lighted up so we could see it better at night. It was the reverence with which he was greeted there that made me remember that he was head of one of India's leading Shia families. This is what makes it even more disgusting that he has been forced to waste most of his life trying to prove to the Indian government that he is and has always been Indian and that he has a legitimate right to the properties they seized overnight, after the 1965 war, while he was still at University. They did this with the usual harshness that defines the attitude of the Indian state when it is dealing with its own citizens. The Mehmoodabad flag was taken down from the fort, tied with a stone and thrown into the moat. His Mother was summarily evicted from her palace and allowed to use one room in it for religious observances. Then, sundry officials proceeded to loot the fort of valuables. To add an especially brutal touch to their seizure of 'enemy' property they burned Suleiman's clothes and sealed his cars so his Mother had to go back to Lucknow in a taxi. 
To come back, though, to Suleiman's story. When I went to see him in Delhi last week I found him as confused about why the enemy properties issue was suddenly being raised. He told me about the long, legal battles he had fought to prove he was the rightful heir of the properties and said that in 2005 when he won his case in the Supreme Court and was handed back some of the properties in Lucknow, Nainital and Mehmoodabad he had thought that the matter was settled once and for all. It was not. The tenants who had settled themselves in the confiscated properties were not going to give in without a fight so they went back to the Lucknow High Court to demand that their rights as tenants be protected. And, there emerged from the shadows a distant cousin of Suleiman who produced a forged document to lay claim to some of the properties. 

What is most interesting about these tenants and cousins with forged documents is their selection of lawyers. These included Arun Jaitley, Ram Jethmalani and P. Chidambaram. When I saw these names mentioned in the packet of legal documents that Suleiman gave me I began to understand Sushma Sawraj's passionate intervention on the matter of 'enemy property' and began to see why the Lok Sabha was discussing enemy property at all. It is clear that Suleiman is up against some powerful vested interests and may find himself caught up in legal battles that could last another lifetime.

The irony is that he has always had an Indian passport. It was on this passport that he traveled with his parents to Iran on August 13, 1947. He spent his boyhood in Iraq, going to school in Karbala for a few years, then he and his Mother returned to Lucknow and his Father took a Pakistani passport in 1957. This was the reason why he became an 'enemy' after the 1965 war but after he died in 1973 the properties should have gone automatically to his Indian son. The fact that the Supreme Court ruled in Suleiman's favour proves this. But, by then there were tenants occupying these properties some of whom were powerful officials and some were powerful businessmen.

The question you and I should be asking is whether taxpayers money should continue to be wasted on a law that basically affects only one citizen. The other 'enemy' properties are too few to need bothering about but if there are other Muslims who are being dragged through courts to prove that they are Indian then this is really a very bad thing for our 'secular' government to be doing. Suleiman contested and won an election to the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly in 1985 on a Congress ticket. If he was an 'enemy' citizen why was he given a ticket? Why was he allowed to sit in the legislature? 

The moral of the story is a sad one. It is this: the Indian state has far too many arbitrary powers that it exercises against ordinary citizens who for some reason show up on the radar screens of important people. This would not happen if we had a justice system that recognized the vital need to rid itself of ancient procedures and provide India's citizens with 21st century standards of justice.









IN yet another desperate act to keep American jobs within the country, the US state of Ohio has banned outsourcing of government information technology work to countries such as India. The US accounts for 60 per cent of India's IT exports, valued at about $37 billion. Earlier, New Jersey and Virginia had slapped a similar ban. The other day New York Senator Charles Schumer called Infosys a "chop shop". The H-1B and L-1 visas have been made costlier for Indian professionals. The Ohio action is particularly painful because its Democrat Governor Ted Strickland had offered tax concessions to Indian IT companies for taking up offshore work. But that was before the sole super power plunged itself and much of the world in a housing-cum-financial crisis.


Since the US recovery is in danger of petering out, a high unemployment rate is giving jitters to politicians, who are faced with Congressional elections in November. President Barack Obama was the first to raise the issue of vanishing jobs and gave the infamous clarion call to corporate America last year to say no to Bangalore and yes to Buffalo. This was amazing, coming from the head of the government of a country widely recognised as a champion of free trade. What Obama and smaller US leaders are doing violates the G22 Toronto summit's agreement to curtail protectionism.


Outsourcing IT, telecom, banking and other such work by US firms to offshore locations like India and China is mutually advantageous. It reduces production costs of US firms and helps them fight competition to stay afloat. Besides, it is mostly the low-end or specialised work for which skilled workers are unavailable in the US that is outsourced. The National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) has dubbed the Ohio action "discriminatory". However, the Indian leadership, so proactive in pushing the nuclear liability Bill, must convey Indian concerns to President Obama when he visits New Delhi on November 8.









ANY measure that helps in ending the unrest in the Kashmir valley is welcome. Thus, the move to amend the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to give it a more humane face is a step in the right direction. The AFSPA never got as much bad publicity as it did during the last three months, when the valley experienced a cycle of violence leading to the death of 69 persons, mostly when security forces resorted to firing to disperse stone-throwing protesters. The security forces have been accused of being trigger-happy, cocooned in the protection provided by the controversial Act. This was contrary to the established practice of using tear gas shells or other non-lethal weapons. It is, therefore, not a bad idea if the Centre has made up its mind to withdraw the AFSPA in a phased manner, making it ineffective in a few districts in the first stage, as suggested by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. In any case, there is no point in deploying the security forces in the districts where the level of violence has come down to a negligible level.


The Chief Minister is not the only one to have sought the AFSPA to be suitably amended to help restore peace in the valley. Very few people want it to remain intact in its present form. People's sentiments cannot be ignored. A special package of compensation to those who have lost their dear ones during the current phase of unrest will go a long way in bringing down the temperature in Kashmir. Special efforts are also needed to create enough employment opportunities for the needy.


However, this may not be enough to satisfy the separatists. They have their own agenda, and hence their attempt to exploit people's sentiments on every available occasion. Yet they, too, should be invited to the dialogue that is likely to be initiated soon to discuss the larger issue of autonomy. Those who refuse to participate in the talks should be exposed as enemies of the Kashmiris. There is need to show urgency in addressing the growing alienation among the people so that separatists and extremists are unable to mislead them.









WHENEVER any well-meaning special facility is provided, there are always people waiting in the wings to misuse it. One such scheme is Direct Admission of Students Abroad (DASA), under which eligible foreign nationals, persons of Indian origin (PIOs) and non-resident Indians (NRIs) are admitted to undergraduate engineering programmes offered by the National Institutes of Technology (formerly Regional Engineering Colleges) and other centrally funded institutions (other than IITs) and Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. It seems to have been hijacked by some, 11 of whom got admission to the Chandigarh college alone by using fake documents. According to preliminary reports, a Hisar doctor gave them fake Nepalese identity cards by charging Rs 10 to 15 lakh from each student.


The CBI is seized of the matter and is conducting inquiries. As a result, a reputed centre of learning has come in for negative publicity. Actually, the fault does not exactly lie with the PEC because the Union Ministry of Human Resources has entrusted the central coordination of admissions under the DASA scheme to the National Institute of Technology, Surathkal. The students who thus tried to make way into a professional college fraudulently – like the lead character of the film Munnabhai MBBS – have not only ruined their own careers but have also brought a bad name to the institution.


Due to the acute shortage of good colleges, there is always a mad scramble for admissions. And there are enough unscrupulous persons to take the admission seekers for a ride. It is good that the conspiracy was detected fairly early. This will put the fear of the law in the minds of the wrong-doers. But there are far too many of them eager to employ underhand means. A consistent drive against them will be necessary to keep them out of business. An unqualified person getting admission into a medical or engineering college fraudulently may be good for a few laughs in a film but such an incident taking place in real life is simply not acceptable because it brings the entire education system into disrepute.

















CHINESE leader Deng Xiaoping was reported to have given to his successors a typical Chinese style advice, which said, "Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership."


It is widely believed that this advice was the foundation on which the Chinese strategy of "rising peacefully" was based till recently. China has overtaken Japan in purchase parity price terms with the second largest GDP in the world and is expected to become the number one in the next 20-25 years. There was also a widespread international debate for some time on the possibility a G-2 (US and China) managing the international financial system.


The Chinese leadership today , however, appears to be tempted to discard the advice of Deng and start asserting itself.


Perhaps, it is encouraged by the fact that while it has been able to get back to its earlier pre-financial crisis growth rate, the US and Europe are still struggling hard to recover. There are major differences in the approach of Europe, attempting to avoid inflation, and that of the US where a case is being made for a second stimulus. The impression gaining ground the world over is that the US power is declining and the Chinese power is growing.


China is paying particular attention to the expansion of its naval power. It is continuing the build-up of its ballistic missiles and hunter-killer nuclear submarines, is planning to build an aircraft carrier and is developing a low-altitude cruise missile which can pose threats to US aircraft carriers. The Chinese confidence has grown to such an extent that one Chinese Admiral suggested to his US counterpart that the Pacific Ocean should be divided into two zones of influence between the US and China. Beijing has started objecting to the US, Japanese and South Korean navies holding exercises in the Yellow Sea in international waters on the basis of a new theory they are proclaiming that though they may be international waters, they are "waters of interest" of China, involving its far-sea defence and a core concern and, therefore, the Chinese do not favour other navies conducting exercises there.


This is a new kind of Monroe doctrine in the 21st century after an international Law of the Seas has been adopted. China has territorial disputes in the South China Sea with a number of ASEAN nations. While the ASEAN nations want to arrive at a collective dispute settlement, the Chinese insist on dealing with each ASEAN country individually. The recent support extended by the US Secretary of State to the ASEAN nations evoked an angry Chinese reaction. China also has an unresolved dispute with Japan on the Senkaku island.


China under Mao used to maintain that all peace-loving nations had a right to have nuclear weapons and did not accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), though it had been accepted as a nuclear weapon power. Beijing discovered that nuclear proliferation could be used as an effective instrument to expand influence. Deng chose Pakistan and North Korea, an Islamic country and a Marxist one, to proliferate nuclear and missile capabilities with its main focus on Pakistan. Since the US leaned heavily on the Pakistani support for its mujahideen campaign against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, Washington was permissive of Chinese proliferation activity to help Islamabad. It also served Chinese interests by countervailing India.


China and Pakistan pushed the US permissiveness to the extent of conducting the test for the Pakistani nuclear weapon on the Chinese test site, Lop Nor, on May 26, 1990. That led to the invocation of the Pressler Amendment sanctions against Pakistan by the US, but Washington chose to keep quiet. China followed up with the supply of missiles to Pakistan. Though China joined the NPT in 1992, it continued to violate it with the supply of vital ring magnets for Pakistani centrifuges. China was privy to the Pakistan-North Korea missile-for-uranium-enrichment-technology-exchange deal. Pakistan, in its turn, attempted to proliferate to Iran and Libya.


Pakistan, shielded by its nuclear deterrent capability, initiated a campaign of terrorism as an instrument of state policy first against India and then against the US and the UK. That country became the epicentre of terrorism. China continued its support to Pakistani nuclear efforts by building two plutonium research reactors at Khushab and two civilian power rectors at Chashma.


In the late 1980s China sold long-range CSS-2 liquid-fuelled missiles to Saudi Arabia. Such missiles were of little use unless they were fitted with nuclear warheads. Presumably, they would have received the Pakistani warheads when needed. There have been modest clandestine Chinese help for Iran's nuclear and missile programmes. All this happened in a low-key style since the US was permissive of Pakistani proliferation and was getting snared into supporting China's industrial expansion, which produced massive trade surpluses vis-a-vis the US.


That period is over .China is now asserting its equality with the US, insisting on supplying Pakistan two nuclear power reactors without the waiver of the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group as was done at US urging in the case of India in view of Delhi's impeccable nonproliferation record. While the US is trying to woo the Pakistan Army with military aid and Kerry-Lugar economic aid to fight the jihadi groups within Pakistan, China is undertaking a number of projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, planning to construct road and rail links between Xinjiang and Pakistan through the Baltistan-Gilgit area, and laying an oil and gas pipeline from Gwadar port — which was earlier constructed by China — to Xinjiang.


It is reported that a large number of PLA personnel are working in the Baltistan-Gilgit area. Now by insisting on stapled visas for Indians from J&K and not insisting on similar stapled visas for people from POK, China is telling the world that it backs Pakistan's claim to Kashmir even as the US is adopting a neutral attitude. China is signalling to Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaque Kayani that, unlike the US, Beijing fully supports him on his demand on Kashmir. China is Pakistan's largest arms supplier and has a joint aircraft and tank production arrangement with Islamabad.


If China is to achieve equality with the US in terms of power or overtake it, the latter has to be challenged both in East Asia and West Asia. Their naval expansion is the East Asian challenge and their increasing involvement with Pakistan is the first step in countervailing US power in West Asia.







PROTOCOL was just another word in the dictionary for me. But that was before I joined the civil services. My first encounter with protocol happened the day I landed at the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, for my foundation course. Feeling listless and ravenous after a long journey I trudged into the dining hall in my track suit thinking I would grab some dinner and then 'hit the sack'.


But as soon as I entered the dining hall I was met with a sea of disapproving eyes belonging to 'probationers' formally dressed in 'bandh gala' and starched cotton saris. It seems I had violated a strict dress code by entering the hallowed precincts of the dining hall in 'casuals'. I beat a hasty retreat and decided to forgo the dinner despite the loud demands of my stomach.


The next day I was hauled up for my breach of protocol and made to run an extra mile as a 'warning'. Before I could recover from this disaster I made another faux pas. We were lined up for introductions before the course director. I introduced myself with as much dignity as I could muster considering my recent ignominy and put my hand out for a professional shake. The course director eyed my hand in disgust and folded his hands in a 'namaste' that would put any coy soap opera character to shame. Lesson learnt: lady officers do not shake hands.


A few days later I reluctantly reported for riding classes. The riding session began with a lecture, God help me, on the protocol involved in mounting a horse. We stood to attention on the left side of our assigned horses as in a stentorian voice the 'Ustadji' took us through our paces.


At the count of 'One' we were to put our left leg into the stirrup. At the count of 'Two' we were to heave ourselves up and lift our right leg over the backside of the mount. At the count of 'three' we were to seat ourselves in the saddle, slip our right leg into the stirrup and gently pick up the reins for the ritual trot around the paddock.


But woe betide the rider who violated this regimented protocol as I did. At the count of 'Two' I tried scaling the horse instead of elegantly mounting it. At Ustadji's loud reprimand I yanked at the reins in desperation and 'Sundari' (my horse) reading it as a command took off at great speed. By the time the horse stopped I had sent up my last prayers to the Almighty. It finally registered — 'protocol' was a matter of life and death. From that day I took to protocol like the proverbial duck to water.









ACROSS the world the form and content of security challenges is altering. Insurgency and terrorist threats are far more difficult to face as they blur distinctions between friend or foe and bring in the concept of treating a potential threat with kid gloves. Add to this the rapidly advancing information age technologies and a competitive media and it is easy to see why civil--military relations continue to be a subject of serious research and study by scholars.

Ever since the end of the Second World War, the subject has been discussed and debated in the US at great length. The perennial debate regarding civil-military relations recently received a fillip when the US President sacked the commander of US forces in Afghanistan.


In essence, scholars agree that civil and military worlds are essentially distinct and different from one another and that the military must work under the authority of the elected government. The problem was to see that they coexisted without posing a danger to democracy or to the effectiveness of the military. The debate is by no means over and the subject continues to draw research and academic work internationally even as newer security paradigms emerge.


In India while the subject is considered too sensitive to even be discussed, there is an added twist to the scene. For historical reasons civilian control of the military here has come to mean control by the bureaucracy. This added layer creates an undesirable screen between the elected leadership and the military and has often been the cause of both misunderstanding and subterfuge. In this distorted sense, Indian democracy remains unique.


Recently the White House announced that Maj Gen John D. Lavelle had been posthumously reinstated as a full General. This story reveals the underbelly of civil--military relations in a democracy and is worth revisiting. Lavelle, US Air Force commander in Vietnam, was accused of ordering unauthorised bombing raids against North Vietnam and then falsifying reports to cover-up. This was when there was considerable opposition to the war in the US and President Nixon had overtly halted 
bombing operations.


Lavelle insisted he never exceeded his authority and followed rules of engagement communicated to him by Washington. Notwithstanding this, the Pentagon and Congress considered him guilty. Demoted to Major General and forced to retire in disgrace, he told Congress, "It is not pleasant to contemplate ending a long and distinguished military career with a catastrophic blemish on my record, a blemish for conscientiously doing the job I was expected to do.


Records now in public domain, reveal that Nixon had indeed given secret orders for the bombings, which had been relayed down the chain of command. Lavelle died in 1979, an honourable man only in his own eyes. To the nation, the system and those he commanded, he was shown to be dishonourable. Clearly, the civilian and higher military leadership displayed conduct not worthy of healthy democratic institutions or morals. This in the wider sense gets to the heart of the perpetual debate on the conflicting dynamics of civil-military relations in a democracy.


Both in Manipur disturbances of 2004 and more recent ones in Kashmir, even as the state and central governments grappled to control the situation, politicians targeted the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, seeking its withdrawal. Invariably, the government of the day, that is upholder of this Act and whose sole discretion it is to designate areas where it will apply, and from whom the army derives its strength and authority, preferred to remain ambivalent and promised to make the Act more humane. Unsaid have been insinuations by vested political and human rights activists of the army embracing the Act to indulge in human rights violations.


There are three constituents that make for civil-military relations in a democracy - civil society, elected government and the military. Of these it is only the military that has no public voice and is hence easily disadvantaged when targeted in complex issues like AFSPA.


In a 1997 dissertation at the Rand Graduate School, titled "Civil Military Relations — A Comparative Study of India and Pakistan", Kotera M.Bhimaya makes some observations in the Indian context. He observes that in Parliament, defence matters seldom receive the desired attention and even service chiefs are prone to make statements to reinforce politicians' proclamation that armed forces will not fail. A more disturbing observation relates to Indian military brass sometimes succumbing to political or bureaucratic pressure for promotion or foreign assignments.


On bureaucracy and the military corporate interests, He quotes the military view, contradicted by the bureaucracy, that bureaucracy has consistently frustrated recommendations pertaining to a unified Ministry of Defence that would not only effect savings, but bring better coordination. Further, the military feels that bureaucracy knows little, exploits inter-service differences and endeavours to distance military and political leadership.


Few will deny the validity of these observations. Worse, nothing has changed in the intervening years notwithstanding the Kargil Review Committee report and the far reaching lessons that were supposed to have been learnt. As security challenges in India become more complex with insurgency, terrorist and Maoist challenges coming to the fore, the dynamics of the relationship between the civil society, the government and the military will continue to come under greater strain. While the former two have the benefit of debate, the latter is denied this option. If occasionally, commanders let off steam as Gen McChrysatal did, it should come as no surprise. It behoves genuine democracies to keep the fine balance between the three arms in order to strengthen democracy. In this India has a very long way to go. Perhaps an open debate on the optimum model to suit India can be a healthy starting point.


The author is former AOC-in-C, South Western Air Command








A host of reasons hinder military media relations in India, prominent among which is the lack of knowledge about each other There is lack of shared understanding which is, perhaps, indispensable for working in unison. If we look around the media - military scene today, it is difficult to find more than a score of Indian journalists who are well informed of matters military. Most of the correspondents on the defence beat are able to report only on the "what" of news without much of a clue of the "how" and even lesser of the "why" of it. What can the military expect from the correspondents, including some from the mainstream national media, who do not know the difference between say a brigade and a corps, or for that matter the ethos and functional aspects, especially constraints, of different arms and services?


Till 1991, the copies of correspondents covering defence were cleared by the Directorate of the Public Relations. Call it censoring, but it ensured some professional inputs being added by the service representatives.


Many changes have since happened in the media, which has grown exponentially. Technology has changed the way news is gathered, produced and disseminated. Consequently, pressure on the military to be responsive to their needs has increased many folds.


As for the military's understanding of the media, the scene is only marginally better. With a few exceptions, not many understand the nuances of the media. The military, especially the Army, too has witnessed many changes since the 1980's - the period coinciding with resurgence of militancy in Kashmir and the ULFA--Bodo movement in Assam. Countering irregular warfare, once a secondary task, has now become its primary focus. As if that was not enough, it has a new challenge - facing a largely aggressive, if not entirely hostile, "irregular" media. The media today is largely wild in terms of numbers, variety and languages. Importantly it is unregulated. The new media in all its avatars - blogs, tweets and networking sites, adds to the confusion of military's understanding of the media.


Some steps have been taken by the military to understand the media. Media relations are now included as a part of study in various training courses and special programmes conducted by the IIMC. Some seminars, like that on media--military synergy at New Delhi last week, are also conducted. It needs to be noted that these initiatives have come mainly from the Army and not the media. Directorate of Public Relations (DPR) in the defence ministry exposes around 35 correspondents to a month-long defence correspondents' course every year. It is another story though that only a couple of them later cover the defence beat!


"Noble" as these baby steps may be, the military, even if somewhat knowledgeable of the media, has not been entirely responsive to their needs. The military cannot keep pace with the flow of news, which by itself is direct fallout of the technology advancement. Media deadlines have become shorter. Military does not entirely understand the essence of time and media deadlines. In any case, news must travel through a maze of channels within the military hierarchy before it can be shared with the media. Due to their culture of cross checking facts, militaries all over the world -- and Indian forces are no exception, are agonizingly slow in responding to a story. In the time so taken by the military, media, especially electronic media, "breaks" news -- right or erroneous. And since the first news sticks, the military gets into a fire-fighting mode, often with its back to the wall.


Military also need to be educated on being less sensitive to occasional criticism as it may not necessarily paint the entire military uniformly black. In any case, if bad news is released by the military itself -- which rarely happens, it adds to its credibility. This is rarely understood in perspective by the military.


That media often reports without cross checking with the military only adds to the problem. Media hunger for stories also needs to be satisfied by the military. This does not happen, as there is no system in place to regularly update media. As such, correspondents are often found snooping for news from sources even less knowledgeable than themselves.


The military and the public relations set up in the ministry also need to understand the importance of different types of media. There is an undue focus on national and English language media. While such media definitely has an impact on the decision makers in Delhi, the vernacular media which influences the masses is often afforded a step motherly treatment.


Though the impact of images provided by the electronic media is not to be underestimated, the written word still reigns supreme. As for the new media, at least in the Indian context, it will take some more years to be a major opinion maker. Military needs to understand this and focus its limited media related resources accordingly.


The military is also not appreciative of the financial constraints and commercial interests of the media. Good-news stories are often chopped out to make space for revenue earning advertisements. Correspondents have come to accept this, while the military needs to appreciate it better.


Finally, even if the military is knowledgeable of the power of moving pictures, it does not have any outfit to provide videos to the media of its actions where the media cannot reach or is not present. Clearly there is a knowledge and appreciation deficit on part of both media and military. It is in interest of both to bridge the same and earlier the better.


The author is a former spokesperson of the Indian Army








On September 1, Charles Correa turned 80. By any measure, it has been an extraordinary life, marked by uncommon professional success and international recognition as one of the great designers of the world. A week earlier, Ratan Tata released Correa's new book, A Place in the Shade, a collection of essays and lectures spanning several decades and extending his previous book, The New Landscape. 


A Place in the Shade should be required reading not only for students of architecture and planning, but also every bureaucrat and minister in every municipal body and state government planning department. For anyone concerned about our cities, the book is an invaluable primer that shows just how far wrong we have gone. 
    Why is architecture important? The best answers to questions like this often come from the most unexpected sources. When Tamerlane built the Ak Sarai or White Palace in Shakhrisabz in modern Uzbekistan, he said, "Let he who doubts our power look upon our buildings"; a phrase that captures architecture's soul. The state of a nation is nowhere better mirrored than in its architecture. Our buildings reflect our economic and social strength, our values, our concern for environment, art, culture and beauty. Architecture reflects power. This is why the great buildings of history – the Taj Mahal, the pyramids, the Sphinx, the Great Wall, Isfahan – continue to hold us in awe. 


In the nearly 60 years after 1947, Mumbai has produced only one truly iconic, and iconoclastic, piece of architecture, and that is the one Correa designed at Kemps' Corner, Kanchenjunga. That design re-imagined space, volume and form in a way that no other has done before or since. True, there are now other buildings that are bigger, taller, higher; but none show its leap of imagination, and all are simply variations on a tired theme. Builders – and some industrialists – fail to see that size does not matter. Ever-bigger erections are not so much about design as pandering to an edifice complex. 


Buildings do not have to be big to be great. Correa's most moving work is, I believe, the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. In a section of a long and brilliant 1998 lecture at MIT entitled, simply, "Zero", Correa describes his approach to this commission: capturing the spirit of the Mahatma, reflecting it in the materials used, marrying the traditional and the modern, and providing spaces for rest and contemplation. Of the design, Correa writes: "That meandering pattern was not the result of some elaborate analysis, but the compulsive groping of a beginner towards something he didn't quite understand, but which he sensed might be of profound importance." The result is an architectural form that is gentle, meditative, introspective. No tall monument, no overpowering mass could pay so great a homage. 


A Place in the Shade shows us a mind of astonishing range, depth and versatility, one whose influences are catholic and eclectic: from cinema to Indian mythology and the epics, from toy trains to Mahatma Gandhi, from religion to gardens. But Correa is much more than a great architect and designer. The best pieces in the book are the ones on urbanization and planning. Here, there is a generosity of spirit, a concern with the role of architecture in shaping a just and humane society. In two essays, on public transport and the Tulsi Pipe Road area, Correa shows how our planning has, criminally, neglected the very constituencies who most need it. Some things we know to be true, but with incessant political propaganda, seem to have forgotten: "Migrants don't come to cities looking for housing. They come in search of work." That one comment skewers at least one popular myth. 

Great builders and designers have, through the years, always planned for the public, typically by laying out gardens and open spaces. As we watch the systematic dismantling of our public spaces, we would do well to listen when Correa talks of "sacred" gardens. Years ago, Correa's plan for Nariman Point proposed plazas, open spaces, walkways, museums, parks. The plan was not, of course, 'profitable' and was never realised. Instead, we have that mess of concrete canyons and indistinguishable and undistinguished buildings. 


The entirety of Correa's thinking on urban planning is predicated on a single faulty assumption: of probity in public life and civic governance. That assumption drowns in an ocean of venality, and there is a sadness to Correa's book which, page after page, tells us of what might have been. 



