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Monday, September 13, 2010

EDITORIAL 13.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 13, edition 000624, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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












  7. WE'RE NO. 1(1)!

























































Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent attempt to justify the open feuding among his Cabinet colleagues by saying even Jawaharlal Nehru had differences with his Ministers is laughable and shows that he has run out of plausible reasons to explain the drift in the Government he heads. The differences that Nehru had with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and senior party leaders like Rajendra Prasad and PD Tandon were ideological and not directed at scoring brownie points. Nor did these divergent perceptions adversely impact governance of the country. On the contrary, these differences contributed to a more participative and widely acceptable decision-making process. But what we now see in the name of "healthy differences" and "inner-party democracy" is a game of undisguised one-upmanship. Ideology cannot be the cause because it does not exist any more for the Congress. If Minister for Road Transport and Highways Kamal Nath proposes a project, it is instantly opposed by Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh. There is no ideology involved as both the Ministers seek to establish their dominance. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, whom the Prime Minister has on more than one occasion hailed as among the most efficient Ministers in his team, is constantly mocked at and ridiculed by Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh who gets away with the most vicious and often personal comments due to his proximity to 10, Janpath. The decision to tackle the violence in the Kashmir Valley with a firm hand cannot be implemented because two of the State's senior Congress leaders, Mr Saifuddin Soz and Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, are not known to see eye to eye. This is a Government in paralysis and is in no way comparable to the Governments headed by Nehru or Mrs Indira Gandhi. Before Mr Singh gets carried away by his strange analogy and actually starts believing himself, it would be in order to remind him that he is neither Nehru nor Mrs Gandhi; his Cabinet and party colleagues are not in the genre of Sardar Patel and Rajendra Prasad — or Morarji Desai, for that matter.

The issue, however, is not really how Mr Singh perceives himself. It's about the sudden realisation by the Prime Minister and his spinmasters in the media that he is being increasingly isolated in both Government and party. In recent months, the only two issues on which he has been allowed some latitude is pushing the Nuclear Civil Liability Bill through Parliament and re-initiating the dialogue process with Pakistan. The first has served to confirm and reaffirm the view that India-US relations figures extremely, unnaturally, high on the Prime Minister's agenda. The second has left the country looking silly and the Government effete in the face of continuing Pakistani belligerence. On all other crucial policy issues, ranging from allowing mining in forest areas to setting up steel plants and new airports to reforming the education sector and ensuring food security, Mr Singh's voice virtually counts for nothing within and outside the Cabinet. It's amazing that a Minister of State should be able to hold his own against the Prime Minister. Nehru would have never tolerated such cussedness on part of his junior colleagues; Mrs Gandhi would have simply evicted them from office. 








Performing a balancing act requires dexterity and concentration; the three parties to the ongoing talks with the excitable Gorkha Janamukti Morcha over the eventual fate of Darjeeling have shown a certain clumsiness. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the negotiations for a solution have fallen through after reaching a point where it seemed that an agreement was almost final. The point at which things have come unstuck is illuminating. It indicates a deeper malaise. Free and fair elections of the multi-party kind that is the hallmark of India's vibrant democracy cannot be held in Darjeeling — according to the obstreperous GJM. Nor can the two other parties to the negotiation ask for the inclusion of persons in the proposed council of the Gorkha Regional Authority who are not approved by the GJM. In other words, the GJM is claiming for itself squatters rights — just as the Gorkha National Liberation Front had done earlier. Any exercise undertaken thereafter to make the Gorkha Regional Authority representative of the multiplicity of opinions and voices and groups becomes infructuous because the GJM has declared that it will not allow it. The strong-arm methods of the GJM have been on display for a long time now — banning the GNLF, sending Subash Ghising, the founder the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, into exile, disallowing his wife's cremation in Darjeeling, driving out former municipal councillors and DGHC members of the GNLF from the hills, denying to other parties the right to be politically active, the murder of Gorkha League chief Madan Tamang. The list is longer and includes GJM members taking over the properties of those who have been hounded out of the hills.

The two sticking points to any discussion on restoring normalcy in Darjeeling are these two issues — territory and elections. While the territorial claims of the GJM are inadmissible in their entirety because it includes the Terai and the Dooars as well as Siliguri as part of the proposed 'Gorkhaland', the interim arrangement that was being hammered out for constituting the Gorkha Regional Authority created space for non-GJM persons. The interim arrangement also planned for holding elections to elicit the mandate of the people. In the wake of recent events, which are clearly indicative of the erosion of Mr Gurung's popularity though not his capacity to exert menacing authority, his unwillingness to share power is further affirmation, if one were required, that the legitimacy of the GJM to negotiate as the sole representative of all the people in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong is in doubt. Power without the mandate of the people is in grave violation of the Constitution that promises to respect the right of every citizen to elect his or her own representative. A denial of that right at any point for any reason is unacceptable. 







The Government is not in control, the Army is busy promoting its own interests, the people are caught in spiralling sectarian violence!

How did things come to such a pass that no one in the world seems to trust Pakistan anymore — whether at the level of its Government or its citizens? The current controversy over its star cricketers being paid for spot-fixing has probably proved to be the proverbial last straw on the back of the camel, what with the country struggling to cope with the aftermath of devastating floods, Sunni and Shia extremists battling it out on the streets, the Taliban dictating terms to civil authorities, the military lording it over the Government, and the Supreme Court of the country asking for the President to be prosecuted for corruption. 

The latest setback has come in the form of Pakistani Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh's warning to the leadership that Pakistan is "tottering on the verge of bankruptcy". But Mr Hafeez Shaikh's message does not come as a surprise to most economy-watchers. Export orders that had been placed with Pakistan are now being cancelled by major clients in the West on the assumption that it will be unable to meet deadlines.

International confidence in Pakistan is so low that appeals for aid to the flood-affected in that country have met with only a lukewarm response. This is not because the world is ignoring the misery that widespread floods have brought to the people but because most donors suspect that the money donated by them would go into the coffers of terrorist outfits like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The Government machinery is so ineffective that the actual flood relief work has been taken over by these groups. 

The spot-fixing controversy aside, the bloodbath that drenched the streets of the towns and cities of this 'Islamic Republic' in the holy month of Ramzan tells its own story. Religious extremists have hurled bombs at Shia congregations, mosques and processions in the past week and over 130 deaths have been reported. Claiming that Shias are heretics, leaders of the dominant Sunni sect are out to purge the country of their presence. 

In India, there is striking contrast between the manner in which Ramzan is observed by our many Islamic sects. The Sunnis, Shias and the Sufis all observe the holy month in their own separate ways. Iftar parties across the country are occasions for multi-faith congregation and bonhomie — both for the classes and the masses. In Pakistan, fear marks the observance of these religious functions because the minority sects among Muslims there have been facing repeated attacks by the majority sect. The opposite is true in the Shia-dominated Iran where the Sunnis are made to feel unwanted and unwelcome.

The same extremist mindset is the inspiration behind the current agitation in the Kashmir Valley. The call for so-called azadior freedom is, in fact, an euphemism for a deep-seated desire to cleanse the valley of 'sacrilegious' values such as secularism, pluralism, democracy and freedom of speech and faith guaranteed under the Constitution of India which the agitationists have little respect for.

For them, azadimeans Nizam-e-Mustafa, that is rule of the Prophet, and everything that comes with it including sharia'h, holiday on Friday, abolition of interest, prohibition of alcohol (and kite-flying), stoning of adulterers and lynching of apostates. In short, it means back to the middle ages. It is this very mindset which resulted in the forced purge of Kashmiri Pandits, the torch-bearers of the original pluralistic Kashmiri culture, history and traditions of the Kashmir Valley. 

Hindu-dominated India has a vibrant democracy and a functioning Constitution. But Islamic Pakistan has many editions of the same Constitution. Most countries have armies to defend their borders. In the case of Pakistan, the Army has a country to protect and to govern. Over the decades, Pakistan has sought to give pride of place to Islamic laws. As a result, the Hindu minority in Pakistan has been shrinking year after year and is today no more than a pale shadow of what it once was.

After finishing with the Hindus and Sikhs, the Islamists in Pakistan have turned their attention to sects belonging to their own religion — the Shias, the Ahmadis and the Sufis. The Pakistani Parliament has adopted a law declaring the Ahmadis as not belonging to Islam. The extremists now want the Shias to be so declared and if the state hesitates, they will force its hand through violence.

The reasons for the prevailing chaos in Pakistan are to be found in the philosophy behind its creation. Rahmat Ali, who conceived the idea of Pakistan in 1933, said, "Everything separates the Hindus from the Muslims — geography, race, heart and soul, religion, culture, history, tradition, literature, economics, laws of inheritance, customs, calendars, dress and food." Hence the concept of a 'pure' Islamic country, without any trace of its pre-Islamic 'heretic' civilisation.

The fact is nearly all Muslims in the Indian sub-continent are converts from Hindus and come from a common stock. Can a mere shift in the mode of worship result in the change of race, history, traditions, dress and customs? Muslims in the sub-continent have their roots in the Hindu/Buddhist culture and traditions of this ancient land. Islamist ideologues have been aiming to sever these natural roots. Pakistan is being sought to be converted into a faux cultural extension of Saudi Arabia. As a result, the Islamic Republic has fallen between two stools and is now truly rootless.

It is interesting to note that the organisation representing Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — the Muttahida Qaumi Movement— through its leader in London, has called for return of military dictatorship to the country. With its economy severely damaged, the world is worried that hotheads will get hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons stockpile and hold civil society (and the world) to ransom.

Will Pakistan become a second Afghanistan ruled by an extremist Taliban regime similar to the one that turned football fields into execution grounds and sheltered and encouraged Al Qaeda and thus pose a threat of terrorism to the entire world? What are the implications of these frightening prospects for India? No prizes for guessing the right answers. 







For far too long Beijing has pursued an unequal relationship with New Delhi, aimed at fulfilling China's strategic goals and protecting its own national interests, often at India's expense. In view of China's stand on Jammu & Kashmir and its supply of nuclear and military hardware to Pakistan, India must think of reviewing and recasting its China policy

The strong economic relations between India and China and their co-operation in multilateral fora such as the Copenhagen summit on climate change should not blind one to the fact that the trust and comfort level between the two countries remains unsatisfactory. Unless this improves, any talk of strategic co-operation or partnership between the two countries would remain wishful-thinking.

There are many security-related issues which call for co-operation between India and China bilaterally and for a joint leadership role by them multilaterally. Maritime counter-terrorism and anti-piracy measures are two examples of such issues crying out for India and China to join hands in countering them. But this will not be possible unless trust and comfort level improves.

Five issues or perceptions are standing in the way of a better trust and comfort level. The first is the pending border dispute. Chinese leaders and analysts often quote Deng Xiao-Ping's advice to keep this issue aside till a favourable moment arrives for finding a mutually acceptable solution. Delay suits China because the trans-border status quo presently favours it and it has developed its military capability in such a manner as to be able to use it should Beijing decide that the time has come to impose its will in the eastern sector.

Indians suspect — with valid reason — that the Chinese preference for prolonging the issue is motivated by the desire to give itself time for further strengthening its military capability in Tibet. India's interest will be served by a quick resolution of the dispute, which has not been forthcoming.

The second is the failure of the Chinese to reach an agreement with the Dalai Lama on the demands of the Tibetan people. India has recognised Tibet as an integral part of China in the expectation that the international acceptance of the 'One China' principle will pave the way for the return of the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan followers to Tibet with honour and dignity. India is the cradle of Buddhism; it's from here Buddhism spread to Tibet and the rest of China. It is natural that as admirers of this great religion and its Tibetan leader, Indians feel disappointed by the failure of the Chinese Government and Communist Party of China to follow up the integration of Tibet with the rest of China by restoring the honour and dignity of the Dalai Lama and his followers.

The third is what many Indians see as the double standards followed by China with regard to Jammu & Kashmir. China expected India to recognise Tibet as an integral part of China and accept the 'One China' principle. India did so without reservation. Indians are greatly disappointed that China has not reciprocated by recognising Jammu & Kashmir as an integral part of India and by accepting the 'One India' principle, which is as precious to India as the 'One China' principle is to China.

The fourth is what many Indians see as China's attempts to build up Pakistan not only as a time-tested friend, but also as a welcome strategic surrogate against India. China's nuclear and military supply relationship with Pakistan and Beijing's support to Islamabad in its disputes with New Delhi are seen by many in India as exploitating Pakistan's differences with India to serve China's own interests.

The fifth is China's reluctance to support India's permanent membership of the UN Security Council. India under Jawaharlal Nehru played an active role in canvassing for the People's Republic of China to be given its due place as a permanent member of the Security Council. In an historic act of ingratitude, China has failed to reciprocate India's gesture and has done everything possible to keep India out.

Unless there is a change in the policies of the Chinese Government on these issues, the trust and comfort level will continue to be low and there is a limit beyond which relations between the two countries cannot improve. 

The time has come for India to re-examine its policies with regard to China. The improvement in economic relations has benefited China more than India. If one analyses purely on the basis of trade exchanges, both countries have benefited, but the adverse balance of trade in China's favour and India's dependence on raw material exports for keeping up the steady rise in bilateral trade dilute the significance of the surge.

Other parameters of the bilateral economic relations tilt strongly in favour of China. The liberal opening up of the Indian construction sector to Chinese companies has led to a situation where next to African countries, India has become a major dumping ground for Chinese engineers and semi-skilled workers to the detriment of the interests of Indian engineers and semi-skilled workers. Opening our doors to sensitive sectors such as telecommunications to Chinese private companies — state-sponsored really — has added to the concerns of our security agencies.

Unfortunately, we do not have a debate either in Parliament or outside on the background of the Chinese companies which have been entering India in large numbers and on the threats that this could pose to our national interests. Unchecked and inadequately monitored Chinese economic intrusions should be of as great a concern as unchecked and inadequately monitored Chinese troop intrusions into Indian territory.

Our recognition of Tibet as an integral part of China and our acceptance of the 'One China' policy of Beijing without a quid pro quo in the form of acceptance of Jammu & Kashmir as an integral part of India and of the 'One India' policy have proved counter-productive. In our anxiety to avoid adding to the tensions and distrust between the two countries, we have let Beijing dictate what should be the nature of New Delhi's interactions with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugees. We avoid open interactions with the Dalai Lama and are not even prepared to associate him with the project to revive the Nalanda University.

Our hopes that closing our eyes to the worrisome aspects of the economic relations and imposing restrictions on our relationship with the Dalai Lama could contribute to a change in Chinese policies have been repeatedly belied. China has taken advantage of the lack of assertiveness on our part to advance its core interests in the region with total disregard for India's core interests.

Better relations with China on mutually and equally advantageous terms and not on terms which favour the Chinese alone should be our policy. A clear message in non-provocative language has to go to Beijing that New Delhi has been disillusioned by China's self-centred policies and its lack of reciprocity in respecting our core interests. Strategic relations have to be a two-way traffic. For China, they are a one-way traffic benefiting only its core interests. 

China has taken a major lead over us in building its strategic strengths, strategic presence and strategic alliances. China's economic and military strengths and its building military-related infrastructure in Tibet have given it a confidence that it can impose its will on India — through subterfuge so long as it is possible; through open action if and when it becomes necessary.

We are lagging behind China in all these fields. Neutralising the advantages which China has acquired for itself should be the main objective of our future policies. Our focus should be on xpediting the completion of infrastructure projects in the border areas and adding to our China-specific military strengths in a time-bound manner.

The writer is a strategic affairs analyst and former senior official of R&AW.






A new study, published in the prestigious Proceedings B, of what makes wild animals extinct in their habitat shows in most parts of India people are 'culturally tolerant' towards elephants which provides them with natural protection, writes Rajesh Singh

The decision to anoint the elephant as our 'National Heritage Animal' may have been a symbolic act with some collateral benefits like more forest reserves and funds for the pachyderm to flourish, but a recent scientific study shows that animals like the elephant that have strong links with our cultural history have a greater chance of survival even when they confront large human population. This contrasts sharply with the general trend of wildlife being threatened through increased exposure to humans, as a result of man-animal conflicts.

According to a research paper published in the journal Proceedings B, seven "culturally tolerated" species have lower extinction probabilities, even in areas with high human population densities. On the other hand as many as 13 of the 25 mammals surveyed in the India-specific research suffered high extinction possibility directly associated with a large human population density. Interestingly, the elephant was the only large-bodied mammal that the research found to be less vulnerable to extinction.

Proceedings B is the Royal Society's flagship biological research journal, dedicated, in its own words, to the "rapid publication and broad dissemination of high-quality research papers, reviews and comment and reply papers". The UK-based Royal society is an organisation famed for the promotion of scientific knowledge and is essentially a fellowship of some of the world's most renowned scientists.

The research document was authored by noted wildlife expert K Ullas Karanth along with four other experts — Krithi K Karanth, James Nichols, James E Hines and Norman L Christensen Jr — and used historical records to obtain a set of locations at which each species was known to have been present at some time in the last two centuries, with the estimated local extinction probability referenced to a 100-year time frame. It dwelt on the major factors that lead to (or prevent) extinction of the 25 species under study. But, while factors such as protested reserves and reduced conflict with humans figured in the study as crucial to minimizing extinction, it is perhaps for the first time that a comprehensive scientific paper has acknowledged the role of the intangible 'cultural tolerance' in saving wildlife from extinction.

The authors identified the States of Rajasthan and Gujarat as culturally the "most tolerant", while the seven North-East States, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were categorised as the "least tolerant". 

Elaborating on the concept of cultural tolerance, Mr Karanth, Senior Conservation Scientist, Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, and Director, Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore, told The Pioneer, "Species like the blackbuck and nilgai are tolerated in private lands because of religious or caste sentiments in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and to a lesser extent in some other north Indian States. So, while they survive in large numbers there, their numbers have dwindled in the Deccan region." This was because they were not strongly associated as cultural symbols there, he added.

He further said that the North-East States (though not Assam) was particularly "less tolerant" simply because a large number of wildlife species were hunted for meat, body parts, feathers and as trophy. In fact, the culture is such that in many cases it promotes hunting. He pointed out, "Commercial hunting is so widespread and culturally deep-rooted that most large mammals have been pushed to the brink." Mr Karanth added that tolerance (for wildlife) level is low enough to be comparable to those in South-East Asian countries like Burma, Thailand and Cambodia. 

Claiming that the cultural tolerance phenomenon was "somewhat unique to Southern Asia", the authors pointed out in the study that the factor worked in favour of nilgai and chinkara, especially in western India, just it did for other species like the elephant in different regions. 

Commenting on the elephant — which incidentally finds itself in the 2009 Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature as an endangered species because of its overall population decline by at least 50 per cent over the last 65-70 years in the country — the research paper says, "We expected large-bodied mammals to be more vulnerable to extinction, which was supported for many species except for elephants, which are culturally tolerated." 

In all, cultural tolerance has played an important role in countering the extinction of at least seven species covered by the study. So, while the elephant, for instance, is considered an endangered species by IUCN, the fact that it is culturally tolerated in various parts of the country could help in reversing its declining numbers, more so when it gets projected as a National Heritage Animal. 

The mammal species that were covered by the study are chital, sambar, muntjac, mouse deer, swamp deer, blackbuck, nilgai, chinkara, four-horned antelope, nilgiri tahr, wild pig, gaur, wild buffalo, elephant, rhino, black bear, brown bear, sloth bear, hyena, jackal, wild dog, wolf, tiger, leopard and lion. Besides the elephant, the other mammals covered by the study that were classified as 'endangered' by IUCN are the nilgiri tahr, wild buffalo, rhino, wild dog and, of course, the tiger.

Since the overall conclusion of the study, titled 'The Shrinking Ark: pattern of large mammal extinctions in India', is that all the 25 species showed "substantial probabilities of extinction over the past century", it must be taken as a wake-up call by authorities who should realise that the quest for development should not end up imperiling the fragile ecological balance. Infrastructure and industrials projects must, therefore, take into active consideration the danger of "imminent contraction and fragmentation of ranges of many vulnerable mammals". 







For nearly three centuries after the Reformation, Catholics in England were outlaws. But in the turmoil and persecution that followed the break between King Henry VIII and Rome, noble families such as the Stonors clung to their faith, "in spite of dungeon, fire and sword", as the Victorian hymn 'Faith of our Fathers' put it.

"We're just stubborn, really," says Ralph Thomas Campion Stonor, the seventh Lord Camoys, a title bestowed on an ancestor for valour in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

Pope Benedict XVI will recall the years of persecution during his tour of Britain from September 16-19. He will visit Westminster Hall, the medieval chamber within the Houses of Parliament where the Catholic Thomas More was tried and convicted of treason in 1535. More refused to swear an oath accepting the annulment of King Henry's marriage, thus becoming one of the first of the legion of English Catholic martyrs.

The Stonor family's history mirrors the vicissitudes of Catholics, both noble and humble, who defied the law and risked death to preserve their faith through times of persecution until they regained full legal rights in the 19th century. The Stonors were among those described as respectable 'recusants', people who refused to attend Church of England services; respectable because they did not join in any plots to overthrow the monarchy.

It was possible, even in the turbulent times of Queen Elizabeth I, to be openly Catholic and still enjoy royal favor. A notable case was the composer William Byrd, who wrote music for the Chapel Royal and for the Catholic Mass.

The Stonor family sheltered another famous martyr, the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion. Campion's printing press was discovered at the Stonor house after Campion was arrested in 1581. Dame Cecily Stonor, who had already been paying yearly fines equivalent to 50,000 pounds in today's money, and her son John were arrested as well.

She stoutly refused to renounce her faith in which, she declared, she found "nothing taught in it but great virtue and sanctity, and so by the grace of god I will live and die in it." The heavy fines and confiscation of Catholic lands depleted the wealth of the Stonors, who by the 14th century had owned 22 manors in eight counties plus 60 acres of land in the centre of London.

Various post-Reformation laws barred Catholics from entering London, travelling more than 16 km from home or owning horses worth more than 10 pounds, but the Stonor family continued to live in some comfort in their grand house, nestled between hills in the countryside 65 km west of London.

Camoys pointed out a painting from the more relaxed time of King James II, a Catholic who reigned from 1685 to 1688. The painting shows a large number of horses — clearly worth more than allowed — outside the house, along with a fine carriage.

Persecution ran both ways. Queen Mary, the Catholic daughter of Henry VIII, vigorously sought to uproot the Church of England; Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, author of the Book of Common Prayer, and Bishops Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were among scores burned at the stake during her reign from 1553 to 1558. Mary also bestowed a knighthood on Francis Stonor.

Pope Pius V fuelled official paranoia in 1570 by publishing a bull pronouncing the Protestant Queen Elizabeth to be excommunicated and deposed. Nonetheless, Elizabeth knighted the second Francis Stonor as a gesture of reconciliation.

Pope Sixtus V supported the Spanish Armada and promised financial support for the invasion which never came, because the English Navy repulsed the Spanish fleet in 1588.

Though officially suppressed, Catholics developed an organisation in the following century with four Vicars Apostolic acting much like bishops, overseeing districts. One of the vicars was John Talbot Stonor, who died in 1756; it helped that he had support from a relative, the Duke of Shrewsbury, who was Lord Chamberlain, Camoys said.

Camoys, an investment banker, in 1998 became the first Catholic since the Reformation to be appointed Lord Chamberlain, a senior royal official, and he is a financial adviser to the Vatican. The family chapel, still open under a licence granted by King Edward III in 1349, is a touchstone of his faith, he says. "It's the chapel, the existence of the chapel, the continuity of that chapel — that is the thing that is foremost in our minds and keeps us going," Camoys said.

The chapel boasts a Stations of the Cross carved from wood and presented to Camoys's parents by Graham Greene, the late Catholic novelist.

Laws restricting Catholic rights were enacted in every reign from Elizabeth I to George II, who died in 1760. In 1832, Catholics won the right to vote, and one of the first to benefit was Thomas Stonor. He moved easily into the establishment, serving Queen Victoria as Lord-in-Waiting for 28 years.

For ordinary Catholics, the most significant date was 1791, when they were allowed to celebrate Mass openly. The ban on Catholics entering Oxford or Cambridge universities remained in force until the 1870s, during the lifetime of Cardinal Newman, the convert from the Church of England who is to be beatified by Benedict on September 19.

Newman, born in 1801, saw the early years of the 19th century as a dark time for the faith, reduced in his eyes to "but a few adherents of the old religion, moving silently and sorrowfully about, as memorials of what had been".

In contrast, Camoys pointed to a portrait of an 18th century ancestor, his proud, almost haughty face framed in a long wig. "They don't look downtrodden, do they?" Camoys said. Other Catholic noble families survived, including the Dukes of Norfolk who are the pre-eminent nobles of England, though the fourth duke was beheaded for plotting against Queen Elizabeth. Ordinary Catholics shared in the suffering. 

Margaret Clitherow, a butcher's wife from York, was executed in 1586 by being pressed to death with heavy weights. A convert to Catholicism during Elizabeth's reign, Clitherow sheltered priests in her home. 








THE issue of elected representatives declaring their assets to the public has always been a thorny one — lawmakers do not want to do it, while the voting public wants to know in the interest of integrity and honesty what their representative's assets are.


This is not an unusual demand, and in a democracy, people's leaders must have the courage to disclose their assets so that their financial dealings are transparent. The Election Commission of India has made it mandatory for all candidates to declare their assets.


Yet, this almost never goes according to script.


Ministers in the Union cabinet, for instance, are not obligated to declare their assets.


There is, therefore, inherent mistrust that the electorate displays towards these politicians, more so when they are forced to declare their assets and the figures seem to defy common sense and even common knowledge.


There are ministers who have backgrounds as successful businessmen and entrepreneurs, yet their assets are of the class that would match those of any upper middle- class house owner in Delhi or Mumbai.


There are others who have served long terms as Union Ministers and even chief ministers, yet their assets are less than those of even the poorer Class IV employees.


For ministers to be honest about assets declaration there needs to be a law that specifies each and every aspect of the calculation of assets. One loophole that the current law has is that politicians are expected to declare only their direct income, whereas their investments and income from their spouses, companies, directorships in firms, etc, do not come under the purview of the EC's guidelines.


Disclosure norms have one other problem: politicians are not expected to declare their sources of income. So when MPs routinely show impressive wealth expansion during the five years they are in office, clearly the sources of incomes need to be trustworthy. They also need to be questioned.


It may be a good idea for the Union government to come up with a model format which would ensure that all the loopholes are plugged and that we will be comparing like with like. That declaration should be made publicly available and should provide a continuous record of the income and expenditure of a politician, and a clear profile of how their assets have been created. In this way, the rise in the value of fixed assets, like a house or a flat, which often tends to make people appear richer than they are, will clearly show up.








ON the face of it, the industrial production figures for July appear to indicate that the economy is all set to enter a sustained period of high growth. The overall industrial production up by 13.76 per cent, a sharp turnaround from June's revised lower figure of 5.76 per cent and nearly double the growth rate logged in July last year. Moreover, this surge was powered by a phenomenal 63 per cent growth in capital goods output. Since capital goods are used to produce other goods, one can logically conclude that industry is optimistic of demand sustaining at a high level in the future and is gearing up to cater to that demand.


However, both the finance minister and the country's chief statistician have been somewhat cautious in responding to these numbers.


We would tend to agree. Given the gaps in our data capturing mechanism, too much cannot be read into a sudden swing in a single month's figure, especially if it is driven largely by growth in one particular area.


There is no doubting the fact that the underlying growth story remains buoyant. The sizzling 33 per cent growth in automobile sales recorded in July, or the over 22 per cent growth in consumer durables production logged in the Index of Industrial Production ( IIP) numbers for July, tend to indicate that consumer demand continues to remain robust. However, the surge in capital goods may end up being a statistical anomaly, since it is not matched by any corresponding growth in either bank credit, or capital raising activity in the stock markets.


This makes a monetary policy response to these numbers tricky. Should the RBI increase rates or hold on for some more time? Rising inflationary pressures calls for urgent monetary tightening. On the other hand, slack credit offtake might mandate a slower withdrawal. In balance, with all indications of a good monsoon, it might be opportune to focus on inflation.








THE LAST fortnight has been an unusual one. The Congress leadership and the Prime Minister have been speaking in different voices on the model of development for the country. Such debate is welcome as it is about issues vital to the future of this country in the new century.


But note how strikingly different the tone and tenor is between party and the head of government.


Rahul Gandhi at Niyamgiri and then Sonia Gandhi at Dadri called for development that was honed to environmental concerns. The former invoked Adivasi forest rights, the latter the importance of land to the cultivators.


In tilting for growth with the environment as distant also ran, the Prime Minister is doing more than differ with his party's senior leaders.


The environment mattered, but its advocates ought not to perpetuate poverty. In weighing up the scales, it is clear he sees growth as greater priority.


What is fascinating is that there has been a long standing engagement of Indian leaders with the problem of nature and modernisation.


Mahatma Gandhi when asked what he thought of Western civilisation crisply replied, "I think it would be a splendid idea".


His maximum programme of rural renewal was centred on artisan and handicraft industry, on agriculture and not modern, heavy industry. Nehru's preferences were well known by the late Twenties.




The importance of such heavy industry ' from a defence point of view' was driven home in one of Nehru's best ever speeches made to a closed door meeting of Gandhiji's associates in March 1948 at Wardha. Keeping the country together was an economic as much as a political challenge and the artifices of modern industry were a must for the new India.


Yet, there is a different lesser known Nehru, who emerges in his writings and speeches as much as in his actions. In The Discovery of India , he warned against excessive mechanisation in the densely populated Ganga valley. He outlined with great clarity how floods had worsened in north India after modern roads and railways had cut off the natural drainage paths of waters in the monsoons.


His interventions on the ecological front have been mostly missed by his biographers except for the late S. Gopal. Writing to the administrator of Junagarh in February 1948, he asked for urgent action to protect the last lions of Asia in the Gir Forest. His of the Viceroys impelled him to act decisively to save these magnificent animals.


Such debates and such interventions cannot but come to mind at a time when the Prime Minister has come down so clearly on the side of those who see ecological concerns as a mere barrier to rapid growth. The environment, Dr Singh intoned is important but environmentalists should not perpetuate poverty.


Yet, the record of independent India, haltingly in the Nehru era and much more decisively over the last four decades has been to engage with both concerns. If anything, when compared to that great Asian giant China, it comes out as far more prescient and farsighted.


Within a decade of Nehru's instructions on the Gir Forest, Mao declared war against nature in China. Sparrows were exterminated so systematically, that it led to insect havoc. Less well known but of the same ilk was the drive to shoot down the tigers of southern China who were branded' striped counter revolutionary Kuomintang bandits.' Yet it was not Nehru but Indira Gandhi who took abroad environmental concerns in a systematic manner. Her speech at Stockholm in 1972 where she argued poverty is the greatest polluter was however far more nuanced than the views of the present incumbent. She went on to argue that for poverty to be contained, modern science was a must.




But warning against an arrogant attitude to nature she more than once quoted an Upanishadic verse, ' Let me not hurt thy vitals, thy heart.' It was this openness to ecological awareness that impelled her in 1980 to respond to the calls of ecologists across the world and young campaigners across India in general but Kerala in particular in reviewing the Silent Valley dam.


The shelving of the hydel project and protection of the rain forest was major landmark. Then as now, an ideologue in office argued that opponents of the dam were anti- development.


" Man comes before monkey," intoned the Communist chief minister of Kerala, PK Vasudevan Nair. Fortunately the review committee headed by MS Swaminathan advised otherwise, influenced no doubt not only by the presence of rare primates in Silent valley but by the importance of keeping intact rain forest, a treasure trove of plants and animals of possible medicinal and scientific value.


He may have bent towards clearing the Silent Valley project, but Prime Minister Morarji Desai courageously put an end to the export of monkeys. Over two million had been exported by 1978; many used in weapons tests in the United States. Morarji Desai's insights into the forest issues drew form his experience as Deputy Collector in Thane district, where he had eased forest restrictions for Adivasi women.


Yet, the 1980s were a time of enormous setbacks for the environmental movements worldwide.


The United States had a president who famously remarked, " Eighty per cent of all pollution comes from plants and trees". Ronald Reagan evidently did not know that plants emit oxygen in the presence of sunlight than more than makes up for the carbon emissions at night.


In the Soviet Union, the Politburo under Leonid Brezhnev considered whether to use atomic blasts to help channel water to the dying Caspian Sea.


India underwent a major transformation in that same decade.


Environmental concerns of city, village and forest were knit together in new synthesis by men and women like the late Anil Agarwal ( no relative of the Vedanta chairman). There is little doubt that these concerns often played second fiddle to more prosaic concerns of growth.


But the idea of the environment as a living asset that sustained the poor gathered force. Trees from various parts of the country, the tendu in central India, the oaks of the Himalayas and the khejri of the desert were seen as symbols of the renewal that must accompany growth.


Of course, the India of the postreform era is a different place, with more impetus for growth and infrastucture especially so from the private sector. But to articulate concerns of vital landscapes and living rivers, to raise the issues of Adivasis or pastoralists who are displaced by unplanned development is an act of foresight not a marker of backwardness.




The party leaders seem more at ease with the nuances of the issues. The Prime Minister, by contrast, sounds like an unreconstructed developmentalist.


But India has had decades of serious debate on the problem of how to deal with nature and techniques. Even its hardened critics would find it difficult to bracket Nehru's ecological legacy with that of Chairman Mao or our previous Premiers' ecological awareness with Ronald Reagan's blissful ignorance.


Making space for nature may conflict with breakneck growth.


Entrepreneurial energy contends with environmental justice.


That record and those debates are a vital legacy in trying to strike a balance.


Living up to the legacy is crucial to comprehend better today's dilemmas. How the party and government work to a balance will be worth watching.


The writer is an environmental historian








POLITICS, they say, is the art of the possible.


Just four months after the two sides went through a messy divorce, the BJP and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha are together again and Arjun Munda was sworn in as chief minister for the third time last Saturday.


That the Congress cried foul, and called it an " unholy alliance" was something expected, but what came as a surprise were inspired leaks from party bigwigs about the BJP being a house divided on the matter and of L. K. Advani being so miffed that he was planning to give the swearing- in a miss.


If it is true that Advani and other senior leaders at 11, Ashok Road, are upset and angry at the turn of events, that may have a lot to do with the fact that, perhaps for the first time ever, the senior party leaders were absolutely in the dark about the quiet moves that were being made to put a government in place in Ranchi.


The decision was taken by the RSS leadership which had decided a long time ago that the sensitive state, which is both a theatre for conversions and a playing field for Naxalites, cannot be allowed to slip into the hands of ' pseudo- secularists'. The RSS, based on inputs from its frontal organisations in the state, had decided that since it were the tribals, whom the JMM claimed to represent, who were the primary targets of conversion, the BJP had no options but to make some compromises for the bigger cause. The RSS believes that only a tribal- dominated government lead by a tribal leader would be able to resist forced conversions.


To recap: Relations between the two parties had turned sour in May when the JMM, which formed the government in alliance with the BJP after the assembly elections in Jharkhand last December threw up a hung assembly, voted in favour of the Manmohan Singh government against the BJP- sponsored cut motions in parliament.


An angry BJP withdrew support to the Shibu Soren- led government. The BJPJMM's has been a love- hate relationship.


When a non bailable warrant was issued against Soren, the coal minister in the UPA government in 2004, the BJP stalled Parliament for days together and even petitioned the then President APJ Abdul Kalam to dismiss the minister.


Politics has turned a full circle and not only are the two parties supping once again, even Soren and Arjun Munda, once sworn foes, are now camp mates.


Once the RSS was certain that another government could be formed, it went about it in a very hushed manner. The reason that no more than a handful were privy to the goings- on was because the last time a reunion was attempted, it was sabotaged by elements at Ashoka Road who spread the canard that the party will concede leadership to the JMM. Yashwant Sinha This is humbug, because when efforts were made in July and MLAs sounded out, 13 of the 18 BJP MLAs had said they would support a new government conditional to it being led by Munda.


Yet, for reasons that only the central leadership knows, it propped up Yashwant Sinha, an efficient administrator no doubt, but who is seen in the Jharkhand context as some sort of a cultural misfit.


Evidence of the internal sabotage was strewn all around and the RSS was clearly determined not to let it happen a second time. The entire operation was a well kept secret.


Though the BJP constitution says the party's choice of a chief minister is decided by the party's Parliamentary Board, there is also a clause that allows the party president to take a decision if an emergency arises.


Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh, trusted soldiers of the RSS, had worked quietly on the MLAs of both parties as well as those belonging to the JVM. The legislators were warned about the prospects of dissolution of the assembly and the possibilities of central rule under a Congress regime in New Delhi.


Even as they were in touch with important leaders in the state, they never divulged the shape and contours of

the new government nor did they give out details of the time frame within which the operation was to be carried out.


His two earlier terms put together, Munda had served less than three years as chief minister.


The quicksand that Jharkhand politics is, it will be foolish to speculate how long he will stay in this third innings.


To hard core BJP sympathisers, that is less important than the fact that for the first time, the RSS not only stepped in but did so decisively. That's not good news for the bosses at Ashoka Road.



CIVIL aviation minister Praful Patel is not a man to sit over files. He disposes them quickly, even if they are related to contentious issues like the renaming of airports.

For example, when the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu wanted the Madurai airport to be named after Pasumpon Muthuramalingam Thevar, an important leader of the powerful Thevar community, Patel readily agreed, not unaware of the fact that Madurai is the constituency of M. K. Alagiri, the Union minister for chemicals and fertilisers and son of M. Karunanidhi.


He treats even opponents with the same respect. When the Akalis demanded, Patel agreed to rename Amritsar's Rajhansi International Airport as Guru Ramdassjee International Airport and the upcoming International Civil Air Terminal Complex near Chandigarh as Shahid- e- Azam Sardar Bhagat Singh International Airport.


The Union defence and home ministries have given their consent to the renaming of the three airports and the Cabinet is waiting for the ministries of finance, tourism and the Planning Commission to revert. As many as 27 airports have been renamed in the last few years. With most airports around the country being modernised, there is going to be a clamour, particularly from political parties for renaming them and if Patel has to keep everyone happy, he will have to concede every demand.


My sympathies are for the poor airline pilots and crew.


Imagine a commander who flies an airliner into a city one day and returns the next week to find the airport has a

new name.


I am all for honouring our heroes, political or otherwise.


But there are better ways to do that than by frequently changing the names of airports.


My suggestion: just call them Mumbai International, Chennai International, Kolkata international, whatever.


That is, of course, hoping that the names of these cities — earlier Bombay, Madras and Calcutta — will not be changed again.



DESPITE assertions by leaders of both the Congress and the DMK about the glue that binds the two, speculation is rife in New Delhi and Chennai about impending cataclysmic changes.

There is both heartburn and joy, depending on which side of the fence you are on, and the unpredictable Jayalalithaa is the cause for both. With the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu due next year, the lady from Poes Gardens seems inclined to return to the Congress fold and is said to be keen to mend fences with 10 Janpath.


For that to happen, she realises that the best route taken is via the friends of Rahul Gandhi. She is already in touch with some of the younger leaders of the Congress and though she is keeping all her cards close to her bosom, do not be surprised if she catches a flight to the capital on December 9 to greet Sonia Gandhi on her 64th birthday.


Before the 1998 general elections, she had termed the prospect of a Sonia prime ministership as a " national tragedy". Yet, a year later, Jayalalithaa sent political temperatures soaring when she rushed to the Capital and attended a lunch in honour of Sonia, whom she had avoided meeting for the previous five years.


A few weeks after the two had shared a sumptuous and much publicised meal, the Vajpayee government lost its majority in the Lok Sabha and was voted out by the thinnest of margins.


For the Iron Lady, such visits are not about courtesy alone. In 2001, when the former Congress veteran G. K. Moopanar, who had broken away from the party to form the Tamil Manila Congress, was terminally ill, she drove to his house to inquire about his health and emerged from the meeting with an AIADMK- TMC alliance pact. We will wait till December to know about the rabbit she pulls out this time.








The latest QS World University Rankings offer more evidence of the worrisome stagnation that higher education in India is facing. That IIT Bombay is the only institute to figure in the top 200 is indicative of the desperate need for education reforms. Compared to this China has as many as six universities that are ranked higher than 200, with four in the top 50. Having a clear advantage in manufacturing, it appears that China is now determined to outstrip India in the knowledge sector as well. To respond to this challenge, India needs to cast aside its bureaucratic approach to higher education and start thinking out of the box. 

Indian universities are over-regulated, born out of the desire to keep elitism at bay. However, this approach has paid little dividends, stifling the potential of universities to grow and leading to a shortage in quality institutions of higher learning. The few institutions that have enjoyed autonomy, such as the IITs and IIMs, have turned out to be institutes of excellence. There is a case not only for having many more autonomous institutions but also giving a significant degree of autonomy to the existing central and state universities. In doing so the latter will have the freedom to chart their own course and many will become more competitive, leading to a rise in quality. 

The fundamental problem in the education sector is lack of choice. Although moves such as the IITs' recent decision to offer interdisciplinary courses in medicine are welcome, it is clear that our education infrastructure is insufficient to ensure a steady supply of high-skilled talent to the knowledge-driven sectors of the economy. To remedy the situation, a conducive environment needs to be created to facilitate greater private and foreign investment in education. Vocational education too needs to be boosted. Implementing policies that make the education sector more market-oriented is our best bet to inject vibrancy into our universities. The problem of access can be resolved through greater availability of educational loans and scholarships. 

Our legislators need to think big and go beyond the usual politics of education. But if that proves impossible, a way out could be the creation of special educational zones exempted from the current licence-permit raj in higher education, which would serve as education and skill development hubs. These could help establish education townships along the lines of Oxford and Cambridge and even reverse the brain drain. Freeing up the higher education sector by encouraging greater autonomy, competition and private sector participation must be the mantra.







Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and Rohan Bopanna lost in the US Open finals. Never mind. Their feat still deserves applause. Qureshi and Bopanna lost to the top seeds, Bob and Mike Bryan, after a well-fought match. What gives the tennis duo's success an extra dimension is the unusual pairing. Indian and Pakistani citizens rarely join hands, even in sport. The two tennis players have offered us a scenario rarely imagined in the subcontinent, a partnership involving Indians and Pakistanis. The Qureshi-Bopanna partnership is evidence that such a prospect can be real and rewarding. It's a model worthy of emulation not just in sports but in other spheres of human activity and interaction. What's possible in sport is surely possible in business, trade, education, healthcare, disaster management and so many other sectors. 

Here, it may be worth asking what made Qureshi and Bopanna click as a team. Bopanna summed up their success in a single word: trust. The baggage of the past may weigh down heads of states and armies and restrict their capabilities to rise above mutual suspicion and forge a climate of peace. But should civil societies also remain prisoners of historic animosities? Of course, t here are vested interests in both countries operating at various levels that seek to perpetuate the cycle of blood feuds. One way to marginalise them is for civil societies to build alliances that are not restricted by the logic of the nation state, like the Qureshi-Bopanna bonding. Once such alliances gain momentum, even states could be brought to realise the transformational potential that is present in collaboration.







The Indian strategic community thinks that the US must stay in Afghanistan for as long as it takes to wear out the Taliban and ensure stability in that deeply troubled country. It would probably be better for the US to withdraw as quickly as possible and turn its attention to its internal problems, its role in East Asia, and much larger global challenges. 

Ten years on, the US should consider pulling out of Afghanistan. While it cannot lose against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, it also cannot win outright. If so, Islamic extremism around the world will prosper. Extremists in Pakistan will celebrate the US quagmire in Afghanistan and the radicalisation of Pakistani opinion. The US's presence may be a bulwark against radicalisation, but it is an equal bet that the longer the US stays, the more radical Pakistan will become. When the US finally pulls out, as it must, Pakistan might collapse into civil war if not extremism. Better then for the US to go when the moderates still have a chance. 

Taliban rule in Afghanistan may be more palatable this time round. Mullah Omar is likely to be far more circumspect about extremism and terrorism. The US must, of course, continue to monitor, disrupt, and destroy the workings of al-Qaeda and to bolster homeland defence. Washington can use its air power, particularly the drones, to target Afghan extremists and al-Qaeda if the Taliban continues to support terrorism. The threat of US intervention from the air might well deter the Taliban, which in its new incarnation seems keen to rebuild Afghanistan economically rather than reinstall a pitiless Islamic regime. 

For the US, this is a more affordable, efficient way of combating terror than fighting in distant lands. A US pullout from Afghanistan will not be a strategic defeat. It may mark the high point of Islamic extremism which might well recede with the US's departure from Iraq and Afghanistan just as global communism peaked after the US's exit from Vietnam

The problem with the present US course is that the workings of the US political and economic system, its role in East Asia and issues of the global commons are being neglected. The US political system is now in a logjam, fatally divided between right extremism and a moderate centrism. The economy is heavily in debt (due in part to the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), is growing very slowly, and could be heading towards double-dip recession. No one in the US knows whether the country should spend its way out of trouble or curb the role of the state and stimulate market forces. 

Washington has been obsessed with Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iraq might yet turn out to be moderately stable and governable. The future of Afghanistan and Pakistan is much darker. Yet what is the worst that could happen a Taliban-led Afghanistan and a radical Pakistan? This could be a formidable combination, but just as likely is that Afghan/Pashtun nationalism and Pakistani/Punjabi nationalism will clash, leaving the two countries in unending contention rather than collusion. Nobody has mastered Afghanistan in the past, and the idea that Pakistan will do so in the years to come is a historical wager that the Pakistani army is likely to lose. 

With so much invested in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Americans are not paying enough attention to East Asia and the global commons. 
China is steadily on the rise. This is not altogether bad: a better balance of power is stabilising for the international system. But the key is balance. In Asia, the balance will be hard to preserve given China's enormous size and potential. The US could wake up very soon to find that Beijing is the hegemon of Asia. Before Washington reacts, the Chinese, who are driving deep into Africa, will also be ensconced in Latin America

Finally, the US is ignoring the global commons. Global trade and finance, climate change, resource scarcities, and epidemics and disease jeopardise life on the planet far more insidiously and dangerously than Islamic terrorism. The US is the world's most indispensable power, to use Madeleine Albright's boast, in terms of global collective action. It must find its way back to these grand strategic challenges and not lose the woods for the trees. 

A US pullout will not be a cataclysm for India. For one thing, the US will no longer be so helpless before Pakistan, and its military aid might reduce significantly. Further, 
New Delhi has dealt with Af-Pak before, from 1989 to 2001. It could team up with IranRussia and perhaps even Pakistan to play a positive role. Islamabad might cooperate to ensure New Delhi does not destabilise Afghanistan, exploit Afghan-Pakistan differences in the future (which are almost inevitable), and draw even closer to the US. 

A rampant America, after the Cold War, was not always a progressive force, but at least it provided global leadership. Today, the world faces the possibility of an America riven politically, battered economically and shaken militarily, its forces rattled by the experience of asymmetric warfare. An unconfident America, with a waning sense of power and purpose, fighting an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, is not in India's or the world's interest. 

The writer is professor of international politics, JNU.



