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Thursday, September 16, 2010

EDITORIAL 16.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 16, edition 000627, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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






















































  2. BE AN MNA!























It is immaterial as to whether the views expressed at Wednesday's all-party meeting in New Delhi, called by the Prime Minister to discuss ways and means of dealing with the spiralling separatist violence in the Kashmir Valley, were entirely uniform. Differences in perception are bound to be there in a democracy and, in a sense, the multiplicity of views helps in taking a considered decision after weighing all possibilities. What is important is that the meeting concluded with all parties appending their approval to a joint statement making it abundantly clear that while doors are open for disaffected individuals and organisations to sit across the table and discuss their grievances and demands, whatever they may be, within the ambit of the Constitution, no concession shall be granted to appease those who believe they can use violence to force their views on the Government. Democracy cannot be held hostage by stone-pelters and their mentors in Srinagar and Islamabad. Second, the decision to send an all-party delegation to the Kashmir Valley for wide-ranging interaction with various sections of society and use the feedback to formulate the next step by the Government is both correct and judicious. This should have been done long ago, instead of wasting time on trying to come up with 'out-of-the-box' ideas and pandering to either Islamabad or Washington, DC, if not both, as this Government has been doing ever since it came to power in 2004. The Prime Minister's efforts to strike a deal, any deal, with Pakistan at the US's behest to 'settle' the 'Kashmir issue' without taking the nation into confidence have come a cropper and he should admit that this too-clever-by-half approach has contributed to the worrisome situation that prevails. Starting now, he must desist from traversing the path to unmitigated disaster which has been skilfully charted by the Americans in consultation with the Pakistanis. 

Having said that, it merits reiteration that the commendable all-party initiative, which includes the till-now recalcitrant PDP of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, will succeed where the UPA regime's unilateral — and, some would say, partisan — efforts to tame the belligerent separatists failed if every participant demonstrates equal and matching sincerity. There is no percentage in trying to score political points at this stage when the most important task for the political class is to retrieve the Kashmir Valley from the brink of disaster and restore a semblance of law and order in its towns before the more substantial measures to ensure good governance can be implemented. That would be a long-drawn process and it would be futile to expect an immediate turnaround. But there is no reason to either feel frustrated or give up without exploring every possibility to make the angry young men fighting pitched battles with security forces see reason. Democracy has the capacity to absorb a lot more than what has been witnessed; that capacity is further enhanced when all stake-holders are on the same page. This is not the time for mutual recrimination; it is definitely not an occasion for self-doubt and self-flagellation. Every challenge also offers an opportunity. The challenge posed by the separatists offers an opportunity to India's collective leadership to prove itself. 







The paradox of the rising cost of buying food and the falling index of inflation, as per the new system of calculation adopted by the Government, is as mysterious as the Cheshire cat that disappeared leaving behind only its smile. Having exhausted all other avenues for explaining away the grim reality of the diminishing quantity of food that can be purchased for Rs 100 with every passing day, the UPA Government, led by the Congress whose heart beats for the aam admi, has now embarked on a new smoke-and-mirrors trick of changing the ways in which poverty and, therefore, affluence can be estimated. A change in the way inflation or rising prices is calculated was long overdue as the earlier basket of goods had ceased to be of any relevance in this day and age. But what was not expected is a sleight of hand by the Government so that the Congress can announce with a theatrical flourish, "Abracadabra! Lo and behold, inflation has vanished!" That, of course, will not change the reality for the masses: Food prices shall continue to soar because this Government does not care, never mind the Prime Minister's periodic assurance that he is working hard at reining in prices, which he clearly isn't. While there have been no food riots, patience is running out as the success of the nation-wide protest organised by the Central trade unions over price increases has demonstrated. Tolerance too is giving way to the demand for accountability on the management of food stocks and the availability of food at prices that the poorest can afford. 

To suggest that prices have dropped by 1.27 per cent and inflation has been contained at 8.51 per cent is to imply that significant improvements have occurred in the functioning of the economy. That is not true. Nor is the Reserve Bank of India expected to change its policy of maintaining a tight control over liquidity and interest rates, because nobody is under any illusions about how difficult it all really is. The need to artfully reduce inflation figures and indulge in self-deception may have been politically necessary, but it cannot deceive those who actually pay for their food, unlike many of our politicians, most of them who occupy office in this Government. Reality as experienced everyday by the people reveals that prices remain stubbornly firm contrary to the new index as well as the pronouncements of the Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet. Like Alice's cat and his smile, food security remains elusive; only the promise exists. To recognise that at least a third of the country's population goes to bed hungry is to acknowledge that the benefits of growth have not trickled down to that strata where a positive change would truly empower India and help fulfil its great power dream. All this and more, however, is wasted on a callous, indifferent regime that believes in manufactured statistics. 







India must respond in a calculated manner to Chinese 'assertiveness'. We could commence Minister-level economic exchanges with Taiwan 

Former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra has long been known to have a deep commitment to a friendly and normalised relationship with China. This is not surprising, with his having been the recipient of the famous 'Mao Smile' and Mao's "let us be friends again" comment on May 1, 1970. The normally reticent Mr Mishra, however, made some scathing comments to a gathering of distinguished American academics in New Delhi on July 20. Outlining India's major National Security Challenges, the veteran diplomat said, "What has created more problems for us today is the unmitigated hostility of Pakistan and China towards India."

He was strongly critical of the flip-flops on policy towards Pakistan, which he asserted only encouraged Islamabad to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy. More significantly, he added, "Now we are facing a situation in which terrorism is going to increase because for the first time China has come out openly for Pakistan's position on Jammu & Kashmir, the issuance of visas on separate pieces of paper, the projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and, of course, the military and nuclear assistance which is being given."

When Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited India in 2005, he agreed to a boundary settlement along "easily identifiable, natural geographical features", adding that in reaching an agreement, "the two sides shall safeguard the interests of their settled populations in border areas". Our over-enthusiastic Sinologists promptly read this as a Chinese commitment to soften their claims on populated areas like Tawang. They were soon in for a reality check when China upped its border claims, asserting that the whole of Arunachal Pradesh is a part of what it described as "south Tibet". This was accompanied by increasing border intrusions. Pakistan remains a convenient stalking horse for a China bent on 'containment' of Indian influence.

Along with these developments came the introduction of 'stapled visas' for Indian nationals from Jammu & Kashmir. While China's reference to Gilgit-Baltistan as "northern Pakistan" may have been inadvertent, the refusal of a visa to India's Northern Army Commander is clearly unacceptable. All this is certainly very different from the advice tendered by former Chinese President Jiang Zemin to his Pakistani hosts in 1996 that they should settle the 'Kashmir issue' through patient bilateral negotiations with India. 

Few in New Delhi have bothered to seriously note that China has backed Pakistan's efforts to block US-sponsored moves since 2007 in the UN Security Council to declare Hafiz Mohammed Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h as an international terrorist organisation. China also appears to have struck a deal with pro-Taliban warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to ensure its citizens working on its investments in copper mining in north-eastern Afghanistan are not attacked.

Following the 26/11 terrorist outrage, Chinese 'scholars' proclaimed that the Mumbai attack reflected "the failure of Indian Intelligence". They claimed that India was blaming Pakistan to "enhance its control over the disputed Kashmir" and warned that "China can support Pakistan in the event of a war". They asserted that in such circumstances, China may have the option of resorting to a "strategic military action in southern Tibet (Arunachal Pradesh) to thoroughly liberate the people there".

China has since agreed to co-produce 240 JF-17 fighters and supply 30 J-10 fighters, apart from four Frigates, tanks and AWACS to Pakistan. China is also upgrading Pakistan's nuclear weapons and missile capabilities. India has to carefully analyse if Pakistan is being assisted to shift its nuclear weapons from the increasingly unstable Balochistan Province to tunnels in the remote parts of Gilgit-Baltistan.

As its maritime power grows, China is becoming increasingly 'assertive' on its maritime boundaries, claiming that like Taiwan and Tibet, the entire South China Sea is an area of "core interest". The Yellow Sea and the East China Sea are claimed to be parts of China's "sphere of influence". The simmering differences over maritime boundaries between China and its ASEAN neighbours, (particularly Vietnam) came to the fore at the recent Hanoi meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum.

Chinese 'assertiveness', including statements by senior Chinese military officials suggesting that the US should accept the Eastern Pacific and Indian Oceans as China's "sphere of influence", has raised eyebrows in Washington, DC. Is China prematurely manifesting hubris in the belief that American power is declining and can be challenged? After displaying incredible naiveté in its initial months in office, the Obama Administration now acknowledges China's economic policies are "mercantilist" and its export-led growth responsible for exacerbating global economic imbalances. Will China's rise be peaceful and non-threatening? This is the question being asked not just in New Delhi but across the world.

Current Chinese 'assertiveness' may well be the result of the People's Liberation Army becoming increasingly aggressive at a time when the country is preparing for a change of leadership in 2012. Moreover, it would not be surprising if China has concluded that the political leadership in India has been unable to build a national consensus and confront serious challenges ranging from Maoist violence to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

The Chinese could well be mistaking robust democratic debate for weakness. India does have advantages to exploit. Apart from Pakistan, there is virtually no other country that accuses us of territorial ambitions or of greed in seeking access to their natural resources. Most important, major centres of power — the US, Russia, Japan and the EU — seek to engage China but deeply distrust Chinese long-term ambitions. This gives us access to defence, space and industrial technology not available to China.

While it would be counter-productive for India to respond in kind to aggressive Chinese rhetoric, diplomatic inaction is not an answer. India's 'Look East' policies are paying dividends in our engagement with ASEAN member-states. Our growing defence and strategic ties with Japan, South Korea and Vietnam have not escaped notice in China.

But would it not be worthwhile to equip Vietnam with Cruise and ballistic missiles, together with the supply of safe-guarded nuclear power and research reactors and reprocessing facilities? Can we not, like the ASEAN countries, commence Minister-level economic exchanges with Taiwan? Should we not suggest that since China and the Dalai Lama signed a 17-Point Agreement in 1951 and that we hope both sides agree to abide by and implement that agreement in letter and spirit? Measured and calculated responses are the best answers to Chinese 'assertiveness'.









There is a crazy seriousness about the latest joke called 'saffron terror'. If one deals with it seriously and describes it to be what Gordon Allport in the book Nature of Prejudice called "antilocution", that is verbal remarks against a community which do not address it directly, yet create an environment of hostility and prejudice against it, being nothing but hate speech, the objection is met with the defence that the comment should not be taken seriously. And if one treats it as a joke and dismisses it as trash of a vacant mind deserving summary rejection, it is seen, in fact, as an admission of complicity in "seditious activity" against the country.

The expression symbolises a Hindu's condition in India. He dare not assert himself because his being a member of the "majority community" is said to render the need for his assertion irrelevant. And should the Hindu choose to keep quiet, he, while being complimented for being virtuous and honourable, is placed in a situation where his docility is treated as acquiescence in all the wrong an adverse political condition heaps on him. Thus the only manner in which a Hindu can be tolerated is his being inert or inactive or, at best, as a passive agent imbibing and internalising change without reacting to it. In either event a Hindu is deprived of the very conditions in which he or Hinduism can survive.

'Saffron terror' thus does not express an attitude towards terror but a phobia against saffron and a predisposition to demonise anything which is sacred to Hinduism while simultaneously using the tolerance of a Hindu as the environment to bully and abuse him. There is an unfair suspension of the principle that all are equal in their freedom in the application to Hindus. Take an example of cancellation of land to Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board to set up temporary shelters and facilities for Hindu pilgrims.

We can ignore what the more rabid Shabir Shah, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the Mirwaiz Umer Farooq did and deal, instead, with Mr Omar Abdullah's reaction: Kashmiri people, he said, "are not against the Amarnath Yatra. They are only protesting against the land transfer which is pure nationalism. India calls itself the largest functioning democracy. But if we are really a functioning democracy can't we let people express their dissent?"

It was naïve to suggest that the land transfer had "nothing" to do with the Amarnath Yatra. The freedom of a "functioning democracy" moreover was used to deny Hindu pilgrims accommodation during a pilgrimage, the denial not only given the dignity of "dissent" but hallowed as "nationalism" and that too after the very "functioning democracy" to which Mr Abdullah alluded allowed ethnic cleansing of the whole Valley condemning the Hindus amongst the Indians to live in ghetto-like conditions as refugees in their own country. Is it not obvious that Hindus are held to standards which others can with impunity violate? 

This reality is reinforced by the fact that religious terrorism does not in itself define a specific religious point of view but defines instead the individual or group view or interpretation of that belief system's teachings. Those who have coined the phrase 'saffron terror' must explain which Hindu individual or groups of individuals have interpreted Hinduism as their spur to terrorist activities and suggested that their interpretation of Hindu texts has convinced them that it is Lord Vishnu or Lord Shiva's will to defend the faithful against the lies and evil deeds of their enemies and thus launch themselves into terrorist activity? 

Moreover, it is as well known that those involved in terrorist activities are not necessarily "commander cadre organisations" like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba or Jaish-e-Mohammed and there are instances of what Peter Rose called "leaderless resistance" and "lone wolf avengers" who also indulge in such acts. In so far as the former is concerned there is a list of designated terrorist organisations maintained by India and also another maintained by national Governments and inter-governmental organisations and no 'saffron terror' group finds a mention in it.

What then is the justification behind coining this expression when there exists nothing to which it can be applied? Not merely this, Mr MK Narayanan, in fact, had mentioned 800 terrorist cells operating in the country; how many of them are 'saffron'? As many as 232 of the 608 districts in India are affected by terrorism and insurgency; how many of these districts are motivated into terrorism by 'saffron'? Was 'saffron' involved in Punjab? Is 'saffron' left in Kashmir? Does the North-East have 'saffron'? Is the turmoil in central India due to 'saffron'? Were the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam 'saffron'? It is apparent there is no 'saffron terror'.

The refusal, yet, to accept there is no 'saffron terror' is a classic example of slothful induction. This is a fallacy in which an inductive argument is denied its logical conclusion despite strong evidence for the inference. The utter untenability of there existing 'saffron terror' on a dispassionate analysis of the existing reality stares one in the face and is yet disregarded. Such an obstinate refusal to acknowledge that which cannot be denied cannot but involve complete distorting rational analysis and discourse. The expression represents the monomania of a fanatic dogged in his abuse of Hinduism intolerant of facts while being flushed with hatred for a Hindu.

I might, however, be accused of selection bias if I do not refer to the Ajmer Sharief blast, Mecca Masjid bombing and the Malegaon blasts which have been linked to Hindus. A mere three incidents in a country besieged by terrorists and terrorism and that too by "lone wolf rangers" not any established "commander cadre organisations" are the justification for this odium on Hindus? Significantly, moreover, of the said three incidents the Mecca Masjid bombing which the UPA claimed was the work of Abhinav Bharat has been linked to the Islamic outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. And a Purohit or a Pragya involved in the said blasts are admittedly "lone wolf rangers".

Only the desperation of a hasty generalisation, more appropriately described as a cognitive distortion, can justify ascribing the activities of such individuals to the community as a whole as 'saffron terror'. The distortion lies in exaggerated and irrational thoughts involving the use of isolated cases to make wild generalisations and irrelevant association, the conclusion about existence of 'saffron terror' being based on non-existent evidence.

Opprobrium is heaped on Hindus. And the intent is to launch a systematic campaign to vilify and discredit the Hindu leadership. Thus Mr LK Advani could not become a Prime Minister while Rajiv Gandhi is fondly remembered as one, the massacre of Sikhs notwithstanding. Mr Narendra Modi was denied visa by the US though Mr Omar Abdullah celebrated 'nationalism' in denying Amarnath pilgrims temporary shelters during a pilgrimage. And Mr Indresh Kumar is pilloried as a "Hindutva inspired fanatic" despite working amongst and with Muslims and forming a "Muslim Rashtriya Manch", adopting an inclusive approach celebrating India's pluralism.

Hinduism is not a religion of a book. It has no established organisation and the only cohesion its followers enjoy is acknowledging the existence of diverse views on spiritual fulfilment and salvation. They will remain apart and asunder unless they have a strong Hindu leadership. And the liberal use of invective, vilification and vituperation of that leadership is to discredit any person with the capacity to lead them. The use of 'saffron terror' is yet another tactic in the said strategy.


'Saffron terror' is a pernicious falsehood based on anecdotal evidence. It arises out of a bias against Hindus and Hinduism and involves information processing short-cuts and motivational factors like pandering to other communities ignoring the same rights and sensibilities of Hindus. 'Saffron terror' has meaning only for those who have coined it and such individuals are intent only on convincing themselves they are right because they refuse to admit or acknowledge that they are in fact wrong.

 Writer is a senior advocate, Supreme Court of India. 







National security demands a strategic perspective and unflinching action. Any move facilitating grant of autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir would cost India its natural border and its Army its military advantage

It is outrageous that missing from most deliberations on the current violence in Kashmir is a national strategic perspective. The State of Jammu & Kashmir is a part of India and, given its common borders with Pakistan and China, of critical strategic importance to the country. Pakistan's attempt to push Islamist terrorists across the Line of Control and international border in Jammu & Kashmir is well known, as is the fact that the Balkanization of India through cross-border terrorism and the stoking of insurgency is a central component of its Army's strategic doctrine. 


Then there is China. Defence Minister AK Antony said at the Combined Commander's Conference, attended by top brass of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy, in Delhi on Monday, that India could not ignore Beijing's fast-improving civil and military infrastructure along the border. Noting that "there has been an increased assertiveness on the part of China", he added that India needed to keep abreast of military modernisation drives in the neighbourhood to maintain a military edge.

As important as military hardware and infrastructure like roads, is a border that is easy to defend. Traditionally, the Himalaya has provided that in the north. Even in 1962, the Chinese, who had inflicted a humiliating defeat on us, declared a unilateral ceasefire and returned from Bomdila and elsewhere from what was then North-East Frontier Agency because their supply lines were becoming too stretched, and their forces were in danger of becoming vulnerable to an Indian counter-offensive facilitated by a short supply line. 

Throughout history, most invaders came to India from the north-west crossing, or originating in, Afghanistan, and descended into the plains of Punjab. Since Independence, invaders and cross-border terrorists have also been coming across the LoC and the international border with Pakistan in Jammu & Kashmir. We had captured the Haji Pir Pass from Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 wars, but returned it at following the Tashkent and Shimla agreements in 1966 and 1972 respectively. Today, the Haji Pir Pass and the area around it constitute one of the principal routes of infiltration by terrorists from Pakistan. 

One has to remember this, as well as possible future developments in Central and South Asia when considering a policy for Jammu & Kashmir. An important year will be 2014 when, as Afghanistan's President, Mr Hamid Karzai, has said, Afghans would take over the defence of their country. That year is also expected to see the completion of the withdrawal of American forces, which is to begin in July next year, from Afghanistan. As things are, there is no guarantee that the withdrawal will follow the destruction of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda. Rather, it may well follow a face-saving settlement paving the way for both organisations taking over Afghanistan in a couple of years.

The consequences? The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, completed on February 15, 1989, was followed by a massive influx of Islamist terrorists, veterans of the Afghan jihad, into Jammu & Kashmir from Pakistan and a sharp increase in insurgent and terrorist violence. Judging by present trends, it will be worse in 2014. Supporting the infiltrators/invaders will be the Pakistani Army whose strength will be considerably enhanced by the massive economic and military aid it is receiving from the US and which it is using to build up its military muscles vis-à-vis India. There will also be nuclear blackmail. 

India is also scheduled to have a parliamentary election that year. There will be trouble if it brings to power in Delhi a knock-kneed coalition forced to constantly compromise on national security. The trouble will be compounded if the parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, to be held early in 2014, bring Begum Khaleda Zia and the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, both pathologically anti-Indian, to power, and if Nepal is in turmoil. It will be disastrous if our effective border with Pakistan then does not run along the mountains of Jammu & Kashmir but the plains of Punjab following the grant of autonomy to the State or a settlement reducing the Centre's military presence there. Any sign of weakness-such as dilution of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act — will push events in that direction by encouraging further violence which will be seen as capable of wresting further concessions. 







IT IS difficult to describe in words the behaviour of Union Sports Minister M S Gill while facilitating champion wrestler Sushil Kumar on Tuesday. You could say that by insulting Sushil Kumar's illustrious coach Satpal Singh whom he literally shoved out of the frame so that he could get an exclusive photo- op with the wrestler, Mr Gill was only revealing bad manners and the arrogance of power. But perhaps it is not as simple as that.


Mr Gill has also betrayed his scorn for sporting personalities who are not in the limelight. For Satpal, besides grooming Sushil Kumar into a world class wrestler and being a recipient of the prestigious Dronacharya award, has been one of the greatest wrestlers we have produced. Either Mr Gill does not know this — which is quite possible considering that he once failed to recognise Pullela Gopi Chand — or he does not care for it. In either case he does little credit to the post he holds.


You can legitimately ask as to what the value of a Sports Minister is whose awareness of the field is poor, and who does not know that bucking up the morale of athletes and their trainers is essential for any achievement.


At another level, the incident reveals the shoddy manner in which high- ranking bureaucrats and politicians hog the limelight and seek to appropriate credit in any moment of triumph or achievement, denying in the process those whose hard work is to actually account for it.


Perhaps Mr Gill's antecedents as a career bureaucrat — on whom arrogance always sits easy — may explain his conduct. Politicians in India may have many shortcomings, but at least they know that having their nose up in the air can be a recipe for disaster.







WHEN A house is on fire, you expect people to rush to douse it, not stand by and discuss as to how the fire must be extinguished.


Unfortunately, it is the latter that is happening with regard to the serious situation in the Kashmir valley.


Instead of action, what we are being treated to is a repetition of clichés such as the importance of dialogue to settle outstanding problems, or the need to address " the aspirations of the youth" or the " need to examine the reasons behind the anger". The task of doing all this belongs properly and legally to the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar. Yet, they seem to be paralysed with indecision. It is not the job of the Opposition.


It is unlikely that the all- party delegation to the Valley will learn anything more than is already known about the situation in the state. As for the dialogue, it is up to the government to initiate the process, instead of talking endlessly about doing so.


The one achievement of the meeting is that it brought the People's Democratic Party on board. But its party leader Mehbooba Mufti's demands for the dilution of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act ( AFSPA) and the release of the arrested leaders were targeted more at the home constituency, rather than New Delhi.







CONGRESS general secretary Rahul Gandhi says that he is not interested in becoming Prime Minister, and that there are several other ways of serving the country. At one level, he cannot be faulted for making that statement. After all, millions serve this country without ever wondering if they could have done more as the head of the country's government.


Mr Gandhi may get 100 marks for humility, but zero for showing how Indian politicians want the trappings of power without the accountability that is inherent to any public office. It is no secret that, along with his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, he is easily one of India's most influential politicians. It is also no secret that he wishes to steer Congress to victory in the 2014 elections without the help of allies.


But there is little point in being involved in party politics, winning elections and then shying away from the responsibility that comes with holding office. Mr Gandhi needs to understand that it is the disconnect between the party and the government that is the cause of UPA II's distemper.








WARS are won and insurrections defeated by leaders, not committees, especially of the allparty kind. The Manmohan Singh government seems to be bent on defying this logic.


Instead of providing coherent and decisive action to quench the fires that are raging in the Valley of Kashmir, the UPA Cabinet decided to call an all-party meeting. Predictably, all the meeting has done is to produce a lot of hot air, and little else.


There should be no need really to repeat the civic lesson that in a parliamentary democracy we elect our representatives, whose majority group constitutes a government, whose job is to run the affairs of the state. The government gets enormous powers and privileges of office, has huge staffs and ministries and can levy taxes to raise the moneys to do their job. There is little point if, when things get tough, their first instinct is to summon an allparty meeting. There is already an institutionalised provision for seeking the views of the parties, and it is called a parliament. An all party meeting is a way of delaying action and shirking responsibility, rather than facilitating it.




The all party meeting has now decided to send an all- party delegation to the Valley. The mind goes back to February 1990 when another prime minister, who ruled by symbols rather than substance, sent an allparty team to Srinagar. Led by Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal and comprising among others, the leader of the opposition Rajiv Gandhi, the delegation's visit was a tragicomic farce that created more problems, rather than solving them.


Jammu & Kashmir is on fire.


The need of the hour is decisive and bold leadership to douse it, not a committee to decide how to do so. Simultaneously, there is need for political action to ensure that the inflammable conditions that set the state on fire are removed.


There are two requirements here. First, the need to end the violence that involves two parties— the stone throwing mobs bent on provoking reaction from the police, and the police, illtrained and poorly led and equipped, and probably short in numbers. The Prime Minister has spoken of the need for peace as a pre- condition for dialogue.


He is right. But as the Chief Executive, it is his job to create the conditions, rather than shed them off to the ineffectual Chief Minister of the State.


We need a prime minister or a home minister who will first read out the riot act to the police force and demand disciplined and decisive action to quell the stone- throwing mobs.


Then he will do some blunt speaking to those who are organising and participating in the stone throwing attacks.


They are not indulging in peaceful protest. Stones are not lethal, but they are not flowers either. They can, and they do, cause grievous injury. To throw them at the police day in day out is to invite retaliation. The government needs to be upfront in warning those involved that they alone are responsible for the consequences should they persist, especially since the political aim of those who have organised the stone throwers is not democratic protest but to secede from India.


Second, we need a government that is bold enough to confront the key issue in a political settlement— that of autonomy. Fifteen years after Prime Minister Narasimha Rao promised that " the sky is the limit" for autonomy in Kashmir, no government in New Delhi has had the courage to define even the broad parameters of what this could constitute. It is not as though benchmarks do not exist.


The original instrument of accession which gave defence, foreign affairs and communications to the Union government is one. The other is the Delhi Agreement signed between Sheikh Abdullah and Prime Minister Nehru in July 1952 which enshrined the unique relationship between J& K and the Indian Union and the exceptional powers its legislature had as compared to the other states of the Union. The third is the report of the state autonomy committee of 2000. The fourth is the report of Justice Saghir Ahmed's working group on autonomy and the fifth is the self- rule document prepared by the People's Democratic Party in 2008.




Instead of a general all- party meeting— the equivalent of handing the Opposition a blank slate and asking them to write what they want— the Prime Minister could well have come up with a specific agenda of discussing the issue of the state's unique status and the need to address the sentiment of the people for autonomy. What prevented Prime Minister Singh from actually taking up this issue at the all party meeting and seeking to build consensus? The obvious is the fear that the BJP would play the spoiler. But it would do so under every circumstance.


There is little or no chance that the BJP would come around to any additional autonomy for the state. Indeed, the removal of Article 370 has for long been one of the core issues for the party. Mr Advani's sorry handling of the initial autonomy proposal in 2000 is a case in point. Without even a discussion in the cabinet and without ascribing any reason, the NC's autonomy proposal was summarily rejected.


The Congress seems to argue that they will tackle these issues when they have a majority of their own in Parliament. But we know from experience— whether in the battlefield or politics— it is not the numbers that matter, but the manner in which a good general marshals his forces, maneuvers and then destroys the adversary. What really counts is leadership. So the issue is neither the " trust deficit" or the " governance deficit" that the Cabinet spoke of, but a leadership deficit and a moral deficit.


To understand this, you need to look at the actions of Abraham Lincoln who insisted that there could be no secession from the American Union even though six of the southern states had voted to secede in the referendums held along with the presidential election of 1860.


Had Lincoln chosen to let the South go, we may have had slavery in the United States till the beginning of the 20th century.


But he did not and insisted on a war, the bloodiest the Americans have fought in their history.


The problem in Kashmir is not just about self- determination.


That question is now entangled with that of religious fundamentalism.


Two decades of fundamentalist propaganda and organisation now overlay the sub- national movement.


Independent Kashmir will last for about 48 hours before it is overwhelmed, not necessarily by Pakistan, but domestic Islamists with the firepower of the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba.




This is what happened in Iran.


The 1979 overthrow of the Shah was brought about by a coalition of forces which ranged from the extreme Left to the mullahs owing allegiance to Ayatollah Khomeini. But within months of its victory, the Khomeinists allied themselves to the centrists and wiped out the Left, and then the centrists themselves were eliminated. Now, even the convoluted democracy that the Vilayat- e- faqih system created is being dismantled, to be replaced by an autocracy which rules in the name of religion.


What the country expects from the UPA government is not a discussion on what we should do about Kashmir, but actual action to resolve the Kashmir crisis. As an elected government, they have the legal power and moral duty to act, not the Opposition. It is one thing to consult all political parties, quite another to cite their opposition as a basis for doing nothing. If the government does not want to act, then in a democratic system, at least, the best option for it is to go, and allow someone else to take up the task.








NEARLY two decades ago at a seminar in Delhi, a top telecom official made a remark that left many in the audience puzzled. Giving an example of how digital technology could change the lives of people in the future, he said "one day you will be able to store family photo albums in a public computer and see them whenever you like, because albums today are too unwieldy to handle".


This was the time when the internet was far from being a household name, digital photography did not exist and photo management software like Picasa and Flickr had not even been imagined.


The official was Dr Satyen Gangaram (Sam) Pitroda and every word of what he foresaw has come true. The only family photo albums we know of today reside not in our homes but on some distant servers across the seas. In 2010, Sam is predicting something very outlandish — the end of the money in the form of currency notes and coins and the emergence of what he calls ' mobile money'. Just like the photo albums that had become too unwieldy, our leather wallet has also become too bulgy. Besides Rupee notes and coins, it contains a bunch of credit and debit cards, discount cards from superstores, loyalty coupons, metro card, toll payment card, driving license, club membership card, receipts of purchases and of course, photographs of spouse and kids.


Sam wants to replace your leather wallet with a digital or mobile wallet — just as he replaced the paper phone book with an electronic diary that he invented in 1975.


In its most simple form, a digital wallet will digitise all key components of a leather wallet: an empty jacket, a plethora of plastic and paper cards, coupons, bills, receipts, cash etc.


The idea is to let you use it the same way as you use your leather wallet.


The only difference will be that instead of handing over a piece of plastic at a retail outlet, you will be just waving your digital wallet to make a payment and a receipt will be beamed back so that you could store it in the wallet.


What Sam has built is a platform on which a variety of transactions can be made with ease and with full security. Some transactions will take place over- the- air ( the internet) while many others will use NFC or near field communication.


This goes much beyond mobile banking and micro- payments over cell phones that we see today.


Yet the digital wallet does not mean the end of banks and credit card companies or their existing backend settlement mechanisms, nor does it pose a threat to telecom companies.


And this is the biggest challenge Sam is facing — to sell the idea to make banks, merchants, telecom companies and regulators understand.


He says that the digital wallet will herald the era of mobile money. It is a revolutionary idea indeed and Sam is closely guarding it, having obtained 30 patents and filed 2000 IP ( intellectual property) claims on it.



TALL claims made in advertisements of ' health' drinks can go horribly wrong. This was proven recently when a young child committed suicide, apparently because he did not add inches despite consuming a widely advertised health drink.


Such claims made in Complan ads have been under the scanner for some time.


The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India had investigated claims made by Hindustan Lever's ' Amaze brain food'. The claim that it gives 33 percent of the key brain nutrients needed by children daily was found to be misleading.


In fact, experts felt that the claims adversely impact healthy eating habits of children.


It is high time, suo moto action is taken against Complan as well.


The census will take its toll on nature


IT is well known that the census and the preparation of the National Population Register ( NPR) is the largest such exercise in human history.


But what many do not know is that the census would leave a large carbon footprint.


An estimated 11.63 million tonnes of paper would be consumed in this operation amounting to release of 15.35 million tonnes of carbon and other greenhouse gases, according to an analysis by Gopalasamy Reuben Clements of James Cook University, Australia.


This is much more than the quantity of paper India produces at its maximum manufacturing capacity — about 8 million tonnes annually. That means, considerable amount of paper would have to be imported for the census.


India recently acquired two of Malaysia's largest paper and pulp companies, which means an extension of India's carbon footprint.


So, what's the alternative? In some districts, the census and NPR exercises can be merged while in others demographic information can be captured electronically.


In areas with higher literacy, census questions could be answered online, Clements and others wrote in scientific journal Current Science.



TOBACCO giants appear shaken by increasing size of health warnings on cigarette packs.


Though the health ministry in India is going soft on this issue, other countries are taking stringent measures. Uruguay has decided to increase coverage of health warnings to 80 percent and to mandate plain packaging. It means all trademarks, logos and colours would be removed and all brands in the market will carry only the brand name presented in a uniform typeface. The idea is to render cigarette packs unattractive and make health warnings more prominent.


Australia, Canada and the UK are also considering plain packaging. But Philip Morris — the makers of the Marlboro brand — have challenged Uruguay, taking recourse to a bilateral investment treaty Uruguay had signed with Switzerland, arguing that the decision on plain packaging would hamper its competitiveness in the Uruguayan market.


On the other hand, WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control ( FCTC), to which Uruguay is a signatory, provides specific requirements to implement warning labels of at least 30 percent coverage and on all sides of the pack. The case has important implications for global health governance.


" The first pertains to the debate on how health governance should be treated in view of trade and investment treaties. The second pertains to governmental control over health protection and promotion, and the third is related to precedence for future tobacco- control litigation and the power of FCTC to legitimise governmental tobacco- control legislation," The Lancet journal has observed in a comment.


An example of plain packaging







Given how widespread speculation about Rahul Gandhi's political ambitions has been for almost a decade now, it is not surprising that he has become adroit at sidestepping the issue. But even so, his recent comment while interacting with a group of students is noteworthy. When asked how he would reform the education system if he became prime minister, he replied that becoming prime minister was not his only priority and that one did not need to hold office to bring about change. Even if it sounds a trifle disingenuous in his case Rahul is one of the few people in the country in the happy position of being able to exercise power that doesn't flow primarily from his office there's a larger truth in his statement worth pondering on. Worship of the exercise of political power has made us too neta-dependent, which is something we ought to move away from. 

Rahul's own efforts so far have focussed on grassroots renewal of the party mechanism, first in Uttar Pradesh with visible results in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and now, increasingly in West Bengal. Coupled with his attempts to recruit and groom fresh blood through the Youth Congress, this addresses one of the Congress's main weaknesses. For too long, a major criticism of the Congress has been that it is focussed exclusively on political power at the top, without making the effort to build an organisation that connects to ordinary people. 

And this leads directly to the second point that Rahul made. In a democratic framework as splintered into distinct political arenas as India's, socio-political efforts at the local level are essential for inclusive development. The danger of the Centre ruling with too heavy a hand has been seen time and again, from Kashmir to the north-east to inefficient economic policies. A certain level of push-and-pull is essential in healthy Centre-state relations, but the priority here has too often been political opportunism rather than effective policy creation. 

The prime minister and his cabinet cannot provide the panacea for all ills. There must be an evolution at both ends of the spectrum for the Centre to devolve authority down the chain to state and district levels; and at the local level to utilise political space effectively, moving from caste and the politics of entitlement to an effective governance paradigm that involves civil society. Political office might not be necessary to bring about change, but only when the overall framework allows for it. 







Inflation slid to 8.51 per cent in August from July's uncomfortably high 9.78 per cent. But the finance minister is justified to feel the heat's not yet off on price rise. It's just as well that India has launched a new series of wholesale price index (WPI), which measures prices of a basket of wholesale commodities. A makeover long overdue, the new index has an updated base year of 2004-05 and covers a greater number of items. By all indications, as a more refined socio-economic reflector, it'll offer a clearer view of living costs. Any inflation-tracking device must account for a better-off India's changing production and consumption trends. Accordingly, manufactured goods and fuel get more weightage while primary articles, including food, see some downgrading. Things ranging from soft drinks and ice cream to TVs, computers, dish antennae and microwave ovens enter the basket while outmoded products like typewriters exit. 