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While the Indian information technology (IT) and related services industry's protest against a decision of the government of the state of Ohio in the United States on banning outsourcing of IT services in government procurement is understandable, India has no official ground to stand on in conveying its displeasure. By choosing to remain outside the existing plurilateral agreements on government procurement, even though India finally decided to become an observer on a World Trade Organisation (WTO) panel on government procurement earlier this year, the government cannot really take the US to the WTO on this issue. In announcing its decision to become an observer on the WTO panel this January, a government spokesperson said that India could be hurt by retaliatory action by the US that could impose a ban on Indian companies benefiting from US government procurement, if India did not open its own government procurement to global tenders under a WTO protocol. The Ohio state government action is a sample of things to come.


It would, however, be wrong for India to assume that such bans are India-specific. With upwards of 10 per cent unemployment and declining popularity, the Barack Obama government is under pressure to do something to generate more jobs at home. Actions like these are aimed precisely at achieving that objective and Indian companies must be prepared for more. At the same time, it is important not to exaggerate the impact of government procurement on total demand for outsourcing emanating from the US. Indian IT and software services companies supply services to almost every Fortune 500 company in the US. The US private sector market is huge and will continue to demand Indian services in its own bid to remain globally competitive. Hence, Indian politicians and lobbyists need not get too worked up, even if they must wake up and respond to this new source of pressure on Indian exports.


One way India can help buy support for itself in the US is to buy more from the US. Such purchases by an India growing at over 8 per cent from a country facing the threat of double-dip recession can help win friends and calm fears in the US. The recent decision of the Indian civil aviation sector to buy more Boeing aircraft will help. If the Indian nuclear liability regime had been more accommodative of US corporate interests, that too would have helped. But having upset US companies with its high-minded supplier liability regime, India should only expect such pinpricks as the one from Ohio. Finally, India must take a new look at its stance on a WTO agreement on government procurement and on the wider issue of the agreement on trade in services. India needs multilateral protection from such arbitrary bilateral action. Yielding ground on government procurement in exchange for an agreement on services covering all modes should be considered.








The drought in greenfield investment projects in the fertiliser sector in India is finally set to end after over a decade. Existing and prospective investors in fertiliser manufacture are reportedly willing to invest over Rs 45,000 crore in the next few years, both in expansion of existing capacities and creation of new ones. The rising excess demand for fertiliser is driving this renewed spurt in investment activity. The increase in the demand for plant nutrients has also been spurred by some recent favourable policy initiatives. These have helped the industry come out of the red. This is good news for a sector which has been in doldrums since the early 1990s and has gone through one of the worst patches in its history in the past decade. However, these investment intentions would materialise only if fertiliser sector reforms, initiated in 2008-09, are carried forward and uncertainties over the availability of feedstock are removed. The ball, therefore, is in the government's court. Government policy must aim to both reduce the fertiliser subsidy burden which, in turn, distorts demand in a way that is, in fact, not in the long-term interests of either the soil or the farmer who tills it, and stimulate output and productivity growth.


The government deserves credit for some recent positive moves that have contributed to an improvement in the economic health of the fertiliser industry. Significant among such moves was the decision to introduce a new pricing system for urea, backed by a 10 per cent increase in its retail price, revise the concession scheme for the single super phosphate (SSP) and introduce the system of nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) for the decontrolled phosphatic and potassic fertilisers. However, all this marks the beginning, and not the end, of the reform process. More action is needed. The policy of decontrol applies only to phosphorus (P)- and potash (K)-carrying fertilisers and not to nitrogenous (N) fertilisers (read urea) which remain under government control. As a result, urea continues to be substantially cheaper than other fertilisers, contributing to an imbalance in the use of NPK. This hurts soil health and crop productivity. Further, the fixed rate freight subsidy under the new urea pricing regime, which replaced the earlier practice of actual reimbursement of freight expenses up to the retail stage, has left little incentive for dealers to carry fertilisers to remote and hilly areas.

The government must decontrol urea and ensure that new urea units get assured supply of natural gas that will be supplied by private owners of new gas sources who operate under government-backed guarantees. The new NBS system, which has so far worked well since its introduction last April, is applicable only to a few notified nutrients. Considering the wide range of micro-nutrient deficiencies in Indian soils, the NBS needs to be extended to all nutrients. This will enable fertiliser manufacturers to produce customised, region-specific fertiliser products carrying nutrients that the soil is short of. Setting right the nutrient profile of cultivable soils is vital to optimising crop response to the application of fertilisers. The extant decline in yields must be reversed. The government should lose no time in removing hurdles to new investment in the fertiliser industry which, in turn, will reduce the unduly high import dependence in this commodity.








There seems to be great fear and concern towards equities in the developed world at the moment. In a world where a company like Johnson & Johnson (J&J) can issue 10-year corporate bonds at a record low yield of 2.95 per cent, even lower than its dividend yield, and the bonds get lapped up, but no-one wants to touch the equity, something odd is happening. What is the chance of the J&J bond-owner outperforming the equity-holder over the coming decade? The only rationale can be investors expecting a deflationary type of an economic environment, wherein equities drop significantly from here, and any yield is valuable. Despite the current level of bond yields, even now we see continued outflows from equities towards bond funds.


However, realistically what type of returns can global equity investors expect from here over the coming decade? Do these expected returns justify a seemingly irrational desperation for capital preservation and yield at any price as shown by the J&J bond?


 To forecast long-term equity returns, one has to make certain forward projections of earnings per share (EPS) growth, dividend yields and then make an estimate of an appropriate multiple one can apply to these earnings.


The starting point for forecasting long-term earnings growth is normally nominal GDP, with the assumption being that EPS broadly tracks nominal GDP over the long haul. At first glance, this looks reasonable as in the US, EPS growth since 1980 has been about 5.5 per cent per annum, broadly in line with nominal GDP growth of about 5.9 per cent (source: BCA). For global markets as a whole, over the last 15 years, EPS growth has actually been slightly faster than that of nominal GDP. However, as the folks at BCA point out in a recent study, while EPS has kept up with nominal GDP, sales per share growth has actually lagged quite significantly. The implication of this divergence is, of course, that rising profit margins have filled in the gap. Profit margins have risen considerably across regions, and there are obvious limits to how much more they can expand. BCA points out that if you recast the numbers by holding margins flat, then EPS growth across the world has significantly lagged that of nominal GDP. The EPS growth for US companies (since 1980) would have been only 4.5 per cent (not 5.5 per cent). The adjusted numbers are even worse for non-US and emerging market (EM) companies. For developed market (DM) companies as a whole, EPS growth (since 1995) was 2.6 per cent per annum compared to 4.1 per cent for nominal GDP, and for the EM, world EPS growth was an annualised 4.3 per cent compared to a nominal GDP rate of 9.3 per cent.


With the benefit of hindsight, this gap between EPS and nominal GDP is not surprising. Even though the profit share of the overall corporate sector to GDP has been quite stable, as new private companies get created, they take a larger share of the profit pool, reducing the share attributable to the older, more established listed entities. This phenomenon is especially pronounced in the faster-growing EM countries which, combined with greater equity dilution to fund growth, explains the higher EPS gap in these economies.


Now in a world where we expect economic growth to be subdued, and profit margins seem unlikely to expand as robustly as they have over the past two decades, the outlook for EPS growth is quite challenged.


The second part of the equation relates to PE multiples, and what is a fair number to use, looking out 5-10 years ahead. Over time, PE multiples have clearly reverted to the mean and hence some type of long-term average should work as a reasonable estimate. Currently, US equities trade at about 15 times earnings, below the long-term average of 17, and the average PE multiple of 23 since 1995 (source: BCA). Global equities trade at about 12 times earnings, well below their average of 17. On this basis, equity returns over the coming decade should be boosted by some valuation expansion, as multiples move towards long-term averages. The only reason this may not occur is if, as expected, real interest rates rise significantly over the coming decade, given the currently artificially low levels, which would act as a natural dampener to multiple expansion. Another factor weighing on multiples would be the economic uncertainty we currently face — deflation, another Japan-like lost decade, a European sovereign crisis? Global economic uncertainty has rarely been higher.


The folks at BCA have been conservative in their study and have assumed no multiple expansion in their five-year projections, thus their market return assumptions are based purely on EPS growth and dividend yields.


On the above basis, they come up with an expected annualised real return of 4 per cent per annum for the MSCI global equity index, with 2.9 per cent of this coming from dividends and the balance from EPS growth-linked capital appreciation. While lower than the average return of 6.1 per cent since 1980, it will still outpace anything available from fixed income assets. Once again, one wonders what the buyers of the J&J bond were thinking.


An additional insight from the study is the realisation that the huge outperformance the EM asset class has enjoyed over the last decade is likely to come to an end. While the BCA study expects EM equities to outperform DM equities over the coming five years (4.8 per cent versus 3.7 per cent), this performance differential is nothing compared to what actually transpired in the last decade (EM equities delivered a real annualised performance of 6.6 per cent versus 2.1 per cent for DM equities). The last decade's outperformance of EM equities was driven by rapid margin expansion as well as the fact that EM equities began the decade far cheaper than their DM counterparts. At some stage, EM profit margins will plateau (they are already 3.2 percentage points above DM margins), and today, on virtually any valuation measure, EM stocks are more richly valued than their DM counterparts. The EM valuation premium is also visible across sectors.


India stands out in the BCA study as being the most expensive of the BRIC markets, and, in fact, screens as being among the least preferred with lower-than-average expected returns over the coming five years. The low expected return for India is driven by multiple compression as the methodology of the study brings our multiples down in line with the EM average. If India can continue delivering strong economic and earnings growth, backed by determined political leadership, then this multiple compression need not take place. If we can hold our current valuation multiples, then India's expected return profile moves from being in the lowest quartile to the highest quartile.


The bottom line is that for Indian equities to deliver strong returns from here, we have to hold on to current valuation multiples. In the absence of improvements in governance, political will and economic decision-making, this will not happen.


A bet on India today is implicitly a bet on improved governance, more decisive economic reforms and the ability to take on vested interests. Can we deliver? There is no room for error.


The author is the fund manager and chief executive officer of Amansa Capital








Bill Gates, at that time, was an infrequent visitor to India. At a public function, attended by top-notch businessmen, he talked about his work and business philosophy. Then someone from the audience asked if it was true that he would give away his wealth to charity. The businessmen in the audience gave out a short and meaningful laugh before Gates could answer in the affirmative. Hard-earned wealth is not meant to be given away to charity, certainly not in India.


Gates has since then given $22 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Warren Buffett, the third-richest man in the world with a personal fortune of $47 billion, too has pledged a large chunk of his wealth to the Foundation. Gates and Buffett are now on a mission to ask hundreds of American billionaires to earmark at least 50 per cent of their wealth to charity. Several of them have already converted to the cause.


 Cut to India. Some time in early 2007, this newspaper did an analysis of the charity done by the 36 Indians on the Forbes list of billionaires. Their combined worth was over $190 billion, but the money they had set aside for charity was not even a fraction of that. Most of them had nothing to say when asked about their contribution to philanthropic causes. Things may have improved since then, but not dramatically. All told, industry estimates suggest, Indians spend about Rs 30,000 crore in a year on charitable causes. This is not a small amount. But there is a catch here: This number includes the money spent by companies on corporate social responsibility. If that is taken out, contributions by businessmen would not add up to a lot.


So, the difference is that in the West, charity is driven by individuals, while in India it is done by companies. Businessmen say there is a historical perspective to it. Punitive taxation in the pre-liberalisation days meant businessmen did not have huge piles of wealth. The stock market boom, which has spawned dozens of billionaires, is a recent phenomenon. So, they couldn't do charity in their personal capacity. But tax breaks were given to companies (and also individuals) if they gave their money for charitable causes. The legacy carries to this day. Companies are at the forefront of charity, not individuals. For instance, the corpus of the Bharti Foundation, which wants to put as much as Rs 200 crore into education, is contributed by various Bharti companies.


But there are signs that things could change in the future. The Azim Premji Foundation, for instance, is funded totally out of the personal wealth of Wipro Chairman Azim Premji. Nandan Nilekani along with historian Ramchandra Guha has started the New India Foundation which supports research in social sciences. Ex-bureaucrat and Tech Mahindra honcho Vineet Nayyar has donated shares worth Rs 30 crore to the Essel Social Welfare Foundation, which is run by his wife.


Perhaps the best example of charity in India is the Emergency Research Management Institute, which runs emergency ambulance services in various states. It was, believe it or not, started by Ramalinga Raju, the scam-tainted ex-promoter of Satyam Computer Services. It was known for its efficiency and reach. In narrow lanes, where ambulances cannot manoeuvre their way, it would send paramedics on scooters. Once the Satyam scam broke out and Raju was put behind bars, there was the danger that it might collapse. But the GVK group stepped in. ERMI is alive and kicking. It operates 2,600 ambulances in 10 states, and wants to raise its fleet to 10,000 by the end of next year.


You can argue with some justification what difference does it make if the money is coming from the pocket of the businessman or his company. Indeed, for the beneficiary it really doesn't matter what's the source of the aid. But charitable work carried out by companies is often aligned to their business interests. Very often, it is meant to placate affected parties near factories. Thus, information technology companies push computer education in schools; this may help them get customers in the days to come. Some retailers have run contact programmes for small green grocers. It's good but it also helps quell opposition from an affected party.


Corporate social responsibility, as companies and businessmen alike will tell you privately, has become an integral part of business. Thus, pharmaceutical companies, not just in India but the world over, run elaborate charities because they always walk on a razor's edge — any negative word about their medicine can cause ruin. Some bit of philanthropy in India is also to build the image of the country globally, experts reckon, especially as homespun companies have turned aggressive buyers of distressed assets worldwide.


Still, if all goes well, the money spent by companies for corporate social responsibility may increase in the days to come. The proposed Direct Taxes Code has laid down that trusts, societies and not-for-profit companies will get tax breaks only if they spend 85 per cent of the money allotted to them. That could mean improved corporate social responsibility in the days to come.










Despite Ramanujam, Varadhan and a host of other talented Indian mathematicians, the subject occupies little space in public consciousness. There is even a rancid joke to the effect that India invented the zero and after that, India's contribution to maths is zero.


It was never true. But many talented Indian mathematicians work abroad, with a few exceptions such as Manindra Agrawal, Neeraj Kayal and Nitin Saxena, the trio that generated the AKS Primality Test at IIT, Kanpur.


 There are few opportunities for locals to interact with practitioners based elsewhere. The recently-concluded International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) in Hyderabad was a good first effort at breaking the ice.


ICM started in Zurich in 1897 at the behest of the International Mathematicians Union (IMU). India hosted the quadrennial event for the first time. Incidentally, IMU also elected its first-ever woman president, Ingrid Daubechies of Princeton.


Every seminal maths problem, including a vast array of applied problems, has been ventilated at the ICMs. But as Oswald Veblen once explained, the ICMs are " not congresses of mathematics, that highly organised body of knowledge, but of mathematicians, those rather chaotic individuals who create and conserve mathematics".


The "killer app" is that academics get ample opportunity to meet informally. They discuss not only papers they've published but also discarded drafts and blind alleys. The value of that interaction cannot be quantified. An unstructured conversation may lead to a big collaborative effort or insightful breakthroughs.


Massively collaborative efforts like Tim Gower's Polymath Project and Stanford-Berkeley's MathsOverflow Project are now common. The Polymath Project solved the Density Hales-Jewett theorem (which had defeated everyone for years) in 37 days in an online effort, involving 800 people, who collectively signed off as "DHJ Polymath". The use of social networking techniques completes a circle because those applications are built on mathematics.


Events like ICM create preconditions for future collaboration. Of course, the agenda is structured around the valedictory with the handing out of awards and prizes. The biggest award is the Fields Medal. The Fields carries only $15,000 in monetary terms. But it's the Nobel-equivalent for mathematicians. It is only awarded to somebody under 40. No Indian has ever won.


There was some excitement when 39-year-old Vinay Deolalikar claimed a solution to the "N Vs NP problem" in early August, just days before the ICM. N Vs NP is one of seven "Millennium Problems", in which the Clay Mathematical Institute offers a $1 million award. Unfortunately Deolalikar's proof was flawed.


The Fields winners were Cedric Villani (France), Ngo Bao Chau (Vietnam), Elon Lindenstrauss (Israel) and Stanislav Smirnov (Switzerland). Other awards included the Rolf Nevanlinna Prize for work in computer science to Danny Speelman (US), and the Gauss Prize for applied maths to Yves Mayer (France), as well as the new Chern Prize for lifetime achievement, to Louis Nirenberg (US).


Another new award was the Leelavati Prize (named after Bhaskara's Sanskrit textbook) for "outstanding public outreach" to Simon Singh, ("Fermat's Last theorem", "Codebook"). The Kenneth May prize for work on the History of Mathematics went to Radha Charan Gupta for his history of "desi" trigonometry in "Mathematics in India".


A couple of events piggybacking ICM generated publicity, some negative. One was the brilliant theatrical adaption of Ramanujam's life story in "A Disappearing Number", which was performed by Complicite in several locales.


Another was the needless controversy over the citizenship of world chess champion Viswanathan Anand. Anand, who gave a simultaneous display against 40 mathematicians, was due to be awarded an honorary PHD before the HRD Ministry tied itself in bureaucratic knots.


This was a sad reversion to the sort of red tape that hobbles Indian academia. The Government of India (GoI) is generally tardy in processing applications from foreign academics. It did a good job for ICM but it has to get better at bread-and-butter work-permit clearances.


Despite India's mammoth technical pool, it has few pure research institutes like TIFR, IISC and ISI. There is little pressure to publish, given time-bound promotions. This creates a vicious circle with a small local pool isolated from the mainstream.


If India's policy makers wish to change this situation, they must create conditions in which the best want to come and work here. They must also help India academics to interact more easily and build ties abroad. Visas are only part of the problem, of course.


The myth of the borderline lunatic, mathematical loner persists and it's perpetrated by geniuses like Grigori Perelman and John Nash. Everyone knows about Nash and his beautiful mind. Perelman who has refused to accept either the Millennium (for solving the Poincare Conjecture) or the Field Medal, is famously reclusive.


They're exceptions. It is no accident that most of awardees at ICM 2010 have worked in several countries. It is normal for papers to be co-authored, to be published online and thus, open to multiple peer-review.


ICM demonstrated that the Indian mathematical community enjoys meeting up with their global counterparts. The fruit of such associations will only be apparent over time. One hopes that the GoI's strong support in hosting ICM was not an aberration but a signal of a new policy that encourages more intimate contact.









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 Bombay High Court ruling upholding the jurisdiction of Indian tax authorities in the 2007 Vodafone-Hutch cross border deal that led to the creation of Vodafone-Essar is welcome. When tax authority Davids take on multinational Goliaths, tax authorities often lose out, not because they lack a strong case but because they are unable to hire the best legal brains in the game. The small, but significant, victory in the instant case is therefore, heartening. Of course, the bigger battle of determining whether the resultant capital gains are chargeable to tax or not remains, as the ruling is only on jurisdiction. Nonetheless, to the extent the first round has gone to the revenue department, it is cause for quiet satisfaction. 


The verdict upholds the principle (consistent with international practice) that substance matters, rather than form. Thus, what matters is where the underlying interest lies. In the Vodafone-Hutch case the deal involved transfer of assets that derive their value from economic activity in India and hence should logically be taxed in India. This is the principle adopted internationally, including the UK so there is no reason why the UK-based Vodafone should expect anything different. True, there are other deals that should rightly have come under the tax net on the same principle but escaped. But that is no justification to absolve Vodafone of its liability. On the contrary! It is, perhaps, reason to reopen cases where revenue authorities have tangible proof of evasion as in the instant case. It is also sound reason to expedite passage of the Direct Taxes Code Bill incorporating deterrents such as the general anti-avoidance rule (GAAR) against questionable tax practices. GAAR gives sweeping powers to income tax commissioners to treat an arrangement as impermissible if 'the intention of the taxpayer is to derive tax benefit and the transaction lacks commercial substance or is not for a bona fide purpose.' Benefits available under tax treaties can also be denied if GAAR provisions are invoked. At a time when treaty abuse is rampant and MNCs not above cutting a sharp deal, GAAR is just the right armour for a beleaguered IT department.






APOSSIBLE phased removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from some areas in the state, or making some amendments which can lessen the severity of the Act's impact on civilian lives, is on the agenda for the crucial meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), scheduled for Friday. This is welcome, as a departure from security-centric thinking on Kashmir. However, the central government must be fully prepared to be greeted with the sentiment that this is too little, too late. There is every reason to believe that failure to withdraw the looming presence of the armed forces from everyday Kashmiri lives has played a large role in precipitating the recent reversal of the slow process of mending that had been underway over the previous five years. If anything has a chance to work now, it is releasing the people from the thrall of the AFSPA and recognising the need for a more fundamental political resolution in the state. The government must withdraw the AFSPA and call for the widest ranging dialogue, including with the separatist leader Geelani. Revocation of the AFSPA, not just insertions of amendments or painfully slow phased withdrawals, would certainly send out a firm, clear signal of intent. By all accounts, even though a few hundred militants are estimated to be still around, militancy has been contained. And recent events in Kashmir clearly posit a political, not military, challenge. 


It is a measure of the apparent absence of clarity of thought and political will within the government on Kashmir that it has taken almost three months of intense strife, with nearly 70 deaths, for the possibility of some movement, some measures, being announced. The Centre would appear to have ceded the initiative to the state government for too long, allowing its incompetence to make matters worse. Now, when it has taken the initiative, it must bring the utmost political will to resist all attempts to ignore the core political nature of the problem in Kashmir. Far too many people have a vested interest in presenting Kashmir as a problem that should not be seen through any prism other than that of security.







LUNCHES aren't free, it has been dinned into our heads long enough for even the reporter who covers five beats and has to attend as many press conferences on a single day, all of which wind up with lunch, to see beyond the immediate empirical evidence. But if you thought all common aphorisms were founded in fact, try 'talk is cheap.' With one telecom company (telco) even offering long distance calls that are cheaper than local calls, this never sounded more true. But then comes this rude shock. Talk used to be, in fact, free, especially when you called up your phone company to activate a new service or clarify who exactly made those long calls to Sultanpur for which you have sumptuously been billed, although you barely know such a place exists, leave alone someone who lives there. But now, it costs money to speak to your phone company's customer care. To activate, for example, internet access on your mobile phone, suppose you call up your phone company. You will politely be told that it will cost you money to talk to the customer care provider concerned, would you still like to proceed? Since you want to activate the service, you curse under your breath and say you do. To soothe your frazzled nerves, and with no other motive in mind, you are then connected to beautiful music for all of two minutes. 


You can enjoy this serving of the food of love or choose to have dyspepsia or, as an extreme reaction to having to shell out your hard-earned money for your phone company's inability to pick up, of all things, a phone call, apoplexy. Choice, of course, is the customer's right. After the musical interlude comes the jarring notes of customer caress, insisting on a long winded rendition of all the plans they have, even if you vociferously protest you want just the basic plan. Basic, you ultimately realise, also means of or relating to the fundament, in an anatomical sense. Number portability, where are you?








THE decision to withhold forest clearance to a mining project in the tribal area of Orissa is a turning point in the evolving national consensus around sustainable development, because it focuses attention on a neglected dimension of sustainability — the social dimension, or impact on the poor. 


It is timely, because we will be making increasing demands on natural resources as we consume vast quantities of steel, cement, aluminium, chemicals and fertilisers needed for infrastructure, urbanisation and food security essential for the eradication of poverty. Almost all the mining will take place in the tribal areas. 


As the finance minister pointed out to the Standing Committee leaping the 'double-digit growth barrier' and, ensuring that the growth is tempered with inclusiveness, equity and concern for the aam admi can be met only through sustained investment in infrastructure. We plan to invest . 4.1 trillion ($880 billion) in the period 2012-17, in the XII Plan, as compared with $541 billion in the current Plan. 


It has yet to be recognised that the stress on infrastructure, and related mining, because of the vast areas covered, requires a corresponding shift from focus on the exploitation of natural resources (the economic-environmental dimension) to the role, allocation and valuation of ecosystem services provided by these natural resources (the social dimension). 


Currently, the different 'environmental' clearances consider only a part of the problem, and the interests of the tribal's are invariably neglected. For example, environmental impact assessment essentially considers the technology used and environmental damage by the pollution caused directly on air, water and soil, ignoring the changes in ecosystem services that result and the consequential economic and welfare impacts on the local population. 

The Forest Rights Act provides detailed procedures, and safeguards, only in cases where the rights of tribals are affected in critical wildlife habitats of national parks and sanctuaries, and these provisions need to be extended to diversion of forest lands for development of infrastructure projects. 


A new poverty index, recently developed by the United Nations, stresses the role of services such as electricity, water and sanitation in the eradication of poverty. It shows that the numbers of poor is more than economic indicators indicate, and has important implications for defining the resettlement or alternatives package in terms of not only compensation for land, and establishment of schools and hospitals but also access to modern services. 


The Forest Rights Act's definition of 'community forest resource' recognises that reserve forests were created out of the traditional, or customary, boundary of villages, over which all the local inhabitants had 'unlimited' rights. Therefore, there is no need to determine the nature and extent of these historical rights based on the restrictive approach taken by colonial administrators in recording such rights


We also know that markets fail to capture most ecosystem service values. Existing price signals only reflect — at best — the share of total value that relates to provisioning services like food, fuel or water and their prices may be distorted. Even these services, where carried out as part of community management of shared resources, often bypass markets. The values of other ecosystem services are generally not reflected in markets apart from a few exceptions, such as tourism. This is mainly explained by the fact that many ecosystem services are considered 'public goods' or 'common goods': they are often open access in character, but are really a community resource, and have now been recognised as such in the tribal areas, under the Forest Rights Act. 


THERE is also a lack of clarity about the nature of these rights. Private and public decisions affecting rights of forest dwellers rarely consider benefits beyond the immediate geographical area (e.g. from watershed protection). They can also overlook local public benefits (e.g. provision of food, fodder and fuel) in favour of private benefits (e.g. from mining and commercial timber extraction), even when local livelihoods are at stake, or focus on short-term gains to the detriment of the sustained supply of benefits over time (e.g. in the case of fisheries). Benefits that are felt with a long-term horizon (e.g. from climate regulation) are frequently ignored. This systematic undervaluation of ecosystem services and failure to capture the values is one of the main causes underlying today's crisis in the tribal areas. 