                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA





Aruna Roy , member of National Advisory Council, is in the thick of preparations for a truck yatra and dharna to mobilise people for demands relating to rights of weaker sections and systemic improvement of governance. Bharat Dogra spoke to her about the need for this mobilization: 

The general impression is that Rajasthan has a better record of governance. 

I agree that Rajasthan has an above-average record in the implementation of NREGS, but at the same time serious irregularities have been coming to light regularly. This has happened to the extent of payment of wage of one rupee per day being exposed. This shows that systemic reform to root out corruption is still needed. 

Again despite the tremendous head start Rajasthan had in the case of Right to Information, the government could not carry forward the transparency agenda in an effective way. The Information Commission's functioning left much to be desired. In fact, till a short while ago there was just one commissioner. Some decisions of the government have been quite arbitrary. For example, when we started forming NREGS workers' unions, the government refused registration for these unions, even though such unions have been functioning in other states (like Gujarat and UP). 

In the context of your efforts to fight corruption in rural development, how do you see the recent agitation by sarpanches and panchayat secretaries? 

We've been very clear from the outset that genuine decentralisation will get our full support, but at the same time looking at the reality we cannot ignore the massive corruption that threatens to destroy the real aims of panchayat raj and rural decentralisation. A struggle against corruption is badly needed if the benefits of decentralisation and devolution are to reach villagers. Our struggles against corruption including public hearings and social audits have helped in the recovery of public funds, which were being plundered. At the same time we've extended help to sarpanches who want to work honestly and resist demands for commissions. 

Are social audits also resisted by corrupt elements? 

It is surprising that although social audits are mandatory for NREGS, this legal requirement is being resisted. A situation was sought to be created where the person who has spent the money also conducts the social audit. This will make a mockery of social audit. So we opposed such efforts. At the same time when socially conscious citizens come forward to strengthen social audits, then this effort instead of being welcomed is resisted by vested interests as an intervention by 'outsiders'. Surely the right of well-meaning citizens to contribute to transparency to improve governance cannot be trampled upon. 

So what will be your leading demands in the next wave of mobilisation? 

The Soochna and Rojgar Adhikar Abhiyan will start a truck yatra in Rajasthan on September 15, which will culminate in a dharna in Jaipur. Apart from pressing for systemic governance reforms, which will curb corruption and lead to better implementation of important laws like those of right to information and rural employment guarantee, we emphasise raising minimum wages and linking minimum wages to a properly worked out Consumer Price Index. 

People are angry that while the salaries and income of elite sections have seen a huge rise, promise to increase minimum wages has not been fulfilled so far.






I looked at the exquisite cutwork embroidery on the deep blue chiffon blouse an expensive birthday gift from my youngest brother. My eyes fell on the travelling iron and hair-drier, gifted by my second brother to make touring on my job more comfortable. Post-retirement, i was settling my cupboard. 

My mind flew back to 40 years when i first started working. My excitement at earning a salary was no less than that of my two school-going brothers, Noel and Darryl. I had grandly told them i would give them pocket money of Rs 20 a month (a handsome sum in days when a masala dosa cost 50 paise and the bus fare from the suburbs to the city was 25 paise). American-style, i announced that if they wanted more money, they could do chores for me. 

Rushing to get ready for a parish youth meeting one evening, i saw Darryl lounging on the bed, reading a comic. "While i shower, iron my jeans and kurta please," i requested. The wretch did not budge. "For love or for money?" he enquired. "For money! For money!" i said impatiently. Still he did not move. Glancing sideways, he checked, "Dhobi or laundry charges?" "Laundry!" i shouted, at which he leaped up grinning, to get started on the work. 

Both boys proved very proactive in finding chores to do for me. "Look at the dust on your cupboard top," Noel pointed out. "Shall i clean it?" "Would you?" i said, pleased with his offer. But was promptly brought down to earth when he stated matter-of-factly, "Five rupees." "What!" i exclaimed. "So much! Just to wipe a little dust." He surveyed the task. "It's a thick layer of dust", he justified, "and there are cobwebs as well." When i burst out laughing, he cajoled, "I am ready to work for the money, instead of just pestering you for it. Come on. Say okay." 

Darryl had been listening intently as Noel negotiated. He promptly allocated to himself sundry tasks such as polishing my shoes, dusting my open book-case (with separate rates for the thick encyclopaedia set on the first shelf and the smaller books on the second shelf!), etc. I was amused to be presented with a bill headed ' 
Handyman Darryl's Monthly Services' with a subtitle 'Fixed Rates for Excellent Work'. "Have decided to be professional," was the explanation given. I paid up every month. 

Keen to see a talked-about movie, i mentioned to mum that i would ask Noel to accompany me. She cautioned that he had already arranged to see it with a group of teenage friends and would probably prefer to go with them, rather than an elder sister. When Noel readily agreed, mum was delighted thinking that brotherly love had outweighed his own enjoyment. 

On complimenting him later, she was disillusioned. "Mum", Noel explained patiently, "on our pocket money, my friends and i will have to take a bus to the station, buy stall tickets and make do with coke and popcorn in the interval. Sis will take an autorickshaw. If the queue for the stalls is too long, she will say, 'Let's go in the balcony'. Also, sis just loves the pista kulfi and chicken roll sold at the Sterling snack bar." And he smacked his lips in anticipation of the treat! 

While on holiday to splash my first bonus, i sent a letter home requesting either of the boys to complete a task for me. "Do it for love or for money. But just make sure it's done before i return," i had written. A reply postcard said simply, "Job completed. Payment awaited." 


I closed the cupboard, nostalgically remembering the days when the two young brats believed in common wealth, from starting block to finishing line! 









The violence unleashed in the form of protesters setting fire to Government of India symbols in Srinagar after Eid prayers on Saturday was not totally unexpected. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah wouldn't have left instructions before flying off to Delhi that security forces should not open fire on the day of Eid otherwise. On the face of it, with government offices and police posts set ablaze, the task of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) that meets today to forge out a strategy for Kashmir becomes that much harder.
The plan for partial withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the release of detained protesters can seem at best, anachronistic, at worst, surrender to a violent minority.

This shouldn't be the case. The CCS has to stop missing the wood for the trees -the big picture for the incremental shows of challenge -and get a fix on Kashmir.


The prime minister's statement that he would consider autonomy for the state within the ambit of the Constitution at an all-party meeting should be kept in mind. Strange as it may sound to many ears on both sides of the deepening divide, the timing, for once, is right to take `concrete steps' that stop the hot-headedness that has enveloped the Valley. And from the government's end of the deal, it must stand firm and stop causing the injuries and deaths even of provocative Kashmiris on the streets. Strategically, if not for anything else, there must be no fuel provided to the mobs from a statutory bullet. The government has shown signs regarding its willingness to talk to `hardliners' like Syed Ali Shah Geelani. This is welcome considering the real `hardliners' are faceless and lie beyond the pale of dialogue. Politics in Kashmir finds itself entering a vacuum -the ruling party barely present, the opposition People's Democratic Party unnervingly quiet as if waiting for the right horse to bet on. In this growing vacuum, Mr Geelani may serve as a `least-worst' option. At least he's still there and still commands enough popular respect to be listened to -unlike Messrs Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik, who have themselves stated that they were unable to control the mobs that went violent after their speeches at Lal Chowk.


The task before New Delhi is not easy. But the last thing it should do is get rattled by Saturday's provocations and change its intended Kashmir trajectory. The CCS should understand that timing of it presenting a Kashmir strategy is essential. The government should realise that it is dealing with the equivalent of an impending solar eclipse. The window of opportunity is, still, now.







The 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG) is slowly becoming a game of smoke and mirrors — and Delhi, a Potemkin village. Like the 18th century Russian minister who tried to fool Empress Catherine II by building fake settlements along the banks of the Dnieper, CWG officials are now planning to put up a similar show of delusion along the banks of Yamuna for the October guests: a clean, green and functioning Delhi. In an ingenious move, the government has decided to 'hide' things they don't want the guests to see: beggars will be rounded up and hidden inside parks till the Games are over. The parks will then be wrapped with "slick banners, logos and the Games mascot". Hopefully, they will have some sense not to put those flashy 'Incredible !ndia!' posters around the park walls. Incredible, indeed!


This not all: during an accent test for police personnel who will man the command and control centre and will be the face of the Delhi Police, policemen with 'regional' accents were weeded out. So now junk that old 'diversity is our strength' mantra and forget that Delhi itself is a potpourri of people from different states: just be like them. Probably, our senior officials are unaware that not all Commonwealth team members or even the foreign spectators speak Queen's English and it is a game for the old colonies, not the island only.


In this drive to beautify Delhi and make the city 'world class' (thankfully, they have not benchmarked the city against some other capital), one wonders who will go next. Surely, not the unfinished stadiums and debris. Will someone with a magic wand come and finish them before we can say, "Common…"? But the good thing is that all this tamasha is only for 12 days, after that we will be back to our good old ways. Not much can keep us down, or hidden for that matter.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES




Unfortunate though it may seem, many Indians only identify with Ladakh because of the popularity of Three Idiots and the progressive school there which Aamir Khan has now gone to assist. We tend to forget that it is part of Jammu and Kashmir because the unrest in the valley obscures everything else. Ladakh is often described as a cold desert, with scanty rainfall, which is why Leh and its environs were overwhelmed by the unprecedented cloudburst on August 6, which triggered flash floods.


We do not seem overly concerned either that erratic weather has caused even worse damage in Pakistan. The  floods are estimated to be the very worst in that country's history, with as many as 1,500 killed, 2 million rendered homeless, 20 million affected and a million acres of farm land under water. Cholera and other epidemics are a constant threat. The United Nations has termed the situation the world's worst humanitarian disaster in recent history. And it is not as if the monsoon has withdrawn, so further mayhem is on the cards. Even further from our reckoning is the situation in China, also 
battered by massive floods.


There is no easy scientific explanation for these erratic events and it would be premature to conclusively blame climate change for causing them. As it happens, these floods have been accompanied by extreme heat waves in the northern hemisphere. According to an expert from the authoritative Pew Centre on Climate Change in the US, this is the worst heat wave and drought that Russia has witnessed in its documented history. Moscow has seen the mercury soar to unprecedented levels; forests and fields have caught fire elsewhere in the country. The fires have destroyed a quarter of Russia's crops and forced the government to ban grain exports, a major source of revenue.


Two top US meteorologists have found that floods in Pakistan and heat waves in Russia are, in fact, connected. An "intense dome of high atmospheric pressure" has settled over Eastern Europe and blocked the flow of the cooling jet stream, which precipitates rainfall. Western Europe witnessed a similar 'blocking high' in the catastrophic heat wave of 2003, and the drought led to a sharp fall in crop yields in southern Europe. Although this was only seven years ago, public memory is proverbially short: more than 40,000 Europeans died as a consequence, mainly the old and infirm, with France the worst affected.


This 'block' over Russia forced the jet stream southwards, carrying with it abundant moisture which should normally have irrigated Russia's wheat crops. This combined with the monsoon, which was already descending on the region at this time of the year, causing a double whammy. As the Pew Centre expert puts it, "The combination of the two was just too much, so while Russia's crops withered and burned, Pakistan's crops drowned."


While the science behind erratic weather patterns is admittedly still in its infancy, one can surely rely on human observation to conclude that it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict them. In India itself, states in the east have so far had a shortfall this monsoon, while some western states like Maharashtra have been blessed with an excess. In Mumbai, every July, residents do recall with trepidation the inexplicable mega flood of 2005 which brought the city to its knees.


The first half of 2010 has seen the hottest six-month period for the globe in recorded world history, which extends back to 1880. At the beginning of June, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Chad, Niger, Pakistan, and Myanmar have all set new records for their hottest temperatures of all time. One location in Pakistan recorded the highest temperature in Asia ever — an astonishing 53.5 degrees on May 26. Of course, climate science has its sceptics, who point out that there are years or months when countries or regions have recorded  intensive cooling rather than warming. However, US data show that for every record low temperature set, there are two highs. In other words, there is a gradual rise in average world temperatures, which may be fluctuating but is nevertheless on the ascent.


The sceptics had a field day before and after the Copenhagen climate summit last December, when they poked holes in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's erroneous prediction that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035. The scientist in the eye of this storm was a leading Indian glaciologist, Syed Hasnain, now with The Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi, who briefed environmental journalists in Leh last November how global warming was leading to the rapid depletion of these precious reservoirs of water. Leh used to depend on the melt from a glacier just outside the town, which has now receded. While it is impossible to date this process, there is hardly any doubt that the weather in the Himalayas is changing, as the floods in Ladakh demonstrate, and glaciers will melt.


The fact is that as yet, no scientist can prove that sudden bouts of rain or snow or warming are definitely due to climate change. But, by the very same token, there is no proof that these aren't caused by it. Indeed, climate change is the only constant and, given the lack of evidence to the contrary, seems to be one, if not the only, plausible explanation. It would be extremely shortsighted to ignore all the dire warnings around us.


Darryl D'Monte is Chairperson, Forum of Environmental Journalists of India (FEJI)


The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made it clear to his detractors that he was in no mood to give up office in the near future. The reiteration within four months of his press conference in May was made during an interaction with select editors of print publications recently. It assumes significance since there has been speculation whether he would last his full term or make way for someone else.


Singh also sought to convey that he is in full control of things and would reshuffle his Council of Ministers probably before the winter session of Parliament to give it a more youthful look. He also made it evident that there was nothing wrong with his Cabinet, that it was cohesive and even though there were differences of opinion sometimes, once he took the decision, it was the last word.  To drive home his point, he talked about how the Cabinet was badly divided when Indira Gandhi had Morarji Desai as her deputy in the 60s.


Singh's remarks have led to widespread speculation regarding the objective behind his unprecedented meeting with the editors. There are political analysts who believe that he has tried to convey some basic points. One was that there was nothing wrong with his government and if there was any perception about things not being in control it was because of elements within the party. Second, he had a mandate to be prime minister for five years especially because he was projected as the PM candidate during the 2009 parliamentary poll. Third, by citing examples of Morarji and Sardar Patel, both deputy prime ministers, he pre-empted any possible move to appoint a deputy PM.


Fourth, the prime minister defended Sharad Pawar's views on the Supreme Court's advice regarding foodgrain distribution among the poor and maintained that policy-making was the sole prerogative of the executive. Pawar's defence assumes political importance since he has been targeted by Congress leaders.


The impression conveyed by this was that the prime minister was making an attempt to consolidate his position among the allies in his government. He had earlier been indulgent to even Mamata Banerjee and has so far refused to say anything against A. Raja of the DMK who is in the eye of the spectrum scandal. It raises a suspicion that Singh is wary of his own party leaders and is aligning with allies.


The aftermath of the interaction also had the Congress spokespersons going out of the way to defend even the distorted versions of the meeting which were shown on a few TV channels. Giving a spin to the meet, some media publications have also come out with stories of how Manmohan Singh considered his team better than even Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi's governments. He had never stated this but his comments were obviously taken out of context and wrongly interpreted.


There is also speculation whether Singh can indeed reshuffle his pack when the exercise will also need the concurrence of the Congress president. The UPA chairperson has not said a word about it so far. Both Sonia Gandhi and Singh seem to be believers in the status quo and unless the revamping actually takes place, it is hard to say what may happen.


The media interaction where Singh appeared combative, frank and assertive gives credence to various kinds of stories doing the rounds about his relationship with his own party and its bosses. The timing also coincides with Rahul Gandhi's renewed efforts to make his presence felt in different parts of the country, particularly in West Bengal where he lashed out at the Communists thereby virtually ruling out a future tie-up with them. Rahul's detractors feel that his (Rahul's) criticism must have come as a big relief to the Americans and right-wingers who are taking a deep interest in the subcontinent and its affairs.


But the PM is in no hurry to step down. This is the clear signal he has sent out to his party and the country. At present Singh is King. Between us.








Pity and fear are the emotions that all tragedy seeks to evoke, according to Aristotle. He was outlining a theory of theatre, not journalism — but what's the difference, for our television news networks? As the recent reporting about the swollen Yamuna revealed, everybody loves a good flood. Dramatic visuals, an arsenal of ready phrases about nature's fury and the human spirit, a chance for a reporter to wade right in and display intrepidity, an occasion for the rest of us to feel safe and better off.


As it turns out, there was no danger of a flood, but there were twenty television teams in East Delhi determined to create one. The reporters had ready-made stories, the only gaps to be filled were two or three obligatory soundbites and a piece to camera. When the flood failed to materialise, some journalists rewrote their story — others went on undeterred, standing in waist-deep water to prove their point about the impending "catastrophe."


Television news comes in all kinds, just like salacious tabloids and rigorously fact-checked newspapers of record. Perhaps the staging, the music, the effects that embellish these TV "news" stories are, in fact, created and received as entertainment. But the problem with TV news is how difficult it is to separate fact from visual. Pointing a camera at one thing is to point it away from somewhere else, and it is that much easier to manipulate a story. We tend to repose greater faith in images than words. We might be wary of an overwrought piece of writing, but on TV, we assume the backdrop is representative of the general situation, the interviews spontaneous and heartfelt, because we can see it is so. And in India, this fakery is pervasive because it there are no strong internal codes. Until we evolve those standards, we can all expect a lot more drama in real life.







The antiquity of the prevailing land acquisition legislation is routinely cited to emphasise how urgently this country needs to grapple with the thorny facets of obtaining acreage for a variety of purposes. The recent agitation by farmers around Aligarh over acquisition of land has shown how politically fraught the issue is. It has, however, also underscored the huge common ground available to different stakeholders in the process as well as the capacity of the political economy to respond to the challenge. Aligarh, for instance, drew the Congress party, and it has shifted the requisite political weight to demand a more constructive draft of the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill. With this, the UPA government has overcome obstructionism from its ally, the Trinamool Congress. The government must also reach out to opposition parties to get them on board.


As reported in this newspaper, a revised version of the bill is likely to contain provisions for payment of annuity to those dispossessed. The annuity provision has proved to be vital to the Haryana government's success in addressing the concerns of dispossessed landowners, who have a valid question about opportunity costs in taking compensation. In fact, Uttar Pradesh CM Mayawati this month showed a remarkable ability to overcome the confrontation that had been developing around Aligarh. In a highly publicised move, her government adopted key aspects of the Haryana model; so, a farmer will receive Rs 20,000 per year for each acre acquired for the next 33 years, with an assured increase of Rs 600 per year. There are other enhanced measures for compensation — for instance, farmers will get shareholding in development and housing projects if their land is used for such purposes.


Too often policymaking gets stalled in a debate about either development or agriculture. This is a false choice, not just because India urgently needs progress in all sectors of the economy, including agriculture. But because, put this way, the choice withholds from farmers options that would allow them to get the true value of their land, and to do so on terms that ensures a safety net. State governments and, hopefully, the Centre too are making incremental progress on improving acquisition models. And it is good that the landowner is being placed at the centre of the debate.







Over the past few decades, dengue fever has become one of the world's most persistent diseases. It did not, of course, evolve recently; it was known, perhaps, in ancient China, and its symptoms were described in detail first at the dawn of the modern era, in 1779. In those years, as faster sailing ships and empires initiated the first wave of globalisation, buzzing along in its wings was the first dengue outbreak — simultaneously in three continents, Africa, Asia, and North America. Over the centuries a more virulent strain evolved in Southeast Asia; and, as the world's armies criss-crossed those war-torn swamps in the 1940s and '50s, they took the fever home with them. Here's the point: dengue fever, and its even more frightening cousin, dengue haemorrhagic fever is, according to the World Health Organisation, pandemic in 100 countries across the world. A major outbreak is reported once every six months — from all over the world.


If so, why is it that we seem to be willing to accept that this is a specifically Indian problem, indeed Delhi's above all? Why are questions being raised about the safety of Commonwealth Games athletes by the under-informed — and why are those questions not being reassuringly answered by those that know better? Why are straightforward travel advisories, recommending preventive measures, being spun as if India's cities have become disease-ridden hellholes? A certain amount of proportion is required. Malaria kills a million people annually: yet the preventive measures are well-understood, and few travellers and residents begrudge the small inconvenience they present. Why, then, the fuss about dengue?


Partly, perhaps, because it is still a young disease in public perception. It is only since the 1980s that it has become endemic in several tropical countries. There are 40 million cases a year, in every single country warm enough for the Aedes mosquito. But the threat of infection is now, and always has been, the price of living in the lushness of the tropics. In fact, some of the most intense outbreaks happen in famously control-freakish and neat Singapore. Nor does it normally compromise anyone's expectations that a world-class event is possible: Rio de Janeiro, in 2002 alone, recorded over a quarter of a million cases, and there have been several major outbreaks since — and yet Rio will host a World Cup final and the Olympics, and probably magnificently, too. So let's not lose our heads, even as we demand a measured, responsible public health response.








On the face of it, the Supreme Court's judgment on the Yamuna Expressway is about limited legal interpretations. Eminent domain provisions exist in many countries, permitting the state to seize a citizen's private property, with monetary compensation, but not necessarily with the citizen's consent. The UP government decided to construct the 160 km expressway in 2001 and emergency clauses for acquisition of 1604 acres of agricultural land were notified in 2009. Other than the expressway between Greater Noida and Agra, there will be five zones for industry, residence and amusement. A farmers' body of 35 farmers first took this to the Allahabad high court and then the Supreme Court. After all, development is being done by a private company and that cannot be "public purpose".


The Supreme Court, following the Allahabad high court, has decided the following. First, even without the landowner's consent, private real estate can be acquired for a public purpose. This is endorsement of eminent domain. Second, even if development and compensation are by a private entity, that continues to be public purpose, since the greater good of the community is involved. However, the Supreme Court has muddied this rationale by throwing in a reference to BOT (build-operate-transfer) and return of the expressway to the government after 36 years. For instance, if a BOT clause hadn't existed, would that have negated the trade-off between gains to the community and a few farmers? Third, there has been transparency in awarding the contract. Fourth, allied development (industry, residence, amusement) is complementary to the expressway.


Is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy still read? In that, Arthur Dent's house was first acquired to build a bypass. Later, the earth was acquired to build a hyperspace bypass. In some ways, the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is unique. It is opposed by those who support acquisition and conversion of agricultural land. It is also opposed by those who oppose acquisition and conversion of agricultural land. That gives it its unique position, and there must be several things wrong with it. There are problems with definition of "public purpose", valuation (price paid by executive, market value, market value in future, additional payment of solatium), dilatory procedures, delays in payment of compensation, grievance redressal and issues connected with relocation and resettlement, of both landowners and those who earn a living from land. That's the reason we have a Land Acquisition Bill and a Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, both from 2007. There were standing committee reports on both and, lest we forget, both have now lapsed, indicative of how seriously we take these issues. Had both bills become law, life wouldn't have been perfect. But it would have been better than now. How can we continue to have, despite amendments, legislation that is so old?


We now have two development myths floating around as propositions. First, development must not disturb forests and disrupt the lives of tribals. Second, development must not be at the expense of agriculture and agricultural land. Both agriculture and animal husbandry have a fairly long history in India, going back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. Would either have developed had forests not been destroyed? Forests were domesticated to produce agriculture and wild animals were domesticated to produce animal husbandry. The tension isn't between agriculture and forestry on one side and industry and urbanisation on the other. There are sub-layers within these and development has reconciled these trade-offs in the progress of human civilisation.


Consider the refinement of the second proposition. Development can be at the expense of agricultural land, but it shouldn't be irrigated land. India has a long tradition of irrigation too and there are parts of India where it will be difficult to find un-irrigated land. Are we saying there should be no acquisition and conversion of agricultural land there?


That seems to be precisely what we are saying, since food security will then become an issue. (It is a separate matter that there should be no food security issues if pending rural sector reforms boost productivity.) But this isn't a matter of industrialisation and urbanisation alone. If a farmer decides to alter cropping patterns in favour of cotton or floriculture, by the same token, we should ban that too, since food security again becomes a perceived issue. There are parts of the country that have natural resource advantages. These become centres of economic activity, be it for agriculture or industry, or as urban centres. In school, one studies the history of human civilisations. These developed along rivers. Agriculture developed along those rivers. Towns developed along those rivers. Therefore, it is understandable there should be demand for prime land, regardless of use, and less demand for sub-prime land. If one allowed markets to function, that would be reflected in prices. Price for irrigated land will be higher, while that for non-irrigated land will be lower. That's a far more efficient means of resource allocation than control and rationing. There is an anecdotal conversation between George Bernard Shaw and an actress (this is also attributed to Winston Churchill and Mark Twain), where Shaw says, "Now we are haggling about the price."


The Kisan Sangharsh Samiti recognises that. As far as one can make out, the agitation isn't about exercise of eminent domain, but about the price. Most farmers argue agriculture is no longer remunerative and the younger generation has no interest in agriculture. We should then allow the shake-out and consolidation in agriculture, not forcibly seek to retain work-force in agriculture. There is an issue about alternative livelihoods. But contrary to what we often think, that's more often a skills problem and not a land one. Shambhu of Do Bigha Zamin lost his land to a mill. Had he possessed skills, he would have obtained a job in the mill and would have been better off than on his subsistence-level plot. (If his agricultural pursuits were thriving, why did he have to continually borrow money from the landlord?) He wouldn't have had to become a rickshaw-puller in Calcutta. Those skills aren't available with the older generation of farmers, and won't be, which is why one tries to figure out revenue streams linked to projects, through equity or otherwise. But there is no reason why those skills shouldn't be available with the younger generation. In rural India, there is thus an inter-generational trade-off too. Unfortunately, Balraj Sahni makes us weep and we think with our hearts, not our brains. Even if the land transaction is voluntary on both sides, we must intervene as political parties. Even if the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of development, we will resort to agitational politics.


The writer is a Delhi-based economist








Days after an IAEA report raised concerns about its ability to monitor Iran's nuclear programme , India has attempted to get an exemption for Iran-o-Hind from the UN sanctions. This 35-year-old Indo-Iranian shipping joint venture might just become a symbol of a new phase in India's ties with Tehran, which have been in a dormant state for some time now. Ever since the US and India started to transform their ties by changing the global nuclear order to accommodate India, Iran has emerged as a litmus test that India has had to pass to the satisfaction of US policy makers. Traditional India-Iran ties have been termed variously as an "axis," a "strategic partnership," and even an "alliance." However, this American focus has been highly disproportionate to the realities of the relationship, a result of the exigencies of domestic politics than of regional political realities. And when the choice emerged between Iran and the US, India sided with the US. But now, the evolving strategic milieu in Af-Pak and China's growing reach in Iran is forcing New Delhi to re-think its approach towards Tehran.


India has recently signed several agreements with Iran, including an air services agreement and memorandum of understanding in new and renewable energy, aimed at increasing bilateral trade from $15 billion to $30 billion. Economic cooperation in priority areas such as oil, gas, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, and textiles has been identified as important for this endeavour. Plans are afoot for greater maritime cooperation and Iran has already joined the Indian navy's annual initiative, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium. More significantly, the two sides have decided to hold "structured and regular consultations" on the issue of Afghanistan.


The Obama administration, intent on moving out of Afghanistan, has signalled to Indian adversaries that they can shape the post-American ground realities to serve their own ends. Both India and Iran are unlikely to accept an Afghanistan that serves as a springboard for the Pakistani military. In the second ministerial-level visit in less than a month, Iran's deputy foreign minister was in India in early August to coordinate the approach towards Afghanistan.


In recent years, India has repeatedly voted in favour of IAEA resolutions condemning Iran's nuclear behaviour. Though the Indian prime minister has been categorical in his assertion that a nuclear Iran is not in Indian interests, the Indian government has also underlined that it favours dialogue and diplomacy as a means of resolving the crisis. It has said that unilateral sanctions on Iran will hurt India, expressing its disapproval of sanctions that restrict investments by third countries in Iran's energy sector. As the Indian foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao, recently made clear, India is "justifiably concerned that the extra-territorial nature of certain unilateral sanctions recently imposed by individual countries, with their restrictions on investment by third countries in Iran's energy sector, can have a direct and adverse impact on Indian companies and more importantly, on our [India's] energy security and our attempts to meet the development needs of our people." Despite the West's sanctions, the Indian government is encouraging companies to invest in the Iranian energy sector so that economic interests can underpin the India-Iran political realignment.


The issue of the $7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is also back on the agenda. Not only has Pakistan already signed the deal, China is also starting to make its presence felt in a big way, becoming Iran's largest trading partner and undertaking massive investments as it rapidly occupies the space vacated by Western firms (who responded to international pressure over the nuclear programme). Iran hopes to defeat its global isolation by courting China and China can make use of Iran's energy resources without any real competition. Ever since the United Nations Security Council started imposing sanctions on Iran, India has enforced all measures against Tehran and its energy interests have consequently suffered. China, a member of the Security Council, has been able to pursue its energy interests with Iran without much difficulty. Iran was the third largest exporter of crude oil to China last year, accounting for about 11 per cent of China's total crude imports. India is right to feel restless about its own marginalisation in Iran despite its old civilisational ties. New Delhi has now indicated that it will soon be resuming negotiations for independently importing natural gas from Iran via the sea pipeline.


India is trying to maintain a balance between preserving its strategic interests in Iran and adhering to its global obligations. Though New Delhi's strategic room to manoeuvre in Tehran will remain limited so long as Tehran does not find a modus vivendi with the West on the nuclear question, there is no reason why India should not keep all its options open.


The writer teaches at King's College, London








]While readying for the deluge of data on various caste groups, now that the cabinet has cleared the census of caste groups from next year, we need to demolish some dominant caste myths.


The most important one, of course, is that caste groups are uniform monoliths. Look at the data and there is no doubt that, at the all-India level, upper castes will have higher incomes than other backward castes — who, in turn, have higher incomes than Scheduled Castes who earn more than Scheduled Tribes. At an all-India level, upper caste households earn an average of Rs 86,690 per annum, OBCs earn Rs 59,741, SCs Rs 45,889 and STs Rs 40,753. This data is from the NCAER's annual household survey of income, since the government's National Sample Survey captures only data on expenditure and, on average, it is unable to capture more than half the total consumption in the country. These numbers are from 2004-05, but the relative differences across caste groups are valid even today.


The averages, like all averages, miss out on the important differences. So, an analysis of the NCAER data (in the book Caste in a Different Mould, of which I am a co-author) shows that while SC households in Uttar Pradesh earn Rs 39,655 per annum, those in Punjab earn Rs 63,055; OBCs in Bihar earn Rs 40,839 as against Rs 73,223 in Maharashtra. Similar differences hold true for all caste groups. The short point is incomes across caste groups differ widely across various states, which means the overall level of development of the state is more important than the caste of an individual when it comes to determining income levels. So ST households in Karnataka earn Rs 62,238 per annum, more than upper-caste ones in Bihar (Rs 51,187).


The second myth, related to the first, is that differences in income automatically imply discrimination, and therefore suggest affirmative action is called for. Apart from the impact the "state" of development, as it were, has on income levels, the differences are largely explained by education, by the industry/service you are employed in, by whether an individual is situated in a rural area or a small town or a big metro, and the list can go on. Even where groups are classified as 'graduate and above', if the group has more post-graduates, income levels are certain to be higher.


So, for instance, OBC households in villages (73 per cent of OBCs are to be found in villages) have an average annual income of Rs 51,740 but this goes up to Rs 72,288 in small towns, Rs 81,745 in mid-sized towns (5-10 lakh population) and to Rs 95,999 in towns with more than a million people. Some of this is just the location factor. A driver in a village is going to get next to nothing while a driver in a metro probably earns Rs 7,000, on average, a month.


There's education as well. So, a large part of the higher income levels in urban settings are probably also a reflection of higher education, not just location — but because it needs sophisticated econometrics, and even that can go wrong, this is often ignored. An OBC household that has is headed by an illiterate earns Rs 24,363 per year, and this rises to Rs 32,169 in case the head of the household has studied till class V, Rs 67,371 in case s/he has studied till class XII, and to Rs 105,285 in case the head of the household is a graduate. Just 20 per cent of OBC households have graduates as compared to 35 per cent for upper castes.


A recent study of Dalit villages in Uttar Pradesh by Devesh Kapur, Chandra Bhan Prasad, Lant Pritchett and D. Shyam Babu confirms the role urbanisation plays. In Azamgarh district, for instance, the study found just 18.1 per cent of Dalit households lived in pucca houses in 1990, and this rose to 66.4 per cent in 2007. For Bulandshahr district in western UP, the figures were 38.4 and 94.6 per cent respectively. Ownership of television sets rose from 0.9 per cent to 22.2 per cent in Azamgarh, and from 0.7 to 45 per cent in Bulandshahr. They found similar changes for mobile phones, simple chairs in homes, fans and even the use of shampoo, toothpaste and bottled hair oil. There are, the authors say, several reasons for the change: the rise of Mayawati could be one, as could economic reforms which led to greater marketisation of the economy. One of the powerful reasons, the authors conclude, is migration. While the eastern district of Azamgarh saw dependence on family members who had migrated to urban areas rise from 14.5 per cent in 1990 to 50.5 per cent in 2007, Bulandshahr district saw a much smaller rise. Compare this with the proportion of family members living in the village, and this suggests that in Bulandshahr, villagers were probably travelling out of the village for work in the morning and returning the same day.


All of which would suggest the solution cannot be a uniform one. It has to be education in some cases, urbanisation in some and industrialisation in others. With over 75 per cent of ST households having studied only till class X (38 per cent till just class V) reservations in colleges are unlikely to be a solution, to cite one instance. Affirmative action also poses a problem in terms of implementation since 90 per cent of all ST households are in rural areas.


In the case of Muslims, where the government hopes to fix things through an Equal Opportunities Commission, it's worth keeping in mind that nearly 90 per cent live in rural areas (64 per cent) and small towns; Muslims have the highest proportion of households who are self-employed in non-agricultural occupations (25.7 per cent versus 16.2 for Hindus) and the least who are salaried (13.1 per cent versus 18.8 per cent for all Hindus).


The moral of the story is that it's not so much about affirmative action as it is about urbanisation, industrialisation and education. Not that this is easy either. The agitation against land acquisition in Uttar Pradesh shows the limits to the pace of urbanisation, Niyamgiri and Singur does the same for industrialisation, and the Right to Education Act, though wonderful in spirit, will end up slowing the development of low-cost unrecognised private schools.


The writer is Opinion Editor, 'The Financial Express'





WE'RE NO. 1(1)!


I want to share a couple of articles I recently came across that, I believe, speak to the core of what ails America today but is too little discussed. The first was in Newsweek under the ironic headline "We're No. 11!" The piece, by Michael Hirsh, went on to say: "Has the United States lost its oomph as a superpower? Even President Obama isn't immune from the gloom. 'Americans won't settle for No. 2!' Obama shouted at one political rally in early August. How about No. 11? That's where the USA ranks in Newsweek's list of the 100 best countries in the world, not even in the top 10."


The second piece, which could have been called "Why We're No. 11," was by the Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson. Why, he asked, have we spent so much money on school reform in America and have so little to show for it in terms of scalable solutions that produce better student test scores? Maybe, he answered, it is not just because of bad teachers, weak principals or selfish unions.


"The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation," wrote Samuelson. "Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don't like school, don't work hard and don't do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 per cent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 per cent cited 'student apathy'."


There is a lot to Samuelson's point — and it is a microcosm of a larger problem we have not faced honestly as we have dug out of this recession: We had a values breakdown — a national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism. And far too many of us were happy to buy the dot-com and subprime crack for quick prosperity highs.


Ask yourself: What made our Greatest Generation great? First, the problems they faced were huge, merciless and inescapable: the Depression, Nazism and Soviet Communism. Second, the Greatest Generation's leaders were never afraid to ask Americans to sacrifice. Third, that generation was ready to sacrifice, and pull together, for the good of the country. And fourth, because they were ready to do hard things, they earned global leadership the only way you can, by saying: "Follow me."


Contrast that with the Baby Boomer Generation. Our big problems are unfolding incrementally — the decline in US education, competitiveness and infrastructure, as well as oil addiction and climate change. Our generation's leaders never dare utter the word "sacrifice." All solutions must be painless. For a decade we sent our best minds not to make computer chips in Silicon Valley but to make poker chips on Wall Street, while telling ourselves we could have the American dream — a home — without saving and investing, for nothing down and nothing to pay for two years. Our leadership message to the world (except for our brave soldiers): "After you."


So much of today's debate between the two parties, notes David Rothkopf, a Carnegie Endowment visiting scholar, "is about assigning blame rather than assuming responsibility. It's a contest to see who can give away more at precisely the time they should be asking more of the American people."


Rothkopf and I agreed that we would get excited about US politics when our national debate is between Democrats and Republicans who start by acknowledging that we can't cut deficits without both tax increases and spending cuts — and then debate which ones and when — who acknowledge that we can't compete unless we demand more of our students — and then debate longer school days versus school years — who acknowledge that bad parents who don't read to their kids and do indulge them with video games are as responsible for poor test scores as bad teachers — and debate what to do about that.


Who will tell the people? China and India have been catching up to America not only via cheap labour and currencies. They are catching us because they now have free markets like we do, education like we do, access to capital and technology like we do, but, most importantly, values like our Greatest Generation had. That is, a willingness to postpone gratification, invest for the future, work harder than the next guy and hold their kids to the highest expectations.


In a flat world where everyone has access to everything, values matter more than ever. Right now the Hindus and Confucians have more Protestant ethics than we do, and as long as that is the case we'll be No. 11!


-Thomas L Friedman






For a glimpse of how venomous and debased the discourse about Islam has become, consider what Martin Peretz, The New Republic's editor in chief asserted: "Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims." Peretz added: "I wonder whether I need honour these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse."


Thus a prominent American commentator, in a magazine long associated with tolerance, ponders whether Muslims should be afforded constitutional freedoms. Is it possible to imagine the same kind of casual slur tossed off about blacks or Jews? How do America's nearly seven million American Muslims feel when their faith is denounced as barbaric?


This is one of those times that test our values, a bit like the shameful interning of Japanese-Americans during World War II, or the disgraceful refusal to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe. It would have been natural for this test to have come right after 9/11, but it was forestalled because President George W. Bush pushed back at his conservative ranks and repeatedly warned Americans not to confuse Al Qaeda with Islam.


Now that Bush is no longer in the White House, nativists are back on the warpath. Some opponents of President Obama are circulating bald-faced lies. One e-mail bouncing around adds, "His Muslim faith says it's okay to lie." Or there's the e-mail I received the other day, declaring: "President Obama has directed the United States Postal Service to remember and honour the Muslim Id season with a new commemorative 44 cent first class holiday postage stamp." In fact, it was President Bush's administration that first issued the Id stamp in 2001.


Astonishingly, a Newsweek poll finds that 52 per cent of Republicans believe that it is "definitely true" or "probably true" that "Barack Obama sympathises with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world." That kind of extremism undermines our democracy, risks violence and empowers jihadis.


In America, bigoted comments about Islam often seem to come from people who have never visited a mosque and know few if any Muslims. In their ignorance, they mirror the anti-Semitism that I hear in Muslim countries from people who have never met a Jew. One American professor wrote to me that "every Muslim in the world" believes that the proposed Manhattan Islamic centre would symbolise triumph over America. That reminded me of Pakistanis who used to tell me that "every Jew" knew of 9/11 in advance, so that none died in the World Trade Centre.


It is perfectly reasonable for critics to point to the shortcomings of Islam or any other religion. There should be more outrage, for example, about the mistreatment of women in many Islamic countries, or the oppression of religious minorities like Christians and Ahmadis in Pakistan. Europe is alarmed that Muslim immigrants have not assimilated well, resulting in tolerance of intolerance, and pockets of wife-beating, forced marriage, homophobia and female genital mutilation. Those are legitimate concerns, but sweeping denunciations of any religious group constitute dangerous bigotry.


If this is a testing time, then some have passed with flying colours. Hats off to a rabbinical student in Massachusetts, Rachel Barenblat, who raised money to replace prayer rugs that a drunken intruder had urinated on at a mosque. She told me that she quickly raised more than $1,100 from Jews and Christians alike.


Above all, bravo to those Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders who jointly denounced what they called "the anti-Muslim frenzy." "We know what it is like when people have attacked us physically, have attacked us verbally, and others have remained silent," said Rabbi David Saperstein. "It cannot happen here in America in 2010." Cardinal Theodore McCarrick put it this way: "This is not America. America was not built on hate."


"Shame on you," the Rev. Richard Cizik, a leading evangelical Christian, said to those castigating Islam. "You bring dishonour to the name of Jesus Christ. You directly disobey his commandment to love your neighbour." Amen. - Nicholas D. Kristof









The symptoms of the malaise stare us in the face. Foodgrain rots in government godowns; many below the poverty line starve, and food prices hover above the general rate of inflation. Then there is asymmetric information available to consumers — as a result of which the same items are differently priced in different parts of the city.


Behind the delivery of food items to consumers is a value chain comprising procurement, storage, transportation, mandis, artiyas or commission agents, wholesalers and unorganised retailers. In between is the Public Distribution System or PDS, which receives foodgrain directly from the government warehouses for distribution to those below the poverty line, with all its attendant leakages. From the farmers' point of view so cumbersome is this process that he typically gets for his produce about 25 per cent of what the consumer above the poverty line pays.


So what remedies are possible? One that has been debated for some time is to invite foreign direct investment into retailing. The key presumption here is that it will bring large foreign organisations with access to capital and experience in bulk retailing, which will be able to streamline the value chain. Their own profit, in turn, will depend on the efficiency of both bulk procurement and retail management.


ICRIER released comprehensive studies on FDI in the retail sector in 2005, as well as on the impact of organised retailing on the unorganised sector in 2008. While these studies cover retailing as a whole, there is much we can borrow from them that is specific to the food industry. The Economic Survey of 2008-09 also recommends FDI in multi-format retailing, starting with food retailing.


Agriculture requires efficiently-functioning markets as drivers of growth. At present, there are many shortcomings in the value chain described above. There are wastages through inadequate storage facilities, pilferages and the lack of a proper transport system. Also absent is cold-chain infrastructure in locations to which food can be conveniently transported. Typically, this would consist of cold storage for perishables and silos for grains. From there, after packaging, they would be required to reach front-end retail outlets or supermarkets so that a "farm-to-fork" concept can work for both farmer and consumer. Ideally, better supply-chain management should lead to a situation where the consumer pays less and the farmer receives more.


Such a model has been adopted in China, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil and Argentina. China, for example, had a limit of 49 per cent foreign ownership in retail in 1994 which was relaxed in 2004. The number of traditional retailers between 1996 and 2000 went up by 30 per cent — even though 600 "hyper markets" opened in this period. Employment in wholesale and retail too went up from 29 million to 54 million.


Since the Indian government is unlikely to permit more than 49 per cent foreign ownership, the model most likely to succeed will be public-private partnerships or joint ventures with foreign retail giants like Carrefour and Tesco. Currently, Bharti has a joint venture with Wal-Mart. In addition, there are a few Indian companies like Reliance and Big Bazaar who have ventured into bulk retailing on their own. Their total scale, however, is small and they are short of experience. With more global giants coming in, not only will there be more competition, the farmers will be encouraged to form cooperatives to enable bulk sale to the retailing companies so that economies of scale in storage, transportation and delivery can be achieved. In turn, these companies will deliver to unorganised retailers and their own supermarkets.


This model would have a number of collateral benefits. For example, bulk procurement will impose minimum standards on productivity and quality, for which assistance can be provided by the procuring companies. Further, farmers will require financing which can be made available from banks and micro-credit agencies under some form of guarantee from the procuring companies. In parallel, the government can come forward and assist with crop insurance schemes.


There are, however, a number of collateral concerns. These have been articulated by many political parties and find mention in the 90th Retail Sector Report of the Parliamentary standing committee on commerce. The key issues are: first, predatory pricing strategies of large retailers which could render millions of small retailers jobless and, second, a disruption of the established supply chain which might result from their monopolistic practices, since they will control both ends of the supply chain.


These concerns have been addressed in ICRIER's 2008 study which carried out a survey of 2020 unorganised small retailers across 10 major cities. In addition, a control sample survey was conducted of 805 unorganised retailers who are not in the vicinity of organised retail outlets in four metro cities.


The conclusions were that a majority of unorganised (small) retailers were keen to stay in the business and compete, and the next generation was also inclined to do likewise. Most unorganised retailers were committed to remain independent and barely 10 per cent preferred to become franchisees of organised retailers. However, only 12 per cent of organised retailers had access to institutional credit and 37 per cent felt the need for better access to commercial bank credit.


As far as farmers were concerned, they benefited significantly from the option of direct sale to organised retailers. Profit realisation for farmers selling directly to organised retailers was 60 per cent higher than that received from selling in the mandi. The difference was even larger when the amount charged by the commission agents in the mandi was taken into account.


While consumers of all income groups saved through organised retail, the lower income group saved more. Nevertheless, proximity to the consumer was a major comparative advantage of the unorganised outlets. Their competitive strength included consumer goodwill, credit sale, amenability to bargaining, an ability to sell loose items and home delivery.


And as far as the fear of making small retailers jobless is concerned, we should learn from the Chinese story I tell above; and remember that with a projected GDP annual growth rate of 8 to 10 per cent and a significant rise in per capita incomes in the next five years, there will be a large requirement of retail outlets in both the unorganised and organised sectors — and that, to grow rapidly, the organised sector will require the presence of multinationals through the FDI route.


The writer is an industrialist and economist








It's natural to get upset when the US follows up a law virtually doubling visa fees for temporary skilled workers, like those from India's software industry, with the state of Ohio banning outsourcing of government software solutions business—keep in mind the $250 million hit on visa fees comes at a time when India's software professionals contribute over a billion dollars each year in social security payments while they are never going to be there long enough to get any of it back. And this is then followed up by President Barak Obama doing a repeat of his "Say no to Bangalore, Say yes to Buffalo" speech while saying, yet again, that there would be no tax breaks for companies that outsourced their work to other countries (read India). Hardly surprising then, that the commerce minister has said he'll take up the issue at the Trade Policy Forum meet later this month. While there's no harm in keeping up the pressure, especially when India is itself under pressure on the nuclear Bill that isn't quite what US firms would have liked, it's a good idea to get some perspective on the issue.


For one, with outsourcing likely to be a hot-button issue in 37 of the 100 Senate seats that will be decided in November, it is only to be expected that Obama would take the line he has. More important, government outsourcing is a tiny fraction of the work India's software firms do in the US. As for Obama's no-tax-breaks statement, it applies only to US firms that are doing outsourcing work out of India—that means firms like IBM, among others. Apart from the fact that no country can be giving tax breaks to those that are outsourcing their jobs—think tax breaks for General Motors while it got cars manufactured in Maruti's factories in India—the fact is this doesn't affect India's software exports in any serious manner. Nor can it since, with US firms benefiting so much from outsourcing to India, it is unlikely any government would want to cripple this business—keep in mind the same Ohio governor who passed the Bill banning outsourcing government business was the one who wooed Tata Consultancy Services a few years ago and even gave it a tax break for investing in his state. But it's a good idea to remain alert. With elections in the air, and unemployment at double digits, some other loony suggestions could well gain currency—one of them being, for instance, mandating that half of an IT firm's US bench-strength must consist US citizens, up from around 10-15% at the moment.







