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Saturday, September 11, 2010

EDITORIAL 11.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 11, edition 000623, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





























































To the immense relief of all those who wished to see an elected Government in place in Jharkhand after months of uncertainty and President's rule, a BJP-JMM alliance finally assumes power in the State. It would be easy to describe the alliance as a cynical political arrangement in pursuit of power, as has been done by critics of the BJP who can see nothing right about the party. What they forget is that this is the best possible option given the fractured mandate of the last Assembly election. To persist with President's rule would be neither desirable for democracy nor good for the State which needs a Government that is accountable to the people. The other alternative was the Congress putting together the numbers needed to form a Government. We can be sure that the Congress tried its best to do so, and even toyed with the idea of replicating the disastrous 'Madhu Koda Model' which it had propped up to the detriment of Jharkhand and its people — the loot was unimaginable. The third option would be to dissolve the Assembly and call for a fresh election. But what if that too returned a fractured verdict with no party securing a majority? In Jharkhand's deeply divided polity with multiple factors influencing voters, it's more than likely that a fresh election would have led to similar results. In any event, this is not the first time that an alliance has been put together for the purpose of forming a Government; pursuit of power is a legitimate exercise in a democracy so long as it does not lead to the curtailment of democratic rights or unfair means are not used by those seeking office. To that extent, the BJP and the JMM have done the right thing by forging an alliance — they may not share ideological common ground but that is really inconsequential. After all, the UPA is not founded on shared ideology and the Congress knows this better than anybody else. To pretend otherwise, or point an accusing finger at either the BJP or the JMM, would be tantamount to expecting of others what is not practiced by the Congress and its allies — either in the States or in New Delhi.

That, however, does not absolve the BJP and the JMM of the responsibility which now devolves on them to provide good governance. The alliance should leave aside differences and focus on issues that have nothing to do with partisan politics. An ideal agenda of governance would focus on social and economic development: Jharkhand is in desperate need of large doses of both. Similarly, the BJP and JMM must crack down on corruption which has become all-pervasive in this State. Cleaning the Augean stables left behind by the Congress-backed Madhu Koda regime is by no means an easy task and will require enormous effort. Yet, this is where the biggest challenge — and opportunity — lies. If the new dispensation headed by Mr Arjun Munda, who as Chief Minister in the past is known to have played a dynamic role, were to succeed in rolling back the tidal wave of corruption and arresting the decline of the State's economy, it would be able to sway popular opinion in its favour. Meanwhile, there is no reason to believe that the Congress and its fair weather politicial friends will allow the BJP-JMM alliance to function smoothly. That would be alien to the Congress gene.








Despite the pressure mounting on it from various quarters, the management of the Catholic Church-run Newman College in Kerala's Thodupuzha is refusing to revoke its decision to sack Prof TJ Joseph for preparing a question paper that allegedly 'hurt' the sentiments of Muslims and for which he was ferociously attacked by belligerent Islamists who chopped off his right hand. It seems the church, founded on the principles of compassion that it claims Jesus Christ professed, refuses to attach importance to the sufferings of a teacher who has been maimed for the rest of his life by those emulating the brutal and barbaric Taliban in the name of upholding Islam. The management, which had taken the decision to sack Prof Joseph presumably to avoid any conflict with the Muslim community, has so far spurned all requests to reinstate him in service. In sharp contrast to the church-run institution's strange obduracy, college teachers across Kerala have launched an indefinite agitation demanding that Prof Joseph must be given back his job. Noted intellectuals have also appealed to the church not to further penalise the victim of Islamist terror. Prof Joseph has appealed to the management through a letter to be "humane" towards him. Mahatma Gandhi University, to which the college is affiliated, has termed the dismissal as illegal and instructed the management to withdraw its order. State Education Minister MA Baby has backed that decision and conveyed his view, firmly and unambiguously, to the management, asking it to revoke its decision. 

However, all these interventions have so far failed in forcing the management to change its position. It is insisting that it will revoke its decision only if the Muslim community "pardons" the professor: What it means is that mullahs and fanatics affiliated to Islamist organisations like the PFI should step forward to plead the professor's case. This is not going to ever happen, and the management knows it very well. In any event, mullahs and their ilk do not represent the Muslim community. So why should their sanction be needed at all? The professor is now thinking of approaching the courts for justice, but a judgement will take a long time and till then he will be without a job, left to fend for himself, punished and humiliated for no reason, disowned and discarded by his college simply because the management does not have the courage to stand up to clone of the criminal Taliban. A solution lies in the Government stepping in and telling the recalcitrant college in clear terms that it must revoke the decision to sack Prof Joseph or face the consequences. Let Mahatma Gandhi University withdraw recognition to Newman College and force its closure. Kerala — and India — can do without such institutions that neither live by values nor impart any to their students. 








Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, the French diplomat and more, said, "speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts". Talleyrand should have known. He had served theancien regime of King Louis XVI of France, the shifting dispensations of the French Revolution, Napoleon, the restored Bourbon monarchy of Louis VIII, and usually landed amid greener pastures. He played a key role in the negotiations during the Congress of Vienna (1815) which led to the Treaty of Vienna, which, in turn, laid down the geo-political configuration of Europe which lasted until the revolutions of 1848. In the process of his several transitions and discharge of various roles, he had displayed not only considerable political and diplomatic far sight but also an enviable nimbleness of thought, a remarkable capacity for backstairs intrigue and a marked inability to distinguish between truth and falsehood. 

But then he has not been the only person to have possessed such attributes. Between speech and thought lie a number of things besides physical problems of articulation. The most important factor is will, which can either restrain the expression of thought or/and go one step forward — replace it by a very different thought and give vent to the latter. The underlying motive need not necessarily be less than admirable. One may avoid narrating an event because the consequences can be terrible. One often avoids telling a critically ill person about an incident which can cause him or her profound traumatic shock that can be fatal. Equally, one may deny having witnessed an incident when affirming its occurrence can serve no other purpose than fanning communal or ethnic violence. According to Jainism, compassion and non-violence come even above truth in certain circumstances. At the level of statecraft and governance, disclosing a country's defence strategy or the contents of its arsenal may endanger national security.

These are familiar examples rendered threadbare by repetition. The same applies to a very different kind of examples of the use of the human ability to disguise thought or articulate a version which is the opposite of what had originally crossed one's mind. It lends itself to the denial of a whole range of crimes from murder, treason and robbery to fraud and forgery or of the intention to commit any of these. At the collective level, it can lead to incitement to and/or the commission of mass murder. Understandably, therefore, the dichotomy between thought and speech has spawned much righteous and feigned indignation, doom-saying and caustic observations besides leading to various methods of unearthing the truth — espionage and surveillance to find out whether a person's actions or developments on the ground — vindicate what he or she has been professing. The coercive methods include confinement or torture. 

These are as old as history. The methods, however, have become increasingly sophisticated with the application of technology. Thus physical surveillance in the form of spies following a suspect around has been supplemented by electronic surveillance from such relatively simple earlier means like telephone tapping to the more recent interception of satellite communications or Internet exchanges. Satellite photography has replaced aerial reconnaissance by high-altitude aircraft like U-2 which the United States undertook over the Soviet Union from Pakistan in the Cold War era. The shooting down of one of them and the capture of its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, sparked a bout of intensely acrimonious exchanges between the Soviet Union and the United States in 1960. At the individual level, the lie detector has been followed by brain mapping. 

One is now on the verge of witnessing the arrival of an even more radical tool for divining actual intent or the truth behind pronouncements. According to a report by the Press Trust of India, which refers to a story in The Daily Telegraph of Britain, an international team, led by Mr Bradley Gregor of Utah University in the United Sates, has been able to translate brain signals into words by attaching two button-sized grids of tiny electrodes to the speech centres of the brain of an epileptic patient who had a part of his skull removed for another operation. Using the electrodes, the team recorded the brain signals in a computer as the patient repeatedly read each of the ten words that might be useful to a paralysed person — yes, no, hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, hello, good bye, more and less.

According to Mr Gregor, one could call the process brain-reading and it might be available in two or three years for use by paralysed persons, and could eventually be used for reading anyone's thoughts. The critical next step would doubtless be accessing the brain's speech centres without creating an opening through the skull, and an even more radical development will be devising a method of tapping these from a distance. Given the abundance of venture capitalists and progress in the technology of miniaturisation, one might have at a not-so-distant future thought readers which one can carry around in one's pocket. Skeptics will do well to recognise that a progress in this direction — albeit not in a miniaturised form — has already been made in the shape of the voice-text-speech synthesiser through which Stephen Hawking communicates with the world, articulating even the most complex formulations. They will also do well to ponder the advent of mobile telephony and the phenomenal growth in its use the last couple of decades.

The possibilities are mind-boggling. A husband's infidelities will no longer be a secret to the wife and vice versa. Nor would one be able to conceal one's criminal intent. Nor would states, Governments, politicians, administrators, law-enforces, terrorists and revolutionaries have their secrets. But this is precisely why there may be an attempt to ban pocket-sized thought readers. Judging by the popularity of cell phones, however, the chances of implementing such a ban effectively appear bleak. Hence it is more likely that an anti-dote will soon flood the market. If there can be missile-jamming devices, there can also be thought-reader neutralisers. One might even have a device that combines mobile telephony with thought reading or jamming. We will then be back to square one save a new toy for people to play with. But what about the rights of prisoners whose gadgets may be confiscated? Will the revelations on thought readers be considered as evidence?








September 11, 2001— the world in general and Americans in particular witnessed and experienced the unbelievable, chilling and terrible exhibition of terror; the twin tower bombings which led to the death of more than 3,000 innocent people drawn from all faiths and nationalities. 

The Pentagon was also targeted and had the brave passengers of the fourth hijacked aircraft not forced the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, the White House would certainly have been destroyed. When the then President George Bush, who was outside Washington, wanted to return immediately after the attack, his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, had to hang up the phone abruptly after 'raising' her voice and 'ordering' him not to return. Later George Bush declared a 'war on terror' and swore to finish Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda. 

The event entirely changed the American perception of Islam, as they earlier lacked first-hand taste of Islamic terrorism. It was an open challenge to the US military and administration, a big blow to American intelligence agencies and a severe attack on the psyche of Americans.

Such unprecedented security measures were introduced that the American State did not permit any more attacks. Of course, there have been stray incidents like the killing of a dozen people at Fort Hood, Tex., by an Army psychiatrist, Nidal Malik Hasan; the failed attack on a Detroit-bound airliner by a Nigerian man; and the attempted attack in Times Square by a man called Faisal Shahzad, who was apprehended within 24 hours. 

Meanwhile in India, notwithstanding 700 years of Islamic oppression and three wars against Pakistan after Independence, and despite a series of terror attacks perpetrated by terrorist outfits both within and without, the Indian State doesn't seem to have learnt lessons. The minority of Indians, unlike the Americans, are still in a state of 'dhimmitude' yielding to political machinations. Indians are in deep slumber tuned with lullabies in the names of tolerance, freedom of religion, secularism and human rights, which are concepts of dhimmitude forced on them by the Christian west. If one attack is enough for America to understand Jihad, even thousands will not bear equal significance for Indians. 

This time, on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, thousands of Christians, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs are rallying against the idea of setting up an "Islamic centre" in Manhattan close to Ground Zero. It is unfortunate that the liberal establishment of America has chosen this time, when the wounds of 9/11 are beginning to heal, to reopen the old sores. Indeed, salt is being rubbed on the wounds. The vast majority of Americans perceive this as a second 9/11. As much as 65 per cent feel insult is being added to injury. The latest opinion poll says 82 per cent are against the proposed location of the mosque.The project's sponsors call it a model of peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Christians and Jews. Imam Abdul Rauf, who is the founder and CEO of 'Cordoba Initiative', says, "It is an Islamic approach that allows for harmony and understanding among all religions and other ideas" and goes on to add, "If we look at the American Declaration of Independence, we see that it speaks of principles that comply with Islam".

Imam Abdul Rauf is no angel of peace. Observers say he has two faces, one in America and the other when abroad. Outside America, he seems to be more fundamentalist, favouring Sharia law and supporting Wahabism. After 9/11, he was believed to have said: "United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened on 9/11. We (Americans) have been an accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden was made in the USA." But the US State Department seemed to trust his 'American' face, as evidenced by its sponsoring a three-country tour of the Persian Gulf by him to promote 'interfaith tolerance'. 

Christians, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs, under the banner "Stop Islamisation of America" took out rallies and protest demonstrations against the proposed mosque at Ground Zero. Even the political establishment of the US is divided, for and against the project. All of them say, "When New York already has around hundred mosques, what is the need for a mosque, that too in a sensitive site like Ground Zero? There is no necessity for America to affirm its commitment to religious freedom by allowing a mosque near the graves of 3,000 odd victims of Islamic terrorism." 

Narain Katartia, president of Indian American Intellectuals Forum, says: "It is a very sensitive issue. Being an offensive and reprehensible act, it is an insult and humiliation to the families of more than 3,000 victims of 9/11 — firefighters and security personnel who lost their lives. Imam Abdul Rauf wants to impose Sharia law in the US. Instead of blaming his co-religionists, Imam Abdul Rauf finds fault with America's foreign policy." Dr Babu Suseelan, Director of Indian American Intellectuals Forum and former Professor of Psychology and Director of Addiction Research Foundation, says: "For us, Ground Zero is a war memorial, a burial ground, a sacred ground to American citizens. Sensitivity is not one-way traffic!"

The so-called moderates in Indian Muslim community do not come out openly condemning jihad perpetrated against the non-Muslims. But it doesn't seem so in America. Surprisingly, the Washington-based 'Association of Indian Muslims of America' has asked the Cordoba Institute and other promoters of the Islamic Center, termed as the Ground Zero Mosque, to relocate it in the interest of the larger good of the community. 

Also there is another organisation going by the name "American Islamic Forum for Democracy", which not only opposed the mosque but also called for transparency in the funding of the project, suggesting foreign sources could imply an ulterior agenda. 


The writer is a right-wing columnist








Building a mosque at Ground Zero is like building a memorial to Hitler at Auschwitz," taunts one sign. "No memorial to terrorists," proclaims another. "Ground Zero is a burial site: No mega mosque on sacred grounds," says a third.Cosmopolitan New York, which never tires of celebrating its diversity, has seldom spoken in almost one voice against a project of the kind. In the run-up to the ninth anniversary of 9/11, pollster after pollster points to the fact that the age of political correctness may have passed. As much as two-thirds or more of New Yorkers now demand that the proposed $100-million mosque and Islamic community culture centre moved to a less controversial site farther away from Ground Zero.

"Why a mosque here in the shadows of Ground Zero, just two blocks away from where Islamist terrorists brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center," ask the opponents in indignation. They include the family members of many of the nearly 3,000 who perished in the attacks on September 11, 2001. For them, Ground Zero is a hallowed ground. 

"Nine years after the massacre at World Trade Center, this country's wounds remain raw. It became clear just how fractured we still are when New Yorkers and the world learned of plans to build a large mosque at the Ground Zero site," former Mayor Rudy Giuliani wrote in the New York Daily News on the eve of the ninth anniversary of 9/11.

The project is the brainchild of imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who finally broke his silence on the raging controversy this week with an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times and an interview to CNN. The imam, who is otherwise being credited with promoting inter-faith dialogue, maintains that he would not have proposed the community centre on that spot if he had known that the plan would trigger such a firestorm of criticism.He, however, is chary of any relocation at this juncture as such a move, in his view, could embolden the radicals and pose security risks to both in US homeland and to Americans living abroad. "If we move from that location, the story will be that the radicals have taken over the discourse," he says. "The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack. And I'm less concerned about the radicals in America than I am about the radicals in the Muslim world."

In comments that have not gone down well with many Americans, the imam cautioned: "If we don't do this right, anger will explode in the Muslim world. If we don't do things correctly, this crisis could become much bigger than the Danish cartoon crisis (over images depicting Prophet Mohammad), which resulted in attacks on Danish embassies in various parts of the Muslim world. And we have a much bigger footprint in the Muslim world."

Some family members of 9/11 victims wondered on CNN if the imam was issuing "a veiled threat" on why there should be no insistence on relocation. However, under sustained questioning, he did not completely rule out a compromise, conceding at one point that "nothing is off the table". He said "we are consulting, talking to various people about how to do this so that we negotiate the best and safest option." 

By all accounts, the observance of the 9/11 anniversary this time has been mired by the mosque controversy and the threat held out by a Florida Pastor to burn copies of the Quran. On Thursday, Pastor Terry Jones backed off; claiming a deal had been reached over moving the New York mosque away from Ground Zero. Imam Rauf promptly refuted the claim, saying: "I am surprised by their announcement. We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony." An irate Pastor hit back, saying he was reconsidering the cancellation of his plans.

The reluctance to relocate the mosque has only exacerbated the negative views that New Yorkers hold about American Muslims. "Nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks ignited a wave of anxiety about Muslims, many in the country's biggest and arguably the most cosmopolitan city still have an uneasy relationship with Islam," theNew York Times said, noting one-fifth of New Yorkers acknowledged animosity towards Muslims. 

The NYT poll noted that 33 per cent of respondents felt that Muslim-Americans were "more sympathetic to terrorists" than other citizens. A Washington Post-ABC News survey spoke of an even higher number of Americans (49 per cent) holding an "unfavourable view of Islam", with a third of the country believing that "mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims."

The mosque controversy is not without its political dimension. Republicans are in the forefront, with 83 per cent of them opposed to the Muslim center at Ground Zero as against 65 per cent independents and 53 per cent Democrats. The Imam believes that the issue has been completely politicised. According to him, when news broke about the proposed Islamic community center last December, there was not a whimper of protest. "It was a front-page article in the New York Times, and no one objected. This controversy only began in May, and it began as a result of some politicians who decided to use this for certain political purposes," he told CNN. Some analysts feel this controversy could become a defining issue in New York. Though President Barack Obama went public with his comment that the Muslim community had the right to build the mosque, several Democratic candidates in New York have been skirting round the issue. Republican leaders Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty have all come out strongly against any mosque or Muslim center at Ground Zero.

In a tactical move, the developers of the project have rechristened the Cordoba House mosque and Muslim community centre as "Park 51". But the change of nomenclature has done little to quell the misgivings or anger over locating the project so close to Ground Zero. The promoters say on their recently-launched website: "We understand that many of our fellow New Yorkers and fellow Americans have concerns and questions. In the days and months ahead, we will be answering those questions. We are only at the beginning of this process, and we would like to invite our neighbours and fellow New Yorkers to reach out to us and learn more about us."Imam Rauf makes the point that the proposed centre will include separate prayer spaces for people of various faiths, including Islam, Christianity and Jews. In a clear bid to contain the looming opposition, he does not talk of the building of a mosque per se at the venue, preferring instead to concentrate on the multi-faith centre. "Our initiative is intended to cultivate understanding among all religions and cultures," he says. But former Mayor Giuliani, for one, is emphatic that there must be an "honourable and sensitive compromise". 

The writer is Washington correspondent of The Pioneer







The proposed and much controversial Cordoba House is just a few blocks from Ground Zero. Rick A Lazio, a former Congressman from Long Island, is making the project a centerpiece of his candidacy for governorship from the Republican Party. Lazio has alleged in his campaign addresses that it is not only being insensitive but also being offensive to the victims of 9/11 if the construction of Cordoba House, led by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is permitted. Lazio has also been questioning the source of funds for the construction of Cordoba House.

Imam Rauf has made it his life's mission to build bridges between religious groups. The centre is being built with the support of the community in the downtown, government at all levels and leaders from across religious spectrum. Among the supporters of the project are victims of 9/11, religious leaders from Jewish and Christian communities. The community centre will have a multi-faith approach. The name Cordoba was inspired by the city in Spain where Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in the Middle Ages during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims. The community centre is meant to help counter radical Islamist ideology. The supporters of the centre 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 center will also include a multi-faith memorial dedicated to victims of the September 11 attacks. 

Imam Rauf has claimed that Cordoba House would be built on the two fundamental commandments common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam: to love the Lord, the creator with heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. The organisers want to foster a culture of worship authentic to each religious tradition, and also a culture of forging personal bonds across religious traditions. 

Thanks to the US media which is largely controlled by the Right, the Cordoba House project has been projected by Lazio as an Islamic centre and not a multi-faith centre, merely because the initiative is led by an imam. The victims of the 9/11 have been made to feel that it would be offensive to them. The whole issue is, how does one perceive the 9/11 attack and whom does one accuse of aggression? The Republicans and right-wing Americans project Islam as the aggressor. President Bush in his address after 9/11 attack used the word "crusade" to describe the war against terrorism. In the process he revived memories of medieval wars between Christianity and Islam. President Bush left no grey areas and classified the world into two camps — either you are with us or with "them". On the other hand democratic-minded liberals reject this framework of only two camps based on religion and 'with us or with them' framework. There is huge diversity among the Christians and huge diversity among the Muslims. Liberals pinpoint the culprits of 9/11 to be Osama bin Laden and not Islam. Others hold that the culprits are yet to be identified through trial in a court of law.

Right-wing Christians, like Hindutva followers, want to project Muslims as homogenous, all of them having the same political views and sharing same weltanschauung that is completely based on their religious understanding. Thus all that remains to be done is to crush them, defeat them or exclude them and put them as far away from their lives as is possible. Osama bin Laden and people of his ilk — the extremists, fundamentalists or political Islamists — think exactly in similar fashion about Christians and Jews. The result is Hence Lazio's campaign — which is more political in nature than born out of genuine concern for the victims of 9/11. This point of view will always see any imam, construction of any mosque or any centre where lead is taken by a Muslim, as "insensitive and offensive" as their objective is to put Islam, their way of life and Muslims as far away from them as possible.

But that is not the American way and/or democratic way; that is not the way of those who stand for freedom, liberty, equality and fraternity. President Obama expressed his support saying, "Let me be clear: As a citizen, and as President, I believe the Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable." President Obama did not ignore the fact that the al-Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion. 

The Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, a Jew by faith, has also extended his support for the Cordoba House project. Democrats and liberals see 9/11 as an attack by al-Qaeda or a particular organisation and/or individuals who should be brought to justice. Such fringe elements and extremists exist in every community. Depending on the victimhood they are able to construct, the support that they enjoy and the resources they are able to command, such elements adopt various strategies to crush their "other" and for them, ends justify their means.On which side are you? It is the principle that is important and not statistics of how many support whom!








ONLY history will decide whether there is a method in the madness of the United Progressive Alliance having the party and the government speak in different languages on a range of issues. Having the lead constituent of the alliance, the Congress party, take a left of centre approach on issues relating to the aam admi makes eminent electoral sense — especially since its government, headed by Dr Manmohan Singh, is inclined to a slightly right of centre path. This way the party is able to occupy a great deal of the political spectrum to its own advantage.


But there is the possibility that this development is not based on any kind of forethought or planning. It is a manifestation of genuine differences of opinion between the party chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Singh. If so, this is bad news for the party and the government. Clearly Ms Gandhi, too, seems to have realised that left to itself, the government would be inclined to follow an economuc agenda which could be socially and electorally costly.


She has therefore reactivated the National Advisory Council. This body, dominated by activists, has been created as a corrective.


The differences we see— on the issue of land rights and development, tackling the Maoist issue or the food security bill— are a result of this strategy of sensitising the UPA government to the very real needs of the Congress party and its social base.


This is the price the Congress must pay for having a " technocrat" prime minister, a man who has enormous experience in policy making as a bureaucrat, but whose political credentials are thin. In a parliamentary system, a government is born out of politics and removing its beneficial atmosphere can have negative consequences in the longer term.







THE final outcome of the UPA government's deliberations on the caste census reflects the confusion and lack of coherence that has characterised its approach on the issue. The government came to consider a caste- based census in the first place, not of its own volition but due to the blackmailing tactics of Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav.


The final decision taken on Thursday has done little justice to the dissenting voices within the government itself. Even the Group of Ministers' recommendation that caste enumeration be added to the ongoing census, hasn't been adhered to.


The delinking of the caste survey from the ongoing census may have ironed out the technical difficulties that were being cited by the home minister, but it has added a near ` 4000 crore burden on the national exchequer.


More importantly, the government seems to have completely overlooked the essentially divisive nature of a caste based census, which has an a priori structure of engineering society on the basis of certain categories. This is the very reason the founding fathers of our nation had discouraged it.


The UPA regime has succumbed to the politics espoused by those who seek to use the caste census data to mobilise certain caste groups by demanding a greater share of the reservation pie.







MAMATA Banerjee's gimmicks to woo the electorate in West Bengal would have been passable had she merely been the chief of the Trinamool Congress that is angling for power in that state. Unfortunately, she also happens to be the Union railway minister, lending her antics the colour of communalism and crass populism. This is what can be said about the advertisements put out by the railway ministry that show Ms Banerjee covered in what looks like a hijab and offering prayers.


In fact it can be rightfully charged that Ms Banerjee has misused her portfolio to further her political agenda. Why else would she get herself clicked as a Muslim woman for an advertisement that is about the foundationlaying ceremony of a nursing college? It is hardly a surprise that in the discharge of her ministerial duties, Ms Banerjee has been found seriously wanting. Somebody needs to tell her that she will also be called to account by the electorate of West Bengal for her performance as railway minister.






IT WOULD be truly ironic if a government that has tended to revel in economic numbers is tripped by disputes about poverty figures. The Manmohan Singh government has elevated the high growth rates into an all-powerful symbol of India's progress towards being a superpower, never mind that large chunks of the country think otherwise and are willing to say so violently. Never mind also that we seem to have lost some basic skills, like holding major international sporting events, that we had more than a quarter of a century ago.


The fact that the growth rates did not fall as much as they did in the West has also been used as evidence that India has withstood the global recession, never mind that world food prices contributed to Indians paying much more for food than they ever have before. But governments that live by economic numbers have to be prepared to be hurt by them. And the figures for those below the poverty line are proving to be more than a little troublesome.


Figures cited for the number of people below the poverty line have, of course, always been a problem. Even in the days when economists agreed — by and large — that we should follow a calorie based definition of the poverty line, disputes over the method of calculating the numbers led to huge variations. In the postliberalisation era these figures have varied from below 20 percent to close to 40 percent.


But one could get nostalgic about those differences today. These numbers were at least predictable: if you were for reforms you would strongly support the 20 percent or thereabouts figure and if you were against liberalisation you would swear by numbers closer to 40 percent. The consequences of this debate too were not too great.




This debate was largely confined to economists who were nowhere near the poverty line themselves. This took them personally away from at least one problem associated with a cutoff like the poverty line: people who are just above the poverty line are not all that much better off than those just below the line. With the debate being confined to academia the maximum damage it could do was to shake an ivory tower or two.


But the debate has now been dragged down to reality. With those below the poverty line being eligible for benefits in the public distribution system, the cut- off now has a very real touch to it. While those just below the poverty line are eligible for PDS benefits, those just above it are not. When those just above the poverty line are in fact quite poor, no politician would like to face their wrath. The only politically acceptable way to make this cut- off less critical is to raise the line itself to a point where those just above it would not really care about the benefits offered in the Public Distribution System. This could mean offering Below Poverty Line cards to 80 percent of the population as some states are doing.


In other words, the de facto poverty line is pushed up to a level that covers four- fifths of the population.


Converting such a de facto line into an academic one is, unfortunately, unfortunately, not impossible. In addition to the leeway that is provided by the diverse methods of calculating this number there is also considerable room for righteous debate on where we draw the poverty line. It is possible to argue quite convincingly that the calorie- based poverty line is much too low.


This would appear to be consistent with the fact that malnutrition figures typically suggest much greater poverty.




And if we were to take a more liberal definition of the poverty line we could find, as the Arjun Sengupta committee did, that close to four- fifths of the population lives in poverty.


The Planning Commission cannot of course accept this poverty line. It does not say very much for the economic strategy if two decades after liberalisation only a fifth of the population is above the poverty line.


And even if they swallow their pride on that issue there is the problem of finding the resources to provide food grain in the public distribution system to fourfifths of the population. While greater political sensitivity has ensured they cannot follow the most optimistic estimates of the numbers below the poverty line, the best they can do is go with the 37 percent estimate of the Tendulkar committee.


The problem with choosing between political and economic convenience when picking the numbers to go by, is that it has little to do with poverty itself. If we treat four- fifths of the population as poor and offer them all the same benefits, we would not be acknowledging the very sharp differences that exist between those at say 75 percent mark and those who belong to the bottom 5 percent. And by treating them all equally we would only ensure that the limited resources are spread out to cover even those who barely need it, thereby leaving less for those who really do.


And the trouble goes well beyond the specifics of the poverty or public distribution system debates. The wide range of poverty estimates available make it clear to the politicians that they can get any number they want. Even if the leadership takes the high road and does not exploit this vast grey area, people may still think they are doing so. This credibility crisis is sure to add to the cynicism about Indian politics and affect any popular evaluation of pro- poor programmes.




What makes matters worse is that we have now reached a point where is no easy exit. The numbers crisis has affected the credibility of not just the politician but that of the academic as well. Academics have put opinion above analysis for so long that it is difficult to be sure that the analysis is not just being tailored to suit a predetermined opinion.


The way out then would be for academics to regenerate credibility around the numbers that are being put out. This would require a willingness to decide what are acceptable numbers and to stick to them even when they do not suit an opinion; a willingness to put the accuracy of the figures above even ideological beliefs. Until we move in that direction poverty statistics will continue to reflect not so much the numbers who are poor as the poverty of numbers.


The writer is professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore









GOOGLE Instant has a way of making you fall in love with Web search all over again. In terms of utility it is not a giant leap for mankind — more like a Katrina Kaif shortening her skirt from knee- length to two inches above it. You know, from a beautiful girl to a sexy actress.


But that is not the thing about Google's new showcase. Instant, released on Wednesday night, gives search results on the page even before you finished typing a certain query. That's the two- inches- above- the- knee skirt we spoke about earlier. It converts web search into sexy- cool stuff.


It does not save that much time though. If you ended up spending five seconds searching for " How to buy gold ingots in the official market for cheap", Google Instant could reduce that to three, maybe two seconds. It may not seem much. But the fascinating part is that Google's sixth sense just got sharper, and you wonder: " When will we ever stop making things faster." Here's how it works. Let's say you are searching for Sachin Tendulkar's batting world records. Even before you finish typing " Sachin", it shows more than 2.4 million pages with the great batsman's Wikipedia entry right at the top, Cricinfo at No 2 and a much- admired Sachin Tendulkar fan site at third spot. That's a spot- on result.


It also suggests search strings not only as a drop down ( as has been happening for a year or so now) but also in the search box so you don't have to type — just glide your cursor across to complete the search query. Yes, so Google will make us lazy with its mind- reading ability, but it also quickens your search results by almost 100 per cent — a tribute to the complex mathematical algorithms that are constantly fine- tuned at Mountain View, California, the headquarters of the world's largest internet company.


But do you really need Google's mindboggling mathematics at work when a majority of browser users do not visit the Google home page at all? Most of us use the Google toolbar that is either embedded in our browser or has been downloaded later to make life easy when browsing. This is a question that Google needs to ask itself and answer quickly.


The logical way would be to introduce Google Instant on to toolbars. This can be done in two ways — one, introduce Google Instant in its Chrome browser. This would allow consumers to get used to Instant right in their browser rather than on the Google home page.


The other way would be tie up with Mozilla Firefox to do the same with its embedded search toolbar.


Microsoft's Internet Explorer could do the same for Bing, but to be honest Bing lags so far behind Google Search that it is almost embarrassing.


Bing entered the market with promise and in fact, in the first three months of launch, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Bing could become a major competitor to Google. Instead, Google has marched ahead with its search, including introducing personalised search ( although that has not caught on much because of justified privacy issues). You could even hazard an educated guess here: Google Instant could spell the death knell for Microsoft Bing.


Not that Google is the epitome of search. It has a long way to reach perfection in search or even the breadth in its scope.


For instance, as tech writer Nitin Karandikar points out in ReadWriteWeb, Collarity is a web search tool that allows for personalised search even without logging in ( at present, on Google, you have to log in to get personalised search). Another tool to search for jobs, SimplyHired, is used by employers and employees to search for talent or by individuals to highlight it. Karandikar points out 17 such areas where Google has yet to catch up.


But Instant is a beginning we cannot just ignore.



IT'S BEEN some time that a major virus has hit the Internet.


The ILoveYou virus a decade ago was perhaps one of the most destructive ones ever to make its way around the world.


On Friday, anti- virus firm McAfee announced that a virus that kills the security software on computers was unleashed onto the world.


It's called Here You Have ( or in some cases ' Just for You') and appears in your Inbox as an innocuous PDF file. Since it is sent to your Inbox from an infected computer, you may receive it from a trusted friend.


It contains a URL link and when you click it, it takes you to an executable file that loads the virus on to your computer and effectively destroys your security software.


McAfee says: " When a user chooses to manually follow the hyperlink, they will be prompted to download or execute the virus. When run, the virus installs itself to the Windows directory as CSRSS. EXE ( not to be confused with the valid CSRSS. EXE file within the Windows System directory).


Once infected the worm attempts to send the aforementioned message to email address book recipients. It can also spread through accessible remote machines, mapped drives, and removable media via Autorun replication." Here's how you can prevent it from spreading. One, and this more like a d- uh kind of advice: don't click on the link. Two, make sure you have updated all your security software.


If you are working in an office environment, tell your systems administrator to take care of the virus definitions on each and every computer. McAfee and Norton have already released a kill solution for the virus, so make sure you have it. Others would have too by now.



NOKIA sent out a strong message to the world on Friday by replacing its chief executive Olli- Pekka Kallasvuo with former Microsoft business software president Stephen Elop, and the message is this: the future of mobile telephony are smartphones.


For almost two decades, the Finnish company was the top mobile phone maker in the world.


But, and here is the crux, it lost its way completely after Apple introduced the iPhone.


Nokia continued to be a hardwaredriven company while the mobile phone market is now predominantly a softwaredriven market. You buy a phone only once, but almost every single smartphone allows users to download innumerable software across categories.

Nokia never rose to this challenge, and by the time it replaced its CEO, Apple has already sold close to 65 million iPhones around the world.


Samsung's Androidbased phone Galaxy is also taking the world by storm.


Nokia on the other hand kept introducing dowdy, boring phones that have little to offer in terms of app enhancements.


It also targeted the low- end of the market in many countries thus losing any aspirational value it had in the previous decade.


With Elop as CEO, it is time Nokia changed its strategy to bring in smart, functional phones that do a lot, lot more than the E72, which, for some reason, the company feels is the pinnacle of human innovation. It is not, and it is high time Nokia realised this.


sachin. kalbag@ mailtoday. In



EXCUSES for not doing your homework have ranged from " My dog ate it" to " There was no one to help me do it". Some kids who took their excuses seriously would even have curry spilt on their homework book and would get it to school.


But a new survey conducted by an online backup company indicates that the most common excuse now is, " My computer crashed." There are also " My Internet was down", " My printer had no ink" and " I deleted my homework by accident." Wonder what the next decade's top excuse could be? " My Apple iPad battery died on me?"








It's all Car-ma. That's why Cha Sa-soon's surname means 'vehicle' in Korean. This 69-year-old grandmother recently made news, passing her driving test on the 960th try! Now a celebrity, she's landed a modelling gig with South Korea's biggest auto firm. Pursuing a driver's licence since 2005, Cha never gave up. Why? Without an official flag-off, she says, she could hardly have chauffered her grandkids to the zoo without crashing into the law. Truly, chalti ka naam granny. 

Not that driving anywhere is easy nowadays. The world has an estimated 750 million vehicles, and the number of cars on the move is set to double by 2025. No wonder in China, the planet's biggest auto market, dragon-size traffic jams have lasted days on end, vanishing and reappearing without warning! Coal truckers to family jalopies, everyone has faced a 'growth' gridlock. As China or India grow at top speed, lanes, flyovers and expressways clog up. That makes room for Hindi-Chini try-try (again). In situations of auto-static, not unlike the Sino-Indian impasse on borders or stapled visas, India's laugh rioters can always go across to help car-caged Chinese grin and bear it. What will our jokes be about? Jairam Ramesh-hit and CWG-afflicted road infrastructure, naturally. Back here, it's not only bumper-to-bumper, it's politically bumpy to boot. 

We're surviving our own traffic snarls, after all. Had Cha been in a chakka-jammed Indian metro, for instance, she'd have rued all that effort getting into the driver's seat. A recent study says office-goers with an average 30-year career span spend six years stuck in Delhi jams. Now, if Cha settled in Noida or Gurgaon and drove to 
Delhi Zoo five days a week, at the grandkids' gunpoint, they'd lose eight years in three decades to congestion. Worse, Commonwealth gamesters are now blocking the NCR's arterial roads and expressways. No driving-test bungler would be inspired by Cha's right-of-roadway if he foresaw CWG-related 'mock-drills' on traffic (non) movement. 

But such woes aren't impacting our car sales, going by August's record high. Maybe it's because we're overly compensated for time lost to traffic by time saved acquiring driving licences. Our outgoing 
CVC head says one-third of Indians are "utterly corrupt" and half "borderline". Many motor vehicles' babus will surely agree, since countless would-be drivers (including Formula 1 bus-racers) autopilot without passing any tests. 'Greasing' the road, it seems, often scores higher than demonstrated skill in tackling zig-zags, potholes, cave-ins and...standstills. Who needs 960 trials by vehicular fire? Long live the car sevaks of our Learner's Licence-permit raj! 

That is, until we turn New Age roadrunners. That's when China-patented straddling buses will start to roll on stilts. And, eventually, we'll learn to ride rays, now that scientists say energy can move objects. That should turn fuel back into a fossil. Beam us up, Scotty. We're off to a world where transportis teleport. No more driver's licence-to-kill. No more traffic jams. No more road rage. No more oil, sweat and tears. 

Hey dude, where's my ray gun? 








So, 12 of our athletes failed doping tests. Isn't the universe kind of conspiring against the CWG? These Corruption-Wali-Games, as kids have started to call them, can't get anything right. The lootfest, the war zone look for Delhi (a world war wouldn't cause Connaught Place to look like it does now), leaking stadia and rampant dengue/malaria epidemics it seems like even the powers above don't want these Games to happen. 

As if that wasn't enough, we had these pill-popping athletes who wanted to bulk up their six-packs before the show. Apparently, the coach said in defence: "We didn't know this was banned." Oh, so innocent. I mean, something that sounds like methyl-hexaneamine could just be an evening snack. Mr Coach, whenever you are making your troops eat something that starts with methyl-hex-whatever, wouldn't you check? Anyway, lame excuses and cover your backside is the cornerstone of how the Indian government and its staff of millions function. The coaches are no exception. 

However, we shouldn't punish the methyl-hexa-poppers. They are merely doing things in line with the tagline of this year's Games corrupt, pollute, tarnish and take shortcuts. These are disparaging words, but frankly reflect more of what India is fast becoming. It is time we openly acknowledge this, and even celebrate this fact. 

In fact, i propose that India patents and hosts the world's first ever Drug Olympics. In these, all drugs will be allowed or even encouraged. Imagine the entertainment. World records will be broken in no time. Steroids will allow 500-kg weightlifters (look mom, one hand!), drugs will create eight-second 100 metres sprinters. Scary sounding compounds packed in cute, colourful pills will create 10-metre high-jumpers and 1,000 km long distance runners. A pill-popping ceremony will precede the countdown for each race. Dedicated coaches will carry catheters and syringes to supply whichever molecule goes missing. In the uncomplicated world of 
Indian Drug Olympics (nicely abbreviates to I DO!), there will be no dope tests and the money saved can directly go into the organisers' pockets. 

And talking about money, imagine how profitable these Drug Olympics will be. Global pharma companies will sponsor this in an artificial heartbeat. They can own athletes like car companies own Formula One racing teams. Each athlete will have his favourite drugs, which they can endorse on TV and sell to a billion people, who in turn can consume them and hope to have six-packs at sixty. 

Now, to really add challenge to the competition, let's allow one more thing corruption. After all, we don't want it to be simply about who has the best chemical (our pharma companies won't win then, they usually only copy medicines). Hence, add a second layer of drama allow innovative corruptionideas. So the weight you lift will say 500 kg, but will only be 100 kg in reality. This is because you bribed the company who made the weights. And that's allowed. In fact, you can manipulate stopwatches to improve your timings, have incorrect markings on high jumps it's all fine. It will be rewarded with gold medals (impure gold though, just to match the theme). There will be a hall of fame for the top drug users and the most innovative corruption ideas. And, of course, the best will get jobs at high levels in the Indian government. 

I know you are thinking, what am i talking about? Have i also ingested some of the meth-hex-sex stuff? What about sport? What about the true human talent, endurance, zeal and drive that these competitions celebrate? Aren't these athletes supposed to be role models for the youth? 

Well, given where Indian society is today, i think hard work and talent are wrong qualities to inculcate in our children. Why pretend to them that this is what it takes to succeed? You don't need zeal and drive. You need connections, palm-greasing skills, ability to talk nonsense through accusations and a ruthless ability to fill your pockets. You can do a lousy job, loot public money nothing will happen to you. The CWG looters are still running the show, apparently because the Games need to happen. Essentially, the inmates are running the asylum. 

It is hogwash and, frankly, it won't take much to do a speedy trial and toss half-a-dozen people in jail. And in any civilised country in the world, that is what would have happened. But in India, we reward the corrupt and connected and punish the hardworking with inflation and taxes and by stealing their money. Might as well make sporting events reflect our true culture. 

I hope people realise the message we are sending to our kids when we let the Games go on without anybody punished. We are telling them corruption is OK, it is part of Indian life. We grew up like that, and that is why we are somewhat numb to it. If the government punishes people swiftly (and before the Games), our children will know that what is wrong was not tolerated despite the circumstances. The government can do the right thing, and make CWG the milestone where corruption reforms started. Or we can let the party continue. But in that case, don't forget the drugs. 

The writer is a best-selling novelist. 



                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




The conclusion of researchers at York UniversityCanada that frequent Facebook users are often narcissists exemplifies a bias that many people have regarding online social networking websites. It's still customary to think of cyberspace as something far removed from real life, when in reality it is fast becoming an intrinsic part of our daily lives. Online networking websites have added a new dimension to social interactions and changed the way we manage our relationships. Any sweeping generalisation about Facebook users would be unfair. 

It is quite possible that Facebook provides a platform for some users to indulge in a bit of vanity uploading photographs, updating details about daily activities, etc. But isn't vanity a part of daily life as well? For many people Facebook is a medium of catharsis through which they can express a part of themselves that is normally subdued. On the other hand, there are people who customise their virtual profiles out of professional considerations, as an increasing number of employers are checking Facebook accounts of potential candidates before hiring them. Then there are certain individuals whose Facebook activities are purely motivated by the simple desire to stay connected with old friends and acquaintances. 

The beauty of social networking sites such as Facebook is that many of them let users decide how they want to manage their virtual accounts. It is completely up to them if they want to appear affable and peppy exaggerated or otherwise or restrict their online activities to a particular group of friends. And with enhanced privacy settings that allow users to interact with others in a sophisticated manner, Facebook has become an extension of one's social life. Narcissism may or may not be a part of it. But if modern society renders people faceless and anonymous, then social networking sites can be a wonderful antidote. As the term 'Facebook' suggests, they do give people a face. 








WASHINGTON: Has man a future? Bertrand Russell once raised the question in a powerful essay on what he saw as a looming peril of nuclear devastation. In today's emerging context of changing gender trends, we might ask: Do men have a future? 

It's a matter worth debating. At a discussion last week in a Washington suburban home, the question came up on the significance for womanhood at large of the personality of the protagonist of 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'. Those present had either read the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson's trilogy on the adventures of Lisbeth Salander or had seen the movies. Neither the books nor the movies, however, were the issue. The character of Lisbeth was everyone's focus. 

She is a 24-year-old woman who emerged as a defiantly independent adult from a traumatic, abused childhood. As an adult she continues to face occasional abuse but she knows how to settle scores with men who hate women. With the tattoo of a dragon running down her slender back, she is small in build, not conventionally attractive, looks like a punk, and fights fiercely anyone who tries to take advantage of her, from subway station hoodlums to the older man who the state has made her guardian. She is bisexual. She is a computer hacking genius. And she rarely smiles. 

Does Lisbeth ever pine for male company? Apparently not. More importantly, do women like her at all need men in their lives? In today's advanced societies, have women become sufficiently self-reliant not to need a man any longer as provider or protector in daily life except when they want sex for recreation or reproduction? 

Obviously, that is not so, at least not yet. Lisbeth is a fictional figure. But some emerging trends are striking. In the 
United States, the world's most economically and technologically advanced society, the gender ground has shifted. With the seismic shift, will there be a reordering of social, economic and political power? 

In a recent issue of The Atlantic magazine, Hannah Rosin writes on 'The End of Men', in which she presents trends on women and men in Americatoday. And she asks: "What if the modern, post-industrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men?" Evolutionary scientists have surmised that ever since our hunting and gathering stage we have adapted to conditions that required men, hardwired to compete for scarce resources, to lead us while women, programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, stayed in domesticity. 

What if it all were to change? What if the qualities of women, like sensitivity, nurturing empathy and flexibility, are in greater demand than manly brawn? 

In America, women have become a majority of the workforce. For the first time, there are more women managers, at 51.4 per cent, than men though the ratio of women as CEOs is still low. Women hold half of banking and insurance jobs and are 54 per cent of all accountants. They are 45 per cent of associates in law firms and one-third of all doctors. The numbers for women are rising fast. This year, for every two men who got a college degree, three women did. Will such trends mean that power will reach a tipping point before long? 

India, the significance of such trends may be difficult to comprehend. In large sections of our country, perhaps with a majority of men as well as women, sons remain the prize of marriage. Although some changes are visible in urban India, daughters are still seen as a burden. Sex ratios of infants in swathes of the country have drastically declined for females. But, as society advances, can it all change? 

In America, in 1985, half of all women in a national survey said they wanted to have a son. In 2003, that figure had dropped to 15 per cent. Not just in the West, even in once patriarchal and now advanced South Korea the preference for male babies "is over", says Monica Dasgupta, a World Bank demographer quoted in The Atlantic. 

So, watch out, men. Your days as masters of the universe may be numbered. Girls with dragon tattoos are on their way. Lisbeth is smiling at last. 








India's official stance on caste has for nearly a century been on the lines of that of the emperor in the fairy tale towards his new clothes. To be charitable, it has given caste head counts a wide berth on the principle that you can't twist data that you don't have. Social mobility, the argument runs, can be achieved through reservation in jobs and in the means to land them alongside targeted welfare spending. This was undertaken without knowing exactly how many are in need of either, ostensibly as a safeguard against caste-based politics. As things turned out, our political parties have a fair idea of the caste count in their constituencies: to have a fighting chance, the village leader must know how many of his neighbours belong to his caste and how many don't. Several parties exist because they could, at the outset, pool this data and process it to their benefit. They thrive because they don't live in denial.


An official caste census takes away some of this arbitrage. Not only does private profiling lead to winnability, it binds to power through the promise of patronage. A government machine that has no headcount can't tell if jobs are going to the boys or state aid to the re-election fund. Such social and economic empowerment, however flawed, works when institutional capacities are small. A nation that is taking tentative steps towards widespread social security, however, needs better accounting standards.


Over the next decade, India hopes to provide its 1.2 billion citizens identification numbers that should eventually serve as a fence around legitimate economic and political activity. The unique identification number project could pay for itself, its managers reckon, in a year by saving the government Rs 20,000 crore in annual social welfare payouts that end up in the wrong hands because of duplication. For a big government like India's, which spends every fourth rupee of the national income, biometric identification is the first step in moving away from functional anarchy. The strong correlation between caste and economic dispossession calls for the more controversial headcount. If flagship welfare schemes are co-built with the new database, as is the idea, productivity gains in welfare delivery can outweigh the political damage of a caste census.








Street-calls and street-vending are still so much with us that we barely notice them. They just about touch our sub-conscious.  


This side-show of life in India's suburbs is slowly becoming extinct. Should that alter how we view it?


With shopping malls coming up in neighbourhoods enticing us with glitzy hoardings, lights, air-conditioning and, in Chennai, even with piped Carnatic music, buyers of daily 'perishables' are resorting increasingly to 'malling'. The marriage of the Indian middle-class and 'malling' is like the couple whose highly visible love amounts to what George Orwell called 'washing one's clean linen in public'. What is the street vendor's future?


My mother recalled seeing, as a child, an itinerant Chinese vendor come regularly by their Chennai home crying, 'Silk! silk!'. She would rush out to see him and his yards of silk, only to be asked to come right back inside. As a teenager I used to be drawn to the call of a darner who walked down our street on Gamdevi in Bombay crying, "Rafuwaalaaa-en, rafuwaalaaa-en...". The lifted and nasalised 'en' at the end of his self-proclamation having no role in language but a great part in street-calling.


My attraction towards this wedge of human concourse has been centred on one facet of it — its phonations. The street-calls come straight, no microphone is used. They come from a moving point, no pre-positioned 'speakers' direct the sound. The callers are simple people without any training in voice-modulation, voice-throw.


All this they do by instinct. And practice.


In Thiruvanmiyur, the suburb of Chennai where I live, street-calls virtually set the day.


The most strident of these street-call vendors is a gaunt man who comes on a tricycle laden with his niche ware, leafy greens of every description.


Keerai-k-keerai! Ara-k-keerai, mola-k-keerai, paala-k-keerai, mana-k-keerai, vaazhakkaa, vaazha-p-poo, vaazha-ththandoy Keerai-keeroy!


Phoneticised into Englibberish the call would sound like: Clearay-c-clear! Are you clear? Molecular, Polycular, many-a-clear, Are you clear, Very-c-clear, very pooh, pooh-pooh, Clearay-c-clear,hey hoy!


Keerai is the generic Tamil name covering greens of the paalak type. He also brings banana plant stalk and the 'banana-flower'. Wagner would have placed the keerai man as a bass-baritone. Gilbert and Sullivan would have considered him for their musicals because of the richness of his voice's pitch, the powerful declaiming of his wares and for his ability to vociferate. The 'oy' that he introduces to end his call amounts in punctuation terms to an exclamation-mark with the suggestion of 'Hey,watch out!'. You can't miss him.