Public policies, therefore, have an essential role to play in ensuring that the main types of benefits are identified and taken into account in implementation of decisions affecting the rights of tribals, to avoid grossly underestimating the overall value of ecosystem services, rather than have individual tribals put forward 'claims' before the gram sabha, that are required to be based on documents they were never provided. 
    Almost exactly one hundred years ago, consequent on the reservation of village forests in Kumaon, and responding to a violent agitation, the government in fact dereserved almost half the forests and handed them back to the local community, limiting the control of the forest department to commercial transactions. Village (Van) Panchayats were established, and some of them continue to be in a better condition than reserve forests. This may well be a drastic solution, but is certainly an option that should be considered. 


Similarly, innovative strategies must focus on non-regulatory longer-term approaches to restoring, protecting and sustainably using natural resources that can also lead to new livelihood and economic opportunities for the poor and renewed ecosystem vitality, for example, payment for indigenous crops and traditional knowledge of biodiversity and water management will increase agricultural productivity, improve health and ensure long-term sustainability of forests. 


Government needs to review the policy levers, strategies and market frameworks needed for analysing, recognising and integrating the value of ecosystem services into decision-making processes vesting forest rights in tribals, as only then will the concerns of the poor be met. The way the forest conservation issue is framed around ecosystem services will determine strategic goals related to economic growth, impact on other policy arenas and alter policy objectives with respect to the poor.










THE recent observation by the PM that he would prefer a younger cabinet in the impending reshuffle has raised the issue of whether changing the age profile of the political executive would improve performance. The question assumes salience due to the near policy-paralysis and lack of direction that the present government seems caught in. Traditionally in India age has been equated with experience and accorded respect. Consequently, most of our political leaders, in contrast to western democracies, have with few exceptions, belonged to an older age group. In recent years, in keeping with the changing demographics of the country and globalisation, a younger crop of leaders have emerged in almost all political parties. Well-educated, articulate, often with degrees from world-class institutions, they are similar to young professionals who have emerged in the private sector. 


However, this shift is not reflected in the membership of the present cabinet which still consists largely of ageing leaders of the Congress party and its allies. Almost all ministers, in all the three tiers, are in their sixties or seventies, few are below age fifty. Clearly, there is a need to lower the average age of the political executive which could help bring in fresh ideas. Considering that the cabinet consists of a large number of junior ministers, it is at this level that younger persons could be inducted who could acquire the needed training and experience; creating over time a second line of leadership. Yet age is not the only criterion; experience, political support and team work is needed, particularly in handling key portfolios in large cabinets during a period of coalitions. 


The Congress has used older ministers who employ a consensual style of functioning, often with good effect. Other options also exist to improve the capability level of the executive which this government has used: bringing in experts from the private sector for ministries requiring special knowledge, a good example being Nandan Nilekani. Hence, a combination of youth, political experience and technical expertise is required for effective, modern governance.





THE population in India is young. More than 60% of India's population is in the 35 years-and-below age group. Therefore, the idea that young people must be a part of our politics and governance is a point well taken. However, India is somewhat different from Western democracies. Conventional wisdom, which comes with age, sustainable public credibility, which comes with experience, and long participation in public life also play a crucial role. 


To give two examples from the recent past. Narasimha Rao was acomparatively better PM of India. He opened up India's economy and initiated measures for reform. Manmohan Singh, as the then finance minister, could do something only as Narasimha Rao gave his political support. He was 75 when he was the PM. Then, A B Vajpayee, as PM also unleashed extraordinary development in the country, he too was 75 plus. Rajiv Gandhi, in his early 40s, received one of the biggest mandates in the history of democratic India. But if we have to recall his contribution today, except a modest computer revolution, there isn't much to write about. 

From among the CMs, Narendra Modi, Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Nitish Kumar are all young by conventional Indian political systems. But they have done very well in terms of governance in their states. Ashok Chavan in Maharashtra and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh are both young, but there is nothing to commend about their governance. 


So, the cabinet, at the state or central level, must be a blend of youth and experience. If the whole debate around the youth culture centres around the young member of the first family, then that debate is reduced to a feudal level. What pays is your credibility, accountability, integrity and genuine, not phony, concern for the poor and oppressed, and the quality of governance you are going to ensure. 


Now that Indian democracy is more than 60 years old, it is important that young people, including professionals, have a stake in the political process and enrich the quality of activism. But they will have to come through the process and not paratroop from above.









IN MY article last month (ET, Aug 8) I had argued that the main economic benefits of Regional Trading Arrangements (RTAs) must stem from increased trade among the members after the formation of the RTA. The data, however, shows that barring the case of MERCOSUR, in none of the major RTAs contracted since 1990 has intra-RTA trade expanded at any level to justify the relatively recent interest in RTAs especially among developing countries. On the other hand, the 'multilateralists' argue that RTAs imply diversion of trade from non-RTA members. 


Consequently, RTA formation moves the world away from production according to 'true' international comparative advantage. This concern also does not seem to be supported by the data. Hence, whether you look at arguments for or against RTAs, it seems to be a case of 'much ado about nothing'. Yet countries continue to contract RTAs and the growth momentum seems to be increasing rather than decreasing in the last few years. In this article I will try and look at some explanations for the continued focus on RTAs by all countries and developing countries in particular. I will then suggest how the lack of economic gains from trade and the seemingly pointless proliferation of RTAs may be explained. 


One explanation often given is that the explosion of RTAs has followed the failure of multilateralism in the form of the WTO. Countries are scrambling to avoid being 'excluded' from markets by getting into any RTA they can. But this argument can only hold for small countries and cannot explain how relatively large countries of North America, Europe and South-East Asia have been at the forefront of sponsoring RTA activity. In any case, the failure of multilateralism (or 'disillusionment' with the WTO) only pervaded thinking in developing countries after the Doha round of 2001. Yet most of the growth in RTAs preceded this round. In addition, as the experience of the recent global recession showed, the WTO actually proved worth the effort when it at least prevented tariff wars witnessed in the 1930s. Hence, multilateralism is not as dead as is commonly believed. 


The problem seems to be that the arguments for or against RTAs are based on the theoretical premises of the traditional neoclassical trade models of Ricardo and Heckscher-Ohlin. Yet, these models relate to trade among dissimilar countries. However, as I have shown in an earlier article (ET, April 9) the main growth in world trade between 1995 and 2005 has been between similar developing countries (SS trade) rather than dissimilar developed-developing countries (NS trade). Consequently, the theoretical premise for empirical measurements of the gains from RTAs is missing. 


It has also been argued that the RTA phenomenon works when there is 'deep integration' of the EU kind rather than 'shallow' (based on tariff reductions alone) integration as between Asean countries, Nafta, India-Asean, etc. In deep integration, countries free up movement of not jjust goods but of factors of production, coordinate currency movements, etc. Yet, if this is the crucial explanation, then why has the expansion of the EU from 15 countries to 27 (and counting?) after 1993 failed to generate increased within-RTA trade? 


The failure of RTAs to generate economic benefits may well be traced to their proliferation. Crucial to every RTA is the agreement on 'rules of origin' (ROOs). Readers can find details on this issue in earlier articles in this column. To summarise, as more and more RTAs are contracted, the maze of ROOs becomes mind boggling. As MFN tariff rates decline globally, the tariff advantages of an RTA may not justify the cost to traders of wading through this maze to satisfy the administrative paper work involved in gaining preferential access to RTA markets. There is some survey evidence on this for traders of South Korea, Singapore and Thailand (See my article: ET, March 12). 


However, it seems that the proliferation of RTAs is probably explained by the changing international political order after 1991: the emergence of a multipolar order as against the hegemonic US dominance prior to this. While the WTO is a unique mandatory international forum, others are likely to emerge in areas like climate change. The main fault of the WTO lies in the demonstration (especially after the Uruguay round) that distribution of global economic gains is a function of distribution of political power. As US hegemony declines, the growth of RTAs might well be a consequence of emergence of multipolar negotiating blocs. Weaker developing countries, in particular are attempting to be part of every bloc possible. Regional blocs are the most (but not only) obvious choice. 


 The bottom line? As long as global economic gains are perceived as unequally distributed, RTAs will flourish. The WTO must address this issue rather than mere tariff reductions if the proliferation of RTAs is to slow down. The issue is political not economic.








IN THE magic of the monsoons, laughter of the leaves lines the roads. The trees are never greener and more full of sap than when the Goddess Gouri arrives a day ahead of her rolypoly elephant-headed son. She personifies divine energy, a perfect foil for the darker element of Kali. They are the twin faces of the Mother, one of whom we bring home today with reverence and revelry. 


The Puranas celebrate Gouri as the Divine Mother, also the origin of the universe. Vermilion is her symbol, to be worn by her women worshippers as a mark of marital bliss and fecundity. Add turmeric and one gets the yellow and red calling card of the goddess combined with her evergreen parasol of leaves and shoots. 


Gouri also represents vernal purity and austerity. As Parvati she is the princess of the Himalaya, in love with an ashsmeared matt-haired ecstatic god of the ascetics. Siva himself tries to test her resolve in the disguise of a wise old Brahmin. He offers the nubile goddess other seemingly more prosperous and suitable godly matches. That's when the Kali inside Gouri threatens to explode. 


Parvati also matches Siva in her capacity to cut herself off from the world and to triumph over her physical needs. She lives in the heart of the forest for her tapas but she consumes not even a leaf. Thus, she becomes known as Aparna, who converts her ascetic lord into the perfect householder with her exemplary devotion and love. 


The festival of the goddess celebrates that felicitous creativity that has "no beginning and is the support of everything in the universe," according to a dialogue between the sages Hayagriva and Agastya in the Brahmanda Purana. 


The Shakta tradition places the goddess at the centre of its creation myths. Accordingly, the goddess is worshipped as ultimate reality or Para-Brahman, with Siva and all other divinities merely being her aspects. 


Sceptics and scientists favour other non-mythical explanations. In The Grand Design, his latest book, for instance, the celebrated British cosmologist Stephen Hawking argues that the creation of our universe and others simply "does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god." Such a philosophy is called ontological naturalism. It believes that there are no supernatural entities or forces and that basic science provides a 'causally complete model of reality'. But it's not as cool or green as Gouri.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Whether he is a fanatic, as Arab League chief Amr Moussa has observed, or a plain raving lunatic, Terry Jones, pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, in the US, will be inaugurating the witches' season internationally if he goes ahead with his despicable plan to burn copies of the holy Quran on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on America. That date marked the beginning of a saga of horror around the world whose protagonists are votaries of an extreme rendering of Islam in quest of political power in Muslim lands, and to extract revenge for imagined wrongs done to Muslims. It is important to note that normal, ordinary, adherents of Islam do not subscribe to the creed of the misogynists who seek to wrap the world in a web of terror. This has been seen most conspicuously in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq where Al Qaeda and its affiliates are viewed as sources of misery, not as standard-bearers of Islam, although America is hardly an object of admiration in these societies. A succession of polls attest to this. However, if Mr Jones is not stopped in his tracks, it is not unlikely that the average Muslim person will be inflamed and rush to the defence of his faith, in the process strengthening the hands of the small minority of extremists. The wave of reaction we saw in Europe and elsewhere following the unfortunate episode of a cartoon depicting the Prophet should make this amply clear. If pastor Jones and his cohorts are permitted to succeed, there is bound to be anger not only among the Muslims of the world. The ideological and political battle against terrorism will be irrevocably lost. Militarily, the tenuous progress in the so-called war against terrorism is bound to be rendered even more doubtful. There have already been protests in Afghanistan and Indonesia against the vile scheme of the Florida churchman. The atmosphere is likely to be vitiated elsewhere as well. General David Petraeus, the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, has had the good sense to warn that the torching of the Muslim holy book will endanger US troops in Afghanistan. Mr Jones has said he will take seriously the concerns of Gen. Petraeus, but someone like him cannot be trusted to do the right thing of his own accord. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has rightly noted that the burning of the Quran will be a "disrespectful, disgraceful act". And she is not alone in America to condemn the idea. The US leadership should, however, be quite clear that the tempo of international relations in the world will be rocked if the pastor is not restrained. Even non-Muslim countries might find it difficult to carry on business with the US in the old way if the hated idea comes to pass. In India, we have cohered with Muslims amongst us for more than a thousand years, and have at no point proclaimed the thesis of a "clash of civilisations". Muslims and followers of other faiths stand as co-equals in every domain, although there are occasional social strains.


Indians speak from the standpoint of this understanding of social and philosophical existence and order when they urge the West to mitigate the fury unleashed by the super-individualism that has been spawned in everyday practice in some corners of the West since the Enlightenment and the rise of capitalism. It is being reported that unless Mr Jones commits his infamy, he cannot be proceeded against under the liberal US law. This is nonsense. For "un-American" activities, the liberties of thousands of Americans wee curtailed in the McCarthy period. The American authorities must not leave anything to chance in the case of the evil pastor.








The Congress as a political party is a fascinating entity. Its sense of tradition continuity, its obsession with youth, its sense of dynasty, its idea of the future make it appear as a conglomerate of confusions. I think the presentation of a confused self is an art form. It states one is incomplete, limited, open and ready for experiments. It allows for layers of complexity, and the hypocrisy that the BJP and the CPI(M) may not possess. The latter are more simplistic bunch as they are on a core competence of competing ideologies. Ideologies simplify while the Congress lives out the complexity of its confusions.


Earlier, the complexity of the Congress was coalitional. It embodied the rainbows of the political mind, becoming a meta-narrative of politics. But the Congress' current confusions and the creativity involved in it are of a different kind. One is focusing more on the Cabinet and the party leadership. There is a part of the Congress that spouts the best of management and believes in the gospel of capital. One sees it in the behaviour of Kamal Nath, the ideas of P. Chidambaram, even the worldview of Praful Patel. To parody them, they seem to hold that investment delayed is investment denied. Opposed to them is a second network whose ideas have centered around the informal economy and ecosystem. First there is Mrs Sonia Gandhi who provides a quiet thoughtfulness to issues, a tacit confidence to NGOs working on Narega or the need for right to information. Mrs Gandhi brings a sense of detail and economy to big programmes, demanding a sense of feedback or sensitivity that the old-fashioned call "conscience".


The second figure, Jairam Ramesh, has been lambasted for political biases for harassing non-Congress regimes. The individuality of Mr Ramesh as a person has to be divorced from his social role as a minister. It is his role that is important because it emphasises issues that go beyond personalities. Mr Ramesh allowed environmental politics to move from shareholder to stakeholder politics. Environment becomes more widely representational. As a technocrat he also knows the power of method. As a politician he understands the validity of debate. By combining method as fairness with justice as a social concern, he becomes a challenge to the current ideas of development that are utterly indifferent to suffering. Ecology is back as a question of governance through all the rituals of regulation, assessment and feedback. Mr Ramesh the technocrat is a hero to the ecological movement. Tribals, whose ways of life were mere footnotes of development, have now acquired a different textual prominence in industrial clearances.


Mr Ramesh showed the same courage to tell the urban interests around the new Mumbai airport that environmental clearance is a gauntlet they have to run. After years of Mr Nath as environment minister, such behaviour comes almost like an ambush to investors and urban developers.


The debate on ecology and development still wavers at the middle range of the methodological. Method as science contends with participation as democracy. Representation becomes a turf war between the claims of experts and the arguments of NGOs dreaming alternative imaginations. But there is a new effervescence to politics creating a sense of debate between the ideas of civil society and the logic of the market. There is no reference to ethics or ideology, or to justice with a capital "J". Then comes Rahul Gandhi who clears the ethical and political decks. He states he is the voice of the Orissa tribals in Delhi. The effect is electric. It galvanises civil society and creates a sense of concern, ethics, care within what till now was a space of indifference.


I am not interested in personalities, but in the diversity of scenarios emerging in the debate. The argument of the investment-friendly trio of ministers mentioned earlier now meets the triptych of environmental sensitivity. The Cabinet has become a debating society of confusions where the left hand need not know what the right hand is doing. For the first time in decades there is a diversity of positions openly articulated in Cabinet politics. These differences cannot be reduced to personality politics or factionalism. What we have is a lattice of public debates providing a variety of mental models.


One senses the same over the violence of Naxalism. If Mr Chidambaram as home minister plays McNamara, Digvijay Singh provides a tutorial on the politics of negotiability to him. The Congress does not need Mamata Banerjee as it has a diversity of positions on the possibility of politics within it. What is seen as an embarrassment actually adds to the dynamism of politics, especially to its openness. There is nothing embarrassing about confusion. It might actually represent a new politics of authenticity.


I think the Congress should encourage such debates. The prospect is enticing. As one steps towards globalisation, clarity might be a reflection of the parochial. A whole range of issues, like terror, violence, poverty, rights, security and justice, need to be debated again. A Congress that is unafraid of controversy becomes open to new possibilities. Democracy acquires a new sense of gossip of intellectual debate.


PM Manmohan Singh is not irrelevant to all this. His is a leadership that allows the diversity. At a time when other major parties are feeling insecure and umbilical about ideology, this is an openness that the future will celebrate. Such an openness can create new thought experiments and possibilities in Kashmir. It can reopen the possibilities of the informal economy by re-creating a new politics of livelihood. The pomposity of experts need not worry us. A Congress open to the noise of politics might create a new music.








There was a fleeting moment during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's interaction with the media on September 6 when I imagined he was going to use a dreaded C-word in the context of relations with a neighbouring country. However, before the word left his lips he checked himself and fell back on a safer usage: "competition".


I did not get to hear the Prime Minister say "conflict" to describe a sticky situation with our eastern neighbour. What I did get to experience in the conference room of 7 Race Course Road, however, was the precision and calculation that moulded each of Dr Singh's pronouncements. Unlike Rajiv Gandhi who was prone to be casual in his usage or Atal Behari Vajpayee who could never resist a poetic double entendre, Dr Singh chooses his words with utmost care, cutting out all flab. His verbal missteps are rare.


This clinical approach to public pronouncements — rare in a political world where hyperbole rules the roost — may be a factor behind Dr Singh's incredible political longevity. The Prime Minister has often appeared non-threatening because he has carefully shunned the extra adjective. For a man so accomplished, he doesn't mind being regarded as a paper tiger.


The Congress Party is no doubt aware of the Prime Minister's unique attributes. Despite his image as a political lightweight who counts for little in electoral politics, the party has stuck by him for more than six years. There have been numerous frontal and sniper attacks — some orchestrated, others spontaneous — on individual ministers but so far the Prime Minister has been left out of the line of fire. The reason is obvious: Dr Singh was Mrs Sonia Gandhi's nominee for the top job and as long as he enjoys her patronage, the Congress will treat him as a holy cow.


Over the past few months this arrangement has been disturbed by what appears to be an orchestrated onslaught by leaders claiming to speak on behalf of the Congress against senior Cabinet ministers in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Whatever may have prompted Digvijay Singh, Janardhan Dwivedi and Keshava Rao to openly express their anger with P. Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal, the impression has gained ground that the regime has become dysfunctional. There is a suggestion that the "civil war" has been occasioned by the heir presumptive's apparent coming of age politically.


By suggesting that the "Congress is not an ordinary political party; it is a mass movement", the Prime Minister attempted to locate the divergence in a historical context. This explanation may not have too many takers, considering the legacy of the post-1969 Congress, but it does suggest that the Prime Minister is sufficiently worried by the impression of "drift" that he felt the need to counter it.


A flat denial that there is no dissonance between the United Progressive Alliance government and the Congress was only to be expected. However, the mere fact that this was accompanied by the broad hint of a Cabinet reshuffle before the next session of Parliament and a categorical assertion that retirement wasn't on his mind suggested that conflict resolution could include a few decisive steps.


At the risk of over-interpretation, a number of stray indicators are worth considering. First, at his media interaction, the Prime Minister was at pains to clarify that he was second to none in his determination to confront the Maoist threat, having first alerted the country to its damaging potential as far back as 2006. He supplemented this commitment with the observation that home minister Mr Chidambaram was doing "an exceedingly good job" — a testimonial that is sharply at odds with the perceptions of some leading Congress functionaries who regard him as "arrogant" and insensitive.


Secondly, replying to questions centered on the pro-active posturing of the ministry of environment and forests, Dr Singh appeared to tread the middle path. But read with his categorical assertion that the only way to bridge the gap between the two Indias was through industrialisation, and his determination to not revert to the licence-permit raj, there was an implied admission that Jairam Ramesh may have gone a bit too far.

A veiled rebuke of Mr Ramesh is by itself not very significant politically. Dr Singh, after all, also admitted that the ministry of defence led by the venerable A.K. Antony was also dragging its feet on much-needed arms purchases. But there is a difference between Mr Ramesh's crusade and Mr Antony's prevarication. Mr Ramesh had used the Sonia-led National Advisory Committee (NAC) and the grandstanding of Rahul Gandhi in Orissa's Kalahandi district to give additional political weight to his spate of non-clearances. In linking Mr Ramesh's generous over-use of the environmental veto to the re-emergence of another licence-permit regime, Dr Singh was more than expressing his displeasure: he was implicitly questioning the wisdom of the NAC's thinking.


The Prime Minister is disinclined to make casual comments. What he said last Monday may not have been scripted but it had been carefully thought through. In both his defence of Mr Chidambaram (not merely the individual but also his management of the home ministry) and his indictment of environmental over-zealousness, Dr Singh had a direct political message to his party. He seemed to be suggesting that every individual claiming privileged access to 10 Janpath doesn't have a monopoly of correctness in a broad church party.


This appears to be an audacious contradiction of the assumptions on which the Congress has hitherto proceeded. Whether Dr Singh was gently testing the waters or indicating that he can also be his own man is a matter of conjecture. Conventional wisdom would suggest that he was signalling to the Gandhis that their hounds had to be tamed — a very diluted version of his threat to resign in 2008 in case the Indo-US nuclear deal was sacrificed at the altar of expediency. The Prime Minister probably feels that after six years in office and an election victory he deserves some respect and more functional autonomy. The Cabinet reshuffle should indicate whether or not he has got his way.


n Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist








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 have 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 my country on a US state department tour in West Asia, 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 West Asia 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 September 11 attacks.


I am very sensitive to the feelings of the families of victims of 9/11, as are my fellow leaders of many faiths. We will accordingly seek the support of those families, and the support of our vibrant neighbourhood, as we consider the ultimate plans for the community centre. Our objective has always been to make this a centre for unification and healing.


Cordoba House will be built on the two fundamental commandments common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam: to love the Lord our creator with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strength; and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. We want to foster a culture of worship authentic to each religious tradition, and also a culture of forging personal bonds across religious traditions.


I do not underestimate the challenges that will be involved in bringing our work to completion. (Construction has not even begun yet.) I know there will be interest in our financing, and so we will clearly identify all of our financial backers.


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.


US President Barack Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg both spoke out in support of our project. As I travelled 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.


I therefore call upon all Americans to rise to this challenge. Let us commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 by pausing to reflect and meditate and tone down the vitriol and rhetoric that serves only to strengthen the radicals and weaken our friends' belief in our values.


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 Mohammad 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 is the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative and the imam of the Farah mosque in Lower Manhattan, New York


By arrangement with the New York Times








id Mubarak! Id-ul-Fitr is celebrated on the first day of the 10th Islamic month Shaw'waal, which marks the completion of Ramzan. The festival begins with the first sight of the new moon. For Muslims it is a joyous day of thanksgiving to God; for guiding them to follow His injunctions on fasting and softening their hearts with His remembrance during the sacred month.


Muslim communities all over the world begin the day by attending congregational prayers that are followed by a khutbah, sermon. It is then customary to embrace the persons sitting on either side, whilst greeting them. After the prayers, people visit their relatives, friends and acquaintances.


Prior to the prayers, Muslims are obliged to pay the Zakat ul-Fitr, a small amount of money to a poor person for every member of the household, including the staff and houseguests. According to tradition, Muslims don't get rewards for fasting till they have given this charity. Zakat ul-Fitr is usually three kilograms of the main item of grain consumed by a person during the year — rice, wheat, barley, etc. People generally pay the equivalent cash. Zakat ul-Fitr must be paid in the town one resides in. It is a way of sharing happiness with the poor, enabling them to enjoy the festival.


The day of Id is a day of forgiveness, a day of repentance and a day of allegiance to continue what one has done in Ramzan. Other days must also include fasting, prayer and charitable deeds. One must forgive those who have harmed or hurt us, and those who have transgressed against us for Allah clearly says that He forgives those who forgive others.


The Quran says that fasting is necessary to gain awareness of Allah and protect ourselves from harm. Fasting for six continuous days, beginning on the day after Id, is highly recommended in Islamic traditions. Prophet Mohammad said, "Whoever fasts the month of Ramzan then following it by fasting six days during the month of Shaw'waal, will be rewarded as if he has fasted the entire year".


After having renewed our relationship with Allah during Ramzan, the challenge lies in not forgetting the lessons. Ramzan goes away, but we must remember that the Lord of Ramzan is the Lord of every month and every day for Allah says never to curse time, for time is His. It is He who is the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth.


Those who have fasted and tasted hunger should not forget the experience of those who go hungry for lack of provisions. We live on a planet where millions live in slums, in poverty. Recognising the needs of poor people is one of the most important lessons of Ramzan. God warns us not to neglect the needs of these people for if Allah has tried them with poverty, He is trying us with wealth.


Another lesson learnt from Ramzan is to practise patience. This is something that should not be forgotten after Id celebrations. Allah says that the one who purifies his/her soul is the one who is successful. After a month of purification, we should continue resisting temptations that corrupt the soul.


Most Muslims read the whole Quran at least once in the Ramzan month. The primary lesson of the book is the law of spiritual cause and effect. People can get around the legalities of crime in this world, but there is no escaping the effect it has on the soul. This is a basic doctrine of every religion.


On this Id, may Allah shower His blessings on all of us, grant us with guidance and peace; may He be pleased with us and free us from fear, for whomsoever trusts the Lord, He suffices him. Once again, Id Mubarak!


— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at [1]







When I was a toddler in Newsham in Yorkshire we had friends at Hilltop Farm, and Mrs Todd used to send me to look for eggs in the boxes by the chicken run. The excitement and pleasure of lifting the lid and finding an egg — or two — in the straw is still sharp in my mind. Likewise the glee of spotting a mushroom in the woods when, later in life, I went on a mushroom hunt. The joy of finding half a crown half-buried in the sand on a beach in Cyprus, when I was six, is still fresh, and I've had an eye out for lost coins ever since. I've watched children panning for gold by the Amazon, seen pearl-fishers diving for the dreamed-of oyster which yields up a pearl, and tackled those children's puzzles in which the outline of a designated object must be divined in the tangled lines of a picture — and know from all these things that there's something quite primal and distinct about hunting for something, template in mind, and suddenly seeing it.