An expanding middle class incorporating traditional investors in gold and consumers aspiring to branded goods constitute the core of India's demand-driven economy. It's sensible for WPI to track how it spends or saves. But even poor households, the worst victims of price escalations in essential commodities, are no longer mere buyers of food. Researching poverty data, the Suresh Tendulkar committee had recognised this by factoring in access to social goods rather than just calorie intake. The refurbished WPI seems similarly oriented. True, the consumer price index, not WPI, reflects retail margins and is a better pointer to price fluctuations impacting people. Nor are services covered, despite ever-increasing demand for health, education or financial services. Nonetheless, with a more comprehensive WPI, inflation can be better monitored. Also, a service price index measuring variations in cost of services is reportedly planned. It must get off the ground quickly.








What happens when age-old crusading mentalities bump up against the saturation television and internet coverage characteristic of 21st century global media? Few could have guessed what followed when the plans of a lone pastor in Florida with a church of not more than 50 followers to burn copies of the Quran were broadcast worldwide. The threatened act of religious bigotry drew reactions from across the globe including from General David Petraeus, who commands US troops in Afghanistan, and who warned that the act, if carried out, endangered the lives of his men. 

The Florida pastor's actions had repercussions not only in Afghanistan, but also in Kashmir. Here too, television footage had a role to play. Although the pastor didn't follow through with his threat Iranian television repeatedly showed clips of alleged desecration of the Quran somewhere in the US, and the Valley saw its worst day of violence in an angry summer with 17 people killed, scores injured, government buildings as well as a Christian-run school torched in Monday's chaos. 

Given Kashmir's fraught situation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has advanced a number of intelligent initiatives. It's important to stay engaged and keep up the channels of political communication, even if his ideas don't find an immediate response in the Valley. The all-party meet he convened on the state was a good step in this regard. He has combined an economy and jobs plan with a political package that includes dialogue with any group that abjures violence; moving towards better policing methods, non-lethal means of crowd control and a dilution of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act; and local body elections to give people more of a say in governance. Following Monday's violence he also proposed that any dialogue should address the governance deficit in the state, which carries an implicit criticism of the Omar Abdullah administration with which the Congress is in alliance. 

The PM's proposals have had their fair share of detractors in the Valley, for whom they are too incremental, don't go far enough or address the 'root' of the Kashmir issue. The problem, however, is that they haven't come up with any ideas that are better. Let's pick up a few big ones among the counter-proposals. 

First, go back to Kashmir's pre-1953 situation with respect to autonomy. This is what the National Conference wants. The problem with that argument is that Kashmir is already autonomous with its own constitution, a flag, a ban on non-Kashmiris settling or owning property in Kashmir. Of course, that autonomy has been tarnished in the past, with the Centre manipulating elections or otherwise interfering in the setting up of state governments. But New Delhi ought to have learnt its lesson from the two decades of insurgency in the Valley, and one can discuss ways of institutionalising a mechanism that would ensure such mistakes don't recur in the future. But returning to pre-1953 arrangements, when the state government had autocratic, quasi-monarchical powers particularly when the current state government is plausibly being blamed for Kashmir's predicament seems anachronistic and absurd. Devolution of power to the district, block or village level would give the average Kashmiri a role in governance and seems a better way to go. 

Second, it's being mooted that New Delhi should recognise that Kashmir is an international dispute. But what in heaven's name does this mean? India claims the whole of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, including PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan; so does Pakistan. Seems like an international dispute any way you look at it, moreover one that India and Pakistan had been discussing till internal turmoil in Pakistan and 26/11 took over. If there was no dispute, then the current LoC would have been called the border. 

Third, full demilitarisation of Kashmir. But that's not possible so long as terror groups and camps remain active across the LoC. Since terrorist attacks have declined partial demilitarisation can, and should, be talked about so that security forces assume a more humanitarian posture in the state. However, full demilitarisation would have to await the dismantling of the camps and a comprehensive settlement of Kashmir as an international dispute. 


Fourth, give independence to Kashmir. That, according to separatists (as well as Pakistan) is the 'root' issue. And in a radical sense, if one were to fully demilitarise Kashmir without matching moves next door, one might as well complete the process by pulling out of Kashmir entirely. The problem is that such independence is unlikely to last even a month before the Lashkar-e-Taiba's hordes roll in. That isn't a situation India will countenance, nor will it give Kashmiris much comfort. Afghanistan (or the Swat valley which strikingly resembles the Kashmir valley) under the Taliban ought to be a good reminder of what life can be like under the jihadi lash. 

One unfortunate side effect of 24x7 television coverage of events is that it can provoke knee-jerk reactions and instant punditry. But, as Mehbooba Mufti has said, Kashmir is complicated. Anyone who claims to have a magic key that can resolve Kashmir is, in all likelihood, dealing in quack potions. 



                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




It's for good reason that Rafael Nadal is World No 1. On Monday, the Spanish tennis star won his first US Open and completed a career Grand Slam title sweep that includes the Wimbledon, the French and the Australian Open titles. The US Open was his third consecutive Grand Slam title this year. He now has won a total of nine Grand Slams. Does that make him the greatest ever tennis player? Not necessarily, but he surely is the top star today. He needs to win more titles and last a few more years in the circuit to rise above Roger Federer, who holds a world record of 16 Grand Slam titles. 

That indeed is possible. Novak Djokovich, who lost to Nadal in the US Open final, said two things after the match. One, Nadal has all the capabilities to be the greatest ever and, two, he has the game now for each surface. Nadal has already won more Grand Slams than Federer did when he was 24. Nadal has age on his side to raise his game and reach new peaks of tennis glory. Of course, it's hard to predict the future in any sport. Factors varying from fitness issues to the emergence of new talent could upset predictions and serve up a new course for tennis.

But one thing is for sure. The age of Federer is over. The new king is Nadal. Federer has more titles than Nadal, but what matters in sport is current form. Federer may still have the game to beat the best in business, but is he capable of doing that on a regular basis anymore? At 29, Federer is past his best. The joy of sport lies in its transient nature. Even the finest of players fade away at some point and make way for new stars. Federer has left his imprint on the history of tennis, but it's time we discuss his glories in the past tense. 








Spaniard Rafael Nadal's ninth Grand Slam title with a victory over Serbian Novak Djokovic in the US Open finals has revived the debate on whether Swiss tennis maestro Roger Federer is past his prime. The basis is Federer's so-called unimpressive performance in the tennis circuit since the 2010 Australian Open. Some have even gone a step further to suggest that Federer should now retire. This is entirely absurd. 

To begin with, any debate on Federer's form is futile. Even though he is facing stiff competition nowadays, let's not interpret it as Federer's end. Sportspersons do face temporary slumps in their career only to bounce back with greater tenacity and vigour. Who can say that a player of Federer's class can't do this? In today's gruelling tennis circuit, form is temporary but class is forever. Despite his age, Federer is still the most technically gifted and complete tennis player in the game, a fact accepted even by Nadal. He still maintains a high level of fitness and most importantly, nurtures the motivation to compete and win at the highest level. For a great like Federer, a comeback as strong as his resurgence in 2008 is always possible. 

It is time we stopped judging Federer's performance on reductionist criteria. He is arguably the greatest tennis player in history. What he has achieved may remain out of bounds for many years. With 16 Grand Slam titles, that too on all three different surfaces clay, grass and hard courts - Federer has created the benchmark for others to strive for, he could raise that benchmark still further in the future.







Last Monday, the opposition leader of the Thane municipal corporation, Nazib Mulla of the NCP, conducted a mock puja over one of the city's worst potholes. If there is any heresy here, it lies only in that it was a mock ceremony. It is my contention that these omnipresent deities of the civic universe should be worshipped in right earnest. We should seriously perform aartis and circumambulations, recite mantras and the Gurbani, offer incense and golden ornaments, sing bhajans and psalms, pray to them five times a day facing the direction of  the nearest ward office …You  get the drift.


 Instead of constantly moaning and groaning about them, holding dharnas outside the municipal corporation building, forming an indignant NGO, posting YouTube clips on Facebook or dashing off  angry emails to the Editor, you should revere potholes as the path to a higher understanding. Provided of course that you, all-too-mortal seeker, don't fall into them along the way.


Why am I committing the apparent blasphemy of equating the almighty with this symbol of civic obscenity?  It's actually no big deal because the line between church and state is already so blurred that you'd think it too had conjunctivitis. Remember? 'Bhagwan Shree Ram Lalla Virajman' was the plaintiff in the final July 1,1989,  Ayodhya title suit, and Lord Venkateshwara routinely appears in the same secular role in cases involving the Tirupathi temple trust.  Even as you read this, Mumbai's religious Bandra fair is embroiled in a profane number of orders, charges and petitions centering on the crush of illegal stalls obstructing the residents of Mount Mary.


But I don't have to rely merely on legal precedent to plead my case. There's daily proof that the secular pothole performs a present, proactive and positive service in reminding us of matters sacred. Like the heavenly head honcho, these entities are not just omnipresent, they are also omnipotent. Ask anyone who has dared to challenge their unshakable might. In fact they are one up on the greybeard up there. No one, but no one, has ever asked the megaphysical question: 'Do potholes exist?'


They call for a suspension of disbelief -- and suspensions stare in shocked disbelief. They are even beyond the rules of Judgment Day. If you fall into the bottomless pit of hell, it's  because of your own moral lapses.But when you fall into the bottomless pit of the hellish carriageway, you are more sinned against than sinning. It's the random throw. And dicey it is too.


Despite the obvious parallels, I am surprised how no civic engineer has shrugged off his responsibility by saying, "Don't blame me, it's not my asphalt. It's an act of God." Certainly, the cratered post-monsoon, post-CWG, post-Metro, post-leaking sewer pipe, post-excuse roads resemble the devastation caused by hurricanes, quakes and other calamities officially described as AoGs.  Also, like the `ways of God', potholes  'surpassseth understanding'. How in heaven's name can even the most negligent, inefficient and corrupt civic body manage to land us in this unholy mess, year after year, crore after crore?


Maintenance engineers may mundanely-and creatively -- describe them  as 'mastic malfunction',  but the lowly and much-reviled potholes must truly be hailed as the primer  to lofty polemics. They give us our first real glimpse of eternity as they stretch on like a traffic jam -- of which they are the chief karmic cause. Infinity, even immortality, is represented in the never-ending, forever-existing pothole. As you descend into the void, you involuntarily release the primordial chant, 'Aumygod!' And in this moment of mystic revelation, you realize that the apparent existence of a municipal authority is only an illusion, maya-ed in slush.









Don't allow religion to break the law


All across India, religion is good business. Like in any other business, there are legit as well as not-so-legit practitioners in this too. For the third time in a row, the Supreme Court on Tuesday reminded the states that they must demolish unauthorised religious structures, the illegal part of the business, that have come up on public land, a directive that most states have been dragging their feet on implementing. However, the numbers of unauthorised religious structures are alarming. Among the states that have filed affidavits in the case, Tamil Nadu has the highest number of illegal shrines (77,450) though others like Rajasthan (58,253), Madhya Pradesh (51,624) and Uttar Pradesh (45,000) are not exactly lagging behind. The court was hearing the Centre's appeal against a 2006 Gujarat High Court order to remove such structures. In fact, in 2009, the apex court itself had ordered that all such shrines must go.


There's no doubt that the Court's decision is absolutely correct since in India illegal structures, religious or otherwise, have a magical habit of becoming legal by just occupying a place for a certain period of time. Such structures often begin as a nondescript one-room stop-shop for a prayeron-the-go. Once it manages a fair number of the faithful, some other additions are made -all on public land. In legal language, it is called encroachment. Along the way, the turnover of the donation box also increases as the number of devotees rise. As a few more years pass, the illegal structure creeps into the cityscape as well as the mindscape of the people. Often prime public land is lost to the structures and authorities don't even bother to demolish them citing `public sentiments'. It is no secret that in many cases, land sharks get into the picture and then just use the shrine as a ruse to get more land illegally. Often, such shrines are located at busy areas and lead to traffic problems. But nobody seems to mind because they seem to have religious sanction.


The Supreme Court's religion-neutral directive that these shrines must go is definitely welcome and must be carried out as quickly as possible. Public land is not free land for anyone to usurp and colonise. There are specific uses for them and that's how it should be used.







Amitabh Bachchan is a banyan tree under whose shadow it is difficult for most people to aspire to stardom. But, good news comes from the great man that he means to grow a few things under the feet where we thought the grass could never grow. It appears, to our delight, that the Don is now a seed grower in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. And to make matters better, it appears that the Family Bachchan intend to germinate this idea in the heartland of India.


Now this is good idea. We have seen other great stars taking to farming like the wonderful John Cleese, whom many of you have seen in the British television comedy Fawlty Towers and the Monty Python series, who has taken to vineyards from where he would try and trip up pretentious people through television channels on which was a good wine or not. The late Paul Newman had got a whole line of organic foods including sauces going sheerly on the strength of those old blue eyes. To come back to the Big B, he is a man who is never one to let things lie fallow for too long. He sat back and saw his own seed, as it were, grow in the form of Abhishek and then oversaw his daughter-in-law Aishwarya, already a bit of a hothouse plant, flower.


But this does not mean that the agricultural process in Uttar Pradesh will not benefit from his endeavours. We wonder what Mr Bachchan, who looks to us like a tony farmer, could contribute in the kharif crop? Would he be looking at a splendid harvest of artichokes or asparagus? But good news comes from the fact that the Uttar Pradesh Seed Development Corporation has given not just Amitabh but also his wife Jaya and son Abhishek permits to become seed-growers. Amitabh has put down 60 kg of foundation seed already. Well, this is good bit of grounding for the future farming industry. It may not prove to be fertile ground but then again you cannot blame Amitabh for not trying to spread a bit of shade around.




.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





'Oi, ruk ja oi! Idhar aa.' (You there, stop! Come here.) 


Dawn had broken over Srinagar's eerie, empty streets. My faulty strolley rattling along, I was trying to walk to a tourist centre, where I was told I might find a government bus bound for the airport. My confident cab driver — who claimed, the previous day, that he had seen much worse — glumly told me he couldn't make it out of his front door. At 1 am, I heard this announcement: "Please do not move out of your houses at night. You may be shot."


So, at 5.45 am, I stopped and watched a six-man patrol of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force approach me. Armed with Insas automatic rifles (cocked, I noticed), heavy anti-riot padding and helmets with grills, they looked menacing. I pride myself on not scaring easily, but I tensed just a bit.


"Where's Rajbagh?" one asked. The patrol was lost. I wasn't going to be detained or thrashed for violating curfew.


After bus journeys through barrages of stones, I managed to make it to the last flight out of Srinagar and reach Delhi by 6 pm that day, before all commercial operations were suspended for the first time in 11 years. 


I was very lucky. The curfew hasn't been lifted since I left on Monday, and I did not endure any of the random humiliation, slaps or beatings that most Kashmiris experience at some time. A friend's husband, the chief of bureau of a national television channel, was recently made to get out of his car and sweep the streets — this on a day there was no curfew. Even ambulance drivers ferrying the wounded aren't spared.


"Collective punishment" is a buzzword that every Kashmiri now uses, a strong, ever-present alienating factor, largely unrecognised in Delhi.


Wherever I went, whomever I met, I found present humiliations and past wrongs combined seamlessly to create a surge of anger more pronounced than ever before. Stone-throwers, government officials and professors; the classes and the masses, in varying degrees, are now beginning to speak the same language.


Each new death, every humiliation on the streets, each day of curfew draws in more people — and entraps the Indian government in a vicious cycle of narrowing options, making the job easier for a bunch of new radicals. Add the trumping of Kashmir's traditional and tolerant Sufi faith by a darker, more intolerant Islam — helped in some measure by Delhi's choking of democratic values and institutions — and it is not hard to see why the separatists India knows so well, like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, are in danger of being eclipsed.


It promises to get worse. As I write this, the all-party meeting in Delhi has utterly failed to address the Valley's realities. Yesterday's separatist will now be a moderate, even as the day before's hero is today's villain.


I bring to your attention a statement that, at first glance, fits easily into the current stream of anti-India pronouncements: "It is a small matter what happens to me. But it is no small matter that the people of Jammu and Kashmir suffer poverty, humiliation and degradation… my voice may be stifled behind the prison walls, but it will continue to echo and ring for all times to come."


Familiar? Yes, but this was a 1961 pronouncement by Sheikh Abdullah, the 'Lion of Kashmir'. Despite being Jawaharlal Nehru's friend, his sentiments were then regarded so extreme that he spent more than 20 years in jail. Once eulogised, Abdullah (his son is Farooq, grandson Omar) is today reviled on the street as the man who sold out to India.


So, at every opportunity, they attack his mausoleum alongside the Dal lake. "If we do not protect it round the clock," a senior police officer observed wryly, "the Sheikh would have been dug out of his grave by now."


Home Minister P. Chidambaram — not particularly liked by his colleagues but perhaps the only minister who recognises how quickly Kashmir is slipping away — has, in Cabinet meetings, stressed India's history of broken promises in Kashmir. That is a rare, welcome recognition of reality, but he has little support.


It is also important to recognise that Omar Abdullah, heralded as India's new hope for Jammu and Kashmir when he was elected the chief minister in 2008, could never connect with his people or his colleagues, and showed no indication he cared about Kashmir's long-festering wounds.


But, in the middle of this crises, it is churlish to lay all the blame at his door. On Kashmir's streets, Omar is not the issue. Nor is his pet theme, the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). It doesn't affect the current generation because the army isn't deployed in civilian areas, as it was during the militancy of the 1990s.


Yes, demilitarisation is a very important symbolic gesture, but the underlying grouse of the Kashmiri is with unaddressed aspirations, of promises broken over 63 years, of the daily humiliations, all of which are blamed directly on Delhi.


Disaffection is now so deep and wide that whatever the Cabinet announces can only be a starting point. Resolution and reconciliation cannot come from a meeting. It must be a process, which is already faltering.


Every delay drags India towards a precipice. If we fall over the edge, expect the current unarmed unrest to turn into an armed insurgency. If that happens, a bloody suppression will follow.


Kashmir, and India, will then be doomed to a future worse than the present — and the past.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





New Delhi's handling of Kashmir has been emblematic ever since Jawaharlal Nehru took the issue to the United Nations (UN) over 60 years ago in 1948. Some call Delhi's amnesia on the matter callousness, others complacency. But forget about the clichéd UN resolutions. In recent times, every Indian Prime Minister, from P.V. Narasimha Rao to Manmohan Singh, has conveniently forgotten the promises made to the Kashmiris.


Atal Bihari Vajpayee and, now, Singh have sought to temper things over with so-called 'economic packages'. Neither of them has been consistent in capacity-building or turning the strife-torn state's constituency of development into a real stake for residents.


The euphoria generated by the success of the 2008 assembly elections was so dazzling that everybody, including Singh, shut his eyes to the performance parameters of the National Conference (NC)-led coalition government and kept invariably referring to Omar Abdullah's tender age for over a year.


In Srinagar, when a gentle knock fails, stones work to break a slumber. Those hurling one don't care about the rebound. The minds of many of those who've grown up in the last 25 years of turmoil have been growing harder. The reactions of a vociferous section of youngsters — from the elite to the dropouts — have been anarchic. Quite often they have humbled even the most prominent icons of the separatist brand of politics such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Salahuddin.


Separation from India is their slogan. They don't form the only composition of the crowds taking to the streets these days. Thousands in the Budgam procession last Monday were devout voters of the NC leader and minister Aga Ruhullah. On such occasions, they oblige Aga's uncle and senior Hurriyat leader Aga Syed Hassan. But on the day of the elections, they all rally behind the young mainstream politician, Ruhullah. And yet,  police officials blamed Geelani's Hurriyat and Massarat Alam's Muslim League for the mob violence. On September 13, the second-worst day of the recent violence, eyewitnesses insist, followers of a minister Ghulam Hassan Mir, as well as those from the NC and the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) outnumbered the  followers of the Hurriyat leaders.


Like in the Amarnath land row of 2008, constituents have, in quick succession, joined Geelani's 'Quit Jammu & Kashmir Movement'. Interestingly, Geelani's newly-coined slogan of 'Go India Go Back' can be heard loudest in his moderate separatist rival Mirwaiz Umar Farooq's bastion in downtown Srinagar. Visibly insecure, Umar Farooq found it opportune to capitalise on his Eid congregation last Saturday to reclaim space — though at the cost of his credibility to keep his marches peaceful.


Under the shadows of an imposing symbolism, interpretations of 'azadi' have been varying from one constituent to another. Most of the mainstream political activists — and even the counter-insurgent Ikhwanis — are today at the forefront of the agitation at certain places to ensure their existence in 'Independent Kashmir'. Even Omar Abdullah's  partyman in Tangmarg, Ali Mohammad Sofi asserted his 'pro-azadi credentials' with the burning of a missionary school.


Those mobilised by the PDP leadership are widely believed to be the votaries of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba. Nearly 20 per cent of the 'azadi' crowds are likely to disappear with Omar's replacement or dismissal.


Even in this cacophony of 'azadi' and demand for a forgotten plebiscite, it is hard to forget the dramatic turnaround when Omar Abdullah came to power. Ad hocism, cheap glorification of dynastic rule and a complacency towards the deeply-planted sentiment of separation have frittered away all the hopes that came with October 2008.


Ahmed Ali Fayyaz is a Srinagar-based journalist and political commentator


The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES




Oi! Who the hell are you?


I beg your pardon. I'm the minister.


Minister of what? You don't really look like a minister. You look more like a bureaucrat.


You fool. I was a bureaucrat, but now I'm the minister who has the honour of honouring this young man there who's made the country proud by becoming the World Wrestling Champion.


Ok, so in which category did he win his title?






I mean, master?


What the hell are you talking about?


No, his title...


No, you... you, minister! What weight category in the World Championship?


Arrey... [seeing a posse of journalists and cameramen] Let Sushil's gold be an inspiration for all. I want the coach who went to Moscow with him to be standing next to me.


It was me, you fool, his coach, that went to Moscow with him.


Uh-oh. Er, you don't really look like a wrestling coach.

You're right. I still do a bit of wrestling myself. [Picks him up, twirls him and throws him at a decent distance]


And Sushil won the World Championship in the men's 66 kg freestyle category.


Do say: Will he push aside Sharad Pawar at a sports awards ceremony too?


Don't say: Bajrang Bali ki jai!







The deadlock over Kashmir has to be broken and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is right in stating that status quo is not an option. Manmohan Singh, while addressing the top commanders of the armed forces, expressed concern on the unrest and emphasised on the need to address the grievances, provide better delivery of services and generate avenues for economic advancement of the people of the state. He also reiterated the willingness of the government to talk within the framework of the Constitution to every person or group who abjures violence. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) also came out with a dialogue prescription to address issues like trust and governance deficit. An all-party meeting is slated for today. Where do we go from here?


A large, silent majority of people in Kashmir had eagerly awaited the results of the CCS meeting. They had expected that a solution would be found. They were disappointed that it ended with nothing more than the oft-repeated willingness of the government to hold a dialogue. True, the CCS couldn't have ignored the fresh spate of violence after Eid prayers and the protests against the alleged desecration of the Koran. It was compelled to defer a decision to gain some more time to gauge the situation.


However, the all-party meet does provide the government an opportunity to work out a consensus on the future road map. Going by the outcome of similar earlier attempts, we should not expect miracles from an open house discussion. Political parties will go along their stated positions. They will be critical of the central and state governments for their handling of the situation. The fact of the matter is that eventually the government will have to take the call and it can't be delayed for long.


The question now is will we have to wait for violence to end before the government announces some confidence-building measures? The 'internal' dimension can be addressed through a dialogue between New Delhi and the people's representatives of J&K. All cases of detainees under the Public Safety Act can be reviewed. Those not involved in heinous offences can be released. Youngsters involved in stone-pelting incidents can be considered for release if their parents and community leaders vouch for their future conduct. However, the cases of the masterminds of violence and pro-Pakistan ideologues will have to wait.


The most-talked about issue in Kashmir remains the fate of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The point in issue is its phased revocation depending on the ground situation. Let's not talk about its dilution at this stage, as it is a legislative exercise and can't be done in a hurry. It is known that the army is not deployed in Srinagar and law and order is looked after by the local police, which is helped by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).


]The reduction in volume and intensity of terrorist violence over the years has to be kept in mind while re-visiting our deployment strategy. The situation in 2010 is very different from what it was in 1990, when the AFSPA was introduced. One day we will have to relieve the army of its duties. This hard political decision can't be endlessly postponed. It is time to consider a phased withdrawal notwithstanding media reports of its opposition by the armed forces. The J&K Police, with the Central Paramilitary Force (CPMF), is capable of handling the situation in Srinagar. While considering this, it's advisable to not be overawed by the past two days' violence, which, though indicative of the fragility of the situation, wasn't, strictly speaking, part of the ongoing turmoil.


There is a broad consensus that dialogue is the only way forward. Return of peace can't be set as a pre-condition for moving towards the dialogue process. Without lowering guard on the security front, the government has to be magnanimous in announcing some confidence-building measures. It's supposed to not only provide an exit route from the current cycle, but also give a clear signal of its willingness to go by the judgment of an elected state government. The all-party meet should support the government to announce confidence-building measures to break the impasse. All eyes are on New Delhi.


Ashok Bhan is a retired Director General of Police, J&K The views expressed by the author are personal








After young Sushil Kumar's win at the World Wrestling Championship, the sports minister, M.S. Gill, raced everyone else to the spot to get himself photographed with the champion and his gold. But what came across clearly on camera was a certain obnoxiousness, as he shoved aside Satpal, the coach who had trained Kumar since he was a child. "Stay away," said the minister, after he had already wagged a finger instructing him to stand aside for the picture. Satpal, who is a 1982 Asiad gold medallist himself and has won the Dronacharya award for his excellence in coaching, stood apart with dignity but the action shocked everyone watching, not to mention Sushil Kumar's own mortification and hurt.


This isn't the first time that Gill's ignorance and bumptiousness has offended the sporting community. After Saina Nehwal's splash at the Beijing Olympics, Gill invited her to meet him, but froze out her coach Pullela Gopichand. "Who are you?" the sports minister asked bluntly, oblivious to the fact that Gopichand is the second Indian badminton player, after Prakash Padukone, to win the All England Open Championship in 2001.


More than anything, Indian wrestling, or kushti, has an ethos all its own, built around the punishing regimens and communal living of akharas. There is a strict masculine code for the young wrestlers, with its focus on purity and discipline. Like with so many martial arts across cultures, the figure of the master, the one who initiates you into the art, is deeply revered, and complete surrender is expected of the pupil. This guru or ustaad personally supervises each wrestler's exact exercise routine, moves, diet and rest. It is not a professional, contractual relationship, but one that carries the weight of tradition, respect and obligation. The wrestlers are meant to commit themselves completely to the guru's care, if they seek to gain from his strength and wisdom. Kushti is not just a sport, but a larger mode of living that encompasses physical culture, health and ethics. So M.S. Gill's barely-meant insult must have registered several times over with Sushil Kumar and Satpal, and rankled that much more.







Everybody has an opinion on how to get started on fixing Kashmir. But what cannot be disagreed with is that the Valley is going through a crisis. Altogether too many have died, too many have been dislocated, and anger, instead of being exhausted in futility, seems only to be gathering in volume. Which is why one important message from the all-party meeting that the Centre organised is crucial: that this is a national concern. Nobody would have expected the meeting to end with a concrete consensus on how to move forward. But what it did end with was welcome: the feeling that, at last, the political energies of India's parties will be directed towards dealing with one of India's most intractable problems. The prime minister said, in fact, that "several leaders from across the political spectrum" had "spoken or written" to him on issues related to Jammu and Kashmir in recent weeks.


Indeed, it is far too soon to figure out what a concrete set of proposals, that could be moved forward, would be. Thus the one move the meeting did recommend, the sending of a similarly broad-based delegation to Jammu and Kashmir to "meet all sections of the people and gather all shades of opinion," is welcome. As has been said before in these columns, part of the reason for the virulence of recent protests in Kashmir has been a perceived distance between the governed and those who govern them. That distance must be bridged, of course, by the incumbent chief minister and the state government.


The very fact of an all-party delegation provides another method to do so. But that would require it to be something more than the classic "visiting fireman" routine, more than a mere fact-finding delegation from the centre of power to some far-flung trouble spot. A delegation that represents India's political will must also focus on reaching out. It cannot be one-way; it must run both ways. The delegation will presumably listen to all shades of angry opinion; but it cannot be a mere fly-on-the-wall. It will have to participate, in its own way, in the healing process. That will need more than point-scoring over differences in approach, or a repetition of standard party-political positions; as the PDP's Mehbooba Mufti said, it should not become a "prestige issue" between parties. "All parties should rise above their political interest," she added, so that Kashmir can "see the more human face of the country. After all, it's a democracy." Hopefully others in her own party, as well as in others, get it.








The University of Delhi has the tools to become genuinely good. Let it


REATIVE societies and nations take great pride in their universities. In fact, the economic and social strength of a nation, its resilience and its outlook get moulded in more than one way in the centres of higher education.


After Independence, India's premier universities received positive regard, if not in terms of funds which were scarce, but certainly through attention and respect. The University of Delhi received its due share of attention. Many big names, both in science and the humanities, that are remembered even today for their scholarship and foresight served at the university. This lasted till the early '60s. Then the edifice started crumbling.


Many factors precipitated the crisis in DU and other universities in India. There were severe constraints in terms of availability of resources. There was excessive inbreeding, many of the big names and others hired their own students in faculty positions. The spirit of idealism broke down and the politics of survival through patronage took over. There was huge pressure to increase seats without commensurate input of resources. To accommodate more student numbers, some of the universities like Delhi hived off their undergraduate education to constituent colleges and retained only postgraduate courses in the university departments.


At the national level, the biggest factor contributing to the decline of Indian universities was the low growth rate of the economy which meant that investment in higher education was reduced to a trickle.


The '70s were times of great unrest and even central universities could not remain immune. With the universities lurching from one unrest to another, somewhere it was felt that while the universities would remain centres of mass teaching, good research in the sciences and even social sciences would be possible only in small institutes which would be easier to manage.


DU received very poor funding for development during the five-year plans prior to the eleventh. That it still survived and maintained some academic standards is indeed a remarkable achievement for both the teachers and the taught. This was mainly due to the intellectual capital available at the university. In a recent survey, it was found to be the topuniversity in the country in terms of research papers in science subjects.


DU is the top Indian university in a recent survey of Asian universities.


Thanks to the UPA government's realisation of the importance of education in nation-building, higher education has been allocated much larger funding in the Eleventh Plan.


To now have almost Rs 1,300 crore worth of grants to build infrastructure is a remarkable turnaround.


While increased funding in terms of new buildings, laboratories, hostels, and libraries will matter a lot, enhancement of intellectual capital of an organisation is the most essential aspect. This can be achieved by inducting young, bright scholars in faculty positions and by allowing the faculty to continuously grow by allowing freedom of inquiry, facilitating research work and training. This has


been achieved in considerable measure at the postgraduate level in DU over the past four years. However, there are major difficulties with the undergraduate education in our universities, including in DU.


If we take the top 100 universities of Asia, in which the University of Delhi stands at 67, the universities teach in semester mode and use the credit system, are highly multidisciplinary and comprehensive in the sense that both undergraduate and graduate degrees are taught at the same campus, in the same departments. In DU and many other Indian universities, due to the sheer number of students and the colleges structure, undergraduate education has been decoupled from graduate education.


Should we then hold our peace on the belief that renewal and reform are not possible and undergraduate education will languish in Indianuniversities except at the IITs because proper structures are not available? Is it possible in the existing framework of DU and many of the other large universities to aim at excellence? Can we use the separation of undergraduate education from graduate education as an opportunity, or are we doomed to perpetual mediocrity? What is holding the University of Delhi and many other Indian universities back? The most debilitating and stunting factor is our inability to revise courses and curricula at regular intervals. What is a routine affair in the best global universities and even in India in the IITs, becomes an epic battle in DU.


The main reason for this institutional lethargy comes from the competitive politics of teacher groups rather than from individualteachers. Orchestrating the moves ofnay-sayerstoreformsinDUisthe University Teachers' Association which remains cocooned in the old mindset of perpetual opposition to anything that is suggested by committees and commissions, UGC and the university. Every change is seen as an opportunity to play the game of competitive politics and to establish hegemony over the university processes.


To give some examples of institutional lethargy, since Independence we persisted with a very anaemic BA (Pass) degree till 2004, when through a very tortuous process the course was made much more pertinent and academically sound and renamedBA(Programme).Thereform process of 2004 in which internal assessment was also brought in all the undergraduate courses was littered with contention, mud-slingingandaccusationofinsensitivityon the part of the administration. So much time was wasted in scoring points that some lapses occurred in properly implementing the revised courses and structures. However, the reforms brought in some much needed changes — mid-term exams, assignments and internal assessment.


The new reforms initiated in 2008, to bring a uniform semester system in all the undergraduate courses, system of credits and revision of syllabi, would catapult DU to much higher levels of effectiveness. There will be more engagement between students and teachers, efficient utilisation of the academic calendar, modularity, ability to move to other subjects at the postgraduate level and possibility of more timely changes in syllabi.


Students will be able to monitor their progress at regular intervals. All the postgraduate courses have been moved to the semester mode over the last two years without any difficulties. The revised semesterbased syllabi implemented for undergraduate science courses will benefit students tremendously and are very much in the spirit of changes being sought by various committees constituted by the government and UGC.


In the reform process of 2008, which is still continuing, some very old-fashioned techniques of intimidation, slogan-shouting, name-calling, effigy-burning, wildcat strikes are being deployed to scuttle the process. It is clear that many selfanointed "activists" and their gurus who honed their skills of perpetual opposition (to anything and everything) in the '70s are failing to see the new reality and are willing to wreck the careers of students and the cause of education for their petty gains of power without accountability.


We need to grow out from the mindsets created in the '70s. If well established universities like DU, with lakhs of students, fail to walk with the times and carry out well-thought-out reforms, we will condemn ourselves to perpetual mediocrity. To develop zeal for constructive change is the challenge for all the stake-holders and for all those who take pride in the University of Delhi as the premier university of India. What is holding DU and many other Indian universities back? The most debilitating and stunting factor is our inability to revise courses and curricula at regular intervals.


What is a routine affair in the best global universities and even in the IITs, becomes an epic battle in DU.









The new wholesale price index is a welcome improvement


HE new wholesale price index is a distinct improvement on its predecessor.


But that everything is great in our brand new high-growth, high-tech world is a figment of feverish imaginations. Inflation or rising prices are like taxes, mothers-inlaw and other inevitable, contentious things which touch raw nerves. Shooting the postman helps in alleviating the pain.


Despite all experience, everybody thinks they can do better. The Met and the Central Statistical Organisation always get the short end of the straw. And so, incremental progress is no news and we don't really vote to raise the budget for substantial change.


Coverage going up from 435 articles to 676 is good. In a growing economy, the composition of output would increase. It happened earlier, but more is better. Quality problems are always there. As the iPod comes in, the old gramophone is bound to be replaced and anyway, you don't have the records. But the increase in durables is notable.