In marked contrast is a demure little man,who comes not on but with a bicycle, peddling a single stock-in-trade. This is the finely ground rice-flour with which hearths are decorated, the kolam. This wizened gentleman walks along with his bicycle on the backrest of which sits a sack with its finely-powdered ware and an iron measuring-cup, saying but not shouting






Phonologically this call bespeaks brevity, appropriate of a single-product announcement. Musicologically, it swings between two nishaad-s, corresponding to a very sober judge saying, "Order,Order!"


There is another one-stuff caller in the more congested alleys of Thiruvanmiyur. This is the seller of a ready-to-eat breakfast number, the idiyaappam better known in Sri Lanka as the 'string-hopper'. Our string-hopper seller brings his cooked delicacy in a large lidded bin cannily balanced on a bicycle.


Idiyaappo! Idiyaappohm!


The ingenuity of street-calling tells him that a dull consonant will dullen his trade. Hence, the 'o' and 'ohm' at the end of his call. This hyperbolises his call and gives to it what in voice classification is termed tessitura or texture. Entirely appropriate for as tender breakfast food as the string-hopper.


A rare visitor is the unshelled groundnut seller. Pushing a cart bearing a mound of his ware, ver-kadalay in Tamil, this gentleman personifies mobile plenitude. His call is lullabic, invoking a never-never-time when there was peace,plenty and peanuts. He mumbles his words but I take them to be intoning kadalay and ver-kadalay.


"Kadalay, kadal-ee, ver-ver kadalay".


Which an English family during the Raj would have transcribed in letters being written home as Cuddle-A, Cuddle-B, Very-Very Cuddly.


Sellers apart, like all neighbourhoods in the city, Thiruvanmiyur has not one but several buyers of a product that come street-calling as well. And in what criss-crossing variety !


The paperwala's call can be matter-of-fact as in:






Insistent, as in






Papper, pazhaiya-p-papper!


Indifferently sing-song as in


Payyyyy-ppo, payyyy-ppo, pazhaiya paaay-ppo!


Querying as in






Or just plain frantic.






The preponderance of paperwalas over the other street-calling vendors who sell, points to the shift in our lifestyles. We are bringing into our homes from burgeoning shops and malls, more than our homes can hold, more than our bins can hold. Insistent or even frantic as paperwala's calls may be, so are our needs to throw and pocket a couple of tenners in the bargain. There is a solitary woman vendor in Thiruvanmiyur. She walks erect, a sinngle basket resting on the coiled piece of cloth over her head. She too sells keerai. "Keerai,keerai, ara-k-keerai,mana-k-keerai," she calls loud enough to be heard, yet not so loud as to sound coarse. A difficult time she must have in this all-male bastion. But she needs must vend. And with what dignity she does it!


In Delhi's Nizamuddin area, where my daughter lives, one sees not just vendors of wares but of rare services as well. One of the regulars is a bead-stringer and another a bread-loaf slicer. Both come calling their skills and render their specialised help at the doorstep. When will showrooms and boutiques, bars and baristas convert these expert street-callers into cameo-posters? Very soon, I suspect.


So, why are calls to be preferred to malls? Not just because they are disappearing, good enough reason though that is. But because they are symbols and representatives of a lifestyle which too is disappearing, a lifestyle where life is more important than style.


Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor


The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





The Supreme Court tells the government: "It's criminal to let food rot in a chronically hungry country. Give it away free to the poor." It could have added: "Have you no political sense? Have you not read Anandamath, or at least seen the movie?" And Manmohan Singh ticks it off for transgressing on policymaking — doesn't it know there's no such thing as a free lunch? He could have added: "Haven't you read my bestselling Food Security Bill? The critics went wild over it. And the movie will be bigger than Peepli Live." This is the government's contribution to the debate on hunger in a chronically hungry superpower.


The Supreme Court is not meddling. It is empowered to question wonky policy, and work by activists, public intellectuals, economists, media and the government itself shows that food security policy has gone to pot. Even the Food Security Bill is a cop-out, offering only foodgrains in insufficient quantities. Its menu sells small meals and no side orders, a recipe for perpetuating undernutrition. Besides, the court has been hearing public interest cases on this issue for a decade, and this order is only the latest of more than five dozen it has passed. So why did the prime minister think it was out of line, and impractical besides? Is it only the fear of change?


Food rots because the government lifts twice the tonnage it can stow safely. It does this out of a historical commitment to farmers to buy produce at minimum support prices (MSP). This protects them from adverse market conditions, builds food reserves and thus promotes the Directive Principles of the Constitution. But the very same principles should urge it to give away to the needy surpluses that it cannot store.


The government protests that it cannot do that on purely financial grounds, with no reference to the Constitution. It would inflate the subsidy bill. And if it did not lift produce at MSP even when it could not store it, farmers would lose the incentive to produce and agriculture would collapse. And so the virtuous circle must continue — the grain-farmer produces, fails to get a decent price, sells to the government at the MSP and earns a basic living while government lets the produce rot. Meanwhile, millions go hungry.


Can we not break the circle and separate the Gandhian need to support farmers from the equally Gandhian priority of feeding the poor? It is painlessly done if we recognise that the MSP is itself a wasteful and needlessly complicated subsidy. Neighbouring Bangladesh is experimenting with direct cash subsidies to farmers. It is cheaper to let farmers sell part of their produce on the open market and compensate them for lost profits than to stockpile and destroy food. Alternatively, it is cheaper to give away excess food immediately and locally after procurement than to hoard it until it rots.


Maybe a reluctance to give freebies is at work here. But there is such a thing as a free lunch. It's routinely given to the rich in the form of tax holidays and business incentives, with the legitimate aim of increasing India's competitiveness. We can give to the poor just as legitimately, to build a better manpower base. And, of course, a healthier society.


Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine


The views expressed by the author are personal








It is easy to get over-excited about Fidel Castro's cryptic remark to an American journalist: "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore." Change has been coming to Cuba in the past years, especially the last two under his brother Raul. Small businesses are encouraged, political prisoners released, but no suggestion has yet been made that the bracing winds of democracy and free enterprise are going to lash the island. And Castro is not exactly abandoning the precepts of the revolution. Asked if age and health are diminishing his atheism, he replied: "Sorry, I'm still a dialectical materialist."


However, what Castro did once again this week was put in place those who'd second-guess him. He has invited to Havana Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent with the American journal, The Atlantic Monthly, who wrote an article about tension between Israel and Iran. He told Goldberg that a confrontation could escalate into a nuclear conflict. Yet even as he cautioned the US, he admitted that it was not "worth it" to have written to Khruschev during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis saying the Soviet Union should consider a nuclear strike against the US in case Cuba was invaded. But, curiously, the loudest message he sought to convey was to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He criticised Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust and urged him to reconsider his anti-Semitism. It immediately puts him at a nuanced remove from the company Cuba keeps to keep up the banner of anti-Americanism.


This does not mean that Castro is nominating himself as an arbiter in international standoffs. Or that the grand old man of Havana has the answers to today's problems. But it does take an exceptional spirit to readily concede one's mistakes.






When Barack Obama was elected president of the US, it was believed he would bring a touch of idealism to the White House. He would restore faith in American leadership; he would make the case for a more interconnected, more open world. That expectation has, at crucial moments, been disappointed. Witness his "Buffalo to Bangalore" speech last year, in which he served notice that his administration's commitment to a closer-than-ever world did not quite extend to being absolutely frank about the benefits, to Americans, of outsourcing.


On Thursday, standing by Ohio's embattled governor, Ted Strickland, it was on display again. Strickland, a Democrat, is up for re-election. As part of an effort to harness widespread popular anger about the failure of America's recovering economy to create enough jobs, he announced his state's administration will no longer permit any government IT work to be done from overseas. Unsurprising, perhaps: shrill Republican ads claim 400,000 Ohio jobs were lost during histenure. Of course, practically all of those that "moved" were to elsewhere in the US. Nor will this directly impact a large number ofIndian companies or workers. Still, Ohio's response was extreme, something a desperate candidate might reach for. But when a chief executive who controls both houses of the legislature and is the unquestioned leader of his party lends his support to such thinking, then the problem's escalated to a whole new level.


Obama provided moral support to Strickland by reiterating his own claim that federal "tax breaks" for those who "outsource jobs" would end. This is an intentionally deceptive formulation of the tax reform he has in mind. US-headquartered multinationals can defer taxes on income earned outside the US, as long as that income was being re-invested in their own subsidiaries; that's hardly "outsourcing jobs." Ending that provision would constrain US companies' expansion, hurt their competitiveness, andlose US jobs as companies decideinstead to move their headquarters overseas. A genuine commitment to renewal of American leadership would require a constant restatement of the benefits that accrue all round from closer human, trading and corporate links. America's people, and its trading partners and friends, deserve, expect and, dare we say it, hope for more.







The QS World University Rankings have showed Indian higher education its place. Indian universities have steadily sunk in the rankings — even the IITs, our most talked-up education brand, only place between 187 and 501. Many Chinese schools have clambered even higher, with three in the top 50 improving their standing even more. The US and the UK between themselves have cornered the top 17 spots, and continue to overwhelmingly score over the others. It makes for depressing reading, even if one argues that the budgets and mandates of our universities are different, and may have tilted these rankings despite strong faculty and student profiles. Perhaps it doesn't make sense, at this stage, to be judged on the strength of international faculty and students, or on teacher-student ratios.


But the larger question remains — when universities across the world are reinventing themselves, making this list highly dynamic, why is India still sliding down? As the board convener for these rankings pointed out, IITs apart, the most striking fact is how other Indian institutions have figured. Delhi University, which should be the top of the pole in India, comes in at a dismal 371. Liberal arts colleges suffer a legitimation crisis, in a country emphatically on the make. What's the point of wide and purposeless learning for its own sake, when it is technical proficiency that makes you employable? That's a valid question, and it is perhaps just a superstition that the pursuit of "practical" and "true" knowledge are incompatible. However, the liberal arts mission is closely related to a consciousness of the civic good, and India's lack of investment in these disciplines has long distorted our mental field — for instance, it's arguable that a lack of common grounding in history is what makes certain subjects so flammable, and makes it so hard for us to accept ambivalence or contestation.


What's more, young people are made to tend narrow patches of learning right after school, even in an institution like Delhi University, instead of freely exploring subjects and finding the joins between them — part of what makes the American undergraduate experience so creative. Apart from a few bright spots in science, our research universities, where academic collaboration and infrastructure make a tangible difference, rarely make the cut either. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal struck a cheery note about the rankings, saying that India would tell a different story in the next decade. But without a willingness to take apart, tinker, and put the system back together, that is a long shot.








Here is a three-question quiz for the top leadership of the Congress party. One, do you want Rahul Gandhi to become prime minister replacing Manmohan Singh during the term of this Lok Sabha? Two, if not, do you still want a change of leadership, nominating yet another partyman as prime minister to run the government until 2014? Three, do you want to dissolve this parliament some time soon, and seek a fresh, and hopefully a fuller mandate?


If the answer is a "yes" to any of these three, then you have no time to lose. If Rahul has to lead, he must be given time to settle in the job and go back to the voters in 2014 with a real report card. If it is someone else, he would still need time because no incumbent can go to the polls after a short-term prime ministership. And if you have to seek a fresh mandate, why prolong everybody's agony by having your government just hobble along?


But if the answer, as I surely believe, is "none of the above", then you have to do a few new things, and also make a course correction. You have to speak to your government and your hand-picked prime minister to focus back on governance, to fix the power and performance of its cabinet, and you have to help them do so. Because the risk you do not want to take going into 2014 (or even earlier if the party is encouraged in case there is a spectacular performance in Uttar Pradesh in 2012) is of going into an election with the longest lasting lame duck in India's history.


And here are five things that you specifically need to ask your government to fix:


1. It has to fix, first of all, the cabinet. Over the past year we have seen the government evolve in an unprecedented manner where, it seems, ministers (particularly some senior ones) have begun to function like bureaucrats. All responsibility is avoided and decisions are put in orbit with that catch-all excuse, "party-government disconnect". That bluff has to be called. The way to do it is to drop the non-performers. Going by sheer performance, at least six senior ministers in this cabinet have been hopeless non-performing assets. They must go in the next reshuffle. That will, by itself, bring in the additional benefit of fixing the average age of the cabinet. Look for those who are in the cabinet not because they bring any special skills, value or experience but who are there to balance the politics of some state, or faction. Those that consider their tenure in the cabinet as "time-pass" while they plan and plot their return to the state — where real power is. You can count six like that in one minute, so please do not ask me for names. The Union cabinet cannot be a sinecure, or a comfortable exile for those you do not want making mischief some place else.


2. Both the party and the government need a Kamraj Plan. There are senior members of the cabinet who you would rather have out there, managing your politics, tying up alliances, making deals. At least three of them need to go out and that will serve the party better than their current, distracted non-performer status in the cabinet. Similarly, some from the party should be inducted into the cabinet, particularly one of the general secretaries who has not held a government position for a long time now and has age, energy and resourcefulness still on his side to deliver on specific responsibilities in key areas. Think of of him in one of the key positions in Cabinet Committee of Security, not all of whose members are the finest performers of this cabinet.


3. The prime minister has to fix his PMO. We know that he is such a believer in "correctness" but over the decades the engine of any government is the PMO. He needs more and fresh people there and he needs to empower those that are there and he trusts much more. The PMO cannot be a forwarding office. It has to make sure the prime minister's and the government's agenda is implemented, its wishes are carried out and the bottlenecks, as they arise, are quickly removed. Vajpayee's PMO is a good example. That was a coalition government too and Vajpayee's mandate was hobbled by internal power struggles of the BJP even more than Manmohan Singh's because of the sniping by the Congress party's "establishment" dissidents. But his PMO packed real power, and delivered what he wanted. And, honestly, Vajpayee worked no more than six full hours a day, and never missed his long siesta, while Manmohan Singh works 18 and, from all accouns, takes his worries to his bed. He needs more people in his office delivering, getting ministers and ministries to talk and sort out their differences and getting decisions implemented.


4. Revisit the idea of GoMs and EGoMs. This Manmohan Singh innovation has worked well in the past but has now begun to go past its use-by date. This was a useful instrument to get consensus decision on contentious and complex issues. But it has lost much value in UPA-II. Most GoMs have failed to arrive at a coherent conclusion and where they have, they have run into resistance, in some cases even at the NAC. The PM, therefore, has to first of all do a performance appraisal of the currently functioning GoMs and then take back what is stalled and push it top-down from the PMO.


5.The prime minister has to reach out to Sonia Gandhi and find a way of institutionalising his government's interaction with the party and now, inevitably, with the NAC. There is no point in the government announcing a decision or policy and then stalling in the face of criticism from a "party" critic or opposition of even one member of the NAC whose power can no longer be under-estimated. When a newspaper article, or even stray criticism by an NAC member can chill the government into rethinking or inaction, the only way to function is to institutionalise that interaction. How that is best done, the prime minister and Sonia have to figure out. Otherwise excuses to do nothing will keep arising, and so will irritants.


And while the prime minister and the government do some of this the party will need to do some cleaning up at its end as well. A crucial aspect of this will have to be a fresh look at its chief ministers and the states it is running. Its chief ministers in Maharashtra and Andhra (which send 87 members to Lok Sabha) look powerless and ineffective. Its other states, from Kashmir to Goa, are a disaster. If fortunes in today's national elections are a net result of several key state elections, the Congress will need to empower its chief ministers and be able to flaunt more best practices from its own states than just tiny Haryana's land acquisition policy.







Back in 1989, when India launched an economic blockade that lasted about 20 months and created massive shortages in landlocked Nepal, King Birendra quietly sent a small team of trusted aides and officials to China to explore if the north was ready to be a dependable alternative.


China might have wanted to keep the visit secret and therefore asked the Nepali team to come to Lhasa where a senior minister from Beijing joined them. But to the great disappointment of the team, the Chinese minister asked them to be realistic. We are not in a position to do much in the next two to three decades, and Nepal should continue to mend fences with India, was the message conveyed. Meanwhile, as "a token of the highest regard that we have for Nepal's monarchy," Beijing sent 10,000 litres of low-octane petroleum to fuel-starved Nepal, which was barely enough for a week's consumption.


King Birendra felt particularly betrayed. He was disappointed with India, as the unexpected blockade came barely two years after he had annulled a global contract that China had won for the construction of the 300-km Kohalpur-Banbasa road along the Indian border. The king unilaterally awarded the contract to India after P.V. Narasimha Rao, then external affairs minister, met the king to convey India's security concerns.


As the blockade continued, Birendra received another proposal from India through S.K. Singh, that Nepal concede India's priority rights in harnessing Nepal's water resources and that it accept India's enhanced security concerns even on matters of arms-imports for its consumption. All this while, China quietly looked away.


But in 2005, when India and the West stopped supplying arms to the Nepal army in disapproval of the royal takeover, China dispatched arms in large volumes. This was a clear departure from its projected low interest in Nepal. Now, less than three decades after King Birendra's team returned empty-handed, the Chinese no longer suggest that Nepal should depend more on India, or that it has less stake or influence. Rather, it asserts that it is willing to cooperate and compete with, and confront India in Nepal if necessary.


China has expanded its areas of interest and often matched India's brazenness in its dealings and involvement in Nepal's internal politics. To cite an example, while the government of Nepal has been instructed by a parliament committee to probe an incident in which an Indian embassy official was accused of physically harming a Maoist parliamentarian, the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Authority (CIAA), an anti-graft constitutional body, is investigating a recently broadcast audio tape in which the Maoists' foreign affairs chief, K.B. Mahara, and an unidentified Chinese official are negotiating an arrangement, with Mahara demanding Rs 500 million to buy members of parliament and form the government. This issue has taken a wider dimension as two national dailies — Kantipur (Nepali) and The Kathmandu Post (English) — splashed front-page commentaries by their editors claiming that the contents of the tape were distributed by the Indian embassy. The editors also claimed that they received calls from an Indian embassy official when they were dining with the Chinese ambassador.


The constituent assembly's failure to deliver a constitution on time, the parliament's failure to elect a prime minister for over two months, and the resulting political chaos have created greater despair and concern about the future of democracy in Nepal. Political leaders, whether they are part of the Maoists or the Nepali Congress, are widely resented. Among the public, there is an unconcealed and real anger directed against these leaders, and a sense that things were much better when the king was around. This, perhaps, has emboldened Gyanendra and his son Paras to tour various parts of the country.


The consolidation of democracy, political stability and economic prosperity were all gifts promised to Nepal when the Maoists — still armed insurgents — and seven pro-democracy parties signed a 12-point understanding in November 2005 in Delhi, agreeing to collectively launch an anti-monarchy movement with Indian mediation. Gyanendra's lead role in having China as an observer to SAARC — a proposal that was unanimously endorsed during the summit in Dhaka on November 6 and 7 that year — had apparently irked India, and the 12-point agreement was a consequence of that. India chose to bury the monarchy and cultivate and support the Maoists as a popular force, which it is now at loggerheads with. Tragically enough, neither India nor China can confidently negotiate with any of the existing political parties for their long-term interests, including security-related ones. That explains their direct, even brazen involvement at times, which Nepalis find discomfiting.


China finds its sensitivity on Tibet issues ignored by the current regime. There has been no serious review so far in Delhi over its role in the 12-point agreement and the events that followed in Nepal, and whether India has gained or lost in the estimate of the Nepali people. The instability and economic ruin of Nepal should not be seen as the fallout of the 12-point agreement. The political mismanagement that followed the agreement still continues to wreck its fate.









The prime minister's gentle but firm statement on the Supreme Court's order regarding foodgrain distribution has been debated politically by several parties. But an aspect of this which has not received much comment is how the tussle between the "law makers" and the law's interpreters has shaped politics in India — and vice-versa. The Supreme Court's responses and its "mood" with regard to the legislature and the executive, is something which has been, in over 50 years, a reflection of the politics of the times, and influenced politics in turn.


The courts are, of course, apolitical, and have often surprised the political class with a nuanced response to situations; when tough cookies have been tossed their way, they can hurl them right back, very imaginatively. Consider an episode from not so long ago, one still relevant as the nation waits for the Allahabad high court verdict on the Ayodhya title suits. In 1993, the Narasimha Rao government sent the Supreme Court a presidential reference; and the court sent it right back, in a most sagacious and detailed ruling.


Spool back to the 1950s, when Nehru's government at the Centre was seized with fire and brimstone over land and related, touchy, matters, such as the abolition of zamindari. The court took a somewhat contrarian stand, one which served as a check on the legislature and the executive. It was a stand not propelled by popular demands, or the mood of the times; it was called "conservative" then, and sometimes even criticised. And just two months after a ruling that stated that the power of Parliament to make laws (in this case, push certain things into a non-judiciable Schedule) was limited by the Fundamental Rights, Chief Justice Subba Rao, who wrote the 6-5 majority judgment resigned — and a quick two months after that stood, as a candidate of the conservative Swatantra Party, for president!


In 1973, when PM Indira Gandhi was power-drunk, the Supreme Court ruled in the famous Kesavanand Bharti case that Parliament had to legislate within the constraints of what they termed the "basic structure" of the Constitution. And again, what the "basic structure" was, was left to the court to decide, making it a factor in how the popular mandate was interpreted and policy formulated by the government of the day.


Just a day after the landmark ruling, the executive superseded three judges and appointed Justice A.N. Ray as chief justice of India. He proved more loyal than the king in the difficult years between 1975 and 1977. And two years after Kesavanand Bharti, the Supreme Court was to contend with the polity's own basic structure being made to stand on its head: weeks after getting a hostile judgment about her election to Parliament from the Allahabad high court, a shaky Indira Gandhi deemed that a threat to the country and the Emergency was declared. The concept of "a committed judiciary" coined then became synonymous with the pliancy of the courts.


Seething over what politics did to the system of judicial appointments, the judiciary, in an act of over-caution in the 1990s, gave to themselves an unparalleled form of appointment: the "collegium" system. Earlier, it was necessary to consult the CJI; from the 1990s onwards, the collegium became the sole determinant of who got where. This system, even today, is shielded from any attempt at transparency — to protect ourselves from the executive, say judges; overreach, cry the critics. What one can't deny is how politics impacted the move by judges to shield themselves.


The phase that followed, one which earned accolades for the judiciary, was also a time for great uncertainty in politics. Coalition governments, governments falling before their term was up; and it is at this time that courts stepped in, and judges earned a good deal of applause, with the invention of the "PIL". Public interest litigations allowed a citizen to become a party, despite not having any formal locus standi. Under Justice Bhagwati and Justice Verma, judicial activism was behind most decisions the court took. Adalats and courts almost tried substituting for the widening gap between the electoral promises and implementation. It was also a time of great ferment, with caste and other issues relating to religious identity and corruption coming up before the courts, but they took on the challenge each time.


Yet it is perhaps a consequence of the "encroachment" which the legislature worried about that another phase of the battle between the courts and Parliament began. Over, for example, the proposed reservation of seats for OBCs in higher educational institutions. The Lok Sabha, having an eminent jurist at the helm at the time, Somnath Chatterjee, pulled no punches and it was a daily battle as the legislature did its best to push back against what they deemed as interference in their matters. A ruling on the state of Jharkhand, directing the Assembly to meet at a certain time in 2006, and rulings on cleaning public conveniences and such like, perhaps acted as a spur.


Otherwise too, the courts had greatly increased their workload and domain. They had amicus curiae, advisory committees, expert committees and even monitoring committees — which were playing the role of the executive as well as the judiciary, drawing much comment, and ire too from certain quarters.


In more recent times, the judges themselves, recognising the political and public mood, have allowed a transparent listing of their wealth and assets. The RTI, going all the way to the Supreme Court, has served a purpose by opening up a debate on even the most revered in the land. But several judges have self-corrected and defended the need to not overreach — and not go into the number of cows on the streets of Delhi, or pollution levels acceptable, or at what time legislatures of states are to meet. To quote the redoubtable Justice J.S. Verma, who almost provided a Goldilocks-ian mean to the extent of judicial activism that's healthy; "There is a clear distinction between commanding performance by the concerned authority and the judiciary taking over the function itself. The former, not the latter, is legitimate judicial intervention."







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 per cent 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 labour 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 US 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 per cent of male Harvard graduates and 43 per cent 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 per cent, not 9.6 per cent.


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 live 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.


-David brooks






Flood in the money

Pakistan president Asif Zardari used Angelina Jolie's visit to Pakistan as UNHCR's goodwill ambassador to appeal to the world for aid. On September 5, The News reported his words: "We want the international community to stand besides us the way we are playing the role of a frontline state in the war against terrorism by standing with them..." On September 6, the paper quoted him as proposing innovative way to hike up the country's revenues: "President Zardari proposed a 'flood tax' on property, both residential and agricultural, and directed the Sindh government to generate $1 billion dollars through the levy... the flood tax would be for one time only and Rs 200,000 on a piece of residential land of 2,000 square yards, Rs 100,000 on 1,000 square yards and Rs 50,000 on 500 square yards."


Full blast


Last week saw triple bomb blasts in a Shia congregation in Lahore. Then, on September 7, newspapers reported a string of bomb blasts on a single day. A suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a police station in the Lakki Marwat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killing 19 people. Then, two low-intensity bombs exploded on a Lahore roadside at midnight: the first near the DSP's residence, and the second near the office of the Bomb Disposal Squad. Meanwhile, the Taliban bombed a girls' high school in Peshawar. On September 8, papers reported another blast in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's Kohat, which claimed at least 20 lives and injured over 90 inside a police colony. Another girls' school was blown up near Mingora. A Pakistani Taliban spokesman threatened more such action against security forces in response to American drone attacks. On September 9, Balochistan Finance Minister Mir Asim Kurd had a narrow escape when a suicide bomber detonated himself inside his residence in Quetta, killing five people and injuring four others.


Marching orders


Dawn reported on September 8: "Interior minister Rehman Malik has said the government is planning a Swat and Malakand-like crackdown in Balochistan to crush elements involved in target killings and bomb blasts... 'Enough is enough...they (terrorists) do not understand the language of love.' " A day later, a spokesman of the PPP-led Balochistan government which comprises a large number of political parties — with arch-rivals, even, in the same cabinet — disowned Malik's statement, according to Daily Times. " 'The views expressed... were Rehman Malik's personal (views) and the Balochistan government has nothing to do with those...' "


Reservations on nominations


Daily Times reported on September 7: "The Supreme Court termed the election of women and minorities on reserved seats under the proportional representation system flawed, and observed that it could not be declared as true representation of the people. The 17-member full court headed by chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was hearing identical petitions against certain clauses of the 18th Amendment with reference to the formation of a judicial commission for the appointment of judges to the superior court. During the hearing, the judges pointed out that under the proportional representation system, the reserved seats were distributed at specific homes and the poor and working women were kept away. Dawn added: "A Supreme Court full-bench hearing 21 petitions challenging the 18th Amendment described the process of nominating persons to seats reserved for women in legislatures as 'selection, and not election', made on personal likes and dislikes of heads of parties." The advocate argued that the procedure violated the constitution's Article 226, which calls for election through secret ballot. The petitioner, Ijaz-ul-Haq is the son of Gen Zia-ul Haq, who had nominated a Majlis-i-Shura of his choice as a political foundation to his military dictatorship.









Reputation is a tricky little thing in the film business. It changes Friday to Friday. For the longest time, Yash Raj Films (YRF) was the ultimate Hindi film studio; in the good old days of Raj and Simran, this banner was gold. Aditya Chopra's decision to turn it into a factory, by giving breaks to debut directors, was also well received. Adi's brave move gave us films like Hum Tum, Dhoom, Saathiya, Chak De India, and Bunty aur Babli to name a few.


Of late, Adi's good luck seems to have run out. Films like Tashan, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, Ta Ra Rum Pum, Dil Bole Hadippa, Aaja Nachle, Pyaar Impossible have damaged YRF brand equity. Their latest release, Lafangey Parindey, also failed to click with the audience. The Pradeep Sarkar-directed Neil Nitin Mukesh and Deepika Padukone-starrer went away mostly unnoticed. While the failure of Lafangey Parindey dents Neil's solo hero credentials, it's also a huge blow to the banner.


Let's be real. Neil is not an A-list star while Deepika, albeit one of the top heroines, definitely cannot carry a film on her shoulders as could a Priyanka (Pyaar Impossible) or a Rani (Dil Bole Hadippa) or a Madhuri (Aaja Nachle). So the big heroine/not-so-big hero equation clearly was not going to work for Lafangey Parindey. So the onus of ensuring an initial taking for the film was on the banner. The film's poor show tells the story: the YRF sheen is wearing off. Some serious creative reinvention is needed so that Adi can get his mojo back.


Adi's best friend, Karan Johar, meanwhile, is figuring out his destiny as a producer with his banner, Dharma

Productions. So far his track record is 50-50. Johar's current report card reads like this: Dostana clicked. Wake Up Sid was well liked. I Hate Luv Storys minted money. Kurbaan flopped. His latest, We Are Family was lukewarm.


The Kajol-Kareena Kapoor combination was designed to tug at every mother's heartstrings, hoping she in turn would drag her husband and kids to watch Johar and Co's take on the Hollywood weepie Stepmom. Somewhere Johar got his mummies audience wrong. Setting the film in Australia disconnected India-based mummies while NRI mummies (who incidentally love Johar's brand of cinema) had trouble identifying with the film's desi soap feel, especially towards the climax. Newbie director, Siddharth Malhotra, got the subtle-melodramatic proportion wrong. Malhotra tried to do a Sooraj Barjatya in the garb of a Karan Johar designer film. It didn't work. You are either a Barjatya or a Johar. There is no place for the middle path in cinema, We Are Family shows, Johar's half n' half track record holds his banner in good stead.


]Currently the banner occupying top of mind awareness is that of Aamir Khan's. He proved his mettle as a producer with Lagaan, Taare Zameen Par and Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na but the success of Peepli Live is perhaps his biggest achievement as a producer. A strong producer treats all his films with equality. Not once did Khan compromise or treat Peepli Live as a small film. He demanded a mainstream release for his faceless little film and eventually turned it into an event. Salman Khan calls him Mr Midas Touch. I think he's Bollywood's Mr Fearless, a man who knows his box office economics.


This Friday will see the debut of a new banner. With Dabanng, actor Arbaaz Khan joins the big guys. Such is the hype for Dabanng that the trade has already declared it a blockbuster. Gaiety-Galaxy, the single screen barometer of Hindi films in Mumbai, is already sold out till Wednesday. The going rate for black tickets? Rs 400 for the Rs 55 stall ticket, while the Rs 75 balcony ticket is being sold for Rs 700.


Nobody can explain these numbers. It's Salman Khan's star power. As so another banner rises.








Economic analysis in India is fast beginning to resemble that game children play where the lead player approaches his targets blindfolded. So the index of industrial production (IIP) growth, which started to decline from 15.2% in April to 11.3% in May, fell further to 7.1% in June (this has now been revised to 5.8%) and now, just as suddenly, it has jumped to 13.8%, taking us back to the base-effect-driven growth rates of the latter half of 2009 and the heydays of late 2006. If the signal to RBI last month was to hold back on a rate hike, the signal yesterday was to raise them. How are investors to plan for investments in a scenario where there is no clarity on the data? And think of the consequences of RBI action based on the latest IIP numbers if it turns out, next month perhaps, that the data was incorrect, more so given the weak global economic scenario.


In the past, some of the surprise growth elements used to be provided by items such as wood products and even alarm clocks, this time's surprise element is capital goods. During September 2009, "alarm time pieces" production jumped from 34,000 pieces to 7,94,000, a growth of 1,989%! Although alarm time pieces are all but 0.16% of the IIP, you don't need a calculator to figure out the contribution to the IIP growth in September. This time around, capital goods grew 55% in April, slowed to 34.2% in May and then saw growth fall by 0.4% in June (according to the revised figures) and now, just as suddenly, growth has soared to 63%. At the same time, growth in the consumer non-durables segment has ground to a halt, down even from the anaemic levels we saw in the past few months. There is nothing to explain why capital goods' growth turned negative in June or why it bounced back so sharply in July—after the recent fiasco with the GDP numbers, you'd have thought the statistical staffers in the government would take care to explain the sharp spikes.


If you assume, for the moment, that the data is kosher, how do you explain the marked weakness in demand for bank credit? If capex is as strong as suggested by the IIP data, how is this being funded? Data on bank credit, available till end-August, shows that non-food credit offtake expanded by Rs 1.12 lakh crore since the beginning of this financial year, and has actually contracted by about Rs 44,000 crore since end-June 2010. Remove the likely bank funding of Rs 75,000 crore for the telecom auctions, this implies a credit delivery of about 40,000 crore to other sectors, one of the lowest for corresponding periods in the past few years. Exports growth in July had slowed to 13%, down from an average 38% during the previous five months. A few days ago, revised GDP data had shown an 8% growth in fixed investment in the April-June quarter of 2010-11, compared to the average 30% growth in the capital goods index for the same quarter. Governor Subbarao would do well to keep the possibility of the data being dodgy when he decides on policy rates next week.







India's position in the three sets of global rankings in yesterday's newspapers varied sharply and were apparently very disconnected. But a closer look shows that the contradictions were largely superficial and everything falls in place like a sophisticated puzzle. Thus, we have the World Investment Prospects Survey 2010-12, brought out by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), which identified India as the second-most favoured investment destination, next only to China. And then there was the Global Competitiveness Report 2010-11, brought out by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which indicated that India has slipped two rungs in the rankings to the 51st position, the worst in three years. And the third report on the best global educational institutions, by a leading career and education network, showed India's sole representative in the top 200 global educational institutions, IIT Bombay, had slipped 19 ranks to the 187th position. So, what explains this dichotomy and what does it imply for the Indian economy?


One reason is the focus areas of the the three reports. While the first report, on India's FDI prospects, is a forward-looking document that provides a picture of the future trends, the other two reports look at current scenario in the macro economy and in higher education. So, while the Unctad survey tries to project the FDI prospects, the WEF study looks at the performance of the countries in areas that determine productivity, one of the key factors that facilitate macro economic growth, and the third study looks at the quality of educational institutions. Thus, the FDI survey reflects the perception of the 300 largest of the largest transnational corporations, investment promotion agencies and location experts, while the competitiveness report investigates the various factors that have pulled down India's productivity levels and pushed down its per capita income to the 162nd position despite being the 12th largest economy in the world. The WEF numbers show that India's low competitiveness rankings is mainly on account of its performance on the basic requirements front, which includes institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic environment, and health and primary education, where the country ranking is even lower at 81. In fact, it was the country's improved performance because of efficiency enhancers like higher education, technological readiness and market size and efficiency that pushed up India's overall competitiveness. So, in policy terms, this implies that sustaining the FDI flows would require more progressive reforms that urgently tackle the lacunae in the basic requirements and further improve the achievements in other areas like higher education, where China accounted for as many as 46 of the top 200 educational institutions in Asia, compared to just 12 from India.








Having more formal monetary reviews and possible announcements is just what is required to keep the hype alive on monetary policy. The market is always trying to guess what RBI is going to do between policies, and RBI has decided to have more policies between the four policies to remove uncertainty. However, this has still not stopped the media from 'asking' between these new policies whether RBI is up to something. One can guess that the media and markets will always be trying to out-guess what RBI will do. More policies may not really reduce the level of speculation.


The question being raised again is whether or not RBI will increase rates, now that inflation and growth show different tendencies. Inflation appears to be coming down, although admittedly, it is a mirage. The growth perspective is fogged by the June IIP numbers. So there may be a case to legitimately ask for a guess on the rates issue.


Now, when RBI comes up with the next policy later this month, there are certain issues that should be addressed so that it becomes more than a stance on rates. Monetary statements are normally cloaked with conservative statements of a number for GDP and some words on the downside risks, which is inflation today. But, it would be useful if RBI can actually throw some light on certain pressing issues.


The first is, why are deposits not increasing at a steady rate? There are explanations being given in terms of households moving to capital markets or corporates withdrawing their deposits or banks not raising wholesale deposits as there is not much demand. We really need to know the 'why' of it since interest rates have been increased several times this calendar year and if savings are sensitive to interest rates, they should be going up.


The second pertains to credit. There are conflicting views on growth in credit. We all know that the 3G auctions necessitated a large demand for credit. But this credit is analogous to unproductive expenditure as the money is being transferred to the government through borrowings that will go into consumption. Hence, it is not reflective of what kind of investment is taking place in the economy. Then there is the question of whether there is less demand for credit or whether the cost is keeping firms away. Any which way, RBI can ask banks to provide an explanation that can be put forth this time so that we get the true picture.


]The third pertains to the question of industrial growth. The June numbers show that there was a slowdown and that the base year effect would percolate for some time. The July numbers for infrastructure industries are abysmal. So what is the true picture like on industry? RBI usually presents the CSO picture on industry and does not really give its own view. By providing an independent perspective there would be some value addition on the subject of state of industry and growth.


Can RBI have anything new to add? The answer is yes, if it wants to, as there is one issue of monetary management that has to be resolved. RBI, for example, has raised interest rates in a bid to make funds expensive. In a deregulated set-up, the banks do not have to follow RBI and can take an independent decision. Now, in the last two policies when RBI increased rates, some of the top bankers had officially responded by saying that they would not be increasing rates. This raises a dilemma for RBI. If banks are openly going to say that they will not follow suit, then the idea of announcing rate hikes gets diluted. While it is good from the point of view of the working of banks, it is not so from the point of view of policy. How does one get over this one?


Today, RBI controls the repo and reverse repo rates and works on the premise that these rates get translated into other bank rates. With there being no limits to these auctions, banks actually can invest at 4.5% and get funds at 5.75%. If RBI instead brings in a quantitative limit on the same, then it would actually jack up the rates in the money market and banks would be compelled to follow suit. While quantitative restrictions are actually not an efficient system, in the given case, RBI should think of bringing this back as it was earlier. This is one way of ensuring that the rates do rise when we are in the repo mode of operation in the market.


Getting in some of these possibilities will most certainly add a breath of fresh air to the policy.


—The author is chief economist, CARE ratings. These are his personal views








It's pouring in almost all parts of the country, barring the eastern states. The four-month southwest monsoon season in 2010 has been one of the best in recent times, and more importantly the spread, distribution and timeliness has been rather even. The Indian Meteorological Department's (IMD) latest figures show that between June 1 and September 1, India had received 719.9 mm of rainfall, which is just 1% below the normal, with the big thrust coming in August, when rainfall was around 6% more than normal across the country.


The big black spot in this has been the eastern states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Assam, where near-absence of rainfall until late August has ruined the standing crop (infact, agriculture ministry data shows that until September 1, in Bihar, even though area under paddy is almost 2.16% more than 2009, the crop condition is poor).


But, above-normal rainfall in other regions has had its positive impact on agriculture and, in all probability, will aid sowing during the coming rabi season as well. Water in 81 major reservoirs across the country monitored by the central water commission is around 103.15 billion cubic metres as on September 9, which is almost 132% of last year's storage in the same period and even 111% of last 10 years' average storage in these reservoirs. Apart from providing ready and adequate supply for the power projects attached to these reservoirs, good storage levels will also ensure that water is available in plenty in the canals that feed farmlands during the coming rabi season.


The good monsoon played its part in improving acreage of all major kharif crops. Data from the farm ministry shows that until September 3, total kharif crops have been sown in around 966.40 lakh hectares across India, which is around 10% more than the acreage achieved in 2009. Among the major kharif crops, acreage of paddy has grown to around 318.75 lakh hectares, almost 20% more than 2009, that of pulses is up by around 19.2% in 2010 as compared to last year, oilseed area is around 5.80% more than last year. Acreage of sugarcane, cotton and even jute is more in 2010 than last year.


But, that is only one part of the story. Year-on-year, the picture might look impressive, but it seems slightly offtrack when seen in light of the fact that 2009 was one of the worst drought years. Take the case of paddy. Acreage this year is almost 27% less than in 2008 and in case of pulses the area sown is around 10.53% less than 2008.


Overall, in all kharif crops, acreage in 2010 is almost 31% less than 2008. Mind it, the real comparison should be between two normal monsoon years and not with a drought year. Of course, in case of paddy this logic should not apply as 2008 was not a drought year in eastern India (one of the big paddy growing regions), while 2009 and 2010 are. Total rainfall in 2008 was around 2 below normal (this also included winter rains, not part of the 2010 numbers until now). This is not to suggest that kharif farm production this year will fall short of targets or we will have shortage of any kind (India has grain stocks in excess of 50 million tonnes). But, it is important for the government to step up its vigil. In 2002-03, when acreage fell by 8.2% in comparison to the previous year, production dropped by 23% as yields plummeted by 16.1% (see table). In 2004-05, similarly, acreage dropped by 1.5%, pulling down production by 6.09% as yields fell by 4.4%.










What does the future hold for the study of international business? More than that, what should it hold? For the past 12 months, members of the International Organisations Network (ION) have been considering exactly this issue, raising three central questions. Who should decide future trends and themes in international business research? How should we judge which of these topics are worth exploring? What environmental forces are driving the future research agenda?


We propose the concept of 'scientific mindfulness' as the way forward. Scientific mindfulness is a holistic, cross-disciplinary and contextual approach that requires researchers to make sense of multiple perspectives, from both academia and practice, with the betterment of society as the ultimate criterion for success. The obvious answer to our first question is that future research should be guided by experts. This, however, raises an important issue, just who are these experts? If we define the answer too narrowly, we risk limiting the usefulness of the results.


The original purpose of universities was to conduct research that contributes to societal understanding and well-being rather than creating knowledge for its own sake or primarily benefiting the careers of individuals. This purpose is often subordinated to others, or even lost. But, in trying to make sure that we are asking the right questions, researchers need to focus both on the problems we are trying to solve and on the relevance of those questions to community and society. As for the major issues that will continue to affect international business, these are climate change, economic and social globalisation, the technology gap resulting in social and economic inequality, and sustainability.


In the top academic journals today, a narrow focus on empirical research often produces shallow ideas that are replications or incremental extensions of existing work. Often scientists formulate problems that correspond closely to those techniques in which they are skilled and experienced. Just as a photographer changes lenses to capture different motives, so a scientifically mindful approach requires exposing the research question to a larger set of research tools brought to the subject matter by a diverse group of researchers.


Researchers sometimes say that scientists are from Saturn and practitioners are from Pluto, but we should be collaborating rather than cocooning on different planets!


—The authors are with IMD, Switzerland







It might seem easier waltzing through the complex passageways of a labyrinth than tracking the political processes that have entertained the nation by producing a procession of governments — eight in ten years — in Jharkhand. The State's revolving door has once again deposited the Bharatiya Janata Party's Arjun Munda, who twice before donned the role, in the chief ministerial chair. Mr. Munda is unlikely to know how he got there considering the legion of names thrown up in the course of several rounds of on-again, off-again negotiations between the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the BJP. Shibhu Soren and his son Hemant Soren, not to mention a variety of contenders from within the BJP, all vied for the post before the BJP leadership, recognising Mr. Munda's wider support in the legislature party, settled for him. Yet this might not be the end of the story, judging from Lal Krishna Advani's reported decision to skip the swearing-in-ceremony in a symbolic protest against the flagrantly opportunistic alliance between his party and the JMM.


Originally cast as an ideological opponent of the BJP, the JMM has shown itself capable of plumbing the depths to grab power. Mr. Soren lasted all of 11 days in his first term because he did not have majority backing. His second stint was a prize for extending life-support to the Manmohan Singh Government during the 2008 confidence vote in the Lok Sabha. That ended for the astonishing reason that as Chief Minister he could not win an Assembly election. Following fresh election in 2009, Mr. Soren was back as Chief Minister — this time by a pact with the BJP. The latter was morally bound to renounce power, having won far fewer seats than in 2005. Yet such was the desperation on both sides that the BJP-JMM alliance materialised. It was another matter that Mr. Soren made one more somersault, voting with the United Progressive Alliance Government on the Opposition-sponsored cut motions. Stung to the quick, the BJP withdrew support to its partner only to begin wooing the JMM all over again. Given the State's rocky political history and given the brevity of his own previous tenures, Mr. Munda can make history by just completing his term. Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar to address the mineral-rich tribal region's endemic deprivation. That promise has been tragically betrayed by its self-serving politicians. The Maoist challenge in a State where they have a strong presence will have to be met. The saving grace is that constitutional proprieties have been followed scrupulously this time, with the Union government recommending the revocation of President's Rule as soon as the political situation became clear.







The build-up to the Commonwealth Games, till now mired in controversies over financial dealings, has been hit by a series of doping scandals. Of the 19 sportspersons reported for doping offences, eight were part of the Indian teams or probables for the Games. A dozen of them tested positive for the stimulant methylhexaneamine, a substance banned in competition. It is hard to recall a situation where such a large number of athletes from the host nation returned 'positive' tests on the eve of a major multi-discipline games. Since the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, India's image in international sport has taken a beating with a large number of doping episodes. In the intervening period, the weightlifting body was suspended twice for a year each; it recently had to pay a fine of $500,000 to the international federation in order to be eligible to compete in the Commonwealth Games.


There are indications of a clean-up in weightlifting. But this cannot be said of athletics and swimming — two sports perennially affected by this menace — and wrestling, boxing and judo, which are relatively new to this categorisation in the Indian context. From the 1843 tests conducted by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) in Olympic disciplines since January 2010, 46 results (2.50 per cent) turned out to be positive. This is disturbing when compared with 0.90 per cent of 1,87,029 samples testing positive in the worldwide testing statistics for 2009 in Olympic sports. Among Olympic disciplines in India, athletics (11) and weightlifting (10) are in the lead this year while kabaddi, with 32, tops the overall charts. The complaints of sportspersons about lack of information regarding the prohibited list must of course be taken seriously. The United States Anti-Doping Agency, which tests about 8,500 samples a year, has a drug reference hotline and online facility to help athletes readily gain information. NADA should set up a similar facility to inform and educate sportspersons on the prohibited list and also on the consequences of cheating. Sportspersons are constantly on the look-out for better career opportunities and medals that bring financial and material rewards. Despite the risks, the temptation to take shortcuts proves too strong to resist, especially when unscrupulous coaches and demanding officials exert pressure. So let us be clear about the diagnosis of the spreading sports disease: ignorance may play its part but it is the grasping, win-at-all-costs mentality that strikes at the root of the spirit of fair competition.










The practice of medicine is based on the application of science for the improvement of human health. Medical practice is an art, which mandates empathy and compassion. It requires much more than the coldness often associated with analytical minds. Entrusting physicians with human lives demands a combination of humaneness and sound scientific temperament. However, the existing admission criteria for pursuing medicine and the curriculum selectively focus on the science to a near complete exclusion of humanities.


Irrelevant scientific foundation: The belief that medicine is pure science is common. The criteria for admission to medical colleges in India demand a detailed study of physics, chemistry and biology to the complete exclusion of humanities and social sciences. Understanding Newtonian mechanics and the current botanic classification is compulsory despite their irrelevance to the medical practice. Knowing the differences between an alkene and an alkyne is hardly necessary. Yet, few people including medical teachers appreciate the fact that organic chemistry is far removed from the insights into biological chemistry required for understanding human health and disease.


The admission requirements focus on science content rather than on the prerequisite that aspiring physicians need to understand the scientific process, logic and problem-solving. The admission processes are essentially tests of memorisation rather than an assessment of aptitude. Pre-med science courses do not develop scientific logic and skill; they only encourage and identify competitive memorisers. The science-only policy is not only restrictive but also selects many candidates with limited aptitude for medical practice.


Lopsided focus: The curriculum with its exclusive emphasis on science makes for deficient training. The fashionable focus on biology and the reduced emphasis on social determinants of health make physicians short-sighted and leave them without an understanding of long-term solutions to common diseases. The spotlight on pathology and disease with a failure to understand illness and patient reality often leads to problems in communication, patient dissatisfaction and doctor shopping. The single-minded pursuit of cures for chronic conditions, which we can only control at present, diminishes the importance of healing, making the transition from medical student to physician problematic. The absence of communication and counselling skill training in the curriculum makes it difficult for doctors to convey bad news about diagnosis. The lack of training in negotiation skills for discussing treatment plans often results in poor compliance and medico-legal problems due to discrepancies between the views of patients and doctors on clinical reality.


The art of medicine is based on an understanding of human nature, the cultural context and social expectations. Issues like stigma attached to certain diseases (tuberculosis, leprosy, cancer, HIV) have a huge impact on seeking medical help and on compliance with treatments. Pure biological strategies employing only medication do not have the desired effect and require psychological and social approaches as well. The patients' right to information, their views on the choice of treatment and obtaining consent for particular procedures and therapies require an understanding of not only the law but also social issues. Mobilising personal and family resources and support is often crucial and demands an understanding of psychological and cultural issues. A discussion of costs and benefits of different treatment options requires an understanding of the available financial resources and constraints.


The science-only focus is also the result of a belief that the science can be "taught" while the humanities required for medical practice are "caught" by students during training. Learning the art of medicine is consequently left to serendipity and chance.


Humanities in medicine: There is a growing realisation that there exist many interfaces between medicine, the arts, humanities and social sciences. Medical humanities are now considered an interdisciplinary field and include the humanities (literature, philosophy, ethics, history and religion), social science (anthropology, cultural studies, psychology, sociology), and the arts (literature, theatre, music, film, visual arts and creative writing) and their application to medical education and clinical practice. Social science perspectives help to understand how science and medicine are placed within cultural and social contexts. They inform us of how culture interacts with the individual experience of illness and with medical practice. Studying local cultures and religions allows for an understanding of the personal and social explanations of suffering.


The arts and literature help to build and nurture observational and analytical skills. They encourage empathy and self-reflection essential for the practice of humane medicine. They provide insights into the human situation, on suffering and on our social concerns and responsibilities. They also offer a historical perspective of the practice of medicine.