But I never thought a cowpat could fit the bill.


We were in Bolivia a few weeks ago, at an altitude of 15,000 feet, on a six-day walk across the treeless flanks of an Andean range called the Apolobamba. With our horses and guides we had pitched camp in blowing cloud on some lovely meadows by a stream beneath the glaciers. As the sun dropped behind the snowy peaks the temperature plunged — as it does in the thin air at very high altitudes — almost within minutes to below freezing. We six had the shelter of our tents and warm sleeping bags, of course, and a gas ring to cook on; but it was only 6.30. We could not spend all the next 12 hours asleep, and wanted to sit up, talk, and share with our guides and horsemen the bottle of Talisker whiskey I'd hidden in my rucksack. Could we make a fire, I asked the guide?


"We must not burn wood", he said, "and anyway there isn't any. But we natives of these mountains do burn...", he hesitated for a polite word, then indicated a large, dry, brown, flattish, biscuit-shaped lump about the size of a dinner plate on the grass at my feet. It was a prize cowpat, not fetid, moist and fly-blown as its British equivalent would have been, but desiccated and crisp — as anything becomes that lies for more than a few hours in the fierce sun and oven-dry air of the High Andes. "We burn this", he said.


How curious. Not a few hours beforehand, toiling up a long pass, one of my companions, who is of Sikh origin, had been explaining the caste systems of India to me. His family, he told me, belonged to the higher Sikh caste, of yeoman farmers. He explained that the lowest caste is that of dung-carrier.


We asked our guide for a big sack. There was still about half-an-hour's twilight before dark. The pasture we were camped on followed the river upstream between mountains, in a narrowing tongue for about a mile before the next pass: tomorrow's challenge. Now, we would fan out like a search party, hunting for brown gold. Our Sikh-descended friend, though offered a dispensation, volunteered to carry the sack. "Not the horse", called our guide. "It's not good for burning." I wondered if I could distinguish. "But the llama's good", he added, making a scooping motion with his palms. Llama dung, like a heap of Maltesers, comes in pellet form.


The first big cowpat I found, and perhaps the second, did not in prospect seem to invite me. But by the third I was well away. Beautifully light, entirely odourless, and structurally as rigid as a giant ginger biscuit, these droppings all but winged their way from their resting places. I soon pocketed my gloves, for greater dexterity. Absorbed in our hunt, we zigzagged across the pasture, eyes skinned in the gloom, the silence of our intense concentration broken only by the occasional whoop — "Jeez! This one's a beauty"; "Oi, come and look at this stunner: bigger than a granary loaf"; "Call that a cowpat, Lilly? I've seen more impressive fairy-cakes".


The search became competitive. One soon began to develop a sense of where a cow was more or less likely to walk, and where linger. "Losing your nose for it, Paul? I've got a lovely one you just missed under that mint bush." It grew darker, our eyes keener, the stream faster and the pasture narrower as we neared the valley's neck.


The sack was nearly full, and heavy, as we turned back home for a final ransack en route. Llama poo was now at a premium, as handfuls of this black gold would cascade down through the lumpier contents of the now-brimming sack. Llamas (as breeders will know) designate toilet areas in their fields, and the dung is concentrated here in easily accessed heaps. On my knees beside these I could scoop up armfuls in seconds.


And, ever and anon, just as all daylight seemed to be gone and the meadow had surely given up its riches, there would be another find. Lilly came in with a late bonanza the size of bicycle wheel. All of us could by now spot the difference between pieces of bovine and equine dung at 20 yards, in the near dark. Our dung-carrier was staggering beneath his load. "Take a photograph of me", he called, exultantly, "in case I ever want to drive any of my relatives to distraction". We refused.


The guides, when we returned, were vastly impressed. The men in our party (as befits men) all became instant experts on dung-firelighting, offering conflicting advice and prodding turds with professional nonchalance. But it was easy. A match, a slip of paper, a handful of straw, half-a-dozen strategically placed cowpats... and — no, not a great blaze. Dung doesn't blaze. It burns deep red with a soft, evanescent orange flame, gentle heat, almost no smoke, and no smell but a very delicate, almost autumnal tang. We made a sort of towering inferno. It was still glowing at dawn.


Talisker has never tasted so good.


* Matthew Parris is a columnist for the Times


By arrangement with the Spectator









Singur and Nandigram were exemplars of the fiasco that has marked West Bengal's land-industry construct. No investor or peasant or for that matter the political Opposition is involved in the raging kerfuffle within the government along that prime land stretch off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. The seemingly palatable concept of  "public purpose" appears to have been trashed in the fiddle that allegedly involves the KMDA. The latter's irregular sale of land to "private parties" and individuals has virtually scuttled the prospect of setting up schools and hospitals on land earmarked for the purpose. The illegality, as reported by this newspaper, has now provoked the land and land reforms department to conduct a survey of the five mouzas involved, even upgrade its revenue survey map. The survey is expected to indicate the number of plots that have been sold off illegally by the KMDA. And in a calculated move, the list furnished by the Authority is officially stated to be incomplete. The land and land reforms department has accused the urban development department of an illegality too many.  At the level of ministers, it is a tussle between the hardliner, Abdur Rezzak Mollah, and Ashok Bhattacharya, who occasionally doubles up unsuccessfully as the government's pointman in the Hills.
The government is yet to react suitably to the latest crisis along the lucrative fringes of Kolkata. The tracts were given to the KMDA by the land and land reforms department for the Asian Gateway, a project that envisages the setting up of private schools and hospitals. It is a double whammy in the truest sense of the term. Not only are the welfare "public purpose" projects set to flounder on the rock of KMDA's irregular sale; the present owners would appear to have been taken for a ride as the spurious title deeds have not been recognised for the purpose of mutation and conversion. The KMDA would appear to have violated two clauses ~ the ban on subletting and the condition that the land cannot be used for any other purpose. Mr Rezzak's department has exposed the fiddle at a particularly critical juncture for the government. The least that is expected is to abrogate the KMDA's illegal resale and, no less crucially, return the money to the buyers. The waterbodies and the land along the Bypass constitute a cesspool of irregularities. KMDA has emerged as another dubious real estate promoter... in official garb.




While the CPI-M makes desperate attempts to undo the damage caused by planting party card-holders in governing bodies of educational institutions, it cannot remove the evils of politicized unionism that are now rampant on campuses. Admittedly, administration of institutions, mainly those under the government, have suffered from serious lapses in offering appointments to teachers who have thrived more on connections than on merit. That does not justify the excess that students of Jadavpur University resorted to in protest against the administrative decision to install closed-circuit television cameras and introduce identity cards. These are considered necessary after the discovery of gaping holes in the security system that resulted in an outsider getting drowned in a pond located on the campus late in the evening. Such measures should have been introduced long ago. Identity cards are in any case basic, and now essential in a situation where security threats are real. Instances of unauthorized visitors staying overnight in hostels and, in some cases, posing a serious threat have prompted administrations to use the perfectly legitimate device of CCTVs that is standard practice elsewhere. That this should cause such resentment as to lead to officials being confined is of a piece with the tactics used by unions that embrace the fallacy of forcing three shutdowns on the same issue of a price rise.
A section of the students has been led to believe that CCTVs imply "freedoms are curtailed''. Their political mentors have apparently taught them that freedom consists not only of organizing protests against specific failures of the university administration which have in the past seen police dealing with hunger-strikers, but also demanding rights that have no connection with academic programmes. If complaints about drinking water and medical facilities deserve serious attention, no authority would concede the demand for being consulted on matters that lie exclusively in the domain of managements. A regime that needs to expand its bases among the young, who constitute a substantial segment of voters, hasn't considered it necessary to educate students on the dangers of confusing freedom with indiscipline. It has left the education system in a shambles even in establishments like Jadavpur and Presidency where students greeted a plain-speaking Montek Singh Ahluwalia with tomatoes and eggs. Last-minute damage control may no longer be of much use.



THE United Nations has admitted to its failure in Congo in an expression of sincerity individual governments would be proud of, but few are able to claim. With as many as 500 reported rapes in eastern Congo since the end of July, the world body has acknowledged that the crime signifies a "serious failure" in its mission, most importantly in the realm of human rights. The enormity of the latest human rights crisis is underscored by the promptness with which the Security Council has convened a debate on the issue. Having made an admission of its failure, one must give it to the UN that it has decided to take the comity of nations into confidence. Aside from the Council intervention, an internal inquiry has been commissioned. Also on the anvil is a fresh initiative called "Operation Shopwindow".

The UN, in particular its peace-keeping mission called Monusco, has been under attack from human rights groups, pre-eminently Oxfam, for not doing enough for the communities that it is mandated to protect. That mandate itself would appear to have emerged as a prickly issue. It is somewhat contradictory. The UN mission is mandated to protect civilians and work with the army in a country plagued by chronic strife. And it is the army that has been identified as the single worst abuser of human rights. To be effective, the UN mission also has to be decisive in its stand against the military. The helplessness is reflected in the statement of Mr Atul Khare, the UN's assistant secretary-general for peace-keeping: "While the primary responsibility for protection of civilians lies with the State ~ its national army and police force, clearly ~ we have also failed... We must do better." The Security Council debate will hopefully devise a "better" formula on protection and policing. The cycle is vicious and hideously so as rape is the standard weapon of oppression in the mineral-rich eastern Congo.








KOLKATA showcases all that can be wrong in a metropolitan city. The citizens voted for change in the recent KMC election. Politically at least, there has been a change. A new Mayor, belonging to the Trinamul Congress, has taken over. The tax-payer expects him to take immediate action to improve the roads, water supply, waste disposal, and minimise air pollution. The Mayor must exclude party politics from the improvement package. There is no scope for quick-fixes in the absence of a long-term perspective plan.  

Mamata Banerjee wants to transform this city to another London. Kolkata must be made a liveable city and not a crass replica of London. The city can no longer bask in its past. It must create a new brand image highlighting its strengths ~ technology, the fact that it is a major commercial and trading centre and the leading cultural and entertainment centre of the east. Over the past two decades, the city has witnessed improvements in the social sector as well. Whatever progress has been achieved needs to be highlighted. And now is the time for the state government to act. 

Kolkata provides job opportunities to the unskilled youth of the eastern region. They hawk their wares and live on the pavements. This is one of the seamy aspects of the city's life. Poverty exists in almost all major cities of the world, but the local authorities do not permit public display of sub-human conditions. This is an issue that the Mayor needs to address.  

The new municipal authorities must relocate the pavement shops and shanties to ensure a cleaner image of the city. The Trinamul leader must realise that pavement encroachments are not allowed in London.  There has to be a measure of discipline and people, migrants as much as locals, must abide by the law. The police and the administration have a major role to play. 

The previous municipal board neglected the roads despite the fact that Central funds were provided. Patchwork repairs tend to get washed away during the monsoon. Driving is risky because of the potholes. 
The worst roads are on the city's periphery ~ Circular Garden Reach Road, Taratala Road, Diamond Harbour Road in the south; parts of BT Road, APC Road to the north and the roads beyond EM Bypass and near Kalikapore and RN Tagore Cardiac Research Institute to the east. Coordination between the different entities, such as KMC, CESC and PWD is essential for effective maintenance of roads. Roads should be repaired between October and March, in other words well ahead of the monsoon. 

The roads need to be designed properly with a proper slope grade so that the rain  water can get drained out. Drains are clogged. The pumping stations don't function properly. And the result can be extensive waterlogging. KMC must do whatever is required to ensure that Behala and adjoining areas do not remain submerged for days. 

We are in the midst of the monsoon. and yet the Trinamul municipal board has not addressed the problem of waterlogging with the seriousness that it deserves. Thankfully, the rainfall has not been heavy enough to cause serious waterlogging. The corporation must have a special team to keep a check on water outlets, pumps and other facilities.  

Water supply is another area of concern. The added areas such as Behala are facing a shortage of water. During 2006-07, KMC had commissioned a number of water treatment plants-cum- pumping stations. It plans to set up  a 15 million gallon water treatment plant at Garden Reach and Dhapa. Wastage from roadside taps has been a perennial problem. Since migrant workers don't pay civic taxes, the KMC should instal "pay and bathe" kiosks. 
Solid waste management calls for planning and development. On an average the city generates about 2,500 tons of solid waste and the bulk of it is dumped in Dhapa. A more efficient system of collecting and recycling solid waste needs to be devised. It should be collected between 6 and 8 a.m., that is before the peak hour traffic. The waste can be separated into three categories ~ recyclable material, organic material and trash. These can then be dispatched to the respective plants. Garbage is recycled in several countries. The land required for dumping is thus reduced.  Singapore recycles 75 per cent of its solid waste. 

KMC's primary source of revenue is the  property tax. Yet there are households that pay less tax, some pay more tax, others none at all. The department is a cesspool of corruption. The tax can be reduced if the employees are bribed. In the process, the corporation loses crores by way of revenue.  

The proposed Unit Area Tax system will rationalise the process. Water tax has become a political issue. As part of its election campaign plank, Trinamul Congress had pledged that this tax would not be imposed. The fact of the matter is that KMC needs revenue to clear the loan obtained from the Asian Development Bank for the water augmentation programme. If the water tax is not imposed, then KMC will have to arrange for funds from other sources. 

Kolkata ought not to be compared with Singapore and Hong Kong. The pressure of population and lack of investment in services and infrastructure are the primary reasons for the city's decay. It cries out for huge investments, and it is here that the private sector has a major role to play.

Over the past three years, the Centre has provided funds to the major cities under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) to improve roads, services and infrastructure. The pace of implementation has been slow in Kolkata. It devolves on the new municipal board to complete the projects. 

In order to make Kolkata liveable and sustainable, the KMC in collaboration with other agencies must take steps to reduce air pollution, encourage the use of fuel efficient vehicles and introduce a tax on vehicle congestion for those travelling to the congested parts of  the city, such as BBD Bag and Esplanade. The system has effectively been introduced in Singapore and Beijing. Vehicles must be checked scientifically and the owners must not be harassed. The recent  drive by the Motor Vehicles Department to take photographs of running vehicles and send  letters to the owners is arbitrary. At the MVD, one is at the mercy of touts.  


(To be concluded)

The writer is Executive Director, Centre for Human Settlements International







FOR the first time in several years, the Congress in Karnataka, including its leaders and cadres, are upbeat. Its much advertised 300-km padayatra from Bangalore to Bellary, which started on 25 July to highlight the alleged corruption in the Yeddyurappa-run BJP government, has evoked encouraging support from its rank and file. Virtually all leaders have closed ranks to present a united front, something that was missing all these years.
Most of them had actively participated in the padayatra, which concluded on 9 August at Bellary, as they saw it as an opportunity to rejuvenate the party. Since the 2004 assembly elections, the Congress has never managed to get enough seats to form a government on its own. The 2008 polls made it worse for the party as the BJP literally wrested power from it in the state..

For RV Deshpande, president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, therefore, it was an opportunity to inject some life into the rank and file. He admitted as much to The Statesman when he said that the padayatra had indeed come as a blessing in disguise.

He also sought to draw a parallel with the padayatras of the past, emphasising that these were not new to Indian democracy. From Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave to Bahuguna, all had used the instrument to achieve different goals – from the freedom movement to Bhoodan to saving trees. The Congress's effort now is to expose misrule and maladministration of the Yeddyurappa regime during which the state has hit a new low.
The KPCC chief, however, was quick to accept that there were differences within his own party, not uncommon in a democratic set-up. Therefore, the padayatra augured well for the Congress as it would strengthen and put some spring into it's step.

Ostensibly, the marathon walk was aimed at forcing the government to order a CBI probe into the illegal mining and export of iron ore. The party's immediate targets, though, are the controversial ministers and mine barons, Janardan and Karunakar Reddy, and their confidante, Sriramulu, all hailing from Bellary, the centre of the current storm.

The Congress chief was quick to brush aside suggestions that there was an irony in the party's walkathon to Bellary. After all, in 1999, Sonia Gandhi had contested for the Lok Sabha successfully from here only to give up the seat quickly in favour of Amethi.

Since then the party had never bothered to go back to Bellary, notwithstanding the Rs 3,000-crore development package chief minister SM Krishna had announced in 2002 for the district to placate voters. It is another matter that it remained on paper, as it was meant to be.

The KPCC leader was quick to claim that it was only after the Reddy brothers dared his party leaders in the assembly to visit Bellary that the Congress picked up the gauntlet. For good measure, he hastened to add that the idea behind concluding the yatra in the district on 9 August was significant. After all, it coincided with the Quit India movement launched by Gandhi. The Congress would now make a call to the BJP to quit Karnataka.
What better place than Bellary, home to three of the most powerful and controversial state ministers. As far as he was concerned, the BJP government's days were numbered with the countdown for its downfall having started, thanks to the Congress's padayatra.

His immediate agenda, however, was to force the Yeddyurappa government to order a CBI probe into the illegal mining that had tainted the state, something the chief minister has flatly refused. Instead, he favoured an investigation by the Lokayukta, a proposal straightaway rubbished by the Congress.

The KPCC chief alleged that the chief minister wanted to protect the controversial Reddy brothers, accused of illegal mining. It was precisely why the government was shying away from calling in the apex investigating agency.

He hastened to remind that Yeddyurappa, who also holds the finance portfolio, headed most of the departments connected with the export of iron ore, including its shipment, transportation, VAT, sales tax and revenue. Surely, the minister in charge could not be ignorant of what was happening in his department considering that the Lokayukta himself had highlighted the extent of corruption involved, was the Congress leaders' refrain.
What is more, Yeddyurappa had also held the finance portfolio during the JDS-BJP regime in 2006 for at least 20 months. What was he doing then?

In fact, the Congress leader was quick to ridicule the state government's insistence on going for a probe by the Lokayukta. According to him, the government had already crippled the office of the Lokayukta by not allowing it to probe public representatives.

Second, even otherwise, if the ombudsman did decide to take the assistance of an outside agency in his investigations, he would not be able to do so independently, simply because he would have to seek the government's permission. Under the circumstances, to believe that the Lokayukta would be able to discharge his responsibilities freely and effectively would, indeed, be unfair to him.

Responding to another query on the recent ban on iron ore exports, the Congress leader was quick to accuse the chief minister of fooling the public. The controversial Reddy brothers would not be affected at all as their mines were located in Andhra Pradesh and not in Karnataka. Accordingly, they would have no difficulty in shipping their ore from ports in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The real sufferers, he said, would be the genuine exporters who would lose business worth crores of rupees following the government's "foolish" decision to ban iron ore exports.

He was also quick to remind that the BJP had gone back on the promises it made to the state's electorate in its manifesto for the 2008 elections. The BJP, he pointed out, had promised to provide foodgrains at cheap prices to the poor and to to give suo motu powers to the Lokayukta. "It has not kept its promises. Therefore, it is a vachana brasht sarkar," he said angrily..

Did he feel that it was time for the Centre to intervene? That possibility, he said, could not be dismissed considering that it was the responsibility of the UPA government to set right things. It could not shirk its responsibility towards illegal mining.

The Centre should act fast and this could happen in different ways – there was the Income-Tax Act coupled with laws against money laundering. He had already apprised his central leadership, including Sonia Gandhi, Union finance minister Pranab Mukerjee and home minister P Chidambaram of the prevailing situation. He was confident something would happen soon.

Any Central action to check illegal mining, therefore, would also boost the fortunes of the state Congress besides embarrassing the ruling party in the state.

This is what the KPCC chief is really banking on.


The writer is special representative, The Statesman, Bangalore







Officially, Egypt has no "honour" killings. Young women may commit suicide, yes, but they are never murdered. This is the government line – and of course, it is a lie. The files in Azza Suleiman's Centre for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance office – and in those of other NGOs in Cairo – tell the truth. In May of 2007, a farmer in southern Egypt decapitated his daughter after discovering she had a boyfriend. In March of 2008, a man identified only as "Mursi" electrocuted and beat to death his 17-year-old daughter because she had received a phone call from her boyfriend. "Mursi", a farmer from Kafr el-Sheikh in the Nile Delta, admitted he "beat her with a large stick" before finishing her off with electric shocks; the murder was only discovered when the body turned up at the local hospital.

Azza Suleiman's work provides much bleaker material. Incest is a major problem which no one will discuss, she says. Recently, an Egyptian man admitted killing his daughter because she was pregnant. But he was the father of his daughter's unborn child. It was a case of incest. But he killed her to protect the family's "honour". Four other women have recently been murdered by their families because they were raped. The Christian Coptic community – perhaps 10 per cent of the Egyptian population – has closed itself off from any "honour" killing investigations even though Christian girls have been murdered because they wanted to marry Muslim men. "Christians cannot talk about this outside the church," Azza Suleiman complains. "We have tried to open up shelters, but the government will not allow it. They say: 'Please, no talk of incest.' And 'honour' crimes are often also related to inheritance." 

In Egypt, according to Amal Abdelhadi of the New Woman Organisation, there are no figures for "honour" crimes or incest because such cases never reach the courts. "You can talk more easily about marital rape here," she says. "I have been in houses where whole families live in one room – grandparents, children, half the family sleeps under the bed at night and they hear everything. It's too close. It's too much. And all the young women in the family have to get married. So if one is thought to have behaved badly, then she can be killed – otherwise, none of the other girls will be able to marry. One 'honour' killing clears the way for them. This will go on as long as women are regarded as sexual objects rather than people with brains."

Egyptian judges are notorious for bending the law – or disregarding it entirely – when faced with family murders. "There was a man sentenced to six months – just six months – for killing his sister," Amal Abdelhadi says. "But the judge decided that since the man will have to live his whole life with the guilt of his killing his innocent sister, he should not go to prison!"

Travelling around the country, Azza Suleiman has noticed that judges in upper Egypt – in the poorest and least educated parts of the country – tend to be more lenient than courts in Cairo and Alexandria. And senior Muslim clerics – most of them appalled at what they know is a hidden crisis in Egypt – find their condemnation of "honour" killing hobbled by their own sponsors. Mohamed Sayyid Tantawi, a powerful Islamic scholar who was Grand Mufti of Egypt and Imam of the Al-Azhar mosque and who died last March, confronted "honour" crimes with great courage.

"But we have a big problem here because the Sheikh of Al-Azhar and the Mufti, they are not respected any more," Ms Suleiman says. "They are not trusted. And the reason is that the people know they have been appointed by the Hosni Mubarak government, which is corrupt. Tantawi was an enlightened man. He spoke very well about these murders. But he and the mufti represent the system and the people hate the system, so there is no credibility in them. And so there is a new trend. People go to their local sheikhs and tribal leaders – and many of them believe that 'honour' killings are a tradition and are not wrong."

Then there are the Egyptian courts. "In Lebanon and Jordan, they have articles in law that specifically refer to 'honour' killings. But in Egypt, the judge believes he has a special authority and Article 17 of the law allows judges to use clemency if they wish to reduce sentences – from 25 years, for example, to six months. The religious and traditional background of the judges affects them. They can say that the victim 'acted against tradition'. The murderers – the father or the brother – can therefore be considered as someone who 'acted naturally'. This provides leniency for the perpetrators. Yet our statistics suggest that 79 per cent of the girls who have been victims of 'honour' crimes here were killed out of pure suspicion – because they came home late, or because neighbours said they had seen a girl laughing loudly in the street."

Ms Suleiman is no friend of the police. "Sometimes we have three or four cases of incest and we meet with the police. We get the police to talk to the man – sometimes a woman is raped by her brother-in-law. But if a woman runs away, the police often bring the woman back to her family rather than protect her. "When I studied law at Cairo University, I was arrested by the police because I was a friend of activists in the Nasserist network at the university. When I interviewed Islamist women who had been detained, I found they had been tortured. I said this in an interview on the BBC. So the police arrested me again. They said I was 'tarnishing the reputation of Egypt'. The police here are always angry – especially when they have to deal with people who understand the law."
According to Azza Suleiman, foreign NGOs are refused projects if they make politically unacceptable remarks. She says the police have interfered with her social projects, even those intended to improve relations between Christian and Muslim women. "The police rang me and said: 'We will teach you a lesson.' So I said in a newspaper interview: 'The police are like wild dogs.' That's when they stopped our projects. The police asked me to apologise, so I did. I said: "What I said was a mistake – dogs are much nicer than the police."

the independent








The Committee of the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce have forwarded the following letter to the Calcutta Corporation on the subject of the proposed new Hackney Carriage Regulations:- 
My Committee have given their best consideration to the proposals embodied in the report and are glad to find that the Special Committee have not recommended the abolition of third class carriages. There are no doubt filthy and broken down vehicles, but the third class carriages serve a public necessity. The poorer classes generally avail of them, as they cannot afford to pay the higher fares of the second and the first class carriages. All that is required is that these carriages should be clean and substantial, so that there many be no fear of a breakdown. First class rubber-tyred phaetons alone will not do, but rubber-tyred Brownberries are required for pardanashin ladies of the wealthier classes. My Committee do not think it at all indispensable that second class carriages should be rubber-tyred, as rubber tyres would increase the cost, necessitating a corresponding increase in the fare which Indians of the middle class cannot well afford to pay. 

As regards fares, my Committee are of opinion that these should be regulated by time only without any limitation as regards distance. For, in the absence of automatic indicators of distance in a running carriage, which is, it is to be feared, neither practicable nor possible, the distance covered cannot be ascertained with any approach to accuracy ~ specially in a town like Calcutta with it network of roads and labyrinth of lanes ~ and consequently disputes between the Jehuandhis fare will be inevitable in which the latter is sure tohave the worst of it. The Committee are also of opinion that in order toreduce the present excessive fare for short distancs, a half-hour rateas proposed should be adopted. This will be greatly appreciated by the public.









With the Union cabinet approving the revocation of president's rule in the state, Jharkhand will finally get another elected government. But that is no guarantee of either a stable regime or an effective administration. Since its creation as a separate state in 2000, Jharkhand has had eight governments. Political instability has gone hand in hand with the gradual collapse of the administration in the state. This was no surprise because the short-lived governments were always busy with all kinds of manipulations in order to survive and had little time for governance. And this happened irrespective of the parties or alliances ruling the state. Arjun Munda, who is to head the next ruling alliance of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and several smaller parties, should know what it takes to keep a government in Ranchi alive. His predecessor, Shibu Soren, who had headed three previous governments, had allied with the Congress and the BJP at different times. But corruption and other criminal charges against Mr Soren and Madhu Koda, a former chief minister, showed how the leaders betrayed the tribal people's dream. However, the two national parties had no qualms about using such leaders in order to grab power in Jharkhand.