On the face of it, Congress president Sonia Gandhi seems at odds with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on issues of environment and land acquisition for industry. While Singh spoke of perpetuating poverty in the name of environment, Gandhi said India had to protect the environment to ensure development. A closer reading, some argue, suggests nothing more than minor differences in positioning, since Gandhi did recommend the Haryana model of land acquisition for industry. In other words, Gandhi just emphasised the need for industry and government to be more humane in their approach. To that extent, she cannot be faulted. For while we have a Singur and a Taj Expressway, where incidentally those who were protesting against the land acquisition now appear to want it, we also have instances of industrialists like Sajjan Jindal who have faced no problems with land acquisition—in some cases, farmers have been given back redeveloped land and get to reap the benefit of the overall development. Indeed, it is up to India Inc to demonstrate its good intentions, something it has not shown in great measure so far. Buying land at market prices, something all industry swears by, is all very well, but the market price is low since the land-use is not changed until it changes hands, which is when prices skyrocket.


Even if you assume the PM and the party chief are on the same page, the problem doesn't go away. For one, whether wittingly or not, the Congress's heir apparent has positioned himself as anti-development, as has environment minister Jairam Ramesh. Nor is it clear how decisions are being made since, in several cases, Ramesh has backed down after the PM has put his foot down. How serious was the work that went into demarcating large parts of the country as 'no go' when it came to mining if this was whittled down after the PM stepped in? It is equally true that industry should, ideally, buy its own land, relying on government intervention only after it has got 75% of the land. The problem, however, is that with land titles so ambiguous, industry is loath to buy land—once the land is acquired by the government, at least the title cannot be challenged. The government cannot get pre-clearances for all land, but after Singur and Niyamgiri, we need some success stories as well. One option is to do what happened in the case of Ultra Mega Power Projects. In this case, the government identified the spots, acquired the land and obtained all clearances prior to their auction. Such pre-clearances, it appears, are also the rule when it comes to petroleum exploration. It's time the state and central governments began working on getting such clearances. That's when whether Gandhi and Singh are on the same side of the environment-industry debate will become irrelevant.








Canada hosted this year's G-20 and as a follow-up it had a conference for Speakers of Second Chambers—or of unicameral ones where relevant—from September 2-5. The theme was Food Security and Financial Crisis.


The burden of the speeches was predictable. Food security for most people is about agriculture and its protection. It is about food production and everyone wished they could grow more food. Others took a neo-Malthusian line that the problem was too many people. Others urged a simpler lifestyle. China spoke of its aid for African countries to help them grow more food and reminded the world that its own foodgrain output exceeded 500 million tonnes. Saudi Arabia complained about speculation in commodity markets that caused spikes in food prices in 2007 and 2008.


One can see why this is appealing but may not be the answer. There is a lot of sentimentality about land and why peasants must never be made to sell land on which food can be grown. But the countries where there is greatest food security are not those with a lot of people engaged in agriculture but often where they are a small percentage of the population. This is because what matters is productivity per acre and per person. The smart country invests in raising productivity in agriculture, removes surplus people from agriculture and finds them productive work, which helps them buy the food they need.


Food security also needs to be seen in the context of climate change, which did not get much mention at the G-20 Meeting. The world community is still sleepwalking through climate change challenges. The mistake, in my view, was to emphasise global warming in terms of mean temperature. What really matters is the impact on soil and sea level differentially across the world. This, as well as the volatility of climate, will severely affect the capacity of the world to produce food.


Rising sea levels will pose the biggest problem since low-lying areas such as the Maldives, parts of Bangladesh and many sea-side areas in India will sink. The need for finding host countries that can receive the masses of people displaced by rising sea levels is a global issue that has not been confronted. There are countries that are virtually empty while others are overpopulated. But immigration has become a dirty word everywhere and it is not even on the agenda of G-20. Australia's population does not exceed that of Mumbai and Canada's is not more than Mumbai plus Kolkata. This is not to say they should throw open their doors, but someone needs to take a global view of the coming catastrophe. It will affect food production and the demand for food.


One recent trend that is a substitute for people movement is the leasing of large tracts of land in countries that are land surplus by countries that know a lot about intensive food cultivation. Although this is immediately denounced as land grab or neo-colonialism, it is a welcome way to increase food output by making idle land or land where cultivation is extensive rather than intensive, more productive of foodgrains. The host country, of course, needs to charge the appropriate price for the land leased. But it is a win-win situation, as the World Bank seems to have recognised recently.


There will also be desertification and warming of colder climates. This will change the geography of food supply over the next 25 years. But apart from British joy at being able to grow good dry white wine in Kent, we do not see much understanding of what might be the consequence. This may make surplus food grain producers deficit countries or increase the demand for water in the drying regions to a great extent. Water wars are being forecast, although one must hope that with some forethought they can be avoided.


India is about to embark on food security on massive scale but in India's case what we mean by food security is not macro food security but food entitlements to the section considered below poverty line (BPL). There seems to be a Dutch Auction as to how many BPL families there are—28.5% (NSS), 37.5% (Tendulkar), 50% (rural development ministry) or 77% (Arjun Sengupta). It seems a perverse race in which the more poor you find the closer you are to the powers that be in the Congress. (Is it a matter of pride for the Congress that even after 63 years of Independence in which the Congress ruled for all but 20 years, BPL numbers are so high?)


The real trouble is not just that money and food will be wasted in these schemes but that India seems to be taken for granted that supply of foodgrains is guaranteed. That may yet prove a fatal mistake.


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer







There are about 6,38,000 rural settlements in India. The number of rural bank branches in India in March 2009 was just over 20,000. Close to 98% of India's rural habitations do not have access to a bank. In 2005, the rural and semi-urban areas of India were home to 80% of Indian households and contributed 65% of the national income pool. Yet they accounted for a mere 25% of the deposits and 18% of the advances of commercial banks. Geographical distribution of wealth is far from uniform. Out of the 593 districts in the 2001 census less than 283 account for 70% of the total income and the top 25% account for 38% of the total income pool. Overall, the number of bank accounts in India comes to slightly over 50% of the count of Indian adults and once again, when multiple accounts per person are considered, only a little over a third of the eligible population seems to be covered by bank accounts. Without a doubt, financial inclusion remains a major challenge in today's India and geography plays a major role in it.


How do you reach out to this vast financially excluded segment of the population? Waiting for bank branches would not be practical. Of late, banks have tried other approaches—marketing teams and banking correspondents backed with innovative technology—in addition to branches. SBI claims to have covered over 1,00,000 villages already this way and aims at crossing the 6,00,000 mark by 2015. And yet the quest for the right model here is far from over.


The 800-pound gorilla in the room here is the world's largest postal system—India Post. With over 1,55,000 outlets, almost 90% of them in rural areas, it has a reach and network well beyond comparison for any other entity in the country. It is no newcomer to banking either. The Post Office Savings Bank (POSB) has been functioning since 1882 and the share of financial services in India Post's total revenue is no less than 45%. Indeed, the Money Order has been the traditional money transfer mechanism in India for ages and postal savings have depositors spread all over the country and at various levels of the income pyramid. But it is fair to say that its successes in financial inclusion are hardly a scratch on the surface of its vast potential. Therein lies the importance of the recommendations, made in June, of the Expert Committee on Harnessing the Indian Post Network for Financial Inclusion, jointly commissioned by the Department of Post, the ministry of finance and others, and headed by Ajay Shah. The committee seeks to mark out the path ahead for India Post in the direction of financial inclusion by setting out 10 objectives for the organisation.


Broadly speaking, the prescriptions relate to four areas—adopting technology to achieve greater value-added financial services in a more efficient manner; work in partnerships with other entities both in government and private sector; revamp its key strength, which is in the area of funds transfer, and serve as a platform for other financial operators; and re-examine its relationships with other government agencies including the finance ministry and the recently announced Technology Advisory Group for Unique Projects.


It is important to underscore what the committee is not recommending—it is not suggesting that India Post becomes a full-fledged bank itself. Instead it views India Post as an infrastructure provider to other financial players—banks, microfinance institutions and other lenders—to carry out KYC (accepting the unique ID itself as proof enough), efficiently transfer funds, maintain accounts, manage cash on the basis of cost-sharing and revenue-sharing agreements.


In the area of fund transfers, the goal is to have India's "first large-scale small-value payments network—the 'India Post Payments Network' (IPPN)" carrying out low-cost electronic transfers between accounts (rather than persons as in today's money order) and leveraging on mobile phones. The model here is the EuroGiro, an international payment network consisting of national postal systems.


There is little room for debate on any of the 10 recommendations made by the committee. And yet one can only sympathise with the leader who has to drive India Post down this road. The technology change prescribed, though audacious, may be the lesser of the challenges. Mindsets are far harder to change. A few years back SBI had attempted an alliance with India Post to deliver its products. Very soon India Post started viewing SBI more as a competitor in rural areas than a partner. It also refused to let the commissions go to the postal employee who would put in the efforts but collected it as an organisation instead. Unsurprisingly, the experiment fizzled out quickly. Let's hope the future is different.


The author teaches finance at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad








A recent survey by UNCTAD, World Investment Prospects Survey 2010-12, once again brings out the developing economies' role to the forefront in the shifting global economic order. The survey based on the results of 236 transnational corporations and 116 investment promotion agencies finds that the recent crisis has proved to be less harmful for investment. It points out that half of the top 20 most promising investor nations will be developing economies over the next 3 years. It is for the first time that BRICs ranked among the top 5 investment destinations. China retained its top position for another year, with India up from third in 2009 and Brazil up from fourth, pushing the US down from second.


Both TNCs and IPAs were more upbeat regarding the overall business environment and expressed more positive views over a longer time horizon. The WIPS estimates that there will be a slow recovery in FDI inflows in 2010, before they gain momentum to touch $1.3-1.5 trillion in 2011 and $1.6-2 trillion in 2012. The findings corroborate that TNCs will give priority to the more resilient South, East and Southeast Asian economies in their future investment programmes. A swiftly changing global investment landscape will bring diverse opportunities for developing economies that will lead to their higher economic growth.


However, all this sanguine news must be tempered with words of caution, as attainability of these opportunities depends on several factors. Given that the developed world is not yet completely out of the woods, it is an opportune time for India to bring in concrete reforms that can improve its investment and business climate. The government's recent initiatives of relaxing FIPB's limit to clear proposals and release of a comprehensive FDI policy document are welcome moves. Nevertheless, just these kinds of initiatives will not suffice for India to become the second-most important FDI destination by 2012. India needs a better focus on its infrastructure development. Also, we need to reform our labour laws, provide superior SEZ schemes and apt institutional mechanisms. Sectors such as food retailing, telecom, defence, power generation need to be opened further to allow equitable competition. We need to remove administrative bottlenecks and delays in project implementation that occur mainly due to a lack of coordination between the central and the state governments.







The central argument in favour of caste enumeration has a plausible ring to it. Given the strong, if complex, correlation between caste and socio-economic status, the exercise seems to offer the promise of yielding relevant data so that social and economic disparities can be more accurately targeted by policy. On closer analysis, the advantage turns out to be largely illusory. In fact, the political demand for reviving the colonial practice of caste enumeration — given up by independent India except for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes — has been driven less by ameliorative ideals than by expediency and self-serving, divisive political agendas. At best, fresh caste enumeration can provide only marginal benefits because, as sociologist Nandini Sundar points out, it holds out only an "illusory promise of formal employment." The long-term societal benefits of reservation — in terms of making a constitutionally sanctioned statement against social inequality and actually providing educational and economic opportunity to historically and socially disadvantaged or oppressed communities — are there for everyone to see. But with the majority of India's workforce languishing in the informal sector and the state's role in providing jobs declining over the past two decades, it is clear that reservation is becoming less and less potent as a countervailing force.


But the objections to the Cabinet's nod for a "focussed," standalone house-to-house caste headcount between June and September 2011 are not only political-ideological. They are also practical. As any modern sociologist knows, answers to the question, 'What is your caste?' can be notoriously variable, subjective, and influenced by contingent factors. Caste has an elusive arithmetic in a country that is home to a staggering number of sub-castes, where caste names vary depending on context (for marriage or for religious rituals), and where the social implications of a caste tag vary from region to region. Any 21st century caste enumeration that relies on self-certification will face the same problem encountered by the colonial censuses — what legal scholar Marc Galanter describes as the "unseemly scramble to use census listings to…inflate numbers for political advantage." But there is yet another objection, pressed in fact by progressive advocates of caste enumeration in the main census exercise: a standalone headcount of caste will be a "futile" exercise because it will be impossible to integrate it with "the socio-economic, educational and demographic data" gathered during the census headcount (see the statement published in Op-Ed). If such integration is ruled out by the subsequent standalone headcount, then why do it?







President Sarkozy faces widespread opposition to his recent proposals to reform the French pension system. The controversies are centred on the idea of raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018, and the age of full pension entitlement from 65 to 67 by 2016. The size and nature of the protests on September 7 have shaken Mr. Sarkozy, whose ratings languish around 35 per cent. In terms of figures alone, the protests were a huge success, surpassing the trade unions' expectations. Some 2.5 million people participated in over 100 marches round the country; transport, schools, government offices, and the media were affected. Just as importantly, people of all ages and from all walks of life took part, including senior figures from prestigious professions such as medicine. François Chérèque, leader of the CFDT union, joined world-renowned French academics in signing an open letter that offers alternatives and calls for more extensive dialogue.


That the situation is serious is admitted on all sides. France, like other major European Union states, has an ageing population. Its state pension fund shows a projected deficit of about €30 billion for 2010. Mr. Sarkozy has mentioned concessions, particularly for those doing dangerous or very arduous work. Nevertheless, much wider issues are involved, and a fierce public debate is taking place around questions of gender equality, age discrimination, and fairness across generations. Older people in work face a decline in the growth of their pensions as the world economic crisis damages their future earnings. Younger people will face enormous uncertainties for several decades in the form of insecure and irregular employment. These factors will adversely affect future payments into the state pension fund. The poorer classes, furthermore, start work earlier than those in the well-paid professions. The so-called reforms would, in general, give them significantly longer working lives in more hazardous occupations. Mr. Sarkozy's many opponents point out that this would be unfair and guaranteed to increase inequalities. Martine Aubry, leader of the Socialist Party, says the reforms will be unjust and ineffective. Others make the point that the whole issue of pensions must be addressed not as a techno-financial matter but as one of national solidarity under concepts of a decent life for all. The French people have forcefully reconfirmed their commitment to long-held ideals of fairness and justice. President Sarkozy will be taking an enormous political risk by going against these ideals.









The most valuable resource that a country has is its people. The poor are not a liability, but an asset; they are the producers of essential goods and services we use, they hold up the sky for us for a pittance of a reward. The least that a country can do is to ensure that its people get enough to eat, that already low nutritional standards are not compromised. The present government has achieved a dubious record: the level of per head cereal supply and consumption in India by 2007 at 174 kg fell below the 182 kg recorded by the least developed countries and was considerably below the 196 kg level of Africa. By 2008 Indian average cereal consumption fell further steeply to 156 kg owing to large exports and addition to stocks, and is likely to be lower still in the just-ended drought year.


Cereals account for nine-tenths of food grains, which provide three-quarters of both energy intake and protein intake for the average consumer. Average calorie intake and protein intake have both fallen since 1993. The fall in per head food grain supply and consumption is not new, it has been going on for over a decade, yet our leading economists and policymakers have contributed to increasing food insecurity by their refusal to remove the artificial barriers to distribution created by arbitrarily dividing the population into 'below' and 'above' poverty line.


They remain as unmoved as Kalidasa proverbially hacking away at the very branch on which he sat — they would rather let food grains rot than feed the poor. What explains this torpor, this near-comatose lack of response to a long-brewing crisis of increasing hunger? The answer is that they simply fail conceptually to recognise that hunger is growing because of the serious misconception they have regarding the behaviour of cereal demand in a developing economy.


John Maynard Keynes had remarked that the world is moved by little else but ideas. Once a wrong idea gets into the head of a policymaker it is very difficult to get it out. Keynes's argument on the paradox of thrift — if every person saves more, the nation ends up saving less — is still not understood 75 years after the General Theory and Finance Ministers continue to behave like housewives, cutting back spending to balance budgets even though they have to deal with rampant unemployment. Many ill-advised policies we see creating havoc around us arise from incorrect but obstinately held ideas.


The crucial incorrect idea here is that there is nothing surprising about cereal consumption falling — as a country develops and its per head income rises, people diversify their consumption away from 'inferior' cereals and towards 'superior' food, including milk, eggs, meat, and so on. Most economists thus believe in what they call a 'negative income elasticity of cereal demand' and this influences many others, so they actually interpret declining grain consumption in a positive light. Their idea however arises from ignorance and is factually incorrect. It represents a fallacy of composition, in which only a part of total cereal demand — that directly consumed (as boiled rice, chapatti and so on) — is taken into account and cereal demanded as livestock feed converted to milk, eggs, meat, and so on is ignored.


Fifty years of data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization show that as average income rises in a country and diets become more diversified to superior foods, the per head cereal/food grain demand far from falling rises steeply, and average calorie and protein intake rise in tandem. This happens because much more cereals get consumed indirectly as feed converted to animal products.


The higher the average income of a country, the higher is its cereal consumption and the higher the share of the latter, which is indirectly consumed, as the Table shows. The richest country in the world, the United States, consumed nearly 900 kg per head of cereals in 2007 of which only one-eighth was directly eaten and three-fifths used as feed converted to animal products, with the balance being processed. Its cereal consumption was more than five times higher than the 174 kg recorded by India and its normalised calorie intake (namely, deducting 1000 calories as survival level) was two and a half times higher than in India.


China has been raising its income fast — we are talking of purchasing power parity adjusted U.S. dollars — and by now it converts a massive 115 million tonnes of cereal output as feed to animal products, compared with less than 10 million tonnes in India. Its people consume directly as much as Indians do, but owing to more diversified diets they consume nearly 300 kg cereals per head, 115 kg more than we do and their average calorie and protein intake is higher.


Why has India's average consumption declined to such a low level despite rising average income? Since India and China have seen high growth rates, observers as disparate as Paul Krugman and George Bush (wrongly) explained the 2008 global food price rise in terms of fast-rising cereal demand in these countries. They were quite right to expect rising demand in India but quite wrong to think it had actually happened. The fall, which has taken place over the last decade, pushing India below Africa and the least developed countries, is not normal for a country with rising average income, and has resulted from the lopsided, inequitable nature of growth.


Krugman et al did not take account of the adverse changes in income distribution, owing to severely income deflating fiscal policies advised by the Bretton Woods Institutions and faithfully implemented by successive Indian governments after 1991, which sent agriculture in particular into a depression from which it has still not recovered. With unemployment rising, with the fruits of growth going to a tiny minority while the masses suffered income deflation, the effects of dietary diversification by the rich have been swamped by an absolute decline in cereal intake for the majority.


National Sample Survey (NSS) data show for all except two States an absolute fall in average animal products intake as well, along with falling direct cereal intake over the reforms period. No wonder average energy and protein intake have both fallen. People other than the rich are not diversifying diets; even the hungry are forced to cut back and are suffering nutritional decline.


By 2008, the situation was even worse despite good output. A record 31.5 million tonnes of food grains were exported plus added to stocks, reducing domestic cereal supply steeply to 156 kg per head. This happened because the global recession impacted to raise unemployment and food prices spiralled to lower real incomes, so that there was a fresh round of loss of purchasing power.


What is to be done? Bold measures are required, not the timid and reluctant half-measures we see. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) needs to be seriously implemented to raise purchasing power and extended to urban areas that have seen a steep rise in poverty. For example, in Delhi State the percentage of persons not able to afford 2100 calories per day rose from 35 to 57 between 1993-4 and 2004-5 and the situation by now is definitely worse. MGNREGS can be used as well for a crash programme of building storage facilities for food grains now rotting in the open.


Food distribution through the PDS should be universal, freed from targeting, from the shackles of arbitrary and incorrect official poverty estimates. The recent decision to do away with targeting only in some districts will help very little. The government wishes to restrict the food subsidy but fails to realise that a version of the paradox of thrift operates here as well — the more it tries to reduce subsidy by restricting access, the more the subsidy will rise uselessly to finance holding unsold food stocks as now.


This country can afford to feed all its people at a decent level — what is holding it back is not lack of resources but ignorant and incorrect ideas. Will the economists at the highest levels of policymaking abjure dogmas and think the problem through rationally? Or will they inflict more punishment on the people, subjecting this country to the shame of falling even further behind the least developed countries and Africa?


(Utsa Patnaik retired recently as Professor of Economics in Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her area of specialisation is problems of historical transition to industrialisation in agriculture-predominant societies. Her most recent publications are The Republic of Hunger and Other Essays, and (edited) The Agrarian Question in Marx and his Successors.)









The government's decision to collect caste data in a separate census threatens to nullify the potential benefits of the historic and progressive policy shift towards enumerating caste announced earlier. The Group of Ministers' recommendation to enumerate caste during the house-to-house census enumeration phase in February 2011 and not at the biometric camps was a welcome one. However, the Union Cabinet's present decision to schedule the caste census as "a separate exercise" is deeply disturbing. In its 140 year-history, the census has never collected caste data in a separate exercise.


If caste data collection is done as a stand-alone exercise in June 2011, it will generate only a headcount of castes. It will not be possible to integrate the caste data with the socio-economic, educational and demographic data like literacy, education, marital status, life expectancy, occupation, etc gathered during the census headcount. If all we get is a headcount of castes, then the entire exercise is futile. The main reason to enumerate caste is to enable the distribution of national resources and opportunities to be informed by reliable empirical evidence on the socio-economic levels of different communities now and in future. Without such evidence, all the problems blocking the implementation of social justice policies will remain unsolved.


Other reasons


There are other strong reasons against collecting caste data in a separate census from June 2011. June-September is not a suitable time for conducting a nation-wide census, since summer will be intense in most of India and monsoon will be on in the South. Since schools in most states will have reopened, the 21 lakh teacher-enumerators will not be available. Further, it will not be practically possible to mobilise the gigantic field organisation once again in June, within two months of the close of the census enumeration in February-March 2011. The whole exercise will be patchy and unsatisfactory.


Further, the separate caste census in June 2011 is expected to cost Rs. 2,000 crore as against the entire 2011 Census reported cost of Rs. 2,240 crore. When the caste data can be collected simultaneously in the census enumeration phase without added cost, duplicating this effort at such a high cost and with doubtful success is not the right decision.


If the government does persist with a separate caste census — and we hope it will not — it is imperative that the Office of the Registrar General of India ensures the integration of the caste data with the other indices collected during the census enumeration in February 2011, because only this will allow for correlating the data gathered by the separate caste census with the socio-economic, educational and demographic data collected in Census 2011. But this will still be less than satisfactory since a sizable section of the population (about 20 per cent) will be non-comparable due to shifting dwellings/seasonal migration.


The Cabinet's decision to constitute an Expert Group to "classify the caste/tribe returns after the enumeration of caste" does not address the real concern. A group of empowered real experts is indeed needed to monitor the process of caste enumeration and to safeguard it against possible confusions and derailment, but it should be appointed right now to oversee the entire process of caste enumeration and not merely for tabulating the collected data.


It has been alleged that collecting caste data will "compromise" the "integrity" of the census and "distort" the "population count itself." The allegation that every family will inflate its numbers just to increase their caste strength is baseless because the census collects full details (including name, sex, education, marital status, occupation, etc) of every member returned and non-existent persons cannot be simply added at will. Further, the legal safeguards as well as verification checks built into the system will prevent the collection of false data. Also, in its experience of collecting and publishing caste data from 1871 till 1931, and the data on the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) from 1951 till 2001, the census has not reported any instance of the numbers being inflated or distorted.


The way out


The collection of caste data can be easily done and without any extra expenditure through the schedule used in the house to house census enumeration in February 2011 by just rewording the column for SC-ST as 'Caste.' This will straightaway ensure correlation with all the other data and make for quick and simultaneous processing and publication of caste data along with the other 2011 Census tables. The advance enumeration scheduled in the states of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in October 2010 can be postponed to the summer of 2011, giving enough time from now till next February to finalise, print and distribute the census schedules and manuals.


The arguments against conducting such a gigantic exercise twice within a few months are so many and so compelling that one wonders how they can be ignored. A separate census for caste in June 2011 cannot be defended in administrative, logistical, or financial terms. If the intended policy benefits of the proposed caste data collection are to be achieved, a decision to effect a course correction is required urgently.




Dr. M. Vijayanunni, Former Census Commissioner & Registrar General of India; Prof. Satish Deshpande, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics; Prof. Yogendra Yadav, Political Scientist, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies; Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat, Chairman, University Grants Commission; Prof. S. Japhet, Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion, National Law School of India, Bengaluru; Dr. Chandan Gowda, Associate Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion, National Law School of India, Bengaluru; Prof. Ravi Varma Kumar, Senior Advocate and former Chairperson, Karnataka Backward Classes Commission.








Dr. Massouda Jalal, former Minister for Women's Affairs in Afghanistan (2004-2006), was in New Delhi recently for an informal interaction with students of the Lady Irwin College, University of Delhi. Dr Jalal, a psychiatrist and paediatrician, emerged as a leading voice for women's emancipation after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. She was also the only woman candidate in the Afghan presidential election in 2004. Bula Devi spoke to her. Excerpts.


What is the status of women in Afghanistan?


The status of women in Afghanistan was the worst right after the Taliban regime. But after the power of investment and the energy of the international community and the United Nations, it has become second worse in the world. So it is better than in the Taliban's time but it is still a matter of concern. About 70 per cent of the population in Afghanistan is facing extreme poverty. This extreme poverty in Afghanistan has a female face because of inadequate access to economic opportunities and economic resources for women.


What about education of women?


Afghanistan's population is approximately 30 million as in the nationwide census and half of them are women and girls. About 89 per cent of the vast majority of women in the country is illiterate; of this figure, 80 per cent lives in the rural areas. Illiteracy is mostly in the rural areas. What little literacy and education that we have for women is concentrated particularly in the cities and the capital.


Should women be brought into the peace process?


Sure. They are the real peacemakers; they are the actual messengers of peace.


Why have women been kept away from the peace process?


It's because in Afghanistan, power, locally, most often belongs to the extremist groups. They don't want women to be in the mainstream peace process and be participative, empowered and benefit from the process. They want women to be at home and obey the male members of their families.


In that case should the 'good Taliban' be brought into the mainstream governance?


Well, names and titles are given to help these groups to be engaged in power otherwise we all know the Taliban when they were ruling Afghanistan; we all know their ideology, their vision and their mission, and we all know what they will do once they are again in power; we know they don't want women to participate outside their own life.


Do you think Afghanistan has hit rock-bottom since international humanitarian organisations are also feeling the threat?


Targeting international groups means that the Taliban wants to create fear in international circles in Afghanistan; to frighten them so that they leave Afghanistan because the presence of international organisations helps to make Afghanistan empowered as a whole and come out of the current crises. But the enemies of Afghanistan do not want that and so the international groups are being targeted.


So has it hit the worst situation?


Afghanistan has reached a blind point; it cannot move and that is why the international community is speaking with the Taliban to bribe the Taliban with political power and engage it in the political processes and stop the killings. In a way they are placing Afghanistan in the hands of criminals. I do not know why the international community or even the U.N. trusts the Taliban.


The Taliban had (ruled) Afghanistan and threatened the security of the world. The international community wants to make the same mistake again.


Do you think donor agencies should change their strategy?


Donor agencies should stop all negotiations with the Taliban. They should be disarmed through other mechanisms and removed from Afghanistan, and that's what was decided in Bonn. The Bonn Agreement should be implemented.


How? Militarily?


There are many different ways (to tackle) things in the Afghanistan context. Why did they remove the Taliban from the capital but leave them to stay on the border and provinces? Why didn't they get rid of this headache from Afghanistan at the beginning? That by itself is a question. Why did they remove the Taliban from the north and central parts of the country but not from the southern part? This is the question.


What about the social movement in Afghanistan?


After the international community came in, a lot of funds poured in and many organisations were formed to work for human rights, women rights, etc. But these are mostly donor driven to implement the donors' interests, plans and strategies. Besides, corruption was never to this extent in the country, security is getting worse day by day, human rights and women's rights are slipping back, and extremism has been an issue in Afghanistan. All this is affecting the social movement in Afghanistan. Had the Bonn Agreement been implemented successfully and completely on time, it wouldn't have reached this situation.


Who do you hold responsible for this?


I think when the power structure was to be formed in Afghanistan, the U.S.' attention was drawn to the Iraq war and by the time they were settled with the Iraq issue, a power structure had already been established in Afghanistan. So they (the U.S.) left it by itself. So those who were stronger got a better position in Afghanistan. And who was stronger? The extremist groups.

How do you see India's role in Afghanistan?

I think India knows the region very well and in the context of Afghanistan, India can have a greater role than what it had so far. If India can play a role in international politics with its share of assistance for peace and the reconstruction of Afghanistan, it is good for all — India, Afghanistan, the region and the whole world.


( Bula Devi is a Delhi based independent journalist.)









More than 100 specialists in tackling problems such as obesity, alcohol abuse and smoking are being sacked by the Department of Health for England and Wales in a move that has alarmed senior doctors.


The cost-cutting move has raised doubts about health secretary Andrew Lansley's commitment to improve public health. Some have already gone, others are leaving this month, and the departures will continue until next April.


At least 30 work at the department's headquarters in London, while the others are regional co-ordinators across England, trying to reduce teenage pregnancies, boost rates of breastfeeding and improve schoolchildren's diets.


Dr. Lindsey Davies, president of the Faculty of Public Health, which represents specialists in the U.K.'s state-funded National Health Service (NHS) and local government, criticised the "shortsighted" action and feared it would make difficult problems even harder to tackle and increase the burden on the NHS.


In vital areas


The faculty knew of 70-80 regional specialists whose jobs were disappearing, she said. "The majority of these individuals are highly experienced in the development and delivery of vital public health programmes such as tobacco cessation, teenage pregnancy and alcohol misuse. It is shortsighted of government to lose this expertise, particularly when they appear to be so committed to public health." At departmental headquarters, four of the 10 tobacco control team have seen their posts go because "programme funding", which uses experts to improve the effectiveness of health programmes, has been ended. Other lost jobs cover alcohol, physical activity, obesity, nutrition and breastfeeding, child-centred public health and health inequalities.


In the West Midlands of England, posts are being lost in tobacco control, alcohol, food and nutrition, infant feeding, healthy schools and the "You're welcome" programme for 11-to 19-year-olds. Dr John Middleton, the director of public health in Sandwell, in the West Midlands, said the loss would affect health improvement drives in the region.


For example, the tobacco control network helped ensure the implementation of the public smoking ban in 2007 and worked with HM Revenue and Customs to tackle cigarette smuggling. "Networks of this nature take a long time to be established and to be successful. Taking them out leaves a big hole in our response to major public health problems," he said.


The teenage pregnancy regional co-ordinators in all the nine government offices are being axed, as are the tobacco control teams in six of the nine regions.


Sir Richard Thompson, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, criticised the job losses as misguided.


"It is not the time to be reducing the public health workforce. We should be strengthening our capacity to address the growing health problems due to alcohol and obesity, and continue our work to reduce the prevalence of smoking."— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







More than 230,000 Japanese people listed as 100 years old cannot be located and many may have died decades ago, according to a government survey released on September 10. The justice ministry said the survey found that more than 77,000 people listed as still alive in local government records would have to be aged at least 120, and 884 would be 150 or older. The figures have exposed antiquated methods of record-keeping and fuelled fears that some families are deliberately hiding the deaths of elderly relatives in order to claim their pensions.


The nationwide survey was launched in August after police discovered the mummified corpse of Sogen Kato, who at 111 was listed as Tokyo's oldest man, in his family home 32 years after his death. Kato's granddaughter has been arrested on suspicion of abandoning his body and receiving millions of yen in pension payments after his unreported death.


Soon after came the discovery that a 113-year-old woman listed as Tokyo's oldest resident had not been seen by her family for more than 20 years. Japan's failure to maintain accurate records of its oldest citizens is also being blamed on strict privacy laws and weakening family and community ties. The survey uncovered 2,34,354 centenarians who are listed as still alive but whose addresses could not be confirmed. Ministry officials suspected some deaths went unreported in the confusion that followed the end of the Second World War, while other people may have lost touch with relatives or moved overseas without informing the authorities.


The discovery has proved a major embarrassment in a country that supposedly reveres its oldest citizens.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







"This Employment Guarantee Act is the most significant legislation of our times in many ways. For the first time, rural communities have been given not just a development programme but a regime of rights…The NREGA gives employment, gives income, gives a livelihood, and it gives a chance to live a life of self-respect and dignity." — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the launch of NREGS


The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), launched in 2006 and renamed in 2009 as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), is back in the news. This is in consequence of a meeting of the Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC) held in Delhi in the last week of August to take stock of the functioning of the scheme.


The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss the reports of six working groups constituted by the Central government to help remove the deficiencies in the functioning of the system. The groups have identified problems and made several recommendations. They were constituted in response to allegations from beneficiaries and the public in general. These included denial of wages for work done, delayed payment, poor response to the card-holders' job demands, non-payment of unemployment allowance to those denied work, failure to put in place proper monitoring devices, corruption and wastage of public resources, and favouritism and discrimination in allotting work.


Most of the adverse comments from a section of the media were based on a misreading or misrepresentation of the draft CAG report on the implementation of NREGA, 2005. That critique was not about corruption, but about specific cases of diversion or non-utilisation of funds allotted for the scheme.


It was under these circumstances that the government decided to constitute a few working groups to ensure a better implementation of the scheme, which is considered one of the best and most needed welfare programmes for rural India. The Ministry of Rural Development formed six working groups on March 4, 2010 to address issues which included planning and execution of schemes, capacity-building initiatives, evolving a new wage structure, and ensuring transparency and accountability in the operation of the scheme.


The working group on transparency and accountability chaired by Aruna Roy in its report criticised the government for its failure to take action against "large-scale and unchecked corruption" in the functioning of the scheme. It wanted the government to plug the loopholes immediately. The report pointed out that many provisions in the Act relating to social audit in 2008 were diluted by the government as a result of which the panchayat functionaries could be corrupted. The group recommended a set of model rules to make good the absence of any comprehensive statutory regime on social audit. To ensure transparency, the working group recommended that all NREGA-related information should be put in the public domain. It found that one of the biggest lacunae in the implementation of NREGA was "the flagrant violation of the basic entitlements of the worker with impunity." A key suggestion by the working group was that the social audits in the gram panchayats should be conducted not by the panchayat president, but by a third party.


The working group chaired by John Dreze recommended that the wages of the workers under the scheme should be linked to the Consumer Price Index. The other groups also proposed some practical solutions to problems.


Typically, the government avoided an immediate response to these recommendations. Rural Development Minister C.P. Joshi told members of the six working groups at the end of the meeting that many of the recommendations they had submitted needed to undergo financial and legal scrutiny before they could be taken into account. The Minister has reportedly agreed that the delay in, and denial of, wage payments would be his principal concern and so would be addressed by the government soon.


Media coverage of MGNREGS

The news media have all along been divided in their attitude to the scheme. It is clear this difference is essentially ideological. Even when the proposal for the scheme was under discussion, a section of the mainstream media backed the stand of a group of economists who were sceptical of its success. They expressed apprehension that whatever money was spent on it would go down the drain. They were not prepared to accept the concept of the right to employment. Some even called it 'anti-people.' They would not see it even as a poverty-alleviation programme.


Substantial sections of the broadcast media were critical of the scheme, which notwithstanding its deficiencies has proved its potential to provide jobs for the unemployed and unskilled and even to bring about, to some extent, socio-economic changes in the countryside. The scheme's popularity and success in keeping youth, hitherto unemployed, engaged in useful activities was largely ignored or underplayed. However, several newspapers highlighted the positive aspects of the scheme. For instance, some journalists brought to public notice how the scheme had helped in arresting mass migration from villages to towns and cities. They explained in their news reports and articles how NREGS had served as a dependable safety net for the unemployed, particularly the unskilled, during the years of drought and famine, supplementing household incomes. Some commentators even concluded that this played a significant role in bringing peace in rural areas. Aside from putting some cash in the hands of rural youth, the employment guarantee scheme has helped create sustainable assets. Where it has worked well, it may even have raised the confidence level of young men and women.


Rajasthan is a State where the scheme is being implemented with a high level of success. In places like Bhilwara, an effective system of social audit has given people the strength to fight corruption and irregularities and such success stories have been highlighted by newspapers. Another positive development is that rural women have become more productive in areas where the scheme functions properly. More and better-informed and critical media coverage will really help.


It is not surprising that there has been a steady increase in the number of households benefited by the scheme. While 21 million households were provided employment under NREGA in 2006-07, it was 33.9 million in 2007-08, and 45.1 million in 2008-09. For 2009-10, 44.9 million households were covered up to January 2010. The average wage paid per person-day progressively increased from Rs. 65 in 2006-07 to Rs. 88.56 in 2009-10. The central budget allocation of funds for the scheme has also increased over the years, with the current year's budget allocation being Rs. 40,100 crore. Early implementation of the key recommendations of the working groups is a socio-economic and democratic imperative.







The euphoria over the 13.8 per cent jump in industrial output in July, which was more than double that of June which was 5.8 per cent, was soon laced with scepticism. Economists and analysts felt there was something wrong with the figure as capital goods had jumped 63 per cent. Analysts had predicted a growth of seven to eight per cent in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) and so were taken by surprise that they were so off the mark. It was the figure of capital goods, which rose 63 per cent, that gave rise to doubts about the veracity of the overall figure. The overall manufacturing growth figure was 15 per cent, and within this the capital goods output was 63 per cent. Manufacturing has the heaviest weightage in the IIP. Even Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said the figures were better than he had expected. The Union finance minister was more optimistic and said this was a good sign as it means more employment. The manufacturing sector is one of the largest employment generators. As far as employment is concerned, it would be a good thing if the government came out with figures that indicate how much employment is created in the organised sector. The US comes out with these figures regularly and there is no reason why India cannot do this. This would surely be a good indicator of the real growth in the economy.

It must be remembered that 13.8 per cent is a provisional figure and could be revised downwards. The June IIP growth figures were revised downwards from 7.1 per cent to 5.8 per cent. The chief statistician has explained this as being due to the lag effect. One has to remember that India is a vast country and getting industry to respond with facts and figures is not the easiest thing in the world.?The response rate is said to be between 25 and 60 per cent.

In the case of the scepticism expressed by the economists and analysts, it could be a case of once bitten, twice shy. Earlier there were some discrepancies in a sub-section of the GDP figures, or the demand side indicators, which led to a lot of embarrassment and comment. There is a fear that has been expressed that the world may not believe our statistics, as in the case of China. Chinese statistics are not considered totally reliable and Indian statistics, which have till now been taken as extremely reliable, will take a knocking if more discrepancies are found.?But, having said this, it is also a fact that analysts and economists have mostly remained behind the curve when it comes to predicting trends in the economy. They don't seem to accept sharp trends when they are going upwards or downwards.

There is expectation that the figures for July, particularly for capital goods, will be revised downwards. If this figure is removed, the picture of the IIP is not as robust as being currently painted. Besides, the analysts who express doubt about the manufacturing and capital goods figures argue that the credit offtakes from the banks don't indicate that production has grown so steeply. The figures for electricity, too, are lower. In fact, the data for non-consumer durables and the core sector are not very encouraging and are a source of concern. But, as some economists say, even if the figure is revised downwards the IIP will still be a high single digit, like nine per cent-plus. The main thing is that the overall trend in the IIP is positive and indicates that economic recovery is underway.









India's growth figures are breathlessly reported across the world press with almost an evangelical zeal. Yet, a point estimate of 8.8 per cent or nine per cent growth hides within it much variation that can lull us into a false sense of progress. Having intuited, and rightly so, that economic growth does reduce levels of poverty, political leaders, investment bankers and even filmstars now opine frequently the need to improve growth. Yet, what these growth numbers don't capture are the intangibles of our society's transformations. These intangibles include changes to our environment, the quality of our health (physically and mentally), the quality of our corporate governance, absentee teachers in our education system and most importantly, our governance processes in place.

To achieve a 10 per cent or mo re growth we are (rightly) told about the need to amend our labour laws, institute new ta xation regimes and new technical solutions like a unique id e ntification number system etc. No doubt there are merits to th e se proposals even if there mi g ht be demerits or caveats that we need to pay closer attention to. However, we conjecture that there is a simpler solution to be tter our economic performance: "improved governance and efficient bureaucratic processes". But like all "simple" solutions, this is harder than our oft-disillusioned selves realise.

In a recent Reserve Bank of India staff study entitled "Infrastructure Financing: Global Pattern and the Indian Experience", one of the critical findings was that our method of infrastructure investment thro ugh the private-public-partnership (PPP) was globally acceptable and was likely to provide desirable results. But the critical bottleneck remained the ability to execute projects in a manner that provides "transparent risk and revenue sharing". As reported by the BBC, in a recent survey on the quality of business environment conducted by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy and administered to 1,300 business executives in 12 Asian countries, India scored an abysmal 9.41 out of a possible worst score of 10. In essence, both internally and externally, we realise that better governance that fosters an efficient business environment is the immediate need of the hour. And by governance, we mean both — the actions of the bureaucrats and the direction of the political class.
Kautilya in the Arthashastra writes that punishment for public property theft by public officials is to smear the guilty with cow dung and ashes. To wit, in this age of shampoo and deodorants, our bureaucrats and politicians may just come out smelling sweeter than before. Yet, that corruption in governance has preoccupied men, more perspicacious than ourselves, for over 2,500 years is something that we must give pause to thought.
Today, unlike any other time in our history — we have the ability to leverage our communication. For all of India's gains from information technology, it is evident that India remains one of the most informationally opaque societies as far as governmental processes are concerned. For example, as described by a working paper from the ministry of finance, there are over 10 types of possible PPP contracts under the Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board Act. Yet, it is far from clear how these contracts are adjudicated, what the criteria are by which one type of contract is preferred over another etc. This is not to highlight Gujarat's procedural shortcomings, but to show that even an economic powerhouse like Gujarat has much to do. One can only wonder what goes in less developed and economically unviable parts of India.

The question then remains what can be done.

It is, at first, important to distinguish that not all acts of governmental inefficiency are attributable to corruption. Administrative debacles often have to do informational constraints, in-built conservatism and systemic inertia. Much of this can be dealt with greater levels of transparency — transparency that is induced by technology and process innovation. Transparency that is voluntary (through evolution of customs) and forced (through legislative fiat). Kerala has done a markedly better job than most states of India by trying to bring a useful combination of legislation and technology. From village postal offices in small towns to offices in the secretariat, such measures have enabled improved day-to-day services such as how village panchayat funds are allocated, how the ration card provisions are distributed etc.

But Kerala also shows there are issues beyond just legislation and technology. These include instances of provisioning of public goods of two types. One, the provision of public goods that involve large changes to the existing status quo i.e. highway construction, building dams, slum rehabilitation et al. These require greater civic consensus and continued strengthening of our democratic mechanisms. The second type involves providing services that have a large number of non-measurables and/or are technical in nature as in the case of road construction, environmental protection etc. This is particularly where corruption rears its head. As Mohanlal and Priyadarshan showed us in their euphemistically titled film, Vella Aanagalude Naadu (the Land of White Elephants), even measuring the quality of gravel used in road construction is more difficult than we realise. However, we must learn from those who face similar challen ges instead of giving into conventional wisdom. Benjamin Olken, an economist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has argued for a more unfashionable solution based on evidence from Indonesia. He advocates that greater amounts of random audits by impersonal agencies are the answer rather than the conventionally popular arguments for greater monitoring by peers.

In essence, if we dedicate resources to streamlining our governing processes, improve the levels of informational flow in a publicly accessible manner across the system, our economic growth will find greater succour than we realise. To put in this in perspective, consider this. As per Transparency International nearly $5 billion is paid out annually as bribe by truckers to transport their goods across India. That is nearly two per cent of India's non-gold foreign reserves, or 0.4 per cent of India's GDP. Imagine what happens if this amount could be channelled into the creation of aggregate demand that can be accounted for legally in our national income accounts. Such seepages due to misaligned incentives are abundant in our system. If an economy manages to grow over eight per cent despite a socio-economic structure that is widely acknowledged as suffering from criminalisation and corruption as the Vohra Report stated in 1993 — one can only wonder what India is capable of.

Correcting such distortions can deliver greater growth than we can envision. It will create more faith in our collective destiny as one people, further our ability to project power globally and in our own neighbourhood. To do so, all we need is to get our basics right.


Keerthik Sasidharan was educated in India and Canada and at present works for an European investment bank in Manhattan








If you keep repeating half-lies, you will soon start believing them. This is the case with Barack Obama, beleaguered president of the US. With his Democratic party facing a rout at the November elections, Obama is switching to populist mode in domesticpolitics, where the big concern is jobs.


Obama has chosen the outsourcing industry for a bashing. He said, "For years, our tax code has actually given billions of dollars in tax breaks that encourage companies to create jobs and profits in other countries."


Here's our advice: please do withdraw them, Mr Obama. There are no tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas. What Obama was probably referring to was the tax law which allows US companies to keep the profits made overseas outside. Since these profits are taxed only if they are repatriated to the US, Obama thinks this is a tax break.


The truth is, capital is kept where it fetches the highest return. If US companies are offshoring jobs, it is because it is cheaper and more efficient to get these jobs done outside. The profits from these operations are probably better deployed there. If Obama decrees that every dollar earned must be repatriated here and now, so be it. He may earn more taxes in the short run, but offshoring is not going to become less lucrative for that reason.


A week earlier, Obama also said that if tax breaks had to be given, he would rather give them to companies that created jobs in America. Once again, he is on the wrong trail. Sure, he can do so. But he should know that it will reward companies that are anyway planning to create jobs — including the same Infosyses and TCSes that are his whipping boys.


This is not to say his worries are not real. US unemployment has gone into double-digits and Obama's approval ratings have been steadily falling. To improve his party's standing before the November election, he has to do something. He has already announced billion-dollar plans to improve infrastructure and give the US economy a fillip. The outsourcing rhetoric is part of the overkill required for reviving his political fortunes.


The question for India really is whether to react with outrage or settle for something more muted. The answer is the latter. Outsourcing may be a political football, but it is also an economic dynamo. Kicking the ball back and forth is not going to undo the economic logic driving it all. So let's sit tight and watch the fun.







A recent York University study establishes that men and women who scored high on the narcissistic scale — or very low on the self-esteem one — spent more time on Facebook.


Understandably, self-projection is important for these two types. And, therefore, the study has invited creative criticism in a number of online forums. Some of the outrage, one can suspect, comes from provocative headlining, like 'Study confirms Facebook users are jerks' and 'Facebook users are narcissists, says study.'


This effectively tars every user of Facebook as some kind of weirdo when the truth is that no platform can effectively capture any single person's identity that embodies multiplicity — parent, child, friend, brother, sister, employee, boss, extrovert, introvert, and so on. Previous studies on cyber psychology have reasoned that 'cyberspace offers a niche for each of these specific facets of selfhood'.