Narrative Medicine includes story-telling, film, mass media and literature. William Osler was one of the first to propose for medical students a bedside library that included Shakespeare, Montaigne, Plutarch, Aurelius, Epictetus and Emerson. The reading tastes of people have changed over the years and others have attempted to renew the list with the inclusion of Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice, Don Quixote, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Final Diagnosis and Surely You are Joking, Mr Feynman. Orwell, Medawar, Asher and De Bono are on many lists as are religious texts.


Cinema captures the complex reality of life. Cinematic and tele-visual texts rely on the narrative to make meaning and allow for the exploration of "truths" and "themes" in modern medicine. Good stories presented from different perspectives add to the understanding of the human condition. They enhance manifold the insights into health and disease, normal and abnormal, and the human response to pain and suffering.


The application of ethics to the practice of medicine is complex and requires formal training. Applying the principles of autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, justice, dignity and honesty to everyday practice requires diligence and discussion. The complex situations faced by physicians are often due to conflicts between two rights.


Medical humanities movement: Many medical schools in the West have established departments of medical humanities. They offer regular and elective courses and have a dedicated faculty, recognised syllabi, interest groups and book clubs. Recent advances include online med-humanities communities, web-based resources, searchable databases and comprehensive blogs and discussion boards.


Some medical schools also allow for the selection of a small proportion of undergraduates majoring in humanities or social sciences instead of in the traditional pre-med curriculum. They are required to take only basic high school biology and chemistry courses. They are exempt from the medical entrance examination but are judged on their school and college grades. Evaluations of such programmes have showed that the academic performance in medical schools of those with a humanities or social science background is equivalent to those who chose the traditional pre-med route.


Medical humanities and India: Medical humanities are not formally taught in medical colleges in India. The few institutions which have attempted to incorporate these in the curriculum have done it informally and without a comprehensive and rigorous approach to the field. Not many medical schools regularly discuss ethics in medical practice; few debate the complex issues involved. The emphasis on medical humanities is minimal and dedicated departments are non-existent. Munnabhai MBBS and Wit are rarely part of the curriculum.


The way forward


For decades, the medical profession has debated whether pre-med courses and admission tests produce good doctors. There is no single formula of what will make a good doctor. Many would argue for a later age for increased emotional maturity for entry into the medical college (say, after a bachelor's degree) and for hard working students who have demonstrated a commitment to serve the community and have lived life. Good scores in science do not always translate into a sense of mission. Nor do they automatically result in an interpersonal skill to become well-rounded and caring healers.


Medical colleges in India should establish departments of medical humanities. The curriculum should include courses in these subjects with minimum requirements for all physicians. There is a definite need to reconsider the science-only entry criteria for medicine and include humanities in the pre-med curriculum. Opening up medical training to older students majoring in humanities is an option worth considering. People in general and the best doctors in particular are those with open minds and broadly experienced in both humanities and science.


(Professor K.S. Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore.)










A little over eight months into the year and Pakistan has already matched its toll, in 2009, in journalists killed. It seems to be well on the path to lead the list of such incidents across the world. While three of the seven killed were targeted and gunned down, four journalists were part of what is often dismissed as collateral damage — among those killed in a suicide blast or crossfire.


A journalist among the dead or injured has become a fairly regular footnote in reports on major terror strikes; the most recent one being the suicide bomb attack on a Shia procession on September 3 in Quetta. One cameraman was killed and six journalists were seriously injured in the blast that was followed by crossfire. A driver of a television van was also killed.


Despite these frequent reminders of how risky reporting has become for Pakistani journalists on the field, no concerted effort at course correction – both in terms of the nature of coverage and better work conditions — has emerged from either the journalists' fraternity or media establishments which have otherwise become more assertive in the nation's mindscape.


Media growth explosion


The exponential growth of the media is flagged as evidence of democracy taking roots in a country that has spent more than half its lifespan under military rule.


Indeed, numerically, the media has grown: From just one channel and one radio station in 2002, Pakistan now has 90 television channels of which 26 provide round-the-clock news and cover current affairs. There are 132 radio stations; 40 of them dealing in news and current affairs. And pluralism has also grown with channels offering programmes in various languages and addressing the country's little-known diversities.


Naturally, the media fraternity has also grown. There are 10,000 journalists accredited with the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) today with a 7,000-strong waiting list as against 2,000 scribes in 2002. All this growth has, however, not translated into better working conditions for journalists. Each incident, of a mediaperson being killed in a blast/firing, drives home the point but gets little attention.


"Barring a few notable exceptions, the service conditions are terrible. There is no institutional mechanism to offer support to journalists. Because of the five-fold increase in the number of journalists, media establishments say it is not possible to insure all of them for fear of class action. In fact, we have a strange situation where very often the camera is insured but not the cameraman," laments Andan Rehmat, executive director of Intermedia (an organisation working for capacity building of journalists).


While it is no one's case that media houses demand life-threatening risk-taking by reporters and cameramen on the field, the cut-throat competition and the breaking news/first-with-the-news phenomenon is being held to blame for many of the 52 journalists killed and over 400 injured since the media boom began. Despite the fact that it has more or less become a trend here in terrorist attacks for the first blast to be followed by another, or firing, the competition forces cameramen, in particular, to take risks. The Quetta blast is a recent example.


Untrained staff

Next, is the absence of trained hands. So rapid was the growth of the media that the majority are untrained, let alone in conflict reporting. In fact, local journalists point out that most cameramen have graduated to TV journalism from commercial photography/camerawork ( wedding and family photography). Often they work with the same cameras; forcing them to move closer to the scene of action and at grave risk. A producer recalled how when she assigned an event to a cameraman who provided footage to her channel, he pleaded helplessness as all the available cameras were spoken for that day.


This may be no different from what it is in India where, too, the television media grew equally fast. Here, it takes on dangerous proportions because of the scale of violence across the country. Because the turnover is so large and quick, media houses are, according to Mr. Rehmat, unwilling to provide in-house training, apprehensive that they could be training the competition.


Inadequate compensation


When scribes in towns – and sometimes even in the cities — are left to their own devices, providing protective gear, like flak jackets and pay packets that cover risk, are a dream. Barring some of the bigger organisations, even compensation is rare to come by. Many of the journalists killed/injured in the line of duty get the amount that the government gives out to others who have died in similar circumstances, says Sadaf Arshad, executive editor of the South Asia Media Monitor brought out by the South Asia Media Commission.


The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is now trying to set up a Journalists' Victim Fund to address this situation as attempts at raising the question of inequality and injustice as a labour rights issue are often seen as a bid by the government to curb media freedom. But such a fund will only address a part of the problem.


"Today's media empires are thriving on the strength of a handful of selected 'star-value' winners who are given good salaries, privileges and insurance coverage. If you can bargain these for yourself, you are in the club. Otherwise, you become part of the big, unprotected, underpaid, under-represented herd that is working at the frontlines while being most vulnerable." Indeed, an official perception but nonetheless true of an industry that demands accountability from the other pillars of Pakistan's fledgling democracy.









It is wrecking the government of Mexico. It is financing the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is throwing 11,000 Britons into jail. It is corrupting democracy throughout Latin America. It is devastating the ghettoes of America and propagating Aids in urban Europe. Its turnover is some £200bn a year, on which it pays not a penny of tax. Thousands round the world die of it and millions are impoverished. It is the biggest man-made blight on the face of the earth.


No, it is not drugs. They are as old as humanity. Drugs will always be a challenge to individual and communal discipline, alongside alcohol and nicotine. The curse is different: the declaration by states that some drugs are illegal and that those who supply and use them are criminals. This is the root of the evil.


It rivals arms and oil trading


By outlawing products — poppy and coca — that are in massive global demand, governments merely hand huge untaxed profits to those outside the law and propagate anarchy. Repressive regimes have managed to curb domestic alcohol consumption, but no one has been able to stop the global market in heroin and cocaine. It is too big and too lucrative, rivalling arms and oil on the international monetary exchanges. Forty years of "the war on drugs" have defeated all-comers, except political hypocrites.


Most western governments have turned a blind eye and decided to ride with the menace, since the chief price of their failure is paid by the poor. In Britain, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown felt tackling the drugs economy was not worth antagonising rightwing newspapers. The full horror of drug criminality is now coming home to roost far from the streets of New York and London. In Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, drugs are so endemic that criminalising them merely fuels a colossal corruption. It is rendering futile the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's Afghan war effort, which requires the retraining of an army and police too addicted either to cure or to sack. Poppies are the chief source of cash for farmers whose hearts and minds NATO needs to win, yet whose poppy crop (ultimately for NATO nations) finances the Taliban.


The worst impact of criminalisation is on Latin America. Here the slow emergence of democratic governments — from Bolivia through Peru and Columbia to Mexico — is being jeopardised by America's "counter-narcotics" diplomacy through the United States Drug Enforcement Agency. Rather than try to stem its own voracious appetite for drugs, rich America shifts guilt on to poor supplier countries. Never was the law of economics — demand always evokes supply — so traduced as in Washington's drugs policy. America spends $40bn a year on narcotics policy, imprisoning a staggering 1.5m of its citizens under it.


In Mexico


Cocaine supplies routed through Mexico have made that country the drugs equivalent of a Gulf oil state. An estimated 5,00,000 people are employed in the trade, all at risk of their lives, with 45,000 soldiers deployed against them. Border provinces are largely in the hands of drug barons and their private armies. In the past four years 28,000 Mexicans have died in drug wars, a slaughter that would outrage the world if caused by any other industry (such as oil). Mexico's experience puts in the shade the gangsterism of America's last failed experiment in prohibition, the pre-war alcohol ban.


As a result, it is South American governments and not the sophisticated west that are now pleading for reform. A year ago an Argentinian court gave American and British politicians a lesson in libertarianism by declaring that "adults should be free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state". Mexico declared drugs users "patients not criminals". Ecuador released 1,500 hapless women imprisoned as drug mules — while the British government locks them for years.







A Dutch history student has unearthed the world's oldest share, dating back to 1606 and issued by the sea trading firm, the Dutch East India Company. As the Netherlands' largest trading company in the 17th and 18th Centuries, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was also the world's first company to issue stock. The Westfries Museum, in Hoorn, the Netherlands, has identified it as being the oldest share in the world. It is said to have been issued three weeks before what had been the oldest known share in the company.


The holder of this share was Pieter Harmensz, and worth 150 guilders. It dates back to September 9, 1606, when Harmensz paid the last instalment of his 150 Dutch guilders.


Dutch research has shown the VOC faced early financial difficulties and shareholders were not initially paid dividends. The company finally started paying dividends in 1610, partly in money and spices, after shareholder pressure. An interesting feature is a series of notes on the inside relating to dividends up to 1650. The Dutch East India Company was established in 1602 on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange for dealings in its printed stocks and bonds The share was found in the archive by the history student, of Utrecht University, during research for his thesis. It went on display, on September 10, at the Westfries Museum. — Xinhua








With the peasant castes in northern India and elsewhere — variously known as OBCs (other backward castes) in India's contemporary political lexicon or intermediate castes in politics-neutral contexts — becoming a powerful interest group in the country in recent decades, the government has succumbed to their demand for a caste census, a practice that had been stopped in 1931. This became unavoidable when the BJP, the principal Opposition party, tipped the scales in favour of a caste census after some internal debate. In the Congress, too, the OBC sections made it known that they stood alongside the so-called backward caste regional parties on the issue. Fears of a possible backward caste backlash in future elections clearly became the decider. In free India, the enumeration of caste did not figure in the decennial census exercise. This was in keeping with the democratic sentiment with which the freedom movement generation was infused. But as we can see, there is a yawning gap between the high ideals of the political visionaries who aspired to a caste-less society in the social and political space, and the crassness of political practice on the ground. The next step to be expected is that the backward caste parties will now press for a bigger share of the national pie in every sphere in proportion to the numbers of the OBCs in the overall population. The corollary of this is that deprived sections of the population that do not fall within the OBC framework, or those that do not belong to the SC/ST category (for whom reservations in perpetuity have come to be the norm) may be hard done by. This is far removed from the republican Constitution envisaged after Independence.

There can be no question that about a third of India can be categorised as suffering from extreme poverty, and all governmental efforts — at the levels of the states and the Centre — must accord priority to pushing these sections out of the poverty trap. Clearly this proportion is way below the population numbers that the OBCs, and SCs/STs claim for themselves. Thus, there is no getting away from the fact that a new paradigm must be arrived at, through the method of consensus involving give-and-take, to spread the fruits of prosperity in the country. If this process is not set in motion, hair-splitting will not cease on the question of whether or not members of the OBCs and SCs/STs that are well-to-do (and this is a rising graph) are not automatically "socially and educationally backward (SEBC)" as well. Thus, every effort needs to be made to render the SEBC status of a community of people dependent on income, rather than their caste origin.

Hopefully, in the long run, reservations or positive discriminati on in education and jobs will not be needed if the national economy is a continually expanding one. The question really is how lo ng that wait is going to be. In the interim, ways need to be found to get the "creamy layer" out of the scheme of reservations. After all, the Constitution had envisaged reservations for the SCs and STs only for the first 10 years. Clearly such a time scheme was not adequate and many of our SC/ST citizens still suffer from the consequences of poverty, as do many OBCs. But, for that matter, so do many who are in neither category. There is no reason why these sections should languish unattended. It is for this reason that class offers a better classification for determining governmental support than does any other, although in India class and caste co in cide to a considerable degree. Now that we seem to be reverting to the British-era caste census, a simultaneous attempt needs to be made to take those OBCs and SSc-STs out of the reservations paradigm who have successfully made the transition out of poverty.








"The body crippled without

The fluidity of water —

The wine of the mind is metaphor

The Ocean is Dawn's daughter..."

From Poemsutra by Bachchoo


It wasn't Friday the 13th but Friday the 3rd. My bed is pushed against the wall so I get out of it on the same side every day. I don't believe in stars, fate, luck, prophets, Gods, virgins (only a little maybe), miracles, tantra, Ouija, meditational revelation or any other pacificatory explanation for what is written in the codes of our destinies.

"Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, the future's not ours to see, Que sera, sera" sang Doris Day and I have long regarded her as my chief prophet and philosopher of earthly occurrence.

Never mind my non-superstitions. What happened to me on this 3rd of September was that I woke up to an electric kettle that didn't work. My toothbrush, which is operated manually, did. So I brushed my teeth and went to examine the fuses of the house which were, it seemed, intact and up and running. I boiled my tea water on the gas stove and resolved to call the electricity supplier to complain that all the electricity was off despite the mains fuse being alive. I then went to the home phone to call and found it dead.

Disasters come in threes, they say. I went to my computer to find out from the Internet if there had been a blitz on the South London electricity supply and a phone blackout of any sort.

Please believe this, gentle reader, the computer came on but could not find the wireless connection it had operated on for months.

I thought one solution would be to go back to bed, switch myself off and then wake up again and the world might then be put to rights. The electrics would work, the phone and computer and Internet would be as they normally were. I pulled the blind down to deny the day, pretended to be asleep and sprang up again and started the day afresh.

The toothbrush, being manually operated, worked as normal, but getting down to the kitchen and trying the electric kettle presented the same problem as before. And so with the home phone which didn't give me a dial tone. And so with the wretched computer which would not even this time round access the Internet website and froze and collapsed and went dark on me when I tried America Online.

I felt as though I was the victim of some Kafkaesque procedure or perhaps had woken up in a science fiction film. Everything couldn't collapse at the same time. Obviously, with no electricity, there was no point in switching on the TV to ascertain whether there had been some nuclear attack from Iran or Sierra Leone or some other of these recalcitrant places.

But hah! My mobile worked. It was my lifeline to the reliance we place on modern tech. I found the number of the electricity supplier and dialled.

A female voice answered the phone and gave me five options of buttons to press, one asking me if I was calling about insurance, others offering me shares in the company, holidays in the Cayman Islands and the final one instructing me to hold on if I had a problem. She said calls cost 39 pence a minute from a landline and unspecified but larger amounts from mobiles. She seemed to be deliberately prolonging her message so that the phone company could take more of these +39pence from me — she would, no doubt share in this loot.
Then another very English voice came on and said that they were experiencing a "high volume" of calls that day and that I could go away and access their website or I could wait for another "customer service representative". I waited.

The phone played Eine Kleine Nachtmusik about 17 times. I hung on.

No doubt the meter for the +39 pence per minute for mobiles was ticking.

Eventually a clearly Bangalorean voice came on the line, replacing Mozart and asking me what my name was, what my post code was, what my mother's maiden name was, whether I wanted to buy any cocaine, change any money, make love to his sister, buy a ticket to a lottery to win a trip to a coconut grove... and other questions.
I may not have got all the questions right, but answered to the best of my ability and he seemed satisfied. Then he addressed me by my name, bade me a good morning and asked me how he could help me. I told him my electricity had taken a dive for the worse. He said, "Not to worry, I will do my best to solve the problem".
"So finally we get to it," I said.

"I beg your pardon?" he asked.

"Has the area power collapsed?" I asked.

"Have you checked your main fuse switch?" he asked. I said I had. He asked 15 further questions, the last of which was whether I had a burglar alarm system in the house. I happened to know that we did.

"Did it go off at any time?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"Has anything been burgled in your house?" he asked.

"My computer and electric kettle are still there", I said.

My Bangalorean comrade, very friendly now, asked me to go through my valuables and see if anything had been taken and also to check if any points of entry to the house had in any way been violated. He said he would wait on the phone. And all the while the +39 pence a minute ticking.

I surveyed the house. Yes, the window in the study had been violated. The violators hadn't bothered to take the laptop, which was an insult. There were no other valuables the thief, or in fact I would have wanted.
I went back to the phone.

"Someone has been in here", I said.

"It's what I am thinking. They have cut off your electric supply and your wireless wire connection in one swoop because they want to cut off the wire to your burglar alarm and they are not knowing which is which, so they are cutting all outside and inside your house. Everything dies", he said.

"You are the Bangalorean Sherlock Holmes, the Bangalorean Spinoza", I said.

"We are getting these calls from fools every day, sir", he said.








Amazing but true —these guys have more in common than most people would like to accept. For one, they are both in the same business — politics by any other name is still showbiz. At 40 (plus or minus a year idhar-udhar), they are determinedly single, mothers across India consider them super eligible dulhas, they definitely fall into the "hotties" category with a vast female fan following panting after them, both are dubbed mama's boys by those in the know, both adore their sister(s), and qualify as eye candy in every which way. Of course there are significant differences — Rahul Gandhi keeps his kurta on in public, Salman can't wait to peel his shirt off — anytime, anywhere. Gandhi looks like a lean and mean fighting machine, but nobody has seen his pack (four, six or eight, only his trainer knows for sure). Salman is the original Sando — possibly the most famous actor in the world to flaunt his gut and guts. Salman's rippling muscles get more media coverage than his leading ladies — which is not such a bad thing, going by some of the recent samples. Salman's roster of girlfriends qualifies him as a true blue marathon man. Not much is known about Rahul's love life. Salman is an unapologetic alpha male, Rahul G, far more new age and metro, even charmingly retro. Perhaps, Rahul is happy to conform to the strong-silent matinee idol style of the '60s, while Salman's abs do most of the emoting, on and off the screen. Both come from established-in-the-chosen-field families — the Gandhis have run politics in India for decades. The Khans have been around in Bollywood for decades, too. Parivaar is key. The Khan clan sticks together through good and terrible times. Ditto for the Gandhis (even though theirs is a more compact unit). Despite their hitting 40 (Rahul is a whisker away from the landmark birthday), they continue to be perceived as "bachchas" — Salman as the Bad Boy, Rahul as the Good Guy. India is waiting for both to grow up — but not in a hurry. At the end of the day it boils down to just one quality — mass appeal. And as any marketing guru will tell you — that's one thing nobody can manufacture. It's like Lycra — either you have it or you don't. Synthetic charisma works only to a limited degree. Merely pumping someone up with an inventive hard sell strategy that overstates the image can lead to a serious case of overkill. But both these guys exude the real thing — they are bona fide icons, worshipped by fans and damned by critics. They arouse passion. And passion is always a positive attribute — it attracts the janata. Since their survival depends on the faith their constituency displays in their leadership, these boy-men are fortunate indeed that we have not packed them off so far, despite everything.

Now, here comes the clincher: Salman's future as a big star depends entirely on the box office. Rivals may come and fade away (as they have), but for Salman to hang on to his position, he must prove himself from one Friday to the next. He has had a string of pricey flops in the recent past. Now, with his Eid offering of Dabangg, Salman needs a super mega hit in order to hang in there as one of the film industry's most bankable stars. If Chulbul Pandey does not click with the aam aadmi on the expected scale, Salman's future will be somewhat dheela. With Rahul, we are likely to be much kinder. He is a lambi race ka ghoda. For one, he doesn't shoot his mouth off, and when he does care to open it, he speaks thoughtfully and uses a direct, simple lingo that his followers can understand instantly. He listens more and promises very little. This is a perfect strategy, especially since nobody really knows what he stands for, or what his political plans mean in real terms. Since he is the closest thing to a Bollywood star (good looks, gora-chikna, photogenic) in a country led by really old people, he can get away with token gestures and populist moves ("sipahi" of Orissa tribals — most of whom looked totally blank during his much pu blicised visit to their neglected, even wretched mohalla). Never mind, he is at least making the right noises, and as we well know, in politics, that's half the battle won. Bad Boy Salman is forever putting his foot into some place much worse than his mouth. That's very much a part of his USP — that's also why his hysterical fans love him. At the end of the day, both men are looking at numbers. It is numbers alone that keep them where they are. Rahul, as his party's general secretary in charge of Indian Youth Congress and National Student's Union of? India, is on a crazy recruitment spree. He has to enrol members on a war footing… or else. Given that about 50 to 70 million voters between the ages of 18 and 23 are being added between two general elections, it is Rahul's primary job to chase this pool of youngsters and get them on board. Luckily for Rahul, there isn't a rival in sight. Unless, of course, the incredible Priyanka decides to jump in (unlikely at this stage, but who knows?). Salman, poor fellow, risks losing that hardly worn shirt off his back each time a film tanks, and there's no dearth of younger, hungry rivals snapping at his ankles.
I have a suggestion: Why not a Rahul Gandhi Reality Show on television? Salman has his very own Dus Ka Dum. Rahul's minders would do well to pitch him as the Next Big Thing on TV as he goes around the countryside screening fresh candidates and recruits. It will accomplish two major feats in one go — viewers will be treated to a spectacular Bharat Darshan and India will witness the birth of a Political Superstar. Perhaps Katrina can be roped in as co-anchor, now that she is… ummmm, officially single?

What an idea, Sirji… err… Madamji!!


— Readers can send feedback to








These gems are unforgettable. They're imbedded in the hall of jokers. George W., as President, patted the man called Michael Brown alias Brownie and commended him for his "excellent" handling of Katrina, the hurricane that destroyed New Orleans five years ago. Brownie botched up badly but Bush was blind. Well, his successor US President Barack Obama has now taken a shine to brownie! No, not the man, but the colour brown.
He's got his Oval Office redecorated in shades of brown and won wonderment from the chattering classes who "hate" it! Me included. Are the Obamas trying to send a message to white America that brown is beautiful because it's the "audacity of taupe", as Arianna Huffington of Huff Post playfully puts it, punning Obama's bestseller Audacity of Hope.

Ladies and gentlemen, the colour wars in the US have finally arrived. But, first, decorating for dummies. How does colour impact on the mind of the man occupying the Oval Office? This is no piddle; the man sitting behind Queen Victoria vintage desk daily makes decisions that affect the world, including ours. Perhaps the browns evoke a warm and fuzzy feeling for Pakistan, setting off earthly tones in the left lobe of Obama's brain to write a heftier cheque for the flood victims! Not bad eh? His man cave or Oval House (Oval Office) is good for us earthlings.

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times is unimpressed. She calls the "classiest, most powerful place on earth", i.e. the Oval Office "suffused with browns and beiges and leather and resembles an upscale hotel conference room or a '70s' conversation pit with a boxy coffee table that even some Obama aides find ugly". She calls the decorator for this disaster a "chichi" — a word that means "showily or affectedly elegant or trendy; pretentious". Others have chipped in with calling the room "too brown, too dowdy, too ho hum". The editor of Architectural Digest quotes a friend as saying "It looks like a law office in a strip mall".
Message from the Obamas: We care for the poor, but not enough to stop the fancy vacations and posh renovations!

So the colour brown is driving everyone nuts in the US. While white America is terrified of the invasion of "browns and blacks" — we'll come to that in a moment to discuss the millions gathered recently in Washington to restore honour to their country — it's most fashionable to go brownie, tawny and taupe and splash dark browns, greys and wheat colour on the walls and décor.

I love watching HGTV (Home & Garden TV channel) just to relax. All the hip interior designers chatter about is going contemporary which means sautéed! How boring and burnished. Americans certainly lack originality, sense of style and creativity. They go with the herd, including Barack and Michelle as seen in the makeover of the Oval Office. Hillary Clinton was unblushingly sna z zy when she put a tip sy/electric blue carpet in her husband's Oval Office (unwi ttingly making Bill run wild with his intern, Monica Lewinsky). Today that famous carpet and Hillary's taste are trashed as "flashy" and "garish". Laura Bush on the other hand played safe and gave her husband mindless sunbeams that dulled George W.'s thinking down to a dunce!
The third richest after Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are the Koch brothers. They have vowed to get the Obamas out of the White House. And the two puppets the bros string are a TV talk show host Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. They fund "Americans for Prosperity", who gave its "Blogger of the Year Award" to an activist who had called President Obama "cokehead in chief". Besides they donate freely and generously their millions to activists of the "Tea Party" a movement named after the 1773 "The Boston tea party" where rebels boarded British ships carrying tea and threw it into Boston harbour to protest royal taxation. This term was reborn in 2009 against Obama spending and has caught on among the Republican Party sympathisers who hope to trounce the Democrats in the coming November polls for Congress.

But if truth be told, the real fight in America today is between the whites and the coloured. How do I know it? Darn, I see the battle lines drawn every day. But added to simmering racism is the joblessness among Americans. They blame Obama who promised them "change" but failed to deliver. America is bigger than him and so is his man cave, the brownie Oval Office!


By arrangement with Dawn










Our car was flying down the highway on a holiday weekend when my sister-in-law pulled out a booklet and started quizzing her husband who was behind the wheel.


"Who is called the father of our country?" she asked. Before my brother-in-law could reply, my husband and son shouted "Mahatma Gandhi" in unison from the backseat.


Poor George Washington just got stuck in my Maharashtrian brother-in-law's throat. My sister-in-law and her husband were prepping for their US citizenship interview — where they would get an American history quiz.


You don't make the cut as a US citizen unless you pass their citizenship test and get some tips for dummy-like facts about American history and government right.


Naturally, my husband couldn't resist giving his sister a hard time for switching allegiance throughout the mock citizenship quiz.


Citizenship evokes all kinds of raw emotions and the Indian Constitution makes it hard for overseas Indians by not allowing dual citizenship. Just a decade ago, overseas Indians were viewed as deserters who'd taken their highly subsidised IIT and IIM education and abandoned the mothership to get rich abroad.


Some of those barbs have ended with the "reverse brain drain" of talented Indians who have returned home from Silicon Valley to stoke up India's tech boom. The annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas soirees have now improved New Delhi's ties with Indians abroad and facilitated diaspora investment.


Despite the love fest, there is still no traction on dual citizenship. The People of Indian origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) cards are notin the same league as an Indian passport.


I chatted with Shashi Tharoor when he was a UN diplomat and he pointed out that it was silly for one to have to relinquish their Indian passport because of the vagaries of geography. "Citizenship is not an address. It is a state of mind," Tharoor exhorted. He had a point.


Most Indians get psyched and terribly anguished about relinquishing their Indian citizenship while embracing a new country. I know a lot of Indian couples who have decided to keep their feet in two worlds. If the wife


becomes an American citizen then the husband keeps his Indian passport.


With over 20 million Indians overseas, including 2,00,000 millionaires in America alone, the diaspora can be very useful. India's remittances from overseas Indians climbed to $50 billion last year — the highest in the world. On visits to New York, overseas Indian affairs minister Vayalar Ravi makes it a point to quiz Indian American professors, engineers and tech innovators: "What are you doing for the motherland?" Equally important is the retort: Mr Minister, what are you doing for the diaspora — how about dual citizenship? Someone also needs to remind him that Indian American lobby sold the civil nuclear deal on Capitol Hill.







So ingrained is the tendency to not sell losing shares thatinvestors and traders are known to have been ruined by this phenomenon.

Time and again fund managers are known to have come to grief for the same reason. Companies are known to have kept bad news from the market and investors for far too long hoping to recover ground, only to come to grief.


The reason why we don't sell a falling stock sooner is more or less the same as why we don't throw out that pinching shoe in a hurry or why we typically prevaricate about cleaning of accumulated junk in our homes — namely the 'status quo' bias — of which we spoke in this column two weeks ago.


But that is not all. There are other reasons as well. Our mind plays some tricks of its own.


Assume that you bought a stock at Rs200, and that its price has now fallen to Rs140 following sustained bad news. You are reluctant to sell because doing so makes the loss of Rs60 'real', while prevarication, in the hope of recovery, keeps the loss 'notional'.


A notional loss is easier to live with than a real loss, because itappears as if you can make good your loss. So why convert thenotional loss into a real one by selling? So you hang on.


Now let's say the price drops to Rs100. The same logic holds,except that converting the notional loss into a real one looks even more unpalatable to most people. As the price keeps tumbling, it gets increasingly difficult for us toaccept the real loss, making it more and more difficult to give up the paradise of the notional loss, until it is too late!


That's not all. We tend to take losses more badly than we take gains well. We aren't as happy at finding a Rs500 note as we are depressed at the loss of an equal sumfrom the wallet. This is called loss aversion.


Loss aversion is the reason we normally do not accept an even-bet that has a 50% probability of winning or losing Rs50.


Also, we are more averse to an even-bet of winning or losing Rs100; and even more averse to an even bet of winning Rs500 and losing Rs500 and so on (within our actual wealth level).

When it comes to our shares and stocks, as a stock price keepstumbling, we keep postponing our acceptance of the bad news.Till it is too lateThere is yet another aspect of human nature at play here. Consider our behaviour during arguments with friends or rivals.None of us likes losing one. The best time to quit an argument is when we realise we may be losing it; that's when the loss of face is minimal. But since we dislike any loss of face, we hang on to the argument, hoping to claw back some ground. As we begin to slip some more, we cling harder to our losing arguments because by now the loss of face has become larger than life and the stakes for quitting have become higher. It's the same with stocks.


We hate losing money on declining stocks. It would be best to quit early as soon as we realise that the stock was a bad pick to begin with. But fearing the loss, we cling on a little longer, and then it gets even harder to quit and so we cling on even more.


Somehow, it also turns into a matter of ego — a matter of pride and honour to recover our money from that very stock!

A more reasonable approach would have been to cut the losses at the first realisation that a stock is no good or of doubtful quality, and invest the proceeds in another stock that one believes may rise faster rather than wait for the dud to recover.

For example, if you bought a stock at Rs200 and soon thereafter realise that that there is something quite wrong with that company, and the stock is already down, it is best to sell off the stock and invest in another that you believe is fundamentally good.


Clearly, if this is a good stock, your new stock, bought for a lower sum, may appreciate much faster than the dud. But then we are all victims of our nature and it takes a bit of thinking from the head rather than the heart to do so.








Recently, the Chinese economy edged past Japan to become the world's second largest, and most economists believe China is on course to overtake the US to become the world's biggest by 2030 or so. However, not everyone believes China's recent crossing of that statistical milestone is significant, or that it will inexorably surpass the US. Dr Derek Scissors, economics research fellow at the conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Centre, points out that the headline GDP number exaggerates the Chinese people's prosperity levels. In an interview to DNA's Venkatesan Vembu, Scissors says that a flawed economic structure in China — where individuals subsidise large state-owned enterprises — has fed an extraordinary imbalance. 
Recently, China's GDP edged past Japan's to become the world's second largest economy. How significant is the crossing of that statistical milestone? 

It's not very significant, for two reasons. The first is that this is old news. If you properly count Chinese GDP — which the Chinese don't seem to ever do, since they're always finding new GDP they missed —China's GDP using normal exchange rates passed Japan's maybe three or four years ago. And if you adjust for purchasing power parity, China passed Japan 15 years ago. 

Secondly, the flaw in China's model is that not much of the GDP is delivered to households and individuals as it is in other countries. Much of it is siphoned off to state-owned enterprises or vanishes into thin air. So, when we look at China's GDP growth, we get an exaggerated version of how rich China is getting. 

But the disparity between headline GDP and per capita income isn't unique to China… 

It's not unique to China, but it's worse in China than in any major economy. Chinese society is structured to have people subsidise companies. I'm not picking an issue with the size of China's economy; what I'm contesting is the actual prosperity delivered to the people. 

On the same count, aren't projections that say China will be a world's biggest economy, overtaking the US by 2030 or whenever, significant?

I think we should be cautiously interested. I say 'cautious' because the idea that you can take the last 30 years' growth and project it for the next 30 years is absurd. Look where China was from 1950 to 1980 and then from 1980 to 2010. Look at Japan from 1960 to 1990 and then from 1990 to now. Major economies can undergo sharp changes in their trajectory, for better or for worse. The idea that you can project China's growth into the future is silly. 

However, China does have 1.3 billion people. GDP — not necessarily personal income — is growing quite rapidly, and if China handles its economy correctly, it will surpass the US in 15-20 years. But if it doesn't handle it correctly, it will hit a wall like Japan did, and at a much lower income. So, there are many possibilities, but only one of them is the idea that China inexorably passes the US. 

What are the 'right' economic choices for China — and the 'wrong' ones? 

You could say I have an ideological bias, but I have Deng Xiaoping on my side. In 1978, he sensed that the only growth that was coming was from the assignment of property rights to farmers. So he introduced market reforms. And when he left power, he anointed a set of successors who were also committed to that path. But the current government is not just not committed to market reform, it is committed to state-led growth. 
But hasn't the state-led economic model worked in China?

I don't think it has delivered as much. China was reforming for 25 years, till about 2004, when the market gave way to the state. The problem is that the state isn't organised to create wealth. In a few years, we will see China's labour force start to contract. Return on capital has dropped because of so much state investment. Returns from land are dropping because of overexploitation, and the way China can grow going forward is like every mature economy — from efficiency — but the state is not organised for it. 

You're also sceptical about the authenticity of Chinese economic data. What's wrong with it? 

About a million things! Everybody knows — and even the Chinese government has admitted — that China's official urban unemployment rate is understated. But they continue to put out lower unemployment figures for political reasons. The provinces report higher GDP growth and foreign investment than the central government reports. On the technical side, China uses the pricing value for its components to GDP — like investment and consumption. When prices are soaring, China tends to use a lower price and makes GDP growth look like it's not out of control; and when prices are dropping, it uses a higher price, and it makes it look like GDP growth is strong. So what you get are smooth patterns of economic growth delivered by a developing economy that's vulnerable to outside shocks. Very unlikely!

When China announced the depegging of the yuan, it was anticipated that it would appreciate against the US dollar, but it hasn't happened. Given the political atmosphere in Washington, is there a risk of trade friction? 

It's a political problem more than an economic one; although there are serious economic problems with Chinese policy, the yuan isn't one of them. 

I don't believe the yuan was ever depegged against the dollar. People get excited by a 0.2% move by the yuan, but it isn't such a big deal. China has a huge balance of payments surplus, and the yuan should move a lot if it's to be meaningful. The reason it hasn't moved is that it's still pegged to the dollar. 

In recent weeks, we've seen China diversify away from US dollar assets into Asian bonds. Is this the start of a trend?
No, the monthly treasury data is wrong: it doesn't check on the source of the original buyer. What we're seeing is an apparent decline in Chinese purchases and a gigantic increase in British purchases. All that's happening is that China's investment body for bonds is routing purchases through its British office — essentially to hide it to avert political criticism at home. 

In recent times, there have been fears of a bubble in the Chinese economy. How bad are the imbalances, and will it all end? 

People can call it what they want, but it's not a bubble like the American bubble in housing in 2007. China has a mixed economy, where bubbles are (usually) created and propped administratively. You're going to see a Chinese version of a bust in real estate, and it's going to cut into China's GDP growth, but they won't report it. They under-reported GDP growth in 2006 and they will over-report it in 2011. You won't see a crash — or even just evidence of a crash — because they will hide it. 









Abject collapse of mainstream leadership across the board in Kashmir has created a dangerous political vacuum which is bound to have quite a few long range implications apart, of course, from what is already being witnessed right now. That this situation should have come about so soon after the assembly elections followed by parliamentary elections goes to underline the fact that so long as the simmering discontent below the surface is sought to be avoided, instead of being addressed and responded to appropriately, the festering problem is not going to go away. It is not difficult to observe that yet again attempts are being made, in New Delhi as well as Srinagar, to resort to familiar diversionary tactics. The need of the hour is to address the real issues, explore a realistic way to sort them out and, more importantly, engage the real main players rather than taking the beaten track and going for yet another short cut. Short term, narrow minded approach has cost heavily and continues to do so for both the sides. Interests of the Indian nation, different from the momentary fortunes of successive party-governments, have suffered as badly as the body and spirit of the troubled state. Lack of statesmanship has been at the root of it all. Unfortunately, when there were statesmen around they did not show expected interest in doing what they could have done and now when that crop of leadership is extinct accumulated issues have become frighteningly enormous to tackle. 

Solution to the basic issue or root cause of the unending trouble in Kashmir lies in appreciation of its genesis as well as its politico-historic dynamics. Unlike in the case of other states, this state's linkage with the union is a product of a dynamic local movement. In the absence of that movement things would most certainly have been different. Disregarding and violating obvious imperatives and obligations of such a relationship has led to unbridgeable emotional breakdown in the relationship. 

It is this emotional aspect that continues to surface from time to time. It has been manifesting in various forms and shapes-peaceful, violent. But the thread of underlying alienation runs through it from beginning to end. Going by what is being talked about these days, once again there seems to be an attempt to repeat old mistakes. It would be a big folly to skirt the real issues and just treat the symptoms. Palliatives like softening or removal of AFSPA, employment package or any other nominal gesture are not going to work because the situation is far more serious than is being acknowledged by the authors of such brainy schemes. 

Everybody seems to be interested either in advising the angry youth against what has come to be over-simplified as 'stone pelting' or resorting to brute force to prevent it. Nobody is inclined to ask 'why' the youth is putting itself in the firing line, literally. In the answer to this crucial question lies the key to solution of the problem. The reasons for the anger are not unknown, if only someone has interest in listening and sorting out real issues. Events of the past three months have shown that it is no longer possible to rule Kashmir by fear factor. A generation so willing to sacrifice for its cause is impossible to be silenced through coercion. Of course, its human cost is alarmingly high. Killing of as many as 70 persons in almost as many days shows that the aggrieved side is willing to pay the price. Such a state of desperation is the result of years and years of neglect, repression and victimisation. That is why the euphoria generated by people's participation in elections vanishes into the thin air at the sound of the first bullet fired to quell popular dissent. 

The only realistic approach is to give up these worn out diversionary tactics, make a bold direct approach to genuine leadership spearheading the popular protest, offer a genuinely unconditional, acceptable agenda to discuss and maintain transparency in the exercise in order to ensure its legitimacy and credibility. 'Quiet dialogue' has created more problems without solving any. The people on the ground must feel convinced that their voice is being heard and listened to. No solution has ever come out of any other type of exercise in the past nor is there any scope for such a thing happening now. Dialogue with genuine leaders and over genuine issues is the only way out.






The recent decision of the Jammu and Kashmir government to re-notify some of the heritage sites as tourism destinations amounts to building castles in the air. These are the historical structures and sites which have already been notified as protected monuments and crores of rupees have been spent on their renovation and preservation but most of them have failed to attract tourists. Only some of the heritage structures housing some places of religious sanctity among the local people have continued to attract devotees on occasional festivals during the past 20 years or so. As such these sites do not figure anywhere on the brochures printed for promotion of tourism in the state and distribution through the vast network of tourist offices in other parts of the country and world wide. It is ironical that the state government has woken up at this stage and thought of putting them on the tourist circuit when they have been neglected for decades and centuries together. Already J&K government and conservation agencies of the centre are in conflict on the question of who will look after their upkeep and maintenance when a large number of tourists visit these sites. The basic amenities around these sites have been missing right from the very beginning and no effort appears to have been made in this direction. It will be in the fitness of the things that the state government chalk out a long term plan and initiate measures for their restoration to their pristine glory and then promote them as tourist destinations. In the absence of any infra-structure close to these heritage complexes, the tourists will be put to unnecessary inconveniences. Moreover, communication network for reaching these sites is also in shambles and tourist operators of vehicles refuse to carry people to these places even if some tourists are interested in going there. Along with their maintenance, the government needs to work hard for providing basic infra-structure so that tourists and local people are naturally attracted to these destinations.








India should accept Kashmir is a dispute 

Start demilitarization, AFPSA PSA revocation 

Guarantee from PM to stop further killings 

Action against troopers responsible for 65 killings 

Release of political prisoners 


In order to obviate the chance of repetition about Geelani's proposals, already given a wide publicity, I will only elaborate on the broad principles incarnate in the proposals.ÿ I will first make a clear submission to the authorities in New Delhi that they must take this opportunity expeditiously and urgently as the problems in Kashmir demand a critical management consideration.ÿ The 63 year old pent up turbulence has come to surface as never before and the danger is it may spill over to a state of mayhem.ÿ There is enough evidence that if we play the ostrich game and bury our eyes in sand, there may never be a Kashmir in peace.ÿ There are parties who do not want a lasting solution.ÿ It is important to recognise egocentrism in their intentions and deliberate prevarication. May be it serves the interests of a few people who have a precarious future if people to people relations in the subcontinent normalise?

People in J&K are not the people they were in 1947.ÿ This afternoon I was trying to plead with some 7 year olds to let me pass the barrier they had erected.ÿ I got a stone on the roof and what language with it stunned me.ÿÿ 'Have you any idea why we are doing this?ÿ We want them to go away.ÿ We want that space in freedom'.ÿÿ Every home has a newspaper and someone that can read it.ÿ They will never go back to the days of ingenuousness when a fain‚ant citizen was subservient worshipper of tyranny and tyrants.ÿ The youth of today will grow up differently and react differently.ÿ This is the opportune time to preempt the disaster because if a solution is not thought through and peremptory rule foisted on unwilling population recognized, there will be more blood in the streets and turmoil. In the end like every other political upheaval in the world International norms will be activated.ÿ For example Western Sahara Case (1975) established that people determine the destiny of the territory and not the territory to determine the destiny of the people.ÿ There are other factors that should urge the managers of Indian politics into a change in direction and lateral thinking.ÿÿ Every method to suppress the political movement has been tried as gambit technique and the relations between the people and Indian Union on a sliding scale have plummeted.ÿ For years in the past Indian army absorbed as people with others realised you have to share their values, beliefs and ideas that has now turned into us and them.ÿ The feeling is getting worse and it may be true that the populations will be beaten with force into submission but power resides in the human resource and will win in the end.ÿ ÿ

Apart from physical force and with the best of intentions working groups and Human Rights Commissions to encapsulate zero tolerance to violations and dialogue with political parties have all been tried and failed.ÿ The Prime Minister even made specific declaration that non-lethal weapons will be used and 69 children have since been killed.ÿ The Union Home Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram is on record that he is prepared to discuss right to self-determination and inclusive talks on a political settlement of Kashmir.ÿ Is it not an opportune time to take up the Geelani Proposal offer and make a visible start on this process?ÿÿ Mr. P. Chidambaram and Dr Manmohan Singh have expressed concern on the vicious cycle of violence.ÿ Should the Self fulfilling prophecy dictum not be recognized in which the authorities expect violence and take aggressive measures that brings a violent reaction from the people.ÿ The initiative remains with the authorities to break the cycle.
The five points of peace deal from Syed Ali Shah Geelani are significant and must be taken seriously.ÿ I would like to dilate on the package in some detail so that it clears the antithetical mist that may blur all its dimensions. ÿ The proposals have hazy margins and can be understood in confluence as a single preposition.ÿ India has already a commitment before the International Community about the disputed nature of Jammu & Kashmir.ÿ The political rhetoric of its being an integral part of the Union is not a point of reference when serious debate begins.ÿ I will elaborate on the demilitarization, the second condition to the last because it is the most important of all.ÿ The 3rd proposal of Mr. Geelani is an assurance from the Prime Minister that the killings will stop and AFSPA will be revoked.ÿ The PM has advocated zero tolerance against human rights violations and his assurance will be reiterating that pledge but furthermore this condition is subservient to demilitarization because unless the armed forces act out Scorch Earth policy when they decamp there should be no killings and no need for revocation of the black laws because there will be no forces that will use them. AFSPA (Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990 and declaration of disturbed Area in which it is applied was authorized by Government of India and the State Government recommend its application to Jammu as well as Kashmir. Ÿ

AFPSA is a British legacy when in 1924 Quit India rebellion reached virulent proportions and force was required to quell the agitation.ÿ British army soldiers were Indians and they had to kill Indians.ÿ The AFSPO (Ordinance was repealed by India) was an extra tool of confidence to soldiers to kill their own countrymen.ÿ In Kashmir the Act is a red-herring and too much has been made from its imposition.ÿÿMajor Avatar Singh acted under cover of AFPSA but under pressure from International Community he was tried and found guilty to, disappear, torture in custody and then murder Jalil Andrabi a human rights lawyer.ÿ The Interpol has traced him in Los Angelis and awaits an extradition request from India.ÿ Surely from a total of 120,137 killed by army action, one case of murder could be established and the culprit punished under section 302 of IPC.ÿ That could be hanging in public in India.ÿ The last Geelani condition to prosecute the perpetrators of recent killings is a part of that equation.ÿ It also follows as cause and effect theory that when the armies start to leave the prisoners have no reason to be kept locked up and their trumped up charges to be pursued at great cost.ÿ
The most incisive condition of Mr. Geelani is demilitarisation.ÿ There are numerous points to consider when this condition is taken on board:

The first deployment of army in 1947 was an intervention of assistance afforded to Maharaja Hari Singh to ward off an attack from the NWFP Tribals and not to confront local population. 

ú The armed forces in very large numbers have not succeeded in containing insurrection. 

It is the brief from the government in India carried out by forces that resulted in massive destruction of habitat and habitation in Kashmir with invidious repercussions for the image of the largest democracy on Earth planet. 

ú The million strong forces and support staff have been resident in a small place and weighing down on space for public use.ÿ The state of Land and properties are in dire strait. 

The maintenance of this quantum of active forces tears in the seams the infrastructure and resources for this tourist paradise.ÿ Hotels, clubs, schools, lakes and all tourist resorts have been acquired for housing battalions of armies converted to cantonments. 

This disposition of forces is warranted only when there are war alerts.ÿ 
ú Reconciliation with Pakistan and China will be a part of the peace package.ÿ In the event the two countries do not conform to a peace deal and return of assets to the people of Jammu & Kashmir then the Indian army will be requested to intervene. 

It is the mere presence of forces in uniform and laced with weapons that incites passions and intimidation.ÿ The same people in civilian clothes are treated with respect and affection. 
Continuous and effective governance over a long period of time permits international law to stay in control of a territory.ÿ Based on evidence and deliberations in legal scholarship, discovery and examination of treaties and agreements or admissions in official statements it is expected that the largest democracy in the world will follow due process of justice, normative wisdom and law and deliver on the start made on the proposals announced.ÿ People of Kashmir understand that the combination of Mr. P. Chidambaram and Dr. Manmohan Singh at the helm in government of India is a great serendipity in their political struggle and their hopes are at a pitched height as a result.ÿ

*(The author can be contacted at majidsirajuk@







A teacher who was lecturing on habits told his class, "Anything you repeat twenty times is yours forever." From the back of the classroom came a boy's voice, whispering the name of the prettiest girl in the class, "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.." The whole class laughed as Sarah the pretty one blushed. Of course, what the teacher was trying to say is that any behavior, often repeated, becomes a habit.

I see this happening everyday, as my driver walks in day after day fifteen minutes late. I've tried everything from shouting at him, counseling him and all to no avail; he just turns up next day at the same time.

It was then I read this piece of wisdom and decided to try it out in which a Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus once said, "A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit." And if I understand him right, he suggests that saying no to a bad habit is not enough. Instead, we should try to replace it with a good one. Repeat the new behavior twenty times . and it is yours.

If any behavior, good or bad, is often repeated, it becomes stronger and more powerful. "Since habits become power, make them work for you and not against you," said E. Stanley Jones. In other words, drive out the undesirable nail, the behavior you'd like to change, with a better one.

One woman did just that after lamenting to her friend, "I hate being late. It has been a problem for me all of my life."

"Do you really want to change that habit?" her friend asked. The woman said that she did and her friend responded, "All right. Every time you're late for work or anywhere else, then give me $25."

"I'd go broke!" she said. "But I'll do $10."

"It's got to hurt," said the friend.

"Believe me, that will hurt," the woman replied. They agreed that the money should be deposited in a jar and used for charity.

In the first week, the habitually tardy woman made a concerted effort to plan ahead and she only paid $10 to her friend. The next week, $20. The third week, none at all. By week five, she had built a strong habit of leaving early, and her new behavior replaced the old pattern of tardiness that had hindered her for so long. She drove out one nail with another one. And she found freedom.

If you're like me, there is a bad nail you want to remove. Today is a good day to pick up a better nail and start using it.

And so tomorrow morning when my driver comes late I'm going to meet him with a smile on my face and a small jar in my hand, "Ten rupees!"

I hope his late coming nail will be driven out by the penalty nail..!