The return of an elected government should at least stop the drift in Jharkhand, one of the most lawless states in India. The Maoist insurgency has fed on the vacuum that non-functioning governments and a self-serving bureaucracy created. Yet, good governance is crucial not only to the people of Jharkhand, who are among the poorest in the country, but also to India's new economic agenda. Three states — Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa — have the largest share of India's reserves of coal, iron ore and other minerals. How the country exploits its mineral wealth may largely decide the future of its economic growth. The irony is that the poorest of India's poor, mostly tribal people, live in this mineral heartland. There is an inseparable link between the new era of mining in India and the rise of Maoism. Reducing the level of poverty among the people in this vast hinterland has thus become more important than ever before. India's new development paradigms are on test in states like Jharkhand. A responsible regime in Ranchi is a matter of national interest.








Without any violence and with the fullest use of the constitutional machinery, the Mahinda Rajapakse government has achieved a coup of sorts. The passing of the 18th amendment to Sri Lanka's constitution, with more than two-thirds majority in parliament, further strengthens Mr Rajapakse's executive presidency, which can now go beyond the earlier stipulated two-year term and control the other arms of government more effectively than it could previously. Mr Rajapakse has achieved this phenomenal elevation of his office by crippling both the legislature and the judiciary. The president now has the power to appoint the chief justice and judges of the supreme court, high courts and the court of appeal, apart from deciding on the membership of all independent commissions, among them the election commission, the human rights commission, the police commission and the commission to investigate charges of corruption. These are sweeping changes and would have encountered significant opposition on a normal day. But with a population drunk on the government's recent success over the Tamil Tigers and a toothless opposition unable to hold its own against the divisive politics of the ruling alliance, the amendment sailed through parliament effortlessly. Mr Rajapakse had judged the time perfectly when he had brought the presidential elections forward earlier this year. He has done the same with the 18th amendment. Matters of such tremendous importance to his own political well-being and that of his family, which now controls a large part of the government, could not have been left for later.


The consequences are twofold. One, the changes in Sri Lanka could lead to a steady decline in the health of its democracy. The people still remain the final arbiter of the president's political fate, but with the State machinery doing the president's bidding, any political change would now become a herculean task in the island country. Muzzled media and a stunted judiciary would make things doubly difficult. Two, a despotic government unfailingly makes the neighbourhood unsafe. India may have, for now, found a friend in Mr Rajapakse, who is even willing to accommodate India's diplomatic needs and share its concern for the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. But an all-powerful president makes India not only dependent on his munificence, but also more vulnerable than before should the friendship turn sour.








Nothing reveals more explicitly the American middle-class mind than the comic strips, otherwise known as 'funnies', carried every day in the newspapers. A recent piece of the popular Wizard of Id strip has the King of Id enquiring of his minister on measures being taken to discourage the entry of undesirable immigrants. The minister's response is suave: the problem has been taken care of; two billboards have been planted at the frontier; the first one carries the greeting, "Welcome to Id: 40 per cent unemployment"; the second is even closer to the flesh, "Don't bother, all jobs have been shipped to India."


Middle America is seething with resentment. The economic meltdown which started in 2008 persists. While gross domestic product growth has wormed its way back to an annual rate of 2 per cent or thereabouts, it is clearly not enough, for the unemployment rate stays stubbornly at 9.5 per cent, the highest since the horrendous depression days of the 1930s. Nearly 130,000 jobs, another estimate suggests, are shrinking every month in the US labour market.


Whispers and innuendos keep spreading the story: jobs for American boys and girls are disappearing both because of outsourcing to low-wage countries in Asia, particularly India, and because, in the so-called 'high tech' industries, foreigners — again mostly Indians — are crowding out US citizens. While the problem is severest in the information technology sector, banks and insurance companies are not lagging far behind. Employment opportunities, which in the normal course would have cushioned the crisis for young aspiring Americans, are allegedly vanishing overnight on account of outsourcing to Indian companies located in Bangalore or Hyderabad, which agree to do the entire package of work involved at a sum barely 5 or 10 per cent of what the wage bill would have amounted to in case American boys and girls were engaged to do the assignment. Add to that the influx of the 'software' army from India who, the complaint is posted, agree to work at 'sweat wages' high-tech jobs, thereby again dimming the prospects for US citizens. Such grumblings may in fact mirror only a quarter of the truth. What, however, matters is whether Middle America accepts these as the real state of affairs, and the US administration has to sit up and take note of opinions such as these.


Many will find the proposition difficult to swallow, but does not the situation the US is currently facing bear out the prediction that the old fox, Karl Marx, made almost a century and a half ago — an intense crisis is bound to overtake a mature capitalist economy caused by a falling tendency in the rate of profit? The US is quintessential advanced capitalist system, the world's richest country and the most industrialized. All these achievements are the outcome of steady capital accumulation. Accumulated capital has been continuously invested to further the advancement of technology, technological progress in turn has enabled both reduction of unit cost of production in different spheres and opening up of new fields of activity. The phenomenon helps entrepreneurs to economize on the use of labour in the production process, even as new job opportunities are created with the economy both growing and diversifying. Since population expands at barely one per cent per annum or even less, the supply of labour at some point actually fails to keep pace with the pace of growth of output, leading to scarcity in the labour market and an increase in the wage rate. Rising wages imply a shrinkage in entrepreneurial profit across the board, for a competitive market does not permit increase in product price to compensate for the higher wage bill.


As entrepreneurs feel the pinch, they are driven to invest in superior technology; which economizes on labour use. That apart, technological progress has a law of its own; improved technology propels the growth of still more improved technology. Induced as well as autonomous factors are therefore furiously at work within the corpus of the capitalist system. The consequence is what has come to be known as the crisis of under-consumption: induction of superior technology cuts down progressively the deployment of labour, as a result, growth of the aggregate wage packet fails to keep pace with the rate of growth of output, affecting the overall demand for goods and services; such circumstances cast a shadow on the rate of profit.


This, in reality, is the dilemma the capitalist system is facing in the US. As aggregate consumption tends to reach a plateau, entrepreneurs, to avert a fall in the rate of profit, have recourse to labour-saving technology which pares down wage cost. This increases the capital intensity of the production process, the rough equivalent of the "organic composition of capital" in Marx's terminology. But the outcome is precisely the reverse of the desired objective; the attempt to economize on the use of labour shrinks the total wage bill and therefore the aggregate demand for goods and services, thereby threatening to lower the rate of profit.


Confronted by the dilemma, industrial firms in the US have, over the past few decades, tried what they thought was an alternative approach. Instead of increasing capital intensity to reduce wage cost, the total wage bill has been sought to be curtailed by both enlarging the scale of employment of foreign, including Indian, technologists willing to accept wages lower than what American citizens demand for comparable jobs as well as by getting part of the basic work done in low-wage countries such as India. But this stratagem, too, is proving to be an illusory escape route. Whether it is exporting jobs to poorer countries or hiring foreigners who remit home most of their earnings, the result is another round of contraction in effective demand at home; the spin-off is the kind of public outcry depicted in that Wizard of Id comic strip.


There is no way of ignoring the political dimension of the problem. One of the major support bases of the Democratic Party in the US is organized labour; the party, for dear life, has to, remain sensitive to its predilections and prejudices. In contrast, the predominant majority of the country's industrial tycoons gravitate towards the Republican Party which necessarily has to pay heed to the interests and susceptibilities of, for instance, the military-industrial complex. George W. Bush, the true blue Republican, formulated his India strategy on solid domestic considerations. India offers a tantalizingly huge market — amounting to 1,500 billion dollars — for nuclear-related American industries. It made sense to Bush to hustle through the nuclear energy agreement and help lift the post-Pokhran embargo on the supply of fissionable material to India. It was also during his tenure that outsourcing of 'software' assignments to India came to prosper, which, along with economic liberalization, paved the way for the emergence of a new generation of free enterprise-friendly Indian middle class.


Barack Obama's is a different constituency. Organized labour is restless, Middle America is deeply disturbed by continuing joblessness. The nuclear deal with India, Obama and Middle America will go along with; it will boost employment in the defence industries. They will have few problems with the nuclear liability legislation as well; the maximum financial liability fixed by the Indian Parliament is peanuts, only 0.2 per cent of the total size of the nuclear export bonanza. Outsourcing and engaging foreign employees in American firms, however, involve an altogether different genre of issues. The mid-term polls are barely a few weeks away, President Obama has to make at least a gesture to assure Middle America that its worry is his worry too. To prove his credentials, he has promptly endorsed the border security bill sponsored by two Democratic Senators which ordains a hefty increase in the fees for H1-B and L visas payable by American firms wishing to engage foreigners, including Indians. Gossip is also afloat hinting at the intent of the US administration to increase the tax burden of firms which outsource job-sensitive assignments.


India has thus become sort of an adjunct of the classical capitalist crisis unfolding in the US. The ruling regime in New Delhi, representing the aspirations of India's upper classes, is all the way with the American capitalist class. Outsourcing serves the interests of capitalists over there as well as here. The masses in both countries may hold a different point of view.






Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to a few carefully selected senior media people at his residence the other day to put forth his views on issues that are besieging India. What emerged from press reports left the reader no wiser about whether a reinvented peace process was being pursued in Kashmir, or if there was a clear position on the rape of the environment by big businesses, many of which have begun mega-projects before getting legal and statutory clearances. Attitudes and aspirations have changed, but unfortunately, the men who control the offices of the top leadership seem stuck in a time warp, allowing access only to the 'converted' and keeping away all those who question decisions or demand answers and explanations.


We are not a homogeneous group that lives by one faith under one intellectual mindset. Every single corporate chief, NRI or Indian, who wants an appointment with the prime minister, gets it easily. How often does an ordinary professional or a member of an NGO, dealing with the aftermath of a criminal corporate operation as the one in Bhopal, get to meet him? Both constituencies must have equal access if we are to overcome the many divides and forge peace and development, growth and stability. One without the other is disastrous and will only polarize positions, which is unhealthy for a democracy. A prime minister must be accessible to his people, must hear and listen, explain the dichotomies and bring a delicate political balance into play. His team must be cohesive, sharp, open-minded and intelligent, and make the larger governance inclusive. It cannot be seen as pursuing one simplistic 'line'.


The exclusive encounters that are put together every now and then, without careful and meticulous planning, prove to be more detrimental than the status quo. The unnecessary and faulty 'spin' given on differing opinions and contradictions, within the government and between the government and the Congress Party, lets down the office of the prime minister. The explanations further accentuated and reinforced the prevailing divide between party positions and government decisions.


Against all odds


The veiled attack on the minister of state for environment had the corporate world delighted, particularly with the announcement of a cabinet reshuffle before the winter session of Parliament. Multinationals, as we all know, are happy to wait. I was stupefied — how could a minister of state have overruled his prime minister on the small-dam project on the Ganga and Vedanta? Surely, the prime minister forcefully backed the decision. Therefore, why demean a colleague?


In fact, 90 to 95 per cent of power, irrigation, mining and other such projects have been cleared over the last year. Why are the editors and senior journalists unaware of this truth? The ones that have not been cleared are Vedanta in Niyamgiri, Posco in Orissa, coal mining in Tadoba, roads running through statutorily declared sanctuaries, the Navi Mumbai airport et al, highlighted by the press because of reasons well know to the public at large. Surely, that is the "balance" that the prime minister mentioned. He should be delighted with the work done by his minister against all odds.I was surprised that none of the journalists asked about the spiralling corruption that is a huge deterrent for rapid industrialization and good business practice. India has a shameful record of wheeling and dealing, of strong-arm tactics being used against those who do not fall in line. No one questioned the role of the babu in a changing society. Why no debate, no fresh ideas on agriculture vs industrialization in an agrarian society to thrash out a strategy for both to bloom? Surely, it is important to raise such questions with a prime minister who is actively pursuing a higher rate of growth?



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





The dismissal from service of a professor in college in Kerala who was attacked by religious fanatics two months ago, raises disquieting questions about the extent of retribution that an offender should be subjected to. Professor T J Joseph has already suffered badly for his offence. His palm was cut off by the attackers and he suffered indescribable physical and mental agony in the last few weeks. Though the severed palm has been grafted back to the hand, he may not be able to regain full use of it. He had made a reference to the name Mohammed in a question paper for students. It was taken to be a reference to the Prophet and was therefore considered blasphemous. But he has many times made it clear that the reference was not to the Prophet. In any case he has apologised for the unintentional hurt he has caused.

It is surprising therefore that the college management sought to inflict more injury on him by terminating his services. The college has defended its action by reasoning that it was based on the recommendation of a committee that went into the issue. The committee called for disciplinary action against the professor but dismissal is punishment and not disciplinary action. Disciplinary action had already been taken against him when he was placed under suspension. He was arrested in the wake of the controversy and is facing legal proceedings. He may be punished by the court if the charges against him are proved. But the college management has no right to prejudge the case and hold him guilty before the court decides the matter. If his attackers took the law into their hands by brutally attacking him, the management has also shown scant respect for law.

The matter is not just one of legality but of propriety too. A person who went through such a horrendous experience deserved better treatment and sympathy. His treatment was expensive but he received help from others. Now his livelihood has also been taken away from him. The management should have taken a humanitarian view of his plight and considered action against him only after his guilt is proved. What did it gain any way by its action? What is the principle that it wanted to uphold? It has only invited widespread criticism and condemnation by striking at a person who is already hit and wounded. In no way is it justifiable.








The Centre will be engaging in a series of meetings at various levels and involving diverse parties and actors to discuss and resolve the Kashmir problem. A meeting between prime minister Manmohan Singh and chief minister Omar Abdullah appears to have gone off well. This is to be followed by a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security and an all-party meeting that will decide on a parliamentary delegation to Kashmir. In a bid to reach out to Kashmir's angry populace, the Centre is also said to be considering dialogue with various Kashmiri parties and groups. The proposed all-party meeting at the national level is aimed at hammering out a consensus before negotiations are initiated with the Kashmiris. How the UPA government conducts itself during the all-party meet will have ramifications for the future of the peace process. It must ensure that this is a genuinely consultative process, not just a forum to inform the opposition of its next steps.

Previous attempts at resolution of the Kashmir problem have seen the government extend generous economic packages. While unemployment is an important grievance of the Kashmiris and needs addressing, simply extending the state money will not resolve the conflict. There are political issues that successive governments at the Centre have chosen to ignore. To not pay attention to these yet again would be unwise. The Centre has said it is willing to discuss everything with the Kashmiris so long as the demands are within the framework of the Indian Constitution. Autonomy to Kashmir is provided for under Article 370 of the Constitution. It is time India implemented it in letter and spirit and tried to win over the Kashmiri people.

Reports indicate that the government is considering withdrawing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from around six districts in J&K. The political leadership should consult the army before doing so as it could have serious security ramifications. Government-appointed committees have described it as oppressive and recommended its repeal. Yet the government has been loathe to do away with it hitherto. Its withdrawal in stages will go a long way in meeting an important demand of the Kashmiris. The Centre needs to move away from its crisis management approach to one that addresses the underlying problems.







The Manmohan Singh govt has undone the hard work that Nehru had put in to efface the curse of caste from Indian politics.


Some 80,000 farmers thronged near parliament house in New Delhi last week to protest against the paltry compensation paid by the government for the land it took over in 'public interest.' An Act as old as 1847, empowers the state to acquire land in dire eventuality.

The Uttar Pradesh government has taken over hundreds of acres to build an express Yamuna corridor for the industry. True, the state is paying more or less the market price, as enjoined by a supreme court ruling. But the farmers' contention is that the land is their only asset and if it is taken away, they are left with only the cash which does not give a living to their generation depending on farming for livelihood.

Is invoking 'public interest' for industrialists justified? Essentially, it raises the same old question: how far the land or natural resources can be appropriated in the name of development? With the emphasis on growth, the question has assumed importance for the government and the people.

It is a similar situation which forced the government to dilute the scheme of special economic zone (SEZ). Large tracts were acquired 'in public interest' and passed on to big industrial or business houses which would put up a factory on a small tract of land and use the rest, hundreds of acres, to establish hotel and entertainment facilities.

Therefore, the amendment to the Land Acquisition Act was a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately, politics has devalued such an altruistic step. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress' rising star, announced his opposition to the Act, while addressing the farmers' rally. The government has promised to follow his advice.

But this is not the first time that the government has allowed him to take the credit for 'doing good.' Only a few days ago did he succeed in having a project wound up in Orissa where the tribals were up in arms. They were against the installation of a factory next to a mine-mound which they worshiped. The Centre is probably right in rejecting the project on environmental grounds. But must it be seen at the behest of Rahul Gandhi?

Politics is very much there because the tribals, once the vote bank of the ruling Congress party, have gone away from it. His address in Orissa that he was their 'sepoy at Delhi' is sheer propaganda for the Congress which has appointed him the general secretary.

The farmers in Punjab have a grievance. On reports of rotting foodgrains, the supreme court appointed commissioners to ascertain the fact. They have reported to the apex court that as much as 50,000 metric tonnes of grain have already gone bad. They dubbed negligence by officials as 'genocidal' and recommended accountability be fixed at the highest level in Central and state governments.

Cricket eating the crop

The rice which the farmers in Punjab grew last year has not yet been picked up. All godowns are full to capacity. The new crop is to arrive in three weeks' time. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, ordered by the supreme court to distribute free the rice which is lying in the open, dilly-dallied before the court snubbed him. The basic problem is that Pawar's heart is more in cricket than in the ministry he heads. A sensitive person would have resigned long ago.

The mishandling of foodgrains is only one example. The shame of Commonwealth Games is another. The government doesn't seem to be doing anything competently. It reflects some kind of panic in the ruling party. Elections are three and a half years away. No doubt, the party has lost some ground because of its ridiculous stand on the Nuclear Energy Bill.

Yet there is no viable opposition emerging on the scene. The communists who have been reduced from 60 to 16 in the Lok Sabha look like losing even their citadel, West Bengal, in the state election next year. The BJP is not gaining either. It will soon be in the midst of the Babri masjid-Ram janmabhoomi controversy — the court judgment is due by the end of September.

In fact, this is an ideal time for the Congress to rise above politics and take certain decisions which have long been pending. For example, the draconian laws which have shrunk space for democracy need to be withdrawn. In particular is the Armed Forces Act which gives right to the security forces to kill without being accountable.  

Still the government continues to make mistakes. It has decided to enumerate castes, the bane of Indian politics, for the census which started in the beginning of the year. The Manmohan Singh government has undone the work of decades that Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors had put in to efface the curse of caste from Indian body politics. Caste was the British government's innovation to create dissensions in the country.

One would have expected Manmohan Singh or the powerful Congress president Sonia Gandhi to take control of the situation. But it is Rahul Gandhi coming to the people's rescue. It does not take time to count 2 plus 2. Rahul is being projected by the ruling Congress as the next prime minister. How does the country run till then because as of today the system does not work and the entire apparatus of the government is reeking with inefficiency, ineptness and corruption?








China has passed certain very significant laws including the one providing for right to property.


The Chinese chew as much as they can digest. If the robust health of an average Chinese is reflective of their gastronomical precision, the surfeit of calm and harmony of their polity and economy is suggestive of meticulous micro management of their polity and the economy.

It is against this backdrop that the recent exhortation of Chinese premier Wen Jiaobao for people's democratic rights and political restructuring should be perceived. His call for political reforms should be viewed in the context of recent spate of suicides by factory workers, strikes and protests in some parts of China.

In January a 19-year-old worker of Foxconn, a Taiwanese based electronic major, committed suicide by jumping from his high-rise apartment in Shenzhen. It was a bizarre case of harsh and hard life of a factory worker, which is in a different context reminiscent of Charles Dickens' portrayal in some of his classical works during the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom.

A spate of suicides

Since this incident, there have been 12 other suicides or attempts. Journalist David Barboza alluding to the reasons behind such depressing cases recently wrote that "sociologists and academics see the deaths as an extreme signal of a more pervasive trend: a generation of workers rejecting the regimented hardships their predecessors endured as the cheap labour army behind China's miracle."

Besides these cases of suicides exposing the seamier sides of glitter of China's sustained double-digit growth story, there had been workers' strikes and protests in various places in recent times. In second week of June, workers at a Honda factory in Zhongshan staged a strike demanding the right to form their own labour union.

Such protests and strikes though can not be generalised, are symptomatic of the deeper malaise that afflict China's factory model of growth and development which prompted the Chinese President Hu Jintao to call for 'transforming the growth pattern.'

These undercurrents eloquently speaks that there is greater degree of aspirations and yearnings among the Chinese people to have their voices heard. China's trial and tribulations with democracy is nothing new. In the post-communist period, the pro-democracy movement of 1989 is still fresh in the memory of people both in China and outside.

Deng Xiaoping introduced economic reforms and liberalisation in 1978, which has enabled China to emerge as world's second largest economy. The challenge before China is two-fold. Domestically, Beijing needs to address the Chinese people, particularly the younger generation who grew up in the post communist period and are exposed to information communication technology, and western ideas and influences; and secondly to the outside world, particularly at a time when India has endeared itself to the West for its democracy, howsoever imperfect it may be.


One more plausible reason behind the miniscule initiative for political reforms is the Hong Kong and Taiwan factors. The former British colony reverted back to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997 under the 'one country, two systems' which provides for the continuance of the political and economic systems inherited from the British for 50 years and to adhere to a roadmap for democracy prescribed by Hong Kong's last governor Chris Patten.

China of course does not support Patten's proposal in toto. At the same time, China does not want to disturb the apple cart. The success of Hong Kong's  'one country, two systems' is of great political significance to China to cajole Taiwan with which China recently signed the historic trade pact facilitating greater degree of economic integration between the two sides.

No wonder in recent years, China has passed certain very significant laws including the one providing for right to property. The composition of Chinese Communist Party and the National People's Congress have also been changed to include rich entrepreneurs and business tycoons.

Political reforms in China, if there will be anything of the sort, will be under the gaze of the Communist party. The communist regime will, however, humanise further. The most resounding example being the recent move to do away with death penalty which has sparked off a debate in China.

Globalisation and technological revolution in ICT in particular will cast a sobering effect on the state and the Communist Party. There may be democracy in China but it will not be in line with the western liberal tradition of electoral politics of multiparty democracy; it will somewhat remotely approximate the Singapore variant of democracy.

(The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi)







They exchange dog notes and in any new meeting, the dogs are introduced first.


Forgive me if I sound mean. But, people walking their dogs in the morning can be a constant source of humour. Dressed impeccably from head to toe, they grandly set out with their dogs on designer leashes. With their noses up in the air, both the dogs and their owners, literally look down upon those of us who walk in human company, without a dog in tow. They befriend fellow dog walkers and any conversation they have is effortlessly directed back to the topic of dogs. They exchange dog notes, like people who like their dogs and despise people who don't, seem to remember people by associating them with their dogs, and in any new meeting the dogs are introduced first.

The conversation that flows effortlessly between fellow dog walkers is worth lending an ear to. For, they refer to themselves as mummies and daddies of their dogs and talk about them the way other people talk about their children. In a great show of affection, they coo, cluck, whistle and make kissy noises to their dogs all along. They even lovingly pat their backs and kiss them on their snouts, even when they know where their snouts had been, and readily accept their slobbery kisses.

As dogs go sniffing around, their owners dutifully follow. When dogs spot the right pole, tree or car tyre to lift their hind legs up to do the act, dog owners happily let them do it, unmindful of the ugly stares darted by crusaders of clean environment. Worse still, when dogs decide to empty their bowels, they either choose the walkway or the well-manicured lawn in the park and their owners have no problem with it. They lovingly watch their dogs' rearsides even as poop pops out. I often wonder how something as disgusting as dog poop can evoke such a Buddha-esque expression in dog owners' faces!

The most hilarious part of trailing dog walkers is when dogs play and forget to do their 'job' while their owners sheepishly grin at passerby while reminding their dogs what they are out there for with a loud, "Pee now".

Here's a brain teaser. Why do most dogs sport foreign names? It's always Benzy, Rocky, Snoopy or Daisy, localised to Benji, Raakhi, Snoofy or Daijy, much to our comic delight. It also baffles me no end that dogs are always spoken to in English. While it's the vernacular with family and friends, it is always 'come, go, sit' in English for dogs.

Never mind, yank the comic leash and thank god for giving a reason to laugh about every morning. It's a dog's world after all!










Of all the ways to socialize in the city, for Annie Ettinger, nothing beats flashing four of a kind at a table of obsessive poker players. She raked in $150 with that hand at one of her countless all-night poker games in roaming illegal dens across the last 70 years.


"I have made the most wonderful friends playing poker — all kinds of people play poker," said Ettinger, who is no high roller but has been enthralled lifelong with gamers at $10 ante tables.


Ettinger can only miss the action now that she is too infirm to make her rounds of amiable, outlawed haunts and buck the odds with buddies. It's legal for New Yorkers to play for money but illegal when an entrepreneur gathers them in comfort for profit. "We'd pay $30 entry at well-run games at the old Mayfair Club on East 25th Street before Giuliani shut it down," said Ettinger, who is no fan of politicians' meddling in the recreation of working stiffs.


But her games tended to outlast politicians. "People who want to gamble, they don't care. They just go," she said, celebrating bonhomie more than betting. Online gambling from home? A nonstarter. No match for Marvin the accountant's husky one-liners and all the wit and grit as the cards were dealt three years ago at what was dubbed the geriatric table. That was in a many tabled den off Fifth Avenue held up by inept bandits who fatally shotgunned her friend playing Texas Hold 'em.


Ettinger got stuck with $340 in worthless chips when the bandits fled with the cash bank from 150 players. "I knew I'd be back playing the next week," she said. But now she has to concede that she's played out her string and needs a cane more than four of a kind.


The city is better defined by biography than skyscrapers and monuments. When I asked Ettinger to summarize her 84 years-and-counting, she happily shot back: "I was a high school dropout, who became a chorus girl, who played high-stakes poker, and who still studies Shakespeare."







Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has spent nearly 15 months weighing new mandatory rape prevention policies for federal prisons and state correctional institutions that receive federal money. The policies, which are due this fall, need to be as tough as possible.


A recent report from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics makes that clear, suggesting yet again that sexual violence is frighteningly commonplace in the nation's prisons and jails.