Could there be something about the nature of operating on Facebook that leads to a certain deconstruction of this identity? What you can project about yourself on Facebook is greatly restricted by a template — posting photos, status updates, poke X, say hi to Y, and so on.


Identity management comes in at the level of what you reveal and what you don't about yourself. Invariably, to keep people coming to your homepage, you have to constantly indulge in some activity or another for various reasons, one of them being getting attention.


But people also do this to remain professionally visible and network and participate. And let's not forget the good old staying-in-the-information-loop theory. It is possible that a popular person may invite a lot of attention on Facebook and she feels obligated to respond to every post on her page; there may be nothing narcissistic in that.


So take a deep breath people; don't let studies tell you who you are; just know why you are on Facebook. If it is narcissism or low self-esteem, what's so troubling in that? If the label bothers you — you can always reassess your reasons anew. For now, just chill.







There is such a thing as overkill. Most Indians love cricket, and it shows. They turn up at match venues in huge numbers or stay glued to TV following every ball. The top cricket players are heroes, on a par with Bollywood stars, endorsing everything from banks to shaving lotions to motorcycles.


On September 10, the Champions League T20 tournament, with three IPL teams, started in South Africa. This is less than two weeks after India played (and lost) the triseries final in Sri Lanka.


The League ends on September 26, to be followed by a series against Australia, starting October 1. If, say, Mumbai Indians reach the final, it means Sachin Tendulkar will play on September 26 and then rush back to play against Australia five days later. This is harmful to cricket, cricket lovers and cricketers.


Much as we love our cricket, excessive cricket will bore even the greatest fan. Granted, people still turn up or tune in to watch cricket, but nowadays it is usually for a crucial match or the final or if a key Indian player is involved. As any economist will tell you, oversupply cheapens a product; shortages make it more expensive. Excessive cricket is doing a disservice to the game.








West Bengal's industry finds itself in a right royal mess. It doesn't know if the state is going (towards Trinamool) or coming (away from the Left Front). Its reputation is spiralling down and its policies seem wobbly after thousands of crores of assets owned or controlled by it till the seventies vanished, taking along tens of thousands of jobs.


Three contemporary examples: Braithwaite, Burn Standard, Jessop — along with other names, were the hallowed anchors of West Bengal's heavy engineering industry till the seventies, when the state led the country's industrial scene in several sectors.


Enter the Left Front in 1977, bringing along words like gherao into the lexicon and stoking anti-capitalist ire amongst labour. Each hoisting of the red flag on gates forcibly pulled shut, marked a triumph for the proletariat. Never mind even if some companies were in the public sector, owned collectively by the people themselves.


It is a predictable story one has narrated so far. Now comes the fun part. Common sense suggests West Bengal's political leadership of the day and the industrialist class would be enemies. But that is not how the story unfolds beyond 1977. Curiously, business comfortably cosied up to the Left Front, and it did so quite fast.


That is why it did not take too long for a familiar, even gooey, friendship to develop. For example, this dialogue happened on a public platform in Kolkata where this writer was present.


Scion of a business house to Left Front bigwig: Sir, I want to ask you a secret.


LF bigwig: Secret? I have no secrets…


Scion: Sir, I just wanted to know how do you keep such good law and order in West Bengal?


LF bigwig (relaxed, smiling): Oh well, blah, blah, blah (utter banalities).


Ideologues they might be, but communists love flattery. This key lesson was imbibed early on by the state's business fraternity and became industry's survival mantra in an otherwise


hostile regime. For instance, chambers of commerce press releases carried not a word of criticism. Criticise the Centre, ran the mantra, never the state government. Shutdowns, lockouts, closures elicited no harsh reprimands. The LF loved the flattery. Industry loved to lay it on thick because it was talismanic magic guaranteeing permanent survival.


Nothing in politics, of course, is permanent. One cannot be sure, but it seems quite possible that the LF will not be ruling West Bengal mid-2011 onwards. Should this happen it would leave West Bengal's cosy-with-LF industry orphaned, metaphorically speaking. Why?


Because the survival mantra will not work with Trinamool. By all accounts, flattery is not what it takes to set the adrenalin racing through Mamata's veins. West Bengal industry's crisis is deepened because while the LF ran to a rigidly and publicly defined ideology, Trinamool does not have one yet. Industry simply does not know if there is a posture it can safely take to keep the New Power satisfied.

Mamata is not against chambers; she has addressed a chamber hosted seminar. The scion I quoted above tried to rub shoulders (not literally, obviously) with her there and the next day's papers showed him next to Mamata with a beaming face. Clearly, these tentative gestures of admiration for Mamata signal that payment of premium on insurance for self-survival has begun for industry in West Bengal!


Stakes are high, uncertainties many, the crisis utterly acute.








Does a dialogue with Pakistan serve any purpose? Let's us start by assuming that it does: talks with that country do have some relevance. History can be rewritten, but geography cannot be changed. Pakistan is a permanent fixture in India's neighbourhood; it cannot be wished away. Then, again, jaw-jaw is better than war-war. An unproductive dialogue with Pakistan is better than no dialogue; acrimonious engagement is better than estrangement, and so on.


All this encapsulates the conventional wisdom, which illuminates the perceptions of men and women of goodwill who light candles in Wagah and Attari to give each other some heart.


The counter-intuitive case — the case against dialogue — rests on three pillars. First, what does the history of the India-Pakistan dialogue instruct? What has the resumption of the frozen composite dialogue in 2004 following the Kargil conflict (May-July, 1999) and the border confrontation crisis (December, 2001-October, 2002) yielded?


Much lies in the eyes of the beholder. The optimists argue that the resumption of diplomatic ties, people-to-people contacts and some modest trade, especially between the divided parts of Kashmir, but particularly the cessation of firing across the Line of Control, are huge gains from the dialogue.


Further, hotlines have been established between various authorities to defuse tensions, and agreements reached on the pre-notification of missile tests and early intimation of nuclear accidents.


These are significant confidence-building steps, but substantive problems like the Siachen and Sir Creek disputes and the overarching issues of Kashmir and terrorism remain in limbo. What, then, is the practical utility?


Second, what is the intrinsic capacity of Pakistan to enter this dialogue? The current floods in Pakistan have pitilessly revealed its administrative inadequacies. True, the floods were of unprecedented ferocity, but the reluctance of the international community to help Pakistan is instructive. Why? What has occasioned this sudden dip in international humanitarianism? Quite bluntly, there is little assurance available that the aid provided would not end up being embezzled by Pakistan's besmirched civilian and military kleptocracy.


This became apparent in 2005 during Pakistan's handling of the earthquake in Kashmir. The leakage of funds during that natural disaster is fresh in the minds of international donors, and explains their present parsimoniousness. There are persistent reports now, as occurred after the 2005 earthquake, that the administrative vacuum was filled by jehadi organisations like the Jamaat-ul-Dawa and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The hope that this represents a truce of sorts is belied, however, by the almost daily violence occurring, in Pakistan's north-western territories, triggered by Pakistani Taliban groups.


The sectarian Shia-Sunni dimension to this violence must also be noted, which now afflicts the entire country. In these circumstances, how involved can Pakistan be in this dialogue?


Third, is the civilian leadership in Pakistan of any consequence in holding a dialogue with India? This is not a trick question. Despite the success of its most recent elections following an agitation by civil society, leading to paeans being sung to democracy in Pakistan, the real power vests in the Pakistani army working in close tandem with the ISI.


Time and again, the civilian leadership has proven to be incompetent, corrupt, faction-ridden, and has been unceremoniously removed by the Pakistani army.


In brief, the Pakistan army is the real power in Pakistan, whether directly, or behind the scenes. President Zardari and prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani continue in office at the pleasure of General Ashfaque Kayani. It would be instructive to observe that Gen Kayani was promoted as army chief after a distinguished tenure in the ISI. And the ISI has organised terrorist strikes against India, including the Mumbai attacks in November, 2008.


The question is, therefore, germane: what is the point in holding a dialogue with Pakistan's civilian leadership? Would it not be more purposive to hold a dialogue with Pakistan's military leadership?


The irresistible conclusion cannot, therefore, be ignored that a dialogue with Pakistan is meaningless. Obviously, the dialogue cannot be given up in the interests of maintaining good public relations in the region and keeping the international community in good humour.


Moreover, there are several communities in both countries, like the bureaucrats in their foreign ministries and the earnest Track-II regulars and the candle-lighters on the border, who would vociferously argue that the India-Pakistan dialogue should not be aborted for all the usual reasons.


So, the art seems to lie in a great flurry of dialogue activity, in the full knowledge and realisation that nothing will be achieved.








Tragically, while the situation in the troubled state is worsening with every passing day with death toll of innocent people rising New Delhi continues to be in a state of drift unable to evolve the right approach to deal with the crisis of its own making. The events of past three months, with the people's alienation turning into popular upsurge and rage, were too alarming to wake up the Rip Van Winkles in the corridors of power to act before the situation reaches the dead end. The acts of violence witnessed on the Eid day following the massive march sponsored by the separatist leaders should open the eyes of those in authority both at Srinagar and New Delhi that no half-hearted or cosmetic measures can help in retrieving the situation. It will be na‹ve to blame Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and Yasin Malik, who led the march and addressed the massive rally at Lal Chowk , for the acts of arson resorted to be some miscreants following the peaceful rally as the chief minister and his police chief are trying to do. There are certainly some vested interests who are trying to fish in the troubled waters of Jhelum to indulge in violence with the aim of subverting all moves for a political solution of the problem. These elements need to be identified, exposed and isolated. But it would be suicidal for those at the helm either to act against the separatist leaders or resort to repression to silence the voice of the people. The knee-jerk approach to deal with the deteriorating situation is bound to prove counter-productive. 

While the Valley continues to bleed and burn, New Delhi has not even been able to make up its mind on the question of the popular demand for revoking the draconian Armed Forces Powers Act, withdrawal of armed forces from the civilian areas, release of political leaders and activists, stopping misuse of the Public Safety Act and credible probe into the killing of about 70 persons during the past three months. The UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh and the Congress led by Sonia Gandhi are still dithering on taking such measures, of course not any substitute for the solution but aimed at creating the necessary climate of trust for initiating a process of meaningful dialogue with the alienated people of the State for finding a realistic, lasting and democratic solution of the basic Kashmir problem. They are divided even on the question of taking the necessary confidence building measures for bridging the trust deficit.

Those in authority at the Centre need to understand the realities of the situation and read the writings on the walls and act before it is too late. No half-hearted measures like the partial lifting of AFSPA or the promise of any economic package are going to help. While measures suggested like the scrapping of AFSPA and PSA, release of all political prisoners and withdrawn of cases against them, restoration of the people's right to protest and hold rallies, justice to the families of the deceased by appointing an independent commission to probe all the killings and the vacation of civilian space by the armed forces are the necessary measures for restoring the climate of trust, New Delhi has to take initiative for resuming credible and purposeful process of dialogue both with Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir to come out of the long dark tunnel. The tried and failed methods of divide and rule, by putting one section of the people against the other, or use of brute force to silence the people's voice and urges are not going to help in bringing the situation to normalcy. A political and just solution of the problem, is necessary to bring back peace not only in the troubled state but also in the region. Such a solution must take into account the political aspirations of the people living in all the regions and areas of the state across the line of control. Both India and Pakistan should not only renew a structural composite dialogue to all the outstanding disputes including that of Kashmir but also take the people of the state on board while deciding about their future. They should facilitate an intra-J&K dialogue for evolving a consensus on the future of their troubled and divided land.








Recent seizures of the drugs and narcotics from the contraband smugglers in Jammu city and surrounding areas give an impression that this menace has assumed alarming proportions. Over the past one year, the number of seizures has been on the increase and hardly any week passes when there is no arrest of the drug peddlers or capture of the raw material used for making dangerous narcotics. This is happening despite the fact that police destroyed major crops of drugs in south Kashmir and other parts of the valley where they were being cultivated by some farmers for making quick money in the process. Registration of cases against these farmers and detention of some of the drug smugglers did not seem to have made an impact on their activities. The establishment of Narcotics Crime Bureau (NCB) for the purpose of checking drug smuggling at the national level in the coordinated manner also does not appear to have any effect on the smuggling activities. The local bureau appears to be sleeping over this issue as only a few cases have been detected by it in Jammu and Kashmir during the past few years with the arrest of one or two persons. There appears to be no coordination among the various agencies which are operating in J&K for keeping a check on the smuggling of drugs and narcotics. Time and again, it has been pointed out that some of the unscrupulous police officials have been found to be conniving with the drug smugglers in carrying out their activities and sharing booty with them. This nexus of some politicians, police and drug peddlers has only given a fillip to such unlawful activities and involving more and more youth in becoming drug addicts. This menace and allowing the drug peddlers having a field day in carrying our their nefarious trade has been having a telling effect on the youth in particular in Kashmir valley and some parts of Jammu region. It appears that the police and other law enforcing agencies have been sleeping over this serious issue or its allowing are to carry on its activities for making fortunes. No action has been initiated against the police officials involved in these unlawful activities. The government and its agencies need to enforce their writ on these issues and hold the law enforcing agencies accountable for lapses on their part if they really want to do away with this menace in J&K. Moreover, check on such activities will also help in prevention of Jammu becoming a hub for such activities and supply of narcotics to other parts of the country from here.








After maligning the Indian and British researchers who recently published a paper in The Lancet, a reputed medical journal, on antibiotic resistance induced in bacteria by a gene named New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1, the Indian government has demanded that the Indian scientists explain how they collected biological samples for the study and transferred them abroad without permission from the Indian Council of Medical Research. This is one of the oldest tricks in the bureaucrat's armoury: when confronted with an unpleasant truth, throw the rule-book at its source. 

It's unlikely that many samples were sent to Britain. Most were analysed in India. In any case, ICMR rules allow the export of genetic material in small quantities without prior permission. Tightening the rules can only lead to xenophobia and censorship of good cross-country scientific research. 

Threatening researchers won't settle the veracity of the study's claim that some strains of a bacteria group called enterobacteriace have become resistant even to carbapenems, the newest and last-line-of-defence antibiotics group. That stands convincingly established in The Lancet. Questions remain on how representative the study is, and whether naming the gene after New Delhi is meant, as alleged by Indian officials and private sector hospitals, to discredit India's growing medical tourism business. 

True, the NDM-1 gene was not isolated first in New Delhi. Nor is it scientifically established that it originated there. It was first described in a Swedish patient who travelled to Delhi last year. It may have come from another city or country. But biomedical researchers often name genes or bacteria after cities from where an early high incidence of a particular phenomenon is reported. 

This practice isn't odd or malicious. Indian place-names have been used in the past without anyone objecting to them, e.g. Pseudomonas deliensis and Methanolobus bombayensis. Some strains of the metallo-beta-lactamase gene were named after Verona and Sao Paolo. Bacteria/viruses have been named after Adelaide, Beijing, Berlin, Moscow, Singapore, Texas, Washington and Zurich. 

It's however legitimate to question the tone of the paper's concluding paragraph, which delivers an opinion, which is unusual for a scientific article. It warns UK citizens against visiting India for medical treatment. The study is based on 37 patients hospitalised in India, 14 of whom got infected with multi-drug-resistant bacteria. It's not clear if the 37-strong sample is random or representative, and if it reflects diverse regional trends in India. Nor does the study compare the rates of drug resistance between Indian and British hospitals. 
However, none of this contradicts the truth: namely, the incidence of NDM-1-induced infection in New Delhi and its spread to Chennai, Mumbai, Varanasi, Guwahati, Bangalore, Pune, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Rohtak and Port Blair. NDM-1 has since been isolated in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and in the US, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada-and on the latest reports, Japan. The World Health Organisation has just voiced serious concern about NDM-1's spread.

The Lancet paper was not the first publication on NDM-1 in India. The first systematic study on NDM-1 was conducted by an all-Indian researchers' team from Hinduja National Hospital, Mumbai, and published in the Journal of Association of Indian Physicians. It reported the isolation of 22 NDM-1 cases in just three months. This was alarming enough for Dr Abdul Ghafur K, an infectious diseases consultant at Apollo Hospital, Chennai, to write an editorial in the Journal. 

Dr Ghafur said: "If a single hospital can isolate such a significant number of bacteria with a new resistant gene in a short period of time, the data from all the Indian hospitals, if available, would potentially be more interesting . than the human genome project data .." 

These studies should have jolted India's medical establishment into serious, radical corrective action. NDM-1 is easily transmitted between bacteria such as Klebsiella pneumoniae, which cause pneumonia and E coli, which cause urinary infections. Gene-induced resistance to antibiotics has frightening implications. If such genes spread, the world will have no means left to fight bacterial diseases. We could return to the pre-penicillin era, in which millions perished for want of drugs. 

Antibiotics are essential to treat infectious diseases-among the biggest killers in poor countries-and in surgical procedures. Yet, bacteria become resistant to antibiotics as part of the natural process of evolution and develop new traits. 

Development of antibiotics by the multinational pharmaceuticals industry has failed to keep pace with growing bacterial resistance. Drug companies invented 16 new antibiotics in 1983-87, but only seven in 1998-2002. Currently, antibacterial drugs constitute only 1.6 percent of all new molecules under development. New-generation antibiotics are exorbitantly costly. Carbapenems treatment costs Rs 6,900 a day. 

Indians are among the world's worst victims of antibiotic resistance. They are highly susceptible to infections because many lack adequate nutrition and are forced to consume contaminated water, breathe polluted air and live in unhygienic conditions. Hence the high prevalence of tuberculosis, dysentery from water-borne bugs, and respiratory problems compounded by polluting cookstoves. 

Antibiotics are massively over-prescribed and abused in India. They are available for the asking. No chemist insists on a proper prescription before selling a drug. No hospital in India has an antibiotics policy, under which doctors can't prescribe drugs at will, but must follow certain protocols so that bacteria don't become resistant to all classes of antibiotics, and there's always a reserve in the form of an antibiotics group not used before. 

Mis-prescription by doctors-and often, paramedical personnel-leads to the simultaneous use of multiple categories of drugs, where only one or two classes will do. Bacterial resistance is probably claiming lakhs of lives in India, especially from respiratory disease (one million children's deaths a year), dysentery and TB. 
To make matters worse, pharmaceutical companies heavily promote expensive antibiotics through aggressive sales representatives and recommend high-end drugs for the treatment of common ailments. For Indian doctors, who practise in a totally unregulated market, company representatives remain the principal, if not sole, source of drug information. Infectious diseases get a low priority in Indian medical education curricula. Indian doctors, says Dr Ghafur, don't learn much about antibiotics use. Nor are they made to undergo refresher courses. 

In India, a medical consultation is expected to result in a prescription-automatically and inevitably. A doctor who charges Rs 300, 500 or even 1,000 for a consultation isn't expected to prescribe inexpensive drugs. Unless the prescription looks long, with seven medicines on average, the patient doesn't feel s/he has got his/her money's worth. 

Drug companies buy enormous influence with the medical profession through conference sponsorships, junkets and expensive gifts, and abuse it. For instance, in the 1960s, a US-origin multinational recklessly promoted the toxic drug, chloramphenicol, for treating common colds. Chloramphenicol is only to be used in life-threatening meningitis and typhoid. When typhoid broke out in Kerala in the 1970s, thousands perished because of chloramphenicol resistance. 

The hysterical condemnation in India of The Lancet article as a "conspiracy" driven by "ulterior motives" would have been entertaining if it weren't sordid. Take the charge that it was calculated to damage India's booming Rs 1,200-crore medical tourism business. This perniciously tugs at our patriotism. But we're being asked to defend an industry which bristles with ethical problems. 

Indian medical tourism thrives amidst the denial of elementary healthcare to the people by a government whose spending on health (0.9 percent of GDP) is the same as that of failing or failed states. This denial, and the pampering of medical tourism, are two sides of the same coin. 

India's $300-million medical tourism market is minuscule and irrelevant in comparison with health spending in the developed world. In the US, this runs at $2,300 billion. Britain's National Health Service is so overloaded that it would be only too glad if British patients went abroad for medical treatment. This conspiracy-based argument betrays ignorance, poverty of thought and insularity. 

The government has belatedly announced the establishment of a task force for evolving a policy on antibiotics. Even if this produces good guidelines, it's difficult to see how they can be enforced in the bulk (80-percent plus) of our hospitals and clinics, which are in the private sector, in the absence of tight regulation of health-providers, chemists and medical practitioners. This demands radical reform, which entails fighting entrenched interests which profit from illness and disease. 

Remedial action on antibiotic resistance will need a global approach to developing new molecules. Big Pharma, which works on a low-risk model of drug development, driven by profits and patent-based monopolies, is unlikely to develop them. We need open-source innovation in drugs which are relevant to the vast majority of the global public. 

The Indian government must be shaken out of what Dr Ghafur calls "the notorious ostrich strategy". This "denies the existence of the problem-stop looking for these bugs, stop looking for the hidden resistance mechanisms and closing your eyes even if you find them. . It is an Indian tradition. Why should we Indians worry? We can always depend on honey, yoghurt and cow's urine." That means writing off the well-being of our people.








Twas just the other day that the wife, she come into my room while I be writing and look at me wistfully, "What's the problem?" I growled, like I do when I be writing and don't want no disturbance even if it be the missus. 'Twould be nice to have a famous husband!" she say to me, still looking at me wistful like. 
"So what do you want me to do?" I asked. 

"Write a film script," she said, "instead of your silly columns, which none of my friends read anyway." 
So I write this script and my wife she read and go to her kitty party friends and one of them says, "I know a producer let your husband meet him! 

So here I am outside this producer's door waiting for him. "Hello sir, I was asked to meet you!" 
"You are come for villain role no?" 

"No, no sir, I come with script!" 

"Script sir! I write story! See!" 

"For what you write story?" 

"Plot sir, plot, hero, heroine meet, fall in love, then heroines father he get very angry and beat hero's father then.." 

"Wait, wait, wait, who is hero?" 

"That you decide sir, I leave it to you, I only write script!" 

"You can get hero? You know Shahrukh Khan, Amir, Salman?" 

"Sir Hrithik Roshan's father's secretary's brother stays in the next housing society sir!" 

"Hrithik Roshan?" 

"Yes sir!" 

"You know him?" 

"His father's secretary's brother he stay." 

"Okay come in! Sit down, sit down, take this!" 

"What this is sir?" 

"It is a contract!" 

"Oh thank you, thank you sir, you are giving me a contract! Even when I start writing for newspaper and magazine nobody give me contract on first day itself! Where you want me to sign sir?" 


"Yes where you want me to put signature?" 

"I do not want your sign you understand, I want Hrithik Roshan's, now go and get it, and I will tell that lady who play kitty party with your wife, you are very good!" 

The wife was at home with a huge hug for me. "So you got your first contract, my kitty party friend told me! You are famous! Which part of your script did he like?" 

"The one where I get Hrithik Roshan to sign on the dotted line," I said as I threw my script on the floor and stamped on it. 







Violence in the Valley on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr on Sunday has been unprecedented. The mobs have gone around setting fire to several government properties. In the process the casualties include an Auqaf building housing armed police personnel deployed on guard for the Hazratbal shrine and its proud possession of the holy relic of the Prophet, headquarters of the Power Development Department (PDD) at the Exhibition Ground, adjoining command centre of the Crime Branch and traffic police posts at Jahangir Chowk and Regal Chowk. Besides, at least one police vehicle has been reduced to ashes. The Clock Tower (Ghanta Ghar) in the historic Lal Chowk has been damaged and several police stations in different parts have been pelted with stones. It is possibly the first time during Eid-ul-Fitr that the Summer Capital has been exposed to such large-scale arson. In the past the general tendency, including on the part of the militants, has been to let all solemn and auspicious occasions like Eid and Ramzan pass off peacefully. On a couple of times there has also been declaration of unilateral or bilateral ceasefire. This is not to say that there have been no signs of anger on these days. By and large, however, the approach has been to uphold their sanctity. That inhibition has gone now. Who is liable for this further decline in the milieu? From the available details it is obvious that Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq's camp had sought permission for taking a march to the Lal Chowk. It was told by the authorities that it might face problems as the crowd would go out of control. But it insisted upon "a political space for peaceful march." The police officials were unwilling to agree. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, however, overruled them. Now he has been left to shed tears that there has been "betrayal of trust." Have the Mirwaiz or Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Yasin Malik, who along with him addressed the gathering at the Lal Chowk, gained anything from their exercise? In fact, they must also be feeling let down with the boomeranging effect of their move.


Once again it is proved that they are helpless before the radical elements on their own political spectrum. The Mirwaiz has gone on to assert that he is against violence and "damaging government or any other property." We are constrained to say that his claim that neither "I have informed them (the authorities) about the Lal Chowk chalo march or made any assurance to them" and that "not even his party men were aware of the programme" can't be accepted on face value. Nobody has ever said that he had made a personal contact with the administration. It was done on his behalf --- something which is easily verifiable. He himself has stated that previously "whenever we tried to seek permission for such a procession we were put under house arrest and authorities imposed curfew." What could have prevented the administration from resorting to these measures this time as well? Actually, as it turns out, the law-enforcing agencies were indeed against his show. It is a beleaguered Chief Minister who persuaded himself to take a political decision and gave a go-ahead signal. He must have thought that discretion sometimes is the better part of the valour especially on a festive occasion like Eid but is now left to cry foul. The Mirwaiz and Mr Malik, on the other hand, must have least expected someone trying to hoist a Pakistan flag at the Clock Tower or burning the PDD office and other buildings which came as an anti-climax. Could they have been totally oblivious of such possibility? Have they ceased to be aware that on quite a few times earlier also they have been taken for ride by far more extremist forces (veteran Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his supporters)? In 2008 they had in reality publicly played a second fiddle to Mr Geelani who and whose associates are again presently in the forefront of exploiting the people's anger against killings in police firing for their own end. Mr Geelani's strength is that he is perhaps the only leader in the Valley who plainly says what he wants and evidently is not opposed to using any tactic to achieve his goal.


Ironic though it may sound that is also his weakness. For, there are not many takers either of his style or of ideology. That should also explain why the Mirwaiz and even Mr Malik off and on try to emphasise that they also matter. Why they have not been able to come out on top yet is because their attempts are half-hearted. If they truly want to underline their difference with Mr Geelani's style and philosophy, they need to tell people that by not isolating the mischief-makers among them they are only harming themselves. There is another question that arises at the same time. Can then be just the two of them blamed for not doing so? The tragedy is that even the mainstream political parties are not playing any role in this direction. It is a pity that the National Conference (NC) has reduced itself to being merely a spectator to the gradual erosion of its one-time stronghold in Srinagar specifically and the Kashmir region as a whole. The People's Democratic Party (PDP) as the main opposition party is in no mood either to move among the masses at this point in time. By its repeated actions and utterances it has made it known that it would only be too happy to see the NC being exposed to ridicule as the leader of the ruling coalition for its failure to reverse a disturbed situation. One administrative remedy after the other has not worked. In a scenario like this an impression has been created as if Mr Geelani alone calls the shots. The reality is that there is no one leader who can claim to be spearheading the current movement across the Pir Panjal. The people, who are in need of a healing touch, are floating around with a lot of pain in their hearts. They are waiting for a leader who can share their feelings and lift them out of their morass. Who can be that knight in shining armour? As of now their agony has come in handy for a few rabble-rousers to take advantage of.







Interference in the the working of the Government by the politicians has become so pronounced that it is taken as something for granted. The simplest definition of interference, is the stoppage of a machine by interference with some of its parts or a meddle some interference, with the work of others.

Theoretically, as laid by the Supreme Court, "However high you may be, the law is above you", but in actual practice, the powerful politicians, especially in the era of coalitions, can get away with anything, including the twisting and turning the law, rules and regulations upside down.

In these days of coalitions, the small parties, are not only running the Government Departments under their charge, as their fiefdom, being absolutely sure, that the major coalition partner, on whose piggy back, they are riding, cannot afford to annoy them.

Indeed the interference in the day to day functioning of the Government is not being done, with a view to improve the administration but for their own or their party ends.

The trouble arises, when the Ministers want the departmental heads or CMD's, or other officials, to bypass, all the regulations and be partial to their favourites.

In another case a Supreme Court bench took an adverse view of the conduct of a Chief Minister who lotts... rose to become a Union Minister. Earlier, Nagpur Bench of Maharashtra High Court has expressed its anguish on the interference of the same gentleman, in favour, of an MLA, who had a criminal past.

A J&K Minister lost his job, when an imposters from Uttar Pradesh had appeared on behalf of his daughter, Huma Tabassum Saroori, in the medical entrance test. MBBS/BDS admission. The Minister to dodge any possible action and hoping that no action will be taken in his absence, had gone away for a pilgrimage, out of India, without the permission of the competent authorities.

Hobnobbing with the criminals by the politicians is routine. Infact, a fairly large number of politicians have a substantial criminal record. It is not the love for them , but the vote they can garner for equally criminal leaders, which enables them to survive in political parties.

According to the National Election Watch, in the 15th Lok Sabha, there are as many as 150 newly elected MPs, who have criminal cases pending against them while nearly 300 have declared assets worth more than Rs.10 million.This is as compared to 128 MPs elected in 2004, with criminal records. At present BJP and Congress are neck to neck in this race, with 42 and 41 MP respectively with criminal records, and the rest belong to smaller and regional parties.

Politics has become a game of money. Businessmen with tons of money are reportedly seeking and some have managed to secure entry into the upper house of the Parliament.

In a sting operation conducted by a TV channel, some MLA's, in Jharkhand, offered to sell their votes for Rs.50 Lakhs, whereas their leader, wanted Rs,2 Crores for himself.

The number of MP's with assets of a crore or more increased from 156 in the last Lok Sabha to 315 in the current one. The average declared assets of MPs in the current Lok Sabha is Rs 4.5 crore.
Though the increasing role of money in politics is a matter of concern, yet no Government is willing to bell the cat.

In our country, we have, two kinds of morality, side by side. At the drop of a hat, we claim to be an ancient and a great country. The truth is, that those who often speak, highly of morals, are those who often lack them.Why only politics, criminalization has spread, in all walks of life. 5 Judges, including District and Session, and civil Judges belonging to Andhra Subordinate Judiciary, have been suspended, by the AP High Court, for cheating in LL.M. examination, by sneaking note books and study material into the examination hall. If above is the condition of a portion of the judiciary, the police another wing of the Government is no better.
In the anti Sikh Riots, of 1984, in which over 3000 Sikhs were killed, the CBI in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court in August, 2010, has called the investigation and prosecution, done by Delhi Police, into the riot cases as sham and farcical, which has resulted in the denial of justice and helped in shielding the accused one Sajjan Kumar. These are the awful conditions prevailing in our country, which are within the public knowledge domain. It appears that the problem facing the country, is in the kind of governance, we are having.
It would not be wrong to say that in the present scenario, the rich and powerful have been successful in bending the acts of Government, for their own selfish purposesDespite numerous Commissions, and Committees and Sub Committees, there is not a single area, where we can say with pride, that we are the best in the world, except in self praise and in making loud proclamations.

We cannot put everything under the carpet, under the excuse, that we are a democracy and such delays are normal.

The point is how long the country should wait for justice to be done to it and to end the loot that is going on. The Government should make up its mind, to improve one area of its working, whether it is corruption, or reforms in Police or in Judiciary or criminals justice system or roads, or other infra structure.

It can take up issues pertaining to one subject, do all it can in six months or one year and then move on to the next. At this rate, at least 10 subjects would have received its attention in its tenure of five years.The present system, has no accountability and the things keep on lingering meaninglessly for years together. The Union Home Minister said recently, that the Changed Criminal Procedure Code, to keep in synchronisation with the changed scenario would be ready in one year.

Thank God, that Government has woken up after 63 years to ponder on changing the laws of 1863. In the present system, if you have money, you can go in appeal from one court or agency to another till Supreme Court, till you get a judgement of your choice. - (PTI)











The likelihood of India becoming the global superpower can be assessed by comparing our situation to that of the United States and China. First requirement for becoming superpower is that India should be a technologically innovative economy. Britain invented the steam engine, made ships fitted with it, and traded with and conquered lands across the globe. Britain declined when it could not keep up the tempo of new innovations. The US made the atom bomb and patriot missiles and conquered Japan and Iraq. Wealth of the US today is coming substantially from earnings from royalties received for use of patents held by its corporations. But the technological leadership of the US is weakening. No major innovation has taken place in the last decade. Research is being much outsourced to India which is turning the tables in our favour. China is mostly focused on using production technologies innovated by others. 

Second requirement is of cheap production. The country must make goods cheaper than others so that its economy remains buoyant in face of competition. Labour cost is a critical input of the cost of production. China and India have an edge on this criterion while the US is slipping. Manufacturing industry has wholly shifted out of that country. Services like legal research, clinical trials, health care and computer-based tutorials are now moving away because cheaper workers are available in India. The cause of present economic crisis in the US is high wages prevalent in that country. American companies started to outsource goods and services from China and India because wages were low here. American workers lost their jobs and could not repay the loans taken from banks. That resulted in banks going down under. 

Third requirement of a superpower is open governance. Citizens should have the freedom to express themselves and explore new activities. People tied with chains or closely watched on Close Circuit TVs are not able to innovate and produce freely. The Government is also likely to go astray in absence of opposition. This is what happened during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution in China. Thus, America and India emerge stronger on this criterion.

Fourth requirement is that of corruption-free governance. People's energy is used up in greasing their way through the echelons of power in corrupt countries. Wealth of the country is remitted to Swiss Banks instead of being invested in roads and ports. America emerges stronger on this count. Transparency International has ranked America 19th in Corruption Index while China and India are placed at 79th and 84th position respectively. That said there are indications of improvement in India's position. It has obtained 3.4 points in 2009 against 2.7 in 2002 which means level of corruption is declining. RTI Act has certainly helped control corruption. Thus, presently America is ahead but India is improving its position.

The fifth requirement is of equality. Large difference in the incomes of rich and poor creates social disturbance and gives rise to movements of Son of Soil, separatism and Naxalism. Rich and poor spend their energies fighting with each other instead of working together to make a prosperous country. America is ahead on this count too. China has as much inequality as India but it is suppressed by police. India's situation is comparatively better because the problem is at least expressed freely and is likely to be redressed.

Overall, America emerges ahead on four of the five criteria-technological innovation, open governance, control of corruption and equality. Its main weakness is high level of wages. India stands at the second position. It has low level of wages and an open society. It is moving ahead in technological innovation. Our main problems are corruption and inequality. China lags far behind. It is weak in technological innovation, open society, corruption and inequality.

America is ahead today but many problems are standing at the door. Technological research is being increasingly outsourced. Students are failing in mathematics and sciences. Corruption is slowly increasing. It received 7.6 points in the Corruption Index of 2002. This has declined to 7.5 in 2009. Inequality is increasing rapidly. Large numbers of families have been thrown out of their houses and are living in cardboard boxes on the streets. India's situation is improving in comparison. We are making some headway in technological innovation and some progress on corruption but we are in a jam on the issue of inequality. Our society is in deep unrest. Home Minister Chidambaram is trying to suppress this unrest by military action but this is certain to fail in absence of underlying economic reform. 

Problem is the government is giving free license to big companies to exploit resources and uproot people from their livelihoods. Farmland was sought to be forcibly acquired for industries in Nandigram. Mining companies are forcibly trying to acquire the lands and resources of the tribal people. Hydropower companies are destroying the culture, environment and livelihoods of the hill peoples. The Prime Minister is trying to alleviate this suffering by implementing employment guarantee scheme. But corruption is undoing this as well. Further, this scheme is diverting people from productive employment to fictitious works. Problems of inequality and corruption are, therefore, intertwined. Inequality is not truly alleviated because relief goes into corruption.
The Government is not interested in seeking a genuine solution to these twin problems. Objective of political parties is to acquire or retain power. They have hit upon the strategy of creating a bloated government welfare machinery to provide relief to the poor. This army of government teachers and doctors becomes supporter of the status quo. But the money does not reach the poor. Condition of government schools and hospitals needs no describing. Forty percent grains under the PDS are leaked away. More venues of taking bribes are being opened in welfare schemes and the poor remain dissatisfied.

Solution is to disband all welfare schemes and give the money directly to all the voters. I reckon every family will get about Rs 2,000 per month which will be sufficient to fulfill their basic needs. They will not have to sit idle to receive wages under employment guarantee scheme. They will be able to engage in productive employment while receiving this dole. Corruption pervasive in welfare schemes will come to an end. Main problem in implementing this suggestion is lack of confidence in the political parties to take on the welfare bureaucracy. 

Conclusion is that India can indeed become the leading global power. Our strengths are low wages and open society. We are moving ahead in technological innovation as well. 

The chinks in the armour lie in corruption and inequality. These problems, in turn, lie in the infatuation of political masters with the welfare mafia. We shall certainly become world power No 1 if we can solve these twin problems. Otherwise we may miss the bus.









For the last week, there have been numerous opinion articles and reports on China's investments and actions in Gilgit-Baltistan. Many critics have been complaining that India lacks a long term policy vis-à-vis China. Most of New Delhi's strategies in the recent past, the critics argue, are more of reaction, than a part of a coherent long term policy.

Many international commentators have argued that this century is likely to witness the rise of India and China in Asia and elsewhere at the global level. Undoubtedly, as rising powers trying to carve out their own space, both countries are likely to compete, cooperate and at times, even confront each other. Then, why is New Delhi lacking a long term policy vis-à-vis China? One reason, for this lack of long term policy, is perhaps, there is a wishful thinking in New Delhi, as in certain international quarters as well, that there is a peaceful rise of China. The perception then is, as a part of this peaceful rise, China is unlikely to pursue a confrontational strategy with its neighbours. There is an expectation that China will understand India's economic growth as well, hence, will not openly confront. 

Almost a déjà vu. This is what Nehru believed in the 1950s. Is the belief any different today? But a closer look into the reality will reveal, India has a long to way to go, to command respect - both in economic and military terms. Of course, India's economic growth is tremendous in the last one decade, and is likely to grow further in the next decade. What do the economists say, regarding, when India will be able to match China's economy? Certainly, not in the next two decades.

On the second front, is India prepared militarily to take on China, any where in the near future? In terms of military modernization, India is lagging behind atleast by two decades ; even if New Delhi starts earnestly today, it will take no less than 2030, to reach a level of modernization, that China will take us seriously.
Neither the economy nor the military is equipped today, to pursue a confrontational policy with China. So, what should New Delhi do? Should it continue its ambiguous policies, resulting in Beijing testing our resolve? Clearly, the refusal of visa and reports of Chinese activities in Gilgit-Baltistan are a part of Chinese strategy to test New Delhi's resolve. Of course, India may not be able to confront China, openly and militarily. Not now.

But then, are there not other options? Can India repay China, in the same way, that the Chinese are trying to assert themselves, by playing with India's soft underbelly in J&K and Arunachal Pradesh? 

In Gilgit-Baltistan, all is not lost for India, despite New Delhi's sincere efforts to discard all its cards. As Selig Harrison's much commented recent article in the New York Times, there is a "simmering revolution" in this region. Earlier reports by the International Crisis Group and Baroness Emma Nicholson's report for the EU Parliament, has also highlighted the local dissatisfaction vis-à-vis Islamabad. A section within Gilgit Baltistan, a region dominated primarily by a Shia community, is apprehensive, that the Chinese investments and actions will only help Islamabad-Beijing axis imposing their will against the local interests. 

On the northern borders of Gilgit-Baltistan, across the Khunjerab pass, Xinjiang is situated. The Central Asian origin and the Islam factors play a crucial role in the perception of the Uighurs vis-à-vis Beijing. In fact, Xinjian is considered as China's Wild West. The 2009 uprising of the Uighurs in Xinjiang reflect the unrest which is based on the local perception, official discrimination and deliberate settlement of the Han Chinese. Though the 2009 uprising was quelled by ruthless use of force, there is a huge divide, which exists even today between the province and Beijing, and within the communities inside Xinjiang - between the Uighurs and the Han Chinese. 
Recent international reports do suggest, that it is not easier for the Uighurs to visit outside, as China refuses to provide passports to them. An official was quoted telling, "Passport applications must bear the seal of the nationalities and religious affairs committees before [applicants] are allowed to leave the country…They haven't been sending back these forms for some time, so ethnic minorities are totally unable to process their applications [to leave the country] right now." A former Indian intelligence official has just commented that the Eid celebrations in Xinjiang was carefully calibrated by the government. He has asked the following valid questions on local Muslim population visiting the mosques on the Eid: "Were prayers allowed? If so, how many attended? Why did the local authorities have to "encourage" people to visit each other on the occasion of Eid when it is the normal tradition to do so in the rest of the world? Were they refusing or reluctant to do so otherwise? Were they protesting against the alleged violation of their religious rights? Are the relations between the Hans and the Uighurs still so bad that they avoid greeting each other even on occasions like the end of the Ramadan fast?"

On the east of Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan, Tibet is another problem region for China. Despite the Beijing-Lhasa railway line and investments, Tibetans are not integrated with the rest of China. Beijing is afraid of Dalia Lama even today. For the lack of space, this article does not focus more on this issue, which is discussed sufficiently.

Clearly, there is a Chinese soft underbelly on the north and east of J&K (if Gilgit-Baltistan is still believed to be a part of J&K, as the Parliamentary resolution has made us believe!). India needs to exploit this soft underbelly of China. However, this exploitation need not necessarily be negative; it could be even positive. Perhaps, both. 
Historically parts of J&K have always interacted with these two regions; Kargil, was once the center of the much famed Central Asian trade route. Ladakh's links with Tibet need not be underlined. China is waiting for the exit of Dalai Lama, but is also afraid of the nature of Tibetan movement after him. Undoubtedly, Dalai Lama has been of a soothing influence over the community; what if the next generation is more radical? India can play a positive role, especially if the Kailash-Mansoravar route is opened. The same way, by relinking Kashgar and Urumqui with J&K, India can play a positive role in Xinjiang. After all, these three regions, once upon a time, were a part of the much famed Silk Route!

It is unfortunate, that with the closure of Silk Route in the 1960s, India has lost all contacts with these two regions. New Delhi should pressurize Beijing that opening these old routes will be beneficial to its troubled regions. Of course, Beijing will also weigh its options in doing so.

Meanwhile, India could pursue two things. First, to move ahead with military modernization, so that it is militarily prepared to meet any situation along its borders. Second, to invest in research on China's soft underbelly; both the Universities in Jammu and Srinagar have departments working on the region. Besides, two more Universities have been granted to J&K; one of them could have an exclusive campus, perhaps in Leh, to study China's soft under belly, from national and regional security perspectives.

(The author is Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi)









A turf war has broken out with the Human Resource Development Ministry deciding to introduce medicine as a teaching discipline in the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Health Ministry opposing the move, which it considers is an encroachment on its territory. The IIT Council met on Friday and unilaterally decided to go ahead with the controversial proposal. The man in a hurry at the HRD Ministry, Kapil Sibal, does not believe in building a consensus. Quite often his otherwise sensible ideas fall through because of opposition from within his own party. The proposal to produce doctors at the IITs will require an amendment to the IIT Act. The country's top brand name in education is associated with engineers and it will take quite some to associate doctors with an IIT. Barring perhaps the AIIMS, doctors don't have any medical institution with such global recognition.


It is true technology has infiltrated every field, including medicine, and a combined, inter-disciplinary study will be helpful. New disciplines like biomedical engineering, biotechnology and e-health are gaining popularity. Such courses as also MBBS and MD will gain international appeal and acceptance if taught at the prestigious IITs. The IITs are opening up to foreign students and faculty. Quality education has become a major business and the IITs are gearing up to cash in on growing opportunities thrown up by globalisation and recognition of Indians' excellence in information technology in the developed world.


Instead of battling for territory the two ministries should sort out their differences or let experts thrash out the issue. There is an acute shortage of quality doctors and engineers both within and outside the country. Given the sad state of medical colleges, many of whom lack necessary infrastructure and faculty, the Health Ministry should concentrate on their improvement. In fact, quality education requires urgent Central and state attention. Upgrading the standards of education to global levels is of utmost importance. In the latest QS world university rankings our IITs and universities figure very low – somewhere between 187 and 501. This is shocking, to say the least. 









WHAT has been visible in almost all schools of the country has been underscored forcefully by a nationwide survey: that 25 per cent of Indian children are obese. That is not only a question of aesthetics. The very future of the country is at stake because excess weight at this age can translate into serious diseases like blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes etc at a later stage. Yet, the excess weight epidemic has been spreading far and wide. The worst part is that this has come to be accepted as a "normal" happening. Some dismiss excess weight in children as no more than puppy fat. In fact, it is considered to be a sign of good health by many. The end result is that we are raising a generation which is handicapped in many ways from an early age.


The government, schools, parents and the children are equally to blame for this sorry state of affairs. The government has never woken up to the harsh reality that there just are not good enough schools and colleges for the country's growing population. As such, there is a mad scramble to score "at least" 95 per cent marks. No wonder, physical activity is the last thing on a serious student's mind. The schools think that their responsibility begins and ends with giving lessons in various subjects to students. The overall personality development is none of their concern. As a result, taking care of physical fitness is rather frowned upon.


Children themselves are totally bowled over by advertisements and think that the only food worth having is junk food. Shockingly, parents succumb to their whims. Some of them put forward the excuse that being working parents, they just do not have the time to cook a nutritious meal, and "even if we do, kids refuse to eat it". But even those who have time at their disposal think nothing of bowing to the pressure tactics of children. The situation is not only bad but critical. All the responsible parties should understand the gravity of it and remedy the condition forthwith. What will be the use of "good education" if the person who got it is in bad health — physical, mental as well as emotional? 









THE small but important state of Jharkhand, which has 25 per cent of the country's reserves of iron-ore and 40 per cent of its coal deposits, was carved out of Bihar almost 10 years ago in order to ensure better and more representative government. While the justification for a separate state was grounded on the need to give the tribal population a say in governance, tribals of Jharkhand, who now constitute less than 30 per cent of the state's population, have arguably suffered the most during the past 10 years. Curiously, justice and opportunities have eluded the bulk of the tribal communities despite the fact that all the eight governments so far have been headed by tribals. The new state, according to all indications, has been ruled by remote by business and mineral lobbies based in New Delhi and Mumbai. They did help create a class of tribal politicians and contractors who were only too happy to do their bidding, act as their ears, eyes and arms in return for the crumbs that were thrown their way. But mostly these lobbies bled the state white, took full advantage of the weak administrative and political structures in the state and elevated corruption to a new high.


The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress equally share the responsibility for pushing the state to the brink. While the BJP has been in power in the state for well over seven years, the Congress has the dubious distinction of supporting an Independent MLA, Madhu Koda, and his rag-tag coalition which misruled the state for over 19 months. It is small consolation that Koda and some of his ministerial colleagues are cooling their heels in prison after being booked for acquiring disproportionate assets by misusing public office. Both the 'national' parties have displayed scant sense of responsibility in accepting support from such fringe parties as the All Jharkhand Students' Union, which with barely 5 MLAs in the 81-member House has still managed to play the role of the kingmaker and enjoyed the spoils of power.