Quality problems are important.


Sukhwinder Singh at the Centre


for Management in Agriculture at IIM (Ahmedabad) shows that higher quality cabbage in the Ahmedabad market yard, for example, is getting a 15 per cent plus price higher than the variety sold by arhtias (commission agents). This is actually not inflation. But we are far away from all this; 5482 quotes are again better than fewer.


The old complaint surfaces, that the quotes come from different markets. Some come from firststage markets, others from those close to retail, even though farm gate prices have been given up.


We don't have the Abhijit Sen report. It is extremely unlikely that he would only rely on procurement prices as some reports imply.


He is much too qualified and experienced to give up a lot of real price data outside minimum support prices.


There is also the old reliable — the fact that there is, in the Indian wholesale price system from the days of Sir Penderel


Moon (the first economic adviser to the Government of India), the problem that our indices have a lot of double counting, with wheat, flour and bread counted again and again, rather than only final goods.


Other countries, admittedly richer and more organised than us, have solved that problem and with VAT we should go there too. The expert committee may well have gone into it and given a phased plan, although there are no reports confirming this.


Now of course, everybody wants their own price index.When Gandhiji solved the great textile strike in the last century between Ambalal Sarabhai, the chief textile owner, and his sister Anusuya Sarabhai, the Majoor Mahajan chief, the Ahmedabad industrial labour index number was used as the dearness allowance formula. It lasted for decades, not because everybody liked it but nothing else was available and negotiated. Widowed pensioners want their own index and harassed middle-class housewives want theirs. They all say this index is wrong. There is nothing wrong with it. But if we have a lot of problems with one set of weights, you can imagine what will happen with all this. And anyway, consumer prices are another story. Abhijit Sen has pushed it from the farm gate to the mandi.

Be patient. It will all come.


Meanwhile, please remember that my trade union, that of economist statisticians, also needs help.
Be nice to the statistician or meteorologist in your neighbourhood.

She is trying hard even though nobody likes her output. At least vote for some money for them.


A new idea is afoot: to set up independent statistical agencies, which coordinate the states, but also have the muscle and funds to push them. It's a good idea, and if it picks up, we may really understand what is going on in this lovely country and economy of ours. As they say, Satyameva Jayate.


The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand Please remember that my trade union, that of economist statisticians, also needs help.








A lack of proportion left everyone high and dry


YOU may have thought, watching Hindi news channels on the weekend, that Delhi had gone underwater. As it transpired the floods had inundated low-lying areas near the Yamuna and TV news offices. News anchors stood waist high in water in studios (IBN-7). You were on the point of climbing into your swimsuit ready to wade through the city when Aaj Tak pronounced Delhi safe (barring the Yamuna embankment); the floods, it said, were "TV floods". Put that swimsuit away.


Other news channels, DD News, NDTV India and the English news channels, agreed: Delhi was not one gigantic swimming pool.

But what Aaj Tak did was unusual, even unprecedented: it openly criticised fellow channels for incorrect news. This is fratricide.


Those who read the news report `Paani [Live]' in The Indian Express on Saturday know that some news channels were raising the threat perception for the Yamuna above credible levels. But still, watching the Hindi news coverage, relentless as the rains and the river, was frightening: "Believe me, the speed at which the water level is rising, there will be water in every house of the city" (News 24).


Constant visuals of a flooded ISBT bus depot, buses submerged, homes abandoned and the river flowing fast and furious were plain alarming. Said one young India TV reporter: "Our hearts are beating fast, we have never seen anything like this before, we're scared of the Yamuna." Perhaps the river was enraged, they concluded -by the Commonwealth Games? Accustomed to it standing still (or there being no water at all), aggrieved anchors complained that it was in spate. What cheek! The news got only worse. A Zee News reporter fatalistically reminded us there was still dengue, cholera, diarrhoea, skin problems, conjunctivitis and other waterborne diseases to withstand. Or, as Coleridge wrote, "Water water everywhere/ Nor any drop to drink."


Not only couldn't you drink the water, soon you wouldn't be able to afford to eat much either. On Monday, IBN-7 reported that the prices of commodities in Delhi were rising rapidly. And crime stalked its colonies: news channels detailed the gruesome murder of a young boy by his paternal aunt. "Dilli ka bhayanak roop," as India TV called it.


Just as you were packing your bags to flee, the strains of "Dilli, gateway to your heart" detained you. Enchanting visuals of Qutab Minar, India Gate, Delhi Metro, shopping malls and green grass inundated the screen, as Euphoria sang the CWG anthem. This is the Delhi we know and love. Now, if only the rains would not blur TV's vision or flood the studios.


The water certainly overwhelmed all other news. There was the 9/11 anniversary and violent protests engulfed Kashmir. But it was all about Dilli, gateway to the "floods".


Hindi news channels cover most of north India. But barring a few stories on water logging in Panipat, Ambala and Agra (oh my god, not the Taj!), they behave like local Delhi TV.


Coverage of the Yamuna rising emphasised the habit of TV news to rush headlong, nonstop, and exaggerate. English news hasn't stopped discussing Kashmir and the (non)withdrawal of AFSPA. On Monday, the Times Now discussion stretched from 8 pm to 10 pm.


Lastly, someone who has nothing to do with the news but still manages to make it to news channels. Rakhi Sawant. She was on Star News with Deepak Chaurasia (Sunday). They looked grave. He pulled out a chargesheet: did you or did you not have plastic surgery?

Switched to Aaj Tak's Seedhi Baat -and Sawant again! Don't know what she said because we were visually transfixed: a mauve wig, mauve dress, mauve lipstick. Mauve?

And there's Devil's Advocate Karan Thapar talking to Arundhati Roy about Maoists, capitalism, communism (CNN-IBN).


What a difference, sirjee.










With an estimated 70 million bloggers, China's leaders are under constant pressure now to be more assertive INTERESTINGLY, THE US Embassy in Beijing has begun to reach out to that same blogosphere -- even inviting bloggers to travel in the car with the US ambassador, Jon l Huntsman, and interview him when he visits their Chinese f province -- to get America's message out without filtering by China's state-run media. t vBEIJING -This moment was inevitable.

Ever since China began to shuck off communism and turn itself into a global economic power, its leaders have fol leaders have followed the strategy of a "peaceful rise" -be modest, act prudently, don't frighten the neighbours and certainly don't galvanise any coalition against us. But in recent years, with the US economic model having suffered an embarrassing self-inflicted shock, and the "Beijing Consensus" humming along, voices have emerged in China saying "the future belongs to us" and maybe we should let the world, or at least the `hood, know that a little more affirmatively. For now, those voices come largely from retired generals and edgy bloggers -and the Chinese leadership has remained cautious. But a diplomatic spat this past summer has China's neighbours, not to mention Washington, wondering for how long China will keep up the gentle giant act. With an estimated 70 million bloggers, China's leaders are under constant pressure now to be more assertive by a populistand nationalist-leaning blogosphere, which, in the absence of democratic elections, is becoming the de facto voice of the people.


The diplomatic fracas was a session of the regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, held July 23 in Hanoi. In attendance were foreign ministers of the 10 Asean members, as well as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and China's foreign minister, Yang Jiechi. According to one of the diplomats who sat in on the meeting, the Asean ministers took turns subtly but firmly cautioning China to back off from its decision to claim "indisputable sovereignty" over the whole resource-rich South China Sea, which stretches from Singapore to the Strait of Taiwan over to Vietnam and carries about half the world's merchant cargo each year. Its seabed is also believed to hold major reserves of oil and gas, and lately China's navy has become more aggressive in seizing fishing boats alleged to have infringed on its sovereignty there. China also has been embroiled in maritime disputes with South Korea and Japan.


As one minister after another got up at the Asean meeting to assert claims in the South China Sea or argue that any territorial disputes must be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law, the Chinese foreign minister grew increasingly agitated, according to a participant. And after Clinton spoke and insisted that the South China Sea was an area where America had "a national interest" in "freedom of navigation," the Chinese foreign minister asked for a brief adjourn ment and then weighed in.


Speaking without a text, Yang went on for 25 minutes, insisting that this was a bilateral issue, not one between China and Asean. He looked across the room at Clinton through much of his stem-winder, which included the observation that "China is a big country" and most of the other Asean members "are small countries," The Washington Post reported. The consensus in the room, the diplomat said, was that the Chinese minister was trying to intimidate the group and separate the territorial claimants from the non-claimants so that there could be no Asean collective action and each country would have to negotiate with China separately.


As negative feedback from the Yang lecture rippled back to Beijing, China's leaders seemed to play down the affair for fear that after a decade of declining US influence in the region they were about to drive all their neighbours back into America's embrace.


How much China's leaders will be able to cool it, though, will depend, in part, on a third party: the Chinese blogosphere, where a whole generation of Chinese schooled by the government on the notion that the US and the West want to keep China down, now have their own megaphones to denounce any Chinese official who compromises too much as "pro-American" or "a traitor."


Interestingly, the US Embassy in Beijing has begun to reach out to that same blogosphere -even inviting bloggers to travel in the car with the US ambassador, Jon Huntsman, and interview him when he visits their Chinese province -to get America's message out without filtering by China's state-run media.


"China for the first time has a public sphere to discuss everything affecting Chinese citizens," explained Hu Yong, a blogosphere expert at Peking University. "Under traditional media, only elite people had a voice, but the Internet changed that."


He added, "We now have a transnational media. It is the whole society talking, so people from various regions of China can discuss now when something happens in a remote village -and the news spreads everywhere." But this Internet world "is more populist and nationalistic," he continued. "Many years of education that our enemies are trying to keep us down has produced a whole generation of young people whose thinking is like this, and they now have a whole Internet to express it."


Watch this space. The days when Nixon and Mao could manage this relationship in secret are long gone.
There are a lot of unstable chemicals at work out here today, and so many more players with the power to inflame or calm US-China relations.


Or to paraphrase Princess Diana, there are three of us in this marriage.


The New York Times








Eighteen years after the Babri demolition, can we expect a new politics?


AFTER a month of placatory and placid advisories, both sides, primarily led by hardliners, are keeping their powder dry during the countdown to the Babri Masjid title verdict, which is expected next Friday, September 24. The BJP, through L.K. Advani, and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board have given similar statements asking people to exercise restraint and desist from exaggerated reactions, irrespective of the outcome. Either way, the losing side will appeal to the Supreme Court.


The Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh has requested paramilitary reinforcements to prevent a replay of the post-Babri demolition communal flare-ups that tore across the heartland in a spiral of unabated hatred and bigotry. The Congress-led UPA government at the Centre has the benefit of hindsight; the party was politically decapitated in the heartland almost two decades ago because it could not match the BJP and the Yadav duo in competitive communal polarisation.


With various Muslim bodies repeatedly emphasising that the court verdict will be respected by them, it would be too complacent to take a post-verdict calm for granted. Numerous hotheads and political parties on both ends of the communal spectrum are slowly yet surely emerging from the shadows as conspiracy theories abound.


The question of whether there was a structure below the disputed mosque is just one that the verdict will perhaps elaborate -or maybe the answers will throw up another set of vexed questions. The optimists are suggesting that this issue has lost its potency after two decades and a younger India is far too engrossed in personal economic empowerment.


But they forget that with 37 per cent of Indians being underfed and enough players seeking an opportunity to reap some political dividend, the dynamics of this issue can unravel very quickly. For the last two years the Mandalites have been in search of an emotive issue to refurbish their affinity to the Muslims.


Not long ago, after a wait of "only" 17 years, the Liberhan Commission's report had blamed the RSS for running a "parallel government" that supervised meticulously all details in the events leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. With its offshoots, the Bajrang Dal, the VHP and so on, it collectively created an "immense and awesome entity with a shrewd brain, a wide encompassing sweep and the crushing strength of a mob." A sympathetic insider like Kalyan Singh of the BJP facilitated the demolition.
Having cohabited thrice earlier with the BJP, the BSP will be equally under the scanner of the secular forces. A young political science graduate from the Aligarh Muslim University explained it like this: "The only way that Mayawati can come back to power in 2012 is with a resurgent BJP support."


A verdict which comes after 18 years of the demolition and could run into thousands of pages could be the next fulcrum for enhanced inter-faith unity or disunity. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said this week that the issue is about the "identity of the nation". He added: "There is a lot of mistrust between people on various issues including the Ram temple issue. I believe that this issue will help in bringing integration to the country... If today the Muslims say that let a Ram Mandir be built at the site, no one will be able to say in India that Indian Muslims are `videsh parast' (inclined towards outsiders)."


So the die is finally cast. Indian Muslims do not need a certificate of patriotism from the RSS or the VHP or the Bajrang Dal. For Indian citizens the Constitution and its safeguards are the ultimate repository of nationhood. The real issues of poverty, Maoist violence and inequitable growth cannot be solved by building a place of worship. Having respect for each other and keeping faith in the tricolour are good places to start the quest for patriotism.


The writer is chairman of the editor ial board at the Kanpur-based Urdu newspaper `Daily Siyasat Jadid'








The ministry's response to criticism of its legislative agenda


PRATAP BHANU MEHTA also chooses to comment on the Foreign Education Providers' Bill (`No HR in HRD', IE,September8).He has not told us what special privileges are being accorded to foreign institutions under the legislative proposal, and how the hands of domestic institutions are tied, as he claims. In fact, under the proposal, which again is before Parliament,foreigneducationalproviders reaccordedalevelplayingfieldandwillbe governed by national laws. Mehta seems havemisreadclause9ofthatbill,whichis about exemptions from any "foregoing" provisions-hatis,fromonlythoseprovisionsofthesamebillwhichhavetodowith thefast-trackingofapplicationsinfavourof globally reputed universities or institutions. Mehta is recommended to study clause 12, which makes all national laws applicable. How private unaided institu tions in India are stifled by government regulations, as opposed to foreign education providers who do not obtain aid from the government, has not been explained by Mehta. Nor could he have explained it becauseunaidedinstitutions,whetherdomestic or foreign, will be treated in the same manner. The moral of the story is that half-baked knowledge and thought processes are no substitute for wisdom or informedopinion.


The first draft of the Universities for Innovation Bill has been circulated and the first round of consultations has been held with several renowned academics in the country, who have with unanimity approvedtheconceivedcourseofactionand have given some valuable suggestions. The process of consultations would continue and if Mehta waits for a while, takes time to do his research, he will have the answers to the questions he has raised.

As for the UGC guidelines, described by Mehta as "absurd", he could have reached out to the commission itself to understand the rationale for the guidelines,beforegivingsuchastrongopinionin cold print. Indeed, as the right hand in government ought to know what the left handisdoing,equallythemindoughttobe aware of what the hand writes for a column published in a nationally important newspaper like The Indian Express.


Some very significant steps have been takentofosterresearchinourhighereducational institutions, of which Mehta could be informed if he chooses to find out. The level of investment that has gone into public institutions in this country during the Tenth Plan and the current Eleventh Plan, and policy decisions that have been taken, are unprecedented.


As for the conflict related to the semester system in the Delhi University, Mehta being an academic ought to know that the GovernmentofIndiadoesnotintervenein the academic affairs of universities. The decision on any university's pace of reformshastobeautonomous.Itisunfortunate that Mehta has been uncharitable and patently biased in choosing to place the blame of what is happening in Delhi University at the doorstep of the education establishment. A few words would be in order on the "slash and burn" approach -frankly it is an approach pursued by Mehta in his piece, and not that of the ministry of human resource development: slash-whatever is happening and burn-whatever is good, hoping that because the opinion is rendered by an academic, it will go down well with the public. If you feed the public with wrong facts, you only destroy the process of reform which aims to constructively build an education structure that is more flexible and caters to the aspirations not only of the student community but of the entire nation. It is easy to castigate "bureaucrats" and "select academics" when you are yourself not part of the selected few, but difficult to restructure an educationsystemthataimstomeettheaspirations of future generations.

Finally, in India's tradition of civil services, civil servants are trained to contributetheirexperienceforbothcontinuity and change -remaining apolitical and professional as they do so, irrespective of the government of the day or the minister inoffice--sothereisnothingsurprisingor out of the ordinary about the human resource in the ministry of HRD. In any case, it is difficult to believe that an imaginative liberal disposition is the prerogative of Mehta alone.


Serious opinions are not about giving them without thinking, but thinking before giving them. The writer should not believe that he knows best. Uninformed debate should not carry the day. Neither serious academics, nor professional journalism can benefit from such pretensions.


(Concluded) The writer is additional secretary in the Union human resource development ministry









The sharp increase in indirect tax collections in April-August 2010-11 by a record 45.9% looks like another bonanza to the government coming on top of the higher than anticipated revenue from the sale of telecom spectrum. Numbers released by the finance ministry show that growth of indirect taxes was almost a third larger than in the Budget estimates and that the pick-up was extensive, touching all the three major indirect taxes. While the highest increase was in customs duties (66.5%), followed by excise duties (41.7%) and services (19.8%), a closer look shows that rebound in tall collections is still too fragile and a more cautions outlook is warranted. One reason for caution is that a large part of the sharp surge in the indirect tax collections is mainly on account of the base year impact. In fact, the numbers show that the growth in collections of all the three taxes in the current fiscal year is much slower when compared to the numbers for April-August 2008-09, before the onset of the slowdown. For instance, customs duty collections in April-August first fell sharply from Rs 47,176 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 31,090 crore in 2009-10 and then rose to Rs 51,866 crore in 2010-11. And the other factor that significantly contributed to the surge is the rollback of the previous tax cuts in this year's Budget, where the standard rate of excise duties on all non-petroleum products was raised by a fifth from 8% to 10%. In the case of customs duties, the basic duties on crude oil, diesel, petrol and other refined oil products, which were either fully exempt or reduced proportionately in 2008, were restored to 5%, 7.5% and 10%, respectively. The impact of these substantive rollbacks of indirect taxes, as a part of the fiscal consolidation efforts, would have been substantial, especially since the tax rates were restored in a period of high inflation when prices of almost all goods, and especially oil products, rose substantially, thus boosting inflows.


Given such a scenario, it will be too optimistic to bank on sustaining the better-than-expected trends in indirect tax collection in the remaining months of the fiscal. This is because the base year impact is likely to fizzle out in the remaining months, given that the indirect tax collections had improved in the second half of the previous year. Similarly, the increase in prices of manufactured goods, which account for a major part of excise duties, has also decelerated sharply with the month-on-month figures shrinking close to zero in the most recent release (see Data caFE). Clearly, it is still too early to read too much into the current indirect tax trends.







India's vegetable oil imports are soaring and in August it topped one million tonnes, which was highest in a single month ever since government allowed import of vegetable oil under the open general licence in 1995. Even though vegetable oils are not such a big proportion of India's total annual imports, they have important global implications, as the country is the second biggest buyer of vegetable oils after China. Though global vegetable oil market is largely dependent on price movement in crude petroleum oil because of its use as bio-fuel, demand from main consuming nations too form an integral part of the demand pull. In 2008-09 edible oil marketing year that ended in October 2009, India imported almost 8.6 million tonnes of vegetable oils, of which the share of edible oils comprising crude palm oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil among others was almost 8.1 million tonnes. From an average of 4.4 million to 5.5 million tonnes, Indian imports have almost doubled and this year between November and August vegetable oil imports have already crossed 7.4 million tonnes, well on track to surpass last year's number. Agreed, August imports have been on the higher side as pipelines have dried up and also demand rose because stockists looked to replenish their inventories ahead of the big festival and marriage season.


India's domestic oilseeds production which till now used to meet just half of the country's annual edible oil demand is increasingly falling short as rising income and changing food habit pushes up consumption. Domestic oilseed production has stagnated between 20 million to 28 million tonnes with no big jumps seen as competition from grains and pulses eats into its share of shrinking farmlands. But, given that consumption is rising, there is a crying need to augment local oilseeds production (per hectare yield in India is varies from 800-1,000 kg, while it is much more in South America and the US). Big investments in R&D to develop more high-yielding varieties of oilseed, strong emphasis on improving the seed replacement ratio are some of the measures to push up output. The option of purchasing readily available land abroad should also be considered. Though Indian companies have started purchasing palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, a lot more needs to be done. A good way could be to clear the hurdle for Indian edible oil companies to purchase farmland in South America and Africa, which did start some years back but has gone nowhere.








India is aiming to be the world's top outsourcing destination, not just in software services but in manufacturing as well, but what's being proposed by the ministry of corporate affairs (see, Sept 11) is a bit too much. It's actually trying to outsource governance to India Inc. Sadly, this is not the first time the government is trying this. In recent times, there have been obligations on telecom companies to provide phones in rural areas, on companies to hire people who are SC, ST and OBC—CII's southern companies have declared that around 15% of their workforce is SC/ST—the list goes on.


The corporate affairs ministry's proposal, based on the recommendations of a parliamentary standing committee, is to mandate that companies with a net profit of more than Rs 5 crore (that's pretty much everyone) must spend at least 2% of their average net profits on Corporate Statutory Responsibility—that's what Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is called when you take the voluntary out of it. The ministry has also set a net worth (Rs 500 crore) and a turnover (Rs 1,000 crore) criterion since, like the original Direct Taxes Code, it seems to think companies habitually lie when it comes to net profits. Given that bureaucracy expands to fill up responsibilities available, it's likely that at some point the bureaucracy will want to certify the CSR expenditure is kosher and perhaps even specify what qualifies as CSR—no, we don't think extra payments to tribals for their land qualifies as CSR, or maybe it does.


Another recent example of the government wanting to outsource its work is the Right to Education Act (RTE). We all know that education is the single-biggest antidote to poverty, so it's good that the government has made education a constitutional right, but why ask the private sector to fulfil this responsibility for it? Under the RTE, private schools have to reserve a fourth of their seats for poor children and they'll get paid a fee for this which could be their costs or the costs the government incurs in its own schools, whichever is lower in classic bureaucratese. What this means is that, over a period of time, bureaucrats will monitor schools, as well various caste commissions to ensure, for instance, that an upper caste poor kid doesn't get into Delhi Public School while the OBC kid gets only into Ram Public School, assuming there is one by this name. Worse, since all schools will have to be 'recognised' after three years, this means unrecognised private schools that provide a large part of schooling to the poor will have to pay higher salaries to teachers, have bigger buildings and so on—in other words, they'll have to either go out of business or pay higher bribes to school inspectors.


The mandatory 2% figure, presumably, comes from the view that the private sector just makes horrendous profits but doesn't give back to society. This, it has to be recognised, is complete I-can't-find-the-polite-word-for-it. Of the government's total tax collections of Rs 7.46 lakh crore, just Rs 1.20 lakh crore comes from private individuals. The rest all comes from India Inc. Corporate tax collections rose from Rs 1.44 lakh crore in 2006-07 to a budgeted Rs 3.01 lakh crore this year, excise duty collections from Rs 1.17 lakh crore to Rs 1.32 lakh crore, import duties from Rs 0.86 lakh crore to Rs 1.15 lakh crore. Surely all of this is enough for the government to fund its basic governance duties? Assuming it isn't, and the high fiscal deficit tells us it isn't, why not go ahead and clean up the tax concessions that are almost as high as the total tax collections—just read the Receipts Budget book in the latest Budget document if you don't believe it. Indeed, that's why this newspaper criticised the government for its copout on the Direct Taxes Code (


Interestingly, while the government wants more out of India Inc—more taxes, more jobs—it is doing precious little to enable this. Forget about hire and fire, that old CII staple, the textiles association had an interesting proposal. Since export orders tend to be quite seasonal in this business, textile/garment firms have always wanted freedom to hire temporary workers, after all, Wal-Mart may want those 2,00,000 jeans this month but then may not repeat the order for another 6 months, or may not at all. As government policy doesn't allow firms to have a very high proportion of temps, the association suggested a textile-MNREGA of sorts—allow us to hire temps for 200 days a year (MNREGA is for 100) and at higher wages (Rs 100 is the MNREGA ceiling). But, no, the government didn't allow it. And yet it wants more out of India Inc.


Telecom is a great way to conclude this story. Since 1994, when private telecom was allowed, the government has laid down mandatory rollout obligations, so many phones in rural areas, so many in district headquarters and so on. Not one of these targets was met and finally they were scrapped. Yet, as the urban market started getting saturated, private sector telecom firms started getting serious about that market and today firms like Bharti, Vodafone and even Idea/Spice have more rural subscribers than the government-owned BSNL does.


Moral of the story: India Inc will start spending more on CSR when it finds it has no other way to do business, when it finds it needs to develop schools or redevelop land for the local community to trust it enough to sell it land. Manmohan Singh famously quoted Victor Hugo to say "no power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come". So why not wait for the time to come?






The announcement of the import parity principle for pricing of the products of new investments in projects producing nitrogenous fertilisers is the latest in a series of changes made in incentives for creating new capacities in fertiliser supply. It took the government a number of years to allow balancing and debottlenecking existing plants. This was highly recommended by the Fertiliser Pricing Policy Report that gave its report many years ago and the three to five million tonnes of additional capacity could have come much earlier and expensive imports avoided since the import price of urea was much higher than the average retention price given to Indian firms. This and the incentives for specialised fertilisers (now the fastest growing part of demand) were policies needed sorely but were delayed by many years. Fortunately, the policy was finally implemented.


The policy adopted again after many years of cogitation by the government for new capacity creation was a collar and cap based on import prices. The Fertiliser Pricing Committee had pointed out that India was short of energy sources and the industry must economise on energy use and this would emerge if pricing incentives gave rewards to capacity use since that was energy saving and was in terms of capacity creation linked to an understanding that India was energy-short and gas would remain in short supply. Energy markets would deregulate as seen by the Kelkar R Group and fertiliser would have to fall in line. With that a long-range marginal cost price recommended by us in the 1980s and endorsed by the Hanumantha Rao Committee was recommended as the marginal principle for encouraging investment. Freeing distribution controls at the margin was also recommended in a phased manner and the additional production would sell in this space, giving powerful incentives to investment abroad. On the LRMC or the price at which efficient investment would be encouraged, apart from incentives the pricing committees suggested tariff policies to take care of volatility in global energy prices. However, the illusion was created that gas is available and the collar and cap principle was announced even though the regulators did no quite agree and a joint sector gas exploration and development company has now sued its collaborator for misguiding it on reserves.


Meanwhile, the government took on a sovereign role in a natural resource in court dispute and planning types were happy thinking that plan rules would follow for the sector. This was not to be and they retired hurt. It took the government six years to recognise the importance of a policy for new investment abroad. This and the policy announced of 90% of import parity as affixing rule allows considerable scope for individual firm-level pricing, not a desirable principle.


The author is a former Union minister







Vedanta, much to Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik's chagrin, didn't get environmental clearance for mining in the Niyamgiri mountains and if alternate mines are not made available, it may even have to shut shop. He can take some solace in a different type of Niyamgiri business, eco-tourism so to speak. For now at least, local Oriya groups are organising picnics and special bus rides straight from the holy shrine of the Jagannath temple to the heartlands of the controversy-laden jungles of Niyamgiri.



Telecom companies aren't generally known to be too concerned about the goings on in Jammu and Kashmir, except to the extent this affects their ability to offer telecom services there. Of late, however, there's a great deal of interest. It appears there are 16 or so proposals from telecom companies—one from Essar and one from Etisalat, among others—that were before the FIPB and were sent to the home ministry for clearance. The ministry, however, is so caught up in the Jammu and Kashmir issues, it has had no time to apply its mind to the cases.





Suspension of DFID aid to India will also be welcomed in the UK


As India's growth story has gained momentum, it has gradually been booting out aid-givers. Even when hit by the massive 2004 Tsunami, the government declined foreign aid. The decision to reject further aid from the UK DFID is in continuity with a policy movement that can be traced back to the NDA. This is all about national pride, about saying we can take care of our own.


Interestingly, DFID has been facing a popularity crisis on the home front too. Why, it's asked, is it one of the few agencies ring-fenced from budget cuts. But as talk of waste and distorted priorities gets corroborated by scandals about how DFID bosses have been "living it up" at UK taxpayers' expense, not to mention the fact that traditional aid targets like India and China have definitely weathered the global economic crisis better than the UK, public support has been retreating rapidly. Ahead of the UK PM's recent India visit, our columnist Meghnad Desai advised, "If you quietly let them (the hosts) know that DFID can no longer afford to send aid to India but that you will be happy to receive it for the poverty stricken north-east of England, you will do fine."









In becoming only the seventh man to complete the Career Grand Slam, Rafael Nadal has joined an elite group of players who have conquered all surfaces. Even before he won his history-making U.S. Open title, Nadal offered enough evidence of being a champion of the highest order. Eight majors; two back-to-back triumphs at the French Open and Wimbledon; dominance over the great Roger Federer (14-7) in head-to-head battles: these are exceptional achievements by any yardstick. Yet there are few feats as legitimising as winning at least one title at each of the Grand Slams. This is an achievement that confirms beyond doubt the range and roundedness of the tennis player, for it demands mastery of dissimilar conditions. In winning his ninth major and collecting the complete set, Nadal has banished the ghosts of past failures at the U.S. Open. The 24-year-old Spaniard's victory over Novak Djokovic has secured his special place in history.


The most impressive aspect of Nadal joining Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi, and Roger Federer is his evolution into an all-court player. Like Bjorn Borg before him, Nadal has built his game on movement and topspin — not uncommon attributes in themselves. But both men, thanks to their unmatched athleticism, have pushed the boundaries of each element further than their competitors. Several critics saw the style of Borg and Nadal as being enormously successful on clay; they didn't however recognise its universality and the space it offered for adjustment so it could be transported to faster courts. While Nadal started off with a broad-based foundation, fabricated at home by his uncle and coach Toni, he has constantly pushed himself to advance his skills. For years, Toni worked on improving his gifted nephew's positioning on hard courts. A couple of days before the U.S. Open, Nadal experimented with a different way of holding the racquet to serve and discovered he could hit it consistently faster. Both facets were vital in the world champion's triumph. Central to his success is his strength of mind, which has allowed him to recover from the 2009 season, when chronic knee trouble and the emotional upheaval caused by his parents' divorce appeared to enfeeble him. It's Nadal's intense will to win, his competitiveness, and his habit of winning "the long rallies on the important points" that impress Rod Laver, arguably the most emphatic champion in tennis history and the last man before Nadal to win three successive majors in a year. Laver, who won all four in 1969, calls Rafa "the real thing." He should know.







The quest for an updated wholesale price index ended on Tuesday with the government launching a new series that captures price movements of many more goods and with a change in the base year from 1993-94 to 2004-05. The new series is more representative in character than the one it replaces. Many of the 241 items added to the portfolio are consumed by the fast growing middle class, which means the index will more efficiently capture the structural changes that are taking place in the economy. Many commodities now in the list, such as cell phones, were not in widespread use 15 years ago. The cities and towns from which data will be sourced have also been increased and there will be a uniform method for collating the data. Even with all the improvements, the new series does not quite capture the change in the cost of living in this fast growing economy. Services, which contribute over half of the economic activity, remain excluded. The WPI data will continue to be released at monthly intervals and the data on the prices of food articles and commodities at weekly intervals. Over the medium term, India should move towards the international practice of relying on a representative consumer price index for policy purposes.


The new index showed that inflation in August declined by 1.3 percentage points to a seven-month low of 8.5 per cent, although by the old index, which will continue to be published in the foreseeable future, inflation dipped only marginally to 9.5 per cent in August from 10 per cent in July. The battle with inflation is hardly over and the government will naturally have to remain vigilant. Despite the overall decline in the WPI, prices of primary articles — food, non-food articles such as fibre and oil seeds, and minerals — shot up by 15.76 per cent on an annual basis. Inflation expectations in the wake of high prices of food and other essential commodities are unlikely to moderate because of the lower overall inflation index for just one month. The Reserve Bank of India, among others, has pointed out that the supply side factors, which have been pushing food prices up, are far less likely to be contained by conventional monetary policy measures. However, with inflation spilling over into the demand side and becoming more generalised, and the economy remaining buoyant — spurred by strong industrial performance — it seems certain that the central bank will hike the policy rates in its forthcoming policy review.










An Assistant Secretary dealing with South Asia in the State Department in Washington a decade-and-a-half ago once took justifiable pride that she only needed a clutch of minutes to get the Indians all worked up into a tizzy. What the loquacious U.S. diplomat, who was an old India-Pakistan hand familiar with the human frailties (and vanities) in our part of the world, meant was that Indians never bothered to crosscheck facts when they came across an unpalatable thought.


She had a point. And her adage holds good. When an opinion piece by the U.S. strategic analyst, Selig Harrison, appeared in the New York Times recently alleging large-scale Chinese military presence in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, history seemed to repeat itself. Our tribal instincts resurfaced. It still remains foggy on what basis Mr. Harrison painted the apocalyptic vision of war drums beating distantly in the obscure Himalayan mountains. The regions beyond the northern edges of Kashmir comprise tangled, inaccessible mountains and it is highly improbable that Mr. Harrison wrote on the basis of any first-hand information regarding the 22 secret tunnels in which 11,000 Chinese soldiers belonging to the People's Liberation Army reportedly huddle uneasily alongside stockpiles of deadly missiles that could be launched against India. (Actually, the Pakistani authorities have invited him to go to that picturesque region and take a good look himself.)


Not much ingenuity is needed to discern that Mr. Harrison based his opinion piece on intelligence sources. All he would say later was that his story was based on "western and regional intelligence sources." Who could be these sources? Politics should, after all, begin with asking a few blunt questions. Were these sources Pakistani, Afghan, Iranian, Russian or Chinese who guided Mr. Harrison? Seems illogical. Were they Indian sources based in Delhi — or Indian "analysts" comfortably located in Singapore? Indeed, by a process of elimination, we arrive at the conclusion that the greatest likelihood seems to be that Mr. Harrison's sources were American. This of course is by no means casting aspersions on Mr. Harrison's integrity. In fact, he has been most candid about his thesis when he concluded his opinion piece with a stirring call to the U.S. administration. He wrote: "The United States is uniquely situated to play a moderating role in Kashmir, given its growing economic and military ties with India and Pakistan's aid dependence on Washington.


"Washington should press New Delhi to resume autonomy negotiations with Kashmiri separatists. Success would put pressure on Islamabad for comparable concessions in Free Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan … Precisely because the Gilgit-Baltistan region is so important to China, the U.S., India and Pakistan should work together to make sure that it is not overwhelmed … by the Chinese behemoth."


Both Islamabad and Beijing have since repeatedly and unequivocally refuted the contents of Mr. Harrison's article. Top Indian officials who have full access to intelligence have also off-the-record given their estimation that any Chinese presence in the Gilgit-Baltistan region could be related to flood-relief work and some development projects and it doesn't involve Chinese regulars of the PLA. They are also inclined to accept the Chinese assurance that there is no change in Beijing's stand on the Kashmir issue, including the part of Kashmir that is under Indian governance.


Equally, in their assessment, Chinese nationals are not taking up habitation in Gilgit-Baltistan, but come to the region from time to time to build infrastructure projects and they go away upon the completion of those projects. Delhi regards the figure of $1.7 billion as Chinese investment in Northern Areas and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as far-too inflated a figure. As a senior Indian official put it "They [the Chinese] are a business-like people and they won't invest in that kind of area like that."


Evidently, there is a glaring disconnect in New Delhi between those who know and generally prefer not to speak and those who rave but have no flair or patience for checking the facts on the ground. The problem with disregard of facts is that incrementally you withdraw into a smaller and smaller coil of rage and ultimately resign yourself to a sense of powerlessness, frustration and defeat. Should that be the fate of a great country like India that has survived for millennia?