Who will not be shocked by the sheer audacity of an attempt by some young persons to abduct a girl in this city late on Tuesday night? The girl, who is an employee of a private telecom company, was on her way back home after finishing her duty at a call centre near Bagh-e-Bahu. Her car was stopped and a bid was made to pull her out. Luckily, she had some colleagues accompanying her. Together they raised an alarm and successfully managed to foil the daring kidnapping effort. The brave girl has lodged a complaint with a police station. One person has already been arrested in this connection. What would have happened had the girl not been in a vehicle and had she been alone? Surely, the incident is serious enough to cause many parents of working girls to lose their sleep. They must have stepped up personal arrangements for the security of their daughters. Like every city in the country we are also beneficiaries of an information technology revolution that has swept the land. It has resulted in employment of those who have the requisite qualifications. Looked from that angle it is a big boon. At the same time it has ushered in significant lifestyle changes. For our immediate purpose we shall focus only on the effect it has made on the business life of those actively involved. As all of us are aware our IT industry is a beneficiary of business process outsourcing (BPO) as it gets jobs from the technology-savvy and mostly affluent foreign countries. There is a difference between our and their timings. A result is that our IT technical personnel invariably have to keep late hours. Almost all companies engaging them make provision for their transportation to or from their houses at least during the period when they can't get any other means of travel.


Usually a company transport is considered a safe arrangement. This is actually the best one can think of in any circumstances because both the driver and the vehicle are presumed to have been well tried. The experience in the metropolitans, however, shows that even its occupants are exposed to risks at times. In the recent times, the entire nation has been shocked at least once. A girl has been murdered a few metres before her residence after being dropped by an office car in a well-known colony in the national capital. Another girl in New Delhi who would commute in her own car what are normally considered odd hours has also met the similar fate. It would be seen that the girls are the target in most of such cases. Why can't they move around freely in a, so to say, democratic environment to pursue professions of their choice? Not only the IT but the media and entertainment industries as well entail working at unearthly hours. It is not for nothing that all these tasks are described as challenging in terms of the time and effort these demand. Why should their practitioners feel insecure at any point of day and night? Our city has to grapple with the emerging realities. Often we have stated in these columns that it has long ago lost its innocence personified by a lion and a goat together drinking water from the Tawi ---- a spectacle that had inspired Jambulochan to set up this city on the slope of a hill. There are sharks now in our midst. In any case Jammu has crossed its original confines and is expanding every day. With a developing industrial scenario, a busy airport and an active railway station we are being invaded both by negative and positive influences. In addition, thousands of our boys and girls are exploring greener pastures in other parts of the country.


All these activities together are causing a loss of identity along with the dilution of fellow feeling. How else can we explain that a boy is killed by an acquaintance? How can we explain that an old couple dies in its house in one of the comparatively new localities but the tragedy is not known to the neighbours next door? It is only after their worried son, working in another state, contacts a relative to find out the reason for lack of response to his repeated telephone calls that the macabre drama unfolds. All such happenings call for enhanced vigilance on our part. We should be very alert at least with respect to our security. Girls are sufferers of social apathy and blatant discrimination in general. Off and on we keep hearing the reports of their kidnappings in one district or the other. This is a wider issue and is often debated at various forums. Our concern at this moment is the milieu surrounding working girls in new occupations which don't have a fixed schedule. What do they do when our law-enforcing agencies apparently don't evoke sufficient awe and respect? How can they walk back home when they don't have vehicles in streets which are badly lit? We should treat the Bagh-e-Bahu episode as a wake-up call. It is too grave.





For one militant it had been a love story. For the other it was a case of treachery. The former developed illicit relations with the young wife of the latter who happened to be his senior colleague. The betrayed militant was infuriated and settled the score through an exchange of fire in which he emerged victorious. Now he has threatened to subject his wife --- his second --- to the same fate. Incidentally he is said to have killed his first wife too for the same reason. How does one explain the entire drama enacted in Doda district? A man has two wives one after the other and both of them turn against him. Is it possible to draw a line between love and infidelity? Wise persons have debated the subject and some of them have tongues firmly in their cheek. One of them has, for instance, remarked: "Infidelity in woman is a masculine trait." How can one miss the mischief inherent in English critic Samuel Johnson's remark: "Wise married women don't trouble themselves about infidelity in their husbands?" There are some who have gone on to interpret the Bible's saying in their own way: "Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." As it is a segment of our society does not tolerate love. It is evident from occasional "honour killings.' How would it settle for agreeing to infidelity in personal relationships? The militants in any event have little to do with love.












I have wondered many days over the past fortnight why Altaf Hussain, the chief of Pakistans Muttahida Quam Mahaz, MQM for short, should have chosen this time to urge the Pakistan Army to create some sort of a martial-like situation in his country. More surprising, since MQM, the principal voice of the 3.5 crore muhajirs (refugees) who shifted to Pakistan at the time of partition is partner in the Zardari-Gilani dispensations both in Islamabad and in Sindh which is home to the majority of migrant Muslims.

What is even more surprising is that Hussain who lives in exile in London, has in the past been at the receiving end of the Generals' wrath. He himself has accused some of them of having being double-crossed him, including by the civilian 'shagird' (pupil) of Gen, Ziaul Haq who ruled Pakistan for eleven years after ensuring that his ward Nawaz Sharif fares well.

It couldn't be just that Altaf was currying favour with the Army when it very clearly was fully stretched, fighting domestic and natural disaster, the River Sindh having spread its grasp to nearly onefifth of the entire country, and desperately trying to tame internal terrorism, most importantly the one along its border with Afghanistan. The Army has successfully taken changed the course of the initially warming up relationship with India by reining in the overenthusiastic Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani.

Gen. Pervez Kayani has brought the Chinese even more closer to Pakistan with no cost to himself or his country by virtually handing over charge of large chunks of the former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir to Bejing to help it extend its land links via road and rail to Gawadar port in Baluchistan. Gen. Kayani would seem to be having the very best of the all the world's.

With a hopelessly weak government at the top it did not take him more than a wink to force the Zardari-Gilani combine to get himself a three-year extension as Chief of the Army Staff of the Pakistan Army. In fact he surpassed both General Zia and Musharraf in getting himself an extension without assuming power over the whole country by staging a coup. Kayani, of course knew it that Zardari was no Sharif or Bhutto to resist him.
But many political observers continue to wonder why Altaf Hussain chose this time to call for a military takeover of the country. No one was talking of military as an option for governance. "The Army has been brought into the discourse," says political analyst Harris Khalique, "and that is where I see a design of sorts. He doesn't say so himself but others point out that the military is overstretched and an attempt to impose military rule would demolish the Army's image". And it is the Army's image that Gen. Kayani has adroitly put at top of other organs of the State. The Musharraf era had seen the Army's image at a low when the hardliners within the Army saw him working towards a solution of the Kashmir tangle, the last straw on the camel's back being the Army assault on Islamabad's Lal Masjid to end its siege by Pakistani militants.

It was Kayani, well-infomred Pakistani sources say, who tightened the screws on the government yet again when the Indo-Pakistan dialogue took place. The General meanwhile is busy pursuing his twin objectives in Afghanistan gaining control through proxy (Taliban) over the country and simultaneously to destroy whatever leverage India has in that country.

The withdrawal by Western troops from Iraq and with Obama promising to do the same in Afghanistan, the Taliban spirits are soaring as are those of the Inter-Services Intelligence and the men deployed by it to secure Pakistani interest. The capitulation of Afghanistan is seen as a major gain by Pakistan largely because it gives the country greater strategic depth in the Indian context and it also makes it a potent force in the region.
Kayani and his men do not see much advantage in their country pursuing objectives through nuanced diplomacy. Comfortably as he is placed Kayani and his Army are happy to be seen as finishing the unfinished fight against the terrorist groups along the Pakistani border. Many in the Pakistani civil society will disagree that the war against terrorist on Afghan border is of any great domestic value - apart from it keeping the American paymasters happy.

The average Pakistani may be worried by the growing home terrorism and it is only growing in intensity. The factional fights have been growing by the day; suicide attacks are becoming routine. And on top it the ruling class is showing no interest in bringing about stability. It's painful for most Pakistanis to see Punjab emerging as a substantial terrorist centre. They also wonder when the two top leaders of the country will ever think in terms of a strong unified Pakistan. To the outsider it may sound curious that Mian Nawaz Sharif the leader of the foremost provincial party, the Muslim League (Punjab accounts for 65 percent of the country's population) should be supporting Asif Ali Zardari's PPP at the Federal level and yet be trying to undermine him by any means.

Shah Nawaz's brother, of course, is the Punjab Chief Minister. Initially Nawaz did name partymen to the Federal Government as well but walked away in a huff more than a year ago. Incidentally, Altaf Hussain of the MQM, whose party is part of the federal Government in Islamabad, has no special reason to be seeking the Army's return to power. His troubles in Karachi where he is acknowledged as the unquestioned king of the 3.5 crore migrant Muslims peaked during the days of General Ziaul Haq. He was used and abused, he has himself said of those days.

Later Zia's protégé, Nawaz Sharif too was to pursue his military mentor's view of him. This, when the two even entered in a coalition in Sindh : a marriage of convenience with Altaf Hussain keeping in touch from London with his flock in Karachi via teleconferencing or by even crudely speaking to crowds running into thousand by a combination of ordinary telephone in London linked to public address system in Karachi. What the odd combination between the main political parties at the Centre or in the provinces. But as is not unknown to us in India being partners or stakeholders in one state and enemies in another is not really unusual but it takes decades really for partners in governance to become stakeholders in democracy.








Is China constructing over 200 big and small dams on the Himalayan Rivers Yangtze, Brahmaputra and the Ganges, as has been mentioned in few reports? As the water shortages increase, will there be a friction between India and China over water sharing? 

There are essentially three water issues between India and China. First, is China's Zangmu project in Tibet, which is a 'run of the river' hydel generation dam on the Brahmaputra (Tsang-Po in China).The dam expected to be completed in 2015 is being constructed at Namcha Barwa on the eastern plateau of Tibet and is going to be the world's largest dam with 26 turbines and equipped to generate 40 million kilowatts per hour of hydroelectricity. 

India has reservations about this project which it fears would result in a decline in the flow of waters from the Brahmaputra. The Chinese government however has assured India that the dam does not have storage capabilities and would not lead to a reduction in the flow of the Brahmaputra in India. Moreover some Chinese engineers have suggested that the dam could provide cheap electricity for India, Nepal and Bangladesh, and could facilitate flood control in the Brahmaputra-Ganges basin. A lingering issue that still persists in India though is China's indiscretion on the project; China had denied building this project till last year. 
The second issue between the countries and the real concern for India is China's ambitious plans to divert water from its south to the arid north. The 'South to North Water Diversion Project' was first mooted by Mao Zedong in the 1950s and involves the diversion along three main routes. The central and eastern routes will not have any impact on India. The western route, however, could affect the lives of millions in India's northeast and Bangladesh. It will involve drawing water from several rivers that originate in Tibet including the Tsangpo. This project involves building a dam on the 'great bend' of the Brahmaputra and India fears would lead to a drastic shortage of water. India depends on the waters of the Brahmputra for its own hydroelectric projects. Of India's hydropower potential of 150,000 megawatts (MW), 50,000MW is in the northeast. And Arunachal Pradesh, which is mainly fed by Brahmaputra's tributaries - Siang, Subansiri and Lohit - supports development of 28,500MW hydro projects.The Brahmaputra accounts for 29% of the total run-off all India's rivers and its waters are also central to India's own 'National River Linking Project', which entails diverting waters from the North to the South. 

China on its part claims that it has no plans of diverting the Brahmaputra. The plans at this stage seems nebulous. There is dissent within the Ministry of Water resources, and the Chinese people are anxious about the displacement, technical and ecological costs of the Project. In an interview with BG Verghese, the leading water expert in India, he claims that India's hullabaloo over the water diversion project is unfounded, and excessive claims like these only increase the mistrust between the two countries. 

The third major issue between India and China is the absence of a water sharing mechanism or water treaty between the two countries, which makes a resolution of a potential problem, highly complex. For instance, India and Pakistan have recently being altercating over water issues, but since their issues are within the framework of the Indus Water Treaty, the countries have institutionalized mechanisms like the Indus Water Commission, Third party arbitration, neutral expert intervention, to help mitigate any pestering problems. China and India do not have a similar arrangement. As a result, being the upper riparian, China has more leverage on the issue and India feels that it would be at China's mercy during the dry season and for protection from floods during the rainy season. 
India's National Security Adviser, MK Narayanan had told that India has been following a "trust but verify" approach on the Chinese diversion project. "Our information is, and satellite pictures also show, that there is no work which has taken place," he said. "As of now, we have not seen any evidence of them doing the great bend so to say."

The third issue of the lack of a water treaty seems to be the crux of the problem, with minimal engagement between India and China on the water issue. At present, India suffers from an information gap on water issues with China, and thus it becomes hard to asses how serious the problem is. Weak international laws and the absence of robust water sharing agreements between the countries only magnify the problem. 

A blanket refusal to heed the Indian claims of an impending crisis, or creating excessive fear are two options that should be avoided. Instead, India needs to start engaging with China on water sharing issues. This engagement should not be open ended and should be carried forward with the final goal of an institutionalized water sharing mechanism or a water treaty between the two. India's also needs to strengthen its intelligence and information capabilities, in both ground and satellite based imagery on what China is doing with its Tibetan water resources.

The countries could alternatively, strengthen avenues of cooperation. They could work on substitutes to big hydro-electric projects, which have negative ecological impact, and instead focus on water conservation and water management. Protection of water sources, improving and maintaining water quality, issues of drainage, flood control, water harvesting and watershed management are some areas where cooperation can be envisaged. In the absence of that, India risks turning the now seemingly excessive claims of water crisis with China, to unheeded Cassandra claims of disaster. 


(The author is Research Officer, IPCS)









The going is tough in building up India's infrastructure. It has been so for decades, possibly centuries. The backwardness left behind by a slack imperial authority with its prime concern of letting the nation remain in partial slumber has continued in spite of 62 years of independence. The legacies of colonial rule and princely preoccupation with their own primacy have not been fully overcome, although a sense of some kind of urgency is visible, but down the line administrative and political sloth evident in perpetuation of the status quo cannot be wished away. 

Inspite of India being the second fastest growing economy of the world, but the size of the India's economy is quite small on a world scale: $1.2 trillion against the US $14 trillion and China's $5 trillion. This makes the rapid growth not so rapid after all because the base is relatively small. There is obviously no competition between the Dragon and the Tortoise because China is already the world's second largest economy of the world whereas India is perhaps at number ten or further down the order among the first 20 countries.

Why is this so? Because India does not yet have the kind of infrastructure that will meet the basic needs of most of the 1.2 billion people that live within its boundaries and shores. There is no regular or uninterrupted supply of electricity in all areas of the megapolises or big cities and little power supply to half a million of the 600,000 villages, leave alone small town and suburbs where power cuts are as long as 12 hours out of 24. The affluent who can afford back-up of power supply have to buy it from common pools for as much Rs.14 per unit. That holds good if one uses one's own. Power supply is a basic requirement for industry, business, especially specialized services, homes and farms, besides electric traction of railways over the ground or underground. 
Even though a gas-based power station is supposed to be set up in 18 months, it is not a ground reality nor is adequate gas yet available for upcoming or even old plants. Coal-based plants face severe shortages because India does not produce all the coal it needs and the quality of the coal is poor. A lot of it is being imported, but imports are far from adequate. The result is that the plant load factor or actual power generation compared to the installed capacity of many power plants is 60 per cent or less, besides the requirements of shutting down for repairs or renewal. 

Even hydro-electric plants face shortages of water in reservoirs in the dry season and excess of it in times of flood. Wind power is catching up, but does not add up to much. Nor does nuclear power, which is just about 4,000 MW, and could go up to 10,000 or 20,000 MW in 10 years or 20. That is not going to make a great impact in the near future. India used to have the world's largest number of biogas plants at about one million big and small ones with 90 per cent of them efficient at all times, but one does not hear about their importance because they are not part of high technology. Today's mantra is the computer and the mobile phone: millions of computers and half a billion or more of cell phones. Thus the biogas energy is not exotic and if these plants are still functioning, their number may not have increased because non-conventional energy is either high tech or low tech. Solar energy is a great option, but the initial cost is so high that it is almost unaffordable in a poor country like India. 

Shale gas, coalbed methane and coal liquefaction are other option, but India has yet to develop its own technology or import it from the US where shale gas already meets 10 per cent of American gas needs with a trillion measured commercial units. Shale gas is taking leaps in the USA as an Indian multinational has bought into several companies producing it there with billions of dollars of investment in the hope of possibly tapping American technology and technicians.

India's roads, railways, ports, shipping, airports and aerial movement of goods are improving, but still way behind world scales, though the capacity is being raised all the time, but the railways need better tracks to run faster freight trains and quality roads to move goods by trucks or super trucks. Although tractors now move farms and people and farm produce by tractor on dirt tracks, but the bullock cart remains a vital mode in the Indian scenario. 

In 10 years, India expects to be a $3 trillion plus economy, but how much of it will be due to inflation rather than tripling of the infrastructure and production of goods. There are already shortages of motor parts for cars and trucks and imports are needed to meet the needs fully, but both the Japanese and the South Koreans are setting up spare part manufacturing complexes in Alwar, 150 miles south-west of Delhi. If these facilities come up in five years, it will be a big boost for the economy. The Japanese also plan to build or help India build a speedier rail track from Delhi to Mumbai dedicated for freight movement. Will it pass through Alwar to connect their big project under way?

India has been able to buy a lot of extremely advanced textile equipment from European manufacturers forced to close down, but better quality goods or apparel are not a guarantee of exports as the First World people do not any more have all the spare cash they could afford to splurge. That is why the diamonds industry of Surat, leather goods and handicrafts outfits face severe difficulties even as India hopes that in the current financial year, its exports will touch $200 billion, with $16 billion plus recorded in July alone. (NPA)









THE Union Cabinet has finally decided to hold a caste-wise census from June to September 2011 after the completion of regular enumeration. Collecting caste-based data will be a major challenge for the government as such an exercise has not been undertaken after 1931, except for people in the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes categories. It is nobody's case that the government does not need this information if it wants to implement its development programmes in a targeted manner. However, in the light of apprehensions that the data so collected would strengthen caste differences and increase hostilities, the authorities will have to ensure that information on caste characteristics through census schedule does not encourage respondents to deliberately misrepresent facts. This is because people would know that the data are likely to be used for designing or monitoring policies and programmes for affirmative action.


The Cabinet decision on Thursday enjoins greater responsibility on the census authorities to ensure that the enumerators are trained properly to collect accurate data. The high accent on accuracy is very important as otherwise the whole purpose of caste headcount would be defeated. The authorities need to get the figures right and do an authenticity check by conducting sample surveys. If a particular community's numbers get reduced in the headcount, the government should not hesitate to reduce its share in the reservation regime. Merit — be it with regard to the admissions in educational institutions or government jobs — should not be sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.


The role of the government — at the Centre and in the states — has increased manifold in the sphere of socio-economic development. It is in need of reliable information to evaluate the impact of major policy shifts or the flagship programmes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). At the same time, the information on castes will help assess the impact of schemes like the reservation system on the backward classes. Thus, the success of the caste headcount would depend upon the authorities' ability to collect authentic, credible and reliable data.









THE lure of the foreign shores is still strong, more so in the region. Indian emigrants have an enviable record of success and positive contribution to the countries they emigrated to, so much so that in many they are also among the lawmakers. While the educated Indian is welcome abroad, various nations have been drawing up their drawbridges to stem the stream of would-be immigrants, including Indians, to their lands. Canada, where Indians comprise just over 3 per cent of the population, also has a more strict policy now, though more than 32,000 Indians received permanent resident visas last year.


However, for every success story, there are many failures. An unfortunate and major reason is that the documents provided by many applicants are often not up to the mark, sometimes they are even forged. Potential immigrants, often lacking in confidence and language skills, seek advice from various travel and immigration advisers, some of whom play a dubious role in misguiding them. When they are caught, the agents run away, leaving the applicants to fend for themselves. It was recently revealed that almost 700 travel agents in Punjab are proclaimed offenders, a shocking figure that highlights the gravity of the situation.


Canadian Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney's plea for India to frame a law that would check such 'immigration fraudsters' has to be seen in this background. Various statutes are violated by such agents who can and should be booked under existing laws. The government could also empower NGOs to guide people without monetary considerations and examine the documents before they are sent out to various embassies. The nexus between travel agents and illegal human traffickers also needs to be busted. Many lives have been lost and families ruined in the pursuit of distant dreams. While the Punjab Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill, now awaiting the Centre's approval, is a long term solution, strict enforcement of existing laws, and proactive action by the police in arresting the offenders, proclaimed or otherwise, is an immediate step that will both save innocent emigrants as well as the nation's image abroad.









A STUDENT slapping a teacher would invite condemnation in any society. But that it has happened in a nation that has since times immemorial revered teachers as gurus is all the more shocking. What is worse is that Class VII student of a Chandigarh school slapping a teacher who pulled him up for not doing his homework is not an isolated incident. Similar cases where teachers have been assaulted, by outsiders too, have been reported in the past. In Chandigarh alone there have been four such cases in past two months. No doubt immediate action, as taken by the UT administration, was in order. However, it has been rightly realised by the Education Department that the slapgate involving an impressionable boy is symptomatic of a deeper malaise. Hence their decision to counsel the students is a wise one.


Over the years there has been a growing distrust between the teacher and taught and the academic atmosphere — be it at schools or colleges — has been vitiated because of the chasm. Undeniably the conduct of some teachers has been questionable too and some of them have even been accused of sexual misdemeanour. However, the presence of a few black sheep among the teaching community is no excuse for students to turn the relationship upside down. If the law against corporal punishment has made teachers accountable for their actions, it is time students are made to realise that teachers are not "paid instructors" but mentors and guides who can and often do make the most significant contribution in a student's life.


The alarming and growing trend of diminishing respect for teachers needs to be arrested and reversed. A nation that boasts of guru shishya parampara and of disciples known for their sterling sacrifices cannot turn a blind eye to the outrageous conduct of students. At the same time it needs to look within to determine whether arresting a seventh grade student and slapping various charges against him can be a solution. The bridge between students and teachers needs to be built and not burnt.

















THE recent land rights issue of the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa seems to have been resolved with Rahul Gandhi's intervention. We are relieved that the ancient Dongria Kondh tribal population would be able to save their hills from exploitation by commercial interests. With assurance from the highest quarters, they are not only safe but may also see more concrete actions being taken regarding their welfare and development in the future.


While most leaders are talking of the vast divide between the rich and the poor, very little is being done to bridge the gap despite the numerous centrally and state sponsored anti poverty schemes. Though the poor are being helped with regular cash handouts (as in NREGA) and bailouts (debt waivers for farmers) the concept of inclusive growth which is increasingly talked about in government circles, is still without a convincing road map.


Income inequality seems to be rising even though we have a huge middle class of over 250 million people. If the government policy of inclusive growth is followed sincerely, most of India's 750 million poor and very poor should be able to climb into the middle class income category rather quickly and not slip back into poverty when some calamity or personal misfortune strikes them.


While most in the middle class category can afford nice clothes, decent food, holidays and the rich living it up in a glaringly ostentatious manner, the tribal population in Orissa is still clad in simple garb, dwelling in mud huts without electricity and eating very basic food. They not only lack assets, education, health facilities, toilets, safe drinking water but are also not gainfully employed.


They are however not alone in being deprived from the good life of the average middle class city dweller, because around 37.7 per cent of all Indian households do not have access to a water source and 49 per cent do not have proper shelter, 69.5 per cent do not have access to suitable toilets and 85.2 per cent of villages do not have a secondary school and 43 per cent Indian villages do not have an all weather road connecting them with towns.


For centuries, the tribal populations in different parts of India have preserved their customs and are steeped deeply into their tradition and like the Kondhs worship the hills and forests. It is not enough to assure them that they are going to be heard in the future and the government should also provide them with alternate sources of livelihood so that they can have assets of their own for safeguarding their future.


In the past they have been mainly dependent on forest products for their living and have for generations been food gatherers, hunters and small farmers. They also have a lively tradition of folk art which they practice for themselves and not for commercial purposes. For them to be able to start small businesses or improve their farming methods and forest activities, access to cash facilities is essential which means there has to be 'financial inclusion'.


Financial inclusion means that banking facilities are available to people in the remotest areas so that they can build savings, make investments, avail of credit and insure themselves against income shocks and emergencies.


It is amazing that India has 40 per cent of the population who do not have bank accounts or roughly 400 million people are without banking facilities and only 5.2 per cent of India's 6,50,000 villages have bank branches. According to a recent discussion paper of the RBI on the entry of new banks in the private sector, in March 31, 2009, the banking sector comprised 27 public sector banks, 7 new private banks, 15 old private banks, 31 foreign banks, 86 regional rural banks, four local area banks, 1,721 urban cooperative banks,, 31 state cooperative banks and 371 district central cooperative banks. The RBI claims there has been a progress in financial inclusion but more banks are needed for better services.


As per the Dr. Raghuram G. Rajan committee's recommendation, the RBI is considering giving new licenses to private banks to operate in India. This proposal however has come up with problems and one of the main issues is about whether these banks would be able to reach out to the poor.


Since the bank nationalisation of 1969 when Indira Gandhi nationalised 14 commercial banks, India has tried to extend more credit to the poor through 'priority sector' lending scheme of the RBI in which all public sector banks are required to set aside 40 per cent of net bank credit as loans for the weaker sections and the agricultural sector. But the results have not been so good and many banks have not reached the targeted amounts over the years.


The RBI also stipulated that banks should open at least 25 per cent of their total number of branches in rural and semi-urban centre but this too has not been fulfilled. The RBI is, thus, rightly cautious about extending licenses to more banks in the private sector.


For improving the lives of the poor it is a very important to have financial inclusion because they cannot live on handouts and doles and ought to have sustainable sources of livelihood. Those who are financially excluded are also mostly uneducated and from the backward castes and communities and they hesitate to approach a bank manager. Most banks also do not find them creditworthy and are reluctant to give them loans as a result of which they have to turn to the exploitative money lender. With more access to banking, this attitude of bankers would change.


Microcredit is a good alternative and has been successful in Bangladesh but it has not taken off very well in all parts of India. Self-help groups can help the poor with credit but these have not become popular in most areas.


With 'no frills' account (or zero minimum balance requirement), banking could reach the tribal population which would enable them to improve and introduce innovations in their economic activities to achieve higher productivity and incomes. They could earn and save more and send their children to school. They could sell their handicrafts also and access raw materials and simple tools through bank credit.


For financial inclusion, the tribal and below poverty line population could be given 'smart cards' and biometric authentication. These would ease identity management and ensure them easy accessibility, simplicity and flexibility in operating their accounts.


Stopping mining in the hills is only the first step because more needs to be done to enable the tribal population to have a more decent standard of living that includes better sanitation, roads, power, education and health facilities.








IT was a cold November afternoon in Old Blighty two years ago when I went to meet Diego Maradona at Hotel Radisson Edwardian in London. Football's resident God, donning the cloak of Argentina's new manager, was there to address a press conference for which I was never invited but still managed to make my way in.


The moment I shook hands with God, I realised it was a firm handshake. Maradona let my hand go but not before he spoke, "So, you are from India. I do not know how the game is played in your country. But we in Argentina have never played football. That is the domain of the Europeans and Africans. We always write poetry on the field." He seemed to be excited — after all he was taking on the British press, for so long his nemesis.


A journalist told me that the language of Maradona was always difficult to decode but I noticed that there was no such trickery as he projected himself as a man without artifice — and, to the profound dismay of the British press, utterly without contrition.


A Maradona press conference is invariably a theatrical event because his emotional range rivals that of the most inspired actors. Once he made himself comfortable in front of the flashbulbs, the football icon indeed delivered a performance of effortless flair. Whether on his mission as national team manager or on the capability of his players, he was never less than compelling. Plus there was one exquisite moment in which he punctured delusions of English grandeur just as emphatically as he did in 1986.


Let it not be forgotten that during the press meet Maradona revelled in references to the "Hand of God". He coined the phrase himself in Mexico City in 1986 when, with England vanquished in a World Cup quarter-final only an hour before, he told assembled journalists that his outrageous first goal was netted by the "hand of God". When a reporter, sitting beside me, asked him if he felt the faintest touch of remorse, he treated the boldness of the journalist — English, of course — with a curled lip of contempt.


"England won the World Cup with a goal that never crossed the line," he countered. The atmosphere in the room crackled. The debate over whether Geoff Hurst's second goal in the 1966 final against Germany did or did not creep over the line had become monotonous. However, with Maradona picking up a ghost it again assumed the most extreme urgency. Old enmities between England and Argentina, with Maradona the most enduring symbol, resurfaced at a single utterance.


But there was more. "The ball was that far short of a line," he said, with an expansive hand gesture to express great distance.


When the conference ended and as we moved out, not before the God blinked to me, we could see banners which read : "God comes to London" and "Give a hand to Maradona".









TONY BLAIR'S A Journey is a revelatory book in many ways, offering a glimpse into the mind of a political leader during tumultuous times. Of course, it is a personal context to much of the political decision-making during his time in office. But it is much more than that; it is sufficiently candid and detailed to give us some insight into the man's underlying psychology, and sometimes it is the smallest detail that can be the most interesting.


One of the principal drivers behind Tony Blair, the man and the politician, seems to be fear. It is without doubt the emotion mentioned most often in the book. Thus, Blair writes, "I didn't want to fight Gordon in a leadership contest. There was a rational explanation to this: such a fight required us to differentiate, and inevitably he would pitch to the left of me ... If I am honest, there was another reason I did not want a head-to-head contest: I was scared of the unpleasantness, the possible brutality of it, the sadness, actually, of two friends becoming foes."


Or, "PMQs was the most nerve-racking, discombobulating, nail-biting, bowel-moving, terror-inspiring, courage-draining experience in my prime ministerial life, without question." Or, in describing how he felt after John Smith's death: "I kept a strong grip on myself, but the anxiety showed .. I would wake in the morning with the hair on the back of my head damp with sweat. What I could control when awake was overpowering in sleep."


And even at the very start of the book, "On 2 May 1997, I walked into Downing Street as prime minister for the first time. I had never held office ... my predominant feeling was fear.".


A lot of the book is directly or indirectly about how Blair deals with his fears, how fear drove him to make certain decisions rather than others, and how he learned to mask his fear. In the case of PMQs, he says that people always commented that he looked very relaxed, but in reality, he says, "I never relaxed for a moment".


Blair became a master at masking his true emotional state, hiding his terror with that masking smile.

Psychologists have spent many years distinguishing genuine smiles from masking smiles. Masking smiles are asymmetric on the face and fade abruptly as they leave the face, exposing the real emotion underneath. Gordon Brown often tried to cover his negative emotion with a masking smile, but every time the smile fell off his face you could read his true emotions of impatience and irritation clearly. Blair's great art was masking his fear and terror with a smile that seemed all too genuine.


But his mastery of body language does not stop there. He comments that he and Princess Diana "were both, in our ways, manipulative people, perceiving quickly the emotions of others and able instinctively to play with them".


Throughout the book, he describes how he uses his understanding of body language to his advantage. He writes, "A great belief of mine is that when you are negotiating with someone, the first thing is to set the atmosphere at ease; signify a little glimmer of human feeling; exchange a few pleasantries; and above all start by saying something utterly uncontroversial with which disagreement is impossible. Get the other person's head nodding. It's that nod which establishes rapport, and which is an early, tiny sign that all is not lost. I might say: 'I know you feel strongly about this.' Well, of course they do; that's why there's a dispute; and there would be a nod."


There is something else I find very telling in the book: Blair's memories of childhood. I was particularly struck by his description of an event that happened in the playground when he was about 10 years old. He says that it was in this very situation that he first learned about courage and fear. He says that he can recall "the exact moment" when he got into a fight with a bully outside the gates of the Chorister School, Durham. This event would seem to be what psychologists call "a flashbulb memory".


A flashbulb memory is a vivid and detailed memory that does not fade with time, unlike all other memories. It is full of clear images etched for all time on to the brain. These are hardwired memories, designed for human survival and shaped by evolution. These are the kinds of enduring and stable memories that you might have if you had ever been in a near-fatal car accident or escaped a bomb blast in Afghanistan, for example.


The extraordinary thing about Tony Blair's flashbulb memory is that nothing much actually happened.


So when the bully came upon the young Blair unexpectedly, "I turned on him and told him I would hit him if he didn't stop. He could tell I meant it, because I did and my eyes would have shown it — so he stopped." So in this flashbulb memory all that really happened was that the bully was stopped dead in his tracks. Nobody got badly beaten; no one was kicked and stamped upon; few punches, if any, were thrown.


Blair's understanding of the situation is that it taught him something about courage, but from a psychology point of view it tells you more about the intense fear that the young Blair must have felt at that moment, plus the fact that he was surprised at his own actions in standing up to the bully. He didn't have to fight back physically, but he found a way of dealing with his own fear.


As a consequence of this, perhaps threat generally was perceived as more prevalent in Tony Blair's subsequent life - in the same way that those who have survived bad car crashes, and have the resulting flashbulb memory, view the roads as more dangerous places than those who have not had the same experiences. Perhaps, his firm response (that look), directly encoded in the brain, was from then on set as the natural response to any threat.


It would be fascinating to know if this bit of "character development" had not happened, and if this flashbulb memory had not been laid down, how Tony Blair would have dealt with all the other threats and bullies (he perceived) in the world along the way, and whether the world today would be a much more dangerous or a much safer place, as a consequence.


— The Independent







THE problem begins on page two of the opening chapter when Blair states his position. "I was and remain first and foremost not so much a politician of traditional left or right, but a moderniser." In a single sentence he de-politicises politics. Who does not believe themselves to be modern? Attlee "modernised" the state. Thatcher "modernised" the state. They took entirely different approaches based on beliefs that were rooted either on the left or right. Blair merely "modernises".


He explains that what he sought was a "progressive alternative to the Conservatives", but thanks to his rootless imprecision the Conservatives claim to be the progressives as well. Most people I meet consider themselves to be "progressive" and indeed "modern". The terms are meaningless.


Blair expands a little, but only with a list of familiar platitudes that were in some cases tested to destruction by what happened in office. He cites the value of being close to the US and at the heart of Europe, a third way blown apart by Iraq. He stresses the importance of supporting innovation and equality of opportunity. All parties are in favour of both.


When I interviewed advisers who had worked with him in No 10 for a series a few years ago they all said he was a pleasure to work with, including those who disagreed with him in policy terms. They admired the calm decency under fire. In some cases they became Blairites on these grounds alone. They liked him even as he moved rightwards and invaded Iraq. My guess is that parts of the book will have a similar impact. They will charm. From my limited reading the political analysis will not withstand much scrutiny.


He omits one awkward point. When he left office in 2007, after he had followed an unremitting "New Labour" agenda for several years, the Conservatives enjoyed a substantial lead in the polls.


Blair is not only wrong about Brown, but also wrong in his assessment of the crisis. When banks were pleading for government intervention on an epic scale, having railed earlier against any state activity however tiny, something pretty big was happening. At the very least, the episode highlighted the benevolent power of the state in preventing several banks from going bankrupt.


 The Independent








FROM Iraq, to terrorism, to public service reform, to criminal justice, the former Prime Minister plays the same tunes we heard from him. On the invasion of Iraq, Mr Blair makes his assertion that he does not regret the removal of Saddam Hussein. On the terrorism threat, he denies that his foreign policy played any part in stoking extremism.


The sting of the book comes in the tail, when Mr Blair turns from his own record to that of his successor. He voices his "profound" disapproval of deficit spending. But deficit spending was what prevented the slump in Britain turning into something still worse. Mr Blair also displays his naive economic views when he remarks: "I was sure we had done plenty of redistribution and needed to give some TLC [tender loving care] to our middle class". But inequality edged up over Mr Blair's time in office, despite the redistribution of his Chancellor.


On dealing with the deficits, Mr Blair says Labour should not have raised the top rate of income tax and, instead, put up VAT. But, as the recent analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies makes clear, this would have meant asking the least well-off to bear the greatest burden. Reading such views, it seems almost a blessing that Mr Blair was kept away from economic affairs by Mr Brown.


Mr Blair is justified in mounting a vigorous defence of the many good things he did in office, from bringing peace to Northern Ireland, to the minimum wage, to civil partnerships, to public service reform. But even with the burden of office removed, it is plain that he will not, or more likely cannot, recognise where he erred.


 The Independent









September 11 is etched in the modern mind as a black day not just for America but the whole world. On this day nine years ago, 2,977 innocent people were killed in a suicide attack by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists who hijacked and crashed four aircrafts into the World Trade Center in New York and two other locations in America. The people who died were from 90 different nationalities and of course different religions. At least 60 victims were Muslims. The terrorists were identified as citizens from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Lebanon. Since 9/11, there has been an unfortunate conflating of terrorism and Islam. 


Subsequent action by the United States (the war on terror and the invasion of Afghanistan) could possibly have emboldened radical Islamic elements, whose only aim is to keep the hatred alive, and kill any initiatives for peace. 


Increasingly, there is a perceptible chasm between Islam and the West, and much of this can be traced to 9/11. For its part America has never officially endorsed or encouraged this conflation. In fact, an Islamic community centre and a mosque is being built at Ground Zero, the site of the destroyed World Trade Center buildings. This proposal was made by a prominent American Muslim imam and thinker called Feisal Abdul Rauf. It was readily accepted, an act which is testimony to American liberalism, secularism and tolerance. 


In an election year, unfortunately this proposed 'mosque' (actually it is a multi-religious community centre, including a mosque) has become a political hot potato, and hatemongers are trying their utmost to inflame passions. A minor and fringe pastor in Florida also planned to commemorate 9/11 by burning the Quran. This unknown pastor and church became instantly famous all over the world, with fiercely raging debates about America and Islam. 


The peace-loving imam Rauf urged fellow Americans to not give in to hate speech. He said, "I 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." Rauf also said that the centre would be built on two fundamental commandments common to all religions: love the Lord with all your heart and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. 


This spirit of ecumenism and a desire to bring all religions together has its origin in older America, and the date is also 9/11. It was on September 11 in 1893 that the world's first Parliament of Religions was convened, and lasted for more than two weeks. On that day, a famous monk began his speech as "Sisters and Brothers of America", and received a deafening standing ovation. He welcomed the grand effort to bring all religions on a common platform to forge and realise the unity and harmony of all religions. He was an anonymous wandering monk until then, but from that day and with that epochal speech he burst upon the global stage. 


On 9/11 in 1893 he had said, "The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me." 


"Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal." 


Swami Vivekananda lived only for nine years in the public limelight that followed. His work and message continues to inspire us even today. 


Thus fittingly, 9/11 should be commemorated as anti-fanaticism day. 



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







The Gandhi mother-son duo and the prime minister have come down on two sides of the land acquisition/environment debate. Manmohan Singh is focused on delivering 9 per cent economic growth; he sees a choice between projects to deliver that growth, and environmentalists who want the poverty-ridden status quo. The Gandhis see that the losers in the development game are asserting themselves; and, unlike the prime minister, they have to win elections. Dr Singh and his growth-focused colleagues in the government listen more to the businessmen who complain about projects being held up; their critics point to the crony capitalism that has become endemic, eroding the legitimacy of the very growth that Dr Singh is delivering.


 This may be just one more facet to the old divide between Dr Singh and his aides, on the one hand, and Sonia Gandhi and the NGO cabal that populates her National Advisory Council, on the other. It is also possible that the curative processes of India's democracy will deliver an acceptable solution. After all, a proposal is on the cards to make industry bid for mining rights instead of getting them free, just as companies have to bid for oil and gas blocks. Also, one state government after the other is making land acquisition feasible and fair. Haryana now offers a 33-year annuity, over and above the lump sum payment, to any farmer whose land is acquired; Mayawati is willing to copy that in Uttar Pradesh.


Solutions are quite easy, because giving expropriated farmers and tribals a fair deal is a low-cost affair. The proposed Rs 30,000 crore Jindal steel plant in Karnataka will get 4,500 acres of land for about Rs 540 crore — or 1.8 per cent of project cost. You could double the payment to farmers who will be dispossessed, and Mr Jindal would barely notice the extra squiggle on his balance sheet. Or, consider how little you would need to pay the 1,000 tribal families who have lost out on account of the Niyamgiri mining project — less than Rs 10 crore annually, if you wanted to give all of them enough money to live a better life than they have enjoyed so far.


So, why aren't more politicians and ministers speaking up for large numbers of voters who have made land and forest rights a hot-button issue? After all, the theory about free-market democracies is that, while markets create winners and losers, the function of politics is to take care of the losers — through fiscal transfers and such. Increasingly, though, politicians favour the winners. The Delhi airport project cost has climbed from Rs 5,900 crore to Rs 10,500 crore, and now (one hears) to Rs 16,500 crore — and passengers are being made to cough up! Generosity when it comes to the well-heeled, parsimoniousness when it is the poor who ask for more. As for the environment, the civil aviation minister is willing to divert two rivers, demolish a hill and destroy mangroves to build an airport; but he won't look for alternative land next door, in Mukesh Ambani's special economic zone — because land acquisition laws can't be used against Mr Ambani, of course.


The fact is that India's leading parliamentarians are now plutocrats. They may speak for the aam aadmi but they party with businessmen and use their private planes, even as those agitating for Bhopal gas victims can't meet anybody in the government. Indeed, businessmen are now politicians and vice versa (think the Maran brothers, Jagan Reddy, Karnataka's mining barons…). This fusion of political and financial power saw oligarchs do what they did in Yeltsin's Russia. India is in danger of going down that road. The government can and should deliver rapid growth — but in a manner that does not create more Maoists, or a repeat of Pakistan's "22 families".









Did you know that the great state of Meghalaya has four chief ministers? One is sworn in by the governor and the other three are holding the rank and enjoying the privileges of a chief minster. You didn't know that? Well, then welcome to the world of Office FOR Profit.


We are just finished with the MPs' emoluments saga. But this is only one of the several rip-offs. Another one relates to the salaries of MLAs, some of whom are better paid than MPs. But altogether, another one is the one concerned with Office of Profit. We inherited the concept of Office of Profit from the Westminster system, where the concept has existed for several hundred years and where holders of certain offices have been barred from membership of the House of Commons. In fact, the definition of Office of Profit was so strict that, until the 1920s, any member of the Commons who was appointed minister had to resign his seat and contest again.


The major reason underpinning the concept of Office of Profit is that an MP/MLA should not be corrupted by executive patronage and should be free from possible conflicts of interest which might distort her behaviour as an independent member of the legislature and her freedom to represent the best interests of his constituents. Our founding fathers introduced this model of rectitude in our Constitution — but for the past decades, we have been busy subverting Article 102(1)(a), which allows Parliament to exempt some offices; states can do the same under Article 191(1)(a).


In 2006, in the Jaya Bachchan case, the Supreme Court ruled, inter alia, "...what is relevant is whether the office is capable of yielding a profit or pecuniary gain and not whether the person actually obtained a monetary gain". Mrs Bachchan, an upright and honourable legislator, who earned absolutely nothing in terms of money or benefits as chairperson of the UP Film Development Corporation, was disqualified under Article 102(1)(a) for holding an Office of Profit not sanctioned by Parliament. Sonia Gandhi also resigned her seat (she was NAC chairperson) and sought re-election.


But do you think our friends in Parliament were going to take this lying down? No way. They had "political consensus across party lines", a scary thought at the best of times, and amended the law — with retrospective effect! And when Parliament does this, will the states be far behind?


There are two major objections to occupation of Offices of Profit by legislators. First, they are often Offices FOR Profit and secondly, they subvert our laws.


An example of Office FOR Profit: Most states have a State Transport Corporation and the chairperson of that Corporation is normally a legislator. Does she have great expertise in the area of transportation? No. Does she have the reputation of a planner? No. The odds are she is a "hack" who wants a car with a red beacon, a free government house and the status of a Cabinet minister. Let us assume she sacrifices all these perks in the interest of the nation. But there are those juicy contracts for new buses, etc. where large sums of money are involved. Of course, our legislator, that paragon of virtue, cannot even dream of taking a "cut". Then, the Corporation has a recruitment drive — well, a few of her relatives and constituents could get jobs and, knowing our politicians, there is, of course, no question of a quid pro quo; they allow merit to prevail!


There are many such Corporations that are milch cows for politicians.

A Congress member of the Rajya Sabha said that legislators should be on the boards of PSUs as they had time to spare. If they have time to spare, they could utilise it more effectively by having more sitting days in Parliament than poking their snouts into PSU troughs — once again looking for Offices FOR Profit.


A Left MP, however, demanded that corporate chiefs should also be barred from Parliament under this concept. But that is a misreading of the concept or an excess of ideological zeal. Whether one is the chairperson of UB or the general secretary of CITU, she is not holding an Office of Profit under the government. She would, of course, be expected to declare her "interest" to the presiding officer, something that is rarely done.


Now the second objection — subversion of legislation. There is a law restricting the number of members of the government to 10 per cent of the membership of the legislature (the percentage is higher for states with very small number of legislators). This law is a major problem in these days of coalitions and greedy politicians. Look at a state like UP (as an example) and the number of politicians who sit on some body or the other. And the intent to subvert the law is clear because, the day the law came into force, those who lost ministerial jobs were accommodated on boards of various Corporations. And UP is not an exception. The disease is endemic and has spread in great measure to all states — big and small.


Ideally, legislators should be barred from holding any Office of Profit. Like their emoluments, it is the legislators who currently decide on exempting certain positions from Office of Profit. Those political leaders who lay any claim to financial probity must ensure that these decisions are taken by an independent and open tribunal.


We need to send a signal to our legislators that the entry into the legislature does not give them additional rights to "milk" the people. This is not to say that there are not decent and honourable legislators who have served selflessly and effectively, but the mass of them have been milking the electorate from these Offices FOR Profit.


The author is a political commentator







The first time I was felt up by a man was around 3 am on a chilly November night in 1982. I was wrapped snug in a blanket, mellowed by a quarter of Old Monk, walking down to IIT Gate Crossing, intending to get my lips around a piping hot mooli paratha.


The perpetrator of this outrage was a young, and somewhat embarrassed cop. He seemed to find the act as distasteful as I did. However, as the most junior of the three specimens of Delhi's finest who had been tasked to check out, and, if need arose, feel up passing strangers at IIT Gate, he had drawn the short straw. So, it was his task not to reason why but to pat and grope away, while the other two asked inane questions. Admittedly, I may have seemed suspicious, given my long hair and beard, and a pervasive aroma of distilled cane juice. But when I confessed to my Bengali heritage, one of the older cops genially said Key dada, bhalo?, and waved me on to my tryst with parathas.


I have unfortunately been felt up by many men since, with varying degrees of politeness. The use of metal detectors makes it less, shall we say, intimate. But I will always remember the winter of 1982 as my initiation to Delhi's riff on the police roadblock and frisk.


The heightened security was due to the Asiad. Buta Singh and his cohorts had realised terrorists could shoot up anything they cared to. Tragically, the perception was correct and the measures insufficient. The security that started with the Asiad bandobust never stood down. It became as permanent an Asiad legacy as the flyovers and buses.


Delhi-dwellers soon became just as inured to inane questions at checkpoints as they became blase about the new infrastructure. They pigged out at the ITDC hotels and relieved themselves on the walls of Nehru Stadium. They scrambled to get into DDA lotteries allotting the athletes' housing complexes. They wangled memberships to Talkatora and the Siri Fort Range.


My memories of the 1982 Asiad are a little hazy. It has been 28 years, after all. But it amazes me that the event is now being recalled in some quarters as an efficiently organised blockbuster that went off without a hint of corruption.


I seem to remember a desperate last-minute scramble. About the corruption, most of the gossip from that era is still unprintable. But for years afterwards, one met shady contractors who'd got their first breaks during the Asiad. Nobody who'd been around in 1982 was surprised when Buta Singh was later embroiled in the JMM business.


It seems the CWG is organised much on the same lines. There are key differences, of course. One is that the city has developed traffic densities that make it impossible to construct anywhere without severe disruption. Still, I'd rather have some chaos if that's the price one must pay for a full-service metro.


Another point. In 1982, India's per capita was about Rs 270 (nominal). We were all trained by years of licence raj to stand in queues and wait for everything. We expected to be pushed around and ripped off by the powers-that-be.


There was no question of public scrutiny of how public money was spent, especially on a patriotic cause. Nobody knows who made how much during the Asiad. Given that roughly two-thirds of India's current population was born after the demise of Mrs G senior, not too many people remember the gossip either.


India's 2010 per capita is Rs 1,100-odd. The scale of corruption is, therefore, proportionately higher than in those pre-Maruti days. But civil society has also strengthened to a point where vigilante bean-counters can chase down every last entry in the CWG accounts. On the whole, Delhi has, I think, improved. It's a pity that its event-hosting skills have not.









The distribution of currency notes of various denominations in India appears to be heavily skewed in favour of the rich. The section on currency management in the Annual Report of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) shows that at the end of March 2010, 12.9 per cent and 4.2 per cent of the total volume of notes in circulation with denominations of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 accounted for 46.2 per cent and 30.2 per cent of the total values. These proportions display a rising trend.


The skew is only a reflection of the highly unequal distribution of income, wealth and economic transactions. But currency management should be centred on the common man. The vast majority of people deal in transactions of relatively small values at one time and have no need for high-value denominations. Automated teller machines (ATMs) discharge high-value notes, making it necessary for many to visit the bank counters again to get change in smaller denominations. It discourages customers who want to withdraw small amounts from using the machines. The data show that the Rs 10 notes showed the highest growth rate both in terms of the volume and value.


 Small-value transactions at the counter increase the cost of banking service. If there is a problem in accommodating a large number of notes in the slots of the machines, it can be solved by prescribing a maximum withdrawal of, say, Rs 5,000 at one time. Anyone who wants to draw a higher amount could do so in more than one instalment in one visit. In fact, this system prevailed in the past and it was successful in dispensing notes of the denominations of Rs 100 and Rs 10. Incidentally, many banks have reported that a substantial proportion of customer transactions is carried out off-site using the ATMs and the Internet. If that were the case, should it not result in a reduction in bank service charges? There is no rationale for a bank to charge Rs 100 per consolidated statement of the transactions in a year.


In the West, high-value notes were given up long ago partly due to their misuse in illegal activities and partly due to the extensive use of the banking system to carry out transactions through electronic devices. As far as the Indian rich are concerned, they have access to modern means of payment that do not require cash. So, the only remaining purpose that is served by high-value notes is to provide a means to facilitate illegal activities by anti-social elements. This writer conducted an enquiry with the department concerned when he was in RBI's service. He found that there was no scientific way of determining the demand for notes of various denominations. It was decided on an ad hoc basis using some rule-of-thumb growth rates. It is quite likely that the situation continues to be so and the distribution of notes is still supply-determined.