The swearing-in of Arjun Munda, a BJP Member of Parliament, as the eighth chief minister of the state does not, therefore, inspire much confidence. While Munda may not find it as difficult as Shibu Soren to give up his seat in the Lok Sabha and get elected to the Assembly, it would be farcical if, after six months, he decides to retain his LS seat and make way for Soren's son Hemant, who was also sworn in as a minister on Saturday. 









INDIA lies at the centre of the South Asian peninsula surrounded by a number of countries. Most of these countries are beset with political instability and economic deprivation. With China also becoming India's immediate neighbour (eighth) after the British nurtured buffer state of Tibet was annexed by it in 1951 and conceded by Nehru as an autonomous region of China, the security environment in the region became all the more intimidating. Being geographically and demographically diminutive, these countries suffer from a sense of insecurity and tend to go in for alliances outside the region.


China soon began to exploit the situation and intervened in the internal affairs of these countries by providing them political, economic and military support in pursuance of its own strategic goals vis-a-vis India. This led to an all weather friendship between China and Pakistan. Earlier also, it was Pakistan that brought super power rivalry in the region by joining the western alliances in the early fifties to seek insurance against India. Ever since, it has remained deeply mired in its strategic games and literally survives on the politico-economic succour provided by them.


Machinations of these powers and newly evolving politico-strategic alliances have resulted in unprecedented changes in the security environment of South Asia. The US and China both need Pakistan for their respective strategic considerations and meet its demands for cash and weapons as per its terms. China in total disregard to global ethics went on to help Pakistan to become a nuclear state. It served China's purpose of keeping India embroiled in an incessant proxy war with a smaller neighbour. China's attempts to befriend India's other neighbours like Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka through devious means are no less threatening.


With India, it prefers to keep the border issue alive, continues to build massive infrastructure all along it, objects to India's sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh, and as mentioned earlier, continues to prop up Pakistan in particular against India. China's belligerence and assertiveness in total disregard to other's concern belies its claim of 'peaceful rise'. Its ever-increasing proclivity for brinkmanship in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, just as in resource-rich islands of South China sea will only provoke pushback from others in order to contain the growing power of China. China's increasing presence in South Asia, as a result of complicity of Pakistan and Myanmar, a few areas of convergence with India notwithstanding, is fraught with danger,


Having got involved in the US-run war in Afghanistan, Pakistan has suffered heavily as a nation. Politically, it's in turmoil. Its sovereignty stands eroded. American UAVs operating from its bases are killing its people with impunity. It finds itself in a precarious situation of a helpless spectator to the Americans' doing there. The army is too being forced to fight the US war against its own people. It has suffered heavy casualties in these engagements. Its own terrorist organisations nurtured as strategic assets are now increasingly involved with insurgency within the state of Pakistan. As a nation, Pakistan is on the verge of collapse. It is not in India's interest to have an unstable and tottering Pakistan on its western borders.


Unfortunately, the military has not allowed the civilian governments to function unfettered. The current civilian dispensation is constrained to tow Gen. Kayani's line on national affairs. Interestingly, it was Gen. Kayani who actually conducted the strategic dialogue with the US recently in Washington from behind the scenes, although on the face of it, it was Foreign Minister Qureshi who was leading the Pak delegation.


The army exercises full control on foreign affairs, especially vis-a-vis India, Afghanistan and the country's nuclear policy. Hostility towards India and its complicity with terror remains its fundamental priority. Despite two decades of jihad supported by the ISI, it has achieved little more than keeping the region on the boil. The army is not sure of its standing in Pakistan in the event of an amicable resolution of outstanding issues between the two countries. The Pakistani military, therefore, remains a big obstacle in achieving regional peace. Gen. Kayani's recent statement that India is the principal security threat was to only justify the ongoing asymmetric war against India. Any scope of dealing with the Pak military directly to resolve the Indo-Pak imbroglio can, therefore, be set aside. As long as the army is able to maintain its primacy in the affairs of the nation, scope for any rapprochement with Pakistan seems rather remote. Indo-Pak relations will remain hostage to this.


It's for this reason that 26/11 will hang fire indefinitely till it gradually goes off the radar screen. The military brass can ill-afford to allow investigating agencies to question them since both the army and the navy were directly involved in it. India can do little except make periodic noises and seek help from here and there but without avail. As long as the US needs Pakistan in Afghanistan, it is futile to expect any support from it.


Pakistan's involvement in Afghanistan is based on its perception that it is crucial from the point of view of much needed strategic depth against India. It also considers Afghanistan as a part of its area of influence where it views any interference from other outsiders as inimical to its interest. Whether Afghanistan will allow itself to be used or influenced by an outside power like Pakistan is a moot point. Afghans are known to be fiercely independent ever since the state of Afghanistan came into being in the mid-18th century. Even the mighty British empire was unable to control tribal Afghanistan. Afghanistan is unlikely to play any subservient role to its neighbour, particularly Pakistan which is known to be involved in violence and negating welfare measures there.


Pakistan has been trying to undermine India's efforts to help Afghan people by attacking the Indian embassy in Kabul and getting Indian workers killed through hired elements. This has been amply revealed by Wikileaks. Notwithstanding, Pakistan continues to work hard to realise its dream of installing a friendly regime of Afghan Taliban so as to exercise control over them and the country after the US withdraws from Afghanistan by mid next year. It is, however, to be seen to what extent Pakistan is able to influence Afghans in meeting its objectives.


Having sunk $1.3 billion in development schemes in Afghanistan, India can hardly bow out of it. India certainly doesn't want Pakistan to call the shots in Kabul. It is, therefore, in India's interest that the US doesn't beat a hasty retreat from Afghanistan. How this complex conflict situation is handled by India where a number of countries, including China, Russia and Iran are interested has to be seen.


So long as the Pakistani army stays in political business the South Asian security scenario will remain uncertain. India's exasperation will only grow further at Pakistan's ever-increasing cussedness. The political leadership in India must remember that there is no place for political morality, acquiescence or undue deference. It's the national interest that is paramount.


The writer is a former Director General, Defence Planning Staff 








DESPITE the global economic meltdown, Indian stock markets are experiencing an unprecedented boom with new capital issues and IPOs getting over-subscribed several times over and investors making a fast buck and joining the swelling ranks of the "nouveau riche" and it looks as though the bubble is never going to burst.

I have been talking to a young Dalal Street broker — an Indian version of a 'yuppie' — and he told me that several highflyin' NextGen entrepreneurs are waiting in the wings to float mega capital issues and that adwhiz-kids specialising in financial copy are working overtime giving finishing touches to a multi-media pre-issue publicity blitz.


A sneak preview of the upcoming highlights on our stock markets.


Hindustan Pickles and Chutneys (Holdings) Limited: A company promoted by Hong Kong and Dubai based Non-Resident Indians who are Ivy League B-School graduates and who have an outstanding track record of polishing off with relish full bottle of pickles with their daily business luncheons. It will manufacture, for the first time in India, onion and garlic and mixed vegetable pickles and grated coconut and coriander leaves chutneys to be retailed throughout the country in stand-up tetrapacks.


First company in the world to manufacture pickles preserved in kerosene, formal dehyde and gingelly oil the plant is being set up in Connaught Place in New Delhi — very near to Parliament House, 7 Race Course Road and South Block — a notified backward area and therefore the company will be eligible for sales tax rebates and holidays for 5 years or till such time the air is clear of onion and garlic smell. Onion and garlic have already been planted on a five foot by five foot freehold plot in Noida and barring unforeseen circumstances, the company is likely to go into production during the second quarter of next year.


Diapers (India) Limited: An established multinational FERA company which is diluting its equity with Foreign Institutional Investors and offshore mutual funds picking up 51 per cent stake. The company is engaged in the progressive manufacture of super hitech diapers and bibs. A young mother need only wrap the diaper — a cotton handkerchief, fold it into a neat triangle and tie it round her baby's waist and secure it with a safety pin removed from her mangalsutra. The company is a proven leader in the field with an outstanding track record. The issue is fully underwritten by institutional suckers and fall guys.


Bharat Ear Picks Limited: The company that you will soon be hearing about. A corporate high flyer, it is poised to enter the market with a mega issue. A professionally managed company, cautious and yet bold and thrusting with affiliations to reputed overseas ear pick — manufacturers. Its in-house R&D labs have developed fifth generation ear picks-little wads of cotton and waste rag wrapped round match sticks to form aerodynamically balanced bulges which can be used to remove dirt, wax and other oily substances in full public view.


Exceptionally suited to while away hours to go exploring to find out just how much dirt there is in one's ears.


The demand for quality ear picks has been placed by the Planning Commission at 1,000 million pieces per annum on the basis of India's adult population having two ears. The company is strategically placed to carve out an upmarker 'niche' for itself.


Trans-India Eyebrow Tweezers and Nail-File Corporation Limited: A company on the fast inside track. It is setting up a highly sophisticated and fully automated plant for the manufacture of plastic eyebrow tweezers and nail-files with wooden handles. A ready market among fashion conscious teenagers and socialites who need to tweeze their eyebrows before attending kitty and mah-jong parties.


Trial production of tweezers has already commenced and has been well received by discerning customers with bushy eyebrows. Future plans include the manufacture of moustache, goatee and sideburns trimmers with Japanese and Swiss collaboration. The company's scrips are being quoted at a premium in New Jalpaiguri, Kozhikode and Jalandhar stock exchanges. 









THE article "Remedy worse than the Malady" in The Tribune (September 9) by a former Supreme Court Judge and five former High Court Chief Justices was impressive. But, from the other side of the fence, my experience does not wholly coincide with the suggestions made. There is another angle to the subject that helps illustrate a different point of view.

The Calcutta Bar often recalls that one of their most notable Chief Justices in recent times was the late Justice P.D. Desai (1988-1991). He was a stranger to the Bengal Bench and Bar, having been transferred there from another place (Shimla) where he was also a stranger, and yet most popular. On transfer to Kolkata, P.D. Desai quickly found his feet in the court where Sir Elijah Impey (first Chief Justice of Bengal) sat; and the Bar took to him instantly.


Ditto was the case with Chief Justice Chittatosh Mookerjee of the Bombay High Court (1987 to 1991), transferred from Calcutta. Grandson of one of India's first Chief Justices (Ashutosh Mookerjee) and son of another Chief Justice, Chittatosh had "good-judging" in his veins. In Bombay, he did what no indigenous Chief Justice had done before. When 200 members of the Bar went to him with a signed petition complaining about the errant behaviour of four sitting Judges of the Bombay High Court, he did not turn them away, nor did he accept at first blush all that they had to say.


He took his time, made his own investigations, found that the allegations were largely true, and immediately stopped giving work to the four named Judges. This created a furore – both among the four, as well as in Delhi. The then Chief Justice of India (Ranganath Misra) came down to Bombay and upbraided the Bombay Bar for having taken "the law into their own hands". Chittatosh turned a deaf ear to the CJI. And he told the complaining judges that they were free to file writ petitions against his administrative order under Article 226 of the Constitution.


However, till the Court on the judicial side said he was wrong, the no-work order would remain. No one — not one of the four errant judges — had sufficient confidence in their own integrity to do what the Chief Justice said.


The experiment of disciplining them, by not giving them work, actually worked. It has since become known as the Bombay Experiment — it toned up the Bombay High Court.


There is however, much truth in the following passage (in The Tribune article): "experience has shown that the usual tenure of a Chief Justice coming from another High Court is rarely, if ever, of a long enough period for such Chief Justice, to really get to know the State, its people, their customs and traditions or even his colleagues, the subordinate judiciary, and the members of the Bar..."


May I respectfully add: And do you know why? It is because the 'outsider' Chief Justice is constantly looking over his shoulder, expectantly waiting-in-the-wings to be pulled up! Generally (not always — there are notable exceptions) the outsider Chief Justice is not greatly interested in a High Court where he has never sat or practised, and whose customs and traditions are not familiar to him. He uses the Chief Justiceship of a High Court only as an intermediate stop — to reach the (hopefully) ultimate destination: New Delhi. When this doesn't happen (which is often) the High Court suffers.


When it does happen, some other aspirant to the highest office takes his place — with like expectations. And the game of looking-over-one's-shoulder goes on. All this is bad for judicial harmony, bad for the High Court, bad for the state: but the remedy for this lies not in revoking the policy of transfer but by levelling the retirement age of all Judges of the superior judiciary (High Courts and Supreme Court) to 65 years.


Today High Court Judges retire at 62, Supreme Court Justices at 65. If and when the retirement age is levelled at 65 for all, a Chief Justice — especially of a large High Court — would have to be persuaded to join as a Judge of the Supreme Court; and with levelling, members of the Collegium would not be troubled with 61-year-olds knocking at their doors for "elevation"!


The working life of a Judge of the Supreme Court is not a bed of roses: the job requires intense concentration, extraordinarily hard work and robust good health. All High Court Judges are simply not cut out for it: there has to be a credible process of close scrutiny and selection: whether by the Collegium or by some other body or group which may be "invented" for the future – whoever it is, whichever that body, it must have the time and sufficient data (including inputs from responsible members of the Bar) to assess the relative worth and calibre amongst High Court Chief Justices, and High Court Justices.


Regrettably, too often in my experience, able and prominent Chief Justices in High Courts have been overlooked in the past for reasons difficult to fathom — at least one of them is the co-author of the article under review!


The writer is an eminent jurist 




IN every forum, there is a long debate about introduction of judicial reforms. It is only being talked about and has not so far been implemented. The time has now come to give a serious thought to it.


The 18th Law Commission of India has already given various recommendations on the subject of reforms in the judiciary, which subject is very dear to my heart. In particular, the Law Commission has submitted that a detailed report to the Government of India to reconsider the Judges' cases I, II and III by its Report Nos. 2 and 4 giving ample reasons as to why the three judgments should be reconsidered.


The word Collegium is nowhere present in the Constitution of India. It was first used by Justice P.N. Bhagwati in the majority judgment of S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India. The expression of Collegium and the Collegium of Judges has been freely used in Paragraphs 15 and 22 of the said judgment.


The Collegium is now to consist of the Chief Justice of India and four seniormost Judges of the court and in the appointment of a High Court Judge, the Supreme Court Judge acquainted with that particular High Court should also be consulted raising the number to six. There is no indication as to what happens if there is no consensus among the consultees or if the majority disagrees with the Chief Justice of India.


On a scrutiny of several constitutions of other countries, it may be seen that in all other constitutions, either the executive is the sole authority to appoint Judges or the executive appoints in consultation with the Chief Justice of the country. Our Constitution has followed the latter method.


The Indian Constitution provides a beautiful system of checks and balances under Articles 124 (2) and 217 (1) for the appointment of Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts where both the executive and the judiciary have been given a balanced role. This delicate balance has been upset by the Second Judges' case and the opinion of the Supreme Court in the Presidential Reference. It is time the original balance of power was restored. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice has also recommended the scrapping of the present procedure for appointment and transfer by Supreme Court and High Court Judges.


In every High Court, the Chief Justice is from outside the state as per the Government of India's policy. The seniormost judges who form the collegium are also from outside the state. Consequently, the Judges constituting the Collegium are not conversant with the names and antecedents of the candidates and, more often than not, appointments suffer from lack of adequate information.


Two alternatives are available to the Government. One is to seek a consideration of the aforesaid three judgments before the Supreme Court. Otherwise, a law may be passed restoring the primacy of the Chief Justice of India and the power of the executive to make the appointments.


The 18th Law Commission has submitted a detailed report suggesting various reforms in the judiciary, including the selection and appointment of High Court Judges. The High Court Judge has importance under our Constitution and the incumbent is often supposed to be not only fair, impartial and independent, but also intelligent and diligent.


The general eligibility criteria is that a person should have put in 10 years of practice/service in the legal/judicial field. The post of Chief Justice should not be transferable. This practice was introduced in our country after the Emergency (1975-77) had been imposed. The Chief Justice who comes on transfer for a short period of six months, one or two years is a new man, alien to the place and passes his time somehow. He has to depend on others for policy decision in administrative matters.


If the Chief Justice is from the same High Court, he will be in a better position to not only control the lower judiciary but also assist the persons both from the Bench and the Bar for elevation to the High Court. This will also curtail the unnecessary delay in filling up the vacancies in the High Court.


If the functioning of the High Courts is to be improved, the policy of transferring the Chief Justice has to be given up forthwith. Now the time has come when this policy needs re-evaluation.


Likewise, the policy needs to be changed for enhancing the retirement age of the High Court Judges and Supreme Court Judges at least by three years. Similarly, there is no uniformity in the age of retirement of the Judges of the tribunals in the country. The 18th Law Commission has also submitted a report recommending uniformity in the age of retirement of the Chairmen and the Members of the different tribunals at the age of 70 and 65 respectively.


Considering the huge pendency of cases at all levels of judicial hierarchy, it has become necessary to increase the number of working days of the court. It has to be introduced at all levels of judicial hierarchy and it must start from the Supreme Court.


The recommendations for an urgent and immediate review of the present procedure for appointment of Judges are being fortified by various legal luminaries and many retired Judges of the Supreme Court. The time has now come to reconsider these suggestions.


The writer is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India and Chairman, Law Commission of India









Responding to Malthusian theories about population growth, the Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle coined the term 'the dismal science' to denote the newly emerging discipline of economists. It's a different matter, of course, that Carlyle himself thought that slavery was morally superior to the laws of demand and supply. The term has long since gained currency with those who have always been uncomfortable with the certainties and certitudes of many economic models, a lot of whose assumptions came crashing down in the economic crisis. 

The Prime Minister is also an economist and the term 'dismal science' came back to mind on reading his prognosis on the Supreme Court's directions for providing free food grains as a short term measure, instead of letting them rot. There are two things in his refusal here. The first is the question of the boundary-line between the judiciary and the executive, and there Manmohan Singh may indeed have a limited point. But the Court was only taking about a short-term measure in the face of rotting food-grains. The real problem is that in six years, Manmohan Singh has not been able to evolve a system for food security or initiate measures for efficiency. Common sense dictates that when you have somewhere between 37-77 per cent of your people living below the poverty line (depending on whose count you believe: the Tendulkar committee, the N C Saxena committee or the Arjun Sengupta report) you cannot have the spectacle of 55 million tonnes of foodgrains rotting away to waste every year. Does it take a court order to even take notice of the disaster that our food-grain management has become? 


Going by his reported comments in an interaction with senior journalists last week, the Prime Minister has chosen to take refuge in his larger vision that India will not progress until it industrialises and people are taken out of agriculture. It's a debatable proposition, at best, but what is not debatable is that the Prime Minister presides over a regime where he has allowed the Ministry of Agriculture under Sharad Pawar to turn into a bumbling mess. The contingencies of coalition politics mean that Pawar has been untouchable so far but even he is on record as saying that he needs 'helping hands'. At a time when the agrarian crisis is still continuing, this is one Ministry that should have had top priority for the best minds in the government; instead it has been allowed to meander into aimlessness and the food security bill is stuck in endless debates about semantics. 

This is when the World Food Programme estimates that one-fourth of the world's hungry are in India. We languish at a poor 65th on the Global Hunger Index, calculated by the International Food Policy Research Institute. That is worse than Zimbabwe, Uganda or Mali. Later this month, world leaders will meet at the UN Millennium Development summit to take stock of progress on goals like halving malnutrition, which are to be met by 2015. According to one estimate, India will not meet this particular goal before 2043, by current rates. 

The government's response to the Supreme Court has been to release an additional 2.5 million tonnes of rice and wheat for distribution to the poor under the Targeted Public Distribution System. Yet, one gets the sense that we have seen more urgency from the PMO on the Commonwealth Games this year than we have seen on the issue of food. If free mobile phones can be distributed to BPL families as a poverty alleviation measure in at least one district this week, why can't free or affordable food-grains be distributed in certain others? The Prime Minister says there is no money. Yet, a great deal is actually spent on disposing of rotten foodgrains. 
As P Sainath has pointed out, there is enough money to solve the larger problem of distribution for the poor.


The question is, is there a will? 


The 'dismal science' should not be blamed for dismal politics.





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In the same week that the central government found itself needlessly embroiled in a controversy on the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the prime minister chose to refer the matter of India's ratification of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) to a group of ministers (GoM). Cynics may yawn and say one more group of ministers is going to chew cud on a matter that affects millions of Indians every day. Hopefully, the GoM on the ratification of the UNCAC will consider the matter quickly and give its consent to ratification. India is in the not-so-reputable company of countries like Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Thailand, and a few others like Germany, Italy and New Zealand, to be among the minority that has not yet ratified the UNCAC. Only 19 of the 140 signatories to the convention have not yet ratified it. India may have good reasons for having delayed ratification. Infringement of sovereignty would be one of them, considering that Indian diplomats and policy-makers resent signing up to any multilateral convention that impinges on national sovereignty. However, given the scale of corruption and, worse, India's reputation on this count, the government should not drag its feet on ratification of an agreement to which it is already a signatory. The prime minister has done well to seek an early decision on the matter.


The UNCAC was adopted by the UN General Assembly in October 2003, three years after the idea was first mooted. It seeks to build on existing national and plurilateral laws, like the OECD Anti-bribery Convention, with an aim to promote integrity and accountability within each member country and encourage international cooperation and technical assistance between governments that are party to the treaty. The UNCAC has six aspects to it, namely, the prevention of corruption; links between corruption; criminalisation and law enforcement measures; the need for international cooperation in the fight against corruption; international cooperation in recovery of assets involved in corrupt practices; and cooperation in the provision of technical assistance and information exchange leading to corruption mitigation. There are both mandatory and non-mandatory provisions.


 A case can be made that excessively intrusive and restrictive laws can kill enterprise and initiative in government organisations. It can also be reasonably argued that the fear of transgressing some anti-corruption law paralyses decision-making — as we have seen in recent years in the Indian defence ministry where fear of doing the wrong thing has prevented the minister and his officials from doing the right things. Hence, any law and regulatory regime must make a distinction between provable acts of corruption and other acts of omission and commission that may not be so motivated but are normal mistakes that anyone can make in taking difficult decisions. Indeed, in the Indian government, there is a case now for rewarding initiative and risk-taking, given the paralysis of decision-making in many ministries. At the same time, given the scale and scope of corruption in India, the time has come for much more determined action that will punish the really corrupt and/or at least raise the stakes. Ratifying the UNCAC would be a good step to take.








The government of India has reportedly constituted a committee to formulate a policy for the rational use of antibiotics. This is in response to a report in a globally reputed medical journal on a drug-resistant bacteria or superbug, which has been found to be currently confined to the subcontinent. A superbug represents the end of the road in fighting infections with newer drugs as bacteria become resistant to older ones. So, the only way to prevent getting to that stage is to slow down resistance to antibiotics by ensuring that they are used sparingly. A policy is welcome, indeed, to have uniform norms for the whole country in this battle. Today individual players in health care do pretty much what they think is sensible and can thus cancel out each other's efforts. Formulating a policy by putting eminent heads together is the easier part of the battle. But implementing that policy, even if it contains deterrent penalties, is difficult.


The task ahead is Herculean, because it requires a change of culture both on the part of doctors and patients. In a country where a significant portion of the people cannot afford most useful medicines, doctors routinely over-prescribe antibiotics to those who consult them. What is worse, patients are often dissatisfied with a doctor who may advise that, say, a viral infection should be roughed out if it does not get serious and not be pointlessly treated with antibiotics. This is, of course, just a little better than in China where many patients are not satisfied unless a doctor prescribes an injectable. Poor and uninformed patients in India also routinely use an older prescription to treat a new ailment whose symptoms appear similar, and then do not complete a course once undertaken. Further, although antibiotics are to be sold only against prescriptions, chemists routinely sell them over the counter, acting as makeshift doctors in response to patients' narration of symptoms and request for some golian (tablets).


 The regulatory system can begin with implementing the policy in hospitals which should adopt the right treatment protocols and — very important — remain clean so that they don't become a serious source of infection. Overcrowded government hospitals are a major worry on the latter. But it is far more difficult to re-educate doctors. One weapon which should be made mandatory is continuing education. The current medical code says a physician "should" undertake at least 30 hours of continuing education in every five years. At the least, the "should" can be made "must". This requires money but online distance education can bring down costs. It is also worth considering whether it should not be made mandatory for doctors to take a simple objective type test periodically to ensure that they know the latest basics in order for them to hold valid practising licences. It is also necessary to examine what can be done to counter the depredations (there is no other word for it) of drug companies and their armies of medical representatives at whose request most doctors do their prescribing. The best long-term weapon is right public awareness on these issues. Civil society has a larger role to play in this regard than government.







The Centre, said the late N T Rama Rao, founder-leader of Andhra Pradesh's Telugu Desam Party, is a "conceptual myth". India, he reminded Indira, the republic's most powerful prime minister, "is a Union of States".


In so doing, NTR re-opened an old debate on the nature of Indian federalism. Students of political science, jurisprudence and public administration know that tomes have been written on the issue. Unresolved debates recur time and again whether the Indian Constitution has a "unitary" bias or a "federal" bias. The answer to this question has been a function not of legal interpretation, but of politics.


 When Indira Gandhi sat on the podium at a meeting of the National Development Council in 1967 trying her best to get a consensus around a formula for the sharing of fiscal resources between the Centre and the states, and faced the likes of Anna Durai from Tamil Nadu, EMS Namboodiripad from Kerala, Kasu Brahmananda Reddy from Andhra Pradesh, V P Naik from Maharashtra, Mohanlal Sukhadia from Rajasthan and Kamalapati Tripathi from Uttar Pradesh, she knew the states had an upper hand. That is why she turned to the Gandhian economist, the then deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, a man respected by all, D R Gadgil, to secure a consensus formula. Thus was born the Gadgil formula. It was not an Indira formula. The same Indira Gandhi presided over the most centralised government of post-Independence history barely eight years later.


The political and administrative role and responsibilities of the central government may be defined by the Constitution in theory, but in practice, these are determined by the political realities of the day. With a multiplicity of political parties in power both at the Centre and in the states, there is a constant tug of war between these two levels of government. Given that there are both centrifugal and centripetal tendencies at play in Indian politics all the time, there is no defined equilibrium at which matters can be expected to settle.


However, it is important to remind oneself from time to time that there is such a thing as the Indian Constitution that defines the role and responsibilities of the central and state governments. There are 97 items in the "Union list", including defence, atomic energy, foreign affairs, war and peace, citizenship, extradition, railways, shipping and navigation, airways, posts and telegraphs, telephones, wireless and broadcasting, currency, foreign trade, inter-state trade and commerce, banking, insurance, control of industries, regulation and development of mines, mineral and oil resources, elections, audit of government accounts, constitution and organisation of the Supreme Court, high courts and Union Public Service Commission, income tax, custom duties and export duties, duties of excise, corporation tax, taxes on capital value of assets, estate duty, and terminal taxes, where Parliament and the central government hold sway.


There are 66 items on which state legislatures and governments have the "exclusive" right to legislate and govern, and these include public order, police, administration of justice, prisons, local government, public health and sanitation, agriculture, animal husbandry, water supplies and irrigation, land rights, forests, fisheries, money-lending, state public services and state Public Service Commission, land revenue, taxes on agricultural income, taxes on lands and buildings, estate duty, taxes on electricity, taxes on vehicles, and taxes on luxuries.


There is then the "Concurrent list" of 47 items, including marriage and divorce, transfer of property other than agricultural land, education, contracts, bankruptcy and insolvency, trustees and trusts, civil procedure, contempt of court, adulteration of foodstuffs, drugs and poisons, economic and social planning, trade unions, labour welfare, electricity, newspapers, books and printing press, and stamp duties.


It appears from some of our recent public debates, be it on tackling the problem of naxalism and law and order, policy on utilisation of rural lands for non-agricultural purposes, right to education and school education, right to food and scope of the public distribution system and such like, that all policy and action must emanate only from New Delhi.


Maybe it has something to do with the centralisation of thinking in political parties and the concentration of the media in New Delhi, and the eagerness of Union ministers to appear on national television (both news and debates) that the government of the Union is willy-nilly brought to the centre of every debate, when the final word, in fact, lies with state governments.


Would the general secretary of the Congress party, Digvijay Singh, have accepted interference from a Union

education minister like Murli Manohar Joshi in a subject matter like school education when he was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh? Never! Yet, the very same Mr Singh now wants Kapil Sibal to devote more attention to school education rather than higher education when the remit of the Union minister, clearly stated in the Constitution, includes higher and not school education. Kerala owes nothing to Delhi for its near hundred per cent literacy!


A combination of fiscal centralisation and the patronage of resource distribution, with the populism of centralised and "leader"-focused politics along with the emaciation of state- and district-level political and administrative leaderships, may have partly contributed to this. Equally, the pretensions of the Delhi Durbar and the ego-massaging it gets from a Delhi-based "national media".


There are limits to what P Chidambaram can do to improve law and order across the country as Union home minister, just as there are limits to what Mr Sibal can do to school education, Sharad Pawar can do to the PDS or Jairam Ramesh can do for policy on land acquisition. Yet, the Delhi Darbar imagines it runs the country. Jai Ho!









The Forest Rights Act of 2006 — also known as the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act — came after considerable and bitter opposition from India's conservation groups. They said the Act, which would grant land rights to tribals and other forest-dwellers, would destroy forests and wipe out wildlife. Worse, the rights would make it easy for developers to take over forests. In other words, acknowledging the right of people over their forests was a bad idea.


The recent Vedanta decision, rejecting clearance to the multinational company's bauxite mining project in Orissa, must be viewed in the light of this opposition. The Union environment and forest ministry panel, chaired by former bureaucrat N C Saxena, has indicted the state government for its non-adherence to the Act. It found the Act, which stipulated that the rights of tribals be settled before clearing any project, was followed only in the breach. More importantly, the Act says the forest-dwelling communities must give their consent through the gram sabha before a project is cleared. The Saxena committee says this was not done. Worse, it found the state government tried to cover up its negligence. The bottom line is that people living in the area where mining was proposed were against the project. But they were not heard.


 The decision raises key questions for the environmental community in the country. In the 1970s, when the environmental movement took root in the country, it had two distinct streams. One was a movement to conserve wildlife. The 1970s saw the beginning of tiger conservation in the country. With this grew the conservation movement, aiming to secure habitats for animals but failing to safeguard the needs and rights of people who lived there.


In the same decade, the Chipko movement was born — women in the Himalaya stepped in to protect their trees from woodcutters. But their move was not to conserve trees; they wanted the right to cut trees. They also said — but few heard them — they would not cut the trees because the forest was the basis of their survival. They knew the value of the environment.


This was the other stream of environmental consciousness, which got lost somewhere along the way. Instead, we took comfort in the ideals of the western world's environmental movement, which would first destroy and then learn to repair or conserve.


But there is more to this story. We emulated the western environment model because we did not entrust the poor in the country with protecting the environment. Even when it came to afforesting the land or regenerating the water bodies in villages, we trusted officials over people. The policy kept people out of their forests, made them trespassers in their own land, denied them their rights and their choice for development.


Today, the modern Indian environmental movement should stand humbled. It is the activism of the same people whom the middle-class environmentalists distrusted that has defeated one of the world's most powerful companies, Vedanta. This is the environmentalism of the very poor. Their activism is driven by the need for survival. They know their livelihood depends on natural resources, the land, the forest and water. They also know that extractive and resource capital-intensive development is not inclusive of their needs. They are poor and will be poorer once the mine is dug or the forest is cut. It is for this reason they have fought relentlessly against Vedanta. Let us be clear, this is not a movement of the city-bred green lobby. This is a movement of a tribe of primitive forest-dwellers who worship the Niyamgiri hill. It is their belief in their culture that made them fight.


The question I have is whether their victory will change beliefs. Will we learn the development lesson — to create a model of growth and conservation that uses people as a resource for local development?


It is important to understand that green actions that drive people out of forests are today roughly equal to the assault by the development lobby that takes away their resources. On the one hand, development needs their land, their water and their forests. On the other hand, conservation wants to throw them out of their land and forests. India's forest policy, for instance, has been broadly driven by two imperatives: to extract the resource for industry or to conserve the resource for wild animals. In all this, people have increasingly nowhere to go. This is why India is seeing more anger against wild animals, more violence in forests and more destruction of habitats.


It is time we trusted people. If and when we do, the lesson of Vedanta (and others like it) will be learnt. Only then.









The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance has reviewed the Companies Bill, 2009. Some of its recommendations underpin the importance of independent directors as a critical instrument to nurture the financial health of a company and to protect the interests of various stakeholders, particularly the minority shareholders. The Committee rightly emphasised that safeguards should be put in place in the Bill, so that the independent directors can play their designated role in the boards and help improve the board governance. Two of the Committee's suggestions that the ministry of corporate affairs, the chambers of commerce and boards of the companies would do well to recognise are: First, "the role of independent directors should be distinguished from other directors in the Bill" and, second, "the appointment of independent directors should not be a case of mere technical compliance reduced to the letter of the law" (source: press release of the Press Information Bureau).


To implement these, the government would need to prescribe the mode of appointment, qualifications, extent of independence from promoters/management, roles and responsibilities and liabilities of the independent directors. What remains to be seen is the manner in which these useful recommendations would be translated into the letter of law, the way the companies would implement these and the direct or indirect monitoring mechanism that the ministry of corporate affairs would put in place.


 It is possible that these recommendations may not go down well with a large segment of companies and those who consider the position of independent directors an ornamental post-superannuation perk. These may even give rise to protestations from different quarters that there is a dearth of good people in the country to become independent directors; if these recommendations are implemented, the numbers of willing candidates will decline further. Set in the context of our professed dalliance with GDP numbers and our "all-round growth story", these refrains would perhaps seem a trifle trite and pedestrian.


But why this emphasis on independent directors? Is this emphasis rational or misplaced? Is it an issue that is being given undue importance? This is clearly a subject of considerable debate with equivocal responses across economies. India is a late entrant in this debate, perhaps after the Satyam episode.


This focus on the role of the boards and the independent directors is the consequence of corporate failures and corporate governance scandals particularly in the US, the UK and Italy — the boards in these countries have been found to be central to the governance failures. External expectations about the accountability of the board have risen. Boards' responsibilities in response to these expectations have grown. Directors continue to be overwhelmed by a slate of responsibilities that is only becoming more complex. But the sheer complexity of today's businesses and the practicality imposed by availability of time, knowledge and skills in understanding different businesses would also mean that boards simply cannot achieve everything that is expected of them, even if they devote more time to their board duties.


Legally, directors are responsible for the company even if they delegate almost completely to management. However, the scope of this responsibility is hard to reconcile with the limits of time and knowledge that the independent directors must live with. Boards that clearly understand their roles will have to use their limited resources better because their efforts will then become more focused. Thus, there is a growing gap between society's expectations and what a board can truly achieve. Many companies in India may not be feeling this pressure yet. But as the economy matures, the pressure would only increase and the sooner the companies realise this the better it would be for them.


Several initiatives worldwide have been taken to drive board performance. Regulatory changes have affected

the composition, role and responsibilities of boards worldwide and stronger frameworks for directors' fiduciary responsibilities have resulted. Consequently, boards are trying to find a balance between increased scrutiny and regulatory reforms imposed from outside and the efforts made by the boards themselves.


Embodied in the recent regulatory requirements in several countries is the notion and confirmed catechism that independent directors provide a particular type of objective, shareholder-minded monitoring and it has been argued by the governance advocates and regulators that independent directors improve corporate decision-making and business performance. Listing standards of many stock exchanges requires that boards have a majority of non-executive or so-called "outside" directors.


The reforms imposed from outside tend to focus only on those characteristics of the board that are visible to outsiders, but they say little about what should actually happen inside the board room. Nor do these reforms recognise the aforesaid dilemmas. Significantly, there is increasing international recognition that giving independent directors responsibilities is not a panacea, because they can do only this much.


Good-governance regulatory recipes don't necessarily produce good boards merely because of their structure and composition. One of the root causes of the problem seems to be the inadequate attention being paid to the way each board is designed to handle its responsibilities. The most involved, diligent, value-adding boards may or may not follow every recommendation in the hand book. Professor Sonnenfeld of Harvard Business School, a noted scholar on the subject, says boards are "essentially social systems and what distinguishes exemplary boards is that they function as robust, effective social systems, in a virtuous cycle of respect, trust and candour". Where team members develop mutual respect, they develop trust and because they have trust in one another, they have the ability to share difficult information. Since all of them have the same information, they can challenge one another's conclusions cohesively. It is not the number of independent directors or the proportion of independent director that determine the effectiveness of the board but the environment inside the board room. The availability of information and the free flow of information between the management and the board members are important ingredients for developing a climate of respect, trust and candour. Good board governance cannot be fully ensured by external legislation alone but has to built over time and the best bet for success according to Professor Sonnenfeld lies in: (1) building a climate of trust and candour in the board to share important information with directors in time; (2) encouraging a culture of open, positive dissent that is not regarded as disloyalty, and allows a director to leave a board without being pressured to do so; (3) building systems to ensure individual accountability of directors within the board and (4) introducing measures for evaluating board's performance in terms of integrity of the directors, quality of the discussions, degree of knowledge and interpersonal relationships.


Professor Sonnenfled's contextual quote would be a good way to end this article. In the Harvard Business Review (September 2002) he says: "We will be fighting the wrong war if we tighten the procedural rules for boards and ignore their pressing need — to be strong, high functioning work groups whose members trust and challenge one another and engage directly with senior managers on critical issues facing corporations". Nice if the companies recognise this, if the Chambers of Commerce advocate this; if the policy makers and the regulators keep this in view while framing and implementing policies.


The views expressed are personal


The author is a former executive director of the Securities and Exchange Board of India and is currently associated with International Finance Corporation's Global Corporate Governance Forum and the World Bank









Ensuring foolproof security at mega-sporting events like the Commonwealth Games 2010 is a challenging task, especially in the face of new and emerging threats like CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) terrorism. The 1972 Munich Olympics massacre clearly showed the extent of havoc that a small band of terrorists can inflict on athletes. India, and New Delhi for that matter, is no stranger to terrorist events that have resulted in mass casualties.


The 26/11 Mumbai carnage, the serial blasts in Delhi on September 13, 2008 which killed 25 people, the October 29, 2005 serial blasts in localities in Delhi like the Sarojini Nagar market and Karol Bagh, in which nearly 60 people were killed, are pertinent examples. Because terrorist groups are always in the business of achieving the biggest bang for their buck, events like CWG 2010 present themselves as prime targets, more so with the world media present.


 Reports have noted that some of the suspects who can indulge in such acts could include Kashmiri terrorist groups acting with the material and technical support of their friends across the border, groups based within Pakistan itself like the Lashkar-e-Taiba — the main perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage — or even trans-national organisations like Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Of these, Al Qaeda has been documented to have dabbled in efforts to secure a radiological or nuclear device in the past. Operatives of Al Qaeda in fact issued a warning in February 2010 that they would target the CWG in Delhi.


Security agencies and government officials responsible for CWG 2010 have assured foreign governments as well as the public that they are well prepared to deal with any eventuality relating to CBRN terrorism. Minister of State for Home Affairs Mullappally Ramachandran stated on August 4 that agencies are prepared to face "new CBRN assault methods". Reports indicate that the Indian Army's CBRN units will be actively assisting the Delhi Police.


Apart from these units, over 1,000 Army personnel are to be deployed from September 15 onwards, in addition to nearly 20,000 paramilitary personnel. The total security presence would be over 100,000 personnel. This would include personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), who will be placed at key transportation hubs such as the Delhi Metro. CBRN detection equipment is also being deployed at metro stations.


The army units would have been trained in the tenets of CBRN security including prevention, mitigation, and management at Indian Army as well as DRDO establishments dealing with the issue. The army's main tools to respond to CBRN emergencies — integrated field shelters and nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) filtration systems, among other things, are currently supplied solely by the Ghaziabad-based Dass Hitachi Ltd. This company received the Defence Technology Absorption Award 2009 at the annual DRDO Awards ceremony in May 27 this year for "enabling the country to achieve a high degree of self-reliance in this strategic and critical technology area."


The UK-based company Bruker Detection, in association with the Tatas, has also reportedly offered its CBRN detection equipment and surveillance vehicles to the Delhi government ahead of the games. Among other measures, about 30-50 medical doctors of the Delhi government have also been reportedly trained to respond to CBRN contingencies, especially in the aftermath of the Cobalt-60 contamination incident at Mayapuri scrap market in April.


Despite these measures, however, construction delays, which in turn has led to delays in achieving security lockdown for games venues, has generated concerns about the state of preparedness of the security agencies. Cities hosting mega-sporting events should ideally be prepared well in advance so that various aspects relating to CBRN security — such as mass evacuation plans and crowd control measures — are convincingly sorted out.


London, for instance, is organising a conference to discuss CBRN security issues in October, nearly two years ahead of the summer Olympics in July-August 2012. Cities like Beijing and Rio de Janeiro (which will host the 2016 Olympics, the 2013 Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup in 2014) have also taken the help of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) Office of Nuclear Security to help in training as well as fine-tuning procedures for radiation detection and emergency response.


The IAEA had extended similar support to the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups in Germany and South Africa respectively. It has also provided sophisticated radiation detection equipment to Ukraine ahead of the Euro 2012 football event, which will be jointly held in Poland and Ukraine.


This writer has not come across any reports to suggest that New Delhi has approached the IAEA for technical or advisory support for the October games; nor does the IAEA website give any indication to that effect. While the capabilities of the Indian Army (and the Air Force which could help in mass evacuation) and the training of personnel tasked with CBRN security is stated to be robust, it will not have hurt to get acquainted with current international best practices.


To be sure, India has an institutionalised man-made and natural disaster management and response in the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), established in 2005. The NDMA issued guidelines to deal with chemical and nuclear disasters in 2007 and 2009 respectively, using some of the criteria established by the IAEA — such as safety perimeters for radiological emergencies, for instance. The NDMA is also in the process of establishing a nuclear, biological and chemical institute in Nagpur, which is expected to be completed by 2016.


The adage that security agencies have to be successful all the time while terrorists have to be only successful once is dangerously true, especially while dealing with low-probability but high-impact threats like CBRN terrorism. Points of vulnerability in a teeming city abound, and get accentuated during mega-sporting events. It is to be hoped that the agencies responsible for CWG security have covered all ends, not only to prevent a CBRN incident but also effectively contain it, in the unlikely event that they have to deal with such an eventuality.


The author is an associate fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi









THURSDAY'S Supreme Court verdict allowing investigation of putative anti-competitive practices by the Competition Commission of India is significant for several reasons. One, it firmly establishes the legitimacy of the Commission's investigation into practices that distort fair play in the market. Two, it has cleared doubts, if at all any existed, about the nature of appeals that the Competition Appellate Tribunal can entertain — the tribunal cannot thwart investigations initiated by the Commission. Three, the Commission will need to complete preliminary investigations within 60 days. And four, a possible flood of complaints from the private sector against exclusive arrangements between public sector enterprises and government departments in future could potentially lead to overhaul of purchase preference that state-owned companies enjoy. The apex court has correctly recognised that perfect competition does not exist in any market, and therefore, a referee is needed to intervene to ensure fair play in the market. Thursday's ruling pertains to a petition filed by the Commission before the apex court against an order by the Competition Appellate Tribunal staying investigations into an exclusive agreement between SAIL and Indian Railways for supply of rails. The Commission, following a complaint by Jindal Steel, had initiated an inquiry to determine if SAIL had abused its dominance in that market. By stating that the tribunal needs to differentiate between appeals it can entertain, the court has clarified that pleas against directions issued to Director General for Investigation by the Commission cannot be appealed against. Investigations cannot be stopped. 


The ruling should embolden the fledgling Commission to go ahead and perform its mandate without fear. However, as cautioned by the apex court, it should exercise its powers to issue restraining orders to parties under investigations carefully and sparingly. It will be under immense scrutiny and every order it passes in the next few years will set a precedent as well as test its ability to be an impartial regulator. It is vital that the Commission conduct itself in an exemplary fashion in this crucial period.








AMOVE by the Supreme Court collegium of judges, which decides on appointments to the higher judiciary, reportedly to transfer around 20 judges of the high courts, including some chief justices points to the need to move ahead with judicial reform. It comes close on the heels of a committee appointed by Parliament to inquire into alleged wrongdoing by a judge of the Calcutta High Court submitting its report. The report on the move to transfer judges has for company another news item on a Madras High Court ruling, quashing a case of abduction of 16 goats on the ground that the police filed a case four years after the ungulates' disappearance whereas the case should have been filed within three years of the crime. The three different news reports point to three different, but inter-related problems that beset the judiciary. The financial impropriety alleged against the Calcutta judge is of the first kind. Judges caught copying in examinations, being implicated in a Provident Fund scam, etc, have done little to promote public confidence in the judiciary. The transfer of judges, reportedly being sought in public interest, points to another problem: a weak system to accountability and redress, in case of judicial impropriety. This begins with the unique Indian system of the judiciary monopolising the right to appoint, transfer and discipline judges, with the only recourse left to Parliament being that of impeachment. The missing goats the Madras High Court declared to be beyond legal rescue point to the failure of the criminal justice system to deliver justice to the common man. More than three crore cases await disposal in India's courts. Law minister Veerappa Moily promised to tackle all three kinds of problems, reforming judges' appointment to incorporate a major role for the executive and the legislature, to institutionalise judicial accountability and to bring in procedural reform and appoint more judges at all levels to drastically reduce the time taken for any case to be disposed of. 


The promise was encouraging, but the subsequent legislative action has not been. We strongly urge speedy finalisation of the judicial reform legislation. Judicial reform to bring down the time taken to dispose of a case to three years at the outset, as promised by Mr Moily, would help both industry and the aam admi alike.








THElinks between India and Romania are old and mysterious, not the least because the itinerant gypsies of Europe who call themselves Roma claim descent from India and even speak a Sanskrit-sprinkled language. That is why India should take a close look at the two crises that are currently rocking the East European nation best known for rather bloodyminded rulers, from Dracula to Nicolae Ceaucescu. On the one hand, Romania's inflation has risen again in August on the back of food and services price hikes, and there is unrest over a simultaneous rise in VAT rates to 24%. Unable to wave a magic wand to dispel the increasing debt burden the Romanian prime minister sacked five key ministers from his government last week (finance, agriculture, communications, transport and labour), and mulled a tax on fortune tellers and witches to raise more revenues. While Romania's ruling centrist coalition has survived for a spell, the tax proposal was summarily rejected, fearing allegations of a witch hunt. The last thing a beleaguered government needs is the ill-will of occultists and other sooth-sayers 


But desperate times need desperate measures, and not all aspects of the defeated law were without merit. Holding fortune-tellers responsible for their predictions – with penalties for wrong ones — should be considered by Parliament here too given the inordinate faith the Indian political class reposes in poll prophesies. Requiring them to keep receipts for income tax purposes may be tedious and impossible to enforce, but the same can be said for many other laws too and that does not rule them out. Extending the service tax net to include fortune-tellers, soothsayers, astrologers and even pollsters may even serve a wider national purpose.