Ultimately, it all boils down to China's presence in the South Asian region and, as the Prime Minister put it the other day, "we have to reflect on this reality, we have to be aware of this." The issue is: what is the nature of the "reality" so that we can come to terms with it?


The reality is China's growing power and influence that need to be tackled in regional politics. The security of our region and its future will significantly depend on the choices that China makes. Having said that, we too have choices to make. Even if India fails to overtake China economically, it will nonetheless be the second-strongest regional power and will be the most serious constraint on Chinese power. That is to say, the manner and the directions in which India chooses to use its power is going to be no less important than China's actions in their impact on regional stability.


Of course, our choices are going to be harder than China's. The heart of the matter is that a stable, peaceful South Asia can only be built if India works with China. The alternative will be war and mayhem and history provides many examples. The point is, there is a fundamental choice involved here — the choice between "influence" and stability. India and China are on the same side — both want influence and neither seeks instability.


However, we cannot insist that regional stability is synonymous with India's primacy. The international community will only mock at us if we do so in this era of globalisation. As, for that matter, was the region in a blissful state of stability even in the halcyon days when India's influence reigned supreme? In short, the rise in China's influence in the region can lead to peace and regional stability provided we eschew outdated notions of "sphere of influence." On the contrary, a struggle will inevitably ensue if India chooses to contest China's growing influence since the quintessence of that choice will be that India is prepared to sacrifice peace and stability in the region in its quest for regional primacy. Our South Asian neighbours will only see our choice as a quest for regional hegemony and they cannot be expected to accommodate hubris.


Alas, a segment of our strategic community seems to think that South Asia can be peaceful only under Indian tutelage. It perceives China's desire to expand its influence in the region as inherently threatening. But what is the alternative? China has already grown to be the second biggest economic power in the world. With such economic power, political and strategic power inexorably follows. To quote from a recent thoughtful essay by well-known Australian scholar Hugh White, "China's power, controlled by China's government, must be dealt with as a simple fact of international politics. If Americans deny the right to exercise its power internationally within the same limits and norms that they accept for themselves, they can hardly be surprised if China decides not to accept the legitimacy of American power and starts pushing back. These days it can push back pretty hard."


Again, all evidence so far points to a distinct pattern that China wishes to expand its influence in South Asia without breaking international law or the rules set out in the Charter of the United Nations. China has not used its power improperly. The fact that China has growing ambitions to develop communication links via South Asia to the world market bypassing the Malacca Strait (which is an American "choke-point") or that China aspires to explore the vast untapped potential for regional trade and investment in South Asia do not make the Chinese policies illegitimate. Our dilemma is that we are used to exercising a level of regional primacy in the neighbouring countries and we may have come to regard it almost as a mark of our national identity. Clearly, the instinct to "fight" to keep our perceived regional primacy stems from a wrong notion.


The rise of China's influence doesn't have to be a story of India's weakness but can remain a story of Chinese strength. What is it, arguably, that prevents Indian companies even today from spreading wings to the mountains, jungles and beaches of Nepal, Myanmar or Sri Lanka with the gusto with which the Chinese businessmen are doing? Last week, Yunnan commenced direct flight to Colombo. Why is it that a Raipur-Colombo air link remains "uneconomical?"


Nothing like this Chinese "challenge" ever happened before in the South Asian region. Japan or America or Britain could have mounted it in these six decades, but they didn't. But then, they weren't South Asia's neighbours. China is a neighbour.


(The writer is a former diplomat.)









In 2001, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen recorded an eyebrow-raising fact in his book, "Development as Freedom", that Tamil Nadu and Kerala had both achieved much faster rates of decline in fertility than China had achieved since it introduced its one-child policy.

That same year, the international community signed a historic, unprecedented accord — an eight-fold road map to eliminate poverty and hunger, preventable disease and death, and to protect the earth's environment. These are the Millennium Development Goals. Two of the goals, No. 4 and No. 5, concerned reducing infant and maternal mortality rates, respectively. Again, Kerala and Tamil Nadu defied national trends.


Kerala today has among the lowest infant mortality rates in India (12 per 1,000 live births: SRS data, 2008), and Tamil Nadu, among the lowest maternal mortality rates, with an impressive 70 per cent reduction over the last 20 years (380 in 1993 to 111 in 2008 per 100,000 live births: National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and Sample Registration System (SRS) data). "Back then, it was a very male-dominated government and bureaucracy," said Sheila Rani Chunkath, a senior Tamil Nadu-cadre Indian Administrative Service officer who was instrumental in jump-starting the State government's policies on women and child welfare. "But we thought it was a scandal for a woman to die in this day and age and this cannot be tolerated. We also believed that government could work."


Maternal mortality


Tamil Nadu's experience in reducing maternal mortality is particularly instructive because even more than in the case of infant mortality, India is way off-track with respect to reducing maternal mortality. Every year, approximately 80,000 mothers die in India at childbirth. The media have often termed the startling trend as "silent genocide." The MDG 2015 target is 100 per 100,000 live births, while India's projected rate for 2010 is 220 per 100,000 live births, according to The Lancet, a global medical journal.


The inevitable question that arises, then, is: what did Tamil Nadu do differently? What were the enabling factors?


Inevitably, some of them are the same factors that Professor Sen cited 10 years ago in his book to explain Tamil Nadu's reduced fertility rates — a combination of "an active, but cooperative" family planning programme, high literacy rates and high female employment in gainful employment.


Widely understood by public health professionals but not necessarily by the public at large, though, is that many of Tamil Nadu's achievements in human development are the result of a conscious and deliberately crafted state policy. "Ultimately, it all boils down to an issue of management and logistics," said Ms. Chunkath. "We found, for instance, that many deaths occur because in the crucial hours, pregnant women were running about trying to access too many different places that simply didn't have the necessary care."


One-stop centres, assistance


Ms. Chunkath was part of government efforts to establish and eventually improve a network of one-stop emergency centres, known as CEmONC (Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care), across Tamil Nadu. Equipped with operation theatres and blood storage units and staffed by obstetricians, paediatricians, anaesthetists and other specialists, these are intended to be available round the clock. Since 2004, when the centres were introduced at the district and sub-district levels, news reports have recorded a sharp increase in the number of complicated cases being registered across the network, underscoring their crucial role.


Over the years, a slew of ambitious and targeted, if populist, schemes have been introduced in Tamil Nadu. On closer scrutiny, these may not bear the true imprint of a social welfare state, but the schemes have nevertheless proved to be effective, heightened consciousness and led to many desirable public policy outcomes. The best-known and widely studied initiative for reducing maternal mortality is the Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy Maternity Assistance Scheme, under which pregnant mothers are entitled to financial support of Rs. 6,000 each time, for up to two children. The State's main marriage assistance scheme (the official name is Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar Ninaivu Marriage Assistance Scheme) complements this effort by providing Rs. 20,000 to young women for marriage, provided they have studied up to at least Class 10. The amount has now been increased to Rs. 24,000.


Dhatchayani, who lives in a thatched-roof hut in Kovathoor village in Kanchipuram district, 70 km from Chennai, is a beneficiary of both schemes. She belongs to a Scheduled Caste, below poverty line household. Her husband is a dye-worker and earns Rs. 6,000 to Rs. 7,000 a month. When she got married, Ms. Dhatchayani, educated up to Class 12, received Rs. 20,000 under the marriage assistance scheme. The mother of a two-year-old son, she is now seven months pregnant with her second child, and has applied for the Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy Scheme. It delivers half the money to the mother a few months before delivery and the rest in the months following it. Asked whether she wants more children or if there was a preference for boys in her village, she said: "Male or female, a child is a child; and two are enough."


Accountability and incentives


Compared to other Indian States, Tamil Nadu has also been better able to implement governmental schemes by instituting strong accountability measures and incentives at the grassroot level. The public health centre (PHC) network is well established: there are about 1,700 of them here, each serving a population of 30,000 to 40,000. "The main difference I have seen is that our PHCs function, whereas they don't in other States," said Sharda Suresh, a Chennai-based paediatrician and public health expert who advised the Tamil Nadu government and now works for a research-based non-governmental organisation, Samarth. "The credit goes to the Public Health Department for ensuring that PHCs function with spot checks, taking action and making local administration accountable."


The PHC that Ms. Dhatchayani goes to for regular check-ups is a 10-minute walk from her home and provides a ready example. Located in Luthoor block, most of the 10-member-strong medical and support staff seemed to be in attendance on a government holiday for Onam, the popular festival of Kerala celebrated widely across South India. This PHC functions six days a week, except on Sundays, but staff nurses are on call round-the clock, including on Sundays. Serving a population of about 35,000 covering 30 villages, the Koovathur PHC has an estimated daily footprint covering 160 to 260 patients, a majority of them from the Dalit community. About 20 new cases of pregnancies are registered each month, according to the PHC health staff nurse. She is 47-year-old Tamil Selvi, who has studied up to Class 12. In the past four years, there have been two maternal deaths. There have been four to five infant deaths annually at the PHC level, and since 2007, when the Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy Scheme was introduced, there have been almost no home deliveries in the entire Kanchipuram district, Ms. Selvi claimed.


The Tamil Nadu Government has tried to fill the gaps at the PHC level with supporting schemes. For instance, PHCs can only assist in natural births and not caesarean sections, which are referred to CEmONCs or district and other hospitals. As part of the GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute's '108' ambulance services, Tamil Nadu has at least 385 ambulances, one for each of its 385 community development blocks. Following a public-private partnership model, its services are free to users such as pregnant mothers. They generally ensure that anyone in need of emergency care would not have to wait for more than 20 minutes for transport to reach them. Finally, under the Chief Minister Kalaignar's Insurance Scheme for Life Saving Treatments, families earning less than Rs. 72,000 annually can be insured for up to Rs. 1 lakh each, for up to four years. For maternal care, coverage includes being able to access a private nursing home or hospital for "major operations."


Resource staff


No well-thought-out public policy initiative is bereft of in-built incentives, and so it is the case for Tamil Nadu's health care service delivery system. Public health experts working closely with infant and maternal mortality issues found that making a medical officer available within a five-kilometre range of a PHC and accessible 24/7 a day is crucial. They also concluded that nurses are "better bets for the government because they are cheaper, also more reliable," as Dr. Suresh put it. "We looked into their problems and enabling conditions such as safety, living quarters and covering their rent." Ms. Selvi, who works at the Koovathur PHC, has a monthly salary of Rs. 11,500, in addition to medical, housing, travel and "washing" allowance. She avails of comprehensive health insurance and will get a pension provided by the State government.


Even with Central government-initiated schemes such as Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the incentives in Tamil Nadu are more visible than elsewhere even during a casual visit. At an Anganwadi in Thirukazukundran village, an hour's drive from Chennai and off the East Coast Road, the helper was in the midst of cooking the prescribed mid-day meal for the 25 children who come there. Her salary is Rs. 2,300 a month, while the main caretaker makes Rs. 4,000. An Anganwadi teacher from a neighbouring village, who dropped by, has a salary of Rs. 5,000. All these incentives underscore something vital for effective public policy implementation. "You are not only creating a health structure but you are creating trust in the government," as Dr. Suresh put it.


Discrimination and corruption


In spite of Tamil Nadu's visible success in health care and health service delivery, as elsewhere in India issues of neglect, accessibility and corruption plague it too.


Child Rights and You (CRY), a national child rights advocacy organisation, has been working closely with the State's under-served communities such as Dalit people, who comprise 38 per cent of the population. "They still face strong social discrimination and children are disproportionately affected," said P. Krishnamoorthy, a Chennai-based manager with CRY. "The conditions of women and children among the few tribal pockets are still abysmal. But comparatively, the overall picture is still better than many other States."


Last but not least, some public health experts link Tamil Nadu's relative success in overall human development to a heightened awareness among the common person of his or her rights as distinct from high literacy rates in the State. Dr. Suresh attributes it partially to the language and the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu. "One thing it did was help develop a strong sense of self-identity even among the common person," she said. "The common Tamilian felt he can make a difference, that he has the right to protest and his voice will be heard."


( Divya Gupta is an independent journalist supported by Save the Children to raise awareness about issues around child mortality ahead of the UN Millennium Development Goals summit scheduled to be held in New York from September 20 to 22.)








Piglets hop, scurry and squeal their way to the far corner of the pen, eyeing an approaching human.


"It shows that they're healthy animals," Craig Rowles, the owner of a large pork farm here, said with pride.


Rowles says he keeps his pigs fit by feeding them antibiotics for weeks after weaning, to ward off possible illness in that vulnerable period. And for months after that, he administers an antibiotic that promotes faster growth with less feed.


Dispensing antibiotics to healthy animals is routine on the large, concentrated farms that now dominate American agriculture. But the practice is increasingly condemned by medical experts who say it contributes to a growing scourge of modern medicine: the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including dangerous E. coli strains that account for millions of bladder infections each year, as well as resistant types of salmonella and other microbes.


FDA guidelines


Now, after decades of debate, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appears poised to issue its strongest guidelines on animal antibiotics yet, intended to reduce what it calls a clear risk to human health. They would end farm uses of the drugs simply to promote faster animal growth and call for tighter oversight by veterinarians.


The agency's final version is expected within months, and comes at a time when animal-confinement methods, safety monitoring and other aspects of so-called factory farming are also under sharp attack. The federal proposal has struck a nerve among major livestock producers, who argue that a direct link between farms and human illness has not been proved. The producers are vigorously opposing it even as many medical and health experts call it too timid.


Scores of scientific groups, including the American Medical Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, are calling for even stronger action that would bar most uses of key antibiotics in healthy animals, including use for disease prevention, as with Rowles' piglets. Such a bill is gaining traction in Congress.


"Is producing the cheapest food in the world our only goal?" asked Dr. Gail R. Hansen, a veterinarian and senior officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which has campaigned for new limits on farm antibiotics. "Those who say there is no evidence of risk are discounting 40 years of science. To wait until there's nothing we can do about it doesn't seem like the wisest course."


Farmers react


With the backing of some leading veterinary scientists, farmers assert that the risks are remote and are outweighed by improved animal health and lower food costs.


"There is no conclusive scientific evidence that antibiotics used in food animals have a significant impact on the effectiveness of antibiotics in people," the National Pork Producers Council said.


But leading medical experts say the threat is real and growing.


As drug-resistant strains of microbes evolve on the farms, they are passed along in meat sold in grocery stores. They can infect people as they handle the uncooked product or when eating, if cooking is not thorough. The dangerous strains can also enter the environment via manure or the clothes of farm workers.


Genetic studies of drug-resistant E. coli strains found on poultry and beef in grocery stores and strains in sick patients have found them to be virtually identical, and further evidence also indicated that the resistant microbes evolved on farms and were transferred to consumers, said Dr. James R. Johnson, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Minnesota. Hospitals now find that up to 30 percent of urinary infections do not respond to the front-line treatments, ciprofloxacin and the drug known as Bactrim or Septra, and that resistance to key newer antibiotics is also emerging. E. coli is also implicated in serious blood, brain and other infections.


"For those of us in the public health community, the evidence is unambiguously clear," Johnson said. "Most of the E. coli resistance in humans can be traced to food-animal sources."


— © New York Times News Service









The U.K. Ministry of Defence (MoD) is refusing to disclose whether any individuals have died in British military custody in Afghanistan, raising concerns that a number of people may have been killed during interrogation.


For more than two months, defence officials have evaded questions about deaths in custody since British forces began operating in the country in 2002.


The questions were posed amid the growing evidence, reported by TheGuardian on September 13, that British troops and Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel are suspected of being responsible for the murder and manslaughter of a number of Iraqi civilians, in addition to the high-profile case of Baha Mousa.


The incidents


Victims in Iraq include men who have drowned after allegedly being pushed into canals and a man who is alleged to have been kicked to death on board an aircraft.


However, when asked on July 8 this year whether there had been any deaths in U.K. military custody in Afghanistan, the MoD replied: "In Afghanistan, there have been no deaths in detention facilities." Told that this did not answer the question, the MoD replied on August 18: "No one has died in U.K. formal detention facilities during Op Herrick." Operation Herrick is the codename given to most, but not all, British military operations in Afghanistan over the last eight years.


Defence officials have also sought to respond to the question by insisting that they did not have a clear understanding of the term "custody".


Although defence ministers have answered a series of parliamentary questions about deaths in U.K. military

custody in Iraq, asked about any such deaths in Afghanistan a spokesman replied: "We do not mean to appear unhelpful, but to answer your question properly we first of all need to understand exactly what you mean. 'Custody' is a term that we no longer use in this context as it is vague and open to misinterpretation." All subsequent questions to the MoD have been ignored.


Phil Shiner, a lawyer acting in a number of cases in which both Iraqis and Afghans have died, said on September 13: "The question is a simple one: when U.K. forces had custody of Afghan civilians, how many were subsequently killed? "Weasel words about how to define custody and thus give no answer to that simple question leads to the inevitable conclusion that the answer is unpalatable." Soldiers who have served in Iraq have been prosecuted over the deaths of three civilians.


In each case all the defendants have been cleared, or the charges withdrawn, except in the case of Baha Mousa. One soldier was jailed for a year after pleading guilty to inhumane treatment of the hotel receptionist, who was tortured to death while being interrogated by British troops in September 2003.


It has now emerged that British troops are suspected of unlawful killing in a number of other cases. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







Steven Hoskin had strong feelings about his killers. They had abused, exploited and humiliated him over a year, taking his money, treating him as their slave and making him wear his own dog's collar and lead. Eventually, having forced him to swallow 70 painkillers, they took him to the top of a railway viaduct and made him hang from the railings as one member of the gang, a girl aged 16, stamped on his hands until he fell 30 metres to his death.


Yet these were the people the 38-year-old, who had severe learning disabilities, had boasted excitedly of counting as friends. "He thought they were the cat's whiskers," says Morley Richards, who had known Hoskin before he met the group. "He would say, 'They're my mates, I've got my own mates now'" Hoskin's case is extreme, but the phenomenon of learning disabled people being groomed by those who pretend to be their friends before being exploited by them financially, physically or sexually — "mate crime", as it is sometimes known in the U.K. — is far from rare, experts say, and appears to be on the increase. As more individuals are given the chance to live independently, the unwelcome side effect is that they are more likely to fall prey to criminals. Hoskin was a case in point: he had left the small village of Maudlin, near Bodmin, in Cornwall in south western England, where he had grown up, and was thrilled to have his own one-room apartment in the nearby market town of St Austell, where he made his new "friends".


The U.K. Association for Real Change (ARC) has been researching mate crime across Britain for the past year following concern among its members who are service providers for people with learning disabilities. Examples it has been told about range from perpetrators routinely going to a victim's house and clearing their cupboards of food and alcohol before leaving them to clear up the mess, to instances of people being persuaded to part with their state welfare benefits.


Women can be sexually exploited by men, says David Grundy from ARC. In other cases, someone with learning disabilities may be asked to look after a package that contains drugs and end up being beaten up as a result, or go shoplifting with their new-found friends carrying a weapon, only to get caught by police.


The victim may not realise that what is happening is wrong. "There can be a feeling of, 'He's my friend, that's what friends do'," says Grundy. "People with learning disabilities have fewer friends. For some, any friends is better than no friends, even if they're spending all your money.


Likened to domestic violence


"It involves a lot of issues of self-belief and self-worth: thinking it's all right for people to walk all over them all the time, because that's what's happened to them the whole of their lives."


Rod Landman, also from ARC, likens the situation to domestic violence. "The primacy of the relationship can be more important than what's happening inside it. People are prepared to put up with all sorts of nonsense to keep a relationship that may be the only one they have apart from with someone who's being paid to be with them." As a result, victims shy away from reporting incidents to the police, or indeed anyone. Every service provider that Landman talks to will tell him of cases, he says, but no one with learning disabilities will do the same.


Some families and frontline social care staff are still unaware of what constitutes a disability hate crime and what to do when one happens, says Grundy. Abusive relationships may get flagged up to adult safeguarding teams, but their primary aim is to keep the individual safe by removing them from the situation, rather than report those committing the crimes. This means that perpetrators remain free to target others.


As cuts lead to the closure of day centres and potentially less support for vulnerable people, there are fears that the situation could get worse. Gavin Harding, vice-chair of the U.K. National Forum for People with Learning Disabilities, remembers the shock and anger he felt five years ago when he realised that someone he believed to be a friend had taken his cheque book and, together with another man, forged a cheque for £500.


"It was the fact they took advantage of me," he says. "It felt awful. You feel you can't trust people after that."


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







The Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni announced on September 15 the discovery of a 2,800-year-old burial chamber which belongs to the priest Karakhamun from 25th Dynasty (755 BC).


The Ministry of Culture said the chamber was uncovered during conservation and restoration work on the west bank of Luxor by an Egyptian-American expedition. "The restoration work of this tomb is part of a much larger project known as the South Asasif Conservation Project (ACP), which contains nobles' tombs from the New Kingdom, as well as the 25th-26th Dynasties," Hosni said.


"The burial chamber was found at the bottom of an eight-metre deep burial shaft, Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) said. Hawass said that the chamber is in very good condition and contains beautifully painted scenes, adding that its entrance is decorated with an image of Karakhamun and the ceiling is decorated with several astrological scenes, including a depiction of the sky goddess Nut. The leader of the expedition, Dr. Elena Pischikova, said that the tomb of Priest Karakhamun was discovered in the 19th Century in a dilapidated condition. It continued to deteriorate, and only parts of it were accessible to visitors in the early 1970s. Later it collapsed and was buried under the sand.


— Xinhua







Cutting through the political thicket of mercurial West Bengal, where political actors of all hues are guiding their actions and words motivated by little other than next year's Assembly election which could see the making of history if the CPI(M)-led Left Front is bested, AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi had one clear message: becoming Prime Minister was not the kinetic driving his actions. This straightforward line appears to have charmed the students and faculty at Visvabharati, the university established by Rabindranath Tagore. But it is unlikely that anyone in the young Mr Gandhi's shoes can really divorce his thoughts from the office of Prime Minister. He is, after all, the scion of India's most pre-eminent and charismatic political family, and is widely regarded as the engine behind the Congress Party's extraordinary electoral showing, beating all odds, in last year's Lok Sabha election. And yet, the young Congress leader was able to give the impression that it was not the question of attaining the pinnacle of political glory that gave him energy. He exhorted his listeners to think of reform — not merely complaints — in their everyday actions if they desired to be in the public sphere. The Prime Minister's job was not everything, he noted. A cynical view can be that this is posturing. But that is not the way Mr Gandhi's audiences appear to be viewing him in the last three years or so that he has begun going around the country meeting various sections of needy people. Perhaps it is the stark contrast with the normal, power-grabbing, politician that sets apart the Gandhi scion — till the other day regarded as the boy scout innocent of the tough realities of political life — in the eyes of the public. Quite clearly, not everyone who appears impressed with the Congress general secretary is going to vote Congress. A range of thoughts course through an elector's mind in the ballot season. And yet, there can be little doubt that Mr Gandhi is handily selling a ware that people seek, even if this is going to turn out a mirage in the end. It is here that he seems to be setting an agenda that the grizzled men and women in our political life, not to say their younger camp followers, find enviable but are unable to replicate.

The wider aim of the Congress leader appears to be to head another Congress, not the one he has been sucked into — a reformed Congress where elections at all levels will decide the leadership at each level. If this becomes reality in the not too distant future, a sea change would have come over a party whose organisational structure was overhauled in 1969 by Indira Gandhi to make it leader-centric, a template that remains unchanged to this day. This is far from being an easy ask, as Rahul will discover. Vested interests tend to overwhelm all systems we create. But it is clear to see that he is on his way to make a beginning with the Youth Congress, until the other day a den of pushy nobodies with sycophancy and a rapid political climb on their minds. We can hope that Mr Gandhi will succeed in the task he appears to have set himself, but who can say? Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see a politician talking directly to people and to aspiring politicians, urging them to change, to care, and to move away from carpet-bagging dreams. So far, we have not heard of the Congress general secretary seeking to recruit from the lower rungs of our hierarchical social and economic life as he goes about seeking to revitalise the Youth Congress from state to state. Covering this lacuna will be good for his party and for the future political landscape of this country.








The National Advisory Council (NAC) is actively engaged in preparing a draft of the Communal & Sectarian Violence Bill, 2010. This is NAC's second attempt at drafting the bill. The NAC had earlier rejected its own draft, the Communal Violence Bill, 2005. This time round the NAC has formed a sub-group to draft the 2010 version which shall deal with "sectarian" violence too.

The NAC's website ( throws up as many questions about the council itself as it does about the contents of the proposed bill. As many would know, in India drafting of a bill is undertaken by the concerned ministry. A first draft version is whetted by the law ministry's department of legislative affairs to make the bill comply with an established set of drafting parameters. If serious issues of law pose doubts in the minds of the "drafters", then the proposed bill is sent to the department of legal affairs, also within the law ministry, for scrutiny. After this the draft is sent back to the parent ministry, which then forwards it to the Cabinet for approval and to be tabled in both the Houses of Parliament. It is the privilege of the Houses of Parliament to discuss and/or send the bill to the Standing Committee (consisting of members of Parliament) for a thorough study and recommendations. The Standing Committee may invite citizens groups, non-governmental organisations, experts etc for gaining a better feel of the ground realities and understanding the various crosscurrents of opinion influencing an issue. With the NAC drafting the Communal & Sectarian Violence Bill, would it be wrong to wonder if the home ministry has "outsourced" one of its functions?
The Indian Constitution — through the "Allocation of Business" and the "Transaction of Business" rules — defines the roles of ministries but not of advisory councils. One may argue that the Planning Commission too is an advisory body and we have no issues with it. Then why the discomfort over NAC? The Planning Commission reports to the Prime Minister and he is the head of our executive. Does the NAC report to the Prime Minister? No. The NAC is not a statutory or a constitutional body.

Shouldn't our elected representatives have the first right to frame, amend and review our laws? Is it envisaged in our Constitution that any group of people, led by a member of Parliament elevated to Cabinet rank, can draft laws? If our executive has forfeited its job, shouldn't our legislature pull them up? The legislature doesn't brook the judiciary treading on its toes, and rightly so. Here the executive is being completely bypassed. Doesn't it mind?

The proposed Communal & Sectarian Violence Bill is being drafted on the basis of certain "key elements accepted by the NAC". All the key elements refer to issues which may arise in the unfortunate circumstance of a riot. There is only one brief mention of "prevention" in the draft so far. So essentially it is a bill for dealing with communal riots, rather than communal violence. Then why not call it so?

Violence can be physical, mental, verbal, psychological etc. For instance, a community can be petrified about its safety even without riots. Didn't all of us believe that West Bengal is a temple of communal harmony only till the other day when Deganga happened? What does it take for 60,000 Chakmas to fear that they will be driven out of Arunachal Pradesh? In the old city of Hyderabad, in Hailakandi and Silchar, riots are occasional, but some communities live perpetually in an environment of insecurity, scared that they are, in a planned fashion, being forced out of their ancestral homes. These are the outcomes of communal violence, not of riot. But it's communal violence all the same.

If the NAC relates to only riot-based experiences, has it drawn people from organisations which have worked with victims of Nelli, Bhagalpur, Meerut, Nanded, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Marad and others? A broad-based advisory council will have its benefits.

Point two of the draft bill's key elements wants the sub-group "to frame relevant provisions… for… the resettlement and reparations, keeping in mind the rights of internally-displaced persons". Here let us not forget the nearly 3,000 families of Reongs of Mizoram who are living in refugee camps in Tripura. The Kashmiri Pundits may provide inputs to the NAC but are the Dimasas and the Jammi Nagas of the former NC Hills being heard? They too have suffered communal violence.

Another key guiding principle of the NAC is "the need for an independent National Authority to ensure effective compliance with the law, without disturbing the federal structure". Law and order is a state (not Centre) subject. The bill, when passed, will become law in every state. But it is being topped by a supervisory National Authority. Can this be achieved "without disturbing the federal structure"?

The NAC is overloaded with service-driven good Samaritans who are Gujarat obsessed. Their obsession sometimes makes one wonder if they are out to get just one person rather than getting justice for the hapless victims they claim to serve. Laws will learn from experiences but they cannot be framed or drafted based on obsessions or highly charged emotions.

The financial implication of every new law is a serious matter that needs to be addressed even at the drafting stage. The NAC only recently faced this issue in the context of the Food Security Bill. Whatever happened to the Judicial Impact Assessment report by the learned Justice (retd) Jagannadha Rao? The effective implementation of any law depends on the financial and other resource provisions it carries with it and not just the political clout it rides on.

"The question of who in the bureaucratic or political chain should be held responsible and penalised for failure to maintain harmony has dogged the bill", said a leading newspaper in July 2010. Understandably so! In Deganga, it is alleged that a member of Parliament belonging to the United Progressive Alliance coalition is directly involved in communal attacks. In the political chain then will the bill enable us to hold the Prime Minister responsible?


Nirmala Sitharaman is spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party.


The views expressed in this column are her own.








As Terry Jones continues to grab headlines the world over with his crass publicity-seeking antics, we can see the downside of the 24/7, globalised rolling news cycle. Here's a pastor of a tiny community with a shady past nobody had ever heard of, and overnight he becomes a celebrity.

By threatening to burn copies of the Muslim holy book at his Florida church, he has held his country's government hostage for days. Public officials from US President Barack Obama downwards have been urging him to refrain from his act of desecration. Mercifully, he has announced that he is cancelling the event, and did not go ahead with his stunt last Saturday. But until his announcement hours before D-Day, the world was on edge, with the threat of an explosion in the Muslim world a very real possibility.

The whole sorry affair underlines how vulnerable we are to images and words beamed into our homes from thousands of miles away. As we saw a few weeks ago, a page on Facebook (which has hundreds of millions of members) could cause riots in Pakistan because some idiot posted a blasphemous suggestion about Islam. Before that, the sacrilegious cartoons in a Danish newspaper caused an outcry across the Muslim world that resulted in many deaths and much damage to property. The Danish embassy in Islamabad was the target of a suicide bombing that resulted in several (mostly Pakistani) deaths.

Given how easy it is for somebody to post an offensive image or message on the Internet, are Muslims going to get worked up each time this kind of thing happens? The thing to realise is that there are many nuts out there in cyberspace. I should know as I get my share of hate mail and threats, but I find that pressing the "delete" button on my laptop is a better option than getting annoyed or frightened. So collectively, why can't we all just hit the "delete" button instead of taking to the streets every time some nut posts something Muslims find sacrilegious?
The other thing to realise is that in most cases, Western governments do not have the power to prevent citizens from committing acts that are offensive to other faiths. Thus, even though Obama can authorise death and destruction thousands of miles away, he cannot prevent a lunatic like Terry Jones from burning the Holy Quran. The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees complete religious freedom, and this includes the right of citizens to criticise other religions. Similarly, the Danish government could not prevent a newspaper from publishing offensive cartoons under the country's freedom of expression laws. And the Internet, of course, is virtually free from any kind of government controls.

While the Terry Jones affair will hopefully recede into the background, the proposed Islamic centre at New York's Ground Zero continues to polarise American society. To an extent, the matter has now become the latest battleground in the ongoing culture wars in America. Over the last decade and more, there has been a deepening divide between liberals and right-wing Americans. These differences were most recently evident in Barack Obama's election, but it was George W. Bush and his neo-conservative agenda that split America as never before.


The current flashpoint is the Islamic centre controversy. As many ordinary Americans registered their objections to the project, liberal citizens took up the cause in the name of the First Amendment, and the right of any faith to build a place of worship anywhere its followers choose.

While this is an admirable position to take in theory, the reality is that the project has put Muslims in America in a very difficult position. The depth and intensity of the anger that has been whipped up by right-wing media and politicians reveal the latent Islamophobia that has lain below the surface since 9/11, and has been building up ever since. There are times when it's better not to exercise a right if it gives offence.

By refusing to compromise and build his proposed centre somewhere less symbolic, Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the present mosque, is not doing his fellow-Muslims in America any favours. Those living in remote towns report a rising hostility among their neighbours where they had earlier found nothing but kindness and acceptance. Indeed, the project has become a lightning rod for all kinds of reactionary elements; but it has also caused ordinary Americans to take an anti-Muslim position for the first time. Polls are showing that over 70 per cent of all Americans oppose the project.

Assuming the project goes ahead, and the hundred-million dollars needed to complete it are duly raised, it will continue to be criticised, and possibly attacked. Unfortunately, as we know to our cost, there is no shortage of violent nuts in America, or in the Muslim world. Should there be some kind of atrocity aimed at the Islamic centre, there will inevitably be a backlash among Muslims, some of whom will attack Western and Christian targets. Thus, this cycle of violence will escalate.

Instead of showing a degree of humility and tolerance, extremists in both camps are driving this increasingly strident debate. In the present climate of distrust of Muslims and Islam that is prevalent in America, Islamophobic rhetoric will alienate more Muslims across the world. And with congressional elections due in November, there is a real danger of the Republicans capturing both the Senate and the House. Should this happen, the authority of the Obama administration will be greatly reduced. Relations between the US and the Muslim world, already strained, will be far more difficult.

According to a recent poll, the majority of Republicans believe Obama to be a closet Muslim, and they are using this bizarre belief as a weapon in their armoury. By pinning the Islamic label on a very deeply believing Christian, Republican politicians and media talking heads hope to fool voters in turning away from the Democrats in November. And the Ground Zero Islamic centre is certainly not helping Obama as it is polarising huge numbers of Americans at a time when his party is already facing difficulties due to unemployment and a weak economy.

So I ask again: why can't the project be relocated to a less controversial place?


By arrangement with Dawn








To consumers worried about the high prices of essentials, Tuesday's news that inflation has dropped by 1% in August to 8.5% would seem like a cruel joke. More so, when they learn that the drop was the result of a change in the way the wholesale prices index (WPI) is calculated. The old WPI has been replaced by a new one with 2004-05 as the base year, and the main change is a reduction in the weightage given to food prices in the new index.


If this sounds like tampering with reality to get politically correct results, perish the thought. The new WPI is well thought out, and is wider and deeper than the old one, reflecting changes inconsumption patterns. While high food prices have been the bane of the last two years, overall — as the country grows richer — the wallet share of food in the urban consumer's list of purchases should be falling. In short, the new index is more robust and closer to reality.


The new index reflects urban consumption trends better, covering 676 items against the 435 tracked in the old WPI. The price quotes used are 5,842, up three-fold from 1,918 earlier. The new series will cover products like TV sets, refrigerators, readymade and instant foods, mineral water, telephone instruments, gold, silver, et al. The weightage assigned to different categories of products has changed: primary articles (including food) in the WPI will come down to 20.11% compared to the previous 22.02%, while manufactured products will be nearly 65% against the earlier 63.74%. Fuel and power gets weighted at 14.91% (14.22% earlier).


From an economist's point of view, the new WPI seems more inclusive of items that modern Indians, whether rich, middle-class, or even lower middle-class, are likely to buy. For instance, refrigerators and TV sets can today be found in virtually all homes. Almost every other Indian today owns a mobile, and this includes the poor, for whom the mobile is a means to earning a livelihood.


Whether this new WPI will make the inflation rate go up or down is difficult to gauge at this stage, especially since inflation in moving from food to manufactured items. But what it will do is reflect the inflation rate far better in the years ahead. Of course, the common man is more directly affected by the CPI (consumer price index) than the WPI, and that's where the big changes must be made to reflect current consumption patterns.