Based on a survey of more than 80,000 inmates at more than 450 facilities, it found that 4.4 percent of prison inmates and 3.1 percent of jail inmates reported being sexually assaulted one or more times. The bureau estimates that, nationally, 88,500 prison and jail inmates experienced some form of sexual victimization in the previous 12 months. The survey did not include follow-up investigations to determine the veracity of the inmates' claims. But rape victims in prison are often hesitant to report their assaults out of shame or fear of reprisal, and these numbers may actually underestimate the problem.


The report's finding that some prisons have far higher rates of victimization than others are consistent with the findings of the Congressionally mandated National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. It studied this problem extensively and found that some prisons promoted a climate of safety while others implicitly tolerated abuse.


The commission came up with a strong set of prevention recommendations. These included better screening and training for guards, better medical and psychiatric care for assault victims, better protection for the most vulnerable inmates and the creation of a system that allows victims to report rape without risk of reprisal. Mr. Holder received the commission's recommendations in June last year and then put them out for public comment, raising fears that state and local corrections officials would water them down. Mr. Holder needs to ensure that doesn't happen.







Iran has spent the last four years ignoring the United Nations' order to stop enriching uranium. And far too many of the world's major players have spent the last four years ignoring Iran's defiance.


The good news is that many countries are finally waking up to the danger. In the three months since the United Nations Security Council adopted its latest round of sanctions, a growing number is turning up the heat on Tehran, implementing the United Nations penalties and, in some cases, going beyond them.


The United States, the European Union, Canada and Australia have approved national sanctions that aim to choke off Iran's access to foreign capital, halt investment in its energy sector and impede its shipping industry.


In recent days, Japan barred all transactions with 15 Iranian banks, the United Arab Emirates froze four Iranian bank accounts and South Korea announced plans to restrict foreign exchange transactions for 126 Iranian companies and individuals — including the only Asian branch of Bank Mellat, one of Iran's largest banks. The sanctioned accounts, institutions and individuals are all associated with Iran's nuclear or missile programs.


The Obama administration, which has been pressing allies and others to take a much tougher line, went even further on Tuesday, sanctioning an Iranian-owned bank in Germany, the European-Iranian Trade Bank, or E.I.H. Bank, which is accused of facilitating billions of dollars of transactions for blacklisted Iranian companies. The move effectively shuts E.I.H. out of the American financial system.


Iran's government — so far at least — remains defiant. According to the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iranian scientists are continuing their slow but steady production of low-enriched uranium and now have 6,108 pounds, up 15 percent from June. With further enrichment, that would be enough fuel for about two nuclear weapons.


Tehran has a long and cynical history of hiding nuclear facilities — including its main enrichment site at Natanz and more recently discovered enrichment facility at Qum. If that isn't enough, an Iranian dissident group on Thursday said it has found evidence of yet another secret nuclear site. And Iran is still refusing to fully cooperate with inspections by the atomic energy agency. For the past two years, Iran has barred two of the agency's most experienced monitors. The report also says Iran is continuing to refuse to answer questions about whether it is hiding other facilities and whether its program has military uses, including a suspected project to fit a nuclear warhead on a missile.


American officials say said the new sanctions are beginning to bite — choking Iran's access to foreign capital, trade and investments. If there is any chance of changing Tehran's behavior, it is clearly going to take more pressure and more time.


Countries that have adopted sanctions already need to implement them robustly. We are sure that the United Arab Emirates, a major hub for Iranian business activity, can find more than four accounts to freeze. Countries that for political or economic reasons are still enabling Iran — China comes immediately to mind — need to read that I.A.E.A. report again.

Tehran, predictably, insists it is not building a weapon. Its refusal to halt enrichment and cooperate with the

I.A.E.A. makes that ever more impossible to believe.







The nature of state judicial elections has changed dramatically in recent years, and not for the better.


Expanding their influence-peddling efforts beyond executive offices, like president and governor, and legislative offices, like Congress and state legislatures, well-heeled special interests have become a dominant force in crucial state judicial races.


The alarming result: raucous campaigns with cheesy television attack ads paid for by influence seekers. These trends have grievously compromised judicial neutrality and the appearance of neutrality at the core of the nation's justice system.


A valuable new report by three nonpartisan legal reform groups — the Justice at Stake Campaign, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics — spotlights the ballooning problem.


Thirty-nine states hold judicial elections. Between 1990 and 1999, campaign fund-raising by State Supreme Court candidates totaled $83.3 million, according to the report, a troubling escalation from the previous decade but less than half the $206 million raised between 2000 and 2009. The collective $6 million raised by top court aspirants at the dawn of the 1990s now seems a mere trickle compared with the $45 million-plus reported during the 2008 election cycle.


These numbers actually understate big money's role. Increasingly, the report notes, special-interest groups operating independently of candidates' campaigns pour millions more into judicial elections, often in ways designed to avoid financial disclosure. Business and conservative interests, unions, political parties and trial lawyers predominate in the judicial money game.


The ugly trend toward corrosive big money judicial elections is apt to continue in the upcoming midterm elections, when hot judicial fights are forecast in several states, including Alabama, Michigan and Illinois. The United States Supreme Court hardly helped matters with its ignominious ruling in January allowing free corporate and union spending in political campaigns, including in judicial races.


"Left unaddressed, the perception that justice is for sale will undermine the rule of law that the courts are supposed to uphold," Sandra Day O'Connor, the retired Supreme Court justice, wrote in a foreword to the report. The fight for basic reforms, such as switching from judicial elections to a merit-based appointive system, and adopting tough rules barring judges from ruling in cases involving major financial supporters, must be pursued with fresh urgency.










"Japan's problems now are the same as they were in the 1990s, when you were writing about them. It's depressing." So declared one economist I spoke to here. "But the Japanese don't seem all that depressed," objected another. Both were right — and the conversation crystallized some thoughts I've been having about Japan's situation, and ours.


A decade ago, Japan was a byword for failed economic policies: years after its real estate bubble burst, it was still suffering from chronic deflation and slow growth. Then America had its own bubble, bust and crisis. And these days, Japan's record doesn't look that bad to an American eye.


Why not? For all its flaws, Japanese policy limited and contained the damage from a financial bust. And the question in America now is whether we'll do the same — or whether we will take a hard right turn into economic disaster.


In the 1990s, Japan conducted a dress rehearsal for the crisis that struck much of the world in 2008. Runaway banks fueled a bubble in land prices; when the bubble burst, these banks were severely weakened, as were the balance sheets of everyone who had borrowed in the belief that land prices would stay high. The result was protracted economic weakness.


And the policy response was too little, too late. The Bank of Japan cut interest rates and took other steps to pump up spending, but it was always behind the curve and persistent deflation took hold. The government propped up employment with public works programs, but its efforts were never focused enough to start a self-sustaining recovery. Banks were kept afloat, but were slow to face up to bad debts and resume lending. The result of inadequate policy was an economy that remains depressed to this day.


Yet the picture is grayish rather than pitch black. Japan's economy may be depressed, but it's not in a depression. The employment picture has been troubled, with a growing number of "freeters" living from temporary job to temporary job. But thanks to those government job-creation plans, the country isn't suffering mass unemployment. Debt has risen, but despite constant warnings of imminent crisis — and even downgrades from rating agencies back in 2002 — the government is still able to borrow, long term, at an interest rate of only 1.1 percent.


In short, Japan's performance has been disappointing but not disastrous. And given the policy agenda of America's right, that's a performance we may wish we'd managed to match.


Like their Japanese counterparts, American policy makers initially responded to a burst bubble and a financial crisis with half-measures. I've lamented that fact, but at this point it's water under the bridge. The question is: What happens now?


Republican obstruction means that the best we can hope for in the near future are palliative measures — modest additional spending like the infrastructure program President Obama proposed this week, aid to state and local governments to help them avoid severe further cutbacks, aid to the unemployed to reduce hardship and maintain spending power.


Even with such measures, we'll be lucky to do as well as Japan did at limiting the human and economic cost of the economy's financial woes. But it's by no means certain that we'll do even that much. If the Republicans go beyond obstruction to actually setting policy — which they might if they win big in November — we'll be on our way to economic performance that makes Japan look like the promised land.


It's hard to overstate how destructive the economic ideas offered earlier this week by John Boehner, the House minority leader, would be if put into practice. Basically, he proposes two things: large tax cuts for the wealthy that would increase the budget deficit while doing little to support the economy, and sharp spending cuts that would depress the economy while doing little to improve budget prospects. Fewer jobs and bigger deficits — the perfect combination.


More broadly, if Republicans regain power, they will surely do what they did during the Bush years: they won't seriously try to address the economy's troubles; they'll just use those troubles as an excuse to push the usual agenda, including Social Security privatization. They'll also surely try to repeal health reform, which would be another twofer, reducing economic security even as it increases long-term deficits.


So I find myself almost envying the Japanese. Yes, their performance has been disappointing. But things could have been worse. And the case Democrats now need to make — the case the president finally began to make in Cleveland this week — is that if Republicans regain power, things will indeed be worse. Americans, understandably, are disappointed over, frustrated with and angry about the state of the economy; but disappointment is better than disaster.









THE trade figures from the Commerce Department this week aren't pretty: despite anemic economic growth, so far this year America's trade deficit has hit $289 billion, compared with $204 billion for the same period in 2009.


For many people, the trade deficit seems unrelated to the nation's continued economic crisis. But it is actually a central reason why American growth has lagged and President Obama's stimulus hasn't led to a robust recovery: since February 2009, the government has injected $512 billion into the American economy, but during roughly the same period, the trade deficit leaked about $602 billion out of it and into foreign markets.


Consequently, a successful recovery strategy will require aggressive measures to reduce the trade deficit — including new and expanded tariffs to encourage the sale of domestic goods over imports and a serious reindustrialization policy to create the manufacturing strength to exploit these new opportunities.


Advocates of traditional stimulus measures, like increased government spending or tax cuts, rely on recovery models rooted in, respectively, the 1930s and 1980s. Back then government stimulus and tax cuts made sense, because Americans spent almost all the new money on domestically produced goods and services.


For the last few decades, though, our growing trade deficit has undermined the relationship between spending and growth. Today Americans purchase so many foreign-produced goods and services that even large stimulus programs produce virtually no new net growth or employment at home.


Of course, trade deficits have subtracted from American economic prosperity for decades. But until recently, that damage was masked by artificial sources of growth, like the last decade's credit and housing bubbles. With these phony economic engines gone, the trade deficit's impact has become painfully clear.


President Obama's pledge to double exports in five years at least shows the White House is aware of the problem. But without greater reductions in imports, even a doubling of exports would fail to generate substantial net growth or job increases.


It's also true, as some claim, that the rising personal saving rate could reduce the trade deficit. Indeed, the deficit dropped from July to August in part because American consumers saved more and thus bought fewer foreign goods and services. But increased saving cuts both ways — consumers buy fewer domestic goods and services, too. Higher savings might bring down our trade deficit, but growth would still stagnate.


Fortunately, the government can take other, more effective steps to reduce the trade deficit. For starters, Congress and the president should allow American victims of currency manipulation — primarily industrial companies whose prices are kept artificially high when trade partners keep their currencies under-valued — to obtain compensatory tariffs against currency-subsidized imports.


Second, "Buy American" requirements for federal procurement should be expanded to cover all spending at every level of government.


Also essential is a border tax to counter foreign export rebates. In countries with value-added taxes, those levies are returned to producers when they export their goods — which allows them to lower their products' prices in our market. In response, we can ensure fair competition in our home market by applying a tax equal to the rebate upon a product's entry to the American market.


Finally, America needs more sweeping and proactive tariffs on foreign goods and services that compete directly with existing and start-up domestic producers. Opponents insist that significant tariffs would increase international trade tensions. Experience, however, suggests otherwise.


In 1971, President Richard Nixon set unilateral tariffs against Japan, Germany and other countries that refused to let their currencies rise in value. Far from setting off a trade war, the tariffs persuaded other countries to help rebalance the world economy cooperatively. There's no reason the same thing couldn't happen today.


These steps would revolutionize American trade policy. They would require suspending some international trade obligations Washington has spent years fighting for. But in such perilous economic times, trade-policy conventions can hardly remain sacrosanct. Otherwise, imports will continue to sabotage the recovery.


Alan Tonelson, a fellow at the United States Business and Industry Council, is the author of "The Race to the Bottom." Kevin L. Kearns is the president of the council, which is an association of small manufacturers.








Most people who lived in the year 1800 were scarcely richer than people who lived in the year 100,000 B.C. Their diets were no better. They were no taller, and they did not live longer.


Then, sometime around 1800, economic growth took off — in Britain first, then elsewhere. How did this growth start? In his book "The Enlightened Economy," Joel Mokyr of Northwestern University argues that the crucial change happened in people's minds. Because of a series of cultural shifts, technicians started taking scientific knowledge and putting it to practical use. For example, entrepreneurs applied geological research to the businesses of mining and transportation.


Britain soon dominated the world. But then it declined. Again, the crucial change was in people's minds. As the historian Correlli Barnett chronicled, the great-great-grandchildren of the empire builders withdrew from commerce, tried to rise above practical knowledge and had more genteel attitudes about how to live.


This history is relevant today because 65 percent of Americans believe their nation is now in decline, according to this week's NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. And it is true: Today's economic problems are structural, not cyclical. We are in the middle of yet another jobless recovery. Wages have been lagging for decades. Our labor market woes are deep and intractable.


The first lesson from the economic historians is that we should try to understand our situation by looking for shifts in ideas and values, not just material changes. Furthermore, most fundamental economic pivot points are poorly understood by people at the time.


If you look at America from this perspective, you do see something akin to the "British disease." After decades of affluence, the U.S. has drifted away from the hardheaded practical mentality that built the nation's wealth in the first place.


The shift is evident at all levels of society. First, the elites. America's brightest minds have been abandoning industry and technical enterprise in favor of more prestigious but less productive fields like law, finance, consulting and nonprofit activism.


It would be embarrassing or at least countercultural for an Ivy League grad to go to Akron and work for a small manufacturing company. By contrast, in 2007, 58 percent of male Harvard graduates and 43 percent of female graduates went into finance and consulting.


The shift away from commercial values has been expressed well by Michelle Obama in a series of speeches. "Don't go into corporate America," she told a group of women in Ohio. "You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. ... Make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry." As talented people adopt those priorities, America may become more humane, but it will be less prosperous.


Then there's the middle class. The emergence of a service economy created a large population of junior and midlevel office workers. These white-collar workers absorbed their lifestyle standards from the Huxtable family of "The Cosby Show," not the Kramden family of "The Honeymooners." As these information workers tried to build lifestyles that fit their station, consumption and debt levels soared. The trade deficit exploded. The economy adjusted to meet their demand — underinvesting in manufacturing and tradable goods and overinvesting in retail and housing.


These office workers did not want their children regressing back to the working class, so you saw an explosion of communications majors and a shortage of high-skill technical workers. One of the perversities of this recession is that as the unemployment rate has risen, the job vacancy rate has risen, too. Manufacturing firms can't find skilled machinists. Narayana Kocherlakota of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank calculates that if we had a normal match between the skills workers possess and the skills employers require, then the unemployment rate would be 6.5 percent, not 9.6 percent.


There are several factors contributing to this mismatch (people are finding it hard to sell their homes and move to new opportunities), but one problem is that we have too many mortgage brokers and not enough mechanics.


Finally, there's the lower class. The problem here is social breakdown. Something like a quarter to a third of American children are living with one or no parents, in chaotic neighborhoods with failing schools. A gigantic slice of America's human capital is vastly underused, and it has been that way for a generation.


Personally, I'm not convinced we're in decline. There are strengths to counter these weaknesses. But the value shifts are real. Up and down society, people are moving away from commercial, productive activities and toward pleasant, enlightened but less productive ones.


We can get distracted by short-term stimulus debates, but those are irrelevant by now. The real issues are whether the United States is content with gentility shift and whether there is anything that can be done about it in any case.








Few would have been surprised if Americans had lashed out angrily at Muslims immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Instead, the nastiness was confined to scattered incidents as President Bush and others corked a potential geyser of hate with messages of reason.


As the ninth anniversary of the attacks arrives, reason seems in shorter supply, threatened by controversies over plans to burn Qurans or build a mosque near Ground Zero.


In another time, neither would have drawn much national attention.


The Quran burning, timed to mark the anniversary, was the dunder-headed idea of Terry Jones, obscure pastor of an equally obscure Florida church. To feed his own ego, or to stoke his zealotry, or for whatever other misguided reasons he may have had, Jones milked the plan for every ounce of publicity he could get before cancelling late Thursday. Days earlier, he had vowed to go ahead even as he agreed with Gen.David Petraeus' assessment that the burning might cost American lives.


That a few such craven souls exist in a nation of 300 million people is hardly surprising. Nor is the fact that they get so much attention. That is just the nature of an age in which anyone with a webcam can reach a global audience by being provocative.


What is not set in stone, though, is the response, particularly by political leaders.


It is surely tempting for reasonable people in power to try to ignore a gnat like Jones. But once the gnat's shadow grows large, silence is unworkable. Bigotry needs to be condemned as broadly and as quickly as possible.


That happened too slowly in Jones' case, at least until Petraeus spoke up. Then leaders in both parties followed, as did religious figures, putting an end to it, at least for now.


The same has not been the case with the mosque. Far from it. Entirely too many leaders have used the mosque's dubious connection to Ground Zero as a way to stoke Islamophobia, either for political gain or because they're so overwrought themselves that they've lost track of the obvious fact that few American Muslims are disciples of Osama bin Laden or ever will be — unless pushed there by the discrimination that Islamophobes seek.


The price for this silence and opportunism is already being paid in irrational anger and ignorance.


A recent Newsweekpoll showed that 20% of Americans think "many" or "most" American Muslims support al-Qaeda, that 24% believe President Obama is a Muslim and that a striking 52% of Republicans believe Obama wants to spread sharia — Islamic law — around the world. In other words, they think the president of the United States is aiding an enemy.


In this paranoia, you can hear the faint echoes of the 1950s Red Scare, when witch hunters led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., persecuted anyone they suspected of having some vague communist connection. Replace the words "Muslim" in today's increasingly strident rhetoric with "communist," and the parallels are disturbing.


A repeat of '50s-level hysteria still seems unlikely, but it will remain so only as long as political leaders, heeding the lessons of history, kill bigotry in the crib.


Here's hoping that by the 10th anniversary of 9/11, they're doing a better job.







Nine years ago, al-Qaeda seemed to be a fearsome enemy that could strike here without warning. After almost a decade without a successful follow-up attack on U.S. soil, officials commonly portray the organization as badly weakened, with core members in the hundreds and its leaders relegated to hiding in caves.


The reality is somewhere between those extremes, of course. The group itself may be small and hunted, but its imitators and allies are increasingly active, and they keep trying to attack here. The attempted Christmas bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner was done by a militant from Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the failed car bombing in New York's Times Square in May was conducted by someone trained by the Pakistani Taliban.


Just as ominous is the small surge of Americans who have joined up, such as Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and former Colorado State student who distributes his seductive calls to jihad in American English from somewhere in Yemen.


Attacks by al-Qaeda allies have continued overseas, though mostly not at American targets. Late last month, al-Qaeda inIraq mounted car-bomb, IED and hit-and-run attacks in 13 Iraqi cities and towns that killed 56 people. The Somali affiliate, al-Shabab, struck in July at Uganda (which has sent peacekeeping troops to Somalia) by bombing two gatherings where fans were watching the World Cup, killing more than 70.


Unsurprisingly, it is this mindless ferocity that is one of the most effective weapons against al-Qaeda and its imitators. The group's merciless brutality in Iraq helped push insurgents there into an alliance with American forces to fight their common enemy. Polling also finds that it is alienating Muslims in numerous other countries.


So nine years later, al-Qaeda is ailing but still dangerous. For self-protection and to send an unmistakable message about what happens to those who attack the United States, it must be destroyed.


The tougher question is how to do so without becoming entangled in conflicts across the globe —Osama bin Laden's original goal. The answers are still evolving, but if we ever hope to observe a 9/11 anniversary in peace, that trap must be avoided, and that begins with getting bin Laden himself.








Saturday's ninth anniversary of 9/11 is stirring a variety of emotions and reactions to the then and the now. It should cause us all to reflect and think, calmly and realistically. If we do that, we can benefit from the best and the worst of what happened.




•The way we all came together to support Mayor Rudy Giuliani as he held New York City together after the attack.


•The way nearly all of us supported President George W. Bush in promptly attackingAfghanistan to try to get Osama bin Laden and his relatively small al-Qaeda gang that engineered 9/11.




•Congress and most of the country supporting President Bush when he abandoned Afghanistan after bin Laden escaped to Pakistan and instead invaded Iraq under false pretenses that it was harboring weapons of mass destruction.


•President Obama and Congress continuing the needless and hopeless troop-killing and bank-breaking war in Afghanistan even though hard-core al-Qaeda is gone and most in the Taliban want to raise poppies for opium.


One of the unfortunate aftermaths of many disasters is that we tend to blame a category of those who caused it, rather than individuals. Examples:


Adolf Hitler was responsible for World War II. Many of us blamed the German people, although many or most were misled by him.


•Ho Chi Minh was responsible for Vietnam. The Vietnamese people were not, although many in the north willingly or unwillingly followed him.


Bad guys still do run many countries. For us to think that we can or should control them all is unrealistic. For us to sacrifice untold numbers of military lives and umpteen trillions of dollars to try is utter nonsense.


These should be 9/11's lasting lessons.


Feedback: Other views on aftermaths of 9/11


"Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for the largest mass murder in American history, remains free despite the half-trillion dollars that U.S. intelligence agencies have consumed since 9/11; a scandal."


Peter Bergen, journalist, and author of The Osama bin Laden I Know and Holy War, Inc.


"We must provide care to thousands of first responders and survivors who suffer life-threatening, long-term health problems from exposure to dangerous toxins at Ground Zero."


 Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.








The report reads optimistically, "Yes We Can." Its cover shows a bright-eyed African-American boy, wearing a white shirt and striped tie, having a private moment with President Obama. From the cover photo ofThe Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males, 2010, I expect good news.


While the report contains positive exhortations that all children can learn and that anything is possible, the news it shares is hardly good. Just 47% of African-American boys graduate from high school on time.


The rate in Maine (which is less than 1% African American) is a high 98%. In Newark, thanks to increased funding, the rate has increased from 47% in 2002 to 75% in 2008. But in New York City, the graduation rate for black male students was 28%, in Detroit, 27%, and in Charlotte, 39%.


These low graduation rates have long-term implications for the labor market. John H. Jackson, president of the Schott Foundation, which does research and develops policy, says 1.2 million black male students drop out of school each year. What happens to them? Some will fill the prison pipeline; others will face the consequences of poor education with a lifetime of poor job prospects. Our nation's productivity can't afford to sideline even a few of these young men. The president has challenged our nation's educators to close the achievement gap.


How do we do it? Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children's Zone, a series of school and afterschool programs for Harlem students, says that educational efforts for black male students must "start before kindergarten and extend beyond the classroom."


Tim King, founder of Chicago Urban Prep Academies, graduated 100% of his male students this fall, and every one of them went to college. His secret: a year-round, morning-to-evening program and lots of support services. Meanwhile, those in Chicago's public school attend school fewer than 1,000 hours a year compared with 1,300 hours at Urban Prep.


The fall is always an exciting time for educators who relish the energy of new students. The tragedy of this season, though, is that millions who have been turned off by school won't come back. The Schott Foundation report reminds us that there is much to do to make education accessible to everyone, especially black males. Educators such as Canada and King offer effective ways to keep these students engaged in their education and in our nation's productivity.


Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.







Peggy Noonan, columnist, in The Wall Street Journal: "Eight weeks out and you don't have to be a political professional to feel what's in the air: The Republicans have a big win coming. The question in the House races is: Will they get to 218? Will Republicans pick up the 39 seats they need to win control of the 435-member chamber? ... The news is so good it's prompting mutterings on the right: The liberal media are trumpeting the inevitable GOP triumph to make the base complacent and the party peak early. Anything but a Democratic debacle will be spun as proof that President Obama's support, while soft, endures."


Andrew Sullivan, blogger, on The Daily Dish of The Atlantic: "I find the current GOP about as repellent as anyone. I can also believe, as I do, that the stimulus of the last two years was a sadly necessary measure to prevent the bottom falling out in ways no one could have controlled, once started. ... But in a strange way, the more anti-debt and anti-spending their rhetoric becomes and the plainer it is that serious defense and entitlement cuts are necessary for the problem to be solved, the more I'd like to see the GOP be deprived of their obstructionist no-responsibility posturing of the last two years. I'd like to see their bluff called on spending to escape the current impasse and get to a real debate rather than a phony one. If they win back the House, as it seems inevitable they will, they will have to offer something at last instead of criticizing everything in comically tired tropes and waiting for 2012, as the president is stymied from enacting the reformist change we elected him for."


Dhruv K. Singhal, associate editorial editor, The Harvard Crimson: "To many, it may seem counterintuitive to label the 2010 midterm election campaign 'The Year of the Moderate.' Most of the commentary about the upcoming election has focused exclusively on the waxing influence of the 'Tea Party' movement and the rise of raving, right-wing fundamentalists. ... However, drowned out by the din of the teabag-wielding rabbles and the foaming-at-the-mouth Republican nominees is the promise of the return of the fabled moderate Republican. ... The irony of 2010 is that a Republican rout could engender a centrist, not conservative, renaissance. Such a phenomenon could revive not only Obama's moribund 'New Politics,' but also ... his flagging presidency."


Paul Thornton, columnist, in the Los Angeles Times: "While a clear majority of Americans (53%-40%) say they plan on voting for the Republicans in their House and Senate races, according to the Washington Post-ABC News poll, a plurality of us actually believe that Democrats represent our values better and deserve to be re-elected at higher rates. The lesson ... is that elections are more of a referendum on the party in power than a reflection of Americans' moral and political philosophies. ... Republicans may win big this November; what they do after the election, however, will have much more of an impact on the party's long-term prospects."


Paul Loeb, blogger, on The Huffington Post: "If we're going to be honest about our disappointments, we should be equally clear that opting out of this election portends disaster. ... Rather than waiting forever for the perfect candidates or ideal political context, or riding an endless emotional roller coaster between elation and despair, we can do our best to plunge into the messy and contradictory now. If we can do that well enough, we can once again begin to recreate the base for the kind of change we hoped for just two years ago.