THE Reserve Bank of India has recently come out with a discussion paper on the entry of new banks in the private sector and has thrown up some issues like minimum capital, maximum promoter and foreign shareholding, the desirability of industrial houses promoting banks, conversion of NBFCs into banks and the business model of the proposed banks for debate. Unlike in the past, one of the primary objectives in granting new bank licences this time around is to not only foster competition with its attendant benefits to consumers but also promote financial inclusion, leading to the socially desirable objective of inclusive economic growth. The break-even of the new banks therefore is likely to be a bit extended and the need for large amounts of capital is therefore obvious. Given the post-reform experience of increasing concentration of economic power with some industrial houses and the desire to have Indian banks dominate the domestic banking business, the central issue in granting new bank licences is about making the right choices on ownership structure. 


Indian industrial houses have been successful in building robust businesses in the newly opened up sectors since the nineties like telecom, power, infrastructure, insurance, mutual funds, etc, and could also be successful in banking if allowed to do so. It is worth recognising that the case of banks is somewhat different because banks can leverage their balance sheets several times by accepting public deposits and are a part of the payment system dealing with public money. Even a relatively small portion of the assets going bad can put the payment system itself to risk, given the interconnectedness of the various participants in today's complex financial system. From a public policy viewpoint, it is therefore desirable that banks are publicly owned and tightly regulated without any concentrated shareholding by anyone, even less so by an industrial house with potential conflicts of interest. 


Banking is essentially a risky business and it is therefore useful to have a source of contingent capital for banks if they suffer from the consequences of a severe economic downturn or a series of bad credit decisions. Large industrial houses, if allowed to promote new banks, may be able to provide this contingent capital in case of a distress situation affecting their banks. While this could be true, in a systemic crisis situation it is unlikely that the private sector would be in a position to bail out the banking industry. As history has repeatedly shown us, this responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of governments, with the dictum 'privatised profits and socialised losses' being generally applicable. 


The real danger in industrial houses owning banks is the issue of regulatory capture. Despite two decades of economic reforms in India, concentration of economic power in the hands of a few large industrial houses has increased, aided by possible rent seeking in the corridors of power to facilitate the allocation of scarce natural resources at sub-optimal prices. While this is bad enough, the economic consequences of a potential regulatory capture in banking are far too serious to comprehend. Despite having a rather uneven track record in giving new bank licences hitherto, the RBI rightly appears determined — to the extent it can — to maintain the independence and neutrality of banks in the allocation of credit. 


CONFLICTof interests that was allegedly rampant before bank nationalisation in 1969 is another issue that needs attention. Such conflicts typically occur when a bank indirectly encourages its promoter's business interests by denying credit to competitors of its promoter or having unreasonably high credit exposure on favourable terms to the suppliers and customers of the promoter or indeed in several myriad ways effectively transferring risks to the minority shareholders and indeed to unsuspecting depositors. Clearly regulatory bandwidth cannot be stretched limitlessly just to keep track of increasing levels of potential wrong doing in banks. 


Abalance therefore needs to be struck between the need for large pools of risk capital required to promote new banks and ring-fencing the potential negative effects that such capital providers can have on the banking system. Capital providers need to be sufficiently incentivised by the ability to hold meaningful stakes in the banks they promote and create value over time. It is desirable that potential licensees have adequate experience in the financial services business. For a start, regulated NBFCs with a sufficiently high size threshold, diversified shareholding and a soundtrack record relating to competence, profitability, compliance, capital adequacy, credit management and rating could be considered eligible for conversion to banks. 


If the universe of such potential applicants is not large enough, eligible NBFCs promoted by industrial houses can then be considered subject to effective ring-fencing of the commercial activities of the industrial house including its brand identity from the new bank and if the industrial house is willing to be subject to consolidated supervision. In such cases, no intra group exposure should be allowed and a strict set of corporate governance measures would need to be adhered to. 


The existing stipulation of a minimum 40% capital with a five-year lock-in to be brought in by the promoter with a gradual dilution to 10% over a specified time frame as the bank grows in size and systemic impact, except where the promoter is a listed and widely held financial entity appears well conceived and worth persisting with. Other caveats like a ceiling of 10% of capital for other significant shareholders with regulatory approval for holding in excess of 5% and a minimum of 26% capital being held by resident Indians except for wholly-owned subsidiary of a foreign bank also appear reasonable and in consonance with the objectives set out. After a short gestation period for new banks, it is essential that all banks, including foreign banks operating in India, should be subject to the same norms of priority sector lending and financial inclusion stipulations. It is worth noting that such stipulations are not inconsistent with similar requirements, however called, obtaining even in some developed countries.








SINGAPORE Airlines plans to seek more landing rights in India, launch flights to new destinations, enhance capacity on the routes that it services and recruit more people including cabin crew here. Clearly, the airline hopes to leverage on the growth story in India and other emerging markets to expand its operations globally.Philip Goh,regional vice president at Singapore Airlines, says India will occupy a key role in SIA's global strategies being one of the fastest growing large aviation markets worldwide. 


Recovery from the global slowdown has resulted in airline traffic looking up and the coming years will see consolidation in most markets. Traffic between Singapore and India is expected to rise with the scaling up of the comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) between the two countries to facilitate flow of trade, services and investment. India is a priority market and an important component of Singapore Airlines global operations, said Philip, a top SIA official looking after the airline's business in this region. 


India has a lot to offer both in terms of business potential and tourism opportunities. We have seen a surge in business from the Indian market in recent times. It will be one of the key drivers of our growth", he said. 

The SIA veteran who has worked in several countries including Japan, Netherlands, Indonesia and the UK reckons that very few markets as vibrant as India at this juncture. Indian business travellers and tourists are flying not just to Singapore, but onward to destinations including Australia, New Zealand, US, various destinations in South-East Asia and also even the Gulf region and Europe. The number of Indians visiting Singapore has been growing over the decades and the pace is expected to accelerate further. 

Bilateral trade between the two countries grew sharply from $5 billion in 2002 to stabilise at around $16 billion in 2009. The target is to scale up trade to $32 billion by 2015. Similarly, foreign investment from Singapore rose from $3 billion in 2006 to $5 billion now and is estimated to touch $15 billion by 2015. 


The CECA between the two countries is expected to pave the way for Indian doctors, dentists and architects to tap the opportunities available in Singapore. In the education sector, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, already has a presence in Singapore along with universities such as Stanford and Cornell. The strengthening of the economic ties is expected to result not only in more business, but also tourists travelling between the two countries. After the global slowdown, Singapore has bounced back strongly with estimates indicating economic growth at 15%, providing more scope to both sides to expand trade and investment flows. 


On its part, Singapore Airlines is now looking at consolidation across its network as loads are returning and premium class traffic is growing with business travel. Fuel prices are still a worry and airlines have a keep a close watch, said the SIA official. To counter rise in fuel prices, the airlines is looking at more fuelefficient flights and measures like hedging to keep fuel costs at check. 


While fuel price hike will be an area of concern, airlines are far more confident today due to recovery in traffic. In the case of India, for example, first-time tourists are keen to travel to Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, but those who have travelled before are venturing out to places such as New Zealand and Australia. 

So Singapore Airlines has reinstated double dailies on the Mumbai and Delhi routes. Together, with its sister carrier SilkAir, the two carriers operate 80 flights to India. 


Will Singapore Airlines look at deploying its showcase aircraft, the Airbus A380, in the Indian market? Not now, but Indians flying to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, London and Paris through Singapore on the aircraft. The number of Indian passengers doing so is rising and this could become a factor in deciding if SIA, the first airline to operate the A380, will achieve the distinction in India too. 


While Singapore Airlines was keen to buy stake in Air India at one point in time, Philip now considers it a 'hypothetical' issue since India has not allowed foreign carriers to pick up equity in Indian carriers. On investments in related segments too, he holds a similar view — the focus right now is on the core business of flying people. "We have great faith in India's future and see tremendous growth opportunity for Singapore Airlines here. Our core focus is in the air transport business. Singapore Airlines would like to continue to be able to contribute to India's growth, he said.







POLITICIANS and commentators are understandably pessimistic about the chances of an international deal on carbon cuts emerging from the United Nations summit in Mexico this December. Nothing has been resolved since the Copenhagen climate talks fell apart last year. Fortunately, recent research points to a smarter way to tackle climate change. 


There is no longer any mainstream disagreement about the reality of global warming. The crucial questions concern the economics of our response. But this debate can be just as heated. Ever since I published The Skeptical Environmentalist in 2001, I have always acknowledged that man-made global warming is real. Yet activists have repeatedly labelled me a "climate-change denier." This is not because I have ever suggested that the basic science of global warming is wrong. Rather, it reflects anger and frustration over my insistence on pointing out that drastic carbon cuts make no sense. 


The Copenhagen Consensus Center — a think tank — recently asked a large group of top climate economists to explore the costs and benefits of different responses to global warming. At the same time, we convened a second, equally stellar group of economists, including three Nobel laureates, to examine all of the research and rank the proposals in order of desirability. Cambridge University Press is publishing their research and findings this month, under the title Smart Solutions to Climate Change. The book includes a chapter by prominent climate economist Richard Tol, who has been a contributing, lead, principal, and convening author for the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In his chapter, Tol shows why grand promises of drastic, immediate carbon cuts are such a flawed strategy. 


Tol found that trying to keep temperature increases under 2°C, as the G-8 industrialised nations have promised to do, would require emissions reductions of about 80% by midcentury. Based on conventional estimates, this would avoid total climate damages of about $1.1 trillion across the century. However, it would cut economic growth by around $40 trillion a year. In other words, we would effectively be spending $40 trillion every year by the end of the century to do just over $1 trillion worth of total good. 


In fact, this estimate is wildly optimistic. The calculation assumes that over 100 years, politicians everywhere in the world will consistently enact the most efficient, effective laws imaginable to reduce carbon emissions. Dump that far-fetched assumption and the cost could jump by a factor of ten or even 100. 

To put it starkly, such drastic carbon cuts are likely to do a lot more damage than climate change to our quality of life (especially for those in the developing world). 


The reason is simple. Despite all of the optimistic talk about wind, solar, geothermal, and other sustainable, non-carbon-emitting energy sources, no alternative is remotely ready to shoulder the energy burden currently borne by fossil fuels. This is why I have long urged policymakers to increase significantly the amount of money invested in research and development of green-energy alternatives. Now there is research that shows exactly how we can put this approach into action. 


In Smart Solutions to Climate Change, Chris Green of McGill University and Isabel Galiana look at the rates of progress and conclude that by 2050 alternative energy sources will produce less than half the power needed to be able to stabilise carbon emissions. By 2100, the gap would be even wider. The challenge is enormous. They find that devoting just 0.2% of global GDP (roughly $100 billion a year) to green energy R&D would produce the kind of game-changing breakthroughs needed to fuel a carbon-free future. Not only would this be a much less expensive fix than trying to cut carbon emissions, but it would also reduce global warming far more quickly. And, unlike carbon cuts, this is a solution that developing countries would be likely to embrace. 

Even with a major R&D effort, green energy won't become affordable overnight. To ensure that we have enough time to conduct the necessary R&D, we should step up our commitment to research into climate-engineering technology. In Smart Solutions to Climate Change, Eric Bickel and Lee Lane of the University of Texas offer compelling evidence that a tiny investment in climate engineering could result in bigger and faster reductions in global warming than would a vastly more expensive programme of carbon cuts. 

The publication of Smart Solutions to Climate Change has generated considerable interest, including some from activists who believe that my enthusiastic support of its proposals represents a major shift in my thinking. In fact, I have advocated R&D spending for years. What is new — and exciting — is that with the publication of this research, we may finally be starting a constructive discussion about how we really can respond intelligently to this challenge. 


(The author is head of the Copenhagen     Consensus Center, and adjunct professor at     Copenhagen Business School) 








WHILE Gautama Buddha, on seeing suffering all over and Tulasidas, awakened by a mere taunting from his wife, are true examples of instant dawn of enlightenment and 'victory over oneself', most other cases of such spiritual awakening have only been through gradual processes, with one step leading to the other. 


Applied to majority of persons, who too aspire for progress toward this ultimate, though everything would finally be in the mind, practical considerations would suggest that approach to this elusive mind often has to be through that means, which is more easily under one's control —the body. A hint on the right approach, in such cases is given in the Bible (Matthew: 26,41), "The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak". Yes, determining to progress towards one's objectives and spirituality would be of no avail unless other ingredients, so necessary are first taken care of — physical health, energy, exuberance and sustaining power, which go with it. 


In his Kumarasambhavam (5,33), Kalidasa reminded centuries before that for all attainments, the body comes first. Patanjali (Sutra: 2,29) listing the eight stages (ashtanga) deals with the postures (asana) and pranayama (breath regulation) before the other stages, involving more of the mind — concentration, meditation etc. Also, hathayoga, focusing on such bodily discipline, is more suitable for most, as a means to rajayogaand jnanayoga, which involve the mind and spirit. 


In short, the body is the route to all mental refinement. The reason for this, as noted by William James, is that body and thus physical activities can be more easily regulated, being under direct control of the will. In this manner, feelings and mind, which are not under this direct control, are also influenced and inspired, though indirectly. A renowned cardiologist also points out how a brisk walk "may be more helpful as a hypnotic than any medicine, highball or TV show". 


Done with awareness and the spontaneous delight, which such physical involvements should generate, the carryover to the mind can be tangible and instant. Experience the gentleness and joy all over as you go for a walk, feel the water trickling down, as you shower, cleansing, as if, your body and mind too. 


The body is thus a place of worship by itself, to be well maintained — a doorway to mental refinement and true spiritual progress!




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The euphoria over the 13.8 per cent jump in industrial output in July, which was more than double that of June which was 5.8 per cent, was soon laced with scepticism. Economists and analysts felt there was something wrong with the figure as capital goods had jumped 63 per cent. Analysts had predicted a growth of seven to eight per cent in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) and so were taken by surprise that they were so off the mark. It was the figure of capital goods, which rose 63 per cent, that gave rise to doubts about the veracity of the overall figure. The overall manufacturing growth figure was 15 per cent, and within this the capital goods output was 63 per cent. Manufacturing has the heaviest weightage in the IIP. Even Planning Commission deputy chairman, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, said the figures were better than he had expected. The Union finance minister was more optimistic and said this was a good sign as it means more employment. The manufacturing sector is one of the largest employment generators. As far as employment is concerned, it would be a good thing if the government came out with figures that indicate how much employment is created in the organised sector. The US comes out with these figures regularly and there is no reason why India cannot do this. This would surely be a good indicator of the real growth in the economy. It must be remembered that 13.8 per cent is a provisional figure and could be revised downwards. The June IIP growth figures were revised downwards from 7.1 per cent to 5.8 per cent. The chief statistician has explained this as being due to the lag effect. One has to remember that India is a vast country and getting industry to respond with facts and figures is not the easiest thing in the world. The response rate is said to be between 25 and 60 per cent. In the case of the scepticism expressed by the economists and analysts, it could be a case of once bitten, twice shy. Earlier there were some discrepancies in a sub-section of the GDP figures, or the demand side indicators, which led to a lot of embarrassment and comment. There is a fear that has been expressed that the world may not believe our statistics, as in the case of China. Chinese statistics are not considered totally reliable and Indian statistics, which have till now been taken as extremely reliable, will take a knocking if more discrepancies are found. But, having said this, it is also a fact that analysts and economists have mostly remained behind the curve when it comes to predicting trends in the economy. They don't seem to accept sharp trends when they are going upwards or downwards. There is expectation that the figures for July, particularly for capital goods, will be revised downwards. If this figure is removed, the picture of the IIP is not as robust as being currently painted. Besides, the analysts who express doubt about the manufacturing and capital goods figures argue that the credit offtakes from the banks don't indicate that production has grown so steeply. The figures for electricity, too, are lower. In fact, the data for non-consumer durables and the core sector are not very encouraging and are a source of concern.








India's growth figures are breathlessly reported across the world press with almost an evangelical zeal. Yet, a point estimate of 8.8 per cent or nine per cent growth hides within it much variation that can lull us into a false sense of progress. Having intuited, and rightly so, that economic growth does reduce levels of poverty, political leaders, investment bankers and even filmstars now opine frequently the need to improve growth. Yet, what these growth numbers don't capture are the intangibles of our society's transformations. These intangibles include changes to our environment, the quality of our health (physically and mentally), the quality of our corporate governance, absentee teachers in our education system and most importantly, our governance processes in place.


To achieve 10 per cent or more growth we are (rightly) told about the need to amend our labour laws, institute new taxation regimes and new technical solutions like a unique identification number system etc. No doubt there are merits to these proposals even if there might be demerits or caveats that we need to pay closer attention to. However, we conjecture that there is a simpler solution to better our economic performance: "improved governance and efficient bureaucratic processes". But like all "simple" solutions, this is harder than our oft-disillusioned selves realise.


In a recent Reserve Bank of India staff study entitled "Infrastructure Financing: Global Pattern and the Indian Experience", one of the critical findings was that our method of infrastructure investment through the private-public-partnership (PPP) was globally acceptable and was likely to provide desirable results. But the critical bottleneck remained the ability to execute projects in a manner that provides "transparent risk and revenue sharing". As reported by the BBC, in a recent survey on the quality of business environment conducted by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy and administered to 1,300 business executives in 12 Asian countries, India scored an abysmal 9.41 out of a possible worst score of 10. In essence, both internally and externally, we realise that better governance that fosters an efficient business environment is the immediate need of the hour. And by governance, we mean both — the actions of the bureaucrats and the direction of the political class.


Kautilya in the Arthashastra writes that punishment for public property theft by public officials is to smear the guilty with cow dung and ashes. To wit, in this age of shampoo and deodorants, our bureaucrats and politicians may just come out smelling sweeter than before. Yet, that corruption in governance has preoccupied men, more perspicacious than ourselves, for over 2,500 years is something that we must give pause to thought.


Today, unlike any other time in our history, we have the ability to leverage our communication. For all of India's gains from information technology, it is evident that India remains one of the most informationally opaque societies as far as governmental processes are concerned. For example, as described by a working paper from the ministry of finance, there are over 10 types of possible PPP contracts under the Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board Act. Yet, it is far from clear how these contracts are adjudicated, what the criteria are by which one type of contract is preferred over another etc. This is not to highlight Gujarat's procedural shortcomings, but to show that even an economic powerhouse like Gujarat has much to do. One can only wonder what goes in less developed and economically unviable parts of India.


The question then remains what can be done.


It is, at first, important to distinguish that not all acts of governmental inefficiency are attributable to corruption. Administrative debacles often have to do informational constraints, in-built conservatism and systemic inertia. Much of this can be dealt with greater levels of transparency — transparency that is induced by technology and process innovation. Transparency that is voluntary (through evolution of customs) and forced (through legislative fiat). Kerala has done a markedly better job than most states of India by trying to bring a useful combination of legislation and technology. From village postal offices in small towns to offices in the secretariat, such measures have enabled improved day-to-day services such as how village panchayat funds are allocated, how the ration card provisions are distributed etc.


But Kerala also shows there are issues beyond just legislation and technology. These include instances of provisioning of public goods of two types. One, the provision of public goods that involve large changes to the existing status quo i.e. highway construction, building dams, slum rehabilitation et al. These require greater civic consensus and continued strengthening of our democratic mechanisms. The second type involves providing services that have a large number of non-measurables and/or are technical in nature as in the case of road construction, environmental protection etc. This is particularly where corruption rears its head. As Mohanlal and Priyadarshan showed us in their euphemistically titled film, Vella Aanagalude Naadu (the Land of White Elephants), even measuring the quality of gravel used in road construction is more difficult than we realise. However, we must learn from those who face similar challenges instead of giving into conventional wisdom. Benjamin Olken, an economist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has argued for a more unfashionable solution based on evidence from Indonesia. He advocates that greater amounts of random audits by impersonal agencies are the answer rather than the conventionally popular arguments for greater monitoring by peers.


In essence, if we dedicate resources to streamlining our governing processes, improve the levels of informational flow in a publicly accessible manner across the system, our economic growth will find greater succour than we realise. To put in this in perspective, consider this. As per Transparency International nearly $5 billion is paid out annually as bribe by truckers to transport their goods across India. That is nearly two per cent of India's non-gold foreign reserves, or 0.4 per cent of India's GDP. Imagine what happens if this amount could be channelled into the creation of aggregate demand that can be accounted for legally in our national income accounts. Such seepages due to misaligned incentives are abundant in our system. If an economy manages to grow over eight per cent despite a socio-economic structure that is widely acknowledged as suffering from criminalisation and corruption as the Vohra Report stated in 1993 — one can only wonder what India is capable of.


Correcting such distortions can deliver greater growth than we can envision. It will create more faith in our collective destiny as one people, further our ability to project power globally and in our own neighbourhood. To do so, all we need is to get our basics right.


* Keerthik Sasidharan was educated in India and Canada and at present works for an European investment bank in Manhattan








I want to share a couple of articles I recently came across that, I believe, speak to the core of what ails America today but is too little discussed. The first was in Newsweek under the ironic headline "We're No 11!" The piece, by Michael Hirsh, went on to say: "Has the United States lost its oomph as a superpower? Even President Obama isn't immune from the gloom. 'Americans won't settle for No 2!' Obama shouted at one political rally in early August. How about No 11? That's where the USA ranks in Newsweek's list of the 100 best countries in the world, not even in the top 10".


The second piece, which could have been called "Why We're No 11", was by the Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson. Why, he asked, have we spent so much money on school reform in America and have so little to show for it in terms of scalable solutions that produce better student test scores? Maybe, he answered, it is not just because of bad teachers, weak principals or selfish unions.


"The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation", wrote Samuelson. "Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren't motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a 'good' college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school 'reform' is that if students aren't motivated, it's mainly the fault of schools and teachers". Wrong, he said. "Motivation is weak because more students don't like school, don't work hard and don't do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 per cent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 per cent cited 'student apathy'".


There is a lot to Samuelson's point — and it is a microcosm of a larger problem we have not faced honestly as we have dug out of this recession: We had a values breakdown — a national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism. Wall Street may have been dealing the dope, but our lawmakers encouraged it. And far too many of us were happy to buy the dot-com and subprime crack for quick prosperity highs.


Ask yourself: What made our Greatest Generation great? First, the problems they faced were huge, merciless and inescapable: the Depression, Nazism and Soviet Communism. Second, the Greatest Generation's leaders were never afraid to ask Americans to sacrifice. Third, that generation was ready to sacrifice, and pull together, for the good of the country. And fourth, because they were ready to do hard things, they earned global leadership the only way you can, by saying: "Follow me".


Contrast that with the Baby Boomer Generation. Our big problems are unfolding incrementally — the decline in US education, competitiveness and infrastructure, as well as oil addiction and climate change. Our generation's leaders never dare utter the word "sacrifice." All solutions must be painless. Which drug would you like? A stimulus from Democrats or a tax cut from Republicans? Too hard. For a decade we sent our best minds not to make computer chips in Silicon Valley but to make poker chips on Wall Street, while telling ourselves we could have the American dream — a home — without saving and investing, for nothing down and nothing to pay for two years. Our leadership message to the world: "After you".


So much of today's debate between the two parties, notes David Rothkopf, a Carnegie Endowment visiting scholar, "is about assigning blame rather than assuming responsibility. It's a contest to see who can give away more at precisely the time they should be asking more of the American people". Rothkopf and I agreed that we would get excited about US politics when our national debate is between Democrats and Republicans who start by acknowledging that we can't cut deficits without both tax increases and spending cuts — and then debate which ones and when — who acknowledge that we can't compete unless we demand more of our students — and then debate longer school days versus school years — who acknowledge that bad parents who don't read to their kids and do indulge them with video games are as responsible for poor test scores as bad teachers — and debate what to do about that.


Who will tell the people? China and India have been catching up to America not only via cheap labour and currencies. They are catching us because they now have free markets like we do, education like we do, access to capital and technology like we do, but, most importantly, values like our Greatest Generation had. That is, a willingness to postpone gratification, invest for the future, work harder than the next guy and hold their kids to the highest expectations.


In a flat world where everyone has access to everything, values matter more than ever. Right now the Hindus and Confucians have more Protestant ethics than we do, and as long as that is the case we'll be No 11!








Plagued as they are by the trouble created by Homo sapiens, the organisers of the Commonwealth Games 2010 have not spared a thought on how to deal with the menace that could be created by monkeys. The issue suddenly came to their attention after monkeys created havoc about two kilometres away from the Games village. All of a sudden, the environment department realised that it has virtually no plan to put monkeys in check.


To be fair to them, officials have plans in place to deal with street cattle, garbage, begging and lack of hygiene in the city though they are not being implemented. But nobody seems to have come up with a plan to deal with our simian ancestors. Not to be defeated, an official suggested that dozens of langurs could be hired to chase away mischievous monkeys. But then, what if the langurs themselves created trouble? There was no answer to that.


Breach of trust


The media adviser to the Prime Minister, Harish Khare, in the habit of playing favourites to a section of media bosses is somewhat ruffled. Mr Khare had recently planned an interaction between the Prime Minister and the editors. During the briefing, the Prime Minister spoke on China and how it was trying to play an assertive role in South Asia, and that China wants India to be in state of "low-level equilibrium". This was supposed to be strictly off-the-record. But, as luck would have it, an English daily went ahead and quoted the Prime Minister, which kicked off a diplomatic row, with China dismissing the Prime Minister's remarks. An embarrassed ministry of external affairs had no clue how to deal with the situation.


Mr Khare is believed to be upset at this so-called breach. Moreover, an editor, who was not included by Mr Khare for the Prime Minister's interaction, lodged a complaint against the media adviser to the information and broadcasting minister, Ambika Soni. Some in the Prime Minister's Office feel that the media adviser has not yet been able to come out of his journalistic shell and still behaves like he is working for a particular media house. He has often been unable to resist the temptation of leaking stories exclusively to a particular organisation.


Mr Khare's favouritism often leaves other scribes accompanying the Prime Minister fuming. Once, a scribe, who failed to get a confirmation on a particular story from Mr Khare quipped: "Sir aap to abhi bhi journalist ki tarah sochte hain. Sochte hain ke sari information aapki exclusive hain (Sir, you still behave like a journalist. You still think of doing exclusives)". Mr Khare didn't find the remark amusing.


Sibal's survival strategy


Under attack from many Congress leaders, the Union human resources minister Kapil Sibal is now making frenetic efforts to be seen as close to the power centres. He successfully conducted inaugurations of two different programmes of the HRD ministry within a week to give the impression that all is well. The highlight of these programmes was that the first one was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while the second one was graced by none other than the Congress chief Mrs Sonia Gandhi.


Through these programmes, Mr Sibal was hoping to send the message that he was in the good books of the powerful duo and would not wither away even if attacked by lesser mortals of the party. Soon we will see if the ploy worked.


When Speaker fell silent


This was one time when the Karnataka Speaker, K.G. Bopaiah, was left speechless. The occasion was a programme wherein he was handing over mementos to several principals of schools in his home district Kodagu which had achieved 100 per cent pass in Class 10 exams. Mr Bopaiah was happily doing his duty but suddenly he froze when one principal's name was announced. In fact, he was unable to get up from his chair though the woman had come up on stage and the organisers called on Mr Bopaiah repeatedly to do the honours.


Sensing a problem, another woman sitting nearby stepped up to the dais and handed over the memento to the principal. It was only several minutes later, when the Speaker was called upon to deliver his address that he revealed the secret. The principal he wouldn't give the memento was his wife, Kunti Bopaiah. This prompted a wag to quip, "Was it a case of a politician showing high moral propriety or were they having a quarrel?"


The Bengal muddle


The West Bengal Congress leaders and workers spared no efforts in making the AICC general secretary, Rahul Gandhi's recent public rally in Kolkata a major success. Braving scorching heat and humidity, thousands of party supporters thronged Shahid Minar maidan to see and listen to their leader. An inspired Mr Gandhi called upon partymen to strengthen the organisation so that the CPI(M) could be removed from power in the state.


Later in a closed door meeting, he once again asked the partymen to ensure that the Congress stood on its own feet instead of depending on the ally. Everyone nodded in agreement. But barely three days later, a group of dissident leaders were up in arms against the present state party president Manas Bhunia and even organised a day long protest outside the party office. It was evident that Mr Gandhi's well-meant advice has gone unheeded.


Yeddy and the gods


The Karnataka chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, thought he had a deal with the Gods, but the courts have stepped in and spoiled the show. His astrologers had apparently advised him that if he renovated four temples in Bengaluru, he would be guaranteed a 10-year uninterrupted reign.


And if he renovated 11 temples, he would get a 25-year deal from the Gods. The true believer that he is, Mr Yeddyurappa restored the Kalyani (the holy pond) of Someshwara temple in the city to its former glory last week.


But no sooner had he begun work on the second one, the Yediyur Siddalingeshwara temple, than the high court stepped in after someone filed a petition saying that the chief minister was going ahead with the renovation unilaterally, without considering the sentiments of the temple's patrons.


The high court has called for a report from the Archaeological Survey of India. Until that report comes in, the chief minister can tinker at the periphery, but can't touch the sanctum sanctorum. At this rate, Mr Yeddyurappa might have to settle for less than 10 years. But without wasting time, he's gone temple hopping again, this time to neighbouring Tamil Nadu to offset other ill-effects on his astrological charts.








When there is a sense of oneness and love, service comes naturally. The wish to injure does not arise. There is growth and prosperity for all. That is why we say that the knowledge of Advaita, or oneness of the self, is dharmika as it leads to the full integration of society. To love and serve all is the very basis of self-knowledge and in its light alone can we determine what is dharma.


Furthermore, having understood this to be your true duty (svadharma), you should not waver, for there is nothing higher for a kshatriya than a righteous war (II:31).


Here, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna not to fear, nor to avoid the impending war. Once more He exhorts Arjuna that it is his responsibility and duty to fight. But the necessary principles must be understood in order for him to be successful. We have discussed at length what constitutes dharma. All those virtues, values, feelings, conduct, behaviour and actions that contribute to the improvement of society, are dharma. In contrast, all actions and conduct contrary to these cause disintegration, and are adharmika.


Today we see the disintegration of values and families. Communities are floundering and it is evident that something is wrong. That is because people are disintegrating from within.


Outer integration comes only when inner integration is established. How to establish that inner integration? Make your vision and values spiritual, it is then that dharma will be meaningful.


The breakdown of the family is a clear sign that a gap exists between how we think and how we act. It may be that we give too much importance to ambition or something else, and the view of the totality is lost. If only an individual perspective is held, then there are many problems. Individualism has its place in the scheme of things, but when carried to the extreme it disturbs the balance of the whole.


Integrating Dharma: Dharma is that which brings about self-integration. In his introduction to his book The Holy Geeta, Swami Chinmayananda affirms that when our subjective mind becomes one with the objective mind, there is personality integration. Lacking that, we may know many things intellectually, but our mind, coloured by personal prejudices and judgments, will give way to its own desires. Our evaluation of a situation may be wrong because the mind lacks the necessary purity. Therefore, the problem is due to lack of vision only, and what happens at the physical level is only a symptom. For every one of us there is a dharma and this is fully elaborated upon in the scriptures. The idea is that every person lives in the society as an individual relating to many others.


Whether we are students, administrators, businessmen, labourers or even monks, all are governed by the duties established for their particular stages and professions. When everyone accepts the responsibilities of their dharma the entire society prospers.


Consider a sports team, for example. Each player is assigned a different position, but they have a common goal and that is to win! Sometimes we lose sight of that common goal. If we are concerned with individual glory only, then the collective prosperity suffers. This occurs often in many organisations. A person may work very well alone, but when it comes to working with others, he finds it difficult. We should strive to work well together.


If personal prejudices or dislikes come into the picture, the sense of oneness is lost and the common objective becomes defeated. This is the understanding of dharma in its wider context.


It is at this time that Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that he is a noble and valiant warrior, one who has been groomed to protect the cause of righteousness. The Lord persuades Arjuna that if he were to leave the battlefield he would be forsaking his duty as a kshatriya, which is to fight. Therefore, it becomes imperative that Arjuna engage himself in the battle while viewing dharma in its totality.


— Swami Tejomayananda, head ofChinmaya Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji, [1].© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.







India's preparation for the Delhi Commonwealth Games — commencing October 3 — has received a jolt with 12 athletes from four disciplines testing positive for drugs. The National Anti-Doping Agency (Nada), which became functional in January 2009, is funded by the Union government, with a budgetary allocation this year of Rs 2.25 crores out of a total outlay of Rs 16.75 crores for anti-doping activities. The objective is to work toward dope-free sports in this country, Nada director-general Rahul Bhatnagar tells Devadyuti Das.


Q. What are Nada's objectives?

A. Our primary task is to ensure "dope-free" sport in the country. Doping is a reality around the world. This is why bodies like the World Anti-Doping Agency and Nada were formed. Athletes often look for substances to artificially enhance their performances in order to win medals. We have to constantly update ourselves to keep up with such developments.


Q. What are the functions of the anti-doping agency?

A. First, to prepare the Test Distribution Plan on the basis of susceptibility of a sport. We draw up a plan to collect samples at the beginning of every year, in and out of competition. These are sent to the National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL) for testing. The next task is result management.


Q. Just how widespread is the problem, across sports, around the world?

A. It is a misconception that doping occurs in India because athletes are mostly from a rural background, and don't know what they are taking. The reality is that the problem is worldwide. Take the example of Jamaica. They produce some of the fastest athletes in the world but are not dope free. Five Jamaican athletes were banned for two years for using methylhexaneamine (MHA).


Q. How do more advanced sporting nations deal with the issue?

A. When it comes to doping, the good thing is that India is lagging a long way behind many countries. However, we must be alert as keen competitors are looking to emulate Usain Bolt or Yelena Isinbayeva. The nuisance around the world these days is blood doping, which is the misuse of certain techniques and substances to increase one's red blood cell mass. This allows the body to transport more oxygen to muscles and therefore increase stamina and performance.

There are three known substances or methods used for blood doping — erythropoietin (EPO), synthetic oxygen carriers, and blood transfusions. The only way to catch them is through blood sampling.


Q. How important is it to educate the athletes? What role does Nada play in this?

A. There are so many different methods of doping and using banned substances that it becomes our duty to inform the athletes about the risks. It is one of the duties of Nada to educate the athletes and coaches. We have to make them aware of rules, processes, and banned substances. In the last one year, we have held 26 workshops across India where athletes have been training. Our officers go there with other sports science doctors and inform sportspersons about how samples are taken and what they should be careful about.
A banned substance list is provided in the form of a booklet and uploaded immediately on our website. Federations are also expected to play their part.


Q. What has Nada achieved since its inception in 2009?

A. One of the primary reasons for our success is that we are an independent and autonomous body. We have no relations whatsoever with the Sports Authority of India or any of the federations. This means that there is no clash of interest.


Earlier, the result management of dope tests was handled by the respective federations, and some matters were conveniently brushed under the carpet. With the formation of two independent panels, no questions can be raised. These days we send our own Doping Control Officers and chaperons to collect samples instead of depending on coaches. This has made the process more streamlined and transparent.


Q. What is the reason behind such a large number of athletes testing positive this year?
A. If we talk about numbers, in 2009 we had collected 2,264 samples and 67 tested positive. But in just eight months' time this year, we have tested 2,047 samples and 103 have come out positive. The numbers are definitely high. One reason could be that this is a competitive year with the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games taking place. Athletes are under pressure to perform as they have to compete in a lot of selection trials.


But rules are absolutely clear: if a banned substance is found in the blood sample, the athlete is culpable.


Q. Some players who have tested positive are claiming ignorance about the substance methylhexaneamine (MHA).
A. Out of the 103 cases that have tested positive this year, three main substances are prominently found. Apart from MHA, these is stanozolol (steroid), nandrolone (steroid) and probenecid (diuretic). Players have the right to put forward their defence. At the end of the day, it is the athletes' career. Most sportspersons who have tested positive claim they have never consumed a banned substance, or that they took it unknowingly. Athletes have to be careful about what they consume. They can't shirk responsibility.


Q. Which sports disciplines are most susceptible to doping?

A. Traditionally, doping is more prominent in sports which require short bursts of energy. So the most susceptible disciplines are power-lifting, bodybuilding, weightlifting, athletics and, now, wrestling. This year alone 10 lifters, 17 power-lifters, 11 athletes and eight wrestlers have tested positive.


Q. Lifter Sanamacha Chanu has tested positive for the second time in her career. How realistic are her chances of being banned for life?

A. Chanu had tested positive for a diuretic during the 2004 Athens Olympics. She completed her two-year ban in 2006 and returned to sports again. Now if her "B" sample comes out positive, her fate will be in the hands of the Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel. The rules don't distinguish between two substances like diuretic or MHA but the panel can consider mitigating circumstances if any. A second offence can mean a life-ban.


Q. Why did all 12 athletes test positive for the same substance, MHA?

A. MHA was added to the banned list only this year, and is generally found in food supplements. It is possible they consumed it unknowingly or underestimated NDTL's capacity to detect the substance.








The prime minister's cabinet is divided on land acquisition for industry, mines, airports and other "developmental" purposes. Ministers charged with making India an advanced country want to acquire large tracts; the ministry of environment, about the last ministry in the government with powers of licensing, often prevents them from advancing. This has led to a civil war between Jairam Ramesh and other ministers. What the media see is just the skirmishes; the real battles are fought in the cabinet and in file notes. Being at the centre of these battles, the prime minister can hardly have missed the fact that land use is the cause of the deepest rift in his government.


He addressed the issue in his press conference with his usual deftness. Since he is an economist, it is not surprising that he leaned towards development and industrialization. He decried the licence-and-permit raj of the environment ministry; but intriguingly, he also advised trade and industry to accept it. This tendency to see merit in opposing positions makes him a good chairman of the cabinet of ministers. But it is also the main factor behind his public image as a mild, unassertive and indecisive prime minister. Neither image does him justice, for he is not a particularly communicative person; what he says gives a rather flat, two-dimensional view of a multifaceted personality. What he said, however, suggests that he has not given adequate attention to the raging controversies around environment. The least that is necessary is to separate the vague and universal issue of environment protection from that of livelihoods and cultures. On the first issue, it is obvious that a country with India's large and rapidly rising population cannot protect pristine environment everywhere. But it can and should protect it somewhere; and there it should give environment effective immunity from human intervention. An example is the protection of tigers. The government has created a number of habitats where they should survive and multiply. But in fact their numbers are inexorably declining. Ineffectual protection is worse than no protection.


On the second issue, it may make sense to say that a few primitive tribal people cannot hold up the march of miners into the mountains of central India. But the tribal people see no redress in India's political processes, and have taken to fighting for their habitat. Surely a better solution is required than an assertion of the primacy of development. The prime minister may, on his next trip abroad, profitably make a detour to Alaska, made notorious by Sarah Palin. This state of the United States of America created a fund by putting aside a quarter of royalties on natural resources, to be used to generate income (not to "develop" the state). This Alaska Permanent Fund has grown from $734,000 in 1977 to $35,135,800,000 on September 3. India needs a similar fund, whose use should be decided by the victims of development.








Young people have to be particularly crass and vicious to keep their teachers confined for 52 hours. Whatever the cause, there can be no justification for this form of physical coercion and mental torture, apart from the single, overriding fact that forced confinement should be considered as bad as ragging and be treated with the same severity. When something as disgraceful as a gherao for more than two days of teachers by students occurs in what is supposed to be one of the leading universities in the country, it raises fundamental questions about the meaning of education. The question becomes more acute when the cause for the gherao is found to be a discussion in the university's executive council regarding the need for installing closed-circuit television on the premises after the death of an outsider in a water body within the campus. This, together with identity cards to be shown on demand after six in the evening, was being thought of to ensure the students' security.


Apart from the fact that protesting against means of their own security displays pure stupidity on the students' part, the EC had actually opened up a channel for discussion to address issues that the students might have. That route was ignored. Apparently, student leaders felt that without an exhibition of their power by bullying and forced confinement they would not be able to impress the larger student body. They did not really want reasonable, civilized discussion or a clarification of genuine doubts — if there were any. That their followers can be impressed by criminal conduct, and also be credulous enough to believe in the lies being spread about the EC's intentions, are alarming thoughts. The question is: will the university authorities deal with the leaders as they deserve?










The three lions on our emblem stand as metaphors for the three haqiqat that prevail in India — awaam,siyaasat and hukumat. These three — the people of India, India's political life, and the Indian State — are, like the lions, majestic alike. But with each facing a different direction.




Touring the Kannada countryside in 1927, Mahatma Gandhi asked a poor villager: "Who rules Mysore?" The answer was, "Some god." If an average Indian were asked today, "Who rules India?" — the answer is likely to be, "God knows." That two-word answer says more than any lecture can. The aam admi is perplexed — by the condition of his surroundings. And by his own condition.


Everything grows in Awaam-e-Hind.


Its population, of course, grows the fastest, thanks to the startling rise in average life expectancy at birth and a falling death rate. Its prosperity grows in huge strides. Assets grow, litigation grows. Does our poverty grow too? Statistics vary. The Union Planning Commission might not accept Arjun Sengupta's figures unquestioningly. But being number 134 in the human development index behind a ravaged Sri Lanka is a statistic that speaks for itself. Ranking 66th among the world's 88 hungriest countries is one that more than speaks for itself.


Awaam-e-Hind's global presence grows, its image glows and draws admiration for all the 'I's of India — intelligence, intellect, initiative, innovation, information, infotainment, industry, investment, and of course IT, no longer confused with income tax. We should, and we do, bask in that glory. Not unoften, that other 'I', integrity, shows up feeling neglected by all the other roaring 'I's.


And what about crime?


Violence is crime's signature. And that signature, in its many twists and loops, grows. And it often becomes oblique. Psychological violence continues to be encountered by vulnerable women. Commercial endorsements by our superstars of so-called skin-lighteners increase the vulnerability of girls in our colour-prejudiced society. An excellent new law has shown a return fist to domestic violence. But that villain is yet to see the strong arm of the law.


Does the sense of security in our minority communities, especially among their poorer sections, grow? If there is a real sense of insecurity among vulnerable sections of minority communities, it can be found inter se within those communities as well as by liberals, dissenters and nonconformists. Javed Akhtar is his own person. All of us know what that frank man has experienced. Intolerance, of course, is no monopoly of theologies. It is to be found in political communities too, where a difference of opinion can lead to excommunication, papal style. The active Indian liberal questions, objects and raises a finger to protest because in a liberal society that is the natural thing to do. And when he does that he can court danger. If an Indian who RTIs a department or a project and gets his answer, he is a persevering querist. But when he pays for his perseverance with his life, our liberal and open democracy stands brazenly assaulted. Except when traumas such as regularly witnessed in Kashmir and the one that has agonized Manipur for so long, and except when the chronic enervations of tribal and Dalit India rapidly move from individual to collective rage, the prominent mood of Awaam-e-Hind is that of pained dejection and cynical resignation, a 'who cares?'-ness.




Like so much else, money grows in our beloved land: it rules like "some god". It rules through the moneyed man, but even more through the moneying or monetizing of our lives. In 1950, deposits — simple bank accounts — in India amounted to Rs 888 crore. Today, they amount to over Rs 750, 000 crore. In 1950, the currency in circulation in India was Rs 1,247 crore. Today it is Rs 5,17,434 crore. And we are talking of accounted money. But there is something even more important about money in India than its growth — its enhanced availability, its heightened visibility. And that is the change in its role and action. Money is no longer just an instrument of exchange; it is now a device for delivery.


Money can secure employment, admissions, promotions, preferments, transfers, exonerations. It can create delays, spur speed. Money can permeate that which was until only the other day the preserve of pure enjoyment — sport. Cricket is today as much about money as it is about the gentleman's game — we can call it Mocket or Croney. It can threaten to tarnish the izzat and imaan of our nation's collective integrity by appearing like pustules on a global sports event. Money can and does do worse. It can abduct, assault. It can finance hurt, it can fund harm, it can injure and manage to look injured. It can purchase death.


There is another thing that is growing in its spread and strength and may be said to be trying to 'rule' India. And which contributes not to cynical resignation, but to fear and anxiety. And that 'thing' is, with narcotics, a close cousin of money: namely, the illegal small firearm. India has not one million, not four million, not 10 million but, at a conservative estimate, 40 million illegal small arms floating around all over the land. Mischief, of course, does not come from illegal arms alone. The incidents of police or paramilitary firings and encounters, which have later been judged unjustified and unlawful, have been around the use of legal arms. So, going beyond the phenomenon of illegal arms in India, the question to ponder is the larger one of weapons and the 'culture' of weapons entering the bloodstream of our lives. It has done so in some parts of India devastatingly.


Elections are our pride. The Election Commission deserves our approbation for monumental patience, above all else, in the manner in which it keeps its cool, stays the course with the election laws, and after the catharsis of polling and counting, delivers the mandate which we have defined in the assurance of confidentiality, fairness and freedom. But the commission knows better than others how money, authorized and unauthorized, and human biceps and triceps, authorized in the armed personnel billeted to election duty and unauthorized in others, can play a role in the proceedings.


Currency notes come into the election bazaar first in container and cargo quantities, then in truckloads, going into wholesale, small retail and finally in attaché, thaila, jholaand jeb-sized portions every five years at the least and often oftener than that. They originate either legally, through licit company donations, or come from a myriad sources which, as Amit Bhaduri explained recently to a Chennai audience, necessarily and unavoidably go back to our natural resources such as mines, forests and land. Illegal transactions in all these yield harvests of black cash.


I wish the Reserve Bank of India depicted on the large denominations of our currency any person from the scroll of our great kings and emperors who commanded mints and treasuries or, better still, chose non-human images. But if it had to carry the likeness of Mahatma Gandhi, I wish it did so only on the coin of the smallest denomination, the one rupee coin which cannot cover large, inappropriate and concealed transactions of money for, among other dubious uses, the buying and selling of weapons of murder.


I believe the time has come for the laws in respect of the funding of our elections to be brought bravely and transparently under the public scanner once again, focused on the working of Section 293A of the Companies Act. But going beyond study, hard and exemplary action needs to be taken by those who are empowered to do so, whenever and wherever funds in excess of permissible quantums are patently employed. Simultaneously, the government and political parties should hearken to the public mood and disengage senior politicians, and certainly those who are in public office, from responsibilities in cash-rich sports federations. Their dual charge can only be to the detriment of either the sport or of the public office concerned. The public is no fool; it knows who is where for what. Our new chief election commissioner's determined statement to the effect that he will address the question of money in elections is therefore deeply satisfying and hope-giving. We need to redeem our elections from the vice-like grip over it of money, for elections are precious to us, as is money in its rightful place and role. And, indeed, every licit firearm in the defence of the country and the protection of its people.


Our political spectrum diffuses the unpolluted beam of hope as it passes through the waters of political choice into a million competing colours. Our society is splintered into majority-minority, minority-sub-minority, community-sub-community, caste-sub-caste, and avarna-savarna. But the opportunistic exploitation of that splintering disgraces Siyaasat-e-Hind. The latest form of this exploitation is the retrieval, suddenly from a forgotten past, of the splintering splinter of splintered splinters — namely, gotra-sagotrabeing imposed on couples by village venerables. Even in his most pessimistic contemplations of the Hindu code bill, B.R. Ambedkar could not have imagined that 60 years after India's becoming a republic it would see honour killings in the name of this atavistic recoil.


Which brings me to the last of the three 'sher'.