Maybe the superbug — bacteria that are super-resistant to many antibiotics — is a Western conspiracy dreamt up to hit the Indian medical tourism industry. But the superbug is for real. It is not an import. It's hard to dispute that cases of the superbug areunderreported in India where everyone at all levels is complicit in having bred it — the doctor, the pharmacist, the patient, and the health regulators. Understanding and remedying that is what we should really be bothered about, not conspiracy theories.


Let's be clear about the core of the problem: superbugs are emerging in a medical environment where Indians are overdosing themselves on antibiotics. Thanks to a general lack of hygiene, low public awareness about contagion, and a lackadaisical regulatory regime, doctors are prescribing antibiotics at the drop of a hat. Patients are willing to go along to get rid of ailments, and pharmacies dish out pills without proper prescriptions.


In the Indian scenario, doctors prescribe antibiotics to patients even over the telephone, with patients sometimes suggesting the remedies themselves. This is not only against medical prudence, but also an invitation to self-medication.


Besides, it's no secret how drugs get pushed onto the consumer in the first place. Medical representatives hardsell high-cost antibiotics to doctors through freebies, and few doctors bother to ask about their efficacy. In this scenario, it is worth asking if doctors have forgotten their Hippocratic oath — where the first requirement is that they should do no harm to the patient. Doctors who are trigger-happy about prescribing antibiotics are contributing to the emergence of the superbug.


Public health is now in conflict with commercial interests (with pharma companies, chemists and doctors in cahoots). Instead of prescribing holistic measures to improve health — diet, yoga, relaxation, and build-up of immunity — there is an unspoken understanding to place the industry's financial health above that of the public's. This is the conspiracy we need to be concerned about, not the western one against medical tourism.







One of the favourite pastimes of spectators, commentators and the media is to ask who is the greatest player of them all? With Rafael Nadal winning the US Open, he becomes the seventh player ever to complete a career slam (that is, winning all the four Grand Slams), setting off a debate over whether is it Roger Federer or Nadal?


Federer is ahead currently with 16 Grand Slam titles against Nadal's nine, but at 24, Nadal has age on his side. He is in top form and the murmur is that he is on his way to proving he is the greatest. There are many attributes before one can bestow the title to anyone. It depends not just on the number of titles won but also the different tournaments played, and how fans perceive you. On the last, both Federer and Nadal have clean-cut images.


The good thing about Nadal is that he remains grounded and simply refuses to be drawn into comparisons. When asked how he compared himself with Federer, he pointed to the latter's 16 Grand Slam tiles against his nine. But Federer is 29, and he may not physically be at his peak. He still has some years of top-level play left, and will probably add more titles to his kitty. But Nadal could conceivably surpass Federer's record and end up with the maximum number of titles. But we will leave that to the future. For now, Nadal is clearly the best.








There's one thing we can all be absolutely certain about when the Allahabad high court delivers its Ayodhya verdict on September 24: it won't settle anything. When two communities are fighting for their honour, only a win-win solution can work. If the court verdict tilts towards Hindus, Muslims will feel that an act of vandalism against their mosque has been rewarded.


If the judgment goes the other way, Hindus will feel miffed that secular India is unwilling to understand their religious sentiments and siding instead with a 15th century vandal. If the verdict is neutral, neither side will be pleased. Whatever the result, the losing side is sure to appeal.


On the plus side, the fact is both Hindus and Muslims have matured since 1992. No ordinary Hindu wants to reopen old wounds, whatever his beliefs about Ram Janmabhoomi. The same could be true for most Muslims who have seen the dangers of minority communalism and the damage it can do to relationships with Hindus. The only jokers in the pack are India's phony secularists and politicians who make a living out of "professed" secularism and petition-mongering.


So what is the way forward from the Ayodhya verdict? There are no simple solutions. However, the answers must emerge from truth, however unpalatable it may be for one community or the other. You cannot solve the problems left by history by brushing truth under the carpet. This is what our secularists have been doing.


The right place to begin is to establish a permanent History and Truth Commission to investigate and authenticate (or debunk) historical claims of rights and wrongs. The concept has been suggested by others before, but the time for it is right now. The idea is not to change any existing reality — there would be no masjid demolition even if history were to prove that it was built over a temple — but to acknowledge the truth.


This cannot be an easy task for any community, but acknowledgement of the truth is the foundation on which future communal amity can be built. If Germans were unwilling to accept the reality of the holocaust, how could Jews ever live in peace with this unacknowledged reality? If Muslims are unable to accept the reality of temple destruction, how can they ever hope for good relations with Hindus? If the carnage and rioting of December 1992, and Gujarat 2002, are not openly regretted, how can misguided Muslims be prevented from embracing radical ideologies?


But how will a History and Truth Commission help? What if it comes up with nebulous answers, since facts and myth come embedded in each other? The answer is: such a commission is not a panacea for resolving all sectarian issues, but it can be a starting point for genuine soul-searching within communities.


Let's apply the logic to the Ayodhya dispute itself. It is by no means certain that a temple existed at the place the Masjid was built in the 16th century. Even though the digging ordered by the Allahabad high court did establish the fact that there was a temple-like structure underneath, this does not automatically lead to the conclusion that it was demolished by Babar's general to build a mosque. Some mosque backers say the Babri Masjid was built over another earlier masjid.


A Truth Commission comprising eminent members of unimpeachable integrity would ask for more proof, and more archaeological evidence, and then take a cautious call on what it considers the closest approximation of the truth. Experts could help it arrive at sensible, unbiased conclusions.


The interesting point is that the evidence is weakest at Ayodhya for Hindus — hidden as it is under mounds of earth. But history is very clear at Kashi and Mathura, where the mosque is an intrusive presence on a temple premises. These two holy places establish the truth about the destruction of temples by Muslim kings — at least as clearly as the destruction of the Babri Masjid by Hindutva groups that was documented by photographic evidence. A Truth Commission would establish both sets of facts — and Hindus and Muslims would need to acknowledge acts of sacrilege by the other.


A History and Truth Commission can, of course, serve a larger goal. Independent India has seen a deluge of commissions of inquiry that spend years collecting evidence — only to see it all dumped at the altar of political expediency. The Liberhan Commission (Ayodhya), the Nanavati Commission (1984 anti-Sikh riots), and Jain Commission (Rajiv Gandhi's murder conspiracy), and the Shah Commission (post-Emergency) all did volumes of work but failed to get the guilty punished.


We seem to be an all-forgiving, all-forgetting nation. Once the political purpose of violence or wrongdoing is served, we want to forget all about it. A History and Truth Commission would serve us very well by focusing on the truth and not retribution. By outing the truth, it can help heal the wounds of the past without making it look like a witch-hunt.









The coalition government headed by chief minister Omar Abdullah has suffered such mortal blows that its eventual fate is reduced to political insignificance. Except for Omar's own job, the continuation or expiry of his government both have become meaningless as far as the desired purpose of its being there is concerned. For the last more than three months the government's existence and its presumed authority have been reduced to less than zero. Collapse of the state administration in the face of public revolt has inflicted all sorts of miseries on the hapless population even as rampaging 'security forces' continue to behave as terrorists in uniform without any fear of accountability. One by one, routine provisions of daily life including procurement of medical treatment for sick and ailing persons, are going beyond the reach of common man. The degraded status of daily life in Kashmir Valley is very near that of the stone age. While the entire population has been locked in under brutally enforced indefinite curfew, communication links with the outside world have been snapped. For the first time, air and road traffic to and from the Valley has been shutdown under official orders. Telephone services were already crippled with ban on text messaging, arbitrary restrictions on pre-paid connections and recent disconnection of thousands of pre-paid SIM cards on so-called security grounds. Now the police have threatened to do the same with the internet services. Hundreds of people, including business travellers, students and patients needing urgent specialised treatment outside the state have been stranded. The brutal manner in which the police and para-military forces have been dealing with those who venture out in desperate bid to get badly needed medicine or rush a seriously ailing patient to some medical facility indicates that terror tactics have full official patronage.

Instead of trying to mitigate miseries inflicted upon the ordinary people and to perform basic minimum administrative duties of protecting lives of its citizens, the state government has withdrawn from the scene only to keep the mounting body count resulting from the repression let loose against those seeking justice. The toll of 90 deaths during last three months works out to an average of one death every day. Such monstrous statistics anywhere else in the civilised world would have pricked the conscience of those at the helm of affairs and compelled them to honour their moral obligation. Morality, on the other hand, has been and continues to be the biggest casualty in today's dispensation in Kashmir. That was made obvious by the manner in which the ruling National Conference party's so-called core committee dominated by the Abdullah dynasty met to assess the survival chances of the Omar-led government. Nobody had the time or inclination to even mention the heavy loss of human lives in the Valley or to say a word about the plight of the curfewed population. Desperate struggle for individual survival has denuded the regime of any sense of responsibility towards its citizens who have been thrown to the wolves.

How long can this sad situation continue? Not easy to answer this question because it relates to Kashmir; not to any other 'integral part (atoot ang) of India'. Kashmir has always been and seems destined to be treated always as an area of darkness when it comes to dispensation of justice and fairness. Both the ideals continued to be crucified here 'in national interest'. It is not only that the people are saddled with a hated regime that is incapable of delivering on anything at all but that the treachery of subjecting them to degraded quality of life has by now acquired the recognised status of a well considered official policy. That is the inevitable perception prevailing here. Its consequences, short term as well as long range, are far more significant than the fate of an individual or a group of individuals labelled as 'government'.







The threat of epidemics both in Budgam and Doda may have finally been contained thanks to the suitable medical aid that finally reached the doorsteps of the affected population. But there has been no follow-up action for ensuring that water borne diseases do not cause such alarming consequences. The government had admitted its failure in ensuring clean drinking water supply in the rural areas and assured to take steps to amend things in future. But days after the memory of epidemics has dimmed, the health department and the public health engineering department are yet to begin some kind of a co-ordination to take preventive measures for closely and regularly monitoring the water supply to various parts of the start and devise suitable methods for availability of clean, healthy potable water. Unfortunately, the people at the helm of affairs never learn any lessons from past mistakes and this appears to be yet another occasion. Ensuring a belated medical aid at the doorstep to people affected by use of polluted water are only stop gap arrangements. To minimise the chances of public falling prey to such diseases, it is imperative that genuine steps begin to address the issue of lack of clean drinking water in the state, especially the rural areas. For this, the co-ordination between health and public health engineering departments is important in the fight against polluted water which leads to great economic loss as well as loss of precious human lives. A successful model can rest only on involvement of communities in ensuring regular existence of water supply schemes, their regular monitoring and making assessments and planning as per the needs of the people. An ideal solution would be introducing a mix of both supply potable water and revival of traditional systems of water harvesting. But first of all the government needs to address the issue on a priority basis. 







THE United Progressive Alliance government has done great disservice to the country by its choice of the new Chief Vigilance Commissioner. In one fell swoop it has thrown to the winds all Constitutional properties and democratic decencies. Above all, besides violating the spirit of the law under which the CVC is appointed, it has destroyed the sanctity of this exalted office whose job it is to enforce the strictest standards of probity and propriety on the army of Central government functionaries across the board. P. J. Thomas, formerly secretary of the Ministry of Telecommunications, certainly does not fit the bill.

It is no good for Union home minister P. Chidamabaram to say that though there were serious charges against Mr. Thomas when he was serving as food and civil supplies secretary in Kerala but he was later exonerated. The irregularities in the import of 15,000 tons of palmolein had caused the state the loss of Rs. 2.8 crores. In the first place, media reports from the state, which no one has yet contradicted, state that, according to the Kerala Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau, the case against the new CVC has not been closed. It is only suspended because K. Karunakaran, the then chief minister who is also an accused, had gone to the Supreme Court to plead that the Assembly Speaker's permission wasn't obtained before launching the case against him. Mr. Thomas is said to be the "eighth accused" in the suspended case.

However, let us overlook all this, and accept Mr. Chidambaram's word that the new CVC was indeed "cleared". But even that does not justify the government's decision at all. For, given the nature of the CVC's task of fighting corruption in an entire administration of this rampantly corrupt country. The incumbent of this post must be not only impeccably honest and upright but also seen to be. There must not be even the slightest doubt about his integrity or the faintest blot on his copybook. In short, the CVC should be like Caesar's wife - wholly above suspicion. Does Mr. Thomas inspire such confidence? Tragically, this is by no means all. 

The BJP and other critics have cited several documents, including an "internal, inter-ministerial note" purporting to show that in relation to the G-2 mega scam, Mr. Thomas not only defended his minister, A.Raja (which might be said to be his "duty") but also told the then CVC, the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) and the Central Bureau of Investigation that they had no authority to look into what was a matter of policy! He also resisted, apparently successfully, his predecessor's move to arraign some officers of the telecom ministry. Now as CVC himself, would Mr. Thomas go on protecting these individuals? In any case, what moral authority is he left with?

What compounds the whole sordid story is that the CVC is one of those officers - director of the CBI is another - whose selection is made by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the home minister and the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Such decisions are usually taken by consensus. In this case, Mrs Sushma Swaraj, for good reasons, objected to Mr. Thomas but said that she would gladly accept either of the two other officers whose names were on the panel of three prepared by the Cabinet Secretary. It is incomprehensible therefore why Dr. Singh and Mr. Chidambaram should have overruled her summarily rather than have a unanimous decision. No wonder the BJP is protesting vigorously. It has taken the issue to the President and even boycotted the swearing-in of the new CVC. The matter is unlikely to end there. Others are also agitated.
An impressive array of former civil servants have expressed their "deep disquiet" and told me that the Cabinet Secretary should not included Mr. Thomas in the panel in the first place. They have expressed their disappointment over the stand the Prime Minister and the home minister took. Their constructive suggestion is that the best way out of the mess is that Mr. Thomas should "persuade himself or be persuaded" to resign.
There are two other important facets of the dismal chain of events that must be faced squarely. As stated earlier the dispute over the CVC's choice could have been avoided easily had the Prime Minister and home minister not clung to Mr. Thomas's candidature. Such a sensible denouement, apart from averting the undermining of the CVC's post, would have had a beneficial impact also on Indian polity. After years of being not even on talking terms the BJP and the Congress had come together to pass the Nuclear Liability Bill after a certain amount of give and take. This healthy trend needed to be consolidated. Instead, it has been damaged, and it looks as if the era of inflamed polarization would be back. Instead of wholesome cooperation between them on issues pertaining to national interest, the core of the ruling coalition and the principal opposition party might once again be confronting each other.

Secondly, and more importantly, as far as can be ascertained, the reason that Dr. Singh and Mr. Chidambaram took such a stubborn position was that they were under heavy pressure from a "powerful" ally, the Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). There seems to some link between the CVC's selection, at least in the eyes of the DMK, and the future of the telecom minister, A. Raja who has now got a notice from the apex court to face some questions about the G-2 auctions in which the country reportedly lost Rs. 70,000 crore. According to some sources, the DMK patriarch, M. Karunanidhi, conveyed to all concerned that the Congress was "monopolizing" all gubernatorial and constitutional posts, and it was time that the DMK got its share. If true, this is reminiscent of how Mr. Karunanidhi's bete noire, J. Jayalalithaa, failing to persuade the Vajpayee government to withdraw all the court cases instituted against her in Chennai, brought BJP-led coalition down, plunging the country into a fresh election within a year. The poll, ironically, brought the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with even greater majority.

Today the Congress is in a much stronger position than the BJP ever was. Indeed, neither BJP nor any other party wants to face a fresh election at this juncture. It is shocking therefore that the Congress should allow itself to be pushed around by its allies into making murky compromises even on matters of high principle. Mamata Banerjee exploits this weakness even more that others in the UPA tent.

The Congress' hope of winning a majority in Parliament on its own is understandable but unrealistic. India seems condemned to be ruled by coalitions for the foreseeable future. And if coalitions are going to be run as they have been so far, we might as well say farewell to any kind of governance, leave alone good governance.







Nobody knows who the terrorist is; he could be your over friendly neighbour who wishes you every morning, steps out with you to buy milk down the road and even someone with whose wife your own could be friends with. And suddenly after a bomb attack the police are at his place and you watch aghast as he is led away.
"I never knew he was a terrorist!" you say to some eager TV channel and watch your own surprise and amazement on your own face as they air those bytes that evening and you shake your head and turn to your family and ask, "Did you imagine uncle was a terrorist?"

Nobody knows who the terrorist is, but there's a new breed sprouting up, who can be easily identified; they are worse than the first kind, in fact they make hay with the bomb attacks and other terror activities.

Like I said they can be easily identified.

One is that pastor in the USA who wanted to burn the Koran. If there are preventive laws to nab terrorists why wasn't he handcuffed, and thrown in prison? His insensitive act could have caused wide spread repercussions.
Then there are those who get political mileage through an act of terror: They get on top of platform and lambaste and browbeat those from whose community the terrorist belonged. During World War II the Japanese were known to wipe out whole enemy villages, while they advanced through Burma into India, just because one villager was a suspect.

This was an act of terror, and is recognized as such, so also an act of terror is to blame a whole community for the crimes of a few with words and speeches from public platforms: Such speeches are as ignitable and explodable as a terrorist bomb!

Yet what do we do with these new terrorists?

We give them black cats, and Z security, and allow them to continue their acts without muzzling their mouths and censoring their words.

"Speak!" we tell them.

"But our lives might be threatened!"

"Don't worry, the government will provide you protection and when your words cause bombs to be thrown at innocents, our government will give compensation to the victims, like we have been doing all the time, so speak!"

And surrounded by impenetrable security they mouth out obscenities and indignities and a few moments later we who have heard those speeches watch our loved ones lying dead, maimed or wounded.
Just as we have anti terror laws for terrorists, we need the same for the new terrorist, so that his verbal, rhetorical bombs will be stilled forever..!







The continuing turmoil on the other side of the Pir Panjal is a matter of concern. For the last about three months now the normal life in the Valley has virtually come to a halt. Not surprisingly, it has cast a dark shadow on other parts of the State as well. Traders and industrialists in this region are among those segments of society which are feeling the pinch. A report in this newspaper recently has brought to the fore the extent of their worry. It has been estimated that they have already suffered a loss of more than Rs 6000 crore in this disturbed period in the Kashmir region. The trade has been hit rather hard. It alone accounts for a setback worth Rs 5000 crore. The industry too has been bleeding to death having lost Rs 1000 crore already. The production of several units in Bari Brahmana, Gangyal and a few other places has dropped by 75 per cent. It is almost a revelation that more than 65 per cent of locally made goods are supplied to the Kashmir province including the Ladakh region. There have been no takers for them for quite some time now. The supply routes are nearly snapped although there is perfect peace in Kargil and Leh districts. There is hardly any supply outside the State ---- first, because there is heavy use on the home turf and secondly, the cost of transportation deprives the products of a competitive edge in other markets. With this background in view a consequence is that the industries are said to be at the verge of collapse. The units are unable to bear their expenses. Some of them have not been able to pay their workers for two months now. To make matters worse, the goods worth Rs 3000 crore (produced before the eruption of violence in the Valley) are blocked.


What can be done in these circumstances? The Federation of Industries, Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as the Chamber of Industry and Commerce have made certain suggestions which must be considered by the concerned authorities. The industrialists have called for a rehabilitation package. As it is they have written to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for amending a relevant clause governing the non-performing assets (NPAs) so that they are not subjected to extra financial burden. They have also sought waiver of power bills and bank interest. It seems that an assurance made to them, traders and transporters in the past for some compensation has not bee fulfilled. At present thus they find that their woes have been multiplied. The traders, on the other hand, have their payments blocked for a long time. They want that a committee should be set up to assess the exact losses and announce measures to offset them. There is thus a boomeranging effect of strikes, bandhs and curfews in the Valley. The situation being what it is in the Valley it is anybody's guess that the same sections of society there would be worse placed.


Viewed in that context it is heartening to note that the leaders of trade, commerce and industry in this province are equally concerned about their counterparts on the other side of the Jawahar Tunnel. They have been unambiguous in demanding that a special rehabilitation package should cover them too. This shows that they have clearly learnt that their reliance on each other is reciprocally beneficial. It is possible that they may have been guided in this regard by their bitter experience in 2008 when a powerful popular stir in this region coupled with an initially hostile response to it by the powers-that-be in the State and New Delhi had crippled our economy as a whole. Whatever that may be their present stance is encouraging. The general belief all through the world these days is that by developing common stakes in economic prosperity we can prevail over divisive elements and establish lasting peace. An experiment is already being carried out in our vicinity on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC). One hopes that the authorities including the RBI keep this in mind. They should spare no effort to address the genuine concerns of the people who have taken upon themselves the task of making this State affluent in the face of evidently heavy odds.






One of the least expected occurrences is the fact of a son killing his father. In the land of Shravan Kumar, that ideal son, it may well be considered an utterly unheard-of phenomenon. Unfortunately, it is no more so. Indeed, a son has got rid of his father following a quarrel over a property dispute in a village in Akhnoor tehsil of this district recently. He hit his father's head several times with a spade resulting in the latter's death on the spot. Earlier we have come across at least one such contemptible occurrence in the Summer Capital. This may sound strange but these happenings trace their genesis to the two factors which are mainly held responsible for other crimes --- land and money. History tells us that quite a few sons have jailed their fathers to seize their thrones. In the so-called modern times we are crossing all limits. In any event our emotional bonds have weakened. There are not only nuclear families but also live-in relationships which are slowly gaining legitimacy. In the neighbouring Nepal, however, a son has allegedly massacred most of the members of his family including not only his father but also mother, brother and sister at a royal dinner in 2001. His action may have won him the crown but only for a short while. No tears were shed when he was booted out of the office in a popular uprising. Elsewhere too there have been identical incidents. In Chinese history Emperor Yang of Sui is suspected to have killed his father Emperor Wen of Sui to ascend the throne in 604. Described as one of the worst tyrants he is, however, credited with having reconstructed the Great Wall, a project which is stated to have taken the lives of nearly six million workers. It is believed that his oppressive actions have primarily been responsible for the relative short reign of the Sui dynasty.


In a way he had proved the popular Chinese belief that those who commit patricide or matricide are killed by a lightning strike as a punishment from warrior deity Erlang Shen. As recently as in 2003 even a girl in the United States has been convicted of killing both parents. How do we prevent these episodes?











We have lost much in Kashmir without gaining anything at all. Our distinguished culture has been diluted and contaminated. Our youths have ruthlessly been propelled into a kind of intellectual vacuum and wilderness of helplessness. No body saved them; every one watched as a mute spectator. When Parahan was being replaced with black-ribbons and Kangri with AK-47, no body spoke even a single word to counter this conspiracy to put the beautiful valley on the path of destruction. Certain discomfited heads that could not achieve anything in their life went across the LOC, became instruments in the hands of ever-disturbed Pakistan (that could not put his own land in a right frame-work and always throve on the American crumbs) and started retaliating on India by instigating the youths of Kashmir. 

A host of evil-brained elements infiltrated and hypnotized the valley in the name of religion and incited our boys to blow the bugle of so called Jehad. The student lot which happens to be the most vulnerable part of a nation became the worst scapegoat. Pak-maniac brains were successful in cajoling this segment of Kashmir to succeed in their nefarious designs. We have noticed that most of the victims of long-standing turbulence over the years in the Valley were from schools and colleges. The hardworking spirit of the students was visualized while being sheltered by the cult of mass promotions in examinations and awarding of degrees to the non-deservings. Our youth walked on the crutches of hardliners supplied from across the borders and took their muscles to be very strong; we ate the left over food of the hardliners and thought that we were strong enough to jump over the wall. But today, after over two decades 'we have realized ourselves to have fallen on the wayside quite forlorn and found ourselves in the stinking lap of quacks-on a dark and dingy road.' The enemies of our prosperity, welfare and our socio-eco-educational advancement enervated the very infrastructure of our political stability and created such circumstances as, latter on, deprived Kashmir of a big host of educational and intellectual luminaries-the Kashmiri Pandits. It was a pre-planned strategy of the enemy to balkanize the beautiful and equi-poised combination of economics and administrative accomplishment. 
The Muslim segment was economically very strong and the Pandits were past masters in the art of running well defined administration and these two things are perhaps the bedrock of the prosperity of any nation or the society. Educational installations were left non-functional snatching books and pens from thousands of philomathic hands and were ruthlessly pushed deep down into the gorge of self-staking violence. The same Kashmir as was passed for producing IAS officers, Scientists, Diplomats, Artists and outstanding Artisans was left with nothing of this sort excepting killings, bloodshed, stray-brains, chaos and confusion with everyone groping in the darkness of teargases to find a way-out to save skin. 
This is all the so-called leadership gave our students and young generation while playing like puppets in the hands of Pakistan. But the most unfortunately nobody intervened to stop it. The innocents watched everything dumfounded; the clevers added fuel to the fire; the hardliners enjoyed themselves at others tears as a result of their game-plan; the stupids shrugged their shoulders being unable to understand anything at all; the youngs got exploited because they were lured of the sweet end of their participation in the melo-drama of this movement; the poor remained silent for their preferences were different. 
Ultimately the last ray of hope was to be reposed in the intellectual stratum especially the teachers who were connected with the student-power and the media who were very close to the public. They were expected to exercise their conscience and ethical guts to restore this young lot on the rails but as ill luck would have it they, on the contrary, did not play desired role to stem the spurt of this spate. Our leaders out of power ever made supporting statements to step up the courage and vigor of the stray youngsters for preserving their vote-banks and the awakened lot of Kashmir hesitated to speak the truth. Whatever the case may be or the historical facts, it is needless to mention. The point under consideration is how to save the lives of innocent children, teenagers and youths in the Valley. Some forces who are cashing the vulnerable innocence of Kashmiris have to be spotted out and checked forthwith. 'It has happened and it goes on happening and will happen again if nothing is done to stop it.' There are some elements in the Valley who have always fanned the flames of the fire of Kashmiri ire. Kashmir believed in them and they dodged Kashmiris and stabbed their faith in return. The common mindset is inextricably gripped with the ignorance, parochialism, and the worst of all communal prejudice which has ever been exploited by opportunists. On the other hand the politics was run in such a way that the democratic infirmities multiplied. Over the years the leadership never attempted even once to let Kashmir open her eyes into the world of historical reality. 

The Kashmiri leadership was somewhere bitten by the bug of insecurity in regard to their power and hence kept Kashmir thousand and one miles away from the truth of the Kashmir's radical issues. Now is the time for the teaching layer of Kashmir not to dither in coming to the front to take up the task of making the innocent students well awake to the historical truth and put them back on the road to self-estimate. Unfortunately had the teaching community of the Valley done so in the very out set of this insurgency, hundreds of young students would have been escorted to the place of safety; many parents would not have left bereft of the support in their old and crippling stage of life; hundreds of children would have been stopped from the excruciating experience of life without parental love and affection. Let all the teachers enliven their conscience and realize that their negligence and dereliction of moral duty have snowballed into a multi-dimensional devastation of Kashmir. 
The coming generation will never forgive the intellectual class of Kashmir for their sadistic approach and escapistic policy displayed during the last two decades. I would like to reveal another fact with a heavy heart that the mass-media operating in Kashmir has also been insincere to some extent. Generally speaking, to gain cheap popularity, the media sometimes gave currency to such incidents which worked in further worsening the situation in Kashmir. 

Media is the only mechanism that is supposed to be the last source of hope for the society and is the only department of our country after judiciary that is safe from the evil impact of corruption. Hence the media has to be very careful in handling the sensitive issues related to the national security. National interest is above all other priorities and motives. A couple of days back the students came on the roads to protest against all that is going on in the Valley and hampering them from advancing ahead in the field of education. 
They are supposed to have understood the underhand politics of some foreign agents posing to be their well-wishers and have realized that their future prosperity and security is possible only and only under the Tri-colour of India. They want to revive the culture of education to keep pace with 21st century society. They have understood that the promises of the hardliners have proved false and baseless. They have ultimately sounded the alarm bell for their exploiters. Alarm bell now tolls for the hardliners in Kashmir.








On October 3, 2010, whole world is going to witness the history in its making, which will be remembered and cherished long after the successful conduct of Commonwealth Games. At the same time we must admit that when the Games are somewhat marred from all side with wholesome controversies, mostly of financial irregularities, it has somewhere doubled the responsibility of Organizing Committee to make the event a big success. The way things are progressing I am sure everything will be in place and there is no need to have even an iota of doubt in any body's mind about the strength and capability of India in organizing the forthcoming Commonwealth Games successfully. Had there been any doubts in the capability of India, Commonwealth Games Federation would have never chosen the country to host such a being event. So the turn is ours not to question but to have faith in the capability of India, and it is expected that Delhi edition of games is going to be a memorable one for one and all. 

One still remembers the day of November 13, 2003 when the member countries balloted for two principle bidders Delhi, India and Hamilton Ontario, Canada for organizing nineteenth edition of games in 2010 and India successfully bided by a margin of 46 votes to 22. With the confirmation of India's successful bid for games, every body all across country was thrilled as India once again proved its strong emergence at the global front and the opening of new vistas. It has nearly been 7 years since India won the bid to organize the games and it has not turned that easy to organize the games as was perhaps thought at the time of bidding or before that Going by the annals of history, India has already successfully hosted two major big events of Asian Games in 1951 and 1982 and Afro-Asian games in 2003 and will become the second Asian country to host Commonwealth Games after Malaysia in 1998.

Organizing Commonwealth Games successfully is a national priority and every body is bound to work for national pride. By way of supporting each other and helping out in successful conduct of games we can work towards this cause. Role of media has remained somewhat mixed, if on one hand we are grateful to it for helping out in making public, numerous irregularities carried out by various executive and their agencies in one or the other form and somewhat kept on reminding the organizing committee of executing things well in time by way of criticizing them. But to our sorry state also, somewhere media has not played it role responsibly especially electronic as it should have. Needless to say that national interest is always supreme to an individual interest and attaining TRP's is neither what Media is meant for nor its ultimate aim. 

Nothing is concealed to any body as how the system of governance goes in India, thereby delays in executing tasks and completing projects in time is nothing new to Indian masses, even the so called lapses or delays are also common among developed countries. Every organizing committee who so ever organized the games successfully world over so far, do come across such problems, but their media always behaved responsibly and never blew issue out of proportions like the media did during the past four five months in India. Fact it remains that things in any country can not be changed overnight, but that doesn't mean we should not work towards the change which is inevitable. We have got every right to raise the voice against all those who are found guilty or try to play any skullduggery. 

I believe Union Govt. has already taken serious note of every controversy and allegations leveled against various officials engaged with games and no body will be speared if found guilty of making irregularities with public money. The irregularities range from use of substandard material, purchases made at higher cost than the market rates to issues like hiring things at higher rates and many more is really an offence of serious nature and any body found guilty need to be brought to book and be held accountable for all irregularities done on his/her part..

As is said something is better than nothing so stands true about organizing Commonwealth Games in India. It is not important whether we have been able to raise infrastructure of utmost standard or not but what's more important is we have been able to have the courage to organize the games and we shall be proud of being able to raise minimum basic infrastructure required for organizing the games. 

To ensure smooth conduct of games, Union Govt. to this effect has already deployed nearly 15-20 cabinet secretary level officers to support Commonwealth Organizing Committee to make the event a big success. Somewhere all this clearly signals towards the younger generation and reminds them of their duty towards making their nation proud in every respect and of which they should always be proud of and there is no denial in it that the moment we start believing in ourselves and feel proud in organizing games, our half the job is done, so be there and have faith.








There is no doubt that the country has been able to develop an extensive infrastructure for library and information services. Systematic library development started in India only after 1947 with the establishment and development of the National library at Calcutta, Public library legislation in a few states leading to the creation of public library systems, a growth in the number of university and college libraries, and the rapid development of special libraries and information centres in science and technology, medicine, agriculture, social sciences and the humanities are some of the landmarks achieved during the last six decades. Impressive as these seem to be, they are inadequate to meet the increasing demand for knowledge and information required for our socio economic development, higher & technical education, scientific and technological research, development and progress. Several committees in the country have made recommendations with reference to the development of public, academic, medical and agricultural libraries. 

The five year plans have given considerable attention to library and information system development. Sectoral plans in science and technology, education, health and family welfare, environment, biotechnology, etc have also dealt with library and information systems in their respective areas. The present situation of library and information system development appears to be uneven, piecemeal and uncoordinated. The application of computer and communication technologies for creating a network of library and information systems is sure to provide the necessary coordination and integration. The National policy on library and information system, will hopefully result in an integrated development of the library and information system. Library legislation is now inforce in many states. These states have created a public library network down to the village level. There is pressing need now for many states to pay more attention to public library development. No doubt university libraries have had a systematic development, there is an urgent need to strengthen college libraries and school libraries. The special libraries have progressed well in their development. 

There is need and also scope for a vast expansion of library facilities, modernization of libraries and networking and resource sharing are the present day imperatives. Libraries are recognized as an important social institutions for diffusion of knowledge and information. The importance of library support to our nation building is acknowledged by all concerned. Being a developing country with little private initiative to support libraries, the national and state Governments are expected to develop the library infrastructure. People are required to be educated, informed and enlightened. Great efforts are being made towards the equalization of educational opportunities. The libraries, as store houses of knowledge and information, have a great role to play. While there are constraints, challenges and opportunities for making a thrust in library development in the country, the Government, users and library professionals have to share the responsibility of laying a firm, infrastructure for a library service in the country. 

The progress of libraries has been very slow because of resource constraints in the post independence era and sole dependence on govt funds for library development. Sincere and vigorous efforts are now needed to strengthen and upgrade the present system and to create new facilities in order to serve a growing demand from an increasing number of users. An integrated plan for library development is needed for the country, so that gaps are filled, weak areas are strengthened and additional facilities are created to meet the new demands for library service. 

Library development in the country needs to be coordinated in order to optimize utilization of available resources and facilities and to minimize duplication of effort. The development should be systematic and sustained, for which proper planning is necessary. The planning process has to take into account political, legal, economic and administrative realities at any point of time. In relation to planning, strategies have to be evolved. 

The steps should be taken to mobilize and upgrade the existing library and information systems and services and initiate new programmes relevant to our national needs, taking advantage of the latest advances in information technology, encourage and initiate with all possible speed, programmes for training of library and information personnel, setup adequate rapid development of library and information facilities and services to meet the information needs of all sectors and levels of the national economy, encourage individual initiatives for the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge and to preserve and make known the nations cultural - heritage in its multiple forms. In this task active involvement of the Central Govt is required, only then there can be development of libraries.









THE Planning Commission has rightly rejected demands for an increase in the corpus allocated to MPs for development of their constituencies from the present Rs 2 crore to Rs 5 crore. Under the MPs' Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), the government provides each member of Parliament Rs 2 crore annually to develop their constituencies. Introduced by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government as far back as 1993, the scheme has been embroiled in many controversies. Several credible studies by both public and private bodies have questioned the very rationale behind the scheme. Interestingly, when New Delhi's Institute of Social Sciences, in a report on the theme "MPLADS: Concept, confusion and contradictions", written by former Public Accounts Committee Chairman Era Sezhian, had pointed out that the very concept of the scheme was flawed and called for its withdrawal, the MPs demanded a hike in the allocation of the funds under the scheme.


No one should grudge more funds for the MPs to help develop their constituencies better. Indeed, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of the scheme in its ruling on May 6. But the question remains: to what extent has the scheme lived up to the expectations? Experience with the MPLADS in the last 17 years suggests that the scheme has created more controversies and yielded little results. The Comptroller and Auditor-General of India has time and again pointed out that in many states, funds have either been misused or have lapsed or the unspent money has not been returned. Surprisingly, under this pet scheme, projects not sanctioned by the MPs have also been executed.