A few decades ago, the RBI asked the Indian Statistical Institute, (then) Calcutta, to undertake a project determining a methodology for estimating the demand for notes of different denominations. The report was not published. A recent enquiry with the RBI by this writer under the Right to Information Act revealed that the report was not traceable! In any case, the RBI needs to change its priorities in relation to the denomination of notes.


The report refers to the RBI taking steps to conduct a field trial of plastic notes in the denomination of Rs 10 in 2010-11 to gather lessons in order to raise their longevity. Although there are other countries with plastic notes, I know of one instance when it was tried and given up due to certain practical difficulties. During my visit to the Bank of Thailand a few years ago, I was told that plastic notes were no longer in use for two reasons. One, the staff working in the printing press objected to the obnoxious fumes and smells of the plastic being processed. Two, the common man experienced difficulties in folding the notes in his wallet. The RBI would do well to contact a few countries that are using plastic notes to learn about their initial problems and how they surmounted them.


As regards small coins below the value of Rs 1, 52 per cent of the total volume accounted for 13 per cent of the value at the end of March 2010. Prices are getting rounded off to the nearest rupee and even when the value of a transaction requires a fraction of a rupee, the vendor advises the buyers to buy the required additional quantity to avoid it. There used to be periodical shortages and surpluses of coins in the past that reminded one of the Cobweb cycle. The RBI is right in not having placed any indent for coins below the value of 50 paise.


The RBI and the government mint should stop the practice of frequently changing the design of coins. At present, it is often difficult to distinguish between Rs 1 and the new Rs 2 coins. Coins in the US, viz. dime, nickel, quarter and half dollar, have not changed in shape and size for many years. Considering the use of coins in automated machines, like those used for weighing oneself, and the requirements of the blind, it is desirable that the designs should be unchanged.


The author is an economic consultant (Former officer-in-charge, Department of Economic Analysis and Policy, Reserve Bank of India, and IMF Adviser to National Bank of Kyrgyzstan and Bank of Sierra Leone)










The Economist has made much of its Big Mac index which compares the price of the burger across the world in different currencies to see if particular currencies are over or undervalued. Tongue planted firmly in cheek, in the space left after accommodating a mouthful of the stuff which is more than a handful (better to hold it in both hands so you don't ruin your shirt), it claims with becoming immodesty that the concoction (that is, the index) "is arguably the world's most accurate financial indicator to be based on a fast-food item".


Well, here is a competitor. For those who do not lay much store by GDP and nominal exchange rates and like to look at quality of life, here is the first outline of an index that can become arguably the world's most accurate development indicator to be based on a popular food that does not move fast at all but melts slowly in your mouth as you contemplate the course of the country's development. Behold the humble biscuit that has known and surprisingly accurately reflected all the ups and downs that the country has been through in the last half century or so.


 Much fine-tuning needs to be done before the new development index can be applied usefully across countries but the candidate has great potential. A key decision will be to determine whether the index is to be based on a particular biscuit or biscuits in general. While one biscuit will have all the virtues of specificity, the genre scores in comprehensiveness. My earliest memories, going back to the fifties, is of biscuits being a tremendous treat, the excitement over the prospects of being able to consume a couple of them being akin to the excitement over developing the country rapidly, five years at a time, that was then widespread.


Then came a long interregnum, from the sixties through to the eighties, when developmental progress floundered and with it the quality of biscuits. Things began to change in the nineties and if you want a measure of the country picking itself up and going places, all you have to do is to look at the sea change that has been taking place in last 10 years or so in biscuits. Not only has quality improved, increasing competition has kept prices low and the sharp rise in real per capita incomes in the last several years is accurately reflected in the higher value that biscuits have been delivering.


But if I were to opt for the specific, right now I can find no better biscuit to focus on than the Digestive, my all-time favourite. It was great when I was a kid, became virtually tasteless thereafter and, lo and behold!, come liberalistion and then 9 per cent growth, there has been such a fabulous return of taste and flavour. And a small pack is available for no more than Rs 15 (after a price rise). If that is not value for money, what is?


Equally fascinatingly, the sub-plots that have been developing in the Digestive segment flag other changes that have been taking place in India. Marie is the blandest biscuit that man ever made and should really be excommunicated from the fraternity of biscuits. But hold on, the Digestive Marie has beautifully arrived in the middle to give you a bit of both value and taste and hold up aloft the banner of Indian innovativeness.


That is not all. The Indian opening-up and the phenomenon of major firms and brands in the world coming to India to be a part of one of the two foremost growth stories in the world are traceable in Digestives too. Even as the Indian Digestive became better in recent years, the international packs appeared on shelves here too and the difference was telling. The two were not the same, in terms of both taste and price. Then the big global name was available both at global prices (the packs that were imported) and in small packs bearing the Indian price tag, the latter produced by a taken-over factory in India. But here comes the clincher: the now-improved Indian Digestive, my taste buds developed over decades tell me, beats the newly arrived price competitor. If you were seeking a measure of that great aspect of current Indian development — that none can beat the value created in India for the bottom of the pyramid, and that Indian competitiveness is not just in terms of price but quality too — then all you need to do is to taste the two different made-in-India Digestives.


While Digestives are a good benchmark for biscuits in general, there have been other developments too. My other great favourite, the Cream Cracker, with or without cheese, has undergone a similar decline and rise over the decades. And today there is a newcomer challenging established players. The recently arrived sugar-free Cream Cracker takes the cake, and I don't turn to it because it is healthy. Pleasure and health do not mix, I have found out over the years, and it is idle to try to achieve both with the same item.


So, what should the development index be based on, biscuits or the Digestive? And what is the applicability of such an index across countries, particularly in those where they call biscuits cookies? A newcomer strongly asserts that the two are not the same, though the dictionary says they are. The foodies among economists, I call them gastronomists, have to make up their minds. But there is no doubt that a good tracker of the change in the level of development of an emerging economy is the change in the quality and value of its biscuits. 








All faith healers, homeopaths and chiropractors who practise alternative medicine based on the manipulation of joints, especially of the spinal column, know that cures depend on whom people have the most confidence in and ultimately on their own selves. Non-subjective western medicine that we have been brought up on doesn't buy this but those who believe in the mind-body complex and practise yoga do, as Tim Parks, a writer and translator from Italian to English, tells us in his memoir Teach Us to Sit Still: A Sceptic's Search to Health and Healing (Harvill Secker, Special Indian Price Rs 599). It is a confessional memoir that believes that the body has self-healing mechanisms which include a well-organised, built-in pharmacy that can be accessed through Vipassana, or deep meditation and "unquestioning acceptance, letting go".

First, Parks' medical history. From 2005 to 2006, Parks had pain in his pelvis that had become so excruciating

that sitting for more than a minute was a torture: "I had quite a repertoire of pains at this point — general smouldering tension throughout the abdomen, a sharp jab in the perineum, an electric shock darting down the inside of the thigh, an ache in the small of the back, a twinge in the penis itself."


 The most galling symptom was that he was obliged to get up to urinate five or six times a night; "a symptom whose impact is only topped by the humiliating onset of sexual impotence". Given this array of symptoms, Parks was nevertheless willing to appear in public but this was only a cover for his wilfulness, determination, rigidity and tension.


What this memoir describes often with great frankness is not just his return to health but his discovery of a new notion of health, consisting not only of a release from discomfort or impotency, but also of an acceptance of society, a consciousness of the world around him and a delight or "bliss". "In choosing to write this book," he explains, "I have decided to set down, often in disagreeable detail, all the things I scrupulously avoided mentioning for years."


We first meet Parks in December 2005 in the hands of his doctor for whom prostate seems to be the chief culprit but wasn't quite sure if the operation would alleviate the symptoms. (It is more than a coincidence that almost all doctors first investigate whether there has been an enlargement of the prostate in men over 40!) Parks explains his condition through diagrams which presumably had been handed down by his doctor. "What struck me (about the investigation) was the hubris of its clarity. This handsome, clean-shaven, young doctor with his curious hat was Renaissance Man exploring the heavens with his telescopes, Enlightenment Man discovering the power of surgical instruments. He saw clearly right inside the body, my body, right inside the quick of life, and he made neat, clinical cuts, there with sophisticated equipment."


Parks doesn't buy the wonders of modern medicine and it is this scepticism which is probably what saved him from surgery. If the prostate wasn't the problem, the next step is always the bladder which means ultrasound scans, invasive cystoscopy, urine analysis, all of which can create endless confusion and rage. But at the end of the day, no clear prognosis or remedy.


When everything fails these days, we almost always turn to the Internet which provides us with an overkill of information but no connections of what the bits and pieces amount to and certainly no relief from nagging pain. All that it does is to intensify the solitude "to live lives of quiet desperation".


Exasperated with doctors, Parks tries to figure out what could have caused his condition turning to his parents' attitudes, their reverence to science, for "evidence-based medicine", and their aversion to anything approaching spiritualism, all of which didn't quite help.


"Psychosomatic", which meant everything from family history to cultural values, became the buzzword till he came across a self-help book, A Headache in the Pelvis. It sounded like mumbo-jumbo but what it said was that any serious investigation into what could be wrong demanded a significant change in priorities and habits or, very simply, in lifestyles. It required the sufferer to be a non-judgmental, detached observer of the body's processes, to breathing in particular. This was the path that led Parks in the second half of the memoir to shiatsu treatments (Japanese therapy in which pressure is applied by hands to different points in the body) which didn't help but led to yogic asanas of increasing length and arduousness. Much of the second part deals with yogic asanas and how "correct breathing and postures" led to an improvement in his condition.


Parks is a novelist and he has written this book as a kind of stream-of-consciousness novel where myriad thoughts and ideas float all the time, where the mind is never still until it is trained to do so. Which is what yoga properly taught is meant to ultimately achieve. And once this state of equanimity is reached, all the pains and "heartaches that flesh is heir to" vanish. It isn't easy to reach this state of bliss but once achieved with the realisation that everything is in a state of eternal flux, nothing is fixed and that ego, identity have no permanence, there are no pains left.









Bengalis with some money but little English use the English words "middle class" as a term of disparagement even in their Bengali speech. They dismiss a flat or a car as middle class if it's not grand enough to merit attention. The upper reaches of Delhi society are more subtle in expressing the same snobbishness. A diplomatic wife recalls the ambassador's lady lifting her eyebrows in pained surprise and murmuring disapprovingly, "So bourgeois, my dear!" when she — a mere third secretary's wife then — said "Bon appetit" before a meal. My friend had the aplomb to retort, "But I am bourgeois!"


So she would be counted by any international reckoning. But given India's abysmal average income and the mysteries of Purchasing Power Parity, she is probably in the highest income bracket. Does that make for class? Her father was in the heaven-born service, but upper class English youths at Oxford in his day had a rude name for ICS cadets who had achieved entry by merit and not birth. That was unforgivable. The "competition-wallah" was a figure of fun.


 Applying a similar yardstick, V S Naipaul was surprised when I told him that Jawaharlal Nehru's father was an advocate. "Then why do they call Nehru an aristocrat?" Naipaul demanded. "He's middle class!" Naipaul hadn't reckoned with India's pragmatic materialism. Motilal Nehru was rich. Therefore, he was aristocratic.


But, then, who does comprise the middle class whose suffocating morality provoked Mr Doolittle's anguish in Pygmalion, but whose numerical supremacy over the rich and the poor Aristotle thought essential for stable democracy?


American sceptics argue that the Great American Middle Class is only another Great American Dream though Barack Obama on the stump accuses his Republican predecessor of doing his best to destroy this backbone of the Land of the Free. Too few Americans have tertiary qualifications, equity holdings and retirement savings, critics complain, to qualify as middle class. In fact, 43 per cent of Americans can't even muster $10,000 to fall back on after retiring. They would starve in capitalism's highest temple without Social Security.


Our situation is even more complex as B P Mandal discovered when Karnataka Brahmins pleaded for OBC status. India religiously trots out 300 to 350 million consumers as the passport to world status. South Koreans flocked here to make cars for this supposedly burgeoning middle class. George W Bush licked his chops at the thought of selling pizzas and washing machines to aspiring consumers. George Yeo, Singapore's foreign minister, cited them to recommend robust economic relations between the two countries..


I asked Yeo where he got the figure, and he replied in surprise, "From the Indians of course!" The irrepressible Mani Shankar Aiyar spilt the beans. Or was he just boasting? According to Mani, the 300-350 million figure popped out of the top of his head when a foreign journalist popped the question. It's been written in stone ever since. Now, the stone is in danger of being eroded.


For, like the Great American Dream, the much-vaunted Great Indian Middle Class may be no more than the Great Indian Mythic Class. But for totally different reasons. If Americans have not yet achieved middle class status, astonishing as it may seem, we have surpassed it. According to a new World Bank publication, Equity in a Globalising World, those who earn more than a daily $10 in a developing country — which must include all readers of this column — are in the top 5 per cent. They are the elite. Toss that with PPP, and hey presto! a daily $10 becomes a monthly Rs 5,176.8, a Delhi driver's wage.


The Asian Development Bank even more generously lavishes middle class status on anyone who earns between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000 a month. Anything more is wealth. India may be a poor country but thanks to the World Bank, ADB and PPP, Indians are rich, looking down on others as in Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe, "Bow, bow, ye lower middle classes!/ Bow, bow, ye tradesmen, bow, ye masses."


Holding that the middle class outnumbers both rich and poor in the best democracies, Aristotle would have been dismayed. The world's oldest democracy is too poor, the largest too rich!


No one told him it's all a question of definition and strategic action. There's no writing on the wall if the wall is demolished. Abolish exams and nobody fails. Do away with the poverty line and the poor disappear. India is ready to take its place at the high table of the comity of nations. 








The other day, I met a few carpet manufacturers from Mirzapur who were fuming about the state of affairs there. "In spite of the best weaving wages that we're able to pay, far too many weavers have now turned to other jobs," one complained. The recession in the West led to a massive slowdown in carpet exports, reducing the number of orders for weavers. Many found alternative jobs under the NREGA (the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and did not want to return to their traditional trade that offered fewer guarantees. So, when the market saw a slight upswing and carpet exporters began receiving larger orders, they discovered to their dismay that there were hardly any weavers left to execute the orders.


Recently, a desperate manufacturer actually offered Maruti 800s as weaving bonuses, and still found few takers amongst weavers! And to make matters worse, Indian carpets had to compete with much cheaper Chinese machine-made knock-offs that could be woven in a day (similar rugs in India could take human hands several weeks to weave). "It's a vicious circle. Unless we get orders, we can't commission weavers to weave carpets. But unless there are enough weavers to weave for us, how can we even take new orders?" they said. At the same time, they could also see why weavers, who were uncertain of their future and without a regular source of income, would want to leave at the first glimpse of a better opportunity.


 No wonder then that people are wondering about the future of Bhadohi's carpet industry that provides employment to around 3.2 million people in Uttar Pradesh. A couple of decades ago, most of the carpet production in this belt was of hand-knotted carpets. Today, this has changed. The bulk of the industry's revenues comes from hand-tufted rugs that are cheaper to make and faster to produce.


That's why my interest was piqued when I heard that on September 4, hand-knotted carpets of Bhadohi were finally granted Geographical Indication (GI) status. This means that hand-woven carpets in nine adjoining districts that make up UP's carpet belt — Bhadohi, Mirzapur, Varanasi, Ghazipur, Sonebhadra, Kaushambi, Allahabad, Jaunpur and Chandauli — will now be allowed the use of an exclusive trademark, Hand Knotted Carpets of Bhadohi.


What would a tag like this really mean? According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, it will prevent the unauthorised use of the registered GI by third parties, boost exports and bring economic prosperity to this handmade carpet-weaving cluster. At the level of promoting Indian carpets in world markets, this sounds great. For starters, it may be useful for curbing the cheap imitations that have eroded the market share of genuine Bhadohi carpets. It may also help establish Bhadohi carpets as an international brand.


At ground zero, however, for the thousands of weavers, dyers, washers and carpet design makers in the Bhadohi carpet belt, the fact that the carpets they create have GI status now has little meaning. What they know is that their source of livelihood is incredibly labour-intensive and skilled — yet they are not even assured of a regular monthly income. In fact, that is why many master weavers have preferred to forget their traditional skill honed over generations, and have chosen the unskilled road work that the NREGA offers.


If only the government offered employment guarantees to people like them based on their traditional skills ... for without weavers, the future of the Hand Knotted Carpets of Bhadohi looks bleak, GI or no GI.









THE Supreme Court's nod for the Yamuna Expressway project is positively welcome, but it's wholly avoidable that land acquisition across India should involve protests, street violence and the spilling of blood. What we clearly need is proactive policy to rightfully compensate land-title holders and others dependent on the land. Farmers' rights must be heeded and respected, as reiterated by Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Now it is inevitable that with rising incomes, and ongoing structural diversification of the economy away from farming, land should be diverted to build urban spaces that house industry and services. It's also a no-brainer that public-private partnerships are required for land acquisition given the dearth of governmental funds, as in the Yamuna project, which would link Greater Noida with Agra. The project investors propose to finance it by building urban spaces and entire cities, which is unexceptionable. The apex court has ruled that the Yamuna project clearly involves public purpose. 


There is pressing need, however, to institutionalise norms for payment of the land being acquired, incorporating continued stakeholdership for the landloser. This would involve three things. The land needs to be valued at the going market rates plus an attractive premium since under-reporting of transactions is routine. Also, since substantial appreciation of land value can be expected upon acquisition and development, there needs to be builtin provisions for reaping capital appreciation, by way of lease rentals that are periodically revised, by ownership of 'developed' land in proportion to the original holding, etc. Next, income loss must be compensated with an annuity plan, covering not just land-owners, but those who live off the acquired land, as well. Reports say that the government in UP has now included annuity for those giving up land for the Yamuna project, following protests. The law must be reformed, to obviate the need for protest. The extant 19th-century legislation, albeit amended three decades ago, can no longer guide policy in a high-growth economy undergoing structural change. The new bill to replace this law must be modified further, to accommodate the concerns discussed above.







AFTER moderating to 5.8% in June 2010, the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) for July 2010 again reverted to trend (for this fiscal), recording double digit growth of 13.1% in July 2010 compared to July 2009. This takes cumulative growth for April-July 2010-11 to 11.4% over the corresponding period of the previous year. What is encouraging is that this robust growth comes despite waning, after May, of the favourable base effect of low growth in the previous year. Better still, it sets at rest fears that the withdrawal (albeit slow) of some of the stimulus measures will impede the recovery process. On the contrary, data released by the Central Statistical Organisation on Friday show that Indian industry, particularly the all-important capital goods industry, is in fine fettle. The 'machinery and equipment other than transport equipment' category grew by an astounding 49.4%, taking growth in this fiscal to close to 30%. Add to that the 25% growth in 'transport equipment and parts' and 31% growth in 'other manufacturing industries' and it is clear Indian industry is in good shape. This is reflected in the use-based classification as well with capital goods recording a 63% growth in July 2010 compared to the previous year. It is possible these estimates will undergo some correction (most likely downward) once final numbers are in. Both April and June 2010 figures have been revised down from 17.6 % and 7.1% to 15.2% and 5.8% respectively. Even so there's no disputing the robustness of industrial recovery. 


With the rain gods smiling on us, chances are the farm sector will also do well in which case we should be able to clock a close to 9% GDP growth this year. All the more reason then for the government to spread some of this cheer to the aam admi by becoming more aggressive in reining in inflationary pressures. While the Reserve Bank of India has begun tightening monetary policy, the process of fiscal correction still remains patchy, and the government has refused to decontrol diesel prices or even implement the announced decontrol of petrol prices. Eliminating wasteful subsidies is key to easing the burden of inflation on the aam admi, as well. At the same time, the government has to initiate a holistic new policy package for agriculture to boost yield and aggregate output, rather than merely shift cropping patterns through a shift in support prices.








IT'S hard to imagine Clint Eastwood suavely telling someone that he'd like a martini shaken, not stirred. Gritted teeth and narrowed eyes and a terse, 'Go ahead-.....make my vodka martini!' would be more like it. Today, Daniel Craig as the new age 007 could possibly get by with such laconic lack of finesse but back in the day, what made the Broccolis look to Eastwood as a replacement for Sean Connery as James Bond is indeed a mystery. It is debatable whether Eastwood would have fared any better as the smooth-talking British spy than the one-movie wonder Aussie George Lazenby who was eventually chosen, but the cinematic world would have been much the poorer had that prevented him from becoming Dirty Harry. While his (lack of an English) accent would be a definite minus point, it would surely have been even more incongruous to see him flying around in blue bodysuits and red underwear, rescuing falling planes and catching megalomaniacal crooks. Good that Eastwood had the foresight to also turn down the role of Superman. The thought of him as a callow, bespectacled Clark Kent, stammering in front of his editor and pining silently for Lois Lane sits uneasily with images of Harry Callahan growling out, "Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?" 


It is telling that Eastwood, now 80 and still spitting out lines like "Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have messed with? That's me." (as Walt Kowalski in his 2008 movie, Gran Torino), took so long to come out with these revelations. He evidently has his own ideas on how to distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to roles.







A SURE sign of a dysfunctional market economy is the persistence of unemployment. In the United States today, one out of six workers who would like a full-time job can't find one. It is an economy with huge unmet needs and yet vast idle resources. 


The housing market is another US anomaly: there are hundreds of thousands of homeless people (more than 1.5 million Americans spent at least one night in a shelter in 2009), while hundreds of thousands of houses sit vacant. 


Indeed, the foreclosure rate is increasing. Two million Americans lost their homes in 2008, and 2.8 million more in 2009, but the numbers are expected to be even higher in 2010. Our financial markets performed dismally — well-performing, 'rational' markets do not lend to people who cannot or will not repay — and yet those running these markets were rewarded as if they were financial geniuses. 


None of this is news. What is news is the Obama administration's reluctant and belated recognition that its efforts to get the housing and mortgage markets working again have largely failed. Curiously, there is a growing consensus on both the Left and the Right that the government will have to continue propping up the housing market for the foreseeable future. This stance is perplexing and possibly dangerous. 


It is perplexing because in conventional analyses of which activities should be in the public domain, running the national mortgage market is never mentioned. Mastering the specific information related to assessing creditworthiness and monitoring the performance of loans is precisely the kind of thing at which the private sector is supposed to excel. 


It is, however, an understandable position: both US political parties supported policies that encouraged excessive investment in housing and excessive leverage, while free-market ideology dissuaded regulators from intervening to stop reckless lending. If the government were to walk away now, real-estate prices would fall even further, banks would come under even greater financial stress, and the economy's short-run prospects would become bleaker. 


But that is precisely why a governmentmanaged mortgage market is dangerous. Distorted interest rates, official guarantees, and tax subsidies encourage continued investment in real estate, when what the economy needs is investment in, say, technology and clean energy. 


Moreover, continuing investment in real estate makes it all the more difficult to wean the economy off its real-estate addiction, and the real-estate market off its addiction to government support. Supporting further real-estate investment would make the sector's value even more dependent on government policies, ensuring that future policymakers face greater political pressure from interests groups like real-estate developers and bonds holders. 


Current US policy is befuddled, to say the least. The Federal Reserve Board is no longer the lender of last resort, but the lender of first resort. Credit risk in the mortgage market is being assumed by the government, and market risk by the Fed. No one should be surprised at what has now happened: the private market has essentially disappeared. 


THE government has announced that these measures, which work (if they do work) by lowering interest rates, are temporary. But that means that when intervention comes to an end, interest rates will rise — and any holder of mortgagebacked bonds would experience a capital loss — potentially a large one. 


No private party would buy such an asset. By contrast, the Fed doesn't have to recognise the loss; while free-market advocates might talk about the virtues of market pricing and 'price discovery,' the Fed can pretend that nothing has happened. 


With the government assuming credit risk, mortgages become as safe as government bonds of comparable maturity. Hence, the Fed's intervention in the housing market is really an intervention in the government bond market; the purported 'switch' from buying mortgages to buying government bonds is of little significance. The Fed is engaged in the difficult task of trying to set not just the short-term interest rate, but longer-term rates as well. 
    Resuscitating the housing market is all the more difficult for two reasons. First, the banks that used to do conventional mortgage lending are in bad financial shape. Second, the securitisation model is badly broken and not likely to be replaced anytime soon. Unfortunately, neither the Obama administration nor the Fed seems willing to face these realities. 


Securitisation — putting large numbers of mortgages together to be sold to pension funds and investors around the world — worked only because there were rating agencies that were trusted to ensure that mortgage loans were given to people who would repay them. Today, no one will or should trust the rating agencies, or the investment banks that purveyed flawed products (sometimes designing them to lose money). 


In short, government policies to support the housing market not only have failed to fix the problem, but are prolonging the deleveraging process and creating the conditions for Japanese-style malaise. Avoiding this dismal 'new normal' will be difficult, but there are alternative policies with far better prospects of returning the US and the global economy to prosperity. 


Corporations have learnt how to take bad news in stride, write down losses, and move on, but our governments have not. For one out of four US mortgages, the debt exceeds the home's value. Evictions merely create more homeless people and more vacant homes. What is needed is a quick write-down of the value of the mortgages. Banks will have to recognise the losses and, if necessary, find the additional capital to meet reserve requirements. 


This, of course, will be painful for banks, but their pain will be nothing in comparison to the suffering they have inflicted on people throughout the rest of the global economy. 


(The author is University Professor at 

Columbia University and a     Nobel laureate in economics) 


©Project Syndicate, 2010







THE much-awaited Bombay High Court judgement in the case of Vodafone's purchase of Hutchison's erstwhile telecom business interest in India has been pronounced. A number of interesting and rather novel issues were raised by Revenue, many of which seem to have found acceptances with the Bombay High Court. 


In this case, Vodafone BV, a Dutch company acquired shareholding of a Cayman company in consequence of which the business interest of Hutchison in its joint venture telecom company in India got transferred to Vodafone. Vodafone's contention has consistently been that this is a case of transfer of shares of a foreign company, which under current Indian law cannot be taxed in India as the location of the share is outside India.


Accordingly, Vodafone argued that the value of the business enterprise is captured in the sale price of the shares and the gain made by the sale is a capital gain in the jurisdiction where the share is situated. This being a case of transfer of shares of a Cayman company, the question of taxation in India should not arise. 


The main argument of the Indian Revenue has been that the share purchase agreement (SPA) and other transaction documents clearly establish that the subject matter of the transaction is not merely the transfer of shares of the Cayman company but includes transfer of the composite rights in Indian joint venture, which clearly gives rise to a source of income arising in India and therefore is subject to tax in India. The Revenue also contended that in this case the transfer of share was merely a mode or vehicle to transfer the bundle of business rights and assets situated in India. 


Court's decision: The Bombay High Court observed that the controlling interest does not constitute a distinct capital asset for the purpose of the Indian tax law. In other words, controlling interest arises from the acquisition of a sufficient number of shares in a company as would enable the shareholder to exercise significant voting power which would result in the control of the management of the company. The controlling interest is therefore not an identifiable or distinct capital asset independent of the shareholding. Accordingly, the high court seems to imply that part of sale consideration which relates to the value of the share of the Cayman company including controlling interest should not be subject to tax in India as the share is located outside of India. 


However, the court agreed with Revenue's contention that this is not a case of simpliciter transfer of shares but the transaction involves a variety of business rights and interest which are all located in India. In arriving at this conclusion, the court has considered the commercial and business understanding between the parties and the various legal documents, which were entered into to consummate transfer of business in India. The court has specifically held these bundle of rights and entitlements as capital assets and hence consideration attributable to such rights and entitlements situated in India would be subject to tax in India. The high court has left it for the tax officer to apportion the income between what is attributable to these business rights in India and what is attributable to the shareholding outside of India. 


Impact on cross-border transactions:This ruling seems to suggest a fundamentally different approach to taxation of transactions where there is a transfer of controlling interest in India regardless of the fact that such transfer is effected by way of sale of shares of an overseas company. This will create a degree of uncertainty in respect of similar transactions, which have already taken place and where the revenue department will make an attempt to take support of the Bombay High Court judgement to tax those transactions. Having said this, in cases which can be distinguished on facts and especially in those situations where there is no transfer of business or other valuable commercial rights in India it will still be possible to argue against taxation arising in India. For example, where there is not an outright sale of business in India but a large interest in the Indian company is indirectly transferred through shares of a foreign company, the earlier position should prevail i.e., sale of a foreign company not being subject to tax in India. 


Direct Taxes Code 2010 (DTC): Interestingly, the DTC which will come into effect on April 1, 2012 specifically spells out the conditions under which indirect transfer will be subject to tax in India. The tax policy direction seems to be to tax only those transactions where there is sale of substantial business interests in the Indian company and not where there is either portfolio sale or a sale of a block of shares not resulting in outright sale of the business in India. India has thus joined China, amongst other countries, in attempting to tax indirect transfers and to this extent crossborder transactions will need to factor in the current view of Revenue as well as proposed changes in the DTC so as not to be caught by surprise at a later stage. 


 (The author is tax markets leader, Ernst &     Young. Views are personal.)








GOURI has arrived. So Ganesh isn't far behind. In the days following, Mumbai becomes hostess to the Lord of the Hosts. But if the city seems more like a hostage, thank the ganas, or the aam junta and their Richie Rich sponsors, and not their Lord Himself for the ostentatious pandals and their kitschy panoramas. 


One of them is belting out the filmi refrain, Deva ho Deva, Ganpati Deva tum se badh kar kaun? (O God, O God, O Ganpati who's bigger than thou?) "And among your devotees, who is bigger than me?" asks the original track featuring a number of baddies including Amjad Khan aka Gabbar Singh. Of course the actor was not at all being serious in the movie (which, ironically, was titled Hum se Badh Kar Kaun?). 


He's just being practical. After all, bigger the god, the bigger may be his appetite for adulation goes the argument. By that token, only a devotee with a comparable ego (or humility) can stand up to serve a Lord so Big! A similar point is made by the great poetsaint of the Warkari tradition of Maharashtra, Sant Tukaram. 

In a moving verse he equates God's alleged 'ignorance' with the 'dumbness' of a beautiful water lily. "What does the flower know of its own fragrance?" heasks. (Kamodini kaya jane toh parimal?) The black bee enjoys it all! (bhrmara sakal bhogit-ase). 


"So it is with you, O Lord, who knows not his own name. We alone know (the secret) of its loving blissfulness," adds the poet. He presses home the point with another artless image: "What is mere grass for the mother is nothing but sweet milk for the child (so it is with your greatness, O Lord, none but me can appreciate it!)" 

So, with apologies to Karl Marx, what if there are no such devotees? Then it would be absolutely necessary to invent them — if only for God's sake! The irony wasn't lost on the great pioneers of the Bhakti tradition. Sant Jnyanadev, for example, has sung eloquently of the paradoxes of the union between the devotee and the Lord. This erases all distinctions and dualities "as when one looks into the mirror and finds no reflection" he says. "It's like when you embrace the Beloved only to discover the complete loss of your own separateness." 


Like Zen koans, Sri Jnyanadev's verses evoke the strangeness of a dialogue without words (shabde-vina samvadu) and meaningful conversations with nonexisting others (duje-vina anuvadu)": Like listening to the sound of one hand clapping.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




With the peasant castes in northern India and elsewhere — variously known as OBCs (other backward castes) in India's contemporary political lexicon or intermediate castes in politics-neutral contexts — becoming a powerful interest group in the country in recent decades, the government has succumbed to their demand for a caste census, a practice that had been stopped in 1931. This became unavoidable when the BJP, the principal Opposition party, tipped the scales in favour of a caste census after some internal debate. In the Congress, too, the OBC sections made it known that they stood alongside the so-called backward caste regional parties on the issue. Fears of a possible backward caste backlash in future elections clearly became the decider. In free India, the enumeration of caste did not figure in the decennial census exercise. This was in keeping with the democratic sentiment with which the freedom movement generation was infused. But as we can see, there is a yawning gap between the high ideals of the political visionaries who aspired to a caste-less society in the social and political space, and the crassness of political practice on the ground. The next step to be expected is that the backward caste parties will now press for a bigger share of the national pie in every sphere in proportion to the numbers of the OBCs in the overall population. The corollary of this is that deprived sections of the population that do not fall within the OBC framework, or those that do not belong to the SC/ST category (for whom reservations in perpetuity have come to be the norm) may be hard done by. This is far removed from the republican Constitution envisaged after Independence. There can be no question that about a third of India can be categorised as suffering from extreme poverty, and all governmental efforts — at the levels of the states and the Centre — must accord priority to pushing these sections out of the poverty trap. Clearly this proportion is way below the population numbers that the OBCs, and SCs/STs claim for themselves. Thus, there is no getting away from the fact that a new paradigm must be arrived at, through the method of consensus involving give-and-take, to spread the fruits of prosperity in the country. If this process is not set in motion, hair-splitting will not cease on the question of whether or not members of the OBCs and SCs/STs that are well-to-do (and this is a rising graph) are not automatically "socially and educationally backward (SEBC)" as well. Thus, every effort needs to be made to render the SEBC status of a community of people dependent on income, rather than their caste origin. Hopefully, in the long run, reservations or positive discrimination in education and jobs will not be needed if the national economy is a continually expanding one. The question really is how long that wait is going to be. In the interim, ways need to be found to get the "creamy layer" out of the scheme of quotas. After all, the Constitution had envisaged reservations for SCs and STs only for the first 10 years. Clearly such a time scheme was not adequate and many of our SC/ST citizens still suffer from the consequences of poverty, as do many OBCs.






Bureaucrats are somewhat perplexed at being told that they must participate in a brainstorming session at the Dr MCR HRD Institute, because they haven't a clue on what subject they should be brainstorming. The General Administration Department has issued an order allowing 27 IAS officials to participate in the one-day session and agreeing to treat it as on-duty. But the officers were in the dark about whether the session would be on financial and administrative matters, law and order, welfare schemes or overall governance. Some expect it is a follow-up to the recent Union cabinet secretary, Mr K. M. Chandrasekhar's review on pending issues while others think it is the handiwork of the CM's adviser, Mr P.K. Agarwal, who wants to get a grip on things. We are a little better informed than the prospective participants. The purpose of the session, according to our information, is nothing more earth-shattering than discussing the content of a training course being designed by the HRD Institute at the behest of the Centre for All India Services officers!



The AICC leaders of late have started issuing, or rather planting contradicting stories almost every day. Reporters from the Telugu media, both print and electronic, have made it a daily habit to urge AICC leaders to provide them with some information, and then airing these 'leaks' that purport to quote what the 'High Command' said, or thinks, or what its viewpoint is on certain issues. This only serves to sow confusion among already confused Congress leaders in the state, as the statements are often inconsistent. It's rather like the famous episode in the drama Kanyasulkam by Gurajada Appa Rao where the cunning Girisam tells his shishya Venkatesam to buy a book titled Algebra made easy and when the shishya says there's still some money remaining after buying the book, Girisam tells him to buy another book, Algebra made difficult. Similarly, the AICC's Janardhan Dwivedi one day 'leaks' to the media that there will be no action taken against Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy for his yatra, and then on the very next day obliged other leak-hungry reporters with the statement that action will be taken against Mr Reddy at an opportune time. Maybe a 'Leaking News' strap should be introduced, like the Breaking News strap that TV channels carry for even the most innocuous news items.



The industries minister, Mr Kanna Lakshminarayana, is in a piquant situation following Chief Minister, Mr K. Rosaiah's decision to strip principal secretary, Mr B.P. Acharya, of charge of the AP Industrial Infrastructure Corporation. The minister was not sympathetic to Mr Acharya and in fact made the first move from the government side by asking the APIIC to come out with a specific proposal to protect the state's interest in the Emaar township scam. The government later gave the charge to the infrastructure and investment principal secretary, Mr Ajay Mishra. The catch, however, is that I&I is a separate ministry, and as industries minister, Mr Lakshminarayana is worried that an important wing of his ministry is going out of his hands. He cannot raise the issue with the CM because the latter himself is handling the portfolio. A little bird told us that chief secretary, Mr S.V. Prasad, and the CM's principal secretary, Mr B. Sambob, came to the minister's rescue by explaining his problem to Mr Rosaiah, who immediately said that the files could still be sent to Mr Lakshminarayana.








 "The body crippled without

The fluidity of water —

The wine of the mind is metaphor

The Ocean is Dawn's daughter..."

From Poemsutra by Bachchoo


It wasn't Friday the 13th but Friday the 3rd. My bed is pushed against the wall so I get out of it on the same side every day. I don't believe in stars, fate, luck, prophets, Gods, virgins (only a little maybe), miracles, tantra, Ouija, meditational revelation or any other pacificatory explanation for what is written in the codes of our destinies.


"Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, the future's not ours to see, Que sera, sera" sang Doris Day and I have long regarded her as my chief prophet and philosopher of earthly occurrence.


Never mind my non-superstitions. What happened to me on this 3rd of September was that I woke up to an electric kettle that didn't work. My toothbrush, which is operated manually, did. So I brushed my teeth and went to examine the fuses of the house which were, it seemed, intact and up and running. I boiled my tea water on the gas stove and resolved to call the electricity supplier to complain that all the electricity was off despite the mains fuse being alive. I then went to the home phone to call and found it dead.


Disasters come in threes, they say. I went to my computer to find out from the Internet if there had been a blitz on the South London electricity supply and a phone blackout of any sort.


Please believe this, gentle reader, the computer came on but could not find the wireless connection it had operated on for months.


I thought one solution would be to go back to bed, switch myself off and then wake up again and the world might then be put to rights. The electrics would work, the phone and computer and Internet would be as they normally were. I pulled the blind down to deny the day, pretended to be asleep and sprang up again and started the day afresh.


The toothbrush, being manually operated, worked as normal, but getting down to the kitchen and trying the electric kettle presented the same problem as before. And so with the home phone which didn't give me a dial tone. And so with the wretched computer which would not even this time round access the Internet website and froze and collapsed and went dark on me when I tried America Online.


I felt as though I was the victim of some Kafkaesque procedure or perhaps had woken up in a science fiction film. Everything couldn't collapse at the same time. Obviously, with no electricity, there was no point in switching on the TV to ascertain whether there had been some nuclear attack from Iran or Sierra Leone or some other of these recalcitrant places.


But hah! My mobile worked. It was my lifeline to the reliance we place on modern tech. I found the number of the electricity supplier and dialled.


A female voice answered the phone and gave me five options of buttons to press, one asking me if I was calling about insurance, others offering me shares in the company, holidays in the Cayman Islands and the final one instructing me to hold on if I had a problem. She said calls cost 39 pence a minute from a landline and unspecified but larger amounts from mobiles. She seemed to be deliberately prolonging her message so that the phone company could take more of these +39pence from me — she would, no doubt share in this loot.


Then another very English voice came on and said that they were experiencing a "high volume" of calls that day and that I could go away and access their website or I could wait for another "customer service representative". I waited.


The phone played Eine Kleine Nachtmusik about 17 times. I hung on.


No doubt the meter for the +39 pence per minute for mobiles was ticking.


Eventually a clearly Bangalorean voice came on the line, replacing Mozart and asking me what my name was, what my post code was, what my mother's maiden name was, whether I wanted to buy any cocaine, change any money, make love to his sister, buy a ticket to a lottery to win a trip to a coconut grove... and other questions.


I may not have got all the questions right, but answered to the best of my ability and he seemed satisfied. Then he addressed me by my name, bade me a good morning and asked me how he could help me. I told him my electricity had taken a dive for the worse. He said, "Not to worry, I will do my best to solve the problem".


"So finally we get to it," I said.

"I beg your pardon?" he asked.

"Has the area power collapsed?" I asked.

"Have you checked your main fuse switch?" he asked. I said I had. He asked 15 further questions, the last of

hich was whether I had a burglar alarm system in the house. I happened to know that we did.

"Did it go off at any time?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"Has anything been burgled in your house?" he asked.

"My computer and electric kettle are still there", I said.


My Bangalorean comrade, very friendly now, asked me to go through my valuables and see if anything had been taken and also to check if any points of entry to the house had in any way been violated. He said he would wait on the phone. And all the while the +39 pence a minute ticking.


I surveyed the house. Yes, the window in the study had been violated. The violators hadn't bothered to take the laptop, which was an insult. There were no other valuables the thief, or in fact I would have wanted.


I went back to the phone.

"Someone has been in here", I said.

"It's what I am thinking. They have cut off your electric supply and your wireless wire connection in one swoop

ecause they want to cut off the wire to your burglar alarm and they are not knowing which is which, so they are cutting all outside and inside your house. Everything dies", he said.

"You are the Bangalorean Sherlock Holmes, the Bangalorean Spinoza", I said.

"We are getting these calls from fools every day, sir", he said.








Amazing but true — these guys have more in common than most people would like to accept. For one, they are both in the same business — politics by any other name is still showbiz. At 40 (plus or minus a year idhar-udhar), they are determinedly single, mothers across India consider them super eligible dulhas, they definitely fall into the "hotties" category with a vast female fan following panting after them, both are dubbed mama's boys by those in the know, both adore their sister(s), and qualify as eye candy in every which way. Of course there are significant differences — Rahul Gandhi keeps his kurta on in public, Salman can't wait to peel his shirt off — anytime, anywhere. Gandhi looks like a lean and mean fighting machine, but nobody has seen his pack (four, six or eight, only his trainer knows for sure). Salman is the original Sando — possibly the most famous actor in the world to flaunt his gut and guts. Salman's rippling muscles get more media coverage than his leading ladies — which is not such a bad thing, going by some of the recent samples. Salman's roster of girlfriends qualifies him as a true blue marathon man. Not much is known about Rahul's love life. Salman is an unapologetic alpha male, Rahul G, far more new age and metro, even charmingly retro. Perhaps, Rahul is happy to conform to the strong-silent matinee idol style of the '60s, while Salman's abs do most of the emoting, on and off the screen. Both come from established-in-the-chosen-field families — the Gandhis have run politics in India for decades. The Khans have been around in Bollywood for decades, too. Parivaar is key. The Khan clan sticks together through good and terrible times. Ditto for the Gandhis (even though theirs is a more compact unit). Despite their hitting 40 (Rahul is a whisker away from the landmark birthday), they continue to be perceived as "bachchas" — Salman as the Bad Boy, Rahul as the Good Guy. India is waiting for both to grow up — but not in a hurry. At the end of the day it boils down to just one quality — mass appeal. And as any marketing guru will tell you — that's one thing nobody can manufacture. It's like Lycra — either you have it or you don't. Synthetic charisma works only to a limited degree. Merely pumping someone up with an inventive hard sell strategy that overstates the image can lead to a serious case of overkill. But both these guys exude the real thing — they are bona fide icons, worshipped by fans and damned by critics. They arouse passion. And passion is always a positive attribute — it attracts the janata. Since their survival depends on the faith their constituency displays in their leadership, these boy-men are fortunate indeed that we have not packed them off so far, despite everything.


Now, here comes the clincher: Salman's future as a big star depends entirely on the box office. Rivals may come and fade away (as they have), but for Salman to hang on to his position, he must prove himself from one Friday to the next. He has had a string of pricey flops in the recent past. Now, with his Id offering of Dabangg, Salman needs a super mega hit in order to hang in there as one of the film industry's most bankable stars. If Chulbul Pandey does not click with the aam aadmi on the expected scale, Salman's future will be somewhat dheela. With Rahul, we are likely to be much kinder. He is a lambi race ka ghoda. For one, he doesn't shoot his mouth off, and when he does care to open it, he speaks thoughtfully and uses a direct, simple lingo that his followers can understand instantly. He listens more and promises very little. This is a perfect strategy, especially since nobody really knows what he stands for, or what his political plans mean in real terms. Since he is the closest thing to a Bollywood star (good looks, gora-chikna, photogenic) in a country led by really old people, he can get away with token gestures and populist moves ("sipahi" of Orissa tribals — most of whom looked totally blank during his much publicised visit to their neglected, even wretched mohalla). Never mind, he is at least making the right noises, and as we well know, in politics, that's half the battle won. Bad Boy Salman is forever putting his foot into some place much worse than his mouth. That's very much a part of his USP — that's also why his hysterical fans love him. At the end of the day, both men are looking at numbers. It is numbers alone that keep them where they are. Rahul, as his party's general secretary in charge of Indian Youth Congress and National Student's Union of India, is on a crazy recruitment spree. He has to enrol members on a war footing… or else. Given that about 50 to 70 million voters between the ages of 18 and 23 are being added between two general elections, it is Rahul's primary job to chase this pool of youngsters and get them on board. Luckily for Rahul, there isn't a rival in sight. Unless, of course, the incredible Priyanka decides to jump in (unlikely at this stage, but who knows?). Salman, poor fellow, risks losing that hardly worn shirt off his back each time a film tanks, and there's no dearth of younger, hungry rivals snapping at his ankles.
I have a suggestion: Why not a Rahul Gandhi Reality Show on television? Salman has his very own Dus Ka Dum. Rahul's minders would do well to pitch him as the Next Big Thing on TV as he goes around the countryside screening fresh candidates and recruits. It will accomplish two major feats in one go — viewers will be treated to a spectacular Bharat Darshan and India will witness the birth of a Political Superstar. Perhaps Katrina can be roped in as co-anchor, now that she is… ummmm, officially single?


What an idea, Sirji… err… Madamji!!


— Readers can sendfeedback [1]








These gems are unforgettable. They're imbedded in the hall of jokers. George W., as President, patted the man called Michael Brown alias Brownie and commended him for his "excellent" handling of Katrina, the hurricane that destroyed New Orleans five years ago. Brownie botched up badly but Bush was blind. Well, his successor US President Barack Obama has now taken a shine to brownie! No, not the man, but the colour brown.


He's got his Oval Office redecorated in shades of brown and won wonderment from the chattering classes who "hate" it! Me included. Are the Obamas trying to send a message to white America that brown is beautiful because it's the "audacity of taupe", as Arianna Huffington of Huff Post playfully puts it, punning Obama's bestseller Audacity of Hope.


Ladies and gentlemen, the colour wars in the US have finally arrived. But, first, decorating for dummies. How does colour impact on the mind of the man occupying the Oval Office? This is no piddle; the man sitting behind Queen Victoria vintage desk daily makes decisions that affect the world, including ours. Perhaps the browns evoke a warm and fuzzy feeling for Pakistan, setting off earthly tones in the left lobe of Obama's brain to write a heftier cheque for the flood victims! Not bad eh? His man cave or Oval House (Oval Office) is good for us earthlings.


Maureen Dowd of the New York Times is unimpressed. She calls the "classiest, most powerful place on earth", i.e. the Oval Office "suffused with browns and beiges and leather and resembles an upscale hotel conference room or a '70s' conversation pit with a boxy coffee table that even some Obama aides find ugly". She calls the decorator for this disaster a "chichi" — a word that means "showily or affectedly elegant or trendy; pretentious". Others have chipped in with calling the room "too brown, too dowdy, too ho hum". The editor of Architectural Digest quotes a friend as saying "It looks like a law office in a strip mall".


Message from the Obamas: We care for the poor, but not enough to stop the fancy vacations and posh renovations!


So the colour brown is driving everyone nuts in the US. While white America is terrified of the invasion of "browns and blacks" — we'll come to that in a moment to discuss the millions gathered recently in Washington to restore honour to their country — it's most fashionable to go brownie, tawny and taupe and splash dark browns, greys and wheat colour on the walls and décor.


I love watching HGTV (Home & Garden TV channel) just to relax. All the hip interior designers chatter about is going contemporary which means sautéed! How boring and burnished. Americans certainly lack originality, sense of style and creativity. They go with the herd, including Barack and Michelle as seen in the makeover of the Oval Office. Hillary Clinton was unblushingly snazzy when she put a tipsy/electric blue carpet in her husband's Oval Office (unwittingly making Bill run wild with his intern, Monica Lewinsky). Today that famous carpet and Hillary's taste are trashed as "flashy" and "garish". Laura Bush on the other hand played safe and gave her husband mindless sunbeams that dulled George W.'s thinking down to a dunce!


The third richest after Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are the Koch brothers. They have vowed to get the Obamas out of the White House. And the two puppets the bros string are a TV talkshow host Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. They fund "Americans for Prosperity", who gave its "Blogger of the Year Award" to an activist who had called President Obama "cokehead in chief". Besides they donate freely and generously their millions to activists of the "Tea Party" a movement named after the 1773 "The Boston tea party" where rebels boarded British ships carrying tea and threw it into Boston harbour to protest royal taxation. This term was reborn in 2009 against Obama spending and has caught on among the Republican Party sympathisers who hope to trounce the Democrats in the coming November polls for Congress.


But if truth be told, the real fight in America today is between the whites and the coloured. How do I know it? Darn, I see the battle lines drawn every day. But added to simmering racism is the joblessness among Americans. They blame Obama who promised them "change" but failed to deliver. America is bigger than him and so is his man cave, the brownie Oval Office!







This weekend, a Jewish woman who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks is planning to speak at a mosque in Boston. She will be trying to recruit members of the mosque to join her battle against poverty and illiteracy in Afghanistan.


The woman, Susan Retik, has pursued perhaps the most unexpected and inspiring American response to the 9/11 attacks. This anniversary of September 11 feels a little ugly to me, with some planning to remember the day with hatred and a Quran-burning — and that makes her work all the more exhilarating. In the shattering aftermath of September 11, 2001, Ms Retik bonded with another woman, Patti Quigley, whose husband had also died in the attack. They lived near each other, and both were pregnant with babies who would never see their fathers. Devastated themselves, they realised that there were more than half a million widows in Afghanistan — and then, with war, there would be even more. Ms Retik and Ms Quigley also saw that Afghan widows could be a stabilising force in that country.


So at a time when the American government reacted to the horror of 9/11 mostly with missiles and bombs, detentions and waterboardings, Ms Retik and Ms Quigley turned to education and poverty-alleviation projects — in the very country that had incubated a plot that had pulverised their lives.