In August 1983, Muslim extremists set fire to an Ahmadiyya Muslim Community mosque in Detroit, out of hatred for our beliefs. While the building was destroyed, 2,000 copies of the Holy Quran miraculously survived the blaze. Once again, the Muslim holy book is threatened with fire. Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida plans to burn copies of the Quran this Saturday, in a horribly misguided remembrance of the victims of Sept. 11, 2001. Despite the denial of a city permit and pleas from faith leaders around the world (as well as a word of warning from Gen.David Petraeus) to cancel this event, Jones stands firm: "We will still burn Korans," he wrote in a recent e-mail. (Update: Thursday afternoon, Jones reportedly said he will not burn the Qurans.) The temerity of Jones' message is shocking to me, both as a Muslim and as an American. As a Muslim, because I can't fathom the desecration of my revered holy book. As an American, because I don't understand how one can so boldly abuse our country's values of freedom of speech and religion.


But Jones' willful ignorance of the sacred text of 1.5 billion Muslims around the world is especially troubling. When asked about his knowledge of the Quran, Jones brazenly said, "I have no experience with it whatsoever."


His remarks underscore a larger problem: Americans' apathy and lack of information on the true teachings of Islam — and the willingness to form negative opinions despite both. While it's true that most Americans are uninformed about religions other than their own, in this case, such ignorance has consequences. The continued perception that Islam is a violent or unjust religion only leads to division and discord — and fuels the extremists who exploit Islam to justify terrorism.


But both Jones and Muslim extremists are wrong about the "violent" teachings of Islam. It's important that Americans understand Islam does not condone violence or the imposition of religious beliefs. In fact, a cursory examination of the Quran reveals that this holy book actually supports the fundamental values all Americans cherish: integrity, justice, tolerance, charity and freedom of religion.


From the holy book


The Quran — and in turn Islam — emphasizes truthfulness, as demonstrated by "Shun all words of untruth" (22:31). It instructs us to care for the less fortunate: "And they feed, for love of Him, the poor, the orphan and the prisoner" (76:9). It holds freedom of worship sacrosanct: "There shall be no compulsion in religion" (2:257). And it values justice above all else: "O ye who believe, be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people's enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness" (5:9).


In other words, Muslims are guided to be truthful, charitable and to side only with what is right — even if doing so goes against one's self-interest. Aren't these the same ideals inculcated in us as Americans, values that we strive to uphold in our society and in our courts?


The Quran is filled with such verses calling on Muslims to practice every kind of goodness. Yet most Americans know little or nothing about them. An August Pew Research poll concluded that 35% of Americans believe Islam is more likely to encourage violence than other religions, while 24% weren't sure.


Of course, it's not difficult to understand why. Approaching the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, we can't forget the violence of that day. The really ugly truth: The 9/11 attackers, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are all doing far more harm to the Quran than Jones is by burning it. By distorting the verses of the Quran to justify their violent agenda, these terrorists and their sympathizers continue to breed hostility toward Islam and Muslims. Instead of spreading the Quran's message of peace, they are spreading their own message of hatred — just as Jones has twisted the Bible's teachings of peace into a message of hatred.


But extremists have always distorted the words of holy books, and most religions have had periods where extremists gained prominence. Yet few consider the Spanish Inquisition a highlight or representative of the true spirit of Christianity.


'Unsensational lives'


As American Muslims, it is our responsibility, then, to expose this sham, especially when Islam is so prominently featured in our national conversation. With so many Americans scared or confused about our religion, it is up to us to educate our fellow citizens — with respect and with patience. We owe it to our faith, and we owe it to our country.


We need more dialogue, more reading of the Quran, both inside the Muslim community and out. After all, more than a billion Muslims in the world and 2.5 million in the United States are living quietly unsensational lives. These stories — of the silent majority of peaceful Muslims — are not headline-worthy. But they are nonetheless real.


That's why the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community — the oldest Muslim organization in the United States — is escalating its 121-year tradition of sponsoring interfaith symposia around the country, in response to Jones' misguided event. All 70 chapters across the United States are bringing people together to discuss the real teachings of the Quran, the ones that enjoin justice and mercy upon us. Because that's the only way we can really foster understanding — through intellectual dialogue, not book burning and blind hate.


I hope that reason prevails Saturday and Jones does not burn the Qurans. But I'm comforted with the memory of that other time, in Detroit, when copies of our holy book withstood the flames of hatred. I believe that the teachings of the Quran are strong enough, merciful enough, just enough to withstand the flames of scrutiny as well.


Ismat Sarah Mangla is a journalist in New York City and a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.








The announcement by Interior Minister Rehman Malik -- that 'intelligence-guided' action against extremist groups in Balochistan is being planned -- bodes ill. Malik has also said that the frontier corps Balochistan has been granted special powers of search for three months, but maintained that this is not a 'Swat-like' operation. The bank accounts and assets of several Baloch nationalist groups have been frozen. All in all there is the sombre sound of déjà-vu knocking at the door. No mention was made of the Pakistan Army in Malik's statement and we trust that there are no plans to use the army in this most sensitive of operations, yet given the scale of the task it does have to be wondered if those now told to take on the militants in Balochistan are going to be equal to the job. Viewed from whichever angle, there is little that has improved in Balochistan since the 2008 election and much that might be said to have gone backwards. Fine promises have rarely turned into hard reality, and the sense of frustration among the people of Balochistan has grown alongside their feeling of being consistently marginalised no matter what spin is put on the actions of the federal government.

The 'strict action' now promised by the interior minister is redolent of a bygone-age, of the collective punishments of the colonial era. These actions will not be taken against bands of interlopers and strangers, in the way that action was taken against the Taliban in Swat and elsewhere. There, the people were crying out for the government to intervene to free them from a malicious and predatory aberration that butchered its way into power. No such equation exists in Balochistan. There are no spontaneous requests from the Baloch people for the government to intervene on their behalf against the groups which are now proscribed and criminalised. The government, as and when it moves in these intelligence-led operations, is going to do no more than fuel the fires of alienation. Talks have been ruled out. The government will not speak to any group or representatives of groups having 'lashkar', 'army' or 'liberation' in their titles and the stage seems to be set for a return to the eternal square-one that has characterised the dealings of successive governments with Balochistan. Those who believe that there is a military solution to this problem live in a fool's paradise. Sooner or later, and the sooner the better, talking is going to have to take place. 'Intelligence-guided' operations do not appear to be the most intelligent of moves.






 A tiny church in the backwoods--with a congregation reportedly not much more than fifty and a pastor that undoubtedly suffers from some sort of spiritual sickness--has become the unwelcome focus of the world's media by threatening to burn the Holy Book of Islam on September 11. World leaders and the leaders of mainstream Christian churches everywhere have united to condemn this abomination. The day on which Pastor Terry Jones and his church plan to commit this outrage is freighted with symbolism for many millions. It is likely to be Eid for Muslims and it is the anniversary of the day on which America was attacked. Eid will be observed, 9/11 remembered with quiet reflection. At least 62 Muslims died in the attacks, not counting the attackers themselves. Muslims were victims on that day as were members of all the world's great religions and many who had no faith at all. 

Thus far, the reaction of the Muslim world to the threats of the pastor has been restrained and, according to reports, the Florida administration has banned the burning. The portents though are not good. The pastor intends to go ahead no matter what the consequences. We can but hope that the sickness afflicting the pastor and the Dove World Outreach Centre is cured in time and sanity prevails. In a development late on Thursday evening Pastor Jones, no doubt seeking the oxygen of further publicity, said that if the White House contacted him directly and requested he reconsider, then he might just do that. Thus far President Obama has limited his response to branding the proposed burning as a 'stunt'. We await developments






 At times as difficult as these we need to find some cause for pride to recover from the sense of trauma and shame which recent events have caused us. For now the horror of the floods continues. But amidst the waters which still stand in many places and inundate fields and villages, there are some pockets of hope that can be spotted if we look with care. Some can be seen at the camps where tents now stand in neat rows, cooking facilities have been set up and washrooms constructed. In many cases the camps run by the army stand out in this respect, but other organisations have also done well. Of course, far less orderly settlements can also be found. But it appears that -- as we saw in 2005 after the earthquake -- our people are capable of rising up to meet emergency situations and of demonstrating the spirit that it takes to do so. 

In contrast to the efforts of both the military and private groups of citizens, we continue to see a great deal of confusion as far as the government effort goes. In recent days we have had much wrangling over how relief is arranged. The opposition has called for a joint decision to be made on the mechanisms to be used for the distribution of funds to victims. There has been very little official effort to bring things together. Many in the field report instances where victims say that no one has even come out to hear their complaints. They correctly point out that no matter what other difficulties exist, this should not be beyond the capacity of our politicians. In time, all this will have repercussions. It is not hard to imagine what these may be. We hope the political leaders of the country are aware of the kind of situation that is unfolding and what shape it could take in the coming days. We have over the last month seen waters rise dangerously high. It is possible that this may just be the prelude for what lies ahead with the tides engulfing a great deal of stability and harmony in our country.






 Hugh Walpole, once-upon-a-time English writer, said that he would love England but for the people in it. As cynicism goes this is about perfect. I often catch myself thinking that I would love democracy but for the people in it.


Patriotism makes me think of Walpole. When certified doctors of the faith clear their throats and mount the pulpit I feel the same. Some other analogies are better left unsaid.

Over the years the ideology-of-Pakistan school of thought has always made me reach for my pistol. A votary of this school has only to open his mouth and expatiate upon the meaning of Pakistan---usually to say it is a fortress of Islam---and dark thoughts rush into my mind.

I was at Kakul when Gen Yahya Khan's information minister, Major Gen (r) Nawabzada Sher Ali Khan, coined the phrase 'ideology of Pakistan'. The controlled press and Pakistan Television, both emblems of control, worked this phrase to death.

Not long thereafter Lt Gen 'Tiger' Niazi---his nickname arising from his supposedly warlike attributes---surrendered his pistol to Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora in Race Course Ground, Dhaka, and Pakistan was split in two. In my mind this phrase and the break-up of Pakistan are intertwined.

'Ideology of Pakistan' actually was an elaborate disguise. It was an answer to the Awami League's Six Points and stood for something which the West Pakistani ruling elites---comprising the powerful mandarin class, the army and the feudal-based political class---had espoused since 1947: all power to the centre and very little to the provinces.

It was this idea which came unstuck in Bangladeshi people's India-backed war of liberation. We should have learned something from that debacle but going by the ferment in Balochistan---the very name Pakistan anathema to Baloch ears---we seem not to have learned a great deal.

Actually, Balochistan doesn't really figure in the imagination of the rest of us. We are vaguely aware that things are not right there but have no real feel for the discontent smouldering in that remote corner (which is a strange way to describe Pakistan's largest in-terms-of-area province).

This is Nawab Akbar Bugti's revenge. He was a vengeful man in life, unforgiving of his enemies. But this vendetta from the grave is more powerful than any that he waged when he was alive. The Baloch needed a modern symbol of resistance and this they got when Gen Musharraf sent the army against Bugti and he was killed in the mountains.

Musharraf had warned that Bugti wouldn't know what had hit him. That was probably true, laser-guided bombs and stealth missiles giving little advance warning of their deadly approach. But did he have any idea of the payback that Bugi's killing would entail?

Socialism was a great idea in the 1970s when my generation was young. The slogan 'The East is Read' was very much alive and our heroes were Che Guevara and Castro and Mao Tse-tung. Bhutto was given to wearing the Mao cap in his election rallies in 1970 and no one thought it odd that he did so. It was of a piece with the times.
But the ideological divide was bitter and the war it gave rise to was for the soul of Pakistan. On the one side were leftists, many of whom had deserted their small, splinter parties to seek a wider field of action for themselves under the broad umbrella of the Pakistan People's Party. On the other side were the froth-at-the-mouth battalions of the right, massed under the banners of the ideology-of-Pakistan school of thought, led by the Jamaat-e-Islami and given propaganda backing by the rightwing press.

This conflict which simmered throughout Bhutto's five years at the helm of affairs broke out into the open in the immediate aftermath of the 1977 elections, an event mishandled by Bhutto right from the start, with tragic and catastrophic consequences for the country. The movement launched by the rightwing election alliance, the PNA, isolated Bhutto and paved the way for General Zia's coup in the summer of 1977.

To legitimise his rule Zia unfurled the banner of Islam, ushering in a reign of hypocrisy in the name of the faith which went on from strength to strength and which shows no signs of abating. We were always a confused society, unable to agree on the meaning of Pakistan, the purpose of its creation. Zia's intervention put, so to speak, a seal of finality on that confusion. It will take a miracle to get us out of this fog.

No other country of the world has Pakistan's unique distinction: 63 years after its birth still discussing the meaning of Pakistan, still endlessly dissecting Jinnah's speech of August 11, 1947, in which he tried to expound a secular interpretation of Pakistani statehood.

But this is scarcely Pakistan's only distinction. This is one of the few countries in the world where secularism means not just separation of Church and State but the total absence, nay negation, of religion. The Urdu translation of the word---la-deen, meaning without religion---is enough to arouse passions and set the mills of fanaticism rolling.

The Middle Ages lasted as long as the Church was supreme in the affairs of Europe. The Renaissance---the movement which led the way to western global dominance---was made possible only when the authority of the Church was challenged and scepticism and reason dethroned dogma and certainty as the leading intellectual influences in Europe.

The world of Islam has yet to experience a like renaissance. We are always standing on our dignity and little things---things or events which would be counted as little in the court of reason---move us to displays of uncontrollable frenzy.

What should really move us to a fury of action is our intellectual inferiority to the West. But about that we are sublimely indifferent. We seek salvation in the Hereafter, which is a good thing and a duty enjoined upon all Muslims. But we forget the central teaching of Islam which is to seek deliverance first in this world and only then to concern ourselves with Armageddon and the massing of the armies of the faithful below the Towers of Jericho. As a result this world we have gifted to others. They hold sway over it while we concern ourselves with spiritual matters.

When Alexander arrived at the gates of Taxila there were some yogis lost in the trance of the headstand (so Plutarch informs us). Alexander occupied Taxila and allowed the yogis to continue with their spiritual exercises. The West in similar fashion is not unduly disturbed by our spiritual preoccupations. Islam was never in danger when the British ruled India. In fact they were quite happy to recruit Muslims into their armies and quite happy to see Muslims fight their wars not only in India but far beyond during the First and Second World Wars. Punjabi and Pakhtoon Muslims were crucial to the British recapture of Delhi in 1857.
Indeed, the Muslims of India remained loyal to the Raj much after the fires of nationalism had touched the Indian national movement. People like Jinnah were exceptions. The Muslim upper classes were solidly pro-British and indeed looked upon the British to protect them and provide them with safeguards against the Hindu majority.

The West's alarmism about Islam is a very recent phenomenon and it is almost wholly predicated upon the Twin Towers attack of Sept 11 and the rise of Bin Ladenism. But these events tell us more about ourselves than they do about the West. Is this the only renaissance which we could have conceived? Is this our only response to western superiority?

But to return to the beginning, are there still leftists in Pakistan? Many of them, comically, have come full circle and are to be found in the leading ranks of NGOs which, beginning with the first Afghan 'jehad' of the 1980s, have done so well out of western aid.

For myself, I remain an armchair leftist, of the garden rather than the barricade variety. But I also find some resonance in Eugene O'Neill's words in The Iceman Cometh: "You asked why I quit the Movement. I had a lot of good reasons. One was myself, and another was my comrades, and the last was the breed of swine called men in general."

Which, come to think of it, is not far removed from what Hugh Walpole said.








 Journalism is about plain, hard facts. But not necessarily in Pakistan. Conspiracy theorists concocting facts have a field day on Sept 11 every year. In a bid to outdo each other, they serve up cock-and-bull stories in which the creaking cart is put before the wheezing horse. They never base their fantastic theories on facts, and have no qualms at all about that. Those flaunting Osama bin Laden's poster back in 2001 can now conveniently deny his existence. Not long after 9/11, the same conspiracy theorists who had celebrated the collapse of the Twin Towers started telling us that only "Jews," and not Muslims, were capable of such a highly calibrated feat as 9/11. 

Since we first saw the collapsing towers on our TV screens, a 9/11 industry, one outdoing even the Kennedy assassination industry, has come into being. One even comes across people claiming that 9/11 was an Al-Qaeda-US joint venture. In Pakistan, foremost US dissident Noam Chomsky is lavishly quoted in the media, but his views on Sept 11 and on the conspiracy theories related to it are never mentioned. 

In the book Perilous Power, which he co-authored with Arab Marxist Gilbert Achcar, Chomsky says: "The idea that the Bush administration would undertake something like this is almost beyond comprehension. First of all, it was very unclear what was going to happen-you could not predict the outcome. In fact, notice what happened when one of the airplanes was stopped in Pennsylvania. Suppose that had happened to all of them? Anything could have happened. So you're carrying out a very chancy operation. A lot of people would have been involved in the planning. There are almost certain to be leaks in such a situation.'' The recent WikiLeaks affair retrospectively confirms Chomsky's observation about leaks.

Chomsky's premise here is common sense, and in Pakistan, common sense has been exiled. Technology in the hands of semi-lettered self-appointed experts makes it even easier for conspiracy theorists to promote ignorance and irrationality. On every 9/11 anniversary, our mailboxes are flooded with evidence: a documentary "proving" how impossible it was to bring down the Twin Towers by smashing jumbo jets against them. On such videotapes, Chomsky comments: "After all, why do scientists do experiments? Why not just take videotapes of what's happening outside? Things that are going on in the phenomenal world are just too complicated to study. You're not going to get sharp results from studying them; you're going to get all kinds of confusion, strange things happening you can't understand, and so on. So what you do are controlled experiments. But even in carefully controlled experiments, there are all sorts of anomalies-unexplained coincidences, apparent contradictions, and so forth. If you read the letters column of a technical scientific journal, such as Science, the letters consist very substantially of people raising points like this about carefully controlled experiments, talking about this coincidence that you didn't notice, or this went wrong and you didn't notice. When you try to do the same thing for real-world phenomena, when you try to apply those standards to it, yes, you're going to find all sorts of odd things. With the kind of evidence that is being used, you could prove that the White House was bombed yesterday.'' 

There is yet other explanation. For instance, Dilip Hiro, in his book War Without End, points out: "The South Tower collapses even though it had been struck later, because the plane hit it at a higher speed than the first plane did the North Tower. Each Tower, designed to withstand 150 miles (240 km) per hour hurricanes, took the impact of the jets without a shudder. But once the aircraft sliced through the building, the fuel explosion melted the steel. Unlike most skyscrapers, the strength of the WTC lay in its outer steel framework, not internal concrete supports.''

Maybe both Chomsky and Dilip Hiro will be proved wrong in the future by further investigations. Further investigations may bring forth new evidences leading to new conclusions. But let us base our assumptions on the facts available. An important fact is: Al Qaida has never denied a hand in 9/11. On the contrary, in a 2002 interview with Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad admitted his involvement, along with Ramzi Bin al Shibh's, in the "Holy Tuesday operation." In many audio- and videotapes bin Laden himself admitted having a hand in the affair. 

Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorists have not informed us as to which body in the US staged the whole show. Was it the CIA, the DIA or the FBI? Also, we are never told as to why Democrats kept quiet even if this was the best chance to send the entire Republican leadership before the firing squad. But the benefit conspiracy theorists enjoy is that they don't have to prove their conclusions with facts. 

Back in September 2001, bearded youths were taking to the streets all over Pakistan holding bin Laden posters aloft. Even busses and trucks plying the Pakistani roads began displaying bin Laden's face, together with jihadi slogans. A few such vehicles can be spotted even now. For a few days nine years ago, the Sept 11 attacks were seen as an accomplishment. Only when the negative consequences became evident did conspiracy theories begin to gain currency. Any fact contradicting these theories is countered with ever more absurd theories. Nothing can still the fanatics' wagging tongues. A fanatic, after all, does not believe what he sees. He sees what he believes. 

In holding Al Qaeda responsible for 9/11, we do not justify the crimes the Empire has committed in the name of 9/11. But by invoking conspiracy theories we absolve puritan barbarians. The Muslim world is a victim of both.

The writer is a freelance contributor. 







 It is no more possible to make sense of what is happening in Pakistan in this season of death and destruction. But perhaps it is only a matter of degree, for one cannot really construct a rational picture of the world anymore. Yet, we cannot lapse into despair, because in all situations we find ourselves. There is always a choice, and even if all choices are stark, there is always a lesser evil. In addition, there is the inescapable moral imperative and consequences of what one chooses. What 400 Irish men and women did to Tony Blair in Dublin last week is a case in point.

When he arrived at the bookstore to pompously sign his book, shoes and eggs were hurled at him and protestors shouted: "Hey, hey, Tony, hey! How many kids have you killed today?"

Kate O'Sullivan from Cork attempted to make a citizen's arrest during the signing before Blair's security team dragged her away. "I went up to him and I said, 'Mr Blair, I'm here to make a citizen's arrest for the war crimes that you've committed," she said later.

Kate O'Sullivan is only 24. She is a member of the Irish Palestine Solidarity Movement. Then there was Richard Boyd-Barrett of the Anti-War Movement who accused the former prime minister of making blood money from the Iraq war: "It really is shameful that somebody can be responsible for the death and destruction that he was responsible for in Iraq and Afghanistan, and walk away without any accounting for that and become a very wealthy man off the back of it."

As the event unfolded, police had to intervene, but some 400 men, women, and children, did make a difference in this world where it has become increasingly difficult for most people to keep the glow of hope alive. They had the courage, time, and desire to remind the man responsible for the death and destruction of at least one million human beings in Iraq about what he had done when he was intoxicated with power, not that he has sobered up after leaving 10 Downing Street.

Four men were arrested and later released. The effort of these men and women caused a huge security operation to come into existence around Dublin's main thoroughfare in preparation for the Blair visit. The city tram service was suspended and the shops in the surrounding area were closed. Blair had to be whisked away from a side entrance of the store after about an hour.

The immediate result of what these 400 men and women did in Dublin was the cancellation of another signing ceremony which was to be held in London two days later. But the far greater importance of the courage and initiative of these Irish men and women was that they showed a mirror to Blair, a mirror in which he refused to look, but a mirror nevertheless.

One resident of Dublin summed up what appeared in the mirror: "The police are Brits who are protecting a British terrorist and the people queuing up over there should be ashamed of themselves. All these people buying the book are jackeens and traitors."

While it is true that the demonstration in Dublin did little to change the stark realities of a world in which a prime minister of Britain can lead his nation into a scam-war, and then have the audacity of writing his memoirs and make money out of it, especially when everyone in the world knows that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Tony Blair's most infamous and shameful act in that scam war was the so-called "45-minute claim," which was included in the September 2002 dossier but redacted after the war. He claimed that Saddam Hussein was able to deploy nuclear weapons within 45 minutes of giving the order. This dossier also contained the words: "The assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons."

Later, much later, when damage had already been done, Blair admitted that it was a scam-albeit in his own wordy and twisted way. During an official British inquiry held after the war, he refused to acknowledge any guilt. Instead he said: "It would have been better if (newspaper) headlines about the '45-minute claim' had been corrected to state that the claim referred to battlefield munitions, rather than to missiles." 

In the following comment, note the baseless, and utterly deceitful manner of his speaking: "With the benefit of hindsight, I would have liked to have published the intelligence reports themselves, since they were absolutely strong enough." What does it mean to rain death and destruction on millions of innocent civilians on the basis of "absolutely strong reports"? Does he not think that those million-plus men, women and children were actually human beings whose lives were important enough to deserve much more than "strong reports"?

So, one can make little sense of a world in which the killer of over one million men, women and children can walk around freely and even speak to the press and say such outrageous things as his statement last week in which he compared the so-called "Islamic fundamentalism" with revolutionary communism. "It's the religious or cultural equivalent of it," he said, "and its roots are deep, its tentacles are long and its narrative about Islam stretches far further than we think, into even parts of mainstream opinion who abhor the extremism, but, sort of, buy some of the rhetoric that goes with it."

No, there is no way one can make sense of the world when all that is left is falsehood in the garb of truth. And truth has been obliterated by the sheer power of an evil and bankrupt media which dominates the world. There is no such thing left as a free, objective press, even though there are still some free, objective and conscientious journalists.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:






 Welcome to the circus. It's a place where all the clowns come to roost, and once they are done roosting they shift gears and start roosting some more. This circus is right in the middle of my living room, comes with a remote-control, and its sole purpose of existence is to keep me in a perpetual state of amusement and confusement. 

I know "confusement" is not a word; but, hey, give me a break! It's my circus and my confusement, and I get to decide what to call it, and how. So, welcome to the circus, a twisted, warped phenomenon whose only saving grace is that it is extremely entertaining and a perfect lifestyle choice for a couch potato with nothing better to do.

After all, it was while being a couch potato and watching a whining opposition leader being scolded by a smirking Fauzia Wahab and a sulking Marvi Memon that I came up with an excellent title for my PhD dissertation. And before you start confusing me with some big-shot research scholar, let me clarify. A PhD dissertation is to me what a silk gown is to a mongoose. Meaning: Never gonna happen! 
It's just a couch-potato dream of one day getting one of those PhD scholarships that encourage all women to apply and persuade all married women to please stay away. So if I could just hide my children in a Swiss account and blame my husband on the non-state actors, I might, just might, get an NRO to write a research proposal for a scholarship funded by American dollars. If it is ever to happen, I have decided (thanks to the circus) what the title of my research proposal would be. It would read:

"An in-depth analysis of the facial expressions and the ever-varying opinions of the clueless clowns and their nosy interrogators who adorn the screens of our televisions" 

I'll begin by introducing the circus, complete with the merry-go-round of the changing loyalties from army to democracy to army to democracy, the shifting of gears from go Musharraf go to come Musharraf come, the conspiracy theories, the India-bashing, the Taliban confusion, the hatemongering, the fighting and arguing and, above all, the clueless clowns with their shifty expressions, shady credentials and dubious political origins. 
The next chapter of my paper would be a study of medical doctors-cum-anchorpersons who happen to be deeply in love with the sound of their own voices. I'll analyse their special technique of asking questions without waiting for answers, and I'll critically examine the special method called "never let a guest finish what you asked him in the first place." I'll call this chapter: "I don't care about others, but please let Imran Khan talk." I'll raise some points on how to give views on news by putting words in other people's mouths.

And before my scholarship-yielding gora starts popping antidepressants and forgets all about my NRO, I'll move on to more scholarship-yielding things like the sulking, smirking women politicians with extremely questionable etiquettes, and the shouting screaming women anchors with extremely questionable vocal chords. The title of this chapter would be: "Are you kidding me?"