The legislators of India, our lawmakers, have given to us constitutional amendments, notably the 73rd and 74th, and several new law enactments, which have changed India's life rhythms. Some of the finest, most humanitarian, compassionate and even revolutionary laws that protect the weak, the jeopardized, and the vulnerable, especially women, have come from the community of India's politicians. When we despair of the politics of individual politicians we must remember this larger picture.


It is also notable that it is our Parliament that has enabled the enemy property bill, meant to replace an ordinance with the same incredible title, and has put it on hold for further examination. My faith in the destiny of Indian self-correction has been strengthened by the news that there is serious rethinking going on about it. Another piece of legislation before our Parliament has been powered by world opinion. It is a bill to restrain the monster called torture. We should be making torture impossible. Instead, the bill raises the bar of the definition of torture, thereby indemnifying such acts as leave no mark on the individual's body. Obviously, those who have vetted this bill are unaware of certain pieces of furniture and appliances in lock-ups, and of the infinite possibilities of the spoken word. I trust the bill will reverse all attempts to let torture slip through definitional openings.


The Indian policeman, too, does not make an easy hero and the dictionary of swear words is far too accessible to him. But let us also acknowledge the fact that he, too, is the easy butt of jokes in our free country. In how many countries are policemen shown in a negative light as in our cinema, stories, even in our media? So, I would like to believe that the day will come when a policeman passing by a thhelawala will not send shivers down the poor vendor's spine, nor an income tax inspector's unexpected visit cause the shop assistant in a commercial establishment to go running to arrange chai. I would like to believe that the day will come when a decent chair with a backrest and armrests replaces the interrogation seat beneath a naked bulb. The day will come — not very far from now, I am sure — when the civil and police administrations will be able to draw a distinction between civil rights activists, writers and sociologists on the one hand and those who are waging a war against the Indian State on the other, when no tribal person is presumed to be a Naxal, or his home to be a Naxal hideout, and his land a 'territory lost to Maoist influence', leading to the innocent man or woman's interrogation and displacement. This can and will happen, thanks to the growing sensitivity of the State, to public opinion and to questions of image.


This is the first part of an edited version of a talk on governance in India at the IIC, Delhi to be concluded




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





A long-standing demand of non-resident Indians has been met with both houses of parliament passing the bill to grant them voting rights in elections in the country.

The demand and the Indian response to it has had a rollercoaster history. It took a long time for the demand to be even seriously considered, though expatriates' organisations and Pravasi Bharatiya Sammelans had made the proposal and campaigned for it vigorously. There was resistance to the idea among many sections of people within the country who argued that non-resident Indians do not have a serious stake in the country and therefore it was not worth the legal and procedural trouble to give them voting rights. Even after the idea was accepted in principle and a law was drafted for the purpose it did not have a smooth passage.

A bill for the purpose had to be withdrawn in 2006 as the parliamentary standing committee had recommended number of changes in it. The bill, as it has been passed now, represents a consensus and more or less satisfies the demand made by the NRIs.

By an amendment to the Representation of People Act it enables an NRI to register his name in the voters' list of his constituency. The existing provision was for removal of a person from the voters' list if he or she stayed away from the constituency for more than six months. Electoral officers would have the power to make the necessary changes in the list after verifying details like the duration of the voters' stay abroad and purpose of stay. The limitation of the law is that NRIs would be able to exercise their franchise only if they are present in the constituency at the time of elections. It is also not clear whether they can contest elections.

There are over 25 million NRIs and giving them the right to participate in the democratic process is a welcome step. There is, in fact, no justification for denying them the right. Greater participation will make elections more representative. Ideally, all Indians should have the right to exercise their votes from wherever they are but this may be possible only many years later, if at all.

Whatever has been done is itself an achievement. Framing the rules, formulating the procedures and implementing them properly is very important. The Election Commission will have to be vigilant against impersonation or other malpractices using fake passports or other fraudulent identity proofs.








Sri Lanka's once vibrant democracy has been dealt a stunning blow with a constitutional amendment that removes the two-term restrictions on the Presidency. This means that president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the first beneficiary of the 18th amendment, can be president for life, subject to re-election.

The amendment also gives the president the authority to appoint top judges and other public officials, including heads of independent bodies such as the human rights commission, the election commission and the public service commission, unrestricted by a legal veto. Even before this amendment, the powers of the Sri Lankan president were immense as they could dissolve parliament, hold as many portfolios as they wished and claimed complete immunity from the rule of law.

The 18th amendment gives a substantial boost to these powers. As worrying as the implications of the amendment for Sri Lanka's democracy is the manner in which it was passed by parliament. Listed as an 'urgent bill', the amendment was tabled and passed in 10 days only. Clearly the government, which has a clear majority in parliament anyway, wanted no legal challenges to stop or slow its attempt to push Sri Lanka down the road to authoritarian rule.

That Rajapaksa is popular among the Sinhalese majority, especially since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009, is undoubted. However, the manner in which he has been systematically building a cult around himself, one that gives him god-like status, is distasteful. He and his family control the levers of power in Sri Lanka today, holding powerful positions as ministers and as heads of corporations.

Any threat to Rajapaksa's rule has been snuffed out; the fate of former army chief, Lt Gen Sarat Fonseka is a telling example of what happens to those who challenge the president. Critics in the media have been severely dealt with. It is in the context of this dramatic expansion of Rajapaksa's grip over power that the 18th amendment must be seen. It paves the way for perpetuation of the rule of an all-powerful president.

The possibility of Rajapaksa doing away with the fig leaf of periodic elections now looms over Sri Lanka which is on its way to becoming a full-fledged authoritarian dictatorship. The developments in the island are of concern not only to the people of Sri Lanka but for India and for democrats across the world.








Does Manmohan Singh think that the whole cabinet will tremble at the thought of being caned by Ban Ki-moon?


Now that a legitimate recipient can be identified for a Nobel Prize for Honesty, it is time Oslo introduced such a prize. One sensible option would be to scrap the prize for peace since each year the committee has to torture itself to find a candidate — before it hands over the cash and plaque to someone who has just declared war.

I have an excellent nominee for the first winner of the Nobel Honesty Prize: Alexei Kudrin, finance minister of Russia. In the first week of this month he told the news agency Interfax that the best thing his countrymen could do to help the national economy was to smoke and drink more. These are his specific words: "If you smoke a pack of cigarettes, that means you are giving more to help solve social problems such as boosting demographics, developing other social services and upholding birth rates… People should understand: Those who drink, those who smoke are doing more to help the state."

There is an also-ran in these stakes. On September 10, Sha Zukang, undersecretary general for economic and social affairs at the UN, encouraged by a glass or four of alcohol, told Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General, "I know you never liked me, Mr Secretary-General — well, I never liked you, either…" But the winner is Alexei Kudrin, by a long shot. He was sober.

His message is simple. Smoking gives you cancer; cancer kills you early. A dead person cannot claim state pension, which is good news. Death also shifts the age-youth ratio in favour of the young. Further, you pay higher taxes on cigarettes and drink — more money, then, to the exchequer: wonderful! QED. Die to save the fatherland!

This is exactly how any finance minister driven to despair by deficits would express himself. But the rules tell him to talk like a weasel and promise more food, electricity, shelter and security even if he has to bankrupt the future in order to secure your votes today.

Manmohan Singh, who had a hard time as finance minister and isn't actually on a picnic as prime minister, is never going to give such excess, but you can almost hear him straining at the leash. Years of being politically correct at the cost of economic discipline are beginning to tell. He tipped over when the supreme court instructed his government to feed the impoverished instead of letting grain rot. Singh's retort was sharp; in sum, that the government was not in the business of charity. If the grain had to rot, so be it; if the impoverished wanted food they would have to go to the market. There is economic logic, apparently, in letting rats get fat. The supreme court, said the prime minister, should live outside the policy zone. If a lesser being had made such a remark, it would doubtless have invited contempt of court, but even supreme judges know better than to summon a prime minister at the drop of a remark.

The prime minister is a politician. Any suggestion to the contrary is promotion of a myth. Evidence suggests that his populism would be community-oriented rather than poverty-specific. He understands the nuances of the game better than some self-proclaimed professionals imagine. Community is the key: poverty is too amorphous an identity, whereas caste and religion are the truly powerful instruments of mobilisation. It is not accidental that Singh's cabinet has scheduled a caste census for next year.

Being a politician, he knows that his main responsibility is to keep the government afloat until heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi declares himself fit to rule rather than merely campaign through non-sequiturs. Singh keeps sane in the waiting room thanks to a quiet sense of humour. He has, for instance, advised his ministers to check out the United Nations code on corruption. Does he think that the whole cabinet will begin to tremble at the thought of being caned by Ban Ki-moon?

Indeed, it is possible that ministers like commerce minister Anand Sharma who, poor chap, has declared to the prime minister that he has personal assets of a mere Rs 26,741, might apply for a UN poverty certificate, while we concerned Indians pass the hat for charitable contributions. It is a shame, in these post-Gandhian times, that as important a personage as Anand Sharma should have less in his bank than it costs to buy an official suit, unless of course he buys his suits from what lies in his cupboard rather than in his bank account.

Given the parlous state of so many of our ministers — the indigent Subodh Kant Sahai, for instance, has personal assets of only Rs 1.4 lakh — should we suggest to Oslo that they should also offer a Nobel Prize for Poverty?

Censorship is hereby imposed on all those who believe that what Indian politicians would really win year after year is the Nobel Prize for Hypocrisy.








It is hard to understand why Obama continues to pursue bipartisan politics in the US.


The Tea Party's giant rally in Washington drew 3 lakh Americans protesting taxation, a government that is suffocating its citizens, and a marxist, Kenyan-born, Muslim Obama. These people are calling on the United States to be a world leader again and dispense with debate and vacillation.

All of the above might seem like fiction if it weren't for the elections coming up in November, when the Republicans will likely win back control of the legislature. Since early August Obama's approval ratings have been negative. This is largely due to Americans' idiosyncratic expectation that the government will solve all their problems while they excoriate its intrusion into their lives.

The real problem is that the US has entered a profound crisis of growth and unemployment. The economy must grow by 2.5 per cent per year to maintain the present level of employment. The current growth rate of about 1.2 per cent is not enough to compensate for increases in unemployment, now officially at 9.6 per cent. There are 15 million jobless, but there is also an additional million who have stopped looking for work and are not counted in the unemployment figure. Then there are 5 million working part-time.

No will to hire

The situation for businesses is altogether different. 'The Wall Street Journal' calculates that corporate cash holdings are up 38 per cent over last year — and yet they have no plans to hire more workers. Rather, the plan is to continue shedding employees to cut costs and increase profits. During the crisis, from December 2007 to December 2009, the GDP dropped by 2.5 per cent while the job dismissal rate was 6 per cent.

The financial sector is in even better shape. The injection of about $750 billion revived it, along with extremely low interest rates, which allowed it to borrow funds from the Federal Reserve and lend them for a healthy return. It is no accident that financial firms handed out $20 billion in bonuses at the end of 2009.

Washington's latest political neologism is 'the new morality'. The implication is that the country will have to get used to the idea that the economy can be doing well without full employment. For optimistic economists (there are few) the end of the tunnel is 2014. For the pessimists (the majority) it is 2018.

All of this has a political impact that is, if we can say so, very American. Obama has accomplished far more than his predecessor: health care reform, which was the ruin of presidents before him; reform of the financial sector; an economic stimulus package of more the $700 billion, without which economists agree unemployment would be worse; and the rescue of the automobile industry. In the international arena he has restored American credibility as a partner in global governance. Yet only 37 per cent whites and 47 per cent Hispanics say that he is doing better than Bush, while the most progressive sector of the country complains that Obama cheated them by not delivering the big changes that they wanted.

True, Obama was not as audacious as some had hoped. He has consistently sought to bring Republicans along with him, despite the fact that their philosophy is simply to give him nothing, ever, no matter what he does. Not surprisingly they have succeeded in blocking many of his initiatives.

It is hard to understand why Obama continues to pursue bipartisan politics when his opponents, in a country clearly in crisis, continue to propose policies that would set off popular uprisings in any other country. For example, they are now calling for a 10-year extension of the tax cuts for the rich passed by Bush.

No doubt, Obama has had his share of bad luck. He has paid a high personal price for the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, however implausible the logic may be. But the real problem is another altogether. Americans are characterised by their idiosyncratic belief in the country's exceptionalism. The majority of Americans did not like health care reform, or the stimulus package, or the car industry rescue.

A large part of the population never took to the election of a young intellectual black man as president. The primary accusation is that he is betraying the identity of the US by gradually introducing a European political model in which the government is the primary actor.


Almost every state in the US is in crisis, police forces are being cut back, public services trimmed or eliminated, and yet at the mass rallies of the Tea Party, which calls for the purging of moderate Republican candidates in upcoming elections, are demanding an end to taxation while saying they want to restore the US to its former greatness and omnipotence.







All the family members yield the bat with great dexterity now.


We have all heard of emotions like passion, rage and jealousy rousing the beast in us but a bat having a similar effect? No, dear reader, I am not referring to the willow that the likes of Sachin Tendulkar wield with such mastery. The bat I'm referring to is a mosquito swatter.

This electric contraption, the size of a badminton bat, came home not out of choice. Unable to tolerate the sales pitch of the youngster at the traffic junction and wanting to get rid of him, the husband bought one. We swatted a mosquito here and there the first few days and subsequently it died, not the mosquito but the bat.

The boys got their tools out, measured the voltage and declared the bat to be alive and stunning. Proof of life lies in the killing, I argued and showed them how the bat did nothing to the fat fellow on the wall who was so satiated with blood that even the weight of the bat didn't move him. "No, the fault lies with the cheap road side ones. We will get one from the shop," they declared and this time a conscious buying decision resulted in a green bat coming home.

This bat has been home for a month and coincidentally the monsoons, the road digging and the construction activity behind our house have meant a sudden and unprecedented rise in the mosquito population in the house. All the family members yield the bat with great dexterity now. The electric sound of the mosquito getting annihilated is music to the ears and the son even blows on the bat a la a cowboy after the kill.

The blood sucker that gives a slip is chased from room to room till it is killed. We stalk the victim (or is it the killer) with great care and then pounce on it with greater glee. Counts of mosquitoes killed are compared and each one wants to better their scores. A missed kill results in great anguish and vows to get back with a vengeance are taken. Beastly but thoroughly satisfying.

But the bat has not brought out just the beast. The children have become very responsible as far as the bat is concerned. The moment the bat shows signs of losing its charge, it is plugged in. requests to fetch the bat are promptly compiled with and the bat is handled with great care too. Perhaps, seeing the mosquito drop dead is an instant reward. If only I could get them to be this responsible in other tasks!









Hamas's leadership apparently believes it has an interest in escalating tension with Israel. This would explain the new wave of Kassam rockets and mortar fire directed at residential areas adjoining the Gaza Strip in recent days.

The US, the Europeans and others in the international community must urgently make it clear to the heads of Hamas that they are wrong, that bellicosity does not pay.

Mercifully, as of this writing, the latest barrage to hit Israel has not caused any injuries. But the potential for tragedy is considerable – as was demonstrated Wednesday morning when a mortar exploded near a kindergarten in the western Negev just before children were slated to arrive. The consequences of a blast just a few minutes later could have been horrific.

The new belligerence – whether orchestrated by Hamas or by one of the half-dozen al-Qaeda-inspired organizations operating in Gaza given free rein by Hamas – seems to be connected to the recently launched direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In July, one day after the Arab League gave its blessing to direct talks, Gaza-based Islamists fired an Iranianmade Grad missile at Ashkelon, causing shell shock to several residents and damage to a building and cars. They followed up by lobbing an upgraded Kassam rocket at Sderot, which completely destroyed a children's hydrotherapy rehabilitation center at Sapir College. Grad rockets were also fired at the Red Sea and Aqaba ports by Hamas terrorists operating in Sinai, killing a Jordanian taxi driver.

Hamas and other Muslim extremists are all-too predictably intent on wreaking havoc and undermining even this fragile new effort to achieve peace and coexistence in the region.

ISRAEL'S OBLIGATION, like that of any other democratic sovereign state, is to assure the security and well-being of its citizens. Operation Cast Lead, the IDF's 22-day military assault on Hamas in the winter of 2008-2009, was the inevitable response to thousands of rockets and mortars that had rained down on Israel – an onslaught that had intensified and penetrated ever deeper into Israel after the 2005 withdrawal from the Strip. The operation led to a long period of relative quiet.

In the latest escalation, the IDF has so far limited itself to retaliatory air strikes against specific targets, such as the underground tunnels used for arms smuggling or known Hamas strongholds. But with a moral obligation to defend his citizens, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be unable to exercise restraint for long, especially if, heaven forbid, further fire from Gaza causes greater injury.

The insistent fire is all the more frustrating considering Israel's wrenching demolition of the Gaza settlements and removal of the IDF five years ago, which provided the Palestinian people with the unique opportunity for self-rule.

In a disappointing, though not unexpected, turn of events, Hamas, which promulgates The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in its official charter, wrested control over the Israeli-free territory in a bloody coup against the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority and, instead of working toward building an autonomous Palestinian state that could have won international recognition, intensified the barrage of rockets and mortars.

Shortly after the June 2007 Hamas takeover, Israel blockaded Gaza in a failed attempt to stop the inflow of arms and to dissuade Hamas from pursuing terror. Operation Cast Lead was a last resort.

In response, the international community condemned Israel for refusing to suffer quietly. Skewed criticism culminated in the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report. In the wake of the Mavi Marmara debacle, Israel, under further heavy international pressure, was forced to loosen its blockade even after it became clear that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

All this has taught Hamas that terrorism pays.

BUT THE US, the Europeans and others in the international community have an opportunity to learn from past mistakes.

Before Israel is forced to resort to a military operation similar to Cast Lead, the international community must pressure Hamas into desisting from terror and using its energies, instead, to care for the welfare of Gaza's 1.5 million residents.

A clear message must be communicated: It is Hamas's destructive policies, such as the current attempt to escalate the conflict with Israel, that are the source of Gaza residents' miseries, not Israel's justified acts of self-defense.








Racist actions in the US, Europe or Israel are usually those of private individuals; but in the Middle East it is often the governments that lead incitement.


News that a crackpot minister at an incredibly tiny church in Florida wanted to burn a Koran is a global story. The man's plan was condemned by just about everyone, though some pointed out that he had a constitutional right to do so.

There were several reasons – all obvious – for this universal criticism, boiling down to two: It is disrespectful to another religion and inappropriate for a supposedly tolerant society. Also, such a deed might endanger Americans and US foreign policy goals by making Muslims turn to violence.

A lot of "proper-thinking," good-hearted Americans are feeling mighty guilty – unnecessarily, I might add. One young man said: "Why do I feel the need to walk up to Muslims on the street, wish them peace and show them that Americans are not all bigoted racists?... What has happened to my beautiful country?... The day Americans start burning Korans is the day when Osama bin Laden has won..."

YES, THIS is what years of inducing and indoctrinating guilt has done.The tiniest blemish on Western society or Israel proves they are evil, while elephant-sized warts in other countries are to be ignored.

One doesn't, however, define a country by its most extreme, isolated individuals. Muslims will only believe that Americans are all bigoted racists if they are told lies about America. Similarly, Americans are being very foolish if they believe this kind of disproportionate nonsense.

Nowadays, the US can easily win any tolerance competition in the world. On the other hand, a lot of Americans are very much in the race with the rest of the world about who can be the most anti-American.

What is never pointed out is that the threatened action's equivalent happens daily in dozens of locations throughout the Middle East and the Muslim-majority world, not at the hands of marginal nut jobs with no following but by powerful political and religious figures or media outlets with huge bases of support.

Every day, there are massive lies told to incite people to hate the West. Every day, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Jews are being persecuted and, in some cases, driven out of Muslim-majority countries with no one in the Western power establishment even noticing, must less protesting.

Unfortunately, it is true that the Muslim-majority areas of the world are to bigoted racists what Saudi Arabia is to oil, Newcastle is to coal, Florida is to oranges and Hollywood is to movies.

I thought of appending specific examples, but since there are so many I suggest you refer to the sites of MEMRI, Palestinian Media Watch, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Survey of World Broadcasts or the English-language edition of Arabic newspapers.

OH, AND by the way, according to the FBI figures for 2008, there are 10 times more anti-Semitic incidents (1,013) in the US than there are anti-Muslim ones (105). How many anti-Christian hate crimes were there? Only four less than anti- Muslim ones, 101.

Remember that bigoted actions in the US or Europe or Israel are those of private individuals. Radio programs, Christian ministers and citizens act on their own. In such matters, they face 99 percent social and political disapproval.

But when religious, national, ethnic or other kinds of slander, incitement and hatred happen in the Middle East, they are the result of government or government-approved action. The people who do so are often drawing government salaries, given access to state-controlled institutions and rewarded for what they do and say.

And in comparison to 99% disapproval for "hateful" actions in the West, in the Muslim majority Middle East virtually nobody, outside of a tiny group of (often persecuted) moderates, dare raise their voices against these actions.

Moreover, no matter how many condemnations, apologies or acts of tolerance occur in the West, no matter how many mosques are built or repaired with US taxpayer money (often in countries where it would be impossible to build a church), no matter how many times Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says "holy Koran" instead of just plain Koran, no matter whether the words "Islam" and "Islamism" are barred from US government documents, these efforts will have virtually no impact on Middle Eastern public opinion.

Why? For one thing, because public attitudes have been thoroughly prepared to be hostile and disbelieving; for another, few will ever hear about such things because the media will not report them.

Does that justify bigotry in the West or the burning of Korans? Of course not. But there's something else it doesn't justify: refusing to report, analyze and condemn what goes on daily with far more public support and official approval in the Muslim-majority Middle East.

What are the motives for that behavior? • Fear that telling the truth will make "Muslims" angry.

• Belief that one only has the right to criticize one's own country (or allies) and religion, but that exercising rational judgment in discussing others is somehow "racist."

• Panic that reporting on the bigotry and extremism of millions of others will encourage a minister in Florida with 50 followers to burn a Koran.

Such paralysis is not how democracies are supposed to function. That is not how people keep their freedoms and way of life.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies.

He blogs at








The 84-year-old revolutionary phoenix, risen from the ashes, has given us a new spin on 'al het' with his recent statements.


Talkbacks (2)

On assignment in Mexico City in 1974, I learned that, in the house preserved as the Trotsky Museum, his grandson had discovered a copybook in which the founder of the Red Army penciled his acknowledgment of Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. Jewish-born Leon Bronstein apparently emerged from the Trotsky closet just before his assassination. Had that document been validated and published, it may have created havoc in the Fourth International and even among Soviet acolytes.

A year later, the Zionism equals racism resolution was conceived at the UN Women's Conference in Mexico City. Despite its repeal in 1991, it left an indelible imprint on the Third World and was the bedrock for the 2000 Durban calumny painting Israel as an "apartheid state," which in turn unleashed the current boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns. Since 2003, the antiglobalization World Social Forum annually reconsecrates the marriage between extreme left and jihadi Islamism. In Brazil's Porto Alegre stadium, 70,000 young people from around the world hoisted banners of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, whooping "Viva la Intifada Internacional."

EACH AUTUMN, at the satellite European Social Forum, atheist Trotskyites wave Hizbullah banners screaming Allahu Akbar, while planning flotillas and "antiwar" slogans rehearsed for Cast Lead and other such operations. In a rain-swept stadium in Mar del Plata, Argentina, I sat among thousands of soaked spectators at the Alternative Summit of the Americas, tetchy after almost two hours of Hugo Chavez's peroration.

The consummate theatrocrat, sensing the mood, withdrew his mobile phone. Placing it to his ear, his voice was shaking to crescendo into the microphone: "Is it? Can it be? It is! Fidel! The adoring multitude rose in unison, roaring "Fidel! Fidel!," succumbing to another hour of Chavez oratory in the rain.

Visiting Havana during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, I protested anti- Israeli cartoons in the official daily, Granma, portraying IDF soldiers as pigs plastered with Stars of David. A week later, Fidel asked to visit Havana's government-supported Patronato Jewish Center, whereupon I was amazed to learn that the cartoons were suspended. Now, the 84-year-old revolutionary phoenix, risen from the ashes, has given us a new spin on al het.

In an Atlantic interview with US journalist Jeffrey Goldberg entitled "Fidel toAhmadinejad: 'Stop Slandering the Jews,'" the reborn Castro declaimed: 

"I don't think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything. The Iranian government should understand that the Jews were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here's what happened to them: Reverse selection. What's reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation.

"The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust."

The Wiesenthal Center, in a laudatory response, urged Castro to make good on his words by influencing "his self-proclaimed disciple, Hugo Chavez, to criminalize anti- Semitism in Venezuela."

We proposed that Castro "validate his warnings by co-opting Chavez into pressing his ally, Ahmadinejad, to end his Holocaust denial, his threats against Israel and his nuclear weaponization."

Vatican II marginalized the charge of deicide to right-wing schismatics and leftist proponents of the theology of liberation. A targeted dissemination of the new Castro manifesto could have a similar effect among the fashionista anti- Zionist left, with an Internet multiplier on the atheist/Islamist nexus.

The impact in the Muslim world would further the fragmentation, at the same time reinforcing a Sunni rejection of Holocaust denial, if only as added value in isolating Shi'ite Iranian expansionism.

Any challenge to the rationale of the Marxian-Islamist marriage of convenience is legitimate. Regardless of Castro's motives, the potential in his 5771 gift merits celebration, and should be directed to encourage a shifting configuration among our enemies. It is too late for a redemptive "Viva Trotsky – the perhaps uncloseted Zionist." But, even if a little bemused, I am ready for "Viva Fidel!" 

The writer is director for international relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.











The Merkava tank is worthy of the praise heaped upon it as a military vehicle purpose-built for Israel's needs, but it is not the most important element of the legacy of Israel Tal, the celebrated IDF general laid to rest yesterday. A tank is a tank, another weapon - essential though it may be - in the military arsenal. It is the epitome of mobile warfare, of the Israel Defense Forces' objective of transferring the battlefield from Israel's narrow borders into enemy territory. In the case of the Merkava, it also reflects the principle that protecting the tank crew is paramount.


Tal's definitive legacy, however, is ideological, cultural and political: Defining what is worth fighting for, killing for and dying for. He was at once the most visible military man in the peace camp, and the most influential man of peace in any military camp.


But Talik, as he was known, was no Gandhi. He played a key role in building up Jewish fighting power, from his World War II service with the British Army's Jewish Brigade, the pre-state Haganah militia and the IDF. In the Infantry Corps, Officers School and Armored Corps in the 1950s, and the combined ground forces from the '60s on, Tal fought, instructed and commanded in all of the campaigns in Israel's first 25 years of existence. As a consultant, he continued to influence technology and policy later still. Not distracted by self-interest, he consistently labored to uphold Israel's security. When he believed an offensive was necessary, he voiced his support loud and clear. The 1967 ground victory in Sinai, one of the most important achievements of the Six-Day War, would not have been achieved without the efforts of the division under his command.


Tal, however, opposed unnecessary conquests, settlements, wars of choice and delusions of expanding the Israeli empire without paying the cost in blood and eternal strife. It was a view not rooted in affection for Arabs in general or Palestinians in particular, but concern for the State of Israel and its people, whether uniformed or not. Tal believed moderate policy would bolster national power, something that can't be measured by military strength alone.


In death, Tal has been the subject of genuine affection and admiration. Those who seek to honor his legacy must act in its true spirit.









I'm a "settler." Because I'm a settler, artists and members of the academic community have decided to boycott my home. I am the "other," the archetype of Israeli evil. Otherness is the darling of people who love to hate. It allows people from any camp, left, right or center, to isolate themselves from certain people, turn them into an inhuman group and hate them without guilt or torment.


How did I become the embodiment of everything evil and unjust? When I got married I hoped to continue to live in Jerusalem and raise my family in the city of my birth. But the Israeli government had other ideas. Around the time I got married, Israeli governments, left and right successively, decided to make it difficult for young couples to buy homes in the big cities. In the meantime, they granted land free of charge, with assistance of 85 percent and above, to people buying homes in national priority zones - development towns and settlements in the territories.


My wife and I didn't want to live in a national priority zone. We didn't want to leave Jerusalem. But after we moved from one rented apartment to another four times in five years, I wrote to the housing minister. He replied. He wrote that there were generous incentives for anyone moving to agricultural areas and the territories.


Like many in our situation, we started looking. We found a small community next to the Green Line overlooking Ben-Gurion International Airport, a settlement "within the national status quo." It was built after the government had convinced the Supreme Court that the community was vital for maintaining national security. Despite loud condemnations in the spirit of political correctness, legal minds greater than actors Oded Kotler, Cynthia Nixon and Mandy Patinkin, including the Supreme Court and the legal advisers of the U.S. State Department and the United Nations, determined that there was nothing illegal about building my home.


Even after the government of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin announced a policy of "drying up" the settlements, my community continued to receive generous loans and grants from the government. But things changed. The negotiations over establishing a Palestinian state turned me and my neighbors into political pawns. The separation wall now separates us from the State of Israel. My home has become worthless as real estate - an economic trap, a prison. Nevertheless, no Israeli government, right, left or center, was willing to decide on my fate and that of my neighbors.


Like most settlers, I'm a Zionist. I believe that settling the Land of Israel is an act of shaping a national identity. I believe in a Zionism that means national Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish homeland, rather than a Zionism that favors fighting over specific borders. I believe that those who are called "the leaders of the settlers," who are declaring their determination to remain in their communities even if those communities become part of Palestine, represent a misled minority. Their messianic vision is not Zionist but a betrayal of Zionism.


A Zionist faithful to his ideals must agree that if Israel's elected government has decided to transfer a certain area to another sovereignty, or that a certain community does not serve the national interest, he will move to a place where the national Jewish interest will exist. Any other declaration is anti-Zionist.


In spite of that, my words are now dismissed as the words of an "other" who cannot be forgiven, who is not

entitled to education, culture and support. Those who denied me the opportunity to choose are condemning me for my choice. The signers of manifestos and supporters of boycotts should recall why I became an object of their hatred.


I became this object because just like them I dreamed, and continue to dream, of a better Israel. I turned into this object because, from a broader point of view, we admire the same ideals. Therefore, when they blame me, they should recall that I am to blame only by dint of the common denominator I share with them.


The writer, a resident of the settlement of Nili, is a lieutenant colonel in the reserves, a former attorney and military prosecutor, and a Conservative rabbi.









President Shimon Peres does not miss an opportunity to whisper to anyone who happens to be nearby that he has no doubt that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is serious about peace with the Palestinians. Of course, the president can't go into detail, but take his word for it. They say U.S. President Barack Obama is also convinced that Netanyahu is not deceiving him.


But the important talks between the U.S. president and the prime minister took place in private. Even the people who write the minutes remained outside. Israel's diplomatic-security chiefs, including the forum of seven senior ministers, admit they have no idea whether the favorite son of the original right-wing Revisionists has really decided to establish Palestine.


If Netanyahu emerges from the negotiating room with a final-status agreement, I promise to cheer him and even apologize for casting doubt on his declarations of peace. In the meantime, I don't believe he means what he said in his Bar-Ilan University speech about two states for two peoples, and that what he said at the Washington summit is what he plans to do at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit. So far he has only paid lip service to peace. Likud's hawks are not getting upset by his speeches, nor are his coalition partners hastening to part company from him. Apparently they don't believe him.


The politician who did more than any other Israeli to destroy the Oslo Accords in Israeli public opinion certainly knows that compared to a final-status agreement with the Palestinians, that document that did not move a single settlement from its place will look like a standard rental contract. If Netanyahu really does intend to sign an agreement within a year to withdraw from the territories, how is it possible he is not preparing public opinion for that tsunami? We can expect a trauma like Israeli society has not experienced since the Yom Kippur War.


It's true that the agreement will let Israel evacuate the territories gradually and according to a reasonable timetable, postponing the physical confrontation with the settlers and their supporters on the right. But there is no postponing a presentation of the new partition map and the resulting public and political battle.


Without a map we won't know which settlements are designated for annexation and are therefore entitled to construction permits and public funds, and for which settlers we have to prepare a roof over their heads and an absorption basket. After all, we can't decide on security arrangements in Palestine without defining its area of jurisdiction. And how will the Palestinians be able to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people without drawing the line where this state ends and the Palestinian state begins?


In the best (and unlikely ) case that the Palestinians will agree to give up the Ariel panhandle in a land swap and postpone a solution for Jerusalem (which is hard to believe ), the map of the final-status agreement will in effect be an evacuation order for more than 90,000 settlers living in 96 settlements. About two-thirds of them belong to the ideological hard core of generations of Gush Emunim members. This comes on top of 50 outposts with a population of about 3,000. The other settlements are for the most part scattered along the Jordan Valley, a region the public has been told for years is Israel's "security border."


For us to believe he is willing within a year to sign a historic agreement that will oblige us to transfer more than 90 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians, Netanyahu must make a modest down payment. Instead of bargaining with Obama about a partial and temporary construction freeze in the settlements, why not transfer to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the settlement areas in northern Samaria that Israel evacuated as part of the disengagement plan?


He could also transfer to the Palestinians a certain percentage of the extensive territories of Area C that Israel is keeping for expanding the settlements. A monitored opening of East Jerusalem to residents of the West Bank could also be a confidence-building measure toward the Palestinians and help skeptical Israelis believe his ostensibly peaceful intentions.


It is very important that Israel's president believes Netanyahu. Of course, we shouldn't make light of a trusting relationship between the prime minister and the U.S. president. It's vital, but not enough. We also deserve a prime minister we can believe.









Gabi Ashkenazi is an excellent Israel Defense Forces chief of staff. That is the consensus among politicians and most of the military correspondents and analysts. And that may indeed be the case. But the question is how to figure out who is a good chief of staff. The chief of the General Staff in Israel is second only to the prime minister in importance, so it is crucial not just to assess the quality of his actions, but also to understand his worldview on strategic matters.


Since the army is the only planning body that is at the cabinet's service, the ministers are compelled to repeatedly approve the military recommendations. And since the army is hierarchical, the chief of staff is the one who ultimately decides what will be brought before the cabinet.


It makes sense that a chief of staff's worldview can influence the recommendations he makes to the ministers. It's virtually certain that a chief of staff who thinks there is a slim chance of reaching a political agreement with our enemies will not recommend that the cabinet engage in peace talks, but will prefer to present an alternative intended to resolve the problem through military force. That's what Rafael Eitan did when he served as chief of staff in 1982 (the first Lebanon war ), what Shaul Mofaz did in September 2000 (the second intifada ) and Dan Halutz did in July 2006 (the Second Lebanon War ).


What is Ashkenazi's worldview? We don't know. Not because he doesn't have one but because he has never agreed to be interviewed in all his years as chief of staff. His supporters boast about his silence, saying a chief of staff needs to get things done, not sit for interviews. That is a mistake. The commander of an army has an obligation to present his strategic outlook to the public.


What's at issue here isn't a purely political matter like whether there should be a Palestinian state, but matters like the strategic balance in the Middle East and what the IDF's image should be (for instance, it is important to know what the chief of staff thinks about drafting yeshiva students ). The chief of staff is a public figure, and his opinions are supposed to influence the public discourse. The commander of the army must make his views heard when settlers attack soldiers in the territories; he is essentially the sovereign power there, since the settlers live under military rule. But Ashkenazi chose to keep silent. The media, unfortunately, was forgiving, and even supportive, of his reticence.


Ashkenazi is an excellent chief of staff, everyone says, since he rehabilitated the army after the Second Lebanon War. And how do we know that? By looking at the way the IDF functioned in Operation Cast Lead. Indeed, since Ashkenazi became chief of staff, the emergency reserves have gotten filled with combat gear and reservists have been called up for training, something that had been neglected for years. But in contrast to the Israeli media reports saying that the IDF performed nearly perfectly in Operation Cast Lead, putting into practice the lessons of the Second Lebanon War, in practice the army did not fight even a single battle in the 22 days of war; Hamas militants did not even try to stop the Israeli soldiers, withdrawing without a fight instead. So it could be that the IDF was rehabilitated, but its actions in Operation Cast Lead cannot be used to prove that.


What's left is an examination of the chief of staff's performance as a commander in crunch time. He didn't rack up much in the way of success during the two instances during his term in which he was tested. The military operation that was aimed at stopping the Gaza-bound flotilla that left nine protesters dead failed, and there is no choice but to pinpoint the chief of staff as the person who is ultimately responsible for the failure. And Ashkenazi's conduct on the matter of the forged document purporting to show that Yoav Galant was using a media consultant to help him become the next chief of staff can be described as problematic at best.


So before joining the choir singing the praises of Gabi Ashkenazi, it's worth stopping to ask how exactly he is being assessed. It's not so clear that an in-depth examination of his conduct would bestow on him the description of "excellent chief of staff."









The planned expulsion of about 400 "foreign" children (the children of labor migrants ) is largely pushed into the deepest recesses of our collective unconscious until someone extracts it from there and shoves it into our faces. Then, discomfited, we do our best to stuff it back into the obscure unconscious.


The first was Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who a few months ago expressed determined opposition to the expulsions. Instead of a discussion of the issue, this led to a discussion of Barak's hidden motives: Everyone knows that compassion and warmth aren't his strong suit, so there must be an ulterior motive that needs to be rooted out.


When President Shimon Peres spoke out against the expulsions, calling them "inconceivable," it could not be dismissed with a similar argument, but there were those who questioned whether it was appropriate for the president of a parliamentary democracy to take a strong position against a cabinet resolution. Shortly after that, Aryeh Deri came out against the expulsions ("impractical" ). This was immediately explained away as part of his battle against Eli Yishai, Deri's successor as interior minister and as Shas chairman. We always found reasons to avoid hearing and to avoid exposing our attitude to the strangers among us to the light of day.


It's true that all political figures have interests, but when they finally support doing the right thing, it should be welcomed. Now, during the Days of Awe, the Days of Repentance, remorse and repair, the error should be corrected, and the expulsion orders should be rescinded. Forgiveness should be sought from the foreign workers, who do the critical and humanitarian work that none of us would think of doing, who give us so much and receive so little. Forgiveness should be sought from the children who were born in Israel and for whom Hebrew is often their only language; children for whom even the insane idea of expulsion has already caused nightmares and indescribable suffering.


It is true that the decision of the committee that was appointed to study the issue, to allow 800 children to remain in Israel and to expel "only" 400, was presented as a compromise. But to take a child (even one ) and put him on a plane against his will, even if we put a flower in his hand as we do so, is not a compromise, no more than the compromise suggested by King Solomon in the famous case of the women who were fighting over a baby was a genuine compromise.


Even those who are not persuaded by the moral argument must consider the practical implications. France recently was roundly criticized by the European Union and others for expelling members of the Roma (Gypsy ) community. The Israeli version of this is undoubtedly much worse, and will provoke a much harsher response. It will be said that the Jews, who themselves were victims of xenophobia, expulsions and worse, must demonstrate even more sensitivity in this area. It's reasonable to assume that the international criticism and its implications for Israel's global standing will outstrip even those of the Gaza aid flotilla.


The ever-lengthening list of those who oppose the expulsion now includes the prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, whose meeting with Yishai over the issue proved fruitless. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would do well in these Days of Awe, whether out of pure motives or not, to join her or at least to bring this dark matter before the cabinet for an enlightened debate. It's a near certainty that in a repeat vote, the interior minister would lose and Israel would win.


The writer is a professor of mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an author.










Two years after Lehman Brothers collapsed under the weight of mortgage-backed bets that went horribly wrong, banks' pay practices have improved but fall short of what is needed to discourage bankers from once again taking unjustifiable risks.


Bonuses on Wall Street rebounded sharply in 2009 and are in line for their second annual increase this year following the big decline in 2008, when bankers blew up the financial system. Bonuses at big European banks like Deutsche Bank also increased last year. Credit Suisse promised hundreds of its London bankers a big extra cash bonus this month after trimming bonuses last year to avoid a British bonus tax.


Amid all this activity, regulators risk falling behind the curve. Last year, the Financial Stability Board created by the Group of 20 leading economies agreed on new standards intended to discourage the kind of excessive risk-taking that ravaged the financial system.


But national regulators around the world are taking vastly different approaches to implementing the standards. The Federal Reserve and other banking watchdogs must remain ready to tighten the rules to stop banks from moving their most risk-hungry bankers and operations to the least-regulated locales.


Banks have made some progress in aligning their risks and rewards. A survey of top banks by the Institute of International Finance, a bank lobby group, found that guaranteed bonuses — paid regardless of bankers' performance — accounted for only 5 percent of the bonus pool in 2009, down by half from 2008. Multiyear guarantees have almost disappeared. Moreover, almost 40 percent of bonuses last year were deferred over a number of years, up from less than 30 percent in 2008.


But this is still short of the Financial Stability Board's call to defer 40 percent to 60 percent of bonuses for most bankers, and more than 60 percent for top executives. Moreover, many banks haven't developed systems demanded by the new rules to align their bonuses with the risks of their operations over the long term. Almost half do not disclose to shareholders and the public the methods used to determine the bonus pool.


Not all banking regulators are pushing equally hard to ensure compliance. In July, the European Parliament passed a tough law forcing European national regulators to adopt the Financial Stability Board's limits on cash bonuses by January — forcing banks to defer most bonuses and pay large chunks in shares. But the Federal Reserve is avoiding hard caps on cash bonuses. In May, the Fed gave big banks its evaluation of their individual pay practices and asked them to develop a plan to address weaknesses in their incentives structures. But the details of such adjustments have not been disclosed.


It is too early to know whether regulatory differences will spark a mass migration among banks to the least-regulated jurisdiction. But in Europe, bankers have warned that laxer rules might draw bank operations to the United States or jurisdictions like Hong Kong, where the financial regulator also decided to give banks leeway to determine how best to align risks and rewards.


Britain's Financial Services Authority has implemented the European Parliament's rule to the letter, but British executives have complained that other European countries — like Germany and France — are not being as stringent. This sort of regulatory arbitrage could defeat the purpose of the new compensation rules. We have seen the damage that risk-hungry bankers can inflict.







Russia's misguided decision to ban exports of wheat for the next 12 months has sent a destabilizing shock through agricultural markets, pushing prices of grains to their highest levels since 2007 and 2008, when food shortages sparked rioting around the world. The situation in poor grain-importing countries in Africa is tense. In Mozambique, the government backtracked on its decision to raise bread prices by 30 percent after riots in which more than a dozen people died. Still, the world need not experience another food crisis.


This year's cereal harvest was the third largest on record, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. Cereal stocks are at their highest point in eight years. Though drought in Russia and other big wheat producers like Australia is likely to reduce output, wheat stocks should remain substantially above two years ago, when they plunged to their lowest levels in three decades.


The danger is that misguided policies could still produce a food shortage. The ban on wheat exports announced by Russia, the world's fourth-biggest exporter, pushed prices way above what its drought would justify. Importing nations scrambled for other sources of supply.


Russia magnified the effect by asking Kazakhstan and Belarus to impose their own bans. If other big agricultural producers were to follow Russia's example, they would worsen market instability and help spread hunger.


Russia should learn from the last food crisis, which was caused in part by a jump in demand by the biofuels industry and rising demand in developing countries. But it was exacerbated when about 30 countries imposed restrictions on the export of agricultural products. Importing countries stockpiled food, further reducing supplies.


This year, in India, which has had a wheat export ban for the last three years, a bumper crop has led the government to stockpile. Press reports say the grain is rotting in storage. Hoarding, by exporters and importers, will only increase prices further.


The concerns in Russia about its grain supplies are understandable, but it could still buy at reasonable prices on world markets — if it and other big food exporters agreed not to impose controls. That would help return stability to the markets, where countries could make up any temporary shortfalls.


The Food and Agriculture Organization will meet on Sept. 24 to discuss the volatility in grain markets. Some of the causes — like climate change — do not lend themselves to easy solutions. But if the agency could broker an agreement not to impose export controls, it would go a long way toward protecting food security.







At the end of August, the Environmental Protection Agency turned down a petition to ban lead from the manufacture of hunting ammunition. According to the agency, it lacked the legal authority to regulate lead in that form.


But that conclusion is legally dubious and it was a sudden and premature about-face for the agency, which had planned a two-month public comment period on the subject. And the turnaround came after the National Rifle Association asked the E.P.A. to reject the petition. The N.R.A. said this was just a backhanded attempt to impose gun control.


The N.R.A. should consult the hunters among its members. They know that getting lead out of the environment is essential. Lead is as toxic in nature as it is in the form of lead paint in houses. Scientists have established a clear link between lead from ammunition and the poisoning of some 75 species of birds — especially waterfowl and scavengers like condors, eagles and ravens.


There are safe, effective substitutes for lead in ammunition, and some states have experimented with a swap — encouraging hunters to trade in lead ammunition for nontoxic shells.


We urge the E.P.A. to reconsider this hasty decision. The agency has the authority it needs to regulate the lead in ammunition as a toxic substance, even though it isn't authorized to regulate the manufacture of ammunition itself. (It has said it will consider a ban on lead fishing sinkers, which would be welcome, but that is not going nearly far enough.) A bullet fired from a hunter's gun should kill only once, not go on killing again and again.







To weaken the Afghan Taliban, American military commanders are hoping to lure fighters away from the insurgency with the promise of jobs, security and a better life. The idea is a good one. Like so much else in Afghanistan, this important initiative has badly faltered.


According to American officials, there are a significant number of lower-level militants and tribal leaders who are not true believers but have allied with extremists because they had no choice, needed the money or were so disillusioned with the Afghan government that they forgot the horrors of Taliban rule. But as The Times's Rod Nordland recently reported, in the last six months only a few hundred fighters have taken up the government's offer to come in from the cold.


President Hamid Karzai pledged last year to make a more aggressive effort at "reintegration." The United States Congress promised $100 million; an additional $150 million was pledged by Britain, Germany, Japan and others. The money is not coming in as fast as we would like to see. But the real problem — once again — is that Mr. Karzai and his appointees have failed to put a credible reintegration program in place.


The program is supposed to be administered by a newly created High Peace Council. Nearly two months after an international conference agreed that the council would run the program, Afghan officials are still bickering over who should be in charge. Mr. Karzai's office promised earlier this month to announce the council's membership shortly. He needs to follow through. They need to be competent individuals — not cronies — who will work closely with NATO. The program must be publicized, and the benefits and protections on offer must be clearly explained — and delivered.


Afghans need to run things, but the government will also need a lot of help from American diplomats and NATO commanders. In the past, some fighters who put down their guns didn't get the jobs they were promised; some were killed by former comrades or new neighbors who didn't want to forgive or forget. That's not a recipe for persuading others to follow suit.


It may be that large numbers of insurgents won't come in until the Taliban start losing big battles. Or it may be that insurgents will not leave the battlefield until negotiations between Afghan and Taliban leaders on some kind of reconciliation deal are under way.


So far, there is no real sign that Taliban leaders even want to negotiate. That is yet one more reason to try to persuade lower-level insurgents to abandon the fight.








Last week Japan's minister of finance declared that he and his colleagues wanted a discussion with China about the latter's purchases of Japanese bonds, to "examine its intention" — diplomat-speak for "Stop it right now." The news made me want to bang my head against the wall in frustration.