The organisation they started, Beyond the 11th, has now assisted more than 1,000 Afghan widows in starting tiny businesses. It's an effort both to help some of the world's neediest people and to fight back at the distrust, hatred and unemployment that sustain the Taliban.


"More jobs mean less violence", Ms Retik noted. "It would be naïve to think that we can change the country, but change has to start somewhere. If we can provide a skill for a woman so that she can provide for her family going forward, then that's one person or five people who will have a roof over their head, food in their bellies and a chance for education."


In times of fear and darkness, we tend to suppress the better angels of our nature. Instead, these women unleashed theirs.


Paul Barker, who for many years ran CARE's operations in Afghanistan, believes America would have accomplished more there if the US government had shared the two women's passion for education and development. "I can only wonder at what a different world it could be today if in those fateful months after 9/11 our nation's leadership had been guided more by a people-to-people vision of building both metaphorical and physical bridges", Mr Barker said.


A terrific documentary, Beyond Belief, follows Ms Retik and Ms Quigley as they raise funds for Afghan widows and finally travel to Afghanistan to visit the women they had been helping. Ms Quigley has since stepped down from Beyond the 11th because she felt in danger of becoming a perpetual 9/11 poster widow, but she still is working on a series of Afghan initiatives. Ms Retik, who has since remarried, remains focused on the charity.


Beyond the 11th began by buying small chicken flocks for widows so that they could sell eggs. Another major project was to build a women's centre in the city of Bamian, where the women weave carpets for export. The centre, overseen by an aid group called Arzu, also offers literacy classes and operates a bakery as a business.


Another initiative has been to train Afghan women, through a group called Business Council for Peace, to run a soccer ball manufacturing company. The bosses have been coached in quality control, inventory management and other skills, and they have recruited unemployed widows to stitch the balls — which are beginning to be exported under the brand Dosti.


Ms Retik's next step will be to sponsor a microfinance programme through CARE. There are also plans to train attendants to help reduce deaths in childbirth.


Will all of this turn Afghanistan into a peaceful country? Of course not. Education and employment are not panaceas. But the record suggests that schools and economic initiatives do tend over time to chip away at fundamentalism — and they're also cheap. All the work that Beyond the 11th has done in Afghanistan over nine years has cost less than keeping a single American soldier in Afghanistan for eight months.


I admire Ms Retik's work partly because she offers an antidote to the pusillanimous anti-Islamic hysteria that clouds this anniversary of 9/11. Ms Retik offers an alternative vision by reaching out to a mosque and working with Muslims so that in the future there will be fewer widows either here or there.









A caste-count might, on the face of it,  appear to be a swingback to an antediluvian social construct. But emerging India's chattering class must realise that a caste-based census is a reflection of societal reality close to 80 years after a similar enumeration. And there can be no obfuscation of that reality. It is a critical factor that continues to determine State policy 60 years after the adoption of the Constitution. Castes, indeed social divisions, remain a major underpinning of public policy, most importantly in the segments of education and employment. Indeed, it forms the foundation of the reservation regime. Of far, far lesser moment must be the demands of such entities as the RJD, Samajwadi Party and the JD (U). Truth to tell, the likes of Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Yadav use caste as an electoral gambit. The political underpinning is a contrived facet of the caste regime.

After dithering for close to a year, the Centre had no option but to delink the caste- count from Census 2011. The decision is logical as the census operations are already underway. The count ought eventually to be a scientific arrangement as a "suitable legal regime for collection of data on castes" will hopefully be in place. The stratification has only intensified between 1931 and circa 2010. The Centre had erred in March when it agreed to include SC/STs, but not the OBCs. The authorities were driven by the decidedly Utopian plan to evolve a "casteless society in the future". That comforting thought is illusory at best and far removed from reality at worst. It may be a consummation devoutly to be wished, but one that is unlikely to materialise. If OBC figures are based on the 1931 census, the reservation policy per se is not based on a foolproof foundation. Jobs have been earmarked without a database. The quota regime makes an updated caste-count imperative and public policy, such as it is, makes this an administrative pre-requisite. The primary objective of a census operation is to update the database, after all.  It mirrors the structure of the population; the electoral constituency is of lesser moment. Hopefully, the biometric enumeration and the eventual mapping of citizens for the National Population Register will help ensure a system that is scientific and foolproof  to the extent possible. There is no scope for politics and ad hocism in this paradigm.




WHILE nothing seems to be going right for the Marxists, the mood in the Trinamul camp is upbeat. What should have been a triumphant return by the Left to Junglemahal has instead led to a confirmation of charges that camps with armed cadres do exist; the Governor's report and the Union home minister's endorsement have contributed to the CPI-M's embarrassment. Then comes a deliberate effort to cleanse educational institutions of any kind of political influence which only establishes that Alimuddin Street did everything it could in the past 33 years to pollute the system. All this though cannot justify the tasteless drama by a Trinamul member of Parliament at a public rally while disclosing a so-called confession by West Bengal's chief minister to Mr P Chidambaram three months ago. If true, that must have been soon after the municipal elections. But it is still difficult to believe that the Left's principal actor in the election would be so disappointed by the results, or by the prospects of a turnaround, that he would seek excuses to not perform during the remainder of his term. Would the party have sat by and watched?

Trinamul has succeeded in pushing the Left into defensive positions on a number of issues. But there is no place in politics for the kind of supposedly sensational disclosure made by Sudip Bandyopadhyay. Even if Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had on one of his visits to the capital said that an "outgoing" chief minister would not be inclined to send lengthy replies to letters from the home ministry, there is nothing to suggest this could have been more than light-hearted banter that even political rivals indulge in as a "break'' from rhetoric. To invest it with additional weight does no credit to a party that is on a roll and doesn't need to produce a spurious volley of speculation. The MP may have wanted to use the rally to kick off the poll campaign. On hindsight, he should ponder whether his exuberance will not be construed by the home minister as a sign of garrulousness. There is enough reason to believe that the state has faltered, particularly on the law and order front. That is not enough to convince anyone that Marxists will give up without a fight, big mouths notwithstanding.




A Head of State has advanced his own health bulletin as it were to dispel the impression that he is terminally ill. And more crucially to avoid a turmoil over his succession. The President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, has given a rare interview to assert that he is as "fit as a fiddle". While his health condition  remains hazy, indubitable is the fact that the country has historically been politically volatile. And should Mr Mugabe die in office after 30 years in power, Zimbabwe will almost certainly be plunged in political turmoil. The country's Constitution has no provision on the next arrangement. There is a player too many in the joust for power within the Zanu-PF, a fact that at once rules out a smooth succession. The country appears to be gearing up for a bout of uncertainty, and a squabbling political class will only strengthen the hands of the military. The two leading contenders are Emmerson Mnangagwa, the defence minister, and General Solomon Mujuru, the most senior leader to have survived the liberation war. Both leaders were named this week in a case involving profiteering in blood diamonds. Both factions are said to be ruthless in the pursuit of their ambitions and the struggle could well lead to bloody strife. Misgivings that the crisis could lead to the collapse of the Zanu-PF and the suspension of the Constitution are substantial. Hence the compulsion for an ailing Mugabe to go public on his health condition. The bitter infighting within the establishment rages in the backstage. The President may just have staved off the swordfight within the ruling party. 

At another remove is the Opposition Movement for Democratic Change. In a faint echo of Myanmar, its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was denied the reins of power  despite a convincing victory in last year's elections. As in Myanmar again, the rest of the world has done but little to ensure democracy. The power-sharing arrangement has been thoroughly deceptive; Mugabe retains control over the military, the police, Intelligence and the judiciary. A lot devolves on the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, who can yet play the role of an honest mediator. Chiefly, this must translate to a new Constitution that will respect the electoral verdict and above all forestall the mayhem of a war of succession. Profound is the political implication of Mugabe's "fit as a fiddle" reassurance.









A dramatic improvement in urban transportation is imperative. The Metro must be provided with additional rakes and comfortable coaches. The on-the-dot punctuality ~ its hallmark till the service was extended to Garia ~ must be restored. If the Metro is run efficiently, there can be a 10 to 15 per cent reduction in air pollution. The proposed expansion must be carried out systematically, with top priority accorded to the technicalities.  
Bus services should also be made efficient and pollution-free.  This will call for energy- efficient vehicles. To curb pollution, part of the fleet can be made to run on electricity. Old buses are being phased out and sleek and comfortable models are running as part of the JNNURM scheme. Not all private bus owners have bought these new buses. Many operators are reluctant because they are expensive. Though bank loans are available, they fear that they will not be able to repay the sum borrowed.


The auto-rickshaws have been compelled by the High Court order to turn green and use LNG fuel. But there aren't enough refill stations. The public sector oil companies must open more gas stations or else the public will suffer. If availability of land is a constraint, the problem needs to be sorted out by the state government and the oil companies.

The system of solid waste management remains inefficient. In many areas within the city, garbage is not collected daily. It is allowed to decay and pollute the air that people breathe. Solid waste must be collected from all the wards of the city and the work must be monitored by the local councillors. Citizens must be advised to produce less waste and packaging companies directed to use material that can be recycled. Indeed, recycling of solid waste, after separating the trash, must be carried out on a larger scale in order to reduce the land that is required for land-fill. Over the next ten years, it ought to be reduced to one-tenth of the large tracts, as at present. Such a programme requires collaboration between the citizens, the packaging industries, retailers and the local municipalities.

Industries in the hinterland of the city must be energy-efficient, and this must be ensured at the planning stage and subsequently monitored. Preference should be given to IT and ITES industries.  It has been reported that highrise buildings consume 16 to 20 per cent of the total electricity that is consumed by the city. The level can be reduced if the buildings are made energy-efficient by installing suitable fittings and fixtures. New buildings are being designed and constructed on the basis of the green building council's specifications. They depend on renewable energy (solar / wind) and ought to be certified under a different category, such as platinum, gold and silver. This will encourage builders and developers to construct "green" buildings. Incentives on property tax can be provided so that more energy-efficient buildings are constructed.

It may be worthwhile to look at the experience of other cities. Beijing plans to become a "green, global city" by 2050. The authorities are trying to devise more energy-efficient and eco-friendly models and against serious odds. There has been a car boom in Beijing, and this has increased carbon emission considerably. In the Nineties, 60 per cent of the people used bicycles. The number has now come down to 30 per cent. The Chinese authorities have restricted people to use cars on alternate days; on other days, they are supposed to use bicycles or motor- powered bicycle cabs to reduce carbon emission.

The authorities are planning to transform Bejing's Central District (CBD) into a "global city". This particular zone attracts an estimated 180,000 people each day. Buildings, offices, commercial and entertainment centres will come up on an 84 square kilometre area. In parallel, the "old city" will retain its historic character. The "new city" will boast a "green park" covering 100 acres to absorb carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles. More roads will be built in the CBD along with energy efficient cars, a streamlined transportation system and subways. Altogether, this will reduce the carbon dioxide level.

Curitiba is a medium-size city in Brazil with a population of about three million. It is now referred to as the "ecological city". About three decades ago, the city's pollution level was rising and the transportation system was not efficient. The city's planning and architecture departments  developed a master plan linked to land-use and zones.  Good roads and an efficient transport system have reduced the city's pollution level. Nowadays, people from all over the world visit this "green city".  Curitiba was awarded the "green city" status because of its efficient bus transit system, scientific solid waste management and, above all, the involvement of the Mayor in the city's development.

Other cities can learn a few lessons from Curitiba. People can move faster on dedicated bus routes, if the routes are coordinated with buses on other routes and if the roads are not congested. The conveyance network has been made efficient and without the construction of expensive subways. One has to buy the ticket before boarding the bus. There is a single fare for the entire day and for all destinations. These measures have reduced the running time of buses, apart from making the environment cleaner. Unemployed people have been engaged to recycle solid waste after segregating the garbage. As an incentive, they are provided coupons for food or travel.
Despite the Metro and 1500 buses, transport remains a major problem in Kolkata. Buses cannot run above a speed of 20 to 25 km per hour because of road congestion. The poor management of vehicular traffic is responsible for the slow and irregular conveyance network. It lengthens the journey time and aggravates the air pollution. 
Encroachment on pavements compels the pedestrians to use the carriageway. This slows down vehicles further. The city's planners have attributed the mess to the poor traffic management by the police. This is partly true. Truck-owners simply bribe their way to run their vehicles throughout the day. Hawkers enjoy the patronage of the politicians, cutting across party lines.

It is difficult to believe that Kolkata will be "changed to London" within the next two or three years under the Trinamul's municipal dispensation. The new municipal board can at least make Kolkata a liveable and sustainable city. This is the least that the tax-paying citizen can expect from the Mayor.









A retired officer of the Indian Administrative Service and former Lok Sabha MP, Nitish Sengupta has vast experience and expertise in administering governmental departments and public sector undertakings. In his present capacity as chairman of the Board for Reconstruction of Public Sector Enterprises, his successful attempts at reviving many sick PSUs has earned him the nickname of "doctor" of sick industries. He feels there has been a decline in the number of sick PSUs. The former member of the Planning Commission says the global economic crisis has helped for the first time in assessing the actual worth of Indian PSUs and their ability to face up to such a grave economic crisis. He says that, unlike private and public sector units across the world, Indian PSUs hire employees during the slowdown. But for the low profile of Indian PSUs, many of them like Coal India are fit to be listed among the top 400 of Fortune-500 companies. He tells DIPANKARCHAKRABORTY that, sooner or later, nuclear power projects have to be thrown open for private or joint venture operations. 

How do you see the PSUs' role as drivers of India's economic growth in the wake of the global meltdown? 
The Board for Reconstruction of Public Sector Enterprises was set up in 2004 with the purpose of reviving sick PSUs and selling them as a last resort. The glorious face of the Indian PSUs came to the fore in the wake of the Wall Street meltdown in 2007-08. The economies of North America and Europe suffered dislocation. Indian PSUs, however, stood their ground and scaled newer heights in production, turnover, market capitalisation, etc. Of the 10 top performing companies in the BSE, five are Indian PSUs: ONGC, NTPC, BHEL, NMDC and SBI. The public sector has coped with the global economic crisis. The opening of the Indian economy to global players exposed Indian PSUs to tough competition from outside. Some of them did exceptionally well while a few others did not perform to their potential like Hindustan Cables and telephone companies. 
The telephone industry suffered on account of the mobile revolution but they should have done well to change over and conform to the emerging market demands and consumers' choice for mobile telephone services. The silver lining is that a number of companies, which had never made any profits in the past, have started doing so. There have been quite a few turnaround cases. One has to change one's products to compete with emerging trends. Hindustan Cables could not survive the transition from copper to fibre-optic cables. ITC would not have survived had it stuck to its tobacco business. 

How do you see the scenario in West Bengal where industrialisation has been in a state of stagnation? 
Steel Authority of India units have been doing well in the state. The fertiliser plants in Haldia and Durgapur were proposed to be closed down. Now they are being revived. In fact, there has been a decline in the number of PSUs going sick of late because of the new culture of profitability that we have inducted. I have been given the nickname of doctor of sick PSU units. My one-point prescription is to have a good balance-sheet and profitability as factors in a turnaround for PSUs.The Tata car project should have been accommodated away from fertile land in West Bengal itself. 

Where do Indian PSUs stand compared to the ones in China? 

We do not have enough data about China because they give information only about things they want to tell the world. But their record of profitability and productivity is something we have to learn. There is nothing called strike in China. Everybody has to work. You can see that Chinese machinery is making inroads into Indian markets now. I have written to the PM suggesting optimum utilisation of the work force in the PSUs to compensate for long holidays and strikes. 


How do you see the process of disinvestment of PSUs?

I can say that all PSUs must be listed on the stock exchange so that people know about them. Today, of the about 200 PSUs, only 43 are listed on the stock exchange and they account for one-third market capitalisation in the country. I think all those companies which have started making profit must be listed in stock exchanges. For example, nobody outside India knows much about Coal India. If the company were listed, it would make it to the top 400 Fortune-500 companies. 

Do you see nuclear power generation in the country offsetting the relevance of PSUs like Coal India in the days to come? 

Coal India has a great future. In the foreseeable future, we do not see the possibility of discontinuing with thermal power generation even if we go for nuclear power. There has to be a mix of both. In India there is a need to strike a balance. While we may go ahead with nuclear power generation, other methods of power generation such as thermal and hydro should continue. Regarding nuclear power, the government despite being committed to the PSUs' role in the sector, would have to allow private participation. Indian atomic energy PSUs do not have sufficient funds to set up and operationalise nuclear plants in the country.







Nepal's Interim Constitution 2007 incorporates the provision of "right to food sovereignty'' along with other rights like right to livelihood and right to food. There has since been confusion as to how to operationalise this provision. Until now, we do not see any measures to guarantee this right, and policy makers and donor agencies are continuing to focus on food security. In the process of preparation of new constitution by the members of Constituent Assembly concerned with fundamental rights, there were also debates and discussions on whether we should focus on "food sovereignty'' or ''food security''.

The confusion still persists - especially with regard to how these concepts are different and how to operationalise, in practical terms, food sovereignty. NGOs and civil societies emphasise food sovereignty without much understanding of how this concept was developed and what it means in the context of Nepal. As a result, they all practice "food security'' even though they preach ''food sovereignty''. 

The basic difference between "food security'' and ''food sovereignty'' lies in how we treat food, agriculture and agrarian livelihood, especially the role of small farmers, peasants, indigenous people, women, communities, and the dignity of farmers. The concept of ''food security'' was developed by global governance agencies like multilateral organisations in order to reduce global poverty through neoliberal approach of global governance - free market, privatisation, trade liberalisation, deregulation and economic growth. For these institutions, food security is primarily an issue of producing enough food to feed the world's poor. This entailed strategies that produce food in the most efficient and cheap way to feed the world population. Another associated imperative, according to food security concept, is the distributive paradigm that delivers food in the most efficient and cheap way possible. This is considered as improvement in the availability and access to food. 

The concept of food security as defined now has helped in the expansion of global food regime, which has turned many farmers, especially small farmers, into contract labourers and as a small cobweb in the huge, multinational assembly of global food regime. In essence, this has denigrated the dignity of farmers and value of agrarian life. Agriculture is now devoid of the real farmers, the custodians of resources like land. It has become, under the global food regime, an industry like mining, and is controlled by multinational companies because they only compete with real farmers in terms of efficiency and profit-making. Here efficiency is also narrowly understood as it does not take into account the other aspects of ecological system like bio-diversity and sustainable development, conservation of resources and production of important materials other than the food.

Because of this conception of efficiency, various environmental crises like soil erosion and loss of productivity and biodiversity are taking place. As the life of farmers, who can relate their life to the conservation of soil, water, forest and other resources, has been denigrated, there are few farmers with self-interest in conserving soil. This is the situation in many developing countries affected by the global food regime.

Nepal has not yet experienced this situation of contract farming and food production for the large multinational companies. It is likely that this situation will soon become visible as many companies are eager to come to Nepal. But it is true that farming life has become disrespectful and young people are leaving farming. 
Considering the present situation and the likely scenario, it is important to reinvigorate the agrarian livelihood by adopting the way of production that gives dignity to farmers. This can be done under ''food sovereignty''


regime. This regime recognises interconnection between human dignity, basic freedoms, and creative production, and draws attention to how an agrarian life is more than simply harvesting crops for sale on the global market. Instead, it sees farming as a way of life that is initially tied to familial and community relationships, religious beliefs and traditions, and a deep seated respect for the environment. At its core, it fights for the rights of people to food and for the rights of peoples and countries to define their agricultural and food policies. It emphasises control of farmers, communities, regions and states over how food is produced and resources are conserved, distributed and used.

In essence, it represents an alternative framework on global governance imposed by multilateral organisations. In contrast with the themes of competition, efficiency, unfettered growth and consumption, autonomy and profiteering espoused by the food security concept, food sovereignty emphasises sustainable development, environmental conservation, genuine agricultural reform, mutual dependence, and local small-scale and community-based food production for local consumption and prosperity. This concept is radically different from the neo-liberal vision of a globally integrated world composed of rational, autonomous, self-interested individuals. 

In the last two decades, Nepal has emphasised the concept of food security. One of the results of this phenomenon has been decline in local food production and loss of traditional crops and food. This is well illustrated by the situation in Karnali, where local food production has been declining as a result of the emphasis on food security. The result is greater dependence on outside food and increased risk of food crisis. The general lack of availability of fresh and healthy food is also one of the results of this phenomenon. 

The operationalisation of food sovereignty concept needs a radical shift in the thinking of policy makers, NGOs and civil society members. One precondition of this concept is the emphasis on agrarian livelihood through better housing, education, health services, transportation, local business diversification, recreation, bio-diversity and nature conservation, farmer to farmer link and connection to land, and emphasis on crops and the food they produce and consume. This certainly needs more resource allocation from the government's side. 

the kathmandu post/ann







The phone rang. The PA picked it up. "Prime Minister's office," he said. 

The voice at the other end said: "I am speaking from President Zardari's office. The President would like to speak with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh." 

 "Okay," the PA said. "Put him on. I'm transferring the call." 

 "Hello," said Zardari. "Mannu, is that you?" 

 "Hello, Asif," Manmohan Singh said. "What's up?" 

 "I say Mannu, seen the morning papers? Bopanna and Qureshi have done wonders at the US Open! Isn't it fantastic?" 
 "I always told you so, Asif! You never listen. India and Pakistan together can take on the world!" 

"Now I believe you. Maybe we should team up too." 

"What do you have in mind?" 

"The World Open starts next week. Should I put in our names for the doubles event?
 "That's fine by me," Mannu said cheerfully… 

On the appointed day Asif and Mannu reached the venue with tennis racquets in hand. Asif looked excited. "By the way whom are we playing – America or China?" 

 "Not so fast," Mannu said. "This is only the first round. We're playing Lashkar and Jaish!" 
"Oh," said Asif, somewhat crestfallen. They warmed up by knocking around a few balls. Their opponents did likewise. 
 The Umpire called out: "Time! Please serve." 

 Mannu stood at the baseline to serve. Asif moved up to the net. "I can't serve," Mannu complained. "My partner is standing too close for comfort to our opponents. I don't like that." 

 "I have to stand close to them," Asif protested. "Otherwise how else will I volley when they try to shoot winners?" There followed a heated whispered argument between Mannu and Asif. 

 "Please serve," the Umpire shouted impatiently. "Love all!" 

  Mannu threw down his racquet. "I can't love all," he shouted. "I can't love Lashkar and Jaish!" The crowd booed. 

 "Match suspended," the Umpire said in disgust. Asif and Mannu picked up their tennis gear dejectedly and started to walk away. Suddenly Asif snapped his fingers. "An idea!" he shouted excitedly. "Why not ask Bopanna and Qureshi to take on Lashkar and Jaish?" 

 "Brilliant," gushed Mannu. "What an idea, Sirji…!" 

We're a unique doubles team, 

Our performance is a scream! 

We play against each other, 

The opposition's like our brother!









Cynical diplomats sitting across a table never forge friendships through lengthy and tortuous negotiations. Friendship is as friendship does. This was demonstrated when Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, belonging to India and Pakistan respectively, entered the final of the men's doubles in the US Open at Flushing Meadows. It would be a mistake to see this victory as merely symbolic. It is much more than that. It reveals the artificiality of the borders that separate India and Pakistan. If paladins of the British Empire led by Lord Mountbatten had not decided to divide India to escape the empire, and if Cyril Radcliffe had not drawn lines on the maps of South Asia, India, together with what became Pakistan, would be a powerful country not just politically but in sporting terms as well. This statement is not being made in terms of the What If game that many historians love to play. This is no longer a counterfactual. Put the Indian and Pakistani cricket teams together — the result would be unbeatable. And ditto for hockey. The achievement of the two tennis-players in Flushing Meadows only strengthens the point. Far away from sports, the two countries have produced in recent times some of the finest writers of fiction in English — Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Mohammad Hanif, among others.


Differences and boundaries created by retreating imperialists and myopic politicians dissolve when faced with genuine talent. Messrs Bopanna and Qureshi did not need long hours behind closed doors to sort out matters; long sessions of practice brought them closer and created bonds of understanding, which are so necessary to succeed in tennis doubles. No pious words and homilies on the importance of friendship were needed by them. The commitment to perform well and come out the best brought them together and inspired them. It may not be an exaggeration to suggest that friendship did not bring them together on the court; rather, tennis created a friendship.


A triumph in Flushing Meadows possibly contains a significant message for those who walk the corridors of power in New Delhi and Islamabad. The message is simple: do not cavil at the efforts being put in place by Manmohan Singh to remove the trust deficit between India and Pakistan. The tennis-players have shown that it is possible for an Indian and a Pakistani to inhabit a space, and win, together. Mistrust can be removed through co-operation; suspicion through partnership. Animosity can be dissolved through victories that bring pride to both nations. These are words and wishes; they need to be actualized. This alone will establish friendship between India and Pakistan, two countries mired in meaningless enmity. Two tennis-players have served an ace for Mr Singh. Are the others on both sides of the border willing to play at the net?










The only time I have been less than sorrowful at a premature death was when Sanjay Gandhi perished in an air crash. He was truly a nasty piece of work. Having dropped out of the Doon School, and then dropped out of an apprentice scheme in the Rolls-Royce factory in the United Kingdom, he used his mother's connections to start a car factory. A sycophantic journalist, Khushwant Singh, claimed that Sanjay's factory would produce 50,000 cars a year, which would soon "be seen on the roads of Haryana and Delhi, and a month or two later they will be running between Kalimpong and Kanyakumari".


Sanjay himself knew better. He realized before his chamchas that no cars made by him would ever be fit to run on Indian streets. So he turned his interest to politics instead. In June 1975, his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, imposed a state of Emergency. All Opposition politicians were arrested, and the press censored. Sanjay himself quickly emerged as the second most powerful person in India. Chief ministers and cabinet ministers took orders from him. Khushwant Singh thought this entirely legitimate. In choosing Sanjay Gandhi as the 'Man of the Year' in the magazine he edited, Singh told his readers that "Sanjay has taken a heavy load on his young shoulders. He has a long and arduous road ahead of him. Do not strew banana skins on his path. Help him to reach his goal of a prosperous and happy India."


In the context of the Emergency, it was impossible for an ordinary citizen of India to come close enough to Sanjay to lovingly offer him a whole banana, let alone bar his path with a banana skin. On the other hand, Sanjay had the power to do far nastier things to the ordinary citizen, to break into his house, for example, or sterilize him against his will, or put him in jail — all of which he did, with relish, using the entire might of the State apparatus that his indulgent mother had now put under his command.


The crimes of Sanjay Gandhi against the Constitution of India were many and varied. They have been documented by historians, and by those who lived through those times. Contrast Khushwant Singh's effusions with an article written by a more clear-eyed journalist, which was published in the Delhi weekly, Mainstream, on March 26, 1977. The article was actually written towards the end of the Emergency, but could only be published when censorship had been lifted. Still, knowing the vengeful nature of his target, the journalist was prudent enough to use the pseudonym, 'Analyst'.


The nom de plume was anodyne, but the contents of the article were anything but. On the basis of his first-hand experience, 'Analyst' wrote of how the regime of press censorship was imposed on the direct instructions of Sanjay Gandhi. When the Emergency began "none of the people at the top, even the Minister [of Information and Broadcasting] I. K. Gujral, seemed to know anything and we were all waiting instructions from some other place". Soon, it became clear that the censor was getting orders from the prime minister's second son. At the latter's initiative, two independent news agencies, the Press Trust of India and the United News of India, were merged to form asarkari-controlled company called Samachar. This new agency was then used to print stories "aimed at building up the personality of Mr Sanjay Gandhi".


Living in Delhi, and close to the corridors of power, this senior journalist was able to see how Sanjay Gandhi was instrumental in effecting key changes of personnel in the government and the public sector. Thus, during the Emergency, "the entire nationalised banking system was mercilessly abused to benefit Sanjay Gandhi's corrupt friends". The chairman of the Central Bank, a Mr Taneja, "was worried at the persistent demands of Sanjay Gandhi for more loans". When he resisted he was sacked, and replaced with a more pliant man. "The Reserve Bank itself was put in charge of a half-drunk, amiable insurance man, K.R. Puri, with no knowledge whatsoever of the banking system but endowed with the virtue of subservience to Sanjay Gandhi."


A hurdle to this manipulation of the financial system was the capable and experienced finance minister, C. Subramaniam, who represented the best values of the old-style Congress of Gandhi and Nehru. To circumvent Subramaniam, key departments in his ministry — such as banking, income tax and customs — were, wrote 'Analyst', "taken out of the control of the Finance Minister and put in charge of a novice, a political adventurer with roots nowhere, having no standing except as a lackey of Sanjay Gandhi. This is Pranab Kumar Mukherji [sic], who is today known in his home state of West Bengal, [and] in the business and financial circles all over India, as a servile waiter of Sanjay Gandhi".


In another section of his essay, 'Analyst' detailed the siphoning of money to London from steel contracts awarded to contacts of the prime minister's younger son. The journalist further claimed that Sanjay's "Doon School pal, Kamal Nath, has made piles through the dealings of his EMC enterprise with the West Bengal State Electricity Board, getting contracts worth huge amounts for which no tender was called, nor the prescribed rules and procedures followed".


Sanjay Gandhi also interfered grievously with the civil services. Previously, "the appointment, transfer, promotion of Joint Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries and other executive officers of the Government of India was made by a Senior Establishment Board of the Cabinet Secretariat". Now, however, these duties were "usurped by Sanjay Gandhi's man, R.K. Dhawan", a stenographer in the prime minister's office. 'Analyst' wrote that under Dhawan's supervision, "practically all the appointments of civil servants was made contingent on the confession of personal loyalty to Sanjay Gandhi".


During the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi was allowed to do more or less what he wanted in the Union territory of Delhi. This was his particular bailiwick, where his experiments in slum clearance and sterilization were first carried out. A problem for Sanjay was that the lieutenant-governor of Delhi was an upright man named Baleshwar Prasad. So he was removed, and "in his place, a spineless civil servant of no distinction was inducted; the new Lt Governor, Kishan Chander, has been supplied by Sanjay with an Adviser, Navin Chawla, a pathological case of an administration officer with total subservience to Sanjay Gandhi personally".


To the best of my knowledge, the charges made by 'Analyst' were not contested or disputed when his article was published. Four of those he mentioned are still active in public life. Two are senior ministers in the government of India, a third just demitted office as chief election commissioner, the fourth was till recently an MP, and remains an active and influential Congressman.


In fact, some other members of the Union cabinet also first entered politics as acolytes of Sanjay Gandhi. Nor does the influence run only on one side of the fence. Two senior leaders of the principal Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, owe everything to Sanjay Gandhi. One is his wife, Maneka; the other his assistant in the brutalizing of Old Delhi, Jagmohan.


Indian democrats live in hope. The particular hope here is that these protégés of Sanjay Gandhi have rejected, in spirit and in deed, the profoundly anti-democratic methods of their one-time mentor.



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





The appointment of telecom secretary P J Thomas as the next Central Vigilance Commissioner has become controversial with the main opposition party, the BJP, objecting to it on grounds of impropriety. The opposition leader in the Lok Sabha is a member of the panel that decides on the selection of the CVC, who is an important constitutional authority tasked with the responsibility of probing corruption. According to convention, the appointment is made on the basis of consensus, so that it is above partisan considerations and the CVC is acceptable to the opposition also. It was unfortunate that the government departed from this practice and went ahead with his appointment. 

It will be improper for Thomas, as CVC, to investigate the 2G spectrum allotment scandal in which his own ministry was involved. Though he became telecom secretary after the allotment, the ministry has consistently defended the allegedly irregular allotments. More importantly, Thomas was involved in a major corruption case relating to import of palm oil from Malaysia when he was the food and civil supplies secretary in Kerala. There was demand for his prosecution but the permission for that was denied by the Centre. The state government was also reluctant to appoint him as the chief secretary because of the taint of the palm oil scandal, though it relented later. An official with such a doubtful record should not have been made the CVC. The leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj, has recorded her dissenting view, and the government should have respected that. There were two other senior government secretaries in the shortlisted panel of candidates. Why did the government insist on its decision when there were others who do not have the cloud of controversy over them?

The Central Vigilance Commission has not been an effective body though it has vast constitutional powers and the effective exercise of these powers is very important in a milieu of rising corruption and official misconduct. It has the task of superintendence over investigating agencies like the CBI and is not answerable to the executive. A person holding the top office in the commission should have the best credentials and the highest level of credibility. The government should not have made a prestige issue of its choice and now its motive itself has become suspect. A CVC with less than the best image will only further weaken the institution.








Weeks after a general election threw up a fractured verdict, a minority Labour government supported by the Greens and two independent MPs has come to power in Australia. Julia Gillard will stay as prime minister. However, how long her government will survive is a moot question. It has a wafer-thin majority in the lower house, with just one seat more than the opposition. It will therefore be a fragile government that will constantly come under pressure from its allies in government and the opposition. Gillard will have to tread carefully, consult and seek consensus in the coming months. So close was the election result that it is possible to say that Labour did not win the mandate, neither did the Liberals lose it. Gillard's main challenge then will be to win political legitimacy that a deadlocked election result denied her.

Although the government is Labour-led and has a Green component, it is being described as a right-leaning one. Many have interpreted the 'coup' that Gillard carried out to oust her predecessor Kevin Rudd as being powered by big business. While it was generally believed that Rudd's dipping public support had prompted Gillard to challenge him, some analysts have suggested that giant transnational mining companies had played a role in fuelling the anti-Rudd rebellion in the party. The rightward tilt of the government with Gillard taking charge of the reins became apparent when she withdrew a proposed 30 per cent tax on mining companies. During the election campaign too, Gillard underlined her conservative position when she whipped up voter hostility against asylum seekers and refugees with her call for strong border protection. It would be a pity indeed if the economic gains made during Rudd rule — Australia emerged relatively unscathed from the recession — are frittered away by Gillard.

Australia's relations with India had soured significantly under Rudd. The government's unsatisfactory handling of the violent attacks on Indian immigrants to Australia and its perceived warming towards China did cause some unease. Gillard will have to act decisively to step the downslide in bilateral ties. Rudd's government had opposed sale of uranium to India. That position seems unlikely to change under Gillard, particularly since her government is dependent on support from the Greens. It is difficult to see Australia's relations with India rebounding anytime soon.







Universalisation of the public distribution system would provide a licence for the grain traders to make a killing.


Amidst all the raging controversy and debates over wasted grains and hungry people, the supreme court certainly created quite a flutter by asking the government to provide foodgrains free to the poor. "Give it to the hungry poor instead of it going down the drain," a bench of justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma had said in an order on Aug 31 following reports of food wastage.

The court was reacting to the government's refusal to distribute the grain among the poor while it rotted. Later, however, the court accepted the government's stand that it was making efforts to arrange better distribution of food to BPL families, though not free of cost.

 Ironically, while India is riding a wave of complacency on the food front with the grain silos bursting, Mozambique faced deadly food riots in the first few days of September over the bread prices jumping up by 30 per cent. There is anger building up in Pakistan, Egypt and Siberia over rising prices following the ban on wheat export extended by Russia. FAO has called for an emergency meeting to discuss the far-reaching consequences of yet another emerging food crisis.

In India, after dragging his feat for long, finally agriculture minister Sharad Pawar fell in line. An empowered group of ministers (EGoM), headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee that met on Sept 2 has come out with the promise of revamping the rotten Public Distribution System (PDS) and has also promised to make an additional allocation of 25 lakh tonnes of grains at below the poverty line price. This will be done in the next six months.

This can happen only in a democracy. For at least three decades now I have been writing about the wastage of foodgrains in godowns. Lakhs of tonnes of foodgrain have been rotting in the open year after year, and none of the successive governments had made any serious effort to minimise the damage. I only hope the supreme court's directive forces the government to take necessary steps to stop wastage of stored food.


For the past two years there has been an intense debate over the issue of rotting foodgrains and millions going to bed hungry. And yet, the nation is still not sure as to what to do to ensure household food security. At present 6.52 crore families are categorised as below the poverty line, and the government has finally accepted economist Suresh Tendulkar's committee report which has pegged the BPL population at 37.2 per cent, in other words, 8.14 crore families.

Poor affected

I find the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) still grappling with a way out to ensure food security while the ministry of food and agriculture is insisting that providing a monthly ration of 35 kg to the population computed to be below the poverty line is the answer. The issue has got so polarised that I have a strong feeling that between the wrangling of the NAC and the ministry, the poor will eventually remain hungry.

The NAC is insisting on universalisation of the public distribution system, which means every family should be entitled to receive subsidies grains. This I think is rather unfair. There is no need for a universal PDS as it would provide a licence for the grain traders to make a killing. The supreme court would do well to consider the more plausible approach by raising the upper limit of the beneficiaries in the sense that instead of 37.2 per cent, it needs to include 55 per cent of the population (which means following the UNDP estimate of poverty in India) as those who should get the food ration.

Such an approach will automatically include all those cases which are on the border line, and at the same time help plug the foodgrain leakage into the open market. At the same time, it will also ensure that the proposed National Food Security Act is not a half-hearted attempt.

Unfortunately, the proposed National Food Security Act is a stand alone programme. It fails to go beyond the quota of ration each family needs to receive. It fails to integrate agriculture with food security. Unless we make a sincere attempt to make a historical correction about our perception of food security in the long-term, I fear sooner than later the supreme court may have to step in again.

Perhaps one way of looking at food security is to follow what Chhatisgarh has done in the past four years. It has been giving 35 kg of wheat and rice to the ultra-poor at Re 1 per kg; and to the poor at Rs 2 a kg against the market price of Rs 12-17 per kg. This way, Chhatisgarh reaches 36 lakh households out of the 44 lakh existing households. This can be replicated, in varying degrees, as and when the Centre rolls out a national food security programme on similar lines.

Chhatisgarh relies on what is called local production-local procurement and local distribution model. It procures paddy directly from farmers, buying through cooperative societies and procurement centres at the village level. This is a sure method of ensuring that food is not wasted in procurement and storage, and reaching food to the needy







On Friday, August 20, all the six daily papers I get were full of paid ads paying tributes to Rajiv Gandhi on his birth anniversary (Aug 20, 1944 to May 21, 1991).


He was a handsome young man and very photogenic. He deserved to be remembered as he was assassinated by Sinhalese Tamilian terrorist while doing his duty. 

What baffled me was why this year page after page was devoted to his memory which was much more than was done in the intervening years. I came to the conclusion that these ads were primarily to draw the attention of Sonia Gandhi, as good-looking as her husband, and her son Rahul who resembles his parents, and have put new life in the Congress party — which is in ascendance while all the opposition parties are in deep decline. These advertisers wanted to ensure they would not be overlooked at the next general election. They are plain and simple 'matlabis' — patronage seekers.

Lets take a look at Rajiv Gandhi's record as prime minister. He took over from his mother who was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in the morning of 31st October 1984. Hindu-Sikh relations had been fouled by the hateful utterances of Bhindranwale and crimes committed by his gangsters. The situation needed firm handling. But Rajiv was a greenhorn in politics and sought advice on how to act.

One of his closest advisers advised him to "teach the Sikhs a lesson". So instead of going out in the streets and pacifying angry mobs of Hindus as his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru had done in 1947, to stop the massacre of Muslims in Delhi, he let the Lt Governor of Delhi order the police not to intervene with Hindu mobs thirsting for Sikh blood. They killed several thousand innocent Sikhs and looted their property.

He mishandled the Shah Bano case; he allowed Hindus to install idols in a portion of Babri Masjid. He sensed things had gone wrong and worked to mend matters. He called a meeting of about a dozen MPs and asked his Home Minister Boota Singh whether families of victims of the massacre had been rehabilitated. Boota Singh assured him that all had been rehabilitated. 

I contradicted him and named Charanjit Singh who had not yet got compensation. Rajiv ordered his finance minister to look into the case. The next day the machinery of his soft-drink factory was released by him and he received full compensation.

Rajiv had promised to clean up the Ganga: it is now dirtier than before. He was failure as prime minister. It was many years later that his wife Sonia Gandhi made the parliament pass a resolution apologising to the nation for the massacre of 1984. By contrast Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia have not slipped even once. Rahul Gandhi stormed into the citadels of the opposition like the Shiv Sena in Mumbai and Mayavati in Uttar Pradesh to become the sole leader of the Dalits.

My guess is that after the next general elections there will be a change of addresses: Sonia and her son Rahul will move from 10 Janpath to Race Course Road. Marmohan Singh and Gursharan Kaur from Race Course Road to Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Poetry and civil service

A couple of years ago I introduced my readers to Sumita Misra, IAS, now a senior officer in the Haryana government, by publishing a poem written by her. A collection of her poems is soon being published in Chandigarh. I take the liberty of publishing one entitled 'Evening Walk' to let you judge the quality of her work.

To assemble life's jigsaw,

Slowly, bit by bit,

With misshapen pieces,

That don't quite fit;

To balance the deadweight

of each insistent day

With the weight of gossamer

Dreams that refuse to go away;

To stride with the wind

And breathe in the colours of spring,

Knowing that you may never

Like those homing birds take wing;

These, or similar are tales 

Each life has a secret story

Whose living is courage itself,

More real than any fable of glory.

Four Hs of life

Question: Identify the 4 Hs where a person spends his time at one stage or other in life?

Ans: Home, hostel, hotel and hospital.

(Courtesy: K J S Ahluwalia, Amritsar)

Follow your papa

A boy went to see a cabaret dance. His mother got angry and asked him: "Did you see anything there that you

hould not have seen.

Boy: "Yes, I saw Dad there."


(Contributed by J P Singh Kaka, Bhopal)







Those unforgettable hours with HN shaped my future.


It was a cold winter morning on January 31, 2005. All roads leading to the Basavanagudi National high school were jammed with people surging towards the school where the mortal remains of Dr H Narasimhaiah, eminent physicist, educator and rationalist lay for public viewing on the stage of the school quadrangle.

As I joined the slow-moving serpentine queue of mourners with a bagful of roses, my thoughts went back to the year 1950 — when I was appearing for the senior intermediate public exam as a student of the National College. At that time we were fortunate to have HN, who had conquered the hearts of every one of us at the first interaction itself, as our physics lecturer. "Don't be scared of big technical words; just understand the fundamentals and develop scientific temper," were his key words all through.

The day to face the physics paper came and with that I found myself fully gripped by exam fever due to the awareness that my performance in the PCM group would decide my dream of getting into engineering course. The more I tried to revise the portions the more confused I got. Mentally unsettled, I decided to meet HN and seek his advice. It was 9 pm when I reached the college hostel where HN stayed. He was at his study table and it didn't take him long to gauge my mental status. With his characteristic benevolent smile he made me sit on his tape cot.

"Now relax and tell me why you have come here leaving your preparation," he asked offering me a glass of cool water from the earthen pot kept in the corner of his small bare room. "Sir, I don't know what has happened to me," I said tearfully. "I feel totally blank!"

"Be rational! How can you go blank when you have very recently fared so well in the preparatory exams? Look, you are now facing just another exam, certainly not a court trial!" he said with his characteristic humour. "Think this to be an opportunity for you to exhibit your knowledge. Now I shall prove that you have not forgotten anything. You are my lecturer now, OK?  To start with, explain to me the principle of Vernier calipers!"
That just did it! A light within me instantly got switched on dispelling the pitch-dark diffidence that had engulfed me. I went on and on touching important topics, brimming with confidence. It was nearly 11 pm when he declared — "Now, go and have a good sleep. You are fully ready!" I bounced back home feeling light. Those unforgettable hours with HN shaped my future!

By the time my thoughts ended, I was standing at the still feet of HN. Tears of gratitude from my eyes mingled with the roses, which I reverently placed at his feet.









Nine years after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, a memorial and a transportation hub are taking recognizable shape and skyscrapers are finally starting to rise from the ashes of ground zero.


That physical rebirth is cause for celebration on this anniversary. It is a far more fitting way to defy the hate-filled extremists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and to honor their victims, than to wallow in the intolerance and fear that have mushroomed across the nation. They are fed by the kind of bigotry exhibited by the would-be book burner in Florida, and, sadly, nurtured by people in positions of real power, including prominent members of the Republican Party.


The most important sight at ground zero now is Michael Arad's emerging memorial. The shells of two giant pools are 30 feet deep and are set almost exactly in the places where the towers once were.


The huge waterfalls around the sides, the inscribed names of victims and the plaza are promised by the 10th anniversary next year. But two 70-foot tridents that were once at the base of the twin towers were installed last week. The museum will be built around them by 2012. And the first 16 of 416 white swamp oaks were planted on the eight-acre surface.


Surrounding that memorial will be a ring of commercial towers — eventually to be filled with workers, commuters, shoppers, tourists, the full cacophony of New York City. The tallest skyscraper is now a third of the way up. The developer Larry Silverstein has one of his skyscrapers taking shape — this one by the Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. The bases of two more are finally beyond the planning stage.


The first outlines of Santiago Calatrava's elegant PATH station are visible. Giant white ribs and other structures that will support the birdlike hall are moving into place. The temporary PATH station shuttles 70,000 commuters a day through the construction site.


After years of political lassitude and financial squabbling, rebuilding at the site began in earnest two years ago. That was when Mayor Michael Bloomberg exerted his considerable muscle to make sure the memorial is finished by 2011. At about the same time, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey established more control of the site. The authority and the mayor turned out to be a good team.


That cooperation and the visible progress are such a contrast with the way some political figures have been trying to use the Sept. 11 attacks to generate antipathy toward all Muslims. For weeks, politicians — mostly but definitely not all on the right — have been fanning the public controversy over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks away from ground zero.


Then, Terry Jones, a minor preacher in Florida, managed to create a major furor by scheduling a ritual burning of the Koran for Sept. 11. Alarmed by hyperbolic news coverage, the top general in Afghanistan, the secretary of defense, the State Department and the president warned that such a bonfire would endanger Americans and American troops around the world.


It was bad enough to see a fringe figure acting out for cable news and Web sites, but it was deeply disturbing to hear John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, equate Mr. Jones's antics with the Muslim center.


In both cases, he told ABC News, "Just because you have a right to do something in America does not mean it is the right thing to do." The Constitution does, indeed, protect both, but they are not morally equivalent. In New York City, a group of Muslims is trying to build something. Mr. Jones and his supporters are trying to tear down more than two centuries of religious tolerance.


It is a good time to remember what President Obama said on Friday, echoing the words of President George W. Bush after the attacks: "We're not at war with Islam. We're at war with terrorist organizations."







The 9/11 atrocity continues to scar tens of thousands of citizens who pitched in as cleanup volunteers and emergency responders in the toxin-laden clouds at ground zero, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania. Ordinary citizens, neighborhood residents and responders heedless of overtime worked side by side for weeks in New York City, many eventually developing grave illnesses that are disrupting lives and careers.


In July, Congress fumbled vital legislation to provide compensation for medical care and economic loss to exemplary citizens from the three sites. A second chance to enact it is expected as early as next week, and Congress must not waste it.


Election-year politics and an ill-advised House strategy requiring two-thirds approval got in the way of the July vote, which nevertheless registered bipartisan majority support. The second vote will wisely require a simple majority to approve the measure. Surely this time lawmakers will suspend narrow politicking and recognize their obligation to these 9/11 victims.


The legislation provides $3.2 billion in medical aid over the next eight years and $4.2 billion in economic compensation. It's important that the latter will cap attorneys' fees at 10 percent and bar victims who accept separate compensation through an earlier city lawsuit by cleanup workers.


The medical program of monitoring and treatment would be run through the Department of Health and Human Services. The cost would be adequately offset by closing some tax loopholes enjoyed by foreign-based companies.


]An estimated 50,000 responders are currently being monitored in New York as the devastation of 9/11 continues to threaten the living. While the nation's hope is that most will not be gravely stricken, its obligation is to see that help is firmly at hand.







After imprisoning three Americans for more than one year, Iran raised and then dashed hopes that it would release one of them, Sarah Shourd, on Saturday. All three should be freed. Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Ms. Shourd have lived lives of fear and depravation in Tehran's infamous Evin prison for far too long.


The Americans were arrested in July 2009 along Iran's border with Iraq. Their families say they were hiking in the mountains of northern Iraq. The Nation, a magazine for which Mr. Bauer worked as a freelancer, recently reported interviewing witnesses who said the hikers were in Iraq when they were detained.


Iranian officials have claimed the three were spying in Iran but have offered no proof. According to the hikers' Iranian lawyer, the court file and the judge handling the case both say they are formally accused of "illegal border crossing," a far lesser charge. Under Iranian law, that calls for a cash penalty — not jail time.


Since their detention, the Americans have been denied access to their lawyer and allowed only one telephone call to their families and one visit from their mothers. There are concerns about the health of Ms. Shourd, who has been forced to spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.


According to news reports, the Iranians had planned to release Ms. Shourd to recognize the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan but then canceled because the "legal process" was not complete. It is common in the Muslim world to celebrate the Id al-Fitr holiday by showing clemency to prisoners. The three should never have been arrested. Clemency and justice should be applied to them all.








This is our Open, outdoors, exposed to the elements, as it should be. Let's freeze the action. It could be an instant in one of the early matches, played in torrid conditions that now seem as distant as last year's games. But it will probably be one of the wind-driven matches late in the second week.


Stop everything, spectators, vendors, broadcasters, players, just as the ball meets the racket of, say, Robin Soderling, everyone glowing in the nighttime lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium. The light is the only thing the wind has not disturbed. Even in the stadium, in a crowd that is raucous by tennis standards, spectators are clinging to what might get loose — napkins, tissues, programs — for fear of disturbing play.


How do you calculate all the forces at work here? Soderling's racket is sweeping upward with incredible speed at the end of a hurtling man's reach. The ball still carries a version of the spin that Soderling's opponent, Roger Federer, imparted to it, as if it were some subatomic particle, a spin the court surface itself has altered. The two men are lucky to be playing tennis in a universe where, instead of accumulating, the forces at work are neutralized with each stroke — the spin respun, the velocity absorbed and redirected.