Significantly, though the Planning Commission has told the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation that in view of the resource crunch, it would not be possible for the panel to spare more money for the MPLADS, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the MPLADS has asked Planning Commission Secretary Sudha Pillai to explore the possibility of pruning the outlays of some big ticket schemes and make available more funds for the scheme. It is heartening to note that the Planning Commission, without buckling under pressure, has boldly put its foot down on the unjustified and unreasonable demand for a corpus hike. Indeed, when there are strong reasons for scrapping the scheme itself, it would be ludicrous for the MPs to demand a corpus hike.









PUBLIC money that is illegally siphoned off by corrupt means is quickly moved out of the nation to build illicit hordes in more attractive and distant locations. No, this is not a banana republic we are talking about. It is India, which, according to data published by the Washington-based Centre for International Policy, allowed the flight of over $125 billion between 2000 and 2008. The illicit financial flows of capital have a long history in the nation that is acutely aware of "hawala". Such money normally does not return to the country of origin, and thus the citizens are hit twice.


The flight of money to international tax havens like Switzerland, Bermuda, Bahamas and Cayman Islands hurts the economy and it is well recognised that Western countries do not do a particularly good job of enforcing a rigorous anti-money laundering regime. Thus, the nations that are being robbed must ensure that illicit money is traced and the offenders, be they corrupt government officials or businessmen, criminals, terrorist or a combination of these, are taken to task.


A string of "Commonwealth Gains" scandals that have tainted the international sporting event, have also put the spotlight on corruption again, as have the recent attacks on various whistle-blowers, some of whom have paid for their convictions with their lives. Near every election, the bogey of Swiss accounts is raised by the Opposition. India and Switzerland now have signed a revised double taxation avoidance agreement that expands the scope of financial information to be shared between the two nations. Where there is a will, a way can always be found. It is only when the nation, as a whole, exhibits an unequivocal conviction to weed out corruption that the true gains of growth and development will come to India. 









WHEN Union Sports Minister M. S. Gill gesticulated and told some wellwishers accompanying Sushil Kumar to stand aside, he obviously wanted some exclusive photographs for the media featuring himself, the World Championship gold medallist and national team coach Yashvir. He did not want the hoi polloi to hog the limelight. Mr Gill's photograph did appear in every newspaper the next morning, but perhaps not the way he wanted it. He did not perhaps realise that while craving for publicity, he was being rude to the commoners. Unfortunately, the ordinary folks he waved away included Sushil's coach, Satpal, revered as a guru, who tried to be with his disciple to share the moment of glory.


Some reports suggest that Mr Gill, perhaps, did not recognise Satpal. That is even worse. The Sports Minister of the country does not know the famous wrestler of yesteryear, a gold medallist of the 1982 Asian Games, who was honoured with the Dronacharya award last year! If the slight was unintentional, Mr Gill could have made it up by apologising. That is what Kapil Sibal did when some babus in his HRD Ministry humiliated world chess champion Viswanathan Anand by questioning his nationality. Mr Gill, however, stood his ground and dismissed the reporters who raised the issue without a reply. "A gentleman", writes Oscar Wilde, "is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally".


There is another saying that "the most effective comeback to an insult is silence". Compared to the undesirable conduct of the bureaucrat-turned-minister, who regards himself as anything but a servant of the public, both Sushil Kumar and Satpal conducted themselves with dignity by not reacting to the slight, intended or unintended. It was not the occasion for confrontation. But had they given it back to the thoughtless minister, it would have been a sight none would have cherished. Satpal's reaction was sober: "I did not like it. But this is a happy occasion. So let us talk about Sushil's achievement". That is the stuff the real achievers and good human beings are made of. 

















BARELY a few months ago, India's relations with China looked upbeat, with both sides talking of a new beginning embodying the "Copenhagen Spirit' of cooperation on Climate Change. It was in keeping with this spirit that President Pratibha Patil visited China. But, shortly thereafter, Chinese actions in Jammu and Kashmir have sent the relationship into a tailspin.


Many analysts believe that the current Chinese "assertiveness" may well be the result of the People's Liberation Army becoming increasingly aggressive at a time when the country is preparing for a change of leadership in 2012. Moreover, it would not be surprising if China has concluded that the political leadership in India has been unable to build a national consensus and confront serious challenges, ranging from Maoist violence to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.


Former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra has for long had a deep commitment to a friendly and normalised relationship with China. This is not surprising, with his having been the recipient of the famous "Mao Smile" and Mao's "Let us be friends again" comment, on May 1, 1970. The normally reticent Mr Mishra, however, made some scathing comments to a gathering of distinguished American academics in New Delhi on July 20. Outlining India's major national security challenges, the veteran diplomat stated: "What has created more problems for us today is the unmitigated hostility of Pakistan and China towards India".


He was strongly critical of the flip-flops on India's policy towards Pakistan, which he asserted, only encouraged Pakistan to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy. More significantly, he added: "Now, we are facing a situation in which terrorism is going to increase because for the first time China has now come out openly for Pakistan's position on Kashmir, the issuance of visas on separate pieces of paper, the projects in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and, of course, the military and nuclear assistance which is being given".


When Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited India in 2005, he agreed to a boundary settlement along "easily identifiable natural geographical features"; adding that in reaching a boundary settlement, "the two sides shall safeguard the interests of their settled populations in border areas". Our overenthusiastic Sinologists promptly read this as a Chinese commitment to soften their claims on populated centres like Tawang.


They were soon in for a reality check, when China upped its border claims, asserting that the whole of Arunachal Pradesh is a part of "South Tibet". This was accompanied by increasing border intrusions. Pakistan remains a convenient stalking horse for a China bent on "containment" of Indian influence. China joined Pakistan in promoting opposition in the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) to the ending of nuclear sanctions against India.


Along with these developments came the introduction of "stapled visas" for Indian nationals from Jammu and Kashmir. While China's reference to Gilgit and Baltistan as "Northern Pakistan," may have been inadvertent, the refusal of a visa to India's Northern Army Commander is clearly unacceptable. All this is very different from the advice tendered to Pakistan by former President Jiang Zemin, who told his Pakistani hosts in 1996 that they should settle the Kashmir issue through bilateral negotiations with India.


New Delhi failed to seriously take note of China support Pakistan's efforts to block American sponsored moves in the Security Council since 2007, to declare Hafiz Mohammed Saeed's Jamat ud Dawa as an international terrorist organisation. Following the 26/11 terrorist outrage, Chinese "scholars" proclaimed that the Mumbai attack reflected "the failure of Indian Intelligence." They claimed that India was blaming Pakistan to "enhance its control over the disputed Kashmir" and warned that:  "China can support Pakistan in the event of a war," while asserting that in such circumstances China may have the option of resorting to a "strategic military action in Southern Tibet (Arunachal Pradesh) to thoroughly liberate the people there".


China has since agreed to co-produce 240 JF 17 fighters and supply 30 J 10 fighters, apart from four Frigates, tanks and Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) capabilities to Pakistan. Pakistan's nuclear weapons and missile capabilities are being upgraded by China. India has to carefully analyse if China is assisting Pakistan to shift its nuclear weapons from the growingly unstable Baluchistan Province, to tunnels in the remote parts of Gilgit-Baltistan.


As its maritime power grows, China is becoming increasingly "assertive" on its maritime boundaries, claiming that like Taiwan and Tibet, the entire South China Sea is an area of "core interest". The Yellow Sea and the East China Sea are claimed to be parts of China's "sphere of influence". The simmering differences over maritime boundaries between China and its ASEAN neighbours, particularly Vietnam, came to the fore at the recent Hanoi meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum.


The Chinese "assertiveness," including statements by senior Chinese military officials suggesting that the United States should accept the Eastern Pacific and Indian Oceans as a Chinese "sphere of influence," has raised eyebrows in Washington. Is China prematurely manifesting hubris, in the belief that the US power is declining relatively and can be challenged? After displaying incredible naiveté in its initial months in office, the Obama Administration officials now acknowledge the China's global economic policies are "mercantilist" and its export-led growth responsible for exacerbating global economic imbalances. Will China's rise be peaceful and non-threatening is a question being asked not just in New Delhi but across the world.
While it would be counterproductive for India to respond in kind to aggressive Chinese rhetoric, diplomatic inaction is not an answer. Measured and calculated responses are the best answers to Chinese "assertiveness". India's "Look East" policies are paying dividends in our engagement with ASEAN. Moreover, our growing defence and strategic ties with Japan, South Korea and Vietnam have not escaped notice in China. 
However, would it not be worthwhile to equip Vietnam with cruise and ballistic missiles, together with the supply of safeguarded nuclear power and research reactors and reprocessing facilities? Can we not, like the ASEAN countries, commence Ministerial-level economic exchanges with Taiwan? Should we not suggest that since China and the Dalai Lama signed a 17-Point Agreement in 1951, we hope both sides agree to abide by and implement this agreement in letter and spirit? The Chinese could well be mistaking robust democratic debate for weakness.


India does have advantages to exploit. Apart from Pakistan, there is virtually no other country that accuses us of territorial ambitions or of greed in seeking access to their natural resources. Most importantly, major centres of power — the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Union — seek to engage China, but deeply distrust Chinese long-term ambitions. This gives us access to defence, space and industrial technology, not available to China.








I was in elementary school when my father began writing his doctoral dissertation on William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.  My brother and I were both introduced to the Nobel Laureate and also shown his picture inside the cover of the book.  My father worked on his dissertation for a few years.  All the while the clack of the '80s typewriter from his study filled up the afternoons in our house. Until one year when my mother felt intently that we needed to give him time and space to write his piece and get it out of the way — because after all it had been a while — and a long one for that. 


So when school broke for the summer, my mother packed us both and the three of us went to stay at my grandmothers for a while hoping all along that when we were away, my father would have had a successful tryst with Faulkner. And sure enough, upon our return, and to everyone's cheer, the dissertation was ready for submission. 


In later years, I took upon myself to carry forth the tryst with the book at many different times in my life, with varying degrees of success. Each time, I discovered that The Sound and the Fury is ablaze with many layers of meaning and for a reader to expect to unravel it all during the course of a single reading is really expecting the impossible. While Faulkner, himself, chose to call his fourth novel his most 'splendid failure', it was clearly his first work of remarkable intellect. And as the cherished book turns 80 years and continues to draw numerous readers, its timeless appeal draws reflection.


While the book is replete with many images and symbols, to me its most powerful message is the failure of the Compsons to keep abreast with time. They gaze at the warped clock in the kitchen but fail to tell the time. Quentin's obsessive relationship with time is especially interesting.  


Words like 'clock', 'watch', 'chime', and 'hour' hover over his consciousness. He enters Harvard with his grandfather's pocket watch and armed with his father's belief that 'clocks slay time'. Failing to win back glory and honour for his fallen aristocratic family, Quentin makes a desperate attempt to stop time by pulling out the hands of his grandfather's watch only to be reminded by chiming clocks everywhere that time does not stop. Inability to swim with the tide and an even greater incapacity to escape time leads the Compsons to degenerate.


Dilsey, the family cook survives because she is the only one who can tell the time from the twisted kitchen clock and moves along with it.


Faulkner's pre-occupation with time rings clear to readers even today as in our everyday race to keep up with time; we perpetually seek to evolve our personal relationship with it.   Business schools and time-management gurus step in to reinforce that time itself is vacant and formless and we alone have the power to render it meaningful.


Faulkner's remarkable treatment of this 'universal truth' in The Sound and the Fury coupled with his intriguing narrative technique contributes to its abiding fascination.


The tryst continues.









IF ever there was doubt about the contribution that the youth can make for shaping the future of the Earth, it has been put to rest with reports brought forth by the United Nations. It has declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity, International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures and the International Year of Youth. It has highlighted that by 2025, the number of youth living in developing countries is likely to grow to 89 per cent. Half of the population of India is already under 25 years of age.


The quantum of youth power would be the largest human resource available for economic development and key agent for technological innovation and social change. "The issue on climate changes started calling for attention in the late 90s. The youth has inherited environment flawed by our earlier generation," says Anoop Singh Poonia, president for the North India Section of the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN).


The IYCN was established in 2008 and provides an opportunity to the youth to showcase their environmental work on regional and international platforms and is recognised as the largest youth forum with a presence in 16 states. Members of the IYCN are associated with key projects with leading industries. Some of its members were delegates at the Copenhagen summit and the IYCN found mention for its exemplary work by the union environment and forest minister, Jairam Ramesh, in the Lok Sabha.


Having been exposed to more formal education on the cause in schools, the youth is undoubtedly better placed to create environmental awareness, simply because it has access to information. With the advent of social network sites, which the generation next is known to make the best use of, it has a resource to go global with ideas, concerns and innovations.


Additionally, it is living in an era where environmental issues have loomed large and has also known the ill-effects of environmental crisis like the spill of about 80,000 litres of oil everyday in the Gulf of Mexico. Political leaders seem to have forgotten to draw any lessons from Chernobyl and Bhopal tragedies.


Boboton Singh, a co-ordinator for Greenpeace India, states: "The youth has the added responsibility to take appropriate, timely and sustainable steps to ensure that our generation and the subsequent generations have lesser environmental issues to bother about and a greener environment and friendly climate to live in."


Marvelling at the reasoning ability of the youth associated with Greenpeace India, he says: "Youngsters have been able to convince local industrialists to take measures for energy efficiency and e-waste minimisation, besides rigorously involving in creating awareness against the nuclear liability Bill."


Rather than perceiving environmental problems as abstract concerns that can only be addressed by governments or businesses, the youth has a greater role to play in ensuring that various eco-missions have long-term sustainability, feels Navneet Saxena, president of the Rotary Club, Mohali. The club has adopted two major roads for a plantation campaign. In order to make the drive sustainable, the club wants to rope in the youth. "We certainly have to get the youth in for it would go a long way in ensuring the efficacy of a drive and would set an example for the others to emulate. We are working in close coordination with schools and colleges of the town."


The environmental issues need much more than social entrepreneurship. While the youth is best suited for providing sustainability to eco projects, there is a need for a policy framework to stoke the passion that the youth displays for the green cause.


It is vital to have in place "green collar" jobs that will over time become the hottest career offering for the youth. "The idea is to get people trained in delivering and applying the right technology," says Dr N Das, head of the bio-tech and environmental sciences department at Thapar University, Patiala.


"Green education should go beyond awareness to address future requirements. Expertise in handling emissions, use of alternative fuels, better waste management, emphasis on research and development to facilitate the absorption of green technologies should be the core competence with budding environmentalists," he adds.


Green collar jobs are at present the fifth largest market sector in the US. In order to sustain a low-carbon economy in India, a large number of green collar jobs need to be created, especially when international environment standard ISO 14001 has become a norm to strive for in order to gain competitive edge.


Students have to be given an assurance that their passion can be channelised into a viable profession. "Green economy has started taking shape, bringing with it the promise of well-paying, high-growth jobs in manufacturing, management, marketing and auditing," says Anoop Singh Poonia.


Khusjiv Sethi, executive director of an electronics company, says: "We are all stakeholders in environment and it's a major responsibility. While the industry needs trained personnel, more dynamic environmental education efforts are needed under which educational institutions need to collaborate with other industries and institutions such as NGOs and national parks.


It's all about channelising the most viable human resource to tackle the biggest challenge facing mankind. The environment moment has tasted success with the inspired youth, empowered through training, communicating environmental solutions by spreading the message of urgency of climate change. The need is to bring in a robust environmental educational and employment policy. 







LEELA RAINA, a graduate in Economics Honours, founded PRAGATI, a sustainable development society that works on climate change, rural development and women's empowerment. She did an add-on course in green chemistry from Hindu College and collaborated with students and campuses across India through the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN). She is associated with the IYCN as the South Asian focal points person.


In Copenhagen, she was one among 12 youths inside the Bella Center where she was also coordinating policy for the IYCN. She is also the lead tracker from India with Adopt a Negotiator, a project supported by the Global Campaign for Climate Action (GCCA) at the UN. Apart from civic media, policy at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) excites her and she wants to pursue climate policy.


How did the concept of the IYCN take place?


The Sustainable Development Summit 2008 in Delhi inspired me. The summit brought together a large number of students working for environment from all around the world. Most of us hardly had an opportunity to interact at a common platform. The idea of starting a network on climate change for students in India clicked with all and the IYCN came into being. We launched a climate moment in India as a art of an international youth moment which is a youth caucus and youth stakeholder at the United Nations on climate.


How effective has been the youth with the environment movement?


Almost 50 per cent of the population in India is in the bracket of 18 to 35 years of age and is a huge potential workforce capable of bringing in that change, be it a change in politics, business or environment. Our generation has accepted the concern for environment and some of us have been motivated to join the green force. The youth is more communicative as a social media and can run campaigns globally on Tweeter, Facebook and by blogging. The members of the IYCN are able to learn, share ideas on waste management, recycling, reduction in chemical emission, alternative fuels, eco audit movement and adapt that for implementation in their respective areas of operations. Also, social entrepreneurship among the youth is now gaining firm footing in the form of ideology, with economy taking a new turn to support green collar jobs.


Is the course curriculum on environment good enough to prompt youth to take up the green cause?


Environment as a subject or career has not been able to break the enthusiasm associated with engineering, medicine or management with elders in the family. Students are opting for environmental studies as it's an effortless subject, yet scoring. But the curriculum is not able to churn the real feeling for environment or related issues. People who have taken up a graduate course in environmental science are the ones who are passionate about the cause because they face opposition from parents as jobs are limited. Field work done under the banner of Eco Clubs could give right direction to the youth to develop a passion for it.


Has the youth taken the eco drive beyond creating awareness?


Yes. At the IYCN we have a number of documented innovative climate solutions. We post these solutions online at so that the youth can use the information. The IYCN has collaborated with the environmental student wing of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Darbari Green Energy Systems Limited, New Delhi, and Shanti Ashram, Coimbatore, for the implementation of a rural energy project that has lit up the lives of 70 households. The IYCN undertook a caravan of alternative fuel vehicles, including three solar-integrated Reva electric cars, a plant oil powered truck, a van running on spent vegetable oil, and a car with solar panels through 15 Indian cities. It highlighted the potential for a clean transport system and also assimilated and communicated solutions for climate changes. The IYCN also trains students to become energy auditors who can contribute to environment by regulating energy consumption.


The writer is a media consultant with a Toronto-based weekly











In his introduction to The Ark's Anniversary, Gerald Durrell writes, "I do not think it possible for many people at the age of six to be able to predict their future with any accuracy. However, at that age I felt confident enough to inform my mother that I intended to have my own zoo and, moreover, I added magnanimously, I would give her a cottage in the grounds to live in. If my mother had been an American parent, she would probably have rushed me to the nearest psychiatrist…" 


Durrell did establish a zoo on the island of Jersey, and he brought his mother to live in the manor, on the grounds of which he established his zoo. In fact, one of the most charming stories relates to his mother. Durrell's mother had just settled herself in front of the TV with a cup of tea when she heard a loud bang on the front door. HAS INTRODUCED MANY TO THE DELIGHTS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. SHE WRITES ON BOOKS, READING AND WRITING 


She opened it to find two young chimps Chumley and Lulu on her doorstep. "Not one to be daunted," Durrell writes, "she invited the chimps in…sat them down on a sofa and opened a large box of chocolates and a tin of biscuits." For the chimps this was bliss. She reported their whereabouts quietly on the telephone. Durrell remonstrated with her for allowing them in. "But dear", his mother said, "they came to tea…and they had jolly sight better manners than some of the people you've had up here." 


Why did Durrell want a private zoo? Why not a biscuit factory, or a farm, or a market garden, friends and relatives wanted to know. He lists many reasons, among them that he had in mind a completely new concept of zoos. He didn't want them to be mere show places. He wanted them to help the conservation movement by setting up breeding colonies of endangered species. This was to accompany efforts to preserve wild habitats and wild populations, Animals bred in captivity would be released into the wild when their habitats were safe. 

Of course funds were a problem. As Durrell observes, "It has always seemed to me simplicity itself to raise money for things which are of doubtful help to our planet. Most conservation organisations run around after funds…But should you want money to buy a nuclear submarine, a jolly little pot of nerve gas, an atom bomb or two, the funds are miraculously forthcoming." He also has a word of advice for would-be conservationists: "In conservation work, if you can't laugh you must weep and with weeping comes despair." And of course there were the familiar problems of government inertia, officials and zoos which never replied to letters, or were as obstructive as they could be. He was finally successful with the volcano rabbits from Mexico (he eventually had to go there himself because the official blandly denied receiving even registered mail), but not with the white-eared pheasants from China. 


Durrell, was born in Jamshedpur in 1925 (He died in 1995). Unfortunately, we can't claim him as his family returned to England in 1928, and in 1933 went to live on the Continent. And yes, he did turn out to be a major force in wildlife conservation, particularly after he founded The Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust. Renuka Chatterjee of Westland tells me they have been re-publishing his books for some time, and that the three titles sent to me are in honour of his 85th birth anniversary. In any case, the books are welcome because Durrell is such a gifted writer. As with so many conservationists, the writing is affectionate, observant, amusing, and makes us poignantly aware of just what we are losing.



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The government of India's Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion has initiated a public discussion on whether the existing policy of a foreign partner of a joint venture needing a no objection certificate (NOC) from its Indian partner to venture out on its own should be done away with. This is an old measure which has stood in the way of liberalising and easing the process of foreign direct investment (FDI) entering India. While there may have been some justification in adopting the measure earlier, there is little sense in continuing with it a good 20 years after liberalisation started. To do so will mean continuing with a provision which allows some to play the role of door keeper and earn a rent income without any justification. The interests of incumbent Indian capital have stood in the way of putting in place an increasingly more friendly FDI regime in India. This, along with regular easing of the rules for portfolio investment, has created a degree of lopsidedness when the door should have been opened more widely for FDI which essentially comes to stay, as opposed to the more volatile form of investment via the stock market.


In policy, what is done for the present is often as important as what signal is given on what is likely to be done in the future. This allows continuity and predictability in the policy regime and builds confidence among potential investors to make long-term investment plans. The earlier government decision to do away with the need for an NOC for ventures which got going from 2005 did right to limit the future size of the problem (no more investment could be added to the pool that required an NOC) as also convey the signal that this measure should be on its way out. There are several reasons now to go further down the same road. Any venture should not only pay back the promoter what she has invested in it in reasonable time, continued and indefinite dependence on foreign knowhow is hardly to be encouraged. A manufacturer, who has started off with licensed knowhow that came with a foreign equity stake, should in good time absorb the knowhow and be in a position to take the technology forward on its own. What is more, India is pursuing with increasing seriousness bilateral and regional trade agreements with the rest of Asia which is likely to allow freer entry of finished products over time. If, simultaneously, entry barriers to investment remain, a day will come when those who could not get in to put up plants on their own will happily ship in the finished product through a lowering tariff wall. This will merely raise landed costs of products when firms from all over the world are coming to India to set up plants to take advantage of its low cost environment. The least that should be done by the government is to announce right now a clear sunset, a future date by when the measure will go, and also start negotiations with the affected interests to try and bring forward that date. This will make the policy both gradual and predictable.








Google the words "lessons from Lehman" and you get 1,030,000 results. Everyone has a favourite list of lessons learnt and not learnt. Books have been written and money made, conferences have been organised and frequent-flyer miles logged in, and the circus goes on. In one line, the most important lesson is "be wise, not smart". Too many smart people on Wall Street, too few wise men. That is how the signals went unheeded, the mistakes got repeated, the risks and the stakes got bigger and the rest is history. Problem is, it is not yet quite history. Two years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the consequent crisis in the United States and then western Europe and some other parts of the world, question marks still remain on whether the crisis is behind us or not, whether the right lessons have been learnt, and whether the correct remedies have been put in place. Many, like Raghuram Rajan, still believe that the appropriate lessons have not yet been learnt. The "fault lines" that caused the financial crisis in the United States have not gone away. What is clear is that Lehman's collapse was not only waiting to happen but that it triggered a much greater collapse… that of western economic power. What began as a trans-Atlantic financial crisis has ended up as a crisis of trans-Atlantic power. It is important to remind ourselves that the financial crisis was indeed a trans-Atlantic crisis, just as the 1997 banking and financial crisis was an East Asian crisis. Because of the global linkages of the trans-Atlantic economies, what was essentially a "regional" financial crisis became a "global economic crisis". The impact of a collapse of confidence in western markets, followed by a collapse of spending and lending, impacted global demand and thereon global growth.


This much, which is quantifiable and has been quantified, is now universally accepted. Differences exist, however, on the qualitative, or subjective, consequences of the crisis. Of these, two stand out. First, the geo-political shifts in national power and strategic capability. Has the "West" become less "powerful" and the "East" more? Have the trans-Atlantic financial crisis and the global economic slowdown contributed to a decline in western, chiefly American, power and influence and the rise in Asian, chiefly Chinese, power and influence? Even informed opinion is divided on this. It is too early to write off the US, as an engine of growth and enterprise and a global power, and as early to celebrate the rise of China. There is, however, greater clarity on the other subjective issue of the impact of the crisis on thinking on economic policy. The crisis has rubbished the so-called "Washington Consensus" on economic policy, a set of ideas based on free market principles. It has not, however, been replaced by its opposite — a "Beijing Consensus" that sanctifies state intervention and regulation. Rather, the world is gravitating towards a moderate middle, eschewing both extremes and combining market principles with state interventionism — an India-style "mixed economy" that can be dubbed the "New Delhi Consensus"? Expect to see more government intervention in most economies around the world.







China appears to be a stable country well on the way to high-income prosperity


This week's column comes to you from China where I have been travelling for 10 days. The last time I was here was about 15 years ago and the changes since then are quite amazing. Much of this was expected from all that one had read about the Chinese growth. But there were some surprises.


 Like all Indian visitors, I was struck by the quality of the infrastructure in Beijing. Of the many things that one could talk about, one thing that impressed me most was the quality of the pavements — broad, even, well-paved and disabled-friendly. This is the case not just in the main streets in Beijing but also in side streets and in the smaller cities that I visited. Maybe I am over-reacting because of the total lack of concern for pedestrians in Delhi, but the quality of pavements is a good test of urban governance.


The state of urban areas reflects China's huge investments in infrastructure which are the staple of many an account from economic and financial analysts. Some have suggested that there has been a great deal of over-investment. But I saw no evidence of under-used infrastructure. Roads are crowded with vehicles in Beijing and outside, and the subway and buses run full at most times of the day. The flights I took were fully occupied and airports looked quite congested with users. The rather full utilisation of the transport facilities does not suggest any over-investment at least in this area of infrastructure.


My visit coincided with the celebration of the 30th anniversary of World Bank-China relations at which I was a peripheral invitee. Several things about the tone of this celebration were interesting for an Indian. I was pleasantly surprised by the frank acceptance of the role of the World Bank in shaping policy and China's openness to ideas from others about economic management. But there were also references to the need for a healthy dose of independence to tailor policies to suit national conditions. China listened to the Bank's advice on market-based development but calibrated the pace of reform in its own way. What struck me was the eagerness to listen — quite different from the "already tried it, been there" attitude of the Indian bureaucracy to every bit of external advice.


The focus of the discussion at the celebration was on China's transition from a middle-income to a high-income country. There was expression of a certain apprehension that globally every such transition has come with a slowdown in growth, which, given its demographics, China cannot afford. One question was the sources of demand growth that could fuel the transition and the answer was that it would come from rapid urbanisation (and the related infrastructure requirements), from the expansion of higher education and from the promotion of innovation.


Gary Becker, who spoke at the celebration, argued that the transition from low to middle income can be managed if incentives are right, a capacity to absorb imported technology is available and if the basics of human resource development, like school education and health care, are provided. But, he argued, the transition from middle to high income is more difficult and requires a capacity to innovate and develop new products and processes domestically. This can only be done with a more rapid expansion of higher education and improvements in its quality.


This emphasis on higher education and innovation as the key to future growth seems to be reflected already in Chinese policy with large investments in universities. As for innovation, in one area, renewable energy, China is racing ahead of most other countries not just in the application of solar and wind power but in the manufacturing capacities required for these purposes.


What are the risks that confront this Chinese model of development, a Chinese bureaucrat asked. My off-the-cuff response was that it could be potential shortages of high-skill labour and rising wages for such labour that would erode enterprise savings. This is a product of the demographics of China where the one-child policy implemented in the 1980s and 1990s means that there is serious narrowing of the age cohort relevant for higher education.


This one-child policy has also led to something that older people call the "little prince and princess" syndrome, with one child being spoilt by two parents and four grandparents. I met one of them who was our tourist guide. One could see the elements of a spoilt child in his petulant objections to any interruption or questions. They are very different from the disciplined and almost docile Chinese of the older generation. Will these little princes and princesses accept the discipline of an authoritarian state?


The pressure for democratisation and the limited capacity of the Communist Party to handle it is one potential source of instability. China is a much more homogeneous country than India and it has the police power to handle its minority problems in Sinkiang and Tibet. The pressure for democracy will come, if at all, from a rapidly growing skilled labour and professional class that the transition from middle to high income will bring in its wake. Will this labour aristocracy be bought off with high wages or will they demand more democracy than what is on offer now?


The police power of the state is well hidden. One normally assumes that authoritarian countries will have overly officious and intrusive security people, but that was not the case in China. The immigration and customs formalities were quick and courteous. There are many traffic cops in the streets and they actually manage traffic unlike some whom we know. This efficiency was evident also in other services — hotel, airline and local transport bookings made online turned out exactly as promised even though many of the service providers were in the public sector.


The overall impression of China from this short visit is of a stable country well on the way to high-income prosperity and a governance system that may be corrupt, but that performs and delivers. This contradicts some more systematic analysis of Chinese prospects and may well be just a traveller's tale. All I can say is that I will need much more evidence to believe stories about China hurtling towards a crisis than has been presented in the pessimistic assessments.  









It is very clear that banking penetration in India is woefully inadequate on all fronts — branch penetration, deposit and credit activity are much lower than the benchmarks. Financial inclusion is a stated objective of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) policy and the indicator usually used to measure the coverage of banking services is average population per branch. If we look at this statistic at an aggregate level, we find considerable disparity across the states. Manipur has the lowest branch penetration with one branch covering 33,000 people, while Nagaland and Bihar come second and third at 26,000 and 25,000 people per branch respectively. All the three states have had significant law-and-order problems that constrain the growth of economic activity. The next three states with lagging branch penetration are Assam, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh.


At the top end, we find the small states of Chandigarh, Goa and Himachal Pradesh; the four southern states also fare much better than the national average boosted by good connectivity, diversified state economies and high education levels. The two states that have made maximum progress over the last decade are Tripura and Madhya Pradesh, covering on an average 5,000 more people per branch.


 However, it's time now to move beyond branch-based statistics. The Rangarajan Committee defined financial inclusion as "the process of ensuring access to financial services and timely and adequate credit where needed by vulnerable groups such as weaker sections and low-income groups at an affordable cost". Given the limitations of using the brick-and-mortar model for spreading banking services, the RBI has been paving the way for adopting diverse modes including banking correspondents and encouraging mobile-based transactions. Budget 2010-11 has, in fact, set a target of providing banking facilities to all habitations with a population over 2,000 within two years, using such modes. The thrust on financial inclusion has so far reduced the number of unbanked blocks from 129 in June 2009 to 93 in June 2010, but the problem continues to be acute in the north-east, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar.


Ultimately, it is expected that the success of the new measures will show in the rise in penetration of rural deposit and credit accounts with banks. The difference between rural and urban India is stark: there are 978 deposit accounts for every thousand people in urban areas, while in rural areas, this is just 245. When it comes to accessing credit, there are 42 accounts per 1,000 people in rural India whereas urban areas average 161 accounts per 1,000 people.


Though bank penetration needs to be stepped up for the country as a whole, the government's aim of inclusive growth will not be achieved unless the gap between rural and urban India is reduced.(Click for graph)


Indian States Development Scorecard is a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics that focuses on the progress in India and the states across various socio-economic parameters.


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One of the most potent signs of India's greater participation in the globalised world is the growing hostility between civil society and corporate India. Protests outside Davos or World Trade Organisation gatherings overseas are now increasingly matched in India by a prominent civil society presence — and, in the case of Bt Brinjal hearings around the country, a noisy voice as well.


 That's a significant change after nearly a decade and a half of celebrating India's economic progress in which India Inc has been the hero. It's not an unvarnished villain now by any means, but questions are beginning to be raised about its contribution to society in environmental and social terms.


Contrast this with the pre-nineties situation when tea and coffee plantations and giant public and privately-promoted engineering and chemical plants could create, with impunity, luxurious internal worlds that contrasted starkly with the immediate external environments. In the case of the plantation business — legacies of Raj grandeur — the gap between management and labour lifestyles was hard to ignore. Yet I cannot recall any NGO ever coming forward to protest. Land acquisition for industrial projects and dams in the early years of Independence was couched in terms of "nation building", so few were disposed to speak for the dispossessed in tribal and other backward areas in those days — and their predicament was no better then, than it is today.


Now, fuelled by special interest groups and corporate rivalries, NGOs have emerged as a powerful institutional voice shaping the public discourse. It's fair to say that this development is not such a bad thing — if only because it has put the social agenda on the table in a more definitive manner, prompting corporations to look at CSR beyond philanthropy.


No one can quibble, for instance, when a bank, credit card company or telecom service provider offers the option of replacing a paper bill with an online one. Or when companies invest in energy — and water — saving options for their offices and factories.


The problem, however, is that the differences between civil society organisations and the corporate world have coagulated into hard-line stances that are playing out in the political sphere in ways that are unlikely to help anybody. It was evident a decade ago in the Narmada skirmishes over the height of the dam that would displace people; in the face-off between the government and the NGOs, the voice of civil engineers suggesting a via media was drowned out. Today, every time the business plans of a Vedanta, Lafarge or Monsanto or the building of an expressway are curtailed by environmental or health rules, civil society exults and India Inc and its votaries grumble. The truth, as tribals, land-losers and businessmen will tell you off the record, lies somewhere in between hard-to-trust corporations and government institutions and avaricious local interests.


Such polarisation is, ultimately, self-defeating for contenders on both sides of the debate. For one, it is generating all sorts of well-meaning but worthless suggestions. Allocating shares to land-losers is one of them. First announced some years ago for a project in West Bengal, the plan was sold as a way of giving land-losers "a stake" in the projects for which they're losing assets. The company concerned was perplexed by the underwhelming response from potential land-losers. "What will I do with shares?" an elderly farmer asked. In a country in which only about a third of the rural population has bank accounts and less than 3 per cent of India's total population invests in the stock market, this is a valid question.


Meanwhile, India Inc, stung by allegations of social and environmental irresponsibility, hard-sells and burnishes its CSR credentials in ways that convinces few and antagonises many. Too often, corporations cynically exploit the CSR agenda to hold strategy sessions on what programme will "fit" their image instead of undertaking a sincere assessment of what's needed and what's possible.


Worst of all, it's the politician who cynically leverages the inability of civil society and corporate India to find a meeting ground. For every leader with a capitalist crony offering jobs is a Mamata Banerjee or Rahul Gandhi promising an Arcadian status quo. Both constituencies want the same thing: power. But development becomes a casualty.