Seriously, Ms Vocal Chords, are you kidding me? What were you thinking inviting Musharraf on primetime television, calling him "Mr President" and blaming him for bringing democracy to Pakistan! He is the dictator guy, remember? And the couch potato hasn't even forgotten the Musharraf-bashing times not so long ago when he was the root cause of all that was ill with this world. It's not as if eleven years have already gone by. I'm not the type to be confused easily, but this is what I call confusement with a capital C. Can anyone tell me what's going on here? Is the conspiracy theory about media persons actually coming true? (Shudder.) Wasn't it enough that Sharmila Farooqui would chat on TV about her Dubai shopping sprees, when all the sane people are pretending to donate their Eid money to the flood victims? Wasn't it enough that the population minister, the what's-her-name, is playing politics-heartless, inhuman, callous, stonehearted politics on the tragedy of the millennium-the Sialkot catastrophe? Wasn't it enough confusement already that you, the media persons, have to add to it as well? 

If the gora gives me a scholarship and I write that dissertation, I'll definitely write some recommendations as well. I'll tell Ms Memon to, for once, at least smile, Ms Wahab to just relax, Mr Opposition Leader to c'mon be a man, Mr Doctor Anchorperson to shush for a bit, Ms Farooqui to buy Pakistani, or at least be Pakistani, Ms What's-Her-Name to grow a heart, or import one, Mr Musharraf to please stay away, and Ms Vocal Chords to...well: Vix ki goli lo aur confusement door karo. May we all rest in peace. Amen.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:







 The fact that he is still in office is in itself an achievement. He has, so far--and it is important to add this caveat--survived at least two close shaves. One, during the movement for the restoration of the judiciary and, later, after the NRO decision. 

Had the president stuck to his guns and not restored Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges, the long march would have continued to Islamabad, with unforeseen consequences. He fought on grimly till the end, and then capitulated at the last minute. 

During the hearing of the NRO case, there was wide speculation that Zardari would be disqualified from holding the office of president. It did not quite happen like that, but by asking the government to write to the Swiss authorities the Supreme Court seemed to initiate the process.

Prime Minister Gilani refused to carry out this order and thus began a struggle with the court that was speculated to end in the government's ouster or, at least, of the president's. As we know, this has also not happened. 

The tactic chosen by Zardari to thwart this possible danger was to publicly attack the court and the army. In Pakistan's context, this is often deemed suicidal. And maybe, he thought, that since the end is nigh, he might as well go out in a blaze of glory. 

He also blatantly used the so-called Sindh card. Public demonstrations were organised in the province to send the message that if another PPP government and its leader were sent packing, there would be trouble. Ajrak and Sindhi cap campaigns were instigated to signal the rise of Sindhi nationalism. 

It worked. The first impact was on the media. It got taken in, or genuinely believed that the end of the PPP government would mean the end of Pakistan. The result was a spate of editorials and reports raising alarm bells against any precipitate action against Mr Zardari or the PPP.

This seemed to affect the courts and the thrust towards an open confrontation slowed down. One example of this is that despite the non-implementation of the NRO decision for over eight months, no serious censure has been visited upon the government. And even on the petitions against the 18th Amendment, the Supreme Court seems to be moving cautiously, although it could have decided these in a week.

The time thus gained is being used well by Mr Zardari. If not before, he now understand clearly the power of the lawyers' community. He knows that in future the bar associations' response can impact any stance he takes on a possible negative decision by the courts. He has thus unleashed Babar Awan to divide the lawyers.
Part of this task is easy, because the PPP has its supporters in the bars organised under the People's Lawyers Forum. But Awan has other tricks up his sleeve besides bagfuls of money for bar associations. The result is that the lawyers' community appears to be more divided now than ever before. This adds another bit of pressure on the Supreme Court.

Does this mean that Mr Zardari has shown himself to be a clever politician? There is little doubt about that. He has survived so far and may well complete his tenure, although no one can, or should, make sweeping predictions about politics or politicians in our great country. 

But his past handling of the meagre cards dealt to him in the 2008 elections do show immense tactical skills. He wound his way to the Presidency without the PPP having a majority either in the National Assembly or in any provincial assembly except Sindh.

It shows an ability to build political coalitions, and although the MQM is often restive and the PML-N sporadically goes on the offensive, the PPP is virtually a partner with all the political forces in the country. Thus, governments in the centre and the provinces are all coalitions, of which the ruling party is an important part. 

Asif Zardari's immense pragmatism, devoid of any moral or ideological content, allows him to sup with everyone, from Fazlur Rehman, to the Chaudhrys, to Asfandyar Wali and, not to forget, Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain. All this shows a skilled tactical brain unencumbered by emotion or whatever values he holds dear.
This attitude has led to some major political successes. The agreement on the National Finance Commission award is an important achievement, although voices are beginning to be raised that the federal government has little money left to pay its bills.

The passage of the 18th Amendment is also a spectacular political triumph because putting together a national consensus on such a far-reaching change in the Constitution is never easy. Constitutional amendments have been passed before, but when the ruling party had an overwhelming majority. This time the PPP is a minority party everywhere but in Sindh.

While Mr Zardari's political skills clearly need to be acknowledgment, it is also true that he has failed miserably to change his image or create trust about himself among the people. The international community also views him with suspicion and it is not a myth that part of the poor response to aid appeals for the flood-affected is also because of this.

This is a major failure. Whatever charges of corruption were placed at Mr Zardari's door in the past, he had an opportunity to dry-clean his image once he became president. He has failed to do that. He continues to surround himself with dodgy people and his appointments of discredited people to ministerial positions or in state-owned entities have sullied his image even more. 

As has the general conduct of the PPP hierarchy that is in power. Reports of corruption by the prime minister and his cabinet are endemic. Just as every match played by the Pakistan cricket team is looked at with suspicion, every deal, every agreement made by the federal government these days is viewed with distrust.
Mr Zardari could have turned this around by coming down hard on corrupt ministers and by the appointment of decent professional people to state-owned entities. But he did not do so. A particular failure in this regard is the PPP-dominated Sindh government, which has acquired a filthy reputation.

It is clear that lack of moral content, while a strength in pragmatic politics, is a catastrophe in governance.
The image that this government is corrupt cannot be a plus for Mr Zardari after two years in power. If to this is added the widespread feeling that politicians in general lack competence and understanding of governance, it shows the extent of his failure in this sphere.

His last two months in power have been particularly disastrous. With floods ravaging the country, he decided strangely to visit France and England. Even after coming back, he has not been able to energise the response of his government. These twin failures have become huge black marks against him.

He has three more years to go, and there is still time to make things better. Otherwise he will always be known as a smart politician who does not understand governance, or someone who is clever but not wise.








INEVITABLE happened in Balochistan on Wednesday when Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced of five Baloch militant outfits — Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Lashkar-e-Balochistan (LB) and Baloch Musallah Difa Organisation (BMDO). Addressing a news conference in Quetta he also revealed that the Federal and Provincial Governments have agreed to launch an intelligence-guided law enforcement agencies' action against extremist groups involved in suicide attacks and target-killing of innocent people in the province.

The steps announced by the Minister were need of the hour because of nose-dive deterioration in law and order situation in Balochistan where militant organisations were making mockery of the rule of law and writ of the State. In fact, all these measures should have been taken much earlier and in that case we would have saved many precious lives and damage to national assets. The move has understandably been not only criticised but condemned by so-called nationalists and one of them even used abusive language during a television appearance, which showed that the government was moving in the right direction. Body language of Rehman Malik, when he announced these measures, showed that as Minister responsible for internal security, he was extremely perturbed over fast deterioration in security situation in Balochistan from where hundreds of thousands of settlers have been forced to evict in the face of threats to their lives and properties at the hands of these terrorist organisations. It was also quite visible from tone and tenor of the Minister that he meant business and was determined to restore normalcy in the troubled areas of the province. There is a strong message for a handful of militants who were hated not only by Pakhtoons and Punjabi settlers but also the local population as their activities were perpetuating turmoil in the province leading to rise in poverty, loss of economic opportunities and development of their backward areas. The Minister has also done well by offering job opportunities to the youth of the province and hopefully the plan would be implemented at the earliest as it has the potential to isolate militants. While supporting the strategy unfolded by the Interior Minister, we would still urge the Government to initiate the process of dialogue with the support of elders like Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali and Wazir Ahmed Jogezai as this is the only option to ensure sustainable peace and tranquillity in the Province.








THOUGH return of Ejaz Butt, Chairman Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was kept a secret yet still a large number of cricket-lovers and media-persons got the hint and reached Lahore airport when he arrived from London to demonstrate their bruised sentiments over shameful conduct and performance of the cricket management and the team especially in the backdrop of what happened in England. One of the protestors hurled shoe at the man in whose tenure cricket became a disgraceful and appalling disappointment for people of Pakistan.

It is understood that wherever Ejaz Butt would go people would show disrespect and even contempt for him and it is also likely that some of the cricket enthusiasts may pelt him with rotten eggs and tomatoes. In fact, Butt is the most controversial person in the cricket history who is not only disliked but hated because of various reasons. It was during his tenure that Pakistan cricket team became a bunch of uncontrollable elements who have scant respect for rules and regulations, profession or goodwill of the country. They are corrupt from head to toe and have become so unruly that various corrective measures taken by the Government like fiscal incentives and better coaching have failed to produce any tangible result. The recent fiasco in England was a rude shock to people of Pakistan and made the country a laughing stock in the comity of nations. People are bravely facing the vagaries of floods but the injury caused by the conduct of our cricket management and team would take years to heal. Therefore, we would urge Ejaz Butt to quit the office on his own before he is made to do so by furious people.






FINANCE Minister Hafeez Sheikh has emphasised the need for bringing an end to corruption to get the economy back on track. The Minister, who is a genuine economist and knows all the ills in governance, has been hinting for quite sometime that the economic situation of the country is not satisfactory and some drastic measures are needed to put it on the path of recovery. 

In his interview with a private channel, Dr Hafeez Shaikh also said that damage from the floods has been large scale and to meet the expenditure the government will have to stop corrupt elements by showing zero tolerance to the menace and strengthen institutions that are running in loss. There is no doubt that corruption is rampant in Pakistani society, particularly in Government departments from top to bottom and at a time when the country is facing a grim scenario the only way out is to end corruption and try to stand on our own feet. Transparency International in its report placed Pakistan in one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Corruption not only retards economic progress but also feeds organised crimes and, in turn, economic, political and communal instability and this is what we are facing today. If we save Rs 100 billion which are being doled out as subsidy to the loss making public sector enterprises, that would be a major achievement and this must be done from the current year as there is no other way out. Also it is a known fact that a major portion of the development allocations goes into the pockets of corrupt leaders and officials in one way or the other. It is because of the poor image of Pakistan in the international community that most of the donor countries are sending relief material in kind or giving cash donations to UN agencies and NGOs for the assistance of the flood affected people. We think time has come that the political leadership must commit to fighting corruption as a top priority and give concrete form to that commitment by accepting proposals given by experts from time to time.









Had Manmohan Singh ended his political career as Finance Minister of India during 1992-96, he would have earned a few pages in the history books as the individual who implemented the 1992-94 economic reforms, which did so much to ensure a higher rate of growth. However, once he took over as PM in 2004, that period was relegated to the background. Whatever be the soft-spoken thinker's place in history, it will almost entirely get based on his performance as PM. And it must be said that the five years since he took office have been disappointing. Economic reform stalled, while corruption continued to skyrocket. Those tracking the workings of government claimed that the final decision on most issues - especially those involving procurement - were taken by Number Ten ( 10 Janpath, the official residence of Congress President Sonia Gandhi) rather than Number Seven ( 7 Racecourse Road, the PM House).

Although the habitually tame English-language media in India said otherwise, the fact is that the public were underwhelmed by the performance of the Central government. Prices shot up, while urban infrastructure deteriorated. The progress of road construction was slow, while the provision of broadband internet and affordable mobile telephone charges was delayed. The tax structure and the web of government restrictions became ever more oppressive, and yet the much-written about Father of Reform did nothing. Of course, he busied himself in foreign policy, but to the population of India, what matters is the home front, not the fact that Singh and his demure better half were lionized in capitals across the globe. Those who had for long admired the man and saw him as a redeemer felt bitter, and many did not hesitate to vent their frustration in public, although they were of course in a minority. As is their wont, much of the media were fulsome in their praise of the PM, compliments that they bestowed on every holder of that office.

However, since the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) returned to power in 2009, Manmohan Singh changed. Several VVIPs were jailed for corruption, a drive that finally began netting the big fish rather than minnows. Petroleum prices were decontrolled and the money earned from auction of spectrum went up by more than twenty times. It had been no secret that the PM was deeply unhappy at the meagre revenue secured by the auction of 2G, but could do nothing because the political leadership of the party protected the alliance partner responsible. But when 3G began to be auctioned, Singh stepped in rather than keep away the way he had from 2004 to that period, and ensured a huge windfall for the exchequer. Of course, there have been two major failures on his watch, the first being price rise and the second Kashmir. After a flawless election in 2009, the reins of office were handed over to an untested Omar Abdullah, who expected the people of his state to emulate the US electorate and choose good looks over competence. The grandson of Sheikh Abdullah has been a total failure as CM, and ought not to have been given the reins when experienced leaders were available. Omar is considered part of the Rahul Gandhi Brigade, and if so, this first test of fire of this youthful team has been a disaster.

From 2006 to 2009,the situation in Kashmir continued to improve, even though infiltration of those who were willing to fight to get independence from India continued. The PM followed the Wajahat Habibullah line of concessions to those against India, while the groups that were pro-India (such as the populations of Ladakh and Jammu) were neglected. In Kashmir, income taxes are rarely collected, while most inhabitants in the Valley regard government service as a pension, cheerfully collecting their paycheck each month while running an administration that is one of the worst in the country. Emboldened by the extreme softness of Delhi's approach to them, the separatists struck hard six months ago, igniting a firestorm of protest in the Valley that has sent the state government into panic mode. Clearly, there needs - at the least — to be a change of Chief Minister, but given Omar Abdullah's closeness to the ruling Nehru family, this seems unlikely. Kashmir seems fated to once again go through years of turmoil, before the local separatists give up the illusion that Barack Obama will give them azaadi. They had the same faith in Bill Clinton, but not in George W Bush.

As for rising prices, much of the blame can be laid at the door of actions by the authorities that promote hoarding of grain (especially by huge retail companies) and allowing millions of tones of grain to rot in godowns rather than be sold or distributed to the economically weak. Since he began his second term in office a year ago, the PM has done more to rein in speculation in grain and bungling in the food front than he did in the entire five years of his first term, but interestingly, this time, he is being pilloried by the media. The reason may lie in the widespread perception that the PM no longer enjoys the confidence of Sonia Gandhi, and is therefore fair game. Certainly, these days, senior members of his (Congress) party have conducted themselves in a way that has not been seen since Sonia Gandhi threw out Sitaram Kesri and took formal control of her family's party twelve years ago. Although MPs have openly opposed ministers close to the PM ( such as Education Minister Kapil Sibal), the Congress President has not intervened, thereby further fuelling speculation that Manmohan Singh's time is up. However, those close to both deny that there is any rift, and say that the relationship between Singh and Sonia is still cordial and cooperative.

Meanwhile, there has been a visible transformation of Rahul Gandhi, who was once firmly in what may be termed the "middle class" camp on economic policy. The young heir to the control of the Congress Party has turned to the left, opposing major industrial projects and seeking changes in the education system that would make every private school admit poor students for free, up to 25% of their strength. India being India, the poor are unlikely to see the inside of such schools. Instead, those who bribe politicians and officials will get admission, thus creating disciplinary problems as well as making the cost of private school unaffordable to many millions of middle class students. Just as the "Mandal Reforms" introduced by then PM V P Singh roiled the country in 1990,the education reforms being piloted under the inspiration of Rahul Gandhi are likely to provoke a backlash within the middle class, thereby costing him his present status as their favourite. Rahul Gandhi seems to have forgotten all about Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who has been the inspiration for reformers in India. Instead, he is going the same path as his mother Sonia, who herself has followed the path of her mother-in-law Indira rather than that of her husband Rajiv. Whether Manmohan Singh has Sonia's support or not is hard to say, but it is clear that his pragmatic economic policy has been rejected in favour of populism by Rahul Gandhi.

Clearly, this means that there will be tension ahead between the Congress organisation and the PM, but there is no sign that this has fazed Manmohan Singh. A few days ago, for the second time in four months, he made it clear that he would complete his term in office, which ends only in 2014. The PM was pleasant but firm as he told newspaper editors that he would stick to his pragmatic policies while in office, and that he had no intention of stepping down. The question is, will he be effective in ensuring that his views prevail, or will the populist policies of the Indira Gandhi period come back? Will Rahul Gandhi continue on his present course or return to the path once trodden by Deng in China, thereby making India too an economic giant? Will he allow Manmohan Singh to remain wedded to pragmatic policies, or will he himself take over as PM and Manmohan go as President of India in a year's time? The only individuals who know are Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, and they are not talking. Together, the two hold the destiny of the PM in their hands.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








The unprecedented floods have brought misery to the people of Pakistan but as every cloud has a silver lining, they have shown us who our true friends are in this hour of trial and tribulation. The US took the initiative in launching relief and rescue missions. It had a clear advantage over other countries because of the close proximity of US troops and helicopters in neighbouring Afghanistan and was able to deploy them effectively. The US was magnanimous in its logistic support of food, rations and essential equipment too. However, it marred the proceedings by arrogantly challenging Pakistan's traditional friends like the Arabs and China. 

The Arabs came good slowly and gradually as the enormity of the catastrophe dawned upon them. Unfair comments against China were in bad taste especially for a country, which was itself affected first by drought in certain regions and later by floods and mudslides in other regions. Despite its own sufferings, China did not leave its friend and neighbour Pakistan in the lurch and rushed to its aid. In fact China's generosity has been so magnanimous that besides the Chinese government, ordinary Chinese and businessmen and trade houses joined their brothers and sisters in distress to help allay their suffering at the hands of the deluge.To support their brotherly neighbour's rescue and relief efforts in the aftermath of the mega floods, the Chinese Government and people from all walks of life are extending helping hands to the best of their capability. Apart from the RMB 330 million (approximately $50 million) humanitarian assistance the Chinese Government has offered, the Chinese people in various circles are also voluntarily donating to Pakistan. Local governments, non-governmental organizations, enterprises and philanthropists across China have actively offered donations in various ways. Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Southwest China's Sichuan Province donated RMB 500,000 and RMB 100,000 in cash to Punjab Province respectively. Guo Jinlong, mayor of Beijing, wrote to CDA chairman expressing his sorrow over the flood damage and solidarity with the affected people and provided $50,000 donation in cash to the capital authority, becoming Islamabad's first foreign sister city to offer a helping hand. China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region donated 9.95 million HK dollars to Pakistan. Non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross Society of China and All-China Women's Federation have timely extended assistance to the Pakistani people. On August 5, China's Red Cross Society donated $50,000 in cash to NDMA. On September 7, All-China Women's Federation donated RMB 500,000 humanitarian aid to Pakistan's Benazir Income Support Programme to express love and care for the flood-ravaged women and children. Chinese entrepreneurs and philanthropists are eager to help their Pakistani brothers and sisters. Chen Guangbiao, Chairman of Jiangsu Huangpu Renewable Resources Utilization Ltd., donated RMB 1 million to Pakistan on August 31.

He said China and Pakistan enjoy a special relationship and he feels the same as our Pakistani brothers are feeling at this moment of grief. Madam Ding Shumiao, Chairperson of Broad Union Investment Management Group Co. Ltd, donated RMB 1.3 million for the people in Pakistan on September 6. Madam Ding started her life by selling eggs and later through hard work rose to one of the leading entrepreneurs in China, has always stood out with charity work. Mr. Chen, Madam Ding as well as other philanthropists' donations were deposited into Pakistan Prime Minister's Relief Fund Account. Metallurgical Corporation of China Ltd. donated RMB 800,000 last month. It's also worth mentioning that Mr. Li Xiguang, a Tsinghua University professor in China, donated his one month salary. Chinese companies and individuals in Pakistan as well as Chinese diplomats in Islamabad have made voluntary donation worth millions of rupees soon after the floods, and more donations are being collected. Chinese Ambassador Liu Jian called on Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on September 6 and informed the latter that the Chinese Government has decided to provide to the Pakistani Government an additional RMB 200 million in humanitarian assistance to express the goodwill and friendship of the Chinese Government and people toward the Pakistani Government and people and to support the brotherly country's rescue and relief efforts in the aftermath of the mega floods.

The new pledge brings total Chinese Government's assistance to RMB 330 million (approximately $50 million). China offered a RMB 130 million emergency humanitarian assistance to Pakistan earlier and most of it has been delivered. China also sent a 55-member medical team to the worst-hit district Thatta in Sindh province where it has set up a field hospital and provided treatment to more than 5,000 flood victims. The remarkable aspect of the Chinese medical team is that they comprise female doctors to attend to the problems of the womenfolk, affected by the flood and requiring immediate medical attention. China is the only country that has not only fulfilled its entire commitment to Pakistan's flood victims, but has gone over and above the pledged support. This is in direct contrast to many other nations, who have pledged monetary help and announced large amounts of aid but in many cases, have neither fulfilled the pledge or indicated when they plan to do so. The world is passing through an economic meltdown and countries who have pledged donations are finding it difficult to fulfill them. The same is true for China too, but economic difficulties or its own sufferings did not deter it from accomplishing its pledges. China used all routes available to it, land air and sea. It used the land route to the Sust dry port near the Pakistan-China border for supplies from Kashgar in northwest China's Xinjiang province. 

Once again China has proved that it is Pakistan's true friend and stands by it during any trial or ordeal without any fanfare or strings attached. The same cannot be said for any other country, because others have been selective in their support and have not refrained from leaving Pakistan in the lurch when they did not need Pakistan, even resorting to admonition and imposing sanctions.








I sincerely believe and subscribe to an essential fundamental, that Islam is a charter of life. It presents to us a codified and parameterised framework, within which we are required to lead our daily lives. Consequently, I strongly believe also that there is no room for ritualism in Islam. Every prescribed belief act or deed has an in-built major purpose to achieve. There is no place for mechanical process of worship to Allah. All formats of worship ordained in the glorious Qur'an lead to both the reformation of the individual and the betterment of society at large. Whether it is Salat, Zakat, fasting or Hajj, the objective is to instil individual and collective goodness. 

The features attending to these acts of worship must necessarily induce in the practitioner excellent and noble traits of character. If Salat is devoid of humility, if Zakat is given for glorification of self, if fasting does not create a deeper appreciation of the pangs of hunger and thirst and if performing Hajj does not efface marks of distinction then most unfortunately these forms of worship being devoid of the noblest underlying features will be of no value and consequences.In view of the foregoing, my dear readers, would have noticed that I have continuously dwelt on the progressive cultivation of good behaviour to be exacted out of all formats of worship. In doing so, I have sought help by describing qualities that the Holy Qur'an says a true believer must possess, coupled with Hadith and incidents from the life of our beloved Prophet (PBUH) and his glorious companions. Today we have more than 55 Islamic countries spanning the globe, from the shores of Atlantic to the islands of Eastern Asia with a combined global population of over one billion Muslims. How did this happen? The will of Allah and the exemplary life of the Prophet induced people towards accepting Islam as religion and as a way of life and living. A Lamartine in his 'History de le Turquie' wrote and described the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) in the following words, "Never did man propose to himself, voluntarily or involuntarily, a more sublime goal than what did the Prophet of Islam, because this goal was superhuman. To sap superstitions interposing between the creatures and the creator, to render God to man and man to God, to restore the rational and the Holy idea of Divinity, in the chaos of material and disfigured gods of idolatry- again never did man undertake with such feeble means, a work so out measuring human faculties…" the Holy Qur'an states, "He who obeys the apostle, has indeed obeyed Allah…" (IV:80) and significantly again as a reminder to mankind " you have indeed in the Apostle of Allah, a beautiful pattern of conduct…" (XXXIII:21).

The objective of Islam is to help us in opening up our spiritual eyes once that happens there is only awe and wonderment at the beauteous miracle that surrounds us. Islam preaches us to take the middle road, we are not to swing in the direction of the worldly allurements or to proceed towards renunciation of this world, but to strike a fine balance. The best example of that fine balance is the life of the beloved Prophet (PBUH). Excellence of character and conduct is to be the hallmark of a Muslim. For these reasons all my write-ups were a mere reiteration of the sublime values that are oft mentioned in the Holy Qur'an. As Muslims we have for a very long time been reciting the Holy Qur'an without understanding it and hence we see no noticeable change, either in our general conduct or in the overall character of the society. The Holy Qur'an, a glorious message from Allah, is to be seen as a standard operating manual that must be used to improve the quality of our life, here and in the Hereafter. It is not to the placed only on pedestals, in velvet covers! 

This Ramadan, let us resolve, that we would return to reading and understanding the Holy Qur'an, so that every member of the society would contribute towards establishment of a true Islamic society, that will have justice, love, peace, tolerance and mercy as its principal cornerstones. May Allah Subhanahu Taala in His infinite Mercifulness guide us all towards greater individual and collective rectitude. I pray for all the readers and seek their prayers for glory in the eternal world (Amen).







The month of September brings somber memories due to the death anniversary of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah — the founding father of Pakistan. However, this September started with the horrible wave of sectarian terrorism with some bloody episodes of suicide attacks within two consecutive days. Three suicide bombs exploded during a Shia procession in Lahore, with more than 70 people dead and countless wounded. The very next day an explosion killed at least 40 Shias and injured over 100 during a Palestinian-support rally in Quetta. The same day, a suicide bomber blasted himself up near the Ahmadis religious place in which one person was killed and many others sustained injuries. A few months ago, two worship places of Ahmadis were made target by extremist elements, leaving countless people dead and injured. Once Ahmadis were declared as minority, it was bounden duty of the state to protect the rights of minorities as per our Constitution. 

Today, Pakistan is in the throes of sectarian violence and religious intolerance. It compels everyone to think who did bring this country to the present pass? Is this the same Pakistan as it was envisioned by Quaid-i-Azam? Every student of history is well cognizant of the fact that except a few honourable exceptions, a large number of our religious leadership was not in favour of the creation of Pakistan. Nevertheless, when Pakistan came into being, the same religious clergy tried to influence the affairs of the state with their own interpretation of religion. 

Quaid-i-Azam had an intense desire to set up the newly born state on the Islamic principles of freedom, equality and social justice. So far as the matter of religion and state affairs is concerned, he had declared in unequivocal terms that all citizens of state would be equal before the law and the state. Some activists might have raised slogans in p