But tonight there is the wind, not quite the eye-lashing wind of the previous match, but plenty. Soderling is meeting the ball where it is, which is not quite where it should be. If you could somehow have ridden the ball to where it lies, squashed, against Soderling's racket face, you would feel the extra headwind against him on this point, the extra tailwind with Federer. The end Soderling hits to is now 10 feet deeper than the end Federer hits to. The wind recalibrates spin, too. The game's gyroscope goes awry.


Between points each player tries to neutralize another force — emotion. That, too, is harder in the wind because wind carries its own abrasive energy. It raises questions of fairness in the player's mind that have nothing to do with calls of "in" or "out." Suddenly, for some players, injustice is now a factor in the serve toss, usually the most predictable element in the professional game, and those players are doomed.


David Foster Wallace once wrote that "acceptance is its own verve, and it takes imagination for a player to like wind." Every year we witness fitness and skill, match in, match out. It's a marvel to watch acceptance and imagination at work in what suddenly feels, courtside, like a much realer world than the one where tournament tennis is usually played.










In a continuing effort to bring you cheerful news even when the world seems determined to be abysmal, I want to point out that next week is the end of the primary election season. Which began, as we all know, sometime during the reign of Ethelred the Unready.


The sole exception is Louisiana, which is having yet another series of runoffs on Oct. 2. What is it with you, Louisiana? We worry about your weather, your oil wells, your family-values senator consorting with prostitutes. And now it seems you're never going to stop voting. Why are you making this so complicated?


But let's focus on Delaware, which is having one of several big primaries on Tuesday that pit an established Republican against a Tea Party insurgent. Until recently, everyone presumed the Senate nominee would be Mike Castle, 71, a former governor who has been the state's one and only congressman for the last 18 years. (We will stop here and briefly contemplate the fact that while Delaware has enough people to fill only one of the nation's 435 Congressional districts, it gets two senators.)


Then the Tea Party Express, which provided critical financial help to a little-known right-wing insurgent who won the Senate nomination in Alaska, announced it was sending $250,000 to Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. That was followed by The Endorsement. Sarah Palin called Sean Hannity's radio show and then made the all-important Facebook posting, predicting O'Donnell would "help usher in the real change we need to get America on the right track."


The Democrats, who had nominated a county executive, Chris Coons, without much optimism, did their happy dance. "Thank you, Jesus," breathed a Democratic operative when Palin bestowed her blessing. There was perhaps a time when the Democrats would have rooted for Castle, who has worked well with them on bipartisan legislation in the past. That is so over.


O'Donnell is a marketing consultant whose clients included the movie "The Passion of the Christ" and a Vatican portrait-painter. One of the most notable things on her political résumé is her well-publicized position against masturbation. ("The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. So you can't masturbate without lust.")


Her real drawbacks as a candidate are numbers and shrubbery. O'Donnell has had a series of financial problems, and her disclosure form says she earned only $5,800 last year, although she claims she had other income that didn't require disclosing. She said for years that she was a 1993 graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University, but it turns out she actually got her degree ... last week. And a conservative radio host was compelled to correct her when she claimed that she had won two counties in a 2008 race against Senator Joe Biden. That would have been quite a trick, given that Delaware has only three counties and she lost the election by 65 percent to 35 percent.


"I meant tied," she said, forcing the host to point out: "You didn't tie him either."


About the shrubs. O'Donnell's campaign pays half the rent on her town house, which she argued is appropriate since she really lives elsewhere, in a location she needs to conceal from her opponents. She told The Weekly Standard that she returns at the end of the day to the town house "and then we have our team come out and check all the bushes and check all the cars" to see if she is being followed by someone who might jeopardize her safety. Her opponents, she added, are also "hiding in the bushes when I'm at candidate forums."


Political parties traditionally stay neutral in primaries, and encourage the contenders to save their negative ads for the general election. But those rules shouldn't apply if there's a truly strange and unelectable person on the ballot. Otherwise you wind up with situations like South Carolina, where Democrats gave their Senate nomination to Alvin Greene, an unemployed political novice recently indicted on a felony charge who has an economic development platform that seems to center on encouraging the manufacturing of Alvin Greene action figures.


So this week the Republican Party of Delaware filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, claiming the O'Donnell campaign and the Tea Party Express are illegally working in concert. Castle abandoned the high road and began running ads about O'Donnell's past financial difficulties. ("Owes $11,744 in back taxes. Defaulted on her mortgage.")


Her campaign believes this will all increase sympathy for their candidate and remind Delaware that O'Donnell is a woman of the people. Which is definitely the case if you define people as individuals whose foliage is filled with enemies.








Nine years ago today, we saw the world stand still. We saw the innocence of a nation crumble to the ground. We saw the face of evil form in plumes of smoke and ash. It was Sept. 11, 2001.


I heard a thousand gasps of a thousand people standing stock still in the normally bustling Times Square as they watched the second plane hit the second tower on a JumboTron in Times Square.


I saw images of small figures that looked liked birds outside the towers. Only they weren't birds, they were people, forced out by the flames, forced to make an impossible choice under impossible circumstances.


We all watched the towers collapse, completely, falling from the skies above into a cloud below — horrific and awesome, breathtaking and unbelievable.


I felt myself grow numb, but I refused to be afraid. My attitude that day was the same as most Americans: the terrorists must not be allowed to win. America would not be cowed. We would rise, our greatness would shine, and our ideas of freedom would remain a beacon to the world.


That is why the debate these past few weeks over Islam in America — from the proposed Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan to talk of the burning of Korans — has been so hard to watch. Too much of the debate seems to be centered around the sensitivities of terrorists a world away who have hijacked the passions of a faith, who would see us destroyed and who want to attract more damaged souls to their cause.


I understand, in theory, the idea of not stirring the hornet's nest while our troops are still in harm's way. But I chafe at the idea that great American debates, in all their ugliness and splendor, should be tempered for terrorists and their attempts to recruit.


It is true that we seem to be experiencing a new sense of paranoia about these extremists and the threats they pose.


According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released this week, the percentage of people who say that the country is safer now from terrorism compared with before Sept. 11, 2001, has reached a new low.


But we simply cannot allow this new wave of fear to make us into something that we're not. We are a country of freedoms, a country where religious freedom and freedom of speech hold equal standing, a country in which the construction of a building and the destruction of a book are rights extended to all, even if opposed by most.


Free expressions are not always pleasant, but they must ever be protected, with no regard to the proclivities of the enemy.


This is America, and the moment we forget that, they start to win.








Like homeowners in the path of an approaching wildfire, Democrats are scrambling to salvage what they can from an anticipated disaster in the coming elections.


Pundits are predicting the loss of the House and maybe even the Senate to the Republicans, and polls are showing a level of disenchantment among voters that is bordering on despair. Nearly two-thirds of respondents to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said they believe the country is in a state of decline.


A full two-thirds said they are no longer confident "that life for our children's generation will be better than it has been for us."


People feel that the country is going to hell, that the system itself has broken down, and President Obama and the Democrats have been unable to assuage that awful feeling. The White House and Democratic Congressional leaders can point to a long string of legislative accomplishments — passage of a health insurance overhaul, financial reform, a stimulus package that may have been misshapen and too small but nevertheless helped stave off a worse economic disaster, and so on.


But voters do not feel that the administration and Congress have delivered the fundamental change they were seeking when they swept President Obama and huge Democratic majorities into office nearly two years ago. Forget about the crazies in the Tea Party for the moment. Forget about the ugly Republican obstructionism that is based on the idea that the failure not just of President Obama but of American society itself is the G.O.P.'s quickest ticket back to power.


Forget about that for a moment. The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families. And that failure is rooted in the Democrats' continued fascination with the self-serving conservative belief that the way to help ordinary people is to shower money on the rich and wait for the blessings to trickle down to the great unwashed below.


It was a bogus concept when George H.W. Bush denounced it as "voodoo economics" in 1980, and it remains bogus today, no matter how hard the Democrats try to dress it up in a donkey costume.


A survey of American workers by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University found that more than 70 percent had either lost a job or had a relative or close friend who had lost a job. Nearly two of three expect the U.S. to still be in recession next year, and nearly one in five are worried that a depression may be coming.


This economy and the rampant anxiety it has caused would be toxic stuff for whatever party was in power.


White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, commenting on the president's recent $50 billion transportation infrastructure proposal, said: "This is about long-term economic growth. This isn't about the next 60 days or the next 90 days. This is about how do we get our economy fully back on track, how do we get the millions that want to work back to work, and how do we repair the economic damage that's been going on not just over the past two years but over the past 10 years."


Well, that's the drum the Democrats should have been pounding in the earliest days of the Obama administration, and they should have backed it up with a dramatic rebuild America infrastructure campaign and every other job-creation measure they could think of, including public works projects for the young and the poor and the hard-core unemployed.


With the nation losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month in early-2009, the president and his allies in Congress could have rallied the citizenry to participate in the difficult work of nation-building here at home. He could have called on everyone to share in the sacrifices that needed to be made, and he could have demanded much more from the financial and corporate elites who were being bailed out with the people's money.


The example had already been set by Franklin Roosevelt, who declared in his first Inaugural Address that "our greatest primary task is to put people to work." And that task, he said, should be treated "as we would treat the emergency of a war."


For Mr. Obama and the Democrats, that would have meant that health insurance reform, however noble, would have had to wait, and the war in Afghanistan would have had to de-escalate.


That didn't happen. The Democrats are facing an election debacle because they did not respond adequately to their constituents' most dire needs. The thing that is really weird is that a strengthened G.O.P. will undoubtedly make matters so much worse.








A FEW weeks ago, at the insistence of the Securities and Exchange Commission, New Jersey agreed never again to fraudulently hide its underfunding of the state's public pension system. Meanwhile, in Albany, Harry Wilson, the Republican candidate for state comptroller, has asserted that — if you do the math the way any ordinary financial analyst or economist would — New York's pension system is underfunded by tens of billions of dollars and that, as a result, the state is essentially insolvent.


These little tempests are likely to soon recur in many other states and cities nationwide, because so many governments have invested far too little money in their public pension funds. Retirement promises made to public employees represent a huge hidden liability for future taxpayers — helping ensure recurrent deficit crises for state and local governments.


The S.E.C. is now making inquiries about the underfunding of other public pensions, and its assertiveness is welcome. But this effort cannot ultimately fix the problem, because all the S.E.C. can do is force states to follow the budgeting rules that are set by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board. These rules offer, at best, only the illusion of transparency, because they allow governments to base their budgets on economic fictions.


Consider, for the sake of comparison, how private corporations, in measuring the value of the assets in their pension systems, are required to use real portfolio market prices. Government accounting standards, in contrast, allow public pension systems to measure their assets based on average values looking back over a period of years. In most instances those average values add up to a figure that is much higher than the amount of money the pension plan actually has.


Public pension funds are also allowed to make assumptions about future investment returns that many of us would regard as overly optimistic. And since those assumed returns are incorporated into measurements of the fund's status, as if they had already been realized, states that come up with the most rosy market forecasts look, on paper, to be better financed.


This government accounting mirage adds up to an enormous national problem. If you use the most recent data from government accounting standards, the collective shortfall for state and local governments nationwide appears to be about $1 trillion. If you use corporate accounting standards to estimate the value of those public pensions, however, you come up with a shortfall two and a half times as large — about $2.5 trillion. Employing a third approach that assumes, as economists generally do, that even corporate accounting standards in this area are too lenient, public pension underfunding is about $3.5 trillion, or one-quarter of gross domestic product.


To make matters worse for state budgets, hidden underfunding of public employees' health retirement costs is even greater than that of their pensions.


Ideally, managers of public pension funds would not only work with realistic budgets but also recognize that they have intergenerational obligations — to optimize returns over decades so that the fund can responsibly pay retiree pensions long into the future. There's a rising understanding among thoughtful pension fund leaders, for example, that sustainable investment performance must permit consideration of the environmental, human rights and other public-interest effects of investments. In practice, however, pension fund managers tend to focus on narrow economic criteria and short-term performance.


Ultimately, to respond to their fiscal imbalances, many state and local policymakers will need to make painful cuts in financing for state universities, hospitals, local schools and municipalities. Increasingly, they will make controversial decisions to privatize roads, parking meters and other public services.


When a government allows its fiscal problems to become too great — as New York City's did in the 1970s — it reaches a point where it can no longer borrow money. Municipal bondholders may comfort themselves that the federal government would never allow a state to default. But the federal government should not be expected to provide special aid to states that do not address structural budget deficits. New York's crisis allowed it to conduct some unprecedented budget-cutting — but the price of austerity is greatest if you wait for crisis to strike.


Accounting is inevitably an artificial language that can distort some economic truths. But at the least, government accounting should aim for greater transparency and consistency, allowing outsiders to compare one jurisdiction against another. At the same time, the social contracts that exist today in many places among taxpayers, beneficiaries of public services and public employees need to be renegotiated before a crisis arrives.


Orin S. Kramer, the manager of a hedge fund, is the chairman of the New Jersey Investment Council, which oversees the state's public pension system.








 Pakistanis can't help feeling a little sad this Eid. Pakistan's saddest Eids before the one we're marking today were the ones that followed the earthquake of October 2005 and the Bhola Cyclone of November 1970 in what was then East Pakistan. Again, this year, Eidul Fitr is a very grim affair indeed for far too many of us. There are millions of families which have no homes in which to mark the event. Some are based in refugee camps, others live under the open sky along roadsides. There is still no certainty that more people will not be displaced in the coming days. And, as disease strikes, it is impossible to say what the final death toll of this disaster is going to be. Political parties have decided that their members will spend Eid with the flood victims. TV hosts will be doing the same. But this will bring little solace to those who have lost everything and are left to wonder how they will ever rebuild their devastated lives.

However, the calamity is not the only reason why this Eid is a sad day. We find ourselves facing so many crises that it is hard to shake our minds clear of them, even as Eid meals to mark the end of fasting are consumed and people embrace each other. In many prayers, a hope will be expressed for some return to stability and normalcy in the country. Sadly, there appears to be no sign of this happening soon. The struggles and the tension between the executive and the judiciary continue and may grow more acrimonious. Meanwhile, there is no brake on inflation and everywhere people are more desperate than ever before as they seek jobs. For far too many of them, simply getting a decent meal to eat is getting harder by the day. But, for all these sorrows, Eid always brings its joys as well. The pleasures of the event add some specks of colour to an otherwise grim scene. The willingness with which people have cut down on extravagant expenses in order to give to flood victims and to others in need is also encouraging. It is this spirit which marks our nation, and allows us to forget our misfortunes, at least for a time. We can only hope that by the time Eidul Fitr comes around a year from now, they will have been significantly diminished and the Eid moon will burn a little brighter in the evening sky. 






Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's statement that the NAB's prosecutor general will have to abide by the orders of the Supreme Court and quit his post will carry meaning only when his words are seen to carry weight. It remains to be seen if this is so. But undoubted is the fact that the tussle between institutions has only added to the sense of instability that refuses to let the ground stop quivering under our feet. Until instability is removed, no forward movement is possible in the real sense. When the prime minister says that there is no danger of a disruption to the system, he must also understand that it is this constant turmoil that produces so much uncertainty and leads to people's growing dissatisfaction with the present system. It also leads to the speculation of change that may have led Mr Gilani to make this statement.

This dissatisfaction is something Mr Gilani and his team need to address. It is all very well saying that there will be no change in the order of things, no shift to a different form of government and no emulation of the Turkish model of rule, but in many ways these words strike horror in people's hearts. Amid the inflation that continues to soar and the growing chaos in our cities, and amid unchecked terrorism and surging unemployment, many people yearn for change. The ravages inflicted by the floods over so large an expanse of Pakistani territory have only added to this. It is sad that a democratic government has failed to deliver, and to this degree, which is why there is so much desperation. But the government must face up to the fact that such anxieties do exist. The assurance that there will be no martial law will do nothing to dispel them. Much more is needed. Right now, we see before us a system that has fallen flat on its face. It needs to be pulled to its feet; hauled up by the bootstraps. There are only limited indications that the government itself can do this. Perhaps we as citizens need to play a bigger role by making it clear that we need change; a change for more order, a change that brings a reduction in corruption, and a change that can bring about an improvement in the lives of the Pakistani people. Only then can there be any lasting stability.





 The bomb blast in Quetta on Thursday, at the guest house of provincial finance minister Mir Asim Kurd, is a grim reminder that the violence that has held Balochistan in its grip for months is sharply worsening. The explosion indicates that the handing over of police powers to the FC, as was done recently, will serve little purpose. Since the problem of Balochistan is not something related to security alone, merely more stringent policing will not solve it. It goes far beyond this and is rooted in issues that are both political and economic in nature. Until these are addressed–through dialogue involving all major players in Balochistan–there will be no peace. The handing over of the province to the FC will only add to the anger that runs through the province — as has indeed happened in the past — contributing to the problems we see there now.

Mr Kurd himself escaped unhurt, but three people died in the powerful explosion. The loss of life we see at the hands of terrorists everywhere in the country has to stop. The question is how this is to be achieved. There have so far been no meaningful answers, no real solutions. All we have had is words which on their own mean very little. Senior politicians from Balochistan must be engaged in an effort to restore order, with the ordinary people of the province participating in the effort. This is what we would expect from a democratic government. Unless it is able to deliver, we will see only growing chaos and a worsening of violence in the area. The problem will only grow in magnitude if steps are not taken to restore peace in the capital of Balochistan, and in the other cities and towns of the restive province where people live constantly in peril.







 Bad news from Pakistan has become the norm rather than an exception. Just a fortnight ago, a meeting attended by the prime minister, the chief ministers and the service chiefs was informed by the finance minister himself that the country was going bankrupt. 

Dr Hafeez Sheikh warned his stunned audience that the national debt had increased to a perilous level. "The country is on the edge of insolvency to the extent that the government will not have the money to pay off salaries in two months," he said.

Soon after, the finance minister left for Washington with a 17-member delegation for talks with the IMF for the release of the remaining two tranches amounting to $2.6 billion under the Stand-by Arrangement (SBA). According to media reports, IMF officials chided the economic czar and members of his team for inconsistency in official assessments of the impact of the floods on the economic landscape of the country.

The IMF has put the SBA loan on hold till the November-December review talks. Meanwhile, a blame-game has started among the members of the delegation regarding the failure of the visit. 

An insider, who was also quoted in a section of the media, said that even before the delegation arrived in Washington, the principal economic adviser to the finance ministry, Saqib Sherani, had intimated the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank through an email that Pakistan was going to experience its worst-ever economic scenario, with zero GDP growth and 25 per cent inflation on a short-term basis.

The same report claims that the finance minister and his team turned up at the IMF head-office asserting there would be a 2.5 per cent GDP growth, 13 per cent inflation and 4.5 per cent deficit, after the impact of the floods on the economy had been taken into consideration. 

The prime minister further damaged the credibility of the delegation by stating that the budget deficit would be 6-7 per cent. It is no surprise that the IMF chided the delegation for the conflicting claims about the flood damage.

The delegation stayed in the US for more than ten days, comfortably ensconced in one of the most expensive hotels of the US capital. All it could achieve was for Pakistan to be allowed to avail the $450-million facility reserved for national emergencies. An official quoted in the media has correctly pointed out that Pakistan could have secured the emergency support through a simple letter instead of the expensive junket to Washington.
It is obvious that, notwithstanding the unprecedented damage caused by the floods, the malaise afflicting the country's economy runs much deeper. As the finance minister informed his august audience last month, the economic situation was precarious even before the sudden onset of the floods. None of the targets agreed with the IMF had been achieved, he informed them.

Even the provinces are making conflicting, and inflated, claims about the damage inflicted by the floods. The political will and consensus among the provinces regarding the imposition of the value-added tax (VAT) by next month, as per the agreement with the IMF, is also lacking. Neither is a plan in the offing for the reduction of the ever-increasing circular debt.

It seems that the IMF is no longer willing to offer a free lunch to Pakistan despite the blandishments of our economic managers. To be fair, the dire economic straits that we are in are not entirely the making of the present government. However, the manner in which the economy is being handled has compounded its problems, with the floods proving to be the last straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. 
The meltdown of the economy will have far-reaching implications for the country, with democracy likely being the first casualty. In spite of this, the federal government and the provinces are simply not willing to improve governance, tighten their belt or to lead by example. They seem to be oblivious to the impending crisis.
At the federal level, a pervasive sense of inertia persists. In a parliamentary system a mid-term reshuffle is the norm, sometimes even for cosmetic political reasons. The coalition government has completed half of its five-year term by fits and starts. But none of the key members of the team have been changed or been shown the door for incompetence or corruption. The only exception is the finance ministry which has seen four ministers come and go.

As a result, a new style of governance (or lack of it) has emerged. On the one hand, our India policy, Kashmir, counter-terrorism and, lately, flood-relief have been partly or fully outsourced to the military. On the other, our economic policy has become the domain of former IMF/World bank mandarins, who have been unable to develop roots in the political milieu. Dr Hafeez Sheikh and his advisors are perceived by their political masters as outsiders, their counsels falling on deaf ears.

Dr Sheikh's predecessor, Shaukat Tarin, left in disgust when he sensed that politicians are not willing to change their profligate mindset. He successfully pursued a macro-economic stabilisation programme with the assistance of the IMF and was able to bring a modicum of stability in the economy, with a decrease in inflation and a lowering of interest rates. 

Pakistan's economic malaise, however, runs much deeper than the real or perceived incompetence of our rulers and economic mangers. For long we as a nation have lived much beyond our means. The way our economy is structured, the figures simply do not add up. According to former State Bank Governor Dr Ishrat Hussain, who now heads the IBA in Karachi, Pakistan's government secures only 15 per cent of the national income, leaving 85 percent in the hands of the private sector. 

This amount is to be spent on defence, debt-servicing, internal security, development on education health and general administration. Out of every rupee of income received by a Pakistani on average, the tax paid is only 9 paisas. A meagre tax-to-GDP ratio of 9 per cent and our dismal rate of savings are too low for sustained economic growth. 

With the ever-rising budget deficits, inflation is bound to increase. According to Dr Ishrat Hussain, double-digit inflation rates in Pakistan have historically been rare. Hence, the tolerance threshold for inflation beyond 7 and 8 per cent is low. Inflation, expected to rise to 25 per cent as a result of floods, will have far-reaching socio-economic consequences. 

With the economy teetering and the social safety net virtually non-existent, coupled with rampant terrorism, poor law and order and the aftermath of devastating floods are a recipe for disaster. Our expenditure on health education and clean water as a per cent of the GDP is dismally low even by Third World standards. With such poor social indicators, sustained economic growth is impossible.

Ironically, Pakistan is a nuclear power and its armed forces rank seventh in the world. Its defence budget is about $5 billion, or 3.5 per cent of the GDP. On the other hand, the country is virtually bankrupt. It is becoming increasingly impossible to match India's defence capability, which incidentally is now one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

However, our present security paradigm does not permit us to reduce our defence outlays or the size of our armed forces. A legitimate concern for some is that perhaps the Indians are bleeding us in the same manner as the US bled the former Soviet Union, trying to achieve the same end-result. Nevertheless, economic mismanagement has long-term security implications. The second Benazir Bhutto government was sacked on this basis, with the concurrence of the Army. 

The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email:







 The developed countries invest heavily in the education and training of their youth. In our country the leaders never tire of talking about our young generation as our biggest asset, but that is talk only. They make false statements and give false hopes to the youths and to their parents. We indeed have a valuable asset in the high percentage of young people, but instead of being a blessing, it has become a curse, thanks to the incompetence of the high-ups. Due to lack of sufficient educational facilities and the high rate of unemployment, many of our young people go astray and end up in criminal and/or terrorist activities. 

The majority of our population is poor. Members of the labour class cannot afford to send their children to school, so the children end up doing menial labour. Often this leads to drug addiction, thievery and other crimes. Of the poor who do manage to give their children higher education, their children, more often than not, become competent professionals. Many children with poor backgrounds go to religious schools because that is all their parents can afford. Instead of being taught religion and life skills, they are mostly turned into fundamentalists and fanatics. Some are known to have become suicide bombers. 

Children from the middle class usually excel in education but fall victim to the discrimination and corrupt practices rampant in the country. Children from the rich class manage to receive education at foreign universities and become politicians or our future rulers. They have not come into contact with the life and sufferings of the ordinary people and are often arrogant and not very competent. 

Our leaders, both religious and secular, educationists and poets, all talk of the advantages of education, but unfortunately don't practice what they preach. After the liberation struggle of 1857, intelligent and conscious people like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan tried to improve the lot of the Muslims and established the Aligarh Muslim University, which laid the foundation for Pakistan. Maulana Hali tried his best to awaken the conscience of the Muslims. Even though Hali was a strong supporter of education, he did not feel that it was just to be used as a means of employment. Hali's sensitive nature also caused him to notice the pitiful condition of the nation's youth and their becoming vagabonds, and he was afraid of Allah's curse on the nation. 

Our rulers know quite well that our future depends on the education and training of our youth, but their involvement is no more than lip service. Our youth are provided with neither proper educational facilities nor proper professional guidance. The net result is a whole young generation devoid of direction and falling prey to undesirable activities. One must admit that, under the circumstances thus created, the high percentage of young people becomes a curse rather than a blessing for the nation.

In Delhi, Hazrat Ji, the founder of the Tableeghi Jamaat, started preaching to the Mewatis, a poor working class. They made the excuse that since they were poor and had to work hard for a living, they had no time to listen to preaching. Hazrat Ji then started paying them for the time they spent attending sermons. Within a short span of time, a large number of people came to listen to his lectures, became good Muslims and stopped accepting money for attendance. The Tableeeghi Jamaat was not interested in politics, blackmail and collecting hides and skins by force. Its only interest lay in guiding the uneducated and ignorant and turning them into good citizens. Its approach was very cordial and polite. Every year the Tableeghi Jamaat gathered together and volunteered to go out and perform this noble deed. No organisation or outside source funded it. 

Bhopal was a small Muslim state in central India. It was an exemplary welfare state. Education was free. Books were provided and children of the not-so-well-off were given monthly stipends. Boys and girls had equal opportunities for education. Due to good governance and policies, neither parents nor children had worries about their future. If India were still undivided, Bhopal would most likely have remained a "heaven on earth" for its inhabitants. 

The above illustrates clearly that it is a good, responsible government's duty to take care of the needs of the people. It should ensure law and order, education, medical care, employment, availability of edibles, prevention of corruption and provision of quick affordable justice. We have examples in Japan, China and Malaysia where all policies are aimed at good governance and the welfare of the people. 

Now, look at our rulers, their policies and their characteristics. It makes one want to hang one's head in shame. Corruption, nepotism, unemployment, load shedding and hoarding exist because of the incompetence and often dubious characters of our leaders. The latest in the long list is that of the fake degrees, making us yet again the laughingstock of the whole world. Not so long ago we saw how teachers and parents openly helped students in solving papers in examination centres. That was bad enough, but the current degrees scandal is abhorrent and disgusting. Who could have ever imagined that our leaders could stoop so low? Even worse is the fact that these fraudsters are being openly supported by party leaders. Not for nothing has Allah made known: "When We decide to destroy a nation, We command the affluent (intoxicated with power and wealth) among them, whereupon they commit sins in it, then the decree of chastisement becomes due against them and thereafter we destroy it utterly." (17:16.) For the wrongdoers (liars, hypocrites, fraudsters), Allah has the following warning: "Do not think (or be under the illusion) that Allah is heedless of the evil deeds in which evildoers are engaged. He is merely granting them respite until a Day when their eyes shall continue to stare in horror." (14:42.)
This has now almost become reality. The future of our country and nation is indeed bleak and our youth has no hope or future. It seems like the respite given by Allah has come to an end and the wrongdoers (and with them the unfortunate innocents as well) are shortly to meet their destiny.






 The chaos and mess this nation stands waist-deep in, is the consequence of a failure of governance and administration due to corruption and incompetence, but is also the inevitable outcome of a failed system. Over the last few decades, this system has failed to protect itself against usurpation despite cast-iron provisions in Article 6 of the constitution. It has allowed unfit, unqualified, incompetent and corrupt leaders to come to power. It has failed to uphold the supremacy and independence of state institutions which have become subservient to the whims of the rulers of the day. It has failed to cater to the needs of the people, having been hijacked by self-serving charlatans who use it as an instrument of self-gratification at the expense of the people and national interests. It has failed to remain faithful to the basic tenets of the Pakistan resolution, which provides for maximum provincial autonomy and vests limited powers in the centre. It has failed to produce genuine representative democracy, even during the tenures of supposed democratic dispensations. 

Hallucinations of triple-digit growth notwithstanding, it has not only failed to bring economic development at a rate comparable to countries that gained independence at the same time as us, or even after us, and have become regional economical superpowers, but has sent Pakistan into an economic tail-spin. How can Pakistan progress when it has to operate on loans and handouts with multiplying debt, while Swiss bank accounts of those who rule it continue to grow? Above all, this system led to the break-up of Pakistan in 1971.

It does not suffice to lay all the blame on the leaders while absolving the system. Yes, most of the leaders this system has thrown up have made a horrible mess, but a strong and effective system is judged by its ability to handle such anomalies and correct itself. Democratic governments and modern political systems exist and operate not by divine right but under the sanction of the people. But if a system is designed to cater to the rulers and turns the country into their personal fiefdom, then deep-rooted change becomes an urgent necessity. 
Some still cling on to the belief that change can be brought under the present set-up without a revolution. They are missing the point entirely; just as cancer cells cannot be expected to cure a malignant tumor, the bad blood that now courses through the body politic is itself the problem rather than the cure and the process of change cannot commence until it is jettisoned. Failed and tainted politicians must be banned from holding public office at any level. New, fresh, clean blood must be infused to resuscitate some semblance of honesty, higher calibre and promotion of national interests. We need to evolve a whole new system, not give the present one a facelift. Facelifts lead only to superficial change of faces which we have been through repeatedly since the Zia days without deriving any positive results.

What we need is a new social contract. The Pakistan resolution and the 1973 constitution, whichever of the two may be regarded as the social contract that binds us, both lie in tatters. The prior was never honoured as promises of provincial autonomy were disregarded and a highly centralised system was imposed, and the latter has been mutilated beyond recognition. The 18th Amendment, which purported to restore it to its original splendour, is also doing its part to further scar it. A failure of the system is not the same as a failure of democracy. On the contrary, real democracy has never been given a chance in Pakistan. There are numerous forms of democracy tailored to suit the conditions and realities of various cultures. We need to find a new democratic formula better suited to our ground realities.

The important question is how will change come and in which direction will it take us? Poorly disguised invitations have been issued to the khakis to once again roll their tanks onto Constitution Avenue. Is there a Mustafa Kemal Attaturk in the GHQ? If there is, we must all welcome him. If not, we should think again, as I am sure will the generals. Despite their best intentions, the sum-total of khaki rule is a disembowelment of the socio-political structures, laws and institutions that are fundamental to the flourishing of a progressive nation. There is no point-of-contact between the generals and the people, because of which they become dependant on the very elements that need to be rooted out, thereby compounding the problem. Besides, why should the khakis be in a hurry? Why should they rush to throw themselves on someone else's funeral pyre?

Time and again, the worn out, threadbare bogey of feudalism is resurrected by people who have no clue what the word means. Feudalism in its original form as promoted by the British Raj exists no more, though a feudal mindset perhaps still prevails. Such a mindset, however, is hardly the exclusive domain of waderas, choudhries or khans. The new class of urban feudals wields far more power, wealth and influence than their rural counterparts can ever dream of. So if 'feudals' are an impediment to the progress of society, lynch them all, the urban ones alongside the rural ones. Heads of neo-Nazi fascist organizations, who live and act like kings without any visible source of income and operate under a thin veneer of a political identity that is based on terror, cannot escape lynching either. 

You will also have to lynch all manner of leaders who have looted the country, destroyed state institutions and have rubbed Pakistan's honour in the dirt on a global scale, not all of them being associated with the 'feudal' class. Let us also lynch those from various professions and strata of society who have perverted the constitution and lent legitimacy to military and civilian dictatorships by being part of their cabinets and sham parliaments. And what about greedy industrialists who amass disproportionate wealth by exploiting labour? Dig deeper and the lynching-list grows longer and threatens to turn the whole country into a graveyard.

Who will compile the lynching-list? Who has not just the competence and knowledge, but also the moral and political authority to do so? Certainly not any sullied politicians who live in glass houses or some self-styled saviour, whether he is suited or booted. The courts can issue verdicts but lack the physical means to have them implemented. The only time the Supreme Court appealed to the army to come to its aid under Article 190 of the constitution, it declined to do so, referring the matter to the interior ministry instead.

Only the people have the political and moral legitimacy to exercise such drastic, undisputed powers and only the change brought about by them can be effective, durable and take us in the desired direction. The people are the sovereign. Nobody knows realities better than them. Let them decide who is the holy cow. They have been betrayed by the government in the flood crisis and are enraged. Now is the time for them to leave behind their days of crawling on knees and groveling and assert their authority. 

Some have lost faith in the people to bring about change. But if we lose faith in the people, then what is left? Then the future is grim indeed. If, however, the sceptics are right and the people continue to crawl as before, then tanks will indeed very soon roll down Constitution Avenue as there will be no other option left to prevent a total collapse of the state. The direction we might then take is anybody's guess.

The writer is vice-chairman of the Sindh National Front and former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.







 As I climbed onto the tarmac at the Benazir Bhutto airport in Islamabad, the rain drenched my copy of the Daily Telegraph in my hand, rendering it almost unreadable by the time I got into the terminal. But it didn't really matter; the newspapers were really repeating the same thing in different ways. The flooding, massive economic degradation, scandal, corruption, and terrorism have all become enmeshed into the single term that embodies Pakistan in the newspapers today; we are to believe that the end is nigh, or at least shortly on the horizon. 

As a Canadian student with significant family ties back in Pakistan, I didn't want this to be true. There was something child-like about the way I decided to fly in from halfway across the world to try to help out in the flood-relief efforts. As I walked into the headquarters of the NGO I was volunteering with, Relief International, and saw the massive damage wreaked by the floods, I suddenly realized my naiveté. I felt a general malaise as I sat in the office trying to spread out the crumbling pages of my newspaper, realising that as a nation, Pakistan has lost hope. This thought was at the back of my mind as some relief-workers and I bundled into a car to head out to the Swat valley. 

Having never visited Swat, I thought I had a fairly good idea of what to expect based on the reports that swept international headlines in 2009 about the Swat war. I went there expecting to find xenophobic bearded Talibs, now reduced to squatting in the dirt without home and shelter. Wearing my dark sunglasses and assuming the worst, I huddled into the back of the Toyota Corolla that bumped down the road into Swat. 

We stopped at one of Relief International's food-distribution points in Margola. I helped the recipients carry the 40 kilogram sacks of flour and load them into wheelbarrows, donkey carts, and run-down rickshaws. Afterwards, as I sat down in the grass, exhausted, I noticed a young child. He immediately stood out in his black and grimy shalwar-kameez, a grin permanently plastered onto his face.

His name was Gul. Gul had been working with us; as the men carried heavy supplies, Gul helped by sorting, carrying, and opening the boxes of cooking-oil to be handed out. Gul and I didn't talk very much. I was far too much in awe of him. It is not every day that you see a nine-year old volunteering his time and effort, while fasting, to lift heavy canisters of vegetable-oil. In the hot sun, while I reaffirmed my commitment to join a gym, Gul sorted out the USAID boxes into a corner and talked to an aid recipient about where that recipient could get a food-token. 

It is not that I am particularly unused to activism on the part of teenagers and children. In my high school, volunteering was a cool gimmick that could help you earn scholarships, accolades, and a general sense of feel-good satisfaction. But Gul was different. The boy worked tirelessly at the distribution camp for no other reason, it appeared, than to serve the flood disaster victims.

I wanted to interview Gul in more detail that day, but as it turned out, Gul himself was a flood-victim. His family had lost their home in the flood, and Gul now lived in a makeshift tent made of UNHCR canvas and scrap material. As I stood outside his tent, I realized that Gul will probably never become well-known like Craig Kielburger or Ryan Hreljac who achieved celebrity status from their work as "child activists." But Gul was different in that unlike Kielburger, who had the luxury of sleeping on a full stomach and getting driven to television interviews, Gul was trying to save the world while lacking a pair of decent shoes. 

Nor was Gul alone in his mission. As I drove through Swat, I saw countless little girls tending to their young siblings completely by themselves, and little boys helping to pick up fallen fruit to take to the camps. When our truck-wheel malfunctioned in the middle of Margola, a thirteen-year old kid ran out of a shop with his tools to help fix the wheel. When we tried to pay him, he just laughed merrily and waved us on. 

On my last day in Swat, as we drove away from the town of Madyan, I suddenly saw Gul. He had his back to our car, but I was sure it was him from the way he was carrying a bottle of oil over his shoulder for the elderly man next to him. As we drove, Gul suddenly turned toward our truck and stared at me straight in the eye, a little grin crinkling his cheeks. When I looked back into his eyes, I suddenly saw the future. I saw the future of a nation with people like Gul in it.

And it definitely was not what the papers were saying. 

The writer is a political-science student based in Canada. Email: mustafafarooq786







The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

Not many in Pakistan had contemplated that 9/11 was going to change their world in such grim fashion. Certainly not Naufal Zamir Shiekh, the 32-year old Pakistani, working as the business development manager in the Kampala office of a Pakistan-based IT firm. On July 11, during the football world cup finals, ghastly bomb attacks ripped two restaurants in Kampala and claimed 76 lives. Somalia's Al-Shabab group immediately assumed responsibility. On July 12, at 5.08 pm, an email landed in Naufal's work inbox from the gmail account of one Abdi Karim Abdullahi Yusuf stating that "the leadership of Al-Shabab Muslim organisation in Uganda and back at the home base in Somalia would like to thank you for your willingness, commitment and strong heart for fighting towards the Muslim brotherhood." 

The email from Yusuf (claiming to be Al-Shabab's spokesman) further expressed gratitude for "efforts" in relation to two attacks in Kampala. At 5.42 pm, the same day, Naufal forwarded the email to his company lawyer asking him to review the email and suggest appropriate action as he didn't know who wrote and sent it. On July 13, Naufal, the company administration officer and their lawyer met with local police and shared the email. The police thanked them for the information and told them that they'd be in touch if they needed any further information or assistance. On July 16, two journalists came to visit Naufal at the office after receiving an email from the same gmail account of Yusuf. They had been asked to interview Naufal who had been introduced in the email as the "country coordinator for the Al-Shabab mission in Uganda."

The journalists came to meet with Naufal and gave him a copy of the email they had received from Yusuf. He immediately shared the incident with the company lawyer, forwarded him the email received by the journalists and requested him to notify the police department. On July 17 the Ugandan police arrested Naufal, a Ugandan national and five other Pakistanis from the IT firm. After two weeks of detention, four Pakistanis were released on police bond with instructions not to leave Kampala. The fifth Pakistani has neither been charged nor released and remains in police custody in Kampala. And Naufal Sheikh and the Ugandan national have been charged with a whole range of offenses, including terrorism and murder, and have been shifted to prison pending trial. 
What is the incriminating evidence against Naufal Sheikh and other Pakistanis arrested on the suspicion of being vile terrorists? One unsolicited email? The decks are stacked against these youths not because of damning evidence, but because they possess green passports. Since when have terror organisations set up sentiment-express services sending out congratulatory emails to their operatives, aiders and abettors to establish trails for the benefit of law-enforcement agencies? Imagine Al Qaeda or TTP sending out details of secret hideouts of their "country coordinators" to journalists for interviews and photo-ops! Can the basis for the charges of murder and terrorism get any more ludicrous? 

Had Naufal Sheikh been involved in executing a terror attack in Kampala along with his Pakistani colleagues, why would he share with his company, his lawyer and the police the purported email from his patrons? In an investigation as serious as this, why has no one bothered to get access to information stored in Abdi Karim Abdullahi Yusuf's email account through Gmail? And even after seven weeks since the arrests, why have the Ugandan police still not traced the IP address from which the fateful email was generated? Where are the damning telephone records and bank account details of these Pakistanis who were allegedly acting as Al-Shabab's hitmen? 

If the Kampala attacks were the handy work of an Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab ring involving Pakistanis, why has Pakistan and its law-enforcement agencies not been asked to assist with the investigation and carry out background checks on the accused? Naufal Sheikh's father, Sheikh Zamir Hussain, is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court who is known for his integrity, professionalism and mild nature. After finishing high school at Beacon House, Naufal graduated as an electronics engineer from the GIK Institute. He got a master's degree in IT Management from Syracuse University in 2007. He returned to Pakistan and got married in 2008, before moving to Kampala. The couple is presently expecting their first baby. Does this sound like the profile of a rabid terrorist?

Naufal Sheikh's only sin is that he is Pakistani. In the post-9/11 world, profiling on the basis of race and national origin has taken an ugly form. Anyone traveling internationally would bear testament. The green passport automatically attracts sniffer-dog-style security checks. Muslims getting pulled out of flights because their attire or beards makes fellow travelers nervous is not uncommon, especially in the US. A team of Pakistani military officials heading for a meeting at US Centcom was recently forced to disembark at Dulles airport after one of the officers wondered whether it would be their last flight. Had it been nationals of a non-suspect country, the flight crew might have readily understood that after a long journey from Pakistan the officer was hoping it would be his last connecting flight to Tampa.

Unfortunately the green passport doesn't just cause embarrassment, inconvenience or ego-bruises. If Naufal Sheikh's situation or the pitiable story of Pakistani students arrested on charges of terrorism in UK last year have a common theme, it is that as a Pakistani you are in serious peril if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The logic of 'innocent until proven guilty' has simply been reversed when it involves green passport holders. The abridgment of fundamental rights of Pakistanis to liberty, dignity, freedom to travel and not to be discriminated against is abominable. But then profiling is also a reality of the world, especially within the domain of law enforcement. We practice it everyday at each checkpoint within Pakistan as well. 
Thus, so long as most terror plots around the globe continue to find some kind of a linkage to Pakistan, each one of us will have to bear the liability that come along with the green passport. But while each Pakistani pays a disproportionate price for the past follies of the Pakistani state, can the government wash its hands of the responsibility to protect and defend the fundamental rights of its citizens held hostage in foreign lands? Why has public outrage become an imperative to prod the Pakistani government and state agencies into discharging their obligations? Why must Naufal Sheikh's family run from pillar to post and beg for personal favors to rescue this young man being punished merely for an incidence-of-birth defect? 

Why begrudge other states and their high-handed treatment of green passports when Pakistan and its agencies exhibit zero regard for the protection and welfare of its own citizens? Why has our foreign office and the high commission in Kenya not formally sought counselor access to Naufal Sheikh and other apprehended Pakistanis or made arrangements to provide them with independent legal help or offer support and information to their families? What will it take for the interior ministry and our intelligence agencies to coordinate with the Interpol, the FBI and the Ugandan Intelligence to investigate the role of the arrested Pakistanis and seek their release if they are innocent? Can anyone please help these wretched souls rotting in Kampala? Mr Prime Minister? Mr Foreign Minister? Mr Interior Minister? Anyone? 









PRIME Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has expressed the pious hope that there is no possibility of martial Law or mid-term elections in the country and said that the people who were wishing for this development were only wasting their time. Another popular leader, Mian Nawaz Sharif too has said that only enemies of the country could talk of a military take-over.

We agree with the Prime Minister as well as with the Leader of the Opposition that era of martial law is over in Pakistan and Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani must have noticed the people of Pakistan too have almost unanimously rejected the indirect call for this. However the fact that there is no immediate possibility of any danger to the Government should not be a matter of satisfaction. What is more worrisome for the Government than the possibility of martial law must be the disenchantment of the people with the performance of the Government. Such a phenomenon is very explosive in any State. People of Pakistan because of understandable reasons are getting disarrayed and this state of mind is troubling for any incumbent government. There are many issues and problems that people and the country face today and new developments like the devastations by floods or law and order situation are overtaking them. The priorities continue shifting and thus the affected people lose their confidence in the sitting Government. No doubt the Government has some achievements at its credit but they are not duly projected and go unnoticed by the vast majority of the people. In other cases, the programmes and policies are announced with a lot of fan fare but after the passage of some time for various reasons these are left in the middle and thus the country loses precious resources and no benefit reaches the masses. Prime Minister Gilani is well aware of the ills in the system, problems of the people, what needs to be done and how to move ahead. However there are many hurdles to cross and the main problem is lack of financial resources but the Chief Executive should realize that the Government has to deliver because there is no other option for it. Therefore in our view the Prime Minister should focus his attention on performance, good governance and on effort to take the people along by adopting a communication mechanism.








WITH the passage of every day situation is getting grave in Balochistan and some of its contours are source of serious concern for everybody. On Thursday a suicide bomber blue himself up inside the residence of Balochistan's Provincial Finance Minister Asim Ali Kurd killing five people and this was a major security breach by the militants.

After the announcement by the Interior Minister that the Provincial Government would launch an intelligence guided action against extremist groups involved in target killing of innocent people, the militants have intensified their attacks which could be seen as an open challenge to the Government. We think the tone and tenor of the Interior Minister has further aggravated the situation as the words he used injured the sensitivities of the people. There is no doubt that anti federation foreign funded elements have to be dealt with firmly and immediately because due to their anti-State activities many innocent lives are being lost, people mostly from Punjab are being forced to leave the Province and that is a blow to the peace and security. Everybody knows that our enemies are funding the terrorists who have taken refuge in Afghanistan. Mr Malik rightly said that the Government had registered its protest with the US and the Afghan Governments and the Indian authorities over the presence of training camps of miscreants in Afghanistan which were being used to destabilize the Province. But mere protests are not enough and we urge the Government to demand from the United States to eliminate the training camps of Baloch terrorists from Afghan soil as well if it is serious to eradicate terrorism from the region. In this scenario, the Government will have to take some strategic and crucial decisions and for this major components of Balochistan demography need to be activated. For instance, Pakhtoons are about 33% of the population and in the Pakhtoon belt there is no incident of killing. In fact some of the Pakhtoon leaders enjoy immense credibility and respect not only in their community but also in the whole of Balochistan and Pakistan. In every Province Pakhtoons are playing a positive role and it is a reality that they stand for peace and strong federation. We wonder why the Government does not inspire the Pakhtoons and other major groups in the Province to come forward, play their positive role for maintaining peace and harmony and pursue the dissidents to leave the path of confrontation and join the national mainstream.






UNPRECEDENTED floods unfortunately played havoc and affected vital sectors of Pakistan in addition to damages caused to houses and displacement of millions of people. What is more disturbing is that oil and gas establishments have either been damaged or are under threat including the Zamzama gas field whose production has come down significantly. 

The Zamzama gas field is capable of producing 500 million cubic feet of gas and some quantity of condensate per day. We think that for quite sometime oil and gas sector has been suffering several problems despite the fact that it has the potential to contribute a major role to boost Pakistan's economy. Oil imports consume the largest amount of foreign exchange and if proper and systematic effort is made for on and off shore exploration and better management of establishments, this sector can not only reduce the huge import bill but could also contribute to earnings for the national kitty. Oil and gas discoveries have been made in all the four provinces, though most of them are in small quantity, yet the possibility is always there to hit some major reservoirs anytime. We think a good step that has been taken by the Government is the appointment of Adnan A Khawaja as Managing Director of OGDCL, a premier oil and gas company of Pakistan. The new incumbent has varied and rich management experience in various capacities and would surely use it for the betterment of the OGDCL and the country. We would also suggest that experienced and efficient people should be appointed in other important oil and gas sector organisations so that entire attention is focused on exploration and development of oil and gas.








At this point in time when more than 20 million people have been displaced as a result of floods; more than 4000 have died and thousands are suffering from water-borne diseases; when Afghanistan and Iraq are under occupation of the US and its allies and people of Kashmir and Palestine are victims of state terrorism, how can they celebrate Eid? The people of Pakistan are living in trepidation and fear from terrorists and suicide bombers who have wreaked havoc in the country. Hundreds of people and members of the security forces have been killed by them. In Pakistan, economic crisis due to world recession, flash flooding and lack of good governance have made it difficult for the people to celebrate Eid, as it is difficult for a great majority of the people to keep their body and soul together. The ruling elite - jagirdars, industrialists, businessmen and their cronies have real happiness all the time, as they can buy any comfort and luxury, whereas for the middle and poor classes, Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha are two occasions when they wish to buy new dresses and shoes. 

Anyhow, Tauhid, Salat, Fasting, Zakat and Hajj are pillars of Islam that are obligatory for every Muslim. It should be borne in mind that each and every ibada has a purpose. Fasting, apart from tuning the body system, makes one realize about hunger of those who cannot afford two square meals a day. Salat or namaz means submission before Allah, and by joining congregation in the mosque, one gets to know the problems faced by the community. Zakat is also to some extent a social equalizer, as a part of wealth is transferred from opulent to the poor and can help improve the lives of downtrodden and impoverished sections of society. Eid is an important festival marking the end of Ramazan and Muslims throughout the world celebrate it with religious zeal and fervour. At this point in time when Afghanistan and Iraq are under occupation of the US and its allies and people of Kashmir and Palestine are suffering at the hands of occupiers, the hearts of the Muslims bleed. 

Despite facing insurmountable problems, every Muslim believes in oneness of God and tries to abide by Islamic injunctions. Allama Iqbal has dwelt on this subject in detail to show the true spirit of Islam. He wrote: "The essence of Islam is Tauheed, and the essence of Tauheed as a working idea is equality, solidarity and freedom. The state from Islamic standpoint is an endeavour to transform these ideal principles into space-time forces, an inspiration to realize them in a definite human organization". Freedom means liberation of mankind from forces of exploitation, oppression, suppression and manipulation. It also means freedom from gods other than God, from idols of traditions and customs, from political and bureaucratic strongholds, from the sorceries of clerics, obscurantist and religious shysters, from ignorance and poverty. Only when a man is freed from all these thoughts, can he think progressively and feel the existence of one God. 