You see, senior American policy figures have repeatedly balked at doing anything about Chinese currency manipulation, at least in part out of fear that the Chinese would stop buying our bonds. Yet in the current environment, Chinese purchases of our bonds don't help us — they hurt us. The Japanese understand that. Why don't we?


Some background: If discussion of Chinese currency policy seems confusing, it's only because many people don't want to face up to the stark, simple reality — namely, that China is deliberately keeping its currency artificially weak.


The consequences of this policy are also stark and simple: in effect, China is taxing imports while subsidizing exports, feeding a huge trade surplus. You may see claims that China's trade surplus has nothing to do with its currency policy; if so, that would be a first in world economic history. An undervalued currency always promotes trade surpluses, and China is no different.


And in a depressed world economy, any country running an artificial trade surplus is depriving other nations of much-needed sales and jobs. Again, anyone who asserts otherwise is claiming that China is somehow exempt from the economic logic that has always applied to everyone else.


So what should we be doing? U.S. officials have tried to reason with their Chinese counterparts, arguing that a stronger currency would be in China's own interest. They're right about that: an undervalued currency promotes inflation, erodes the real wages of Chinese workers and squanders Chinese resources. But while currency manipulation is bad for China as a whole, it's good for politically influential Chinese companies — many of them state-owned. And so the currency manipulation goes on.


Time and again, U.S. officials have announced progress on the currency issue; each time, it turns out that they've been had. Back in June, Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary, praised China's announcement that it would move to a more flexible exchange rate. Since then, the renminbi has risen a grand total of 1, that's right, 1 percent against the dollar — with much of the rise taking place in just the past few days, ahead of planned Congressional hearings on the currency issue. And since the dollar has fallen against other major currencies, China's artificial cost advantage has actually increased.


Clearly, nothing will happen until or unless the United States shows that it's willing to do what it normally does when another country subsidizes its exports: impose a temporary tariff that offsets the subsidy. So why has such action never been on the table?


One answer, as I've already suggested, is fear of what would happen if the Chinese stopped buying American bonds. But this fear is completely misplaced: in a world awash with excess savings, we don't need China's money — especially because the Federal Reserve could and should buy up any bonds the Chinese sell.


It's true that the dollar would fall if China decided to dump some American holdings. But this would actually help the U.S. economy, making our exports more competitive. Ask the Japanese, who want China to stop buying their bonds because those purchases are driving up the yen.


Aside from unjustified financial fears, there's a more sinister cause of U.S. passivity: business fear of Chinese retaliation.


Consider a related issue: the clearly illegal subsidies China provides to its clean-energy industry. These subsidies should have led to a formal complaint from American businesses; in fact, the only organization willing to file a complaint was the steelworkers union. Why? As The Times reported, "multinational companies and trade associations in the clean energy business, as in many other industries, have been wary of filing trade cases, fearing Chinese officials' reputation for retaliating against joint ventures in their country and potentially denying market access to any company that takes sides against China."


Similar intimidation has surely helped discourage action on the currency front. So this is a good time to remember that what's good for multinational companies is often bad for America, especially its workers.


So here's the question: Will U.S. policy makers let themselves be spooked by financial phantoms and bullied by business intimidation? Will they continue to do nothing in the face of policies that benefit Chinese special interests at the expense of both Chinese and American workers? Or will they finally, finally act? Stay tuned.


Ross Douthat is off today.








Tampa, Fla.

LAST month, a federal district judge approved a deal to allow Barclays, the British bank, to pay a $298 million fine for conducting transactions with Cuba, Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan in violation of United States trade sanctions. Barclays was discovered to have systematically disguised the movement of hundreds of millions of dollars through wire transfers that were stripped of the critical information required by law that would have enabled the world to know that for more than 10 years the bank was moving huge sums of money for enemy governments. Yet all federal prosecutors wanted to settle the problem was a small piece of the action.


When Judge Emmet Sullivan of federal district court in Washington, who ultimately approved the deal with Barclays, asked the obvious question, "Why isn't the government getting rough with these banks?" the remarkable response was that the government had investigated but couldn't find anyone responsible.


How preposterous. Banks can commit crimes only through the acts of their employees. Federal law enforcement agencies are simply failing to systematically gather the intelligence they need to effectively monitor the crime.


The Barclays deal was just one in a long line of wrist slaps that big banks have recently received from the United States. Last May, when ABN Amro Bank (now largely part of the Royal Bank of Scotland) was caught funneling money for the benefit of Iran, Libya and Sudan, it was fined $500 million, and no one went to jail. Last December, Credit Suisse Group agreed to pay a $536 million fine for doing the same. In recent years, Union Bank of California, American Express Bank International, BankAtlantic and Wachovia have all been caught moving huge sums of drug money, but no one went to jail. The banks just admitted to criminal conduct and paid the government a cut of their profits.


Wachovia alone had moved more than $400 billion for account holders in Mexico, $14 billion of which was in bulk currency that had been driven in armored cars or flown to the United States. Just who in Mexico did anyone think had that kind of cash? Of course, the government did a thorough investigation but could find no individuals responsible.


Bankers are escaping prosecution because law enforcement is failing to expose the evidence that some bankers market dirty money. Years after the transactions occur, any effort to prove what was known at the time is practically impossible. The bankers simply say they didn't know where the money came from. Naturally, prosecutors look for ways to get around trying to prosecute those sorts of cases, and instead make deals.


It should be up to law enforcement agencies to bring prosecutors solid proof of what the bankers knew and said at the time they knowingly handled ill-gotten money. This is not difficult, only time-consuming.


In the 1990s, while I was a federal agent working to gather evidence against Colombian drug cartels, I spent a year and a half building a sophisticated undercover identity as a money launderer, with the help of a half-dozen informants and concerned citizens. Then, for the next two and a half years, I infiltrated the highest levels of one cartel and began dealing with their banking contacts. I recorded hundreds of conversations behind boardroom doors with sophisticated international bankers.


They readily gave me access to all the tools of their trade, starting with lawyers who knew how to create offshore corporations for crooks in places like Panama, Hong Kong, the British Virgin Islands and Gibraltar. The bankers also provided secret safe deposit boxes abroad, and arranged for currency to be shipped in safes to places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where large cash deposits are not recorded. My money could then be repatriated to the United States disguised as offshore loans. Account details were whispered in secret meetings so that paper never crossed borders. And any records sought by any government could simply be destroyed.


The evidence I gathered led, in the early 1990s, to the demise of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, the seventh largest privately held bank in the world, and Capcom, a multinational commodities trading company. More important, it put a slew of bankers behind bars and got their tongues wagging, so much so that we learned where Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian general, had hidden his fortune in payoffs from Colombian cartel leaders.


Revenues from global drug trafficking — estimated to add up to more than $400 billion a year — are just one small component of the money, known as flight capital, that criminals try to hide from governments. This capital also includes proceeds from things like tax evasion, trade with countries under sanctions and arms dealing. It's big business. The desire to have a share in this business has led the private client divisions of many international banks to develop sophisticated skills to avoid scrutiny from regulators.


Tracking and confiscating the fortunes of terrorist organizations, drug cartels and organized criminals is important for national security, and yet no single federal law enforcement agency systematically investigates the international bankers and businessmen who launder this money. What's needed is a small but elite multi-agency task force, including representatives of the intelligence community and accomplished members of law enforcement agencies from other nations, that could identify the institutions and businesses that handle the bulk of the dirty money flowing around the globe. A task force numbering 100 people or less, at least initially, could compile a database containing detailed information about bad banks and money launderers.


Some of this data could be culled from the various law enforcement agencies' existing files. But investigators should also debrief the hundreds of high-level criminals now being held in our prisons to get detailed information about their allies in the banking and business community.


The task force should also try to identify every asset used by major criminal and terrorist organizations. If one of them buys a million-dollar airplane, for example, investigators should find out where the money to buy it came from. All this information should be kept in the same database.


It would be important for this task force to have access to records of the Federal Reserve and the central banks of cooperating nations to find out which financial institutions are depositing large amounts of American dollars. (If investigators had had such access years ago, it would have been easy for them to see the billions in currency that Wachovia was shipping from Mexico.) By getting access to wire systems operated by the Fed and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, investigators could also identify and track the accounts for which banks convert cash into wire transfers. Here again, the information should be added to the database. Eventually, all this collected data could reveal a pattern of activity that would point to dirty bankers and businessmen.


To make use of this intelligence, undercover agents from around the world should be trained and equipped with the tools needed to infiltrate the banking and business community. Working with the information in the database, they could inflict a devastating blow to the fortunes of the underworld and its money launderers. Finally, the government would be able to prosecute the people personally responsible for laundering billions of dollars worth of criminal profits.


Robert Mazur, a former federal agent, is the author of "The Infiltrator," a memoir about his undercover life as a money launderer. He is the president of a private investigative agency.








Vancouver, British Columbia


The thing about the future is that it never feels the way we thought it would. New sensations require new terms; below are a few such terms to encapsulate our present moment.


AIRPORT-INDUCED IDENTITY DYSPHORIA Describes the extent to which modern travel strips the traveler of just enough sense of identity so as to create a need to purchase stickers and gift knick-knacks that bolster their sense of slightly eroded personhood: flags of the world, family crests, school and university merchandise.


ANTIFLUKE A situation in the universe in which rigid rules of action exist to prevent coincidences from happening. Given the infinite number of coincidences that could happen, very few ever actually do. The universe exists in a coincidence-hating state of antifluke.


BELL'S LAW OF TELEPHONY No matter what technology is used, your monthly phone bill magically remains about the same size.


BLANK-COLLAR WORKERS Formerly middle-class workers who will never be middle class again and who will never come to terms with that.


CHRISTMAS-MORNING FEELING A sensation created by stimulus to the anterior amygdala that leaves one with a strong sense of expectation. (See also Godseeking)


CLOUD BLINDNESS The inability of some people to see faces or shapes in clouds.


COMPLEX SEPARATION The theory that, in music, a song gets only one chance to make a first impression. After that the brain starts breaking it down, subdividing the musical experience into its various components — lyrical, melodic and so forth.


COVER BUZZ The sensation felt when hearing a cover version of a song one already knows.


CRYSTALLOGRAPHIC MONEY THEORY The hypothesis that money is a crystallization or condensation of time and free will, the two characteristics that separate humans from other species.


DENARRATION The process whereby one's life stops feeling like a story.


DESELFING Willingly diluting one's sense of self and ego by plastering the Internet with as much information as possible. (See alsoOmniscience Fatigue; Undeselfing)


DIMANCHOPHOBIA Fear of Sundays, a condition that reflects fear of unstructured time. Also known as acalendrical anxiety. Not to be confused with didominicaphobia or kyriakephobia, fear of the Lord's Day.


FICTIVE REST The inability of many people to fall asleep until after reading even the tiniest amount of fiction.


FRANKENTIME What time feels like when you realize that most of your life is spent working with and around a computer and the Internet.


GODSEEKING An extreme version of Christmas Morning Feeling.


GRIM TRUTH You're smarter than TV. So what?


IKEASIS The desire in daily life and consumer life to cling to "generically" designed objects. This need for clear, unconfusing forms is a means of simplifying life amid an onslaught of information.


INSTANT REINCARNATION The fact that most adults, no matter how great their life is, wish for radical change in their life. The urge to reincarnate while still alive is near universal.


INTRAVINCULAR FAMILIAL SILENCE We need to be around our families not because we have so many shared experiences to talk about, but because they know precisely which subjects to avoid.


HUMANALIA Things made by humans that exist only on earth and nowhere else in the universe. Examples include Teflon, NutraSweet, Paxil and meaningfully sized chunks of element No. 43, technetium.


INTERNAL VOICE BLINDNESS The near universal inability of people to articulate the tone and personality of the voice that forms their interior monologue.


INTERRUPTION-DRIVEN MEMORY We remember only red traffic lights, never the green ones. The green ones keep us in the flow, the red ones interrupt and annoy us.


INTRAFFINITAL MELANCHOLY VS. EXTRAFFINITAL MELANCHOLY Which is lonelier: to be single and lonely, or to be lonely within a dead relationship?


KARAOKEAL AMNESIA Most people don't know the complete lyrics to almost any song, particularly the ones they hold most dear. (See also Lyrical Putty)


LIMITED POOL ROMANTIC THEORY The belief that there is a finite number of times in which one can fall in love, most commonly six.


LYRICAL PUTTY The lyrics one creates in one's head in the absence of knowing a song's real lyrics.


MALFACTORY AVERSION The ability to figure out what it is in life you don't do well, and then to stop doing it.


ME GOGGLES The inability to accurately perceive oneself as others do.


MEMESPHERE The realm of culturally tangible ideas.


OMNISCIENCE FATIGUE The burnout that comes with being able to know the answer to almost anything online.


POST-HUMAN Whatever it is that we become next.


PROCELERATION The acceleration of acceleration.


PSEUDOALIENATION The inability of humans to create genuinely alienating situations. Anything made by humans is a de facto expression of humanity. Technology cannot be alienating because humans created it. Genuinely alien technologies can be created only by aliens. Technically, a situation one might describe as alienating is, in fact, "humanating."


ROSENWALD'S THEOREM The belief that all the wrong people have self-esteem.


SITUATIONAL DISINHIBITION Social contrivances within which one is allowed to become disinhibited, that is, moments of culturally approved disinhibition: when speaking with fortunetellers, to dogs and other pets, to strangers and bartenders in bars, or with Ouija boards.


STANDARD DEVIATION Feeling unique is no indication of uniqueness, and yet it is the feeling of uniqueness that convinces us we have souls.


STAR SHOCK The disproportionate way that meeting celebrities feels slightly like being told a piece of life-changing news.


STOVULAX A micro-targeted drug of the future designed to stop fantastically specific O.C.D. cases, in this case a compulsion involving the inability of some people to convince themselves after leaving the house that the stove is turned off.


UNDESELFING The attempt, usually frantic and futile, to reverse the deselfing process.


ZOOSOMNIAL BLURRING The notion that animals probably don't see much difference between dreaming and being awake.


Douglas Coupland is the author of the forthcoming novel "Player One."








For anyone concerned about rising health costs and their effect on the economy, consider this grim new projection: By 2019, the nation's health care bill will have surgedto $4.6 trillion, or nearly 20 cents of every dollar spent in America. That comes to$13,652 per person, up from $8,389 last year.


Outraged that you'll be paying nearly two-thirds more than you do now? Ready to demand repeal of the reform law passed early this year?


Think again. The estimate, from the actuarial department at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, actually amounts to a kind of tacit endorsement of the measure. That's because the new law would have virtually no effect on the upward trajectory of health care spending, while bringing insurance coverage to an additional 32.5 million people and ending the worst insurance company abuses.


Put another way, the controversial reform measure has enough cost controls to deliver protections to more Americans for roughly the same money as would have been spent otherwise. What it doesn't have is enough controls to prevent health care from growing at unsustainable rates much higher than inflation. That's not a reason to repeal health reform, but it is reason to revisit it.


Health care spending continues to surge in part because, once deductibles and co-payments are satisfied, patients and providers are largely free to play with insurers' money. This creates incentives to overprescribe, overtest and overtreat — and to develop high-priced new drugs and other products that are only marginally better than existing ones. There is a lack of any real push toward efficiency. The price for all of this is passed along in the form of higher premiums and soaring outlays for government benefits.


Bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do," President Obama conceded at Friday's news conference, something he downplayed while selling his plan to a skeptical public and Congress. Ideally, the two parties would join to do the heavy lifting, yet an honest discussion of what more needs to be done on health care costs is lacking from the current partisan debate.


Many Republicans have decided to blame any and all insurance premium increases on what they call ObamaCare, even though premiums have been rising for years. And they see a repeal-the-bill approach as a winner on the campaign trail. Perhaps it is. But repeal is a non-starter as long as Obama is president and, as the study shows, it would do nothing to change the cost trajectory.


Many Democrats, for their part, have decided that they have finished fixing health care for the moment. They are not exactly taking a victory lap as they had hoped, as polls show that the public is still sharply divided on the new law. Nor are they eager to move on to a next act.


If the nation is to avoid a debt crisis, that next act will mean curbing the growth of health spending, particularly on Medicare as Baby Boomers retire. That will require difficult and unappetizing choices, such as higher premiums, new limits on what will and won't be covered, and new attitudes toward extraordinarily expensive end-of-life interventions. It's no wonder that, in an election year, candidates would opt for baseless attacks on the other side or a head-in-the-sand approach.


The answer to soaring costs is not to go backward and undo the benefits of health care reform, but to move on to its unfinished business.








This month, with support for ObamaCare continuing to erode, a Democrat-led group is ramping up a multimillion-dollar national ad campaign to rescue the new law. At the same time, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote the health insurers' national association demanding they stop using "misinformation and scare tactics" to blame 2011 premium increases on ObamaCare.


The reality is that this is all part of an orchestrated, well-financed effort to mislead the American people as to the facts on ObamaCare. It's not surprising. The American people have been terribly misled about this bill since before it was passed.


We were told that most Americans would pay less for their health care. Yet the Obama administration's own Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services just reported that health care costs will instead go up by over $1,000 per year by 2019 for a family of four.


We were told that ObamaCare would drive down the costs of health care. Yet just this week health insurers asked for premium increases of up to 9% solely because of ObamaCare.


We were told — and how many times did the president say this? — that if you were happy with your current coverage, you wouldn't need to change it at all. Yet under rules issued in June, his own administration estimates that 51% of all employees and 66% of workers in small businesses would have their current plan changed within three years as a result of new mandates.


We were told that ObamaCare would protect senior citizens. Yet millions of seniors will lose their Medicare Advantage coverage, and millions more, according to the administration's own analysis, will have difficulty accessing health care at all due to a half-trillion dollar cut in Medicare.


Higher health care costs. Cuts to seniors' health care. Higher taxes, penalties and fines on employers that keep them from creating the new jobs we need. These are the realities of ObamaCare.


The American people don't want government-run health care and are against ObamaCare for good reason. That is why Revere America is working to repeal and replace this law with health care reforms the American people need.


Former New York governor George Pataki is chairman of Revere America, a national organization dedicated to repealing and replacing the health care law.









We hear a lot these days about the "conflict" between science and religion — the atheists and the fundamentalists, it seems, are constantly blasting one another. But what's rarely noted is that even as science-religion warriors clash by night, in the morning they'll see the battlefield has shifted beneath them.


Across the Western world — including the United States — traditional religion is in decline, even as there has been a surge of interest in "spirituality." What's more, the latter concept is increasingly being redefined in our culture so that it refers to something very much separable from, and potentially broader than, religious faith.


Nowadays, unlike in prior centuries, spirituality and religion are no longer thought to exist in a one-to-one relationship.


This is a fundamental change, and it strongly undermines the old conflict story about science and religion. For once you start talking about science and spirituality, the dynamic shifts dramatically.


Common ground


The old science-religion story goes like this: The so-called New Atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, uncompromisingly blast faith, even as religiously driven "intelligent design" proponents repeatedly undermine science. And while most of us don't fit into either of these camps, the extremes also target those in the middle. The New Atheists aim considerable fire toward moderate religious believers who are also top scientists, such as National Institutes of Health DirectorFrancis Collins. Meanwhile, people like Collins get regular flack from the "intelligent design" crowd as well.


In this schematic, the battle lines may appear drawn, the conflict inescapable. But once spirituality enters the picture, there seems to be common ground after all.


Spirituality is something everyone can have — even atheists. In its most expansive sense, it could simply be taken to refer to any individual's particular quest to discover that which is held sacred.


That needn't be a deity or supernatural entity. As the French sociologist Emile Durkheim noted in 1915: "By sacred things one must not understand simply those personal beings which are called Gods or spirits; a rock, a tree, a spring, a pebble, a piece of wood, a house, in a word, anything can be sacred."


We can all find our own sacred things — and we can all have our own life-altering spiritual experiences. These are not necessarily tied to any creed, doctrine, or belief; they grip us on an emotional level, rather than a cognitive or rational one. That feeling of awe and wonder, that sense of a deep unity with the universe or cosmos — such intuitions might lead to a traditional religious outlook on the world, or they might not.


Dawkins, the most prominent atheist of them all, has certainly felt spiritual uplift. Indeed, he has written an entire book, Unweaving the Rainbow, about the wonder that comes with learning how things really work. And in a recent interview with Al-Jazeera, Dawkins said that "spirituality can mean something that I'm very sympathetic to, which is, a sort of sense of wonder at the beauty of the universe, the complexity of life, the magnitude of space, the magnitude of geological time. All those things create a sort of frisson in the breast, which you could call spirituality."


"But," Dawkins quickly added, "I would be very concerned that it shouldn't be confused with supernaturalism."


It doesn't have to be. Spirituality in the sense described above does not run afoul of any of Dawkins' atheistic values or arguments. It does not require science and faith to be logically compatible, for instance. Nor does it require that we believe in anything we cannot prove. Spirituality simply doesn't operate on that level. It's about emotions and experiences, not premises or postulates.


Finally healing


So no wonder that other New Atheists have made statements very similar to Dawkins'. For instance, Tufts University philosopher Daniel C. Dennett has remarked, "I have times when I am just transported with awe and joy and a sense of peace and wonder at, whether it's music or art or just a child playing or some other wonderful thing off of my sailboat, being amazed at the beauty of the ocean. I think that people make the mistake of thinking that spirituality, in that sense, has anything to do with either religious doctrines or with immateriality or the supernatural."


Sam Harris, author of the best-selling 2004 book The End of Faith, is another thinker commonly associated with

the New Atheists. And he, too, embraces a secular form of spirituality. Harris is particularly interested in meditation and its effects on the brain, and has called for "a discourse on ethics and spiritual experience that is as unconstrained by dogma and cultural prejudice as the discourses of physics, biology, and chemistry are."


A focus on spirituality, then, might be the route to finally healing one of the most divisive rifts in Western society — over the relationship between science and religion. We'll still have our evolution battles, to be sure; and the Catholic Church won't soon give up on its wrongheaded resistance to contraception. The problems won't immediately vanish. But each time they emerge, more and more of us will scratch our heads, wondering why.


Chris Mooney is a host of the Point of Inquiry podcast and author of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future (with Sheril Kirshenbaum).









Some worry that the amorphous "Tea Party" is seething with racism. But if we listen to the leaders and media stars of the Tea Party, we hear little about racial enemies and a lot about ideological enemies. And the greatest ideological enemy is the socialist.


Yes, the fear of socialism, or to use a phrase that was thought to be a thing of the past — the Red Menace — is taken very seriously by Tea Party supporters. As it was in the 1950s, socialism (a kind of communism-lite) is something that many Americans love to hate. This re-energized hatred has produced some strange political bedfellows.


Why do libertarians and conservative Christians tolerate each other at Tea Party rallies? The libertarian wants greater freedom, presumably to have abortions, marry whomever and worship or not at will. This is a far cry from the family values of conservative Christians. But the conservative Christian and the libertarian equally despise socialism, and in their shared disgust they find tolerance for one another.


Libertarians hate the socialist because he or she threatens their liberty and takes their money through taxation. But there is a different and often overlooked reason why conservative Christians fear the socialist: Because the socialist is also an atheist.


Encroaching secularization


The anti-religious agenda of the left is something that conservative Christians take seriously. This will surprise liberals who tend to have no real religious agenda except to guarantee that religious liberty is protected. But most conservative Christians do not see it this way. They tend to feel embattled by the encroaching forces of secularization. And while Tea Party celebrities such as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck continue to stoke the flames of libertarian ire, they simultaneously and somewhat ironically fuel concerns about the decline of Christianity.


Some observers in the media expressed surprise that Beck and other speakers at his recent "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington spoke so fervently and somewhat exclusively about God. The rally's organizers even touted it as an apolitical gathering. But references to God are highly political, especially when the underlying message is that good Christians need to be worried about the dawning of a new era of godlessness. That was the thrust of Beck's message. Tea Party supporters can easily tell you who is imposing this anti-Christian ethos: the socialist.


Merging concerns


The historical roots of the Tea Party are not really found in the deism of the Founding Fathers nor the racism of the segregated South. Rather, this growing movement is a direct descendent of the Red Scare. And, like the Red Scare, the Tea Party appeals to a wide range of Americans, many of whom are at direct odds over very central issues of freedom and religion. By reducing libertarian and conservative Christian concerns to a common enemy, the Tea Party has become a very potent political force.


Who exactly are the Tea Party's socialist enemies? In answering this question, we must return to the issue of race. The fear of socialism is strengthened by the idea that wealth redistribution is especially attractive to minority groups. Racial minorities, therefore, become dangerous to the extent that they are the pawns of the socialist menace.


If we trace this logic, it becomes clear why Beck is concerned with the legacy of Martin Luther King. He and his followers desperately want to show that Dr. King, too, was scared of socialists. And if they can do that, the Tea Party tent just got bigger.


Paul Froese is a sociologist at Baylor Universityand author of The Plot to Kill God and the forthcoming America's Four Gods.









A group of students at Old Dominion University, who say they are worried about their safety, want the right to carry concealed handguns on campus and have turned to the social media to promote the campaign. They've started a Facebook page, but so far have gained little traction on campus. The effort did win support, however, from individuals and groups in Virginia and around the country that habitually advocate policies that allow just about anyone in any place or circumstance to carry a concealed weapon. Such advocacy is misplaced. Guns have no place on the Norfolk or any other collegiate campus.


A majority of states, including Tennessee and Georgia, wisely ban or significantly restrict weapons on campus, despite repeated and well-financed campaigns bankrolled directly or indirectly by the gun lobby to rescind such rules. Most of the nation's colleges and universities, including those in states where the rules are more lax, acknowledge the bans as a matter of policy — and rightly so. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is typical. Its student handbook explicitly bans guns, along with alcohol and drugs, on campus. Possession is a felony.


That makes sense. There's no reason for students, faculty or staff, other than sworn officers, to carry a weapon. Most campuses are quite safe with little violent crime reported. The addition of firearms would make them less so.


That's especially the case at schools with large resident populations. There, the mixture of alcohol, crowded dorms and hormone-induced emotions often creates volatile situations that sometimes get out of hand but rarely lead to serious injury or death. The addition of firearms to the mix would change that for the worse. The possibility of gunplay rather than fisticuffs, for example, to resolve a perceived insult or to end an altercation could lead to tragedy.


That doesn't deter concealed carry proponents. They continue to trot out old, tired arguments in support of their cause. They argue that campus gun bans don't deter shooters or criminals. They say that they strip students of the right to defend themselves. They're quick to point to tragic incidents like the shootings at Virginia Tech to support their case. Those arguments, though, aren't supported by fact.


The fact is that colleges and universities are much safer than the communities around them and that the availability of guns is unlikely to improve that. One Justice Department study reported that 93 percent of violence against college students age 18 to 24 occurs off campus. That, no doubt, is due to the fact that almost all U.S. colleges and universities currently ban or severely limit firearm possession on campus. That's consistent with well vetted research into gun-related violence.


Numerous studies have shown that whenever guns are introduced into an environment — like the home or the workplace — the result typically is more gun deaths and injuries. It stands to reason, then, that allowing guns on campus would increase, not reduce, the risk of violence to students, faculty and staff. That's a lesson that Old Dominion students and concealed carry and gun advocates don't want to acknowledge, but should take to heart.







Mom was right. Fruits and vegetables are good for you. Physicians and public health officials long ago joined mothers everywhere in trumpeting that message as an important adjunct in their battle to promote overall good health, to reduce the risk of many leading causes of death and to combat the United States' rising tide of obesity. Trouble is, not a lot of people are listening.


Most of us, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, don't come close to consuming the daily recommended amount of fruits or vegetables. The portrait is dire, clearly showing that most Americans, despite exhortations to improve, still don't eat vegetables often enough. It gets worse. Fruit consumption in the country is in decline.


That has serious implications for U.S. medical costs and policy. Regular consumption of fruit and vegetables is one way to improve health and save money. It could help reduce the risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease and strokes and cut the incidence of obesity, all leading causes of U.S. illness and deaths.


The goal as put forth by nutritionists is for U.S. adults to consume fruits two or more times per day and to eat vegetables three or more times a day. Most Americans miss those targets more often than they hit them. Only about a third of Americans met the goal for fruit consumption in 2009. The Healthy People 2010 goal was 75 percent. About a quarter met the vegetable standard last year, though the goal was 50 percent.


No state met either goal. None came close. Residents of the District of Columbia and California came closest to the fruit standard at about 40 percent. Tennessee, with 33 percent, led vegetable consumption last year, but that's a Pyrrhic victory. Consumption of vegetables by adults in the state actually has declined. It was 43.5 percent in 2000.


Reversing the trend and improving fruit and vegetable consumption remain worthy goals. It won't be easy in a culture where convenience and cost often outweigh nutrition and health imperatives. Some people simply don't like fresh fruit and vegetables and seek out unhealthy fast, fatty or salty alternative foods instead. Others would like to eat more fruit or vegetables but say cost and lack of availability, particularly in poor neighborhoods, make that difficult. Health officials acknowledge that and are taking steps to correct the problems.


Support of fresh food initiatives like community gardens is expanding. So is the effort to make fresh fruits and vegetables more widely available through voucher programs, delivery to institutions like schools and intensified education. Those steps are useful, but it will take time to make a long-term impact on the fruit and vegetable eating habits of most Americans.







While it may not be an "absolute rule," it is generally not considered wise to take part in investments that call for "nothing down" but promise big rewards. You know the adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


Well, one of the "investments" lots of Americans made over the past few years was the purchase of a home with little or no money down. That "easy credit" was often coupled with adjustable-rate mortgages whose interest rates soon "adjusted" up. Many who thought they were getting a great deal on a house soon found out it was no deal at all. The rising interest rates meant they could no longer afford their monthly mortgage payments, and all too many soon lost their homes to foreclosure.


Sadly, the bad news is not over. Many more are still struggling to make their payments, and a job loss or a sudden, large bill they were not expecting may force them into foreclosure. About 1 million homes are expected to be lost to foreclosure this year alone!


And yet the federal government, which pressured banks to make loans to people with poor credit, appears to be on the path toward encouraging irresponsible lending again.


The government-sponsored lending giant Fannie Mae "is creeping back into the market for mortgages with no down payment," The New York Times reported recently.


One such program is called "Affordable Advantage." But weren't the loans that got so many people in trouble in the past few years promoted as a way to make housing more "affordable"? Shouldn't that very word at least arouse some skepticism among the American people — and certainly among lawmakers in Congress?


The newspaper cited the example of a couple who bought a new $115,000 home in Wisconsin with only $1,000 down. But with a grant to help cover the down payment, the couple had to write only a 67-cent check at closing. Does that sound remotely reasonable? Shouldn't the couple have saved up at least something to put down on such a major purchase?


Even some in government are sounding the alarm about repeating past mistakes.


"Loans that have zero down payment perform worse than loans with down payments," a Government Accountability Office official told The New York Times.


The article also noted, "Because the government now owns 80 percent of Fannie Mae, taxpayers are on the hook if the loans go bad."


So no one should think a return to risky lending affects only "other people." It affects us all!


Will we as a nation listen to those warnings and avoid another meltdown in the housing market? Or will we march forward under the banner of more "affordable housing," even though it's not "affordable" at all to someone who loses his home?







It is not unusual for Republicans and the few moderate Democrats in Congress who voted against ObamaCare socialized medicine to criticize parts of that bad law. But now even a liberal Democrat in the U.S. Senate has come out swinging against ObamaCare's requirement that everyone buy federally approved health insurance.


Sen. Ron Wyden, of extremely liberal Oregon, wrote a letter to health officials in his state saying that Oregon should be exempted from the mandate that punishes anyone who does not buy insurance deemed acceptable under ObamaCare.


"Oregonians have demonstrated again and again that a one size fits all approach from Washington is not the best approach for the Northwest, and they have come up with innovative solutions that the Federal government has never had the flexibility or will to implement," he wrote.


He stated that "the heart of real health reform is affordability and not mandates."


We're glad to hear that he thinks so. But it would have been better if he and other Democrats had acknowledged the potential harm from ObamaCare's mandates before — rather than after — they voted for those mandates.







There is no quick, 100 percent effective fix to the problem of illegal immigration. Even if the federal government worked vigorously to enforce immigration law, some unknown number of illegal aliens would still manage to stay in this country.


But the federal government is not only failing to enforce immigration law, it is actively undermining it.


A New York City woman wrote to President Barack Obama, asking that he intervene to help her husband, a native of the African nation of Cameroon whom our legal system had explicitly ordered deported. The letter was "mistakenly" forwarded to an immigration unit, and federal agents showed up and took the man to jail in preparation to deport him.


That was the proper thing to do. But when The New York Times made inquiries about the case, the government promptly released the man even though his deportation order was still in effect. Worse yet, immigration officials may actually be disciplined for supposedly violating the man's "civil rights."


Why? Even if authorities learned of his unlawful presence only by accident, the deportation order made it appropriate that action be taken to arrest and deport him. By no means should he have been set free.


The government has no business protecting those who are not legally entitled to be in this country.







Browsing the official White House website, which gives background on all U.S. presidents, we spotted a bit of wisdom from one of our less prominent commanders in chief, Democrat Grover Cleveland, who served from 1885-89 and 1893-97.


The website noted that President Cleveland vetoed a bill that would have spent taxpayer dollars to distribute seed to Texas farmers who were suffering through a drought.


His defense of that veto clearly spells out the constitutional and moral reasons for limiting the power of the federal government.


President Cleveland wrote, "I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted ... .


"The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood."


President Cleveland did not veto the seed bill out of any personal animosity toward farmers. Rather, he understood that it is not Washington's job to ride to the rescue in the midst of every trouble that may confront individual Americans or groups of Americans. The Constitution just does not give that role to the federal government.


It is a pity that more elected officials in Washington today do not seem to understand that.








And so as we report today... the "ayes" have it. A commanding majority of Turkish voters have endorsed a suite of constitutional amendments that will dramatically, if not radically, change the basic legal infrastructure atop which rests the Turkish Republic. As our headline puts it today, there is no "maybe" in the meaning of this result.


We congratulate the "yes" camp on their solid victory. We urge magnanimity on the part of those surely disappointed in the "no" camp. From both we hope for the elusive consolidation of aspirations on both sides for greater and deep democratic reform and progress in Turkey.


As is known to readers of this column, there were elements in this package with which we strongly disagreed. But hope springs eternal. We hope that the changes to the judiciary, the heart of this package, will truely be implemented as reforms and lead to a judiciary seeking justice, not the settling of scores.


As is also known to readers of this column, the views of Brussels are seldom held in high esteem here. Scolds in Tervuren or Woluwe Saint Pierre often fail to understand this country. But we embrace here the pleas of the European Commission which has urged "the widest possible transparency, dialogue and spirit of compromise" in the days ahead. These sentiments from the EU are worthy and we endorse them.


We do take this occasion to remind readers that this referendum is far less than what it has been billed as by many. As noted by political scientist Maya Arakon in an interview we published days ago, the significance of this vote has been overstated by both sides. Those fearing a weakening of military authority as the harbinger of a Shariah-based state have forgotten that the rise of political Islam in Turkey was engineered by the military itself after the 1980 coup. Those who will celebrate Sunday's victory as the capping of statist power or the emasculation of a "Kemalist elite" risk disappointment. Turkey is as deeply complex today as it was yesterday, power is just as diffused today as it was yesterday and no zero-sum strategy can triumph in the long term. And this referendum has really been about nothing but the polarizing policies of zero-sum political strategies.


But we do see evidence that a "post-polar politics" is possible, even already here. For this we encourage attention to the news we also report today, the opening of the Hrant Dink Children's Park on the island of Kınalıada off the coast of Istanbul. It is an honor to our fallen colleague, a memorium to the circumstances of his death and a monument to the inclusionary values that represented his life. It should not be ignored today that leaders of both the ruling and main opposition parties joined hands to make this park a reality. Now they must join hands to give Turkey a real constitution.







Now that the referendum is over, it is time turn our focus back to the economy, and tomorrow's second quarter gross domestic product, or GDP, release offers plenty of opportunity for that. I am aware that offering my growth forecast a day before is not very valuable, but my bottom-up approach could at least provide some educational value.


Argentinean economist Guillermo Calvo once said that we don't know much about economics other than accounting identities. The accounting identity I will utilize is thenational income accounts, or NIA, one: GDP is equal to domestic plus foreign demand. Domestic demand is, in turn, made up of consumption, investment and government spending. I will go over each to come up with an aggregate figure.



Consumption seems to have been surprisingly strong. Leading indicators such as consumption goods imports volume, domestic consumption taxes and CNBC-e consumption index are all hinting that consumption growth might have accelerated on a year-on-year, or YoY, basis. While none of these is a perfect gauge of consumption in the NIA by itself, credit demand and consumer confidence look stronger in the second quarter than the first quarter as well.


As for investment, machinery and equipment production usually does a pretty good job in predicting the direction of investment, and it is showing growth at a comparable pace as the first quarter. Similar signs are coming from capital and intermediate goods imports, capacity utilization and real sector confidence. All in all, it seems that private domestic demand was the deciding factor of growth in the second quarter.


The weak links will probably be the government and external demand sides. As there was some fiscal adjustment going on in the second quarter, the contribution of government expenditure to growth could even be negative. The same could be said of foreign demand, as is the case in Turkish growth episodes. But since export volumes were able to keep up with import volumes, the negative print there is likely to be moderate.


When I add all these up, I come up with a YoY growth of 8.5 to 9 percent. The deciding factor will be inventories, which are difficult to predict, and a strong stock build-up, along with a robust consumption outturn, could easily take us just shy of double-digit territory. At first sight, it seems that Turkey is doing well, but that would be highly illusionary.


For one thing, the second quarter growth figures are still reflecting base effects. A case-in-point is last week's July industrial production, where the stronger-than-expected outturn resulted in premature jubilation in the media, although the monthly increase was a mere 0.3 percent after adjusting for seasonality and working days.


In fact, leading indicators such as purchasing managers as well as Central Bank's real sector confidence and composite leading indicator indices are pointing to a considerable slowdown in the pace of recovery in the second half. While no one has voiced it yet, it is even possible for the output gap to widen again.


The Central Bank has outlined how it would respond to such a scenario in its latest Inflation Report. According to the Bank, an outcome whereby global economic problems intensify and contribute to a contraction of domestic economic activity may trigger a new easing cycle.


However, I think we are still far away from that scenario, not that I am optimistic on the global or domestic outlook, but because, as I have argued before, I believe there is not as much slack in employment as commonly assumed.


But I have been scratching my head since July, trying to figure out how the Bank would respond if the economic recovery lost steam, and inflation got stuck around 6 percent.


*Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at









At the time these lines are being written, a very important basketball event is taking place in Turkey: the 2010 World Championship held by the International Basketball Federation, or FIBA. As a basketball fan, I will risk making a prediction: This year there will be two winners, Greece and Turkey.


Don't rush to correct me. I know on the court there can be only one winner, but off the court there can be more. This event could be the opportunity Greece and Turkey need to get closer to each other, not in terms of high-level politics but in terms of initiatives coming from below, from the grassroots.


One example of this is a banner created by a dedicated group of Greek basketball fans who call themselves Pelargoi, or storks, named after the mascot for the 1987 European Basketball Championship that Greece won in Athens. The banner, which is displayed alongside the basketball courts of Turkey, reads in Turkish, Greek and English: "We are neighbors not enemies."


Recently Turkey announced its intention to remove Greece from the top of its National Security Policy Document, or MGSB, indicating that it no longer considers Greece its top threat. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also announced that Greece and Turkey are now in dialogue to put an end to the "dogfights" (short-range aerial combats) that have been ongoing over the Aegean Sea, often at the cost of pilots' lives. Furthermore, the Orthodox Christian Sümela Monastery reopened for worship for the first time in 88 years this August after the government lifted a ban on holding religious services at the site. This is another sign of goodwill on behalf of Turkey.


Of course, these developments cannot be separated from the activities of the newly established Strategic Cooperation Council, which was formed this year to accelerate the bilateral cooperation between the two countries. The council is comprised of 10 Turkish and seven Greek Cabinet ministers and held its first meeting in Athens in May. There, the ministers signed 22 agreements and cooperation protocols on issues of environmental protection, including protection of biodiversity, exchange of good practices and know-how, education -- involving changes in enmity-breeding history textbooks -- and tourism, with the promotion of joint travel packages and cooperation on cultural tourism.


On the other side of the Aegean, Greece – perhaps surprisingly – has become one of the most devoted supporters of Turkey's EU bid. And it is has been working on a rapprochement between the two formerly hostile nations since the late Turkish Foreign Minister İsmail Cem and Greek Prime Minister Georgios A. Papandreou led the 1999 "earthquake diplomacy" talks after two disastrous earthquakes hit Greece and Turkey that year and both countries rushed to assist one another by sending emergency aid groups. These talks resulted in a series of confidence-building measures, easing tensions between the two countries.


However far-reaching though, any Greek-Turkish rapprochement efforts have been orchestrated "from above" by the political elites of the two countries – and not by the people themselves.


While the Greek political elites view the Turkish EU-bid as an opportunity for reconciliation of the historical issues and the bilateral disputes, the Greek public doesn't share this view. Greece was under Ottoman occupation for 400 years, and both countries have engaged in wars many times since, including the Balkan Wars, World War I and over Cyprus in 1974. Unfortunately, the average Greek is still hostile toward Turkish people and the same holds for the average Turk towards Greeks.


This hostility is also a by-product of a historical enmity which has been cultivated by state propaganda as it is expressed through the school history textbooks of both countries. Unless this mentality changes at the level of Greeks and Turks themselves, the Greek-Turkish rapprochement can be neither successful nor real.


That's why we need more initiatives coming "from below," along the lines of the Pelargoi Greek basketball fans, together with the political initiatives promoted by the Greek and Turkish governments. A change in the enmity-breeding school history textbooks is necessary, as well as a massive reduction in military spending on both sides, which happen to be some of the highest in NATO.


And all of us – analysts, researchers, activists and journalists – must promote any and all such constructive initiatives when they appear. After all, "we are neighbors not enemies" and we should remember that more often.


Leonidas Oikonomakis is a research associate at the University of Crete as well as at the Middle East Technical University. He currently works for the Program for the Sustainable Development in the Aegean. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service.








"Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures" (John. F. Kennedy).


Embracing the 24/7 news cycle, I try to capture positive and effective diplomatic talks. When I was introduced to Kosovo's minister counselor to Turkey, I learned that he was educated in journalism with a master's degree in international affairs. What's more, he served as a consultant for legislative and parliamentary affairs in 2003 and has taken managerial positions in many capacities since 2004.


Kosovo's minister counselor to Turkey, Güner Ureya, 37, had political experiences before his appointment. He served on the Democratic Turkish Party of Kosovo at Prizren in 2006. He has been an adviser on capacity building within the framework of the U.N.'s Development Program. He has been an adviser at Mamusa Municipality. He says that local administrations have to be taken into serious consideration. In the past, his works gave him visibility as a good leader, and consultant. He has integrated the full range of consulting capabilities. Ureya makes a difference in the young Republic of Kosovo with good communication skills, modern and rational thinking. His most valuable resource is people and the rule of law. As a young diplomat, he is particularly sensitive to building peace.


"I favor the development of regional cooperation, strengthening the channels of communication between different ethnic groups, regional integration, and the interaction in the Balkans. Kosovo has one of the most liberal constitutions in Europe and has had a very democratic approach to legal procedures. Kosovo's Turkish community has an objective approach to the problems in the region and always prefers dialogue and cooperation. European and American advisers and experts on human rights commissions have contributed a lot to our Constitution," said Ureya in an interview for Turkish Life News. "Kosovo has been the most pro-Western and pro-European country in Europe. People have to erode old barriers in their minds in the Balkan region. The EU needs Turkey and the Balkans as a new blood for dynamism in the region. There will be no platform for aggressive policies.


"People want security, food and shelter. As a matter of fact, the U.S. has maintained all these necessities. These are the reasons why immigrants have been integrated very well into that society. Unless people find security, they feel threatened. If they cannot find food, this means they have economic problems. They need shelter to live with their families. If all these cannot be provided, problems occur because of the existence of ethnic psychology. We live in this type of geography."


Ureya continued: "Citizens in their societies cannot feel peaceful if you make them feel like 'the other.' An objective approach is necessary. In Turkey, there are around 800 students from Kosovo. The number of students from Kosovo in Austria is around 1,500. In 2008, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been established in Kosovo. Until 2008, there have been diplomatic contacts, but, formally, these efforts were institutionalized in 2008."


Ureya worked at TRT Foreign Broadcasting Service in the Croatian, Serbian, and Albanian languages between the years 1994-2001. He is a great fan of table tennis, football and theater. He said he likes Balkan and Turkish ethnic music and Turkish pianist-composer Tuluyhan Uğurlu, who combines different musical compositions.


*Heyecan Veziroğlu is a member of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and the Society of Professional Journalists. She writes as a columnist for and She has also been an international contributing editor for Turkey since 2008 for Her articles have been published by the American Journalism Center and Accuracy In Media briefings in Washington. Working as a freelance journalist, she has also appeared on TRT, ABC News, Tory Johnson's Good Morning America program in the U.S., Turkish-American TV, as well as other TV channels.








With people like Newt Gingrich whipping the waters, a wave of American Islamophobia is raising the frightening prospect of Shariah law being imposed here.


Will it become legal in the U.S. for Muslim men to beat their wives? Will chopping off hands become the penalty for burglary?


Or, in a less violent mode, should we worry because U.S. financial institutions are structuring loans to get around the Islamic bar on interest? Gingrich says we should, as that's a first step.


"What you have is a steady infiltration of truly destructive ideas," he said in July, specifically referring to such loans. "A very serious threat," Gingrich called them when speaking to the American Enterprise Institute.


And fear of Shariah has picked up since then as part of a generalized and growing anti-Muslim sentiment.


That the devout want laws that reflect their passionately held views is nothing new. The American system has already allowed local ordinances and state laws to enforce religious doctrine.


Statutes that forbid gambling or allow discrimination against gays reflect biblical beliefs. And just try to buy a bottle of Scotch on a Sunday in any one of 14 states.


I don't mean to trivialize the harm radical Islamic law can inflict. It's one thing to wait until half past noon to order a Bloody Mary with Sunday brunch, as we must in Georgia. It's quite another to let a man get away with raping and brutalizing his wife, as a Moroccan in New Jersey thought he could. An appeals court didn't let him.


Religious policies


And that's precisely the point. American law already accommodates religion-driven policies, including those based in Shariah law. But there is a line that the Constitution won't allow to be crossed.


"U.S. courts are not going to apply Shariah law unless it's permitted by U.S. law," says Clark Lombardi, who teaches constitutional and Islamic law at the University of Washington.


That may sound circular, but this is the way it works. Any contract written according to religious law, whether based on Shariah or Talmudic or any other principles, is enforceable in American courts up to a point. Judges won't enforce it if one party was coerced into it, or if it violates public policy or basic notions of fairness, Lombardi says.


Hence, an agreement in an Islamic divorce that left nothing to the wife was tossed out of court.


Structuring loans