At the recently concluded annual conference of the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in Geneva (September 10-12, 2010), Henry Kissinger had a telling comment on the "exit strategy" being pursued by the US and its allies in Afghanistan. He said that the focus appeared to be more on exit and less on strategy. His strategy for a viable solution? A regional compact among key stakeholders that effectively sanitised Afghanistan from regional and great power competition. This would effectively give the country a neutral status, guaranteed by the international community and respected by the country's neighbours.


This sounds attractive but, in the present context, is not viable. It is important to recognise this because then for India the challenge will not be how to become part of some such exit strategy but rather how not to exit Afghanistan under different scenarios. Let us see why the Kissingerian strategy is unlikely to succeed.


 One, the stakeholders in this proposed compact must, at the minimum, include Afghanistan's close neighbours such as Iran, Pakistan, Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India and, of course, the US as the dominant occupying power. Whoever takes the lead on this, the US will have to at least acquiesce in a major Iranian role, precisely at a time when it is leading an international sanctions regime against that country over its nuclear programme. I consider this unlikely.


Two, the Chinese position is problematical. There is a belief in some quarters that China may be positively inclined towards this proposal because of its fear over a spillover of Islamic irredentism into the adjoining Chinese province of Xinjiang. Chinese concerns are being exaggerated. China had no reservations in dealing with the previous Taliban regime in Kabul. It may also consider a Pakistani-dominated Taliban regime a better insurance for the pursuit of its interests in the country than a neutral dispensation. After all, Pakistan has always been extraordinarily sensitive to Chinese interests.


Three, US calculations are not entirely clear. The recent western projection of the Afghan Taliban, or elements of it, as possibly obscurantist but nevertheless nationalistic and hence acceptable as part of governance structures in Kabul, is one strand in American thinking. Another is the possibility of conceding de facto control of southern Afghanistan to the Taliban, while retaining a strong, deterrent presence in the rest of the country. This would suggest a somewhat more circumscribed "exit strategy" than is often assumed. The US may have objectives that go beyond the defeat of Al Qaeda. It may wish to retain a strong and enduring presence in non-Pushtun areas which enable it to counter Iran, Russia as well as China in Central Asia. Neutrality or even non-alignment for Afghanistan would go against such calculations.


Finally, it is doubtful that Pakistan would play ball. The enduring fear in Pakistan has been the possible erasure of the Durand Line as the frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan with the resurgence of a cross-border Pakhtoon movement, encompassing southern Afghanistan, the erstwhile North West Frontier Province (now renamed Khyber-Pakhtoonkwa) as well as Pathan-dominated areas of Balochistan. Despite its reliance on Pakistani goodwill and support, the Taliban regime of Mullah Omar did not accept the Durand Line. The nervous reaction in Pakistan to Ambassador Blackwill's advocacy of a de facto partition of Afghanistan between a southern Pushtun and possibly Taliban-ruled entity and a non-Pushtun remainder, derives from this anxiety about an irresistible tide of Pakhtoon nationalism, especially at a time when central control over an ethnically diverse and now economically ravaged country is becoming increasingly tenuous. Pakistan may well demand, as its price, an Afghan and international recognition and guarantee of the Durand Line. No Afghan government is likely to concede that.


India, therefore, should really be crafting a strategy to retain a strong presence in Afghanistan and even augment it, irrespective of what other actors decide to do. This is dictated by the need to prevent the country from once again degenerating into a base for jihadi terrorism against India. It is also an useful platform for India's engagement with Central Asia. India does have convergent interests with some of the stakeholders, both within Afghanistan and including some of its neighbours like Iran and Russia. At the very least, there are those who, like India, cannot accept a fundamentalist Sunni-dominated regime in Kabul. We need to help coalesce them together in the pursuit of our shared interests.


We must be mindful of the tendency among some of our western friends to offer concessions at the expense of India in a dubious attempt to buy Pakistan's support of their "exit strategy", however this may be defined. A British participant at the conference wondered whether it would not be wise for India to close its consulates in Afghanistan and retain only its embassy in Kabul, in order to "get Pakistan off your (India's) back". This is more like getting India off Pakistan's back! We should dispel the notion, widely held among the western strategic community, that India's presence and involvement in Afghanistan has been made possible thanks to the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF's) security cover and, therefore, it should not be allowed a "free ride" at the expense of western interests. These includes assuaging Pakistani security concerns vis-a-vis India, however paranoid they may be. The reality is that we have been able to sustain a significant presence in Afghanistan and earn considerable goodwill, including in Pushtun areas, precisely because we have been careful not to be associated with ISAF activities, but operate strictly on a bilateral basis with the Afghan government.


India should also revisit its position on the Durand Line. It may be worthwhile for us to signal that we do not necessarily recognise the Durand Line as a legitimate frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Aligning India with long-standing Pakhtoon aspirations may be a potentially potent lever to use as the new version of the Great Game unfolds in our neighbourhood.


The author is a former foreign secretary and currently senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research









THE big, bad, American, protectionist wolf is threatening India's three little information-technology pigs: software, other IT services and business process outsourcing (BPO). Instead of crying wolf, Indian IT should emulate the example of the enterprising pigs in the original tale, who used their wits to best the big, bad wolf. Protectionist pandering is the stock of electoral politics and, in the midst of a bout of stubbornly unyielding unemployment, if American leaders try to fool their voters with tough talk against Indian body shops, Indian IT should shrug off the rhetoric like water off nano-fibre fabric. The US government outsourcing market might be big, but India's share of this pie is not, to begin with. So, India should not worry too much about a state like Ohio banning outsourcing of official work. And the World Trade Organisation's agreement on government procurement, which India has refrained from joining, would apply only to the US federal government, not to state governments. As for American companies stopping outsourcing, anguished over loss of American jobs, that is a prospect that also belongs to the world of fable. An American company has to worry first about its own stock price and the bottom line, not about the general state of unemployment. Apple became the second most valuable company in the US not by hiring droves of American workers but by capturing the value created by clever conceptualisation, design and engineering done in the US through mass manufacture in China. As the rest of the world increasingly gets educated, trained and ready to do business, American companies can hope to maintain their lead only by leveraging their own strengths, essentially in knowledge-intensive, highvalue activities, and the strengths of other companies around the world, through unhindered trade. 


It is up to Indian IT to be part of that process of value maximisation, if necessary through bold initiatives such as transformation deals in which they invest money upfront, as Tech Mahindra, in fact, has done. If the lowhanging fuit is over, grow long necks, jump higher or eat grass or spuds below the ground. Just don't cry.







THE Centre has updated and thoroughly revised the wholesale price index (WPI), the main headline inflation indicator, which makes perfect sense. Given the changes in the structure of the economy in the past 15 years, and changed consumption patterns, the overhaul was long overdue. It should now make the inflationgauging process more broad-based and improve the accuracy of estimates. While the earlier index with baseyear 1993-94 tracked 435 commodities, the new one with 2004-05 prices as the base includes 676 items. Also, the WPI includes 555 manufactured products, up from 318 for the older index. There are other qualitative and quantitative changes as well. So, while the older index took into account 1,918 price quotations to work out the price-rise figure, the number has significantly been increased to 5,482 for the new index. The move would keep better tabs on traded value. Overall, though, on the weights assigned to the three broad segments: primary articles, fuel and power and manufactures, there's only a minor tweaking in favour of the latter. 

However, the weights in the WPI for particular commodities do seem anomalous, even after cleaning up some of the earlier index' discrepancies. Sugar, for instance, has almost the same weightage as rice or vegetables in the WPI. And the head sugar, khandsari and gur, has nearly the same weight as 'eggs, meat and fish'. The weight for sugar has been more than halved from the earlier index, but remains relatively high. But then, the weights do not correspond to value-added or final use, but are assigned on the basis of gross value of output. It may well distort the estimated price trend. Anyway, the concept of wholesale price is not clearly defined and maintaining uniformity can be problematic, as a recent RBI paper noted. The study added that when the pattern of inflation across commodities within the WPI basket shows large dispersion, as now, an 'assessment about the generalised inflation conditions becomes difficult.' It underlines the need to construct a representative consumer price index for policy purposes, as is the norm abroad in the major economies.







CATTLE class as slang for economy class travel was around long before a twittering minister got trampled upon for using it unguardedly. However, the sentiment that economy class passengers are usually herded and corralled like bovines persists. Would the poor dears at the rump end of an aircraft feel any better if they were portrayed as being atop quadrupeds instead? Clearly, that must be the thinking behind the newest airline seat named Skyrider. The argument for fashioning a seat like a saddle — in rows just 23 inches apart — for short-haul cheap flights is that cowboys comfortably stay astride their horses on such contraptions for eight hours or more. Yet, the image of a craggy, Stetson-crowned lone ranger galloping on his mare through the great outdoors does not sit quite as well when it morphs into a harried executive crammed into a narrow metal tube that passes for an airline cabin. Particularly when other similarly saddled skyriders are jammed up against his shoulder and knees instead of being silhouetted romantically on the horizon next to a giant saguaro cactus. Indeed, a more accurate image of the confining saddle-seat, and perhaps one uncomfortably close to the original cattle class cognomen, would be that of sundry kine being lassoed and tied up — by the aforementioned cowboys. 

The additional ploy of the saddle-seat to make passengers take some of their bodyweight onto their legs even while seated, should be the last straw for those already irked by the stinginess of low-cost carriers, the target buyers of this new contrivance. First they charge for cabin baggage, then for using onboard toilets. Now they have an excuse for not even carrying the full weight of their passengers. Passengers should not be cowed into accepting cowboy class.







 ROAD accidents in India take a toll of as many as 15 persons every hour. And they keep rising — at 8% annually. India tops the table with 10% of world road crashes, causing a loss of . 75,000 crore to the country's economy besides inflcting traumatic pain and suffering to the kith and kin of the dead or injured. With increasing household incomes, a steady increase in motorised vehicle ownership in India is a natural corollary. Concomitantly, the country's ambitious plans to upgrade and extend its road network will mean more roads, yet more cars, motorbikes, buses and trucks. And more roads and better roads may not necessarily be safer roads. 

Road death and injury are preventable. Yet, India continues to allow itself to be labelled as the country with the world's most dangerous roads. There continues to be a lackadaisical approach. Bureaucracy festooned in red tape considers boards and committees as a panacea for all ills, a time-honoured stratagem for parrying and deflecting uncomfortable attention. The parliamentary standing committee on transport, tourism and culture faulted the National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha in May 2010, as an attempt to accommodate retired persons on the board and little else. The purely advisory board's recommendations would apply only to national highways. 


Not new boards or committees but what, in fact, is needed is a safe road traffic system that accommodates and compensates for human vulnerability and fallibility. It needs no tangled skein of legislation. It needs simple laws and rules; it certainly needs implementation, a quick disposal of cases; a foolproof surveillance system to instantly check and initiate punitive as well as promotional measures against drink-driving, overspeeding, dangerous and reckless driving, and violation of traffic norms and rules. Wearing a proper quality helmet correctly is seen to help reduce the risk of death by almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by over 70%; wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of a fatality among front-seat passengers by 40-50% and among rear-seat occupants by 25-75%. If correctly installed and used, child restraints reduce deaths among infants by about 70% and deaths of small children by 50-80% (WHO: Global Status Report on Road Safety). 


Amidst chaotic growth in urban areas, roads in India typically carry a bewildering mix of traffic, myriad vehicles along with pedestrians and animals competing for space, along with a deafening cacophony of blaring horns and screaming curses. With scarce, rapidly diminishing civic sense and rising netagiriand dadagiri, pavements and footpaths are mulcted by parked vehicles or encroached by cars and hawkers. Rubble and remnants are left strewn on roads during repairs, and repair spots left unprotected. Potholed roads slow the traffic to a crawl and pothole dodging leads to accidents. 


Excessive speed is a major villain, the single biggest cause of deaths on roads; a 5% increase in average speed leads to about 10% rise in road crashes that cause injuries, and a 20% increase in fatal crashes; a 10% increase in speed leads to a 30% increase in deaths (WHO). Pedestrians have a 90% chance of surviving a car crash at 30 km/h or below, but less than a 50% chance of surviving impacts of 45 km/h or above. Research on effective speed management indicates that speed limits on urban roads must not exceed 50 km/h. 


AMAJOR overhaul in the driving licence regime and training is imperative. Driver training is at a discount; a driving licence is easily purchasable. Common driving frailties can be cured if the driver has been put through a grilling test, e.g., buses stopping on midroad to pick up passengers; slow traffic blocking the fast lanes on highways; vehicles hopping and snaking their way across lanes with a sense of bravado. Most advanced countries prescribe written tests as well as practical. Imaginatively conceived, ingeniously illustrated driving manuals in simple local languages, if brought out, can help budding drivers when taking their tests. Road safety is not merely a transportation issue; it's a part of social, moral, economic and public health challenge facting the society. It's a clear game of governance. It's a matter of discipline, proper habits and behaviour, civility and courtesy to be imbibed. 


Effective safety management would involve proper design and infrastructure. Simple aids help a lot, e.g., conspicuous and user-friendly ergonomic standardised road signages, apart from rumble strips and reflecting surfaces; grade separated junctions; separation of opposing high speed traffic with a safety barrier or wide median; a stringent highway patrolling system; improving road geometry of accident-prone spots, etc. The lack of thoroughways — overbridges and underpasses — for vulnerable road users has been found to account for 84% of the deaths in cities and 67% on highways. 

Signalled pedestrian crossings in several countries are seen to have reduced crashes by up to 30%. Separate/secure space is essential for pedestrians and cyclists in urban and suburban areas. A headlight lamp of simple design may be made mandatory for bicycles; also, a reflector strip on its sides and wheels, and on mudguards of scooters and mobikes. Prompt and good-quality pre-hospital care can save lives of many injured persons. It is observed that 48% of road traffic victims die in hospitals, 38% during transport to hospital and 14% at the crash sites. As the EU is adopting one common pre-hospital care access phone number (112) for all its member countries, and like in the US (phone 911), India may choose a common countrywide phone number (say, 111). 


Consistent with the UN General Assembly observing 2010-20 as the Decade of Action for Road Safety for the global road death toll to fall by 50%, the government has pledged to strive for a 50% reduction in road crashes in India, and formulated a three-year, . 1,200-crore Road Safety Action Plan. To set an example, a year-long concerted campaign can be launched in Delhi with the active participation of civil society, specially school and college students, corporate houses, NGOs, media and with the full involvement of traffic police and road administrators. Among India's cities, Delhi suffers the highest number of annual road traffic deaths (2,325 in 2009), followed by Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai.









IN A few weeks from now autumn will set in the Kashmir Valley. But before the chinar starts changing colour, the revival of yet another violent political chapter has already brought in a sea change in the political colours of the state. This sudden change again drives home the point that the outward appearance of the Kashmiri political mood can often be tricky, if not deceptive. The volatile Valley also shows, yet again, that there can be no finality to the packaging and positioning of the players in this hotspot. Testing the skills and imagination of the mainstream leadership are plots and sub-plots of emotive politics of separatists and radical Islamists. 


And how these sudden twists in the Valley politics, especially if compounded by a confused or ineffective mainstream leadership, can dramatically make and unmake careers and leadership profiles is strikingly demonstrated in the sudden image makeover of the states' two opposite political poles — chief minister Omar Abdullah and Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani. 


Only 20 months ago, Omar had been dressed up and presented as a bright GenNext leader and was installed in the hot seat after the people — dejected and frustrated by two decades of militancy and encouraged by the 2002-08 revival of the democratic government and its fruits of development and relative peace — unitedly rejected the lure of azadi and intimidating poll boycott call. 


That defining moment was both a demand and an opportunity for the CM; he had to rise to the occasion and show the skills and imagination to build on from that popular verdict. Omar squandered the responsibility and opportunity in no time and his faultlines — lack of political acumen, administrative experience and the inability to relate to the people and even speak their language — started showing. It was not just Omar who stood totally exposed, but also the all-round negligence and shortsightedness that went into his selection. 


Though it was the stone-throwing young protesters who razed down Omar's standing, the man who dramatically rose from the turmoil to regain his lost political ground and emerge as the focal point of the present agitation was the octogenarian Geelani. Pushed to the margins by the factors that rekindled the democratic process in the Valley and abandoned by even a section of separatists, Geelani has now found the one chance he badly needed to become relevant again. Clearly, Geelani is too seasoned and experienced to bungle this chance — made possible by the stone-throwers and, ironically, Omar himself, by sending Geelani an SOS which not only legitimised his role as the veteran leader of the present phase but also rendered irrelevant the moderate Hurriyat leaders who are now forced to mimic the very man whom they had abandoned. 


But then, just as Omar's image managers tried to camouflage many of his faultlines, the cheerleaders of Geelani's "triumphant return" too are hiding many glaring pitfalls. No explanation is given, or sought for, as to what is the determinedly unapologetic pro-Pakistan Geelani's ideological and political connection with the new stone-throwing youngsters, who are supposedly agitating, 'spontaneously' for unadulterated and unattached 'azadi' without any handlers from across the border. 


No clarification has come forth as to why Geelani, the man who openly declared so often that "hum Pakistani hai, Pakistan hamara hai", has now started acting so confidently as the ring master of these young protesters. Has Geelani abandoned his pro-Pakistan stand to join, if not control, the so-called "un-linked" and "spontaneous" azadiagitation? 

Geelani may be seasoned enough not to make a song and dance of his pro-Pakistan conviction when Islamabad is being declared a terror den even by the West. It suits him perfectly to act as the leader of the present agitation without unconvincing clarification. But then, why are these young agitators, whose credibility and appeal rest on their projection as unattached protestors, letting Geelani set the tone, tenor and schedule of their agitation? Have these youngsters managed to remould Geelani or are they letting the veteran be their undeclared handler? The grand Omar Abdullah image-making project has crash-landed because of its in-built insincerity. The bid to paper over the basis of the unexplained coordination between the "unattached stone-throwers" and "proudly affiliated Geelani" too risks a credibility test in the Valley's image remaking season.







OVER past year or so, three leading business schools in the US — Harvard, Chicago and Stern — have hired new deans. The oldest of them is 48. Here in India, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. The ministry of human resources development (HRD) has permitted the boards of IITs to raise the retirement age of directors from 65 to 70. This is a bad idea. The IIT boards would do well not to implement it. 


Raising the retirement age to 70, it is said, will give greater scope for a second term and even a third term for directors. Some in the IIT system have argued that this is necessary as there is a scarcity of directorial talent. Nonsense. There is enough talent within the country and among overseas Indian faculty willing to return to India — enough to fill the post of director in the 15 IITs we have. 


We need younger leaders in this country, new leaders. One of the welcome changes in the Indian corporate world in recent years is that there are more young people at the top. Alas, other walks of life — politics, the bureaucracy, academia — have remained relatively immune to this trend. Academia must embrace this trend, not buck it. 


That apart, there is a weighty reason for not having a higher retirement age and a second or third term for directors: in the IIT system (and also in the IIM system), there is very little accountability of directors. Lack of accountability of the director is the principal governance issue in our elite institutions today, not any supposed lack of autonomy. Over the years, the boards of these institutions have failed to put in place adequate norms for accountability of the director. In the past couple of years, the ministry of HRD has tried very hard to bring this issue to the fore, but we are yet to see any results. 


The contrast with top institutions in the US, the Mecca of higher education, could not be starker. Competition among educational institutions in the US is fierce, unlike in India where the leading IITs and IIMs face no worthwhile competition. The deans of these institutions are, therefore, subject to a high degree of accountability. A failure to improve the faculty profile, the departure of faculty of stature, a fall in programme rankings, a decline in the quality of research — these and other failures could easily cost the dean his job. In India, it is possible for the director of an elite institution to sleep through his tenure without evoking any response from the system. 


Until the Indian system is subject to greater market discipline — say, through the entry of quality institutions from abroad — and until a rigorous system of accountability is in place, it would be most unwise to give a second or third term to IIT directors. The decision to extend a director beyond 65 would be based on the whims, not just of those in government, but those on the boards of these institutions. We must not forget that boards invariably tend to lean towards the incumbent. Those at the top know how to keep the board happy. 

The IIMs, in general, have followed the healthy principle of a single term for the director, although there have been occasional departures at some IIMs (other than IIMA). The man responsible for this convention in the IIM system was IIMA's first full-time director, the legendary Ravi Matthai. Matthai was all of 38 when Vikram Sarabhai and his colleagues chose him as the first full-time director. (Sarabhai had been honorary director until then). 


Even at the time that he was appointed, Matthai had indicated to Sarabhai that he would not like to stay on in the job for more than five to seven years. His contract, however, did not stipulate any term. Power is addictive. Matthai could have changed his mind and stayed on as director until retirement. He did not do so. At 45 and at the peak of his fame, he chose to step down, having put IIMA firmly on the map of the country as a centre of excellence. 


Matthai argued that as institutions evolve, a change in leadership is required as otherwise, a system can get too set in its ways. My own sense is that he was also alive to the dangers inherent in a director's staying on for too long in a system where the director had sweeping powers but was subject to very little accountability. At IIMA, having asingle term for the director has been crucial to preserving the culture and processes that Sarabhai and Matthai created. It has been an important factor in IIMA retaining its position of pre-eminence in the country. 


IIMA has adhered to this convention for the past four decades. (Those seeking to have it overturned have run into the argument to end all arguments: if the great Matthai could step down after one term, why should anybody else continue?). But not all the IIMs have remained true to it. The government would do well to codify this convention for the IIMs and extend it to the IITs as well. Not only must the IIT director retire at 65, he must stay only for one term. Where accountability is ill-defined, limiting the director to one term is eminently desirable. 

(The author is professor, IIM Ahmedabad)







THE memorial plaque on the monument at Thermopylae bears a simple epitaph: "Come and get them!" That was the Spartan response when Persians asked them to put down their weapons. As the great historian Herodotus recorded later, "Three hundred foemen did contend against thousand four!" 


All the 300 Greek defenders were killed in the mountain pass, but they delayed the Persians for long enough to allow the Greek army to reform at the Isthmus of Corianth and win at Plateau. The Athenian navy also used the delay to inflict a stinging defeat on the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, effectively ending the invasion led by the emperor Xerxes. 


The last words of Leonidas, King of Sparta who led the doomed force ('Go tell the Spartans that here we lie, obedient to their commands.') are particularly poignant, says Terry Breverton in his magisterial history, Immortal Last Words: "They are a 'keepsake' for future generations, but also our last chance to express how we see ourselves, our lives, the world around us and what really matters when the inevitable happens." 


By that token, the Buddha's last words, cited at the beginning of the book, are exemplary in their enlightened objectivity and universal compassion. "All composite things pass away. Strive for your own liberation with diligence," the Buddha said to his attendants at Kusinara as he reclined on his death-bed. 


According to the Mahayana Vimalakirti Sutra, the Buddha 'pretended to be ill' to demonstrate the impermanence and pain of the defiled world, thereby encouraging his followers to strive for Nirvana. 


Former Beetle George Harrison's 1970 song echoes the sentiment in his 'All things must pass' lyric. It drew inspiration from Buddhist insights and teachings. 


Despite its seemingly pessimistic title, Harrison's song strikes a positivechord. "Now the darkness stays the night-time," he assures his listeners in his last verse. "In the morning it (night) will fade away. /Daylight is good at arriving at the right time. / It's not always going to be that grey." But very often one is afraid to trust that sentiment. 


The alternative, wallowing in feckless self-pity, is equally unacceptable. For as the activistpoet Marianne Williamson says, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us."






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Cutting through the political thicket of mercurial West Bengal, where political actors of all hues are guiding their actions and words motivated by little other than next year's Assembly election which could see the making of history if the CPI(M)-led Left Front is bested, AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi had one clear message: becoming Prime Minister was not the kinetic driving his actions. This straightforward line appears to have charmed the students and faculty at Visvabharati, the university established by Rabindranath Tagore. But it is unlikely that anyone in the young Mr Gandhi's shoes can really divorce his thoughts from the office of Prime Minister. He is, after all, the scion of India's most pre-eminent and charismatic political family, and is widely regarded as the engine behind the Congress Party's extraordinary electoral showing, beating all odds, in last year's Lok Sabha election. And yet, the young Congress leader was able to give the impression that it was not attaining the pinnacle of political glory that gave him energy. He exhorted his listeners to think of reform. The Prime Minister's job was not everything, he noted. A cynical view can be that this is posturing. But that is not the way Mr Gandhi's audiences appear to be viewing him in the last three years or so that he has begun going around the country meeting various sections of needy people. Perhaps it is the stark contrast with the normal, power-grabbing, politician that sets apart the Gandhi scion — till the other day regarded as the boy scout innocent of the tough realities of political life — in the eyes of the public. Quite clearly, not everyone who appears impressed with the Congress general secretary is going to vote Congress. A range of thoughts course through an elector's mind in the ballot season. And yet, there can be little doubt that Mr Gandhi is handily selling a ware that people seek, even if this is going to turn out a mirage in the end. It is here that he seems to be setting an agenda that the grizzled men and women in our political life, not to say their younger camp followers, find enviable but are unable to replicate.

The wider aim of the Congress leader appears to be to head another Congress, not the one he has been sucked into — a reformed Congress where elections at all levels will decide the leadership at each level. If this becomes reality in the not too distant future, a sea change would have come over a party whose organisational structure was overhauled in 1969 by Indira Gandhi to make it leader-centric, a template that remains unchanged to this day. This is far from being an easy ask, as Rahul will discover. But it is clear to see that he is on his way to make a beginning with the Youth Congress, until the other day a den of pushy nobodies with sycophancy and a rapid political climb on their minds. We can hope that Mr Gandhi will succeed in the task he appears to have set himself, but who can say? Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see a politician talking directly to people and to aspiring politicians, urging them to change, to care, and to move away from carpet-bagging dreams.







The National Advisory Council (NAC) is actively engaged in preparing a draft of the Communal & Sectarian Violence Bill, 2010. This is NAC's second attempt at drafting the bill. The NAC had earlier rejected its own draft, the Communal Violence Bill, 2005. This time round the NAC has formed a sub-group to draft the 2010 version which shall deal with "sectarian" violence too.


The NAC's website ( [1]) throws up as many questions about the council itself as it does about the contents of the proposed bill. As many would know, in India drafting of a bill is undertaken by the concerned ministry. A first draft version is whetted by the law ministry's department of legislative affairs to make the bill comply with an established set of drafting parameters. If serious issues of law pose doubts in the minds of the "drafters", then the proposed bill is sent to the department of legal affairs, also within the law ministry, for scrutiny. After this the draft is sent back to the parent ministry, which then forwards it to the Cabinet for approval and to be tabled in both the Houses of Parliament. It is the privilege of the Houses of Parliament to discuss and/or send the bill to the Standing Committee (consisting of members of Parliament) for a thorough study and recommendations. The Standing Committee may invite citizens groups, non-governmental organisations, experts etc for gaining a better feel of the ground realities and understanding the various crosscurrents of opinion influencing an issue. With the NAC drafting the Communal & Sectarian Violence Bill, would it be wrong to wonder if the home ministry has "outsourced" one of its functions?


The Indian Constitution — through the "Allocation of Business" and the "Transaction of Business" rules — defines the roles of ministries but not of advisory councils. One may argue that the Planning Commission too is an advisory body and we have no issues with it. Then why the discomfort over NAC? The Planning Commission reports to the Prime Minister and he is the head of our executive. Does the NAC report to the Prime Minister? No. The NAC is not a statutory or a constitutional body.


Shouldn't our elected representatives have the first right to frame, amend and review our laws? Is it envisaged in our Constitution that any group of people, led by a member of Parliament elevated to Cabinet rank, can draft laws? If our executive has forfeited its job, shouldn't our legislature pull them up? The legislature doesn't brook the judiciary treading on its toes, and rightly so. Here the executive is being completely bypassed. Doesn't it mind?


The proposed Communal & Sectarian Violence Bill is being drafted on the basis of certain "key elements accepted by the NAC". All the key elements refer to issues which may arise in the unfortunate circumstance of a riot. There is only one brief mention of "prevention" in the draft so far. So essentially it is a bill for dealing with communal riots, rather than communal violence. Then why not call it so?


Violence can be physical, mental, verbal, psychological etc. For instance, a community can be petrified about its safety even without riots. Didn't all of us believe that West Bengal is a temple of communal harmony only till the other day when Deganga happened? What does it take for 60,000 Chakmas to fear that they will be driven out of Arunachal Pradesh? In the old city of Hyderabad, in Hailakandi and Silchar, riots are occasional, but some communities live perpetually in an environment of insecurity, scared that they are, in a planned fashion, being forced out of their ancestral homes. These are the outcomes of communal violence, not of riot. But it's communal violence all the same.


If the NAC relates to only riot-based experiences, has it drawn people from organisations which have worked with victims of Nelli, Bhagalpur, Meerut, Nanded, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Marad and others? A broad-based advisory council will have its benefits.


Point two of the draft bill's key elements wants the sub-group "to frame relevant provisions… for… the resettlement and reparations, keeping in mind the rights of internally-displaced persons". Here let us not forget the nearly 3,000 families of Reongs of Mizoram who are living in refugee camps in Tripura. The Kashmiri Pundits may provide inputs to the NAC but are the Dimasas and the Jammi Nagas of the former NC Hills being heard? They too have suffered communal violence.


Another key guiding principle of the NAC is "the need for an independent National Authority to ensure effective compliance with the law, without disturbing the federal structure". Law and order is a state (not Centre) subject. The bill, when passed, will become law in every state. But it is being topped by a supervisory National Authority. Can this be achieved "without disturbing the federal structure"?


The NAC is overloaded with service-driven good Samaritans who are Gujarat obsessed. Their obsession sometimes makes one wonder if they are out to get just one person rather than getting justice for the hapless victims they claim to serve. Laws will learn from experiences but they cannot be framed or drafted based on obsessions or highly charged emotions.


The financial implication of every new law is a serious matter that needs to be addressed even at the drafting stage. The NAC only recently faced this issue in the context of the Food Security Bill. Whatever happened to the Judicial Impact Assessment report by the learned Justice (retd) Jagannadha Rao? The effective implementation of any law depends on the financial and other resource provisions it carries with it and not just the political clout it rides on.


"The question of who in the bureaucratic or political chain should be held responsible and penalised for failure to maintain harmony has dogged the bill", said a leading newspaper in July 2010. Understandably so! In Deganga, it is alleged that a member of Parliament belonging to the United Progressive Alliance coalition is directly involved in communal attacks. In the political chain then will the bill enable us to hold the Prime Minister responsible?


Nirmala Sitharaman is spokesperson of theBharatiya Janata Party. The views expressed in this column are her own.









This moment was inevitable. Ever since China began to shuck off communism and turn itself into a global economic power, its leaders have followed the strategy of a "peaceful rise" — be modest, act prudently, don't frighten the neighbours and certainly don't galvanise any coalition against us. But in recent years, with the US economic model having suffered an embarrassing self-inflicted shock, and the "Beijing Consensus" humming along, saying "the future belongs to us" or at least the 'hood, know that a little more affirmatively. For now, those voices come largely from retired generals and edgy bloggers — and the Chinese leadership has remained cautious. But a diplomatic spat this past summer has China's neighbours, wondering for how long China will keep up the gentle giant act. With an estimated 70 million bloggers, China's leaders are under constant pressure now to be more assertive by a populist- and nationalist-leaning blogosphere, which, is becoming the de facto voice of the people.


The diplomatic fracas was a session of the regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, held July 23 in Hanoi. In attendance were foreign ministers of the 10 Asean members, as well as secretary of state Mrs Hillary Clinton and China's foreign minister, Yang Jiechi. According one of the diplomats who sat in on the meeting, the Asean ministers took turns subtly but firmly cautioning China to back off from its decision to claim "indisputable sovereignty" over the whole resource-rich South China Sea, which stretches from Singapore to the Strait of Taiwan over to Vietnam and carries about half the world's merchant cargo each year. Its seabed is also believed to hold major reserves of oil and gas, and lately China's Navy has become more aggressive in seizing fishing boats alleged to have infringed on its sovereignty there. China also has been embroiled in maritime disputes with South Korea and Japan.


As one minister after another got up at the Asean meeting to assert claims in the South China Sea or argue that any territorial disputes must be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law, the Chinese foreign minister grew increasingly agitated, according to a participant. And after Mrs Clinton spoke and insisted that the South China Sea was an area where America had "a national interest" in "freedom of navigation", the Chinese foreign minister asked for a brief adjournment and then weighed in.


Speaking without a text, Yang went on for 25 minutes, insisting that this was a bilateral issue, not one between China and Asean. He looked across the room at Mrs Clinton through much of his stem-winder, which included the observation that "China is a big country" and most of the other Asean members "are small countries", the Washington Post reported. The consensus in the room, the diplomat said, was that the Chinese minister was trying to intimidate the group and separate the territorial claimants from the non-claimants so that there could be no Asean collective action and each country would have to negotiate with China separately.


As negative feedback from the Yang lecture rippled back to Beijing, China's leaders seemed to play down the affair for fear that after a decade of declining US influence in the region they were about to drive all their neighbours back into America's embrace.


How much China's leaders will be able to cool it, though, will depend, in part, on a third party: the Chinese blogosphere, where a whole generation of Chinese schooled by the government on the notion that the US. and the West want to keep China down, now have their own megaphones to denounce any Chinese official who compromises too much as "pro-American" or "a traitor".


Interestingly, the US embassy in Beijing has begun to reach out to that same blogosphere — even inviting bloggers to travel in the car with the US ambassador, Jon Huntsman, and interview him when he visits their Chinese province — to get America's message out without filtering by China's state-run media.


"China for the first time has a public sphere to discuss everything affecting Chinese citizens", explained Hu Yong, a blogosphere expert at Peking University. "Under traditional media, only elite people had a voice, but the Internet changed that." He added, "We now have a transnational media. It is the whole society talking, so people from various regions of China can discuss now when something happens in a remote village — and the news spreads everywhere". But this Internet world "is more populist and nationalistic", he continued. "Many years of education that our enemies are trying to keep us down has produced a whole generation of young people whose thinking is like this, and they now have a whole Internet to express it."


Watch this space. The days when Nixon and Mao could manage this relationship in secret are long gone. There are a lot of unstable chemicals at work out here today, and so many more players with the power to inflame or calm US-China relations. Or to paraphrase Princess Diana, there are three of us in this marriage.









The question of caste census has arisen on account of the government's reservation policy. The other backward classes (OBCs) have of late been provided with job reservations in the government and the public sector. The question then confronted by the establishment was determining the basis on which OBC quotas could be fixed. Some political parties demanded caste enumeration while conducting the census. The government took some time before deciding the question because, during the freedom movement, the Congress Party had opposed census on the basis of caste. It is surprising that the party's government, which owes allegiance to Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru, has succumbed to the pressure and cleared a caste census.


In 1930 the British colonial government decided not to conduct a caste-based census under pressure from the leaders of the freedom struggle who were against the caste system. I feel that there can be no justification for the government to succumb to the pressure of a few obscurantist forces and accept the concept of caste census.