So far as equality is concerned, it means equality in status, equality before law, equality in civil rights and equality of opportunities but not necessarily in material possessions. When socio-economic justice is ensured to the citizens, and flaws in the judicial system cleared, there shall prevail a sense of equality. Lastly, solidarity means bringing the people on a platform so as to think positively towards each other, and to share a common outlook towards their problems. By adhering to these precepts, complete harmony and peace shall prevail in the society. All the Muslim countries should focus their attention on education, especially Science, Engineering and Technology, and ensure that people have share in running the affairs of the state. Muslim countries should also increase interaction with each other, unite in their struggle to get rid of foreign domination with a view to finding a respectable place in the comity of nations. In Pakistan, members of the ruling elite must understand that in case they continue to abandon the common man; the common man will abandon them. 

There is no denying that we have a predominantly corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy, which is neither service oriented nor possesses any in-built accountability mechanism. Judicial system of the country is at the lowest ebb of its vitality. Corruption of all descriptions and dimensions and at all levels has spread like cancer in the society. Factionalism has decimated the national cohesion and the society is divided vertically, horizontally as well as diagonally on ethnic, sectarian and regional lines. Moreover, unemployment, inflation, economic disparities and social injustices have turned the country into a lawless jungle, and the people feel insecure even behind the closed doors of their abode because the terrorists are ruling roost in the country. Though elected governments are in place in the centre and the provinces, the situation remains dismal because the major political parties seem to be preoccupied in internecine conflict. They give overriding consideration to their personal interests over national interest and do not have time to address the major issues and problems facing the country.

The country has indeed moved from quasi-democracy to so-called democracy after more than eight years after February 2008 elections. Yet it is a plutocracy – the government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Oligarchs with their feet in silver spurs have always been masters of our destinies, and due to their flawed policies the contradictions exist in the society that hinder the process of welding the people into one nation. It is impossible to dislocate these elements with conventional techniques of politics, and awareness against this class needs to be created among the masses. The hearts of die-hard Pakistanis sink to find that due to the odious notions of some misguided elements in the garb of religion, nationalism and patriotism, which Nietzche called sickness and the strongest forces against culture, the nation finds itself divided on various planes into various segments and nationalities destroying the very roots of national cohesion and solidarity among its components. It is hoped that one day a genuine leader with its team would inspire the people to wage a struggle for the change of the obsolete system so that underdogs, the lesser souls, the wretched and hapless millions of the nation could attain life with its full meanings, and would celebrate Eid in the real sense and true spirit.








A civilised country guarantees security of life and honour of its citizens, preserves its flora fauna and conserves its birds and animals by proper laws, education and public awareness. In our criminalized society no one is safe any more. Human beings are routinely gunned down without remorse. Birds especially partridges, bustards and quails are shot and netted indiscriminately out of season. And forest mafias have destroyed forests so recklessly that thick jungles have been turned into deserts. When the law and order degrades both humans and animals suffer. While thousands of men, women and children have been gunned down by terrorists and sectarian killers who have yet to be dealt with properly, country's wildlife i.e. both birds and wild animals has been destroyed with a vengeance. VIPs hunt and kill precious and endangered leopards, black bears, Markhors, foxes, jackals, monkeys Chakors and Ramchakors and partridges with bloody relish. At the time of partition in August 1947 the deserts of Cholistan, the Thar and Thal had abundance of Neel cows, deer, bustards, partridges, while the Northern Areas were teeming with the wildlife. Even in the forests around Murree, Ayubia and Nathiagali wild fowls, Pheasants and leopards were occasionally sighted. Alas that is no more.

The colourful boards warning people not to kill leopards, monkeys, pheasants, Chakors and partridges on the roads of Abbottabad, Murree, Nathiagali and other tourist resorts are more for decoration and effect. No one cares that the endangered leopards, black bears and monkeys are being killed. The sight of hungry bears trapped from Ath Muqam and Lipa Valley in Azad Kashmir, and made to dance with "Nuqails" in their noses in the intense heat of Punjab does not evoke any sympathy or mercy. Thousands of baby monkeys trapped and shackled in steel chains for life, and made to mimic or ride on trucks only evokes derisive laughter. The Pakistani society and culture is to be blamed for the contempt in which animals are held. Educating the public to love animals and birds and protect the threatened and near extinct wildlife should be the priority of every citizen of Pakistan. The efforts of the wildlife departments to save animals from extinction is a challenge because of their limited resources and the negative attitude of the public towards conservation and protection efforts.

Leopards have been in the news recently, and it is time that the public is made aware of the importance of protecting one of the most beautiful animals of the wild. Due to reckless hunting there are only a few leopards left in Pakistan. Common Leopards have survived in very small numbers in the Doonga Gali forest of the Ayubia National Park. Starving and hungry they stray into villages, and towns in search of food during winter months. The sight of a leopard creates unexplained terror. Leopard is called the lion in the Galiat area. Because of the dread and the urge to kill, the common leopard has become a threatened species in Pakistan. A few years back a leopard had strayed into a house in Satellite Town Rawalpindi in search of food. The frightened inmates informed the local police. Policemen reached and shot the leopard dead. It was so heartless. The few leopards alive in the wild are a prized wealth of Pakistan, and resolute effort must be made to ensure that they survive.

Some time back someone presented two leopard cubs to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He reprimanded the gift giver and handed over the cubs to Islamabad zoo, because their mother could not be traced. Four years back in Nathiagali during the month of December, I was informed that eight leopards were regular visitors to the Governor's House there. It was a cold winter evening when I reached the Governor's House. I saw lots of pug marks and leopard droppings in the back lawn. Some droppings proved that the leopards had been praying on dogs and monkeys. Reportedly two mother leopards and their six cubs were living in the vicinity. Last year a leopard had entered my neighbours goat shed and had killed his goat. Dogs had mysteriously disappeared from Malach, Mochidara suburb of Nathiagali. Leopards are fond of dog meat. Leopards were sighted on Kooza Gali-Doongagali road and near PAF Base Kalabagh near Nathiagali. Long time back one base commander reportedly shot a leopard dead near PAF Base Kalabagh. There has never been a report during the last fifty years of a leopard attacking a human being. The leopard in its distinct black and white spotted skin is on the run from its most dangerous predator - the man.

Even the remote habitat of the snow leopards has been infiltrated into by blood thirsty humans. The report from Chitral that three snow leopards had killed a Markhor in the Toshi Game Reserve on the Garam Chasma Road proved that the animal has returned to Chitral. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department had claimed that seven snow leopards were seen together in the Chitral Gole National Park. The snow leopard lives on the Markhor. Abdul Nawaz Khan DFO Wildlife Cell Chitral told news reporters that "there could be forty snow leopards in Chitral now". But this appears to be an exaggerated figure. DFO's statement that foreign hunters could be given permits to kill the snow leopard must be challenged and objected to. According to World Wildlife Organization the snow leopard is a threatened animal, and the number of snow leopards alive could be counted on the fingers. There is no question of issue of permits to VIPs of foreign hunters to kill snow leopards in Chitral or elsewhere in Pakistan.

A reporter in Abbottabad has created commotion by his daily reports (March 14, 15 and 17) about the unfortunate young leopard who unaware of the plight awaiting him had strayed into thickly populated Malikpura locality of Abbottabad city on Sunday morning of March 14, 1999. This leopard after charging at two boys jumped into a house and entered into the bathroom. Abdul Aziz the owner quickly locked the door, and telephoned the police. The local police accompanied by a Magistrate, Conservator of Forests and officials of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department soon arrived at the house. But the officials had come without a cage or a tranquillizer gun. Later Secretary Forests was contacted in Peshawar for help. Few hours later a special team of Wildlife officers reached Abbottabad with a tranquillizer gun and other equipment to stun and cage the leopard. In the evening the leopard was stunned by a tranquillizer shot, and the officials took the wild cat into their custody. This leopard was an eighteen months old male. It had descended into Malikpurs from the nearby Shimla Hill. They had planned to free this leopard in the Ayubia National Park at Galliyat near Nathiagali.

Next day i.e. on Monday March 15, 1999 the leopard escaped from the custody of the Wildlife Department officials and disappeared. The local people blame the officials for inefficiency. They alleged that the tranquillizer was adulterated. It could have killed the leopard. The police fired at the escaping animal and injured it. But it managed to get away. Authorities are requested to look into the matter. Forest departments handout said that the leopard had escaped into the nearby ravines when the large number of people gathered around the animal started shouting. Dr Mumtaz Malik Conservator Wildlife Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, who has earned a good name as an animal lover, told reporters that the leopard was given two heavy dozes of tranquillizer through the injector gun and was successfully caged. He blamed the disorderly and noisy crowd that caused the leopard to panic, and escape. He said that, "The police fired upon the leopard to save the people." But the general impression is that the police fired in panic and acted indecisively. It is unfortunate that police firing wounded the leopard. In the operation minor injuries were caused to a divisional forest officer (DFO) and to two children. 

The Pakistani leopards have as much right to life as other inhabitants of Pakistan. To educate the readers, reproduced below is an extract from Encyclopedia Britanica: "The leopard formerly PARD (Leo pardus) also called Panther is a big cat closely related to the lion, tiger and other members of the cat family (Falidae). The name leopard was given to the cat now called Cheeta, which was believed to be a cross between lion and the pard. The term pard was eventually replaced by the name leopard. The leopard is found over nearly the whole of Africa south of the Sahara, in north east Africa, and from Asia minor, through central Asia, and Pakistan, Nepal, India to China and Manchuria. It varies greatly in size and markings. Its average size is: weight 50 to 90 Kg i.e. 110 to 200 pounds, length 84 inches, shoulder height 60 to 70 cm. Dark spots are generally arranged in rosettes over much of the body.

The leopard is a solitary animal of the bush and the forest, and is nocturnal in habit. It is an agile climber and frequently stores the remains of its kills in tree branches. It feeds upon any animal it can overpower i.e. from small rodents to water buck, medium sized goats, cattle, antelopes and deer. It has a special liking for dog as a food." In Galiat it eats monkeys and in Africa Baboons as well. The female produces two to three cubs after a gestation period of three months. The calls of the leopard vary and include a series of harsh coughs, throaty growls, and deep purring sound. Leopard is a tree climber and good swimmer. Leopard spotting, viewing by binoculars photographing and feeding would be interesting and a good sport. Killing and gunning down this beautiful animal is criminal. The few leopards in Pakistan deserve attention, because their survival is threatened. The provincial governments are requested to enact legislation to save the leopard, the black bear and the monkey. Fines and jail terms are suggested for trappers and killers.








Father of the Nation, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, whose death anniversary is being observed today, was a dynamic Muslim leader, a great political strategist, constitutionalist, a distinguished parliamentarian and above all one of the great nation-builders of modern times, who fought relentlessly and inexorably for Muslims' inherent rights for an honourable existence in South Asia. Mr. Jinnah , who followed a highly disciplined regime of life, was endowed with a character free from blemish and gifted with the ability to foresee and analyze the problems and offer solutions in the most effective manner. By any standard, his was an eventful life and his personality multi-dimensional. However, his achievement which makes the Founder of Pakistan so remarkable is the fact that while similar other leaders assumed the leadership of traditionally well-defined nations and espoused their cause, or led them to freedom, he created a nation out of an inchoate and down-trodden minority and established a national home for it. 

For about four decades before the successful culmination of the South-Asian Muslims' struggle for freedom in 1947, M.A. Jinnah had provided political leadership to the Indian Muslims; guided their affairs; gave expression, coherence and direction to their legitimate aspirations and cherished dreams. Quaid-i-Azam, who had to fight through bouts of illness from 1930s till his death on September 11, 1948, never let his state of health and periodic illness dampen his spirits or weaken his willpower, resolve and determination to achieve a separate homeland for the South Asian Muslims. The tragic news of his death had saddened and stunned the whole nation and an environment of deepest shock and grief prevailed all over the country. His death was rightly described as a staggering blow and irreparable loss not only to Pakistan but to the whole of Muslim world as he not only led the Muslims of South Asia but also stood for freedom and independence of Muslim countries and strongly and eloquently advocated their causes. The nation, currently in face of painful and heart-breaking multiple crises, including current worst natural disaster, caused by widespread and unprecedented rains and floods, discouraging role of the politicians in the national development, lawlessness and acts of terrorism, are justly and eagerly in search of such a leader, having sound principles of governance, traditions of selflessness, honesty and integrity that Quaid-I-Azam left behind. The motto of unity, faith and discipline as well as principles and guidelines left for the nation by M.A. Jinnah, who had gifted us complete Pakistan,have not been followed by the vested interests and self-seeking ruling elite to the detriment of the country. Our leadership has still not seriously realized that domestic political upheavals, corruption, wrong policies, actions and misrule of those who ruled the country resulted into its unfortunate disintegration and break-up of the two wings in 1971.

Unfortunately, because of current internal happenings our image abroad has come down to a highly disappointing point that credibility is being questioned regarding the utilization of the internal and foreign aid coming to heal the sufferings of over 20 million affectees of national disaster and their rehabilitation. The Quaid wanted to build Pakistan through national self-discipline and regarded indiscipline as "more deadly than our external enemies", which would "spell ruin for us." He stood for "constructive efforts, selfless work and steadfast devotion to duty. Jinnah wanted the constitution of Pakistan to be of "a democratic type, embodying the principles of Islam, equality of man, justice and fairplay and envisioned a socio-political system based on egalitarianism and free from exploitation. He wanted every Pakistani to "be prepared to sacrifice his all, if necessary, in building up Pakistan as a bulwark of Islam and as one of the greatest nations". 

Quaid-i-Azam had made it clear at a public meeting in Dacca on 21 March, 1948, that the Government's aim and objective should be how to serve the people and devise way and means of their welfare and betterment. He said "it is in the hands of people to put the government in power or remove it from power. But you must not do it by mob methods. Constitutionally, it is in your hands to upset one government and put another government if you are dissatisfied to such an extent" Quaid`s Chronology: The Khoja Muslim, eldest son of among seven siblings of Jinnah Ponja, a skin and hide merchant, was born on 25th December, 1876, at Wazir Mansion, Karachi. The great Muslim leader, who died in Karachi at 10.25 p.m. on this day in 1948, was buried at the Edgah Maidan at 6.24 p.m.on 12th September amid scenes of acute grief and mourning. Educated at Gokul Das Tej primary school, Bombay (1885-1886), and then Sindh Madrassat-ul-Islam and Christian Mission High school, Karachi, he was sent to London in 1892 for training in business administration. However, he elected to study law instead and joined the Lincoln's Inn in 1993 to become the youngest Indian to be called to the Bar in 1896. On the basis of ability and determination, young Jinnah rose to prominence and became within a few years one of the greatest legal luminaries of India. On return from England in 1896, he set up law practice first in Karachi and in 1897 in Bombay, where he gradually built up a thriving practice. He had also worked as a Presidency Magistrate in Bombay (May 3-Nov.2, 1900). Before proceeding abroad, he had been married to Emibai, a Khoja girl (May 1892), who died while Jinnah was still in England. In 1918, he married Ruttie Petit, a Parsi, who had embraced Islam. 

Only daughter of the fabulous, Sir Dinshaw Petit, she died in 1929, leaving behind a daughter (Dina), born on 15 August, 1919, who lives in New York. M. A. Jinnah joined the Congress in 1906 and All India Muslim League in 1913. He was a member of Congress delegation to England in connection with proposed reforms of Indian Councils (1914); an active member of Imperial Legislative Council during 1910-19 and elected Member of Indian Legislative Assembly from 1924 to 1947 .When Rowlatt Bill was passed into law in 1919 riding roughshod over all opposition, he resigned from Imperial Legislative Council in protest against that Black Act (1919). M.A. Jinnah presided the AIML session at Lucknow in Dec. 1916. Since his entry into politics in 1906, Jinnah passionately believed in and assiduously worked for Hindu-Muslim unity. He was chiefly instrumental in devising Lucknow Pact of 1916- the only pact ever signed between the two political organizations, the Congress and the All India Muslim League, representing the two major communities in South Asia. The Pact conceded Muslims the right to separate electorate, reservation of seats in the legislatures and weightage in representation both at the Centre and the minority provinces. The Congress-League scheme embodied in this pact was to become the basis for the Montagu-Chemlsford Reforms, also known as the Act of 1919. 

In subsequent years, however, he felt dismayed at the injection of violence into politics. Since Jinnah stood for "ordered progress", moderation, gradualism and constitutionalism, he felt that political terrorism was not the pathway to national liberation but, the dark alley to disaster and destruction. He walked out of the meeting of Home Rule League in Bombay on 4th October,1920,in protest against `unconstitutional` ruling by Gandhi, who was presiding (Oct. 4, 1920), and resigned his membership over the change by Gandhi in the name of the party and its constitution (25th October,1920). The people of Bombay built People's Jinnah Memorial Hall in grateful recognition of his sterling services. 

The future course of events was not only to confirm his worst fears, but also to prove him right. Although Jinnah left the Congress in 1920, he continued his efforts towards bringing about a Hindu-Muslim entente, which he rightly considered "the most vital condition of Swaraj". However, because of the deep distrust between the two communities as evidenced by the country-wide communal riots, and as the Hindus failed to meet the genuine demands of the Muslims, his efforts came to naught. One such effort to bridge Hindu-Muslim differences on the constitutional plan was the formulation of the proposals at a conference of Muslim leaders in March, 1927, which waived the Muslim right to separate electorate, the most basic Muslim demand since 1906, and accepted joint electorate on certain conditions. Boycotted the Simon Commission in 1927.








Although India is implementing various regional plots against Pakistan, China, Iran, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka, yet South Africa is its another target, where Indians are already well-entrenched in order to conduct conspiracy. The covert victimizations of Blacks have been started through a game plan code name "Hunt Crow and Win Gold" .in this connection all out support to the local whites is being provided by MI6 in collaboration with Research and Analysis wing (RAW) of India. In fact the old master of black has decided to regain the control over South Africa after departure of great spiritual leader Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. In this connection, UK Prime Minister David Cameron also deliberated the timings of final executions, probably repercussion and plus and minuses of plan with Indian counter partner Manmohan Singh 

In this regard, by availing its historical connections of the past—especially by exploiting the satyagraha led by Gandhiji in South Africa, New Delhi is encouraging its South African citizens to strengthen their grip in political, social, educational and economic fields. In this context, the Indian community has placed a premium on university education and has the highest number of graduates per capita of population. In contrast, Blacks have the poorest performance record of all the different racial groups. Traditionally, only Whites have had access to private education in South Africa. In recent years, Indians have started to make dramatic inroads in the establishment of private schools, colleges and universities. For example, a group of Indian academics have established a private college, the Management College of Southern Africa (MANCOSA) to offer distance education management programmes, franchised from British universities. After four years of operation and facing competition from forty other private colleges they have become the largest providers of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in South Africa.As part of its plot, India is enhancing its hold on South Africa both on official and non-official level. On official level, a number of bilateral agreements have been concluded between the two countries in diverse areas ranging from economic and commercial cooperation, defence, culture, heath, human settlements, public administration science and technology and education. On May 8, 2009, Indian Vice President M. Hamid Ansari visited South Africa to attend the Inauguration of Mr. Jacob Zuma, the 4th democratically elected President of South Africa, while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made an official visit to South Africa from September 30 to October 3, 2006. During his visit, the Tshwane Declaration was signed, reaffirming and deepening the strategic partnership between India and South Africa, laying down benchmarks in all areas of cooperation including heath, science and technology, trade and investment, defence, culture and education. On June 2, 2010 President Jacob Zuma went to India. His talks with Manmohan Singh were focused on deepening strategic partnership between South Africa and India including various sectors. Both the leaders agreed to focus on the expansion of economic, trade and investment relationship between the two countries. On non-official level, almost all the persons of the South African-Indian community are making strenuous efforts to increase their influence in South Africa. Even, Indian secret agency RAW plays a key role in this respect as it is directing its well-paid Indian agents of South African origin to get hold of that country's resources gradually, but clandestinely. 

It is notable that South Africa is replete with the precious minerals such as gold, diamond and uranium. Hence, India is increasing its influence in South Africa with a view to making it target of Indian neo-imperialism. The real tragedy of the post-apartheid South Africa is that its people are not aware of Indian sinister designs against the Black. In this regard, India is not only playing double game with the South African people by manipulating their division, but is also trying to get grip on the resources of the country. It is mentionable that several Indian companies such as Tata Steel, Tata Motors, TCS, Mahindra & Mahindra, Cipla, Ranbaxy, Ashok Leyland, Apollo Tyres have ventured in South Africa by making huge investments, while banks like the SBI and ICICI are engaged in establishing their branches in the country, partly with a view to taping into the million-strong People of Indian Origin (PIOs) there. VSNL is in the process of investing US$ 200 million in the telecom sector in South Africa. Totally, some 36 Indian corporations have established their presence in the country, and more are likely to join the race soon. Over the ongoing year, investment from India Inc. is expected to reach the US $ 500 millions in South African economy.

However, the post-apartheid period of South Africa proved a blessing for the Indian plotters. In this context, the first truly democratic election in South Africa had substantial implications for the South African Indian community. The high profile of the Indians in the African National Congress (ANC) hierarchy was very beneficial for the Indian conspirators. In this respect, when Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa, he included six Indians in his cabinet of sixteen members. The Indians, making up three percent of the population, were over-represented at executive level. 

Besides, the ANC Government systematically began to abolish all previous discriminatory legislation which disadvantaged less developed communities. The Indians prospered the most owing to their superior education and greater wealth. Especially, the Indian business community prospered in the post-apartheid South Africa. They were now able to enter many sectors of commerce and industry which were previously not open to them. Particularly, wealthy Indians could now move into residential areas which were previously restricted to Whites. The ANC Government introduced legislation to empower previously disadvantaged communities. Many companies had previously discriminated against local Blacks. Therefore, their affirmative action polices tended to favour the Black. They also interpreted Blacks as meaning people of African origin. The Indian community objected strongly and on several occasions, Nelson Mandela and his senior officials assured the Indian community that all previously disadvantaged communities should be treated equally in the programmes of affirmative action. 

Notably, during South Africa's transition from apartheid to democracy, Nelson Mandela has endeavoured to make the country's minority communities feel more secure. He held a number of meetings with white, coloured and Indian opinion-makers to address their insecurities. Despite government assurances, the Indian community felt that they were being marginalised. Mandela was surprised at the level of insecurity expressed by the Indian youth. In fact, as part of its conspiracy, India wants to increase its hold on South Africa overtly or covertly. Nevertheless, a major tragedy of the post-apartheid South Africa is that although Blacks are in majority and have their own government, yet the Whites have dominant influence in the economic field as they have actual control on the resources of the country. They are wealthier than the blacks. They have also sympathies of the American and European countries and people who favour them through business investments. 

It is of particular attention that we can note in case of the United States that the Jews are in minority, but have a greater influence in the politics of that country because they dominate the economics of the US. With the help of strong Hindu-Jewish lobbies, India and Israel fulfill their overt and covert interests. Same is true regarding South Africa. Outwardly, Indians favour the blacks, but inwardly, they support Whites with whom they are doing their business. While, implementing their conspiracy against South Africa, Indian lobbies have also been influencing the government in order to get more political and economic benefits. In this connection, India is also availing the opportunity by exploiting the discriminatory situation of South Africa clandestinely as prejudice is still prevalent between Blacks and Whites. 

—The writer is defence and International Relations Analyst.









Pastor Terry Jones' plan to burn the copies of the Holy Qu'ran on Sept. 11 in Gainesville, Fla. resulted in positive and negative outcries around the world. As was to be expected, radical Muslims in many countries, including Afghanistan, voiced displeasure about the plan to burn the copies of the Qu'ran threatening violence; surprisingly, many Americans criticized Jones' plan and supported US Islamic groups, resulting in an unanimous outcry from US government leaders and religious officials. Everyone criticizes Jones' move and his attempts to grab his 15 minutes of fame by inciting the ire of the Muslim world. After Jones said he would burn hundreds of copies of the Qu'ran, the immediate reaction from several Florida Islamic groups was to announce plans to go to Gainesville Sept. 11 and picket outside the Dove World Outreach Center.

The Tampa branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations then backed off its initial statement and said its members would hold a book fair a few miles from the Dove Center, during which they would promote brotherhood and understanding of the Islamic religion. After discussing the situation and considering Jones' motivations US Islamic groups decided not to provide more kindling for Jones' fire by picketing, attending or acknowledging the activities. Instead, officials of the Washington, DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) attended Friday prayer ceremonies at the Hoda Center in Gainesville. CAIR officials and Muslims from surrounding cities, including CAIR officials from Tampa, Fla. plan to attend Sept. 17 ceremonies to celebrate the opening of the Hoda Mosque in Gainesville.

Gainesville city officials reacted unfavorably to Jones' plan by refusing to issue a permit to burn the copies of the Qu'ran. The fire department refused the permit, while the mayor publicly denounced Jones' activities and the police department decided to limit press attendance at the nonevent. At the same time Jones announced that he would go on with the planned event without a permit. The police threatened to arrest Jones, it remains to be seen what consequences result whether or not officials follow through with this threat. Holding an event or burning without a permit is a misdemeanor, which would ordinarily result in only a $100 citation, which wouldn't even require Jones to appear in court. It's interesting to note that Jones claims he has a right to burn the copies of the Qu'ran, but the Gainesville Police Department has announced it will limit newspaper, radio and television coverage at the Dove World Outreach Center. Even large networks, like Fox News have been told that if their news trucks show up in Gainesville Sept. 11 they will not be allowed anywhere near Jones' church.

Even at the present, Jones' representatives have been limiting which media sources they will talk to and allow on their property, indicating they have given permission only to the Gainesville Sun, a New York Times newspaper. Other media representatives attempting to talk to church representatives about the story have been told to leave or they will be arrested for trespassing. It's interesting how an announcement by the head of a small group in a small Florida town can cause such a flap around the world. Some observers suggest that the US media's wide coverage of Jones' plans simply stoked the fire and provided him with undesired notoriety. Being in the limelight has brought Jones and his motivations under scrutiny. 

Various press organizations have revealed that Jones started a similar church in Germany and left there due to misappropriating funds. Church spokespersons in Cologne distanced themselves from their former pastor's most recent actions and called them "totally inappropriate." It remains to be seen what will happen Sept. 11.—Arab News








HOWEVER upset Florida pastor Terry Jones and his flock feel about a planned mosque and Islamic culture centre two blocks from New York's Ground Zero, the most patriotic thing they could do to mark today's ninth anniversary of the World Trade Centre attacks is to stick to Thursday's promise and refrain from burning the Koran.


For decades, Americans have been forced to witness the burning of the star spangled banner and effigies of US presidents by Islamists, in whose hate-filled minds the decisive 1571 Battle of Lepanto seems like yesterday. For Westerners to lapse into such medieval behaviour, however, would be a dangerous step, a futile attempt to protest on the same level as deluded supporters of an Islamist caliphate, who have no compunction about blowing up children and who do not belong in the modern world. Inevitably, such ill discipline would result in Americans and other Westerners being killed and maimed in whatever disproportionate retaliation Islamist forces unleashed.


Nine years after 19 al-Qa'ida terrorists killed 3000 people by flying passenger planes into New York's World Trade Centre towers and the Pentagon and crashing a fourth plane in Pennsylvania, the war on terror, especially in Afghanistan, remains hard fought. The Western world, however, can take heart that no major attacks on Western targets have succeeded since the London transport bombings in July 2005. Security forces have been effective in thwarting numerous planned atrocities, including the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot to bring down at least 10 international flights and last year's Holsworthy Barracks terror attack in Sydney. The financial war on terrorism has also been effective, with more than $250 million in terrorists' assets frozen by Western governments. Nor is Osama bin Laden's macabre vision of an Islamic super state administered under sharia law any closer to being realised, as Sally Neighbour reports today. In Australia's region, co-operation with Indonesia has seen effective action against some of the most deadly fundamentalists, including Jemaah Islamiyah.


If only for the safety of the 100,000 US troops and other allied forces in Afghanistan, Mr Jones and others should heed the warnings of US President Barack Obama and prominent Republicans and "listen to those better angels". Burning the Koran could provide, as the President fears, "a recruitment bonanza for al-Qa'ida".








This is not the new, touchy-feeling paradigm claimed by the Greens and independents and even some in the media who would like us to clamber aboard for a political love-in. But it is true the Gillard solution takes politicians on both sides into largely uncharted waters.


Julia Gillard's victory comes from piecing together a "rainbow coalition" that will take all her courage and charm to maintain. Tony Abbott can now aggressively prosecute his claims from opposition, a task that will similarly test the balance between his pugilistic and persuasive sides. Both leaders are among the most talented politicians of their generation and well-placed to leave a mark on the nation. Both emerge from the incremental politics of recent weeks into an uncertain world where a handful of backbenchers will dictate the terms. Parliament, not the executive or the partyroom, is in the box seat with the promise there will be far greater scrutiny of contentious legislation. Some commentators have waxed lyrical about the positive potential this offers for compromise in our political system. Up to a point. As former Howard government adviser Arthur Sinodinos wrote in this newspaper this week, consensus is fine as long as you don't wind up with the lowest common denominator. Similarly, those who suggest the media needs a new, softer reporting paradigm for this new world order are misled. If anything, the Greens and independents must be rendered even more transparent, given their power.


The first national minority government in 70 years is not, however, a recipe for failure: minority rule offers opportunities as well as risks. The state administrations of Peter Beattie and Steve Bracks demonstrated the value of leaders who exploit minority power and operate as if they have healthy majorities. In Victoria and Queensland, these Labor premiers turned first-term minority governments into outright victories at subsequent polls. It doesn't always work. Former conservative Queensland premier Rob Borbidge told Sky News this week that even governing with the support of "reliable", conservatively mined, independent Liz Cunningham between 1996 and 1998 was still difficult. "We lost budget measures because there was a change of mind after there was an understanding that we could proceed . . . multiply that by three or four or five or however many we have . . . that's a fair issue in managing the business of the government." Mr Borbidge's government lasted for two years and four months. He, like former Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson, gives Ms Gillard 18 months at most.


Even so, the Prime Minister has no choice but to govern as if she means it, drawing together the patchwork projects that pass for a Labor platform into a coherent narrative for the nation's future. Overcoming the lack of policy direction that has dogged Labor since 2007, should be the Prime Minister's priority. Prosecuting an agenda to increase productivity by freeing up the labour market and addressing vital infrastructure issues will not be easy for a government in debt to the Greens and a handful of independents absorbed by the demands of their electorates rather than the needs of the nation. But there can be no excuse for Labor if it tries to govern without a plan or if it chooses appeasement over reform. Many on the Labor side will find it hard to adjust to government by negotiation rather than fiat, but Ms Gillard must avoid the temptation to slip into a holding pattern for the next three years. This is not a realistic option for Labor, or for that matter, for the opposition.


Peter van Onselen writes today that Mr Abbott has a simple objective, to appear united and ready to govern, if and when the Gillard government falls over. However, papering over tensions in the ranks will not be enough in the long term. The Opposition Leader had a very good campaign, but if the Coalition is to present as a viable alternative at the next poll, it must do the hard work of policy development avoided since the end of the Howard era. The Coalition let itself down badly in the economic debate during the campaign, and the costings debacle did not help Mr Abbott's bid to win over the independents. The Opposition Leader must address these shortcomings, in part by bringing former leader Malcolm Turnbull into an economic role. At the same time, Mr Abbott must avoid being sucked into supporting legislation advanced by independents or the Greens. He should remember that when Mr Turnbull threw his hat in with Kevin Rudd on the emissions trading scheme, he lost the leadership.


Labor and the Coalition face challenges in deciding which parts of Australia's increasingly divided electorate they want to represent in the 21st century. The August 21 result revealed a nation dramatically polarised around the southern states, such as Victoria, and the mining states, such as Queensland. As George Megalogenis writes today, that is a dilemma for both sides: how to expand their reach without losing support. Can Ms Gillard jettison the mining tax or a price on carbon without losing on her left? Does Mr Abbott have any choice but to continue to oppose those policies if he wants to hold on to the Right? The risk of electoral gridlock matches the likelihood of gridlock in parliament.


This week's lower unemployment figure and high dollar demonstrate the strength of the economy and the way it kicks along in spite of any political hiatus. But complacency about continued prosperity is the biggest risk for Australia. The Howard government squandered the first resources boom with its wasteful middle-class welfare; the Rudd government threw billions at the global financial crisis but did nothing to advance the reforms needed to secure prosperity beyond the second boom. Now the politicians are back, they should understand that voters are divided, but far from disengaged. They are not motivated by old ideologies but they are no less demanding for that.


Having limped over the line, Labor has the right to govern. But Ms Gillard cannot hide behind the fact politics has just got a whole lot harder, evidenced yesterday when independent Andrew Wilkie threatened he might vote against the mining tax in its present form. In the end, Labor will be judged by the same rules as any administration: its success in delivering the services, economic stability and long-term reforms the country needs.








WILL he commemorate September 11 with an insult to Islam or won't he? This absurd guessing game about the intentions of the Florida pastor Terry Jones - broadcast throughout the world - is complicating the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US this year, and it is already complicated enough. Jones, of the Dove World Outreach Centre is - or was, he is not quite sure - planning to burn copies of the Koran in protest at plans - also insensitive - to build an Islamic cultural centre in New York near where the twin towers stood. There is, of course, no law preventing Jones from going ahead with his batty protest - indeed his right to do so is enshrined in the US constitution. Similarly the promoters of the Islamic centre have every right to build it where they choose. Their only transgression will be their insensitivity - but that has never been a crime.


In another time and in a different context these lapses of taste and commonsense might have sunk quickly into the obscurity they deserve. But in this media-drenched age they have instantly been flashed around the world and acquired the same kind of macabre celebrity, though at a lower intensity, as the event which gives them meaning.


In Sydney, the leader of the Lakemba mosque, Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly, has responded with forbearance: "If he burns the Koran, we will not burn the Bible, because our religion teaches us respect," he told local Muslims gathered to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Let us hope his attitude is repeated elsewhere in the Muslim world. It will make a most welcome change if it is - because what characterises September 11, 2001 - the event itself and those which have resulted from it - has been overreaction.


It goes almost without saying that all terrorism, the events of September 11 included, is overreaction. The murder of innocents for some imagined political end can never be justified, however powerful the grievance. The murder of thousands, as happened in the US nine years ago, only multiplies the crime and detracts from the cause.


In response to September 11, the US and its allies, including Australia, have engaged in two wars - first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. The cost of those engagements has been enormous - about $US930 billion ($1 trillion) for the United States in additional war allocations so far, though other experts have put the true cost far higher. Australia's commitment to Afghanistan is requiring extra spending of about $1.2 billion a year. Spending those sums would be easily understood if the aims of the wars were known and clear - but they are not. So unclear have they been, in fact, that at times it appears that war itself - any war, but as extravagant as possible - has been the aim. Winning is beside the point; that point is to demonstrate the power of US - and allied - arms. That is why for most of the time since 2001 we were fighting a war on terrorism - a war, in other words, on a tactic, not on an enemy, a war which can never be won.


Earlier this year the Herald published the investigation by The Washington Post which showed the homeland security apparatus set up after 2001 to keep America safe had grown so large and secretive that no one could know how much money was being spent on it, or what its unknown thousands of operatives were doing. The bureaucracy - more than 1000 organisations - produces tens of thousands of reports each year, most of which will never be read. Aside from the waste, though, many Americans fear the bureaucratic impetus created by this weight of personnel and money will increase government surveillance and reduce their freedom. For its part, the Australian government has introduced at least 24 new pieces of security legislation, and has given extraordinary powers to the federal police and ASIO to hold terrorism suspects incommunicado.


Despite its ability to create one epoch-making outrage on September 11, the nominated enemy - al-Qaeda - was never as fearsome as it was painted, and is by now a much weakened force. Terrorists, some home-grown, have carried out some successful attacks in Western countries and on Western targets elsewhere - notably Bali. Many others, though, have been foiled. What has succeeded best has been ordinary police work. The Bali bombers, for example, were patiently hunted down. Would-be imitators have been identified early, and arrested before they have had the chance to commit their atrocities.


That is where this conflict will be won. Not in some world-scale conflict of civilisations, but by steady progress - police work, economic development to give the marginalised a stake in society, and education. By decency replacing conflict and outrage - and overreaction.










THE internet is making us stupid, apparently. Well, der … Actually, we could phrase that better. But just quickly, before we do, we saw something else about this a while ago. If we Google the word ''der'' perhaps we'll find it. Let's see: digital education revolution. Documentary educational resources. Distinguished encoding rules. And about two billion websites in German. That is not quite what we were looking for, but some of them look really interesting. We just wish we had time to … to … Or knew German. There's a learn-German website somewhere. But where were we? Oh yes. Apparently, we can't concentrate for long periods because we keep getting distracted by web links, which tempt us to surf off to some website unrelated to … to … whatever. But it sounds like nonsense, doesn't it? After all, readers of books are constantly being distracted by footnotes, having to thumb through to the back and lose the author's argument in discussions of … of … So, what was it you were saying again?







WHEN Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, less than three months ago, she promised a more consultative style of leadership and a return to the traditions of cabinet government. It is not a pledge she adhered to strictly during the election campaign: Labor's plan for a citizens' assembly to debate climate policy was reportedly all her own work. The first real test of the Prime Minister's earnestness in delivering a more inclusive approach to government, however, will come this weekend as she allocates portfolios in the first Gillard ministry.


As The Age reports today, Ms Gillard will honour her repeated commitment to recall Mr Rudd to cabinet, in the post he is believed to have requested and for which he is eminently qualified, Foreign Affairs. This is a wise decision not only because a government with such a slender majority must try to put all rancour behind it. Nor is it chiefly a matter of Mr Rudd's experience as a diplomat and his fluency in the language of Australia's major trading partner, significant though both those things are as credentials for the job. Above all it is smart because, as prime minister, Mr Rudd established a rapport with other world leaders, especially in the series of negotiations that turned the G20 meetings of leading industrial and developing economies into the chief international forum for responding to the global financial crisis. The relationships Mr Rudd formed in that process would have been wasted in a domestic portfolio.


Incumbent Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has performed competently but not brilliantly and will now move to Defence, a position that has become vacant because John Faulkner has chosen to move to the backbench. The departure of Senator Faulkner, one of the longest-serving as well as one of the ablest Labor members and ministers, compounds the problem created by the retirement at the election of finance minister Lindsay Tanner. The pool of experienced talent from which Ms Gillard can draw has shrunk.


Financial Services Minister Chris Bowen is probably a natural successor to Mr Tanner in Finance, but Mr Smith will find Senator Faulkner a hard act to follow. Over the years senior Defence bureaucrats and Defence Force commanders have gained a reputation for successfully protecting their bailiwick against budgetary constraints placed on other departments, and even for ''capturing'' the minister for their agendas. Senator Faulkner was no captive, however, and Mr Smith will have his work cut out emulating that achievement.


Until recently that challenge might have been one for former ACTU secretary Greg Combet, who holds the outer ministry portfolios of Defence Materiel and Science and Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. He has been an MP only since 2007 but has quickly become the government's troubleshooter-in-chief, displaying the same tenacity and negotiating skills he evinced in the 1998 waterfront dispute. Mr Combet took over management of the home insulation scheme from the hapless Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, who faces demotion, and is expected to replace Penny Wong as Climate Change Minister. She is believed to want another ministry, and Climate Change would certainly benefit from having a minister who has Senator Wong's intellectual clarity and assertiveness but can restrain the abrasiveness that has sometimes marred her conduct of the portfolio. It is the policy area in which Labor promised so much in 2007 yet has failed so dismally since, and if a Gillard government is to avoid the unravelling that followed the Rudd government's shelving of the emissions-trading legislation, it must deliver this time.


The most experienced member of cabinet is Education, Employment and Social Inclusion Minister Simon Crean. Mr Crean inherited this hybrid ministry from Ms Gillard when she became Prime Minister; the case for combining Education and Employment, each of which is a large enough responsibility to be a single ministry, was never strong and it is even weaker now. They should be divided, and either job would suit Mr Crean. The choice of the able Craig Emerson in Mr Crean's former trade portfolio is another good appointment.


In picking the rest of her team the Prime Minister must make at least one choice that will come at a cost, whatever she decides. If she promotes Bill Shorten, parliamentary secretary for disabilities, to the ministry she will be seen as rewarding one of the plotters who deposed Mr Rudd; if she does not, she will be denying a talented man promotion, and perhaps making an enemy. Ms Gillard has at least been saved from a problem of her own making: rural independent MP Rob Oakeshott has declined an offer to become Regional Development Minister. This would unwisely have included in the ministry a man who could not pledge full adherence to the government's agenda.


Source: The Age









The Prince of Wales surprises his many critics by getting some things right. In a fuzzy and frustrated and half-baked way, he has said worthwhile things on issues from farming to climate change – and done so before these issues entered the political mainstream. His charity, the Prince's Trust, has done much to help young people find work. His tastes in architecture and design, though deeply conservative, are shared by many people. Easily derided as a relic, the prince has tried to make something of his peculiar lot.


This week, for instance, the prince has been touring Britain on a personal campaign to promote sustainable living. The garden of Clarence House has been given over to tents promoting bee-friendly herbs, a people-powered dance floor and debates about solar power and low-carbon travel. One small irony is that the prince has been travelling on a personal luxury train, albeit one powered by biofuel. But it would be unkind to resent a heartfelt attempt to improve the way people live.


The prince does not, however, act as a normal citizen, and his failing has been to use the privilege of his position to help the causes he supports without always understanding the consequences. His boldness can be admirable. It can also leave all sorts of wreckage, which others must remove, since the prince's constitutional position makes it impossible for him to be held to account.


This week the Times newspaper has made much of reports that the prince's rescue of Dumfries House in Scotland has run into financial trouble. The prince led a consortium of charities that bought the house and its collection of 18th-century furniture in 2007, just before it was due to be auctioned off. This breakup would have been a terrible thing for Scottish heritage, and the prince won credit for stopping it. But the purchase was funded by a £20m loan, to be repaid by development on land near the house. The commercial success of this scheme is now in some doubt, since land values have fallen, although the prince's officials insist that there is no immediate intention to sell, that the property is worth more than was paid for it and that regeneration will provide much needed jobs in East Ayrshire.


Either way, the Prince of Wales's charitable foundation has found itself responsible for a large loan, with the possibility that returns from the Dumfries project will not pay all of the cost. Donors to the prince's charities may ask themselves whether their money is being used in the best way. His intentions are good, but as the heir to the throne he must avoid excursions into controversy. He may find this life restricting, but that is a consequence of monarchy.







Pastor Terry Jones and other members of the lunatic fringe are doing Osama bin Laden's work for him


When Andy Warhol predicted in 1968 that in the future everyone would be world-famous for 15 minutes, he could not have meant Pastor Terry Jones. The idea that t he world's media has been hanging on every word uttered by a low-rent bigot with a gun – who has been mulling over whether to burn 200 copies of the Qur'an today – is grotesque. Hillary Clinton, David Petraeus, Robert Gates, the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan and lastly Barack Obama himself have all been sucked into the media maelstrom created by the pastor with a dodgy past and 30 congregrants. And the circus is not over yet. Jones plans to fly to New York to discuss the proposed location of the Islamic centre near Ground Zero with the New York imam Feisel Abdul Rauf.


Whether or not this meeting takes place – and last night the pastor was still threatening to burn the Qur'ans if it did not – the damage has already been done. A protester was shot dead after a crowd of 10,000 converged on a German-run Nato base in north-eastern Afghanistan. Thousands of Indonesian Muslims demonstrated outside the US embassy in Jarkarta. President Obama has said and done the right things, neither reacting too soon – and thus inflating the importance of the pastor – nor too late. But the vulnerability of America's image in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the possibility that it would be recast by the lunatic fringe of Christian fundamentalists at home, is all too real. The pastor may be the most extreme version of it to date, but he is symptomatic of a larger trend, particularly in Florida. In May a mosque in Jacksonville was attacked with a pipe bomb, and a mosque south of Miami was attacked twice last year, once with gunfire. The pastor may have been condemned by Sarah Palin, but anti-Islamic rhetoric has begun to creep into the words of some Republican political candidates in the state.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is planning to distribute 200,000 copies of the Qur'an under an initiative called Learn, Don't Burn. Its spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, said that the group's research shows that when people learn about what it is they are supposed to be hating, intolerance lessens. This is the right reaction, even if it feels at the moment like trying to hold back an incoming tide. There are around 7 million Muslims in the US, but no one knows for sure as they are as ethnically and culturally diverse as America is itself. This community is already fully integrated. Reactions such as seeing the headscarf as a symbol of "sharia by stealth" will, if allowed to continue unchecked, reverse this process.

As we report today, growing numbers of Muslims who have lived in America for most of their adult lives, whose children do all the things American kids do, are enduring a backlash of hostility and suspicion on the ninth anniversary of al-Qaida's assault on New York and the Pentagon. Islam is thus portrayed not as a faith but an invading system of government and justice. Mosques are not religious centres but the outposts of "radical Islam". While this mood is driven by politics in an election year, Republicans do not have to drill that deep. After nine years of incubation, anti-Muslim sentiment has burst on to the scene. Ignorance triumphs, and as the Tea Party activists are discovering, if you lie often enough and loud enough, it works. Nearly one in five Americans suspect that their president is secretly a Muslim.


Europe has got very little to teach America on this score, and about the last person it should be exporting to New York to speak at a rally today to oppose the Manhattan mosque plan is Geert Wilders, the virulently anti-Islamic Dutch political leader. The one thing European leaders should be telling America is not to go down the path that Holland, Switzerland, France and Austria have trod on this issue, each in different ways alienating the very communities on which their intelligence services depend to defend them against al-Qaida's plots. The pastor is doing Osama bin Laden's work for him.







Having drifted back into opposition, the Labour party this week reheated and refined the rules by which it elects a shadow cabinet. Yes, you read that right. For all the fuss over the Mili-thon which is passing for a Labour leadership contest, it will actually be for party MPs to choose who will sit at the party's top table, through a vote. The procedure goes back decades in the self-styled people's party, but on those rare occasions when its leaders get behind the door of No 10 they forget all about it, arguing that it is far too – well, far too democratic, actually – to work in government. But why? Parliamentarians are as well placed as anyone to assess who shines the brightest among them, and elected secretaries of state – with their own power base – might just cut more substantial figures than the suits-full-of-bugger-all who so often sit around table. Don't hold your breath, though, since no prime minister will lightly surrender their control of regular reshuffles, precisely because this allows them to stuff their minions into top jobs, while keeping everyone else afraid. This dismal facet of postwar politics was invented by the otherwise sainted Clement Attlee. While Stanley Baldwin did not once play musical chairs with his 1924-29 administration, Attlee did so thrice in six years, Macmillan five times in as long, and reshuffles have become a near-annual fixture in the years since. It's a cliche to demand a return to proper cabinet government; electing the team might just allow it to happen.



            THE JAPAN TIMES




The Aomori District Court on Sept. 6 sentenced two Greenpeace Japan activists to a suspended one-year prison term, ruling that they broke into a cargo delivery depot in Aomori on April 16, 2008, and stole a 23-kg package of whale meat that a whaling ship crew member was mailing home to Hakodate, Hokkaido.


In the trial, the two activists argued that they only "took the package temporarily" to file an embezzlement accusation against 12 crew members of the whaling ship Nisshin Maru. In May 2008, Greenpeace Japan filed an accusation with the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office against the crew members for allegedly embezzling whale meat from their employer, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd., after the whaling ship returned to Tokyo from a research whaling mission in the Antarctic Ocean. Later it submitted the 23-kg package as evidence to the office. On June 20 that year, the police arrested the two activists and the prosecution decided not to take any action in the alleged embezzlement case.


In handing down the ruling, the presiding judge said, "Even if the defendants' actions were for the sake of serving the public interests, it is unacceptable for a person to infringe on another person's rights through actions that contravene the Penal Code."


Although Japanese public opinion was largely unsupportive of Greenpeace Japan, the United Nations Human Rights Council's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention told the Japanese government that the arrest of the two activists violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its written opinion said that the activists "sought to expose criminal embezzlement within the taxpayer-funded whaling industry" and that "citizens have the right to investigate and expose evidence on public servants suspected of corruption."


The defense counsel for the activists told the court that the investigative activities of nongovernmental organizations should be protected in the same way that the news coverage activities of media and journalists are. The Greenpeace Japan case offers a chance for the public and government to discuss the right to know and the freedom of expression from a new angle.







Nine years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks by al-Qaida on the United States — symbolized by the collapse of the Twin Towers at New York's World Trade Center after two airliners' had crashed into them, and the deaths of some 3,000 people — the world seems adrift without a compass. In the absence of evidence that stable global security and economic systems are in place, a pervasive uneasiness exists.


Soon after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. Bush administration started a war in Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaida's stronghold there. But the U.S. is far from achieving the goal of establishing a democratic central government in that country.


There are few signs that the war in Afghanistan will end with success; on the contrary, the war seems to be escalating. More than 2,000 coalition forces soldiers are reported to have been killed since 2001. The U.N. Mission in Afghanistan puts Afghan civilian deaths since 2006 at some 7,000. A private-sector group estimates the annual cost of the war at nearly $100 billion.


The 9/11 attacks demonstrated strong hatred harbored toward the U.S. by at least some segments of the Muslim world. Although U.S. President Barack Obama has sought dialogue with Muslims, concrete results have yet to come.


One of the reasons that the Bush administration started a war in Iraq in 2003 was its mistaken belief that the late President Saddam Hussein had forged connections with al-Qaida. Some 4,400 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq and, by some estimates, more than 110,000 Iraqi citizens have died.


U.S. scholars Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes estimate the total cost of the war at $3 trillion, a conservative figure. Although the U.S. has withdrawn its combat units, the situation in Iraq is shaky — politically and in terms of security.


In addition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the shock of the Lehman Brothers collapse in September 2008 added to America's difficulties, undermining the foundation of the finance industry-driven U.S. economy. The glory days of the U.S. appear to have passed, although it still ranks as the No. 1 world power.


In this uneasy age, Japan needs to correctly analyze the surroundings in which it finds itself and build diplomacy that will help the country steer through an opaque world.




EDITORIAL from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman's, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, The New York Times, China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, Jakarta Post, The Moscow Times, The Bottom Line and more only on EDITORIAL.




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