To my mind, if at all the government finds it necessary to quantify the percentage of OBCs in the population, a special mechanism could be found for this purpose. But tying it with the Census would amount to according perpetual recognition to the oppressive caste system. In modern society, industry is totally de-linked with the caste system. The government of India's step will only strengthen the hands of the obscurantist elements who want to keep society perpetually divided so that they may sustain their leadership. Mostly they are proclaimed caste chieftains. In India caste has always been an instrument of exploitation by putting certain groups of people in a perpetually disadvantageous position. The syndrome has led to tension in the society. Instead of counting people according to their caste, it would have served people better if attempts were made to reform society by introducing innovative tools other than reservation to negate exploitation. I think it is high time the government reviewed the existing situation, as well as its decision on caste census. I would prefer to see that it does not fall victim to the forces of backwardness who want to use caste loyalties as a weapon with which to draw political mileage in the present electoral system.


— Dr M.K. Pandhe, CPI(M) politburo member and CITU president


It'll help centre in welfare plans


Jayant Choudhary
Caste cannot be wished away in India. To say that caste census will help politicians, and not the people, may not necessarily be true. Caste census is about getting the numbers right to deliver welfare measures to the people in a targeted manner that is result- oriented.


The exercise will provide information about castes that are not getting benefits meant for them and help to bring them into the ambit of government schemes.


There is a system of reservation in this country, in government jobs and educational institutions. In reality, however, there are a number of castes which may deserve to qualify for reservation but are out of its purview.


Some castes are scattered across districts in a state but do not add up to a large number in that state, and are thus deprived of reservation benefits in the state. How does the government do justice to the concept of equality among castes if not by finding their demographic status? Lots of oppression is still taking place at various levels in the country. How to deal with such social issues?


There is quota for scheduled castes and tribes, along with those of other backward classes (OBCs) in government jobs. If quota benefits are extended to the private sector, what will be the basis? The caste census will throw up the numbers to explain the level of employment of people of various castes in the private sector.


Many castes don't have the numbers to raise their voice in an effective manner. Are they getting quota benefits? Caste census will give the answer. It's also important to know if the numbers support the government's claims on benefits to particular castes. The database will give government the flexibility to widen the scope of its welfare measures. An example helps us here: We have the public distribution system (PDS). Now that the focus of the government is on "targeted" PDS, how do you target the needy if you do not have the numbers?


Another example — the government is giving subsidy on fertilisers. Even there the need is for a targeted approach. The unique identity database (UID), which is on the anvil, will be of help here.
The caste census is in a similar category. It will help the people.


(As told to Manish Anand)


Jayant Choudhary, MP from Mathura, Rashtriya Lok Dal








The reason why people have missed out on the spiritual dimension within themselves is that they get identified with something that they are not. They get identified with this wall, as a house. They get identified with this cloth; they get identified with somebody else; they get identified with their own body, or their religion, or a symbol, or a God. They get identified with something other than what they are. That's the only reason why humanity has not turned spiritual.


You think you are something other than what you are; that's the whole problem. So, if you are genuinely looking at a spiritual process, a spiritual process cannot happen by identifying yourself with something. But most of the time in the name of spirituality, people just create a new identity; from old identities they shift to a new identity. Getting identified with something and feeling established is not going to take you through life and death; it will only take you through some small upheavals that may happen in your life.


Right now, if you get identified with a certain group of people or acquire a certain identity, it helps, it eases you

past the bumps on the road on a daily basis. But if you are seeking liberation, then you have to really look at the fundamentals of what the bondage is. The only bondage is that you are identified with things that you are not. Starting with the body, starting from your ways of thinking and feeling and everything else that has come out of it — you are identified with all that, isn't it? If a piece cloth is yours, if I tear it, it hurts you. If a wall is yours, if I scratch it, it hurts you. In fact, the bigger and bigger you become in your operations, the more and more it hurts you, because everybody tramples on what is yours. And anybody can trample upon your mind, isn't it?


Even a man who is walking on the street, just with one word he can trample upon your mind and emotions. Isn't that so? So, once you are identified with the mind and the body, it's a huge bondage, it's an endless bondage, and it goes on and on. So the fundamental basis, the fundamental process of spirituality is just this — that you destabilise everything. At the same time you develop a system with which you can maintain your balance in a totally destabilised situation. You are not waiting for a crisis to happen in your life; you are creating every possible crisis that can happen to you within yourself and still maintaining a balance. So that, in case you land up in hell, you still don't suffer.


 Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a yogi, is avisionary, humanitarian and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet, and internationally-renowned speaker, Sadhguru's wit and piercing logic provoke and widen our perception of life. He can be contacted at [1]







Mahatma Gandhi wrote about the Army in the Harijan on April 21, 1946: "Up till now they have been employed in indiscriminate firing on us. Today they must plough the land, dig wells, clean latrines and do every other constructive work they can, and thus turn the people's hatred of them into love". Perhaps his thinking was influenced by the fact that Indian soldiers under the orders of Brigadier Dyer had opened fire at Jallianwala Bagh and perpetrated that most horrible massacre. It was almost a miracle that on our becoming independent, our colonial Army was overnight transformed into a national Army. It became the most popular instrument of the state with the people of India. This transformation came about due to its stellar role during Partition when it was the only effective instrument of the government to restore order, and followed it by beating back the Pakistani invasion of Kashmir. Hyderabad was liberated and succour provided to the people during various natural disasters. The people's perception of the Army changed radically. (I use the word Army in a generic sense to include the Navy and Air Force.)


Addressing West Point cadets, General Dwight Eisenhower stated, "When diplomats fail to maintain peace, the Army is called upon to restore peace and when the civil administration fails to maintain order, the Army is called upon to restore order. As the nation's ultimate weapon, the Army must never fail the nation". The Indian Army has been performing this role admirably, executing the nation's will but never imposing its will. Yet the fear of the man on horseback has haunted our political leadership and has been exploited by the civilian bureaucracy for its vested interests. This has led to the neglect of the Army by the government in many ways. No wonder the Supreme Court on April 1, 2010, stated, "We regret to say that the Army officers and the armymen in our country are being treated in a shabby manner by the government".


Whereas the parliamentary committee's recommendation on a hike in the emoluments of members of Parliament was passed with undue haste, its recommendation on the long-standing demand for one rank, one pension has been stuck in the maze of bureaucracy. This has caused much frustration among ex-servicemen who have been surrendering their gallantry and war service medals. The MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar, in his letter to the Prime Minister on August 25, 2010, has taken the noble stand that he would not accept his increased salary as an MP till the government sanctions one rank, one pension. Despite all the justification for one rank, one pension, this demand has been turned down repeatedly on the plea that civilian employees must also have a similar provision. The conditions of service in the Army are entirely different from the civil services. The hardships and dangers faced by the soldier, early retirement and poor career prospects after retirement have to be taken into account. It is not only in the case of pensions but also in salaries, protocol status and career prospects that the military has been treated unfairly.


After Independence, Indian Civil Service and Indian police officers retained their old scales of pay but the new entrants in their succeeding services, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS), were given lower payscales. In the case of the military this was done retrospectively. As a major, I drew a salary of `1,100. This was suddenly reduced to `700. All my contemporaries in different ranks suffered such unprecedented paycuts. Sardar Patel, in his note dated May 22, 1947, disagreed with "differential treatment proposed to the officer class of the forces. The home department took the view — and I think it is the right view — that the old entrants on more favourable scales should continue to enjoy the old scales". The Sardar's wise advice was ignored at the altar of financial expediency. The culture of discipline in the military was different in those days. No one went to court, nor was this blatant injustice taken up in the press or in Parliament. We accepted this with a stiff upper lip. Without a murmur officers went to war in Kashmir, many making the supreme sacrifice. Successive pay commissions since Independence have continued treating the military unfairly. In comparison with its civilian counterparts, the military lost out every time.


Since 1947, career prospects in the armed forces, compared to the civil services, have become phenomenally worse. Wholesale proliferation of higher ranks in the civil services since 1947 has resulted in India having the most top-heavy civil administration. This only undermines efficient functioning. In a state there used to be one chief secretary, but now there are dozens of super chief secretaries with higher rank and pay. Similarly, instead of one inspector general of police in a state, we have dozens of DGPs, ADGPs and numerous IGPs. There used to be only four levels of civil servants in the Central Secretariat, from undersecretary to secretary. That has now increased to seven levels, to principal secretary. In the police a new zonal level of functioning has been introduced in many states to supervise the supervisors. Almost all IAS officers end up as secretary or additional secretary, and all IPS officers as DG or additional DG. In the Army, the majority of officers cannot go beyond colonel. The shortage of several thousand officers in the Army underscores that the Army is now a very unattractive career.


The protocol status of the Army in the table of precedence has also been successively downgraded with every revision of the table. After Independence, the Army Chief was initially ranked with the judges of the Supreme Court but above the secretary-general (this appointment was abolished after a while and in 1963 the appointment of Cabinet Secretary introduced). The Army Chief was now placed below Cabinet Secretary, and thereafter to many others. Today he ranks below members of the Union Public Service Commission.


This persistent downgrading of the Army applies to all officer ranks in the Army. In 1972 we had proposed that the Field Marshal should get his full pay as he is not supposed to retire and be ranked with Bharat Ratna holders, that is, just below Cabinet ministers. This was not accepted and he was ranked along with the service chiefs, that is, below Cabinet Secretary. As for salary, Manekshaw was given arrears amounting to `1.2 crores after 33 years, a few weeks before he died. Imagine. Such shabby treatment of India's first Field Marshal who led Indian arms to a great victory. A minister of state represented the Indian government at his funeral.


The cause of the neglect of the Army in India is our irrational higher defence organisation on which the bureaucracy has a stranglehold, isolating the Army from decision-making. This does not happen in any other democracy. Unless this is set right, the Army will remain neglected.


 The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.








THE Prime Minister may theoretically have been right when he asserted that policy formulation is no part of the judiciary's remit. He has ruled out free distribution of the foodgrain rotting in the absence of storage facilities, stopping short of an assurance on whether the food will at all be distributed at a price. It remained for Dr Kaushik Basu, the government's Chief Economic Adviser, to get to the bottom of the problem when he suggested that the foodgrain management and distribution system be redesigned. Dr Manmohan Singh and his inept colleague, Sharad Pawar, are explicitly against free lunches for the poor, so to speak. Dr Basu was remarkably forthright when he hinted at the possible racket in which the government may also get involved. "If foodgrain is sold at near-zero prices to the poor,  there is a chance that cereals will be sold back to the government at higher prices." He might as well have added that the food could be diverted to the open market as well. The risk of what the economist describes as "round-tripping" is very substantial. Should Dr Basu's misgivings be confirmed, even the partially rotten grain can be the source of a spin-off for the middleman with the government as the buyer.  Given the food ministry's performance, his suggestion that the grain can be "sold in the international market  instead of allowing it to rot" is a mite too ambitious. Granted that the produce will not be wasted, "to buy it back if the need arises" will only make the confusion created by the likes of Mr Pawar more confounded. The storage crisis is no less serious than the food inflation, and a humane solution would be to sell the grain to the poor at a nominal rate, if at all. The pricing mechanism will, therefore, have to be carefully devised, geared to help the under-nourished and guard against unscrupulous diversion.
Dr Basu has advanced a scientific suggestion that food coupons and smart cards be provided to the poor. This presupposes a database on the approximate number of people below the poverty line, a contentious issue that has hobbled the Food Security Bill.  Implicit is the overwhelming failure of the rationing system if 67 per cent of the food allocation "is lost before it reaches the poor". Clearly, the subversion of the public distribution system is not a uniquely Bengal phenomenon. The rotting foodgrain is a symptom of the malaise that afflicts the system across the country. This must be the subtext of Dr Basu's presentation in Kolkata on Monday, and made without hedging in the manner of the Prime Minister and the Food minister.




IT is nothing short of a scandal that parties are pursuing their agendas of preparing for the Assembly election while lives are lost in the most gruesome circumstances in the heart of Junglemahal. The Congress is so absorbed in sorting out internal differences and otherwise making sure that Rahul Gandhi's tour is a success that it does not react to the brutality of Maoists wiping out a family because the brothers committed the crime of not disclosing the names of CPI-M activists who had organised a rally. Trinamul has set its sights on spreading its influence in North Bengal to an extent that makes Mamata Banerjee forget what she had declared in Lalgarh ~ that the killing of Marxists is as reprehensible as any other killing. The Left government ought to have taken emergency measures, more so when Marxist cadres are being systematically targeted. It has apparently left it to the joint forces while the party is more concerned with elaborate preparations to regain lost turf in Lalgarh after having "recaptured'' some areas of West Midnapore. If this sounds as if it is engaged in war, its leaders add fuel to the fire by suggesting that bullets must be met with bullets ~ with no one suggesting that this is simply a recipe for disaster.

After the CPI-M's declared intentions of regaining lost ground, the response from extremists ought to have been predictable. Some successes by the joint forces have only made the Maoists more desperate. It is clearly impractical to patrol villages in a manner that would prevent the kind of outrage in a remote area that found an elderly couple being witness to the gruesome killing of their own children. But while the joint forces do their best in difficult terrain, it is up to the political parties to respond with a measure of restraint and responsibility. The CPI-M's call to arms is as unpardonable as Mamata Banerjee's silence. It is West Bengal's tragedy that political rivals are not prepared to talk even when innocent lives are lost. Even Congress seems to have shied away from a possible remedy because its concerns lie elsewhere. A truce offer with strings attached from the Maoists was perhaps of no consequence. But there at least needs to be a political consensus on how the killings can be stopped. Where questions of security are involved, parties must look beyond short-term gains.




FIRST it was Pullela Gopichand, now it is Satpal Singh's turn to suffer the boorish ways of the sports minister. While it was in their capacity as coaches of contemporary champions ~ Saina Nehwal and Sushil Kumar respectively ~ that they met MS Gill, both are superstars of yesteryear with medals and awards of their own aplenty: so the insult was twice-over. True no minister could be expected to recognise every leading sportsperson's face (least of all Gill, whose own face was hardly recognised in sporting circles before he was given his plum appointment) but surely he could make a point of being briefed by officials before receiving visitors? And even when that is not possible, basic decency requires refraining from slighting those whom he does not "know". Does he have such a low opinion of leading players to think that they would encourage non-entities to accompany them (hangers-on are upon what politicians thrive) to important meetings? The coach-player link is crucial in today's highly professional/competitive environment: top players engage a series of specialists to hone various aspects of their game. In more traditional Indian sport, wrestling being a prime example, the akharas foster a guru-shishya bond. No wonder Sushil admitted to feeling hurt; Satpal was magnanimous enough to wish that the ugly incident did not detract from the celebration of his ward's unprecedented success.

The photographs in the newspapers of Gill "ejecting" Satpal from a photo-shoot were disgusting: yet they graphically portrayed the 'sarkari' attitude to sport. Since it is the ministry that funds most sporting activity, ministers and bureaucrats tend to treat players, coaches etc as their minions ~ even though they relish basking in reflected glory by "felicitating" championship-winning players. Note that a single victory triggers congratulatory messages, mentions in Parliament etc, but not a word of commiseration when fortune disfavours the same player/team. It is all so contrived, so routine, so insincere. The minister's obnoxious conduct is a poor "curtain-raiser" for the Commonwealth Games, it will hardly encourage the consistently-neglected athletes to give of their best. And when they enter the CWG arena they could have the misfortune of feeling the impact of the equally obnoxious chairman of the organising committee; Indian sport's two-lane track to disaster.









HOPEFULLY, I shall succeed in restraining myself to make this my last comment on the Kashmir crisis. I wish to spare readers my repetitive chant. The all-party meeting on Kashmir has concluded. It failed to achieve a consensus. It was presumptuous of the government to imagine that a consensus could be achieved. If a crisis is grave enough to warrant a national consensus, Opposition parties cannot be expected to help the government pull its chestnuts out of the fire. The government is dealing with the crisis. If it wants the Opposition on board to help address the crisis a national government and not just a national consensus needs to be created.
The real problem is that the government does not know what it wants. It does not help that neither the Opposition parties nor any of the Kashmiri groups know what they want. That's why they all flutter around like headless chickens. There are three parties to the Kashmir dispute ~ India , Pakistan and the people of the different segments of undivided Kashmir. If the Kashmir dispute is not to be resolved by a painful event like war, civil war or calamity then a solution has to be found. A solution necessitates acceptance by all parties to the dispute.

There are two options open to the government. First, the government may accept that there are three parties to the dispute and formulate its solution accordingly. Secondly, the government may conclude that Pakistan will not participate on reasonable terms and there are only two parties to the dispute requiring an appropriate solution. Let us consider both options in that order.

Consider the maximum demand and the minimum acceptable demand of each party to the dispute. Pakistan wants all of Kashmir. It is incensed by the fact that Bangladesh broke away from it. It holds India responsible for that. It seeks retribution. Will that retribution not come if Kashmir is prized away from India? In formulating the solution Pakistan's mindset must be considered. India would want to incorporate the entire Kashmir in the Indian Union. Alternatively, it would demand ironclad guarantees for preserving its national security. That could only be realized through an end to terrorism and an arrangement that precludes any war with Pakistan.   

People in the different segments of undivided Kashmir want different things. The recent public opinion poll conducted in undivided J&K by Britain's Chatham House gives us some indication of what each segment might want. Most likely both Jammu and Ladhak would want to stay in India possibly as a separate state or as a Union Territory. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir would like to remain in Pakistan. The Northern Areas of Gilgit-Baltistan might want independence. The people in the Valley want independence. Only the Kashmiri Pundits of the Valley, who have been hounded out, would want to remain in India.

Given these ground realities what might be the solution? The UN Resolution on plebiscite, which leaders in Pakistan as well as separatists in the Valley keep demanding, goes against all that either of them seeks. The preconditions to hold the plebiscite contained in the UN Resolution cannot be accepted by either of them. So the only alternative is to hold self-determination for undivided Kashmir under the auspices of a credible, mutually acceptable authority to determine whether each segment wants to stay with India, Pakistan or become independent. But to meet the requirement of security that serves the interests of both India and Pakistan and to prevent any third power encroaching into Kashmir the precondition of creating joint defence and free movement between India, Pakistan and the different Kashmiri segments, whatever be the respective status of each, would be necessary. This would satisfy in principle the aspirations of Indian Muslims who nostalgically dream of Hindustan or of Hindus who aspire for Akhand Bharat.

The government should tell the separatists that they are free to persuade Pakistan to agree to the proposal. New Delhi should deflect separatist pressure to Islamabad if the Valley wants to resume its relationship with POK. It is likely that Pakistan will not accept this arrangement. The government then must move on to the second option in which there are only two parties to the Kashmir dispute ~ India and the people of Kashmir. The government should stick to the same formula in principle. It should offer self-determination giving the Valley, Ladakh and Jammu the option to retain the status quo or to seek independence. Almost inevitably Jammu and Ladakh would remain in India. Each can be made into a separate state or Union Territory. The Valley would seek independence. India should accept that if the precondition of joint defence and free movement is accepted by the separatists. India would also insist of course that if through their actions the leaders of the Valley cannot bring Kashmiri Pundits on board, they would have to carve out an appropriate area near Srinagar to be inhabited by the Pundits on their own terms.


It will then be left to New Delhi to decide how best to deal with Pakistan and China. If this solution is acceptable measures to implement it can be considered. If unacceptable, one would like to know what can be an alternate peaceful solution that satisfies basically the demands of each party to the dispute. Politicians should stop talking in the air. Let there be a debate based upon concrete solutions.      


The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist 








The United States Government has made a hefty increase in H1B visa fees payable by software engineers and other professionals seeking to enter the US. Professionals are allowed to take wage employment for six years under this visa. Previously applicants had to pay Rs 1,06,000 towards fees. Now they will have to pay Rs 1,98,000. Consequently, it will become difficult for Indian software engineers to migrate to the US.
The US Government hopes that this move will reduce competition faced by US engineers and open up job opportunities for them that were till now being grabbed by Indians. American engineers will not have to face competition from Indians who were willing to work for lesser wages. Indian software companies like Infosys and Wipro offer services to U.S. companies from their U.S.-based offices. They bring large numbers of engineers from India to man these operations. It will become expensive for them to do so and they will be encouraged to employ American engineers instead.

The increase in fees has been made under pressure from the American voter who perceives that Indian engineers are taking jobs that truly belong to them. Unemployment at 9.5 per cent is forcing the US lawmakers to abandon their traditional stance of free markets and to take the direction of protectionism.
The measure is specially targeted towards Indian companies. The increase in fees will only be applicable to those companies that have more than one-half of their US employees on H1B Visa. Companies like Microsoft employ larger number of professionals from India than many Indian companies. But their overall payroll in the US is larger hence H1B visa holders constitute less than one-half of their payroll and they will not be hit by this law. On the other hand, an Indian company with fewer H1B visa holders will be hit because its total payroll in the US is smaller.

The increase in visa fees appears to be harmful for India and beneficial for the US on first reading. Indeed, immediately fewer engineers will migrate to the US. This short-term impact has led commerce minister Anand Sharma to condemn the increase in fees. Indian government officials have even threatened to take up the matter in the World Trade Organisation. While we must certainly continue to contest this anti-India measure, there is no need to get worried. This measure will rebound and hit the US in the long run. The street-corner shop may gain immediately by raising its flour grinding charges but not in the long run. Some customers will buy flour from the kirana shop instead of buying wheat and having it ground. Others may go to the shop in the next street. In the end, the high price will lead to less income for the shop owner. Similarly, the American economy will stand to lose by discouraging the immigration of Indian engineers.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association of US says on the basis of a study by Vivek Wadhwa of Duke University that "immigrants to the US founded more than half of all Silicon Valley start-ups created in the past decade. Half of all Silicon Valley engineers are foreign born, up from 10 per cent in 1970, and about 40 per cent of all US patents go to immigrants. These immigrant-founded companies employed 450,000 workers and generated $52 billion in revenue in 2005." In the same tone, according to website, "Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates has urged the US administration and lawmakers to increase the immigration limits for foreign workers who can be hired by US companies on the H1B visa programme. The US education system is producing fewer math and science graduates than countries like India and China, and top IT workers in those countries and others are more often opting to stay home instead of work at a US company, Gates said." Availability of fewer skilled engineers from India will force American employers like Microsoft to employ high-paid low-skilled Americans. This will erode their global competitiveness and haunt the US economy.

The long-term impact on the Indian economy, on the other hand, is likely to be beneficial. Web-conferencing has made it possible to talk to persons sitting thousands of miles away just as if they were sitting on the same table. The need to send Indian engineers to perform tasks sitting in the host's office in America has correspondingly become less. American principals can communicate their requirements and problems to Indian engineers sitting in Bangalore. This has led to a decline in the number of engineers being sent to America by Indian companies lately.

Infosys had requested 4559 H1B visas in 2008. This had declined to a mere 440 in 2009. A similar decline is seen by Wipro, Satyam and TCS. Till recently the H1B quota was lapped up on the very first day of opening. This year, however, only 28,000 applications were received many months after opening of the 85,000 visas that were available. The demand for H1B visas is declining in tandem with improvement of communication technologies. Increase in visa fees in this situation is like flogging a dead horse.
According to one report, Infosys's revenues from onsite provision of services in the US were 47 per cent and offshore revenues from operations in India were 53 per cent. Infosys is capable of raising the share of offshore operations in India to 95 per cent from present 53 per cent. The company has already conducted pilot programmes with a couple of clients in the US in this direction successfully. The immense value of the H1B visa that prevailed in yesteryears has clearly evaporated. It means that software contracts will continue to flow to India.

The difference will be that previously a large part of these contracts was executed onsite in the US. Now most will be executed in India. This will be harmful for the US. The spread effects of technological innovation will accrue in India, not in the US. This will erode the technological lead of that country. Money that was being spent by Indian engineers in the US. will now be spent in India.

I reckon the US has sunk into a trap. Increase in visa fees will lead to greater outsourcing and less jobs for American engineers. Reduction in fees will lead to more immigration and again fewer jobs for American engineers. Either way there is no escape.

The basic problem, mentioned by Gates, is that the cost of production of the mathematical mind in the US is much higher than in India. Any attempt to keep cheap goods out of the shop leads to closure of the same. Likewise, any attempt to keep out cheaper Indian mind power will lead to loss for the US economy. 
Instead of the US trying to keep Indians out, it should learn the techniques of creation of mindpower from India like applying tika on the forehead, tying moli on the wrist, circumambulating around the temple, taking bath in rivers, ringing bells in the temples, burning incense, etc. These techniques will improve the math scores of US students and help them compete with India.

The writer is former Professor of Economics, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.







The history of science is surely a noble one, full of brave individuals striving after truth and high-minded intellectual endeavour. Right? Well, maybe we need a slightly more complicated hypothesis. All those worldview-shifting theories and life-altering breakthroughs came from mere humans. And, as science itself has shown us, humans evolved from beasts – and are often little better mannered. When it comes to defending their lifetime's research, academic name or just protecting their funding sources, well, it seems scientists are perfectly capable of getting their claws out. Call it survival of the fittest. 

That science has seen its fair share of feuding should come as no surprise really, says Joel Levy, author of a new book, Scientific Feuds, that details some of the nastiest spats. He explains that the view of science as a stately march "out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge" is an invention, "a typically Victorian piece of bowdlerised mythmaking." 

"Scientists are human, like anyone else, and obviously emotions can run high and tempers can fray when the stakes are so high," Levy says. "You have to be obsessive and driven, and I think a lot of top scientists' interpersonal skills may suffer, because they're so focused on research." 

"It was the Victorian era when science really came of age, and the icon of 'the scientist' emerged, along with a version of its history as an orderly procession of progress, of things getting steadily better. Now we realise it never really works out like that." 

The Victorians were hardly blameless. Many of the most juicy feuds occurred in the 19th century, when scientific leaps and bounds were also accompanied by scandal and bitterness. 

One of the best known showdowns took place on 30 June 1860, at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford. T H Huxley – aka "Darwin's bulldog" and ardent defender of his theory of evolution – locked horns with Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, son of anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce. 

Wilberforce had published a damning review of Darwin's Origin of Species just two weeks earlier, suggesting its arguments were "degrading" and that natural selection was "a dishonouring view of nature ... absolutely incompatible with the word of God". Irate Darwinists leapt at the chance to challenge him in public at the meeting – and none more forcibly than Huxley. 

Anticipating, perhaps, that things would get nasty, Wilberforce ended his speech on a defensive, sneery note. While no reliable transcript exists, a magazine account many years later put it as follows: "turning to his antagonist with smiling insolence, (Wilberforce) begged to know, was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey?" Apparently this was pretty sensational for the uptight Victorians and the crowd went wild, students taking up a chant of "monkey, monkey". 

While there is much debate over how Huxley responded, the most enduring account has become trumpeted as a classic example of science taking on religion. Huxley is said to have risen from his seat slowly, and with great gravity, to pronounce that he was not ashamed to have a monkey for an ancestor, but that he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth. 

But science feuds can get considerably dirtier than this relatively cerebral spat. One of the nastiest was the "bone war" between Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh, two fossil hunters who started hunting each other. 
This was "the most notorious and damaging feud of its age, a Greek tragedy of hubris and nemesis, of two men locked together by obsession until one of them, goaded beyond endurance, unleashed the furies of public disgrace," says Levy. For 30 years, from the 1860s to the 1890s, these two men sabotaged each other's lives and work. 
It was a time when the American Midwest, a fossil-collector's treasure trove, was really opening up. Despite there being more than enough to go round, the urge to collect and classify the most dinosaurs became all-consuming for both men. Soon, there were scraps over access to fossil sites and accusations of intentional damage and theft. 


The arguments came to a head in 1877, with the discovery of the fossil-rich site of Como Bluff in Wyoming. Marsh is thought to have dynamited pits to stop Cope acquiring specimens, while Cope apparently diverted a trainload of Marsh's findings to the wrong state. Pistols were pulled on at least one occasion. 

When the more establishment Marsh also scuppered Cope's chances of publishing his discoveries or getting funding, Cope responded desperately by splashing allegations of Marsh's conduct over the New York Herald on 12 January 1890. Marsh, of course, had his own bones to pick in public with Cope, and after two weeks of highly publicised bickering, both men's reputations were in tatters. 

But sometimes, science squabbles barely damage a reputation, and wars don't always seem to play out entirely fairly in our public consciousness. Take, for instance, Edison versus Tesla. As Levy points out, when we think of the inventions of electricity, lightbulbs, and by extension the "Power Age", we think of the American inventor Thomas Edison. But the credit more fairly goes to Serbian "discoverer" 

While Edison grabbed headlines in the early 1880s by developing electricity for everyday use, it was Tesla's use of alternating current – rather than Edison's direct current – that became the standard. Hardly surprising, as AC power could travel further, more efficiently and through thinner wires than DC power, and could be transformed into much lower and safer voltages for domestic use. While the two men initially worked together, Edison was already too invested in DC power to consider the younger man's ideas. When businessman and inventor George Westinghouse bought Tesla's patents and began to actively market them, Edison hit back – and the "War of the Currents" began. 

"Edison was a master of market and spin," Levy says, outlining how Edison was quick to abuse the public's ignorance and fear of this strange new energy. His campaign was led by electrical engineer Harold P Brown, who called AC a "damnable death current" while insisting on the safety of DC. He conducted a range of grim experiments in an attempt to discredit AC, including electrocuting a dog, a horse and even an elephant in public, and eventually inventing the first, gruesomely inefficient, electric chair in 1890. 

But Edison's macabre electrical shows were unsuccessful, and when Westinghouse's system won the contract to light up the Chicago World Fair in 1893, the war of the currents was won by AC. 

So have scientists mellowed? Nope. "It's definitely not getting better; feuds still rumble on," says Levy. "And we see new feuds building up, in areas like climate change." 

the independent


World-changing theories and big breakthroughs are what every scientist yearns for. But the pressure to get results – and glory – means that feuds come thick and fast, says holly williams 







England has produced few greater artists than Mr William Holman-Hunt whose death we announced last Thursday. Mr Holman-Hung was one of the rare instances of an artist battling with prejudice, adhering to his own inspirations and ideals in the face of contemporary convention, scorning to sell his art for a mess of pottage, and yet in his lifetime achieving a world-wide popularity that the most debased pandering to popular taste could not have achieved. He was one of the famous pre-Taphaelite brotherhood, contemporary with Millais and Rossetti's teacher. To the last he battled with the Philistines and refused to exhibit in his later years at the Academy, against which he led an attack in the columns of the Times. When Holman-Hunt's "Light of the World" was first exhibited, it was regarded by the multitude both as heterodox in religious meaning and in artistic method and it met with the reception that production of originality are bound to expect. Then came Ruskin's famous letter to the Times explaining its symbolism, glorifying its technical perfections and pronouncing it "one of the very noblest works of sacred art ever produced in this or any other age." Holman-Hunt was then about 27. Fifty years later he repainted the picture, dissatisfied with the way in which the original was being exhibited by Keble College in whose possession it is. The second painting was twice as large as the old but as finely painted. It was acquired by Mr Charles Booth, who sent it on exhibition round the Empire and then presented it to the nation. Holman-Hunt was born in 1827 and had been almost blind for the last few years.








It is unfortunate that the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is being made the horse to pull forward the political process in Kashmir. So far, it had been one of the many roadblocks in the path towards peace. Given the adoption by Kashmir's mainstream parties of this core separatist agenda, the status of the AFSPA today is being used not only as the sole criterion to judge the Centre's commitment to solving the Kashmir riddle, but also as evidence of the extent of its willingness to support the Omar Abdullah regime in the state. Naturally, first the cabinet committee on security and then the all-parties' meet were expected to unequivocally proclaim on the revocation of the AFSPA. Although there was nothing to stop participants in either of the meetings from deliberating on the issue, neither could have pronounced on the dilution of the legislation for the simple reason that the power to do so remained with Parliament. There could have been a decision on lifting from Kashmir the "disturbed area" tag that brings into force the working of the AFSPA, but given that the situation in the valley is nowhere close to being peaceful, such a conclusion would be akin to jumping the gun at a time such daredevilry could be dangerous. The indications on the ground are sufficient to suggest that a partial withdrawal would not do anything to drastically alter the situation in the valley. The separatists want a total revocation — which is impossible at this point of time — as a precondition to dialogue. And a partial withdrawal may achieve nothing more than massage the ego of the state government.


There is a need to rescue the dialogue on Kashmir from the clutches of the rhetoric on the AFSPA which is obfuscating the urgency to evolve a political solution. The AFSPA's phased withdrawal has to be made conditional on the speed with which the political impasse is resolved. As for the need to address the people's anger and sense of alienation, other equally important avenues need to be explored. One is to reorganize, retrain and sensitize the police and paramilitary forces which have, recently, critically undermined political stability. The state administration could also look at the possibility of releasing some of those booked under the Public Safety Act to build public confidence. Nothing, however, should skew India's avowed stand of zero tolerance to human rights violations, be it by the police or the army.








In Nicolas Sarkozy's France, national integration has become more important than individual rights — and not many politicians appear to have much of a problem with this. Only one member of the senate voted against the bill banning face-covering veils in public, as opposed to the 246 others who supported it. The bill had already been approved by the national assembly in July, so now it is all set to become law. Although the text of the bill did not mention Islam, it is obvious that the move is directed at the country's Muslim community, which constitutes 10 per cent of the population. The intention is ostensibly noble — to protect women from being forced to wear the burqa — though that does not absolve it from undermining the first principles of the constitution. Following the doctrine of individual liberty, citizens should be free to wear whatever they choose to. Moreover, the logic of the rule of law turns such an embargo effectively redundant. If constitutional safeguards already exist to protect individuals from coercion, why should the State bother to impose its own coercive rules on its citizens? The decision to fine all burqa-clad women, together with men who force them to wear it, also betrays a less-than-clear understanding of the customs and compulsions that govern modes of behaviour within certain communities. So a near consensus on the burqa ban is not going to change Mr Sarkozy's political fate very much — at least not for the better. Never a popular president, he now faces the possibility of being reprimanded by the European court of human rights.


It is a pity that into the third year of his presidency, Mr Sarkozy has radically moved away from the fine balance he had struck between being firm on immigration and fair towards ethnic minorities. The shock of the global meltdown — followed by his high-handed approach towards capitalism — has also deepened the people's disaffection. Mr Sarkozy got a taste of the public's anger when, on September 7, close to 3 million workers took to the streets to protest against his proposed pension reforms and job cuts, causing one of the biggest one-day strikes in France in years. Mr Sarkozy's severe crackdown on the "illegal" Roma (the gypsies), as also his declaration that the full veil "is not welcome" in his country, have made clear the limits of his sympathy for non-French people. The burqa ban merely sums up his attitude.









Much is being written these days, especially in the context of West Bengal, about what is wrong with the Communist Party of India (Marxist). For a party that has been in power in the state for more than three decades, this is hardly surprising. But if a party has been in power in a state for more than three decades, then something must also be right with it. Besides, no matter what the outcome of the forthcoming assembly elections, it would still be the case that almost half of the electorate in the two most intellectually advanced states in India, West Bengal and Kerala, would have voted in them for formations led by the CPI(M). What explains this, and also the fact that, notwithstanding all its omissions and commissions, the CPI(M) still continues to attract some of the finest young minds of the country?


The answer is three-fold, and everything I say about the CPI(M) holds generally for the organized Left as a whole. First, it is the only modern force in Indian politics; second, it is the only consistently democratic force in Indian politics; and third, it is the only consistently anti-imperialist force in Indian politics.


Of the two main non-Left political formations in the country, one appeals to Hindutva, and the other appeals to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Both thrive on the essentially feudal features of our society. The CPI(M), in contrast, does not owe its being to the identity of Prakash Karat's grandfather, or of Sitaram Yechury's father-in-law. It represents, in that sense, the only residual link to the modernity of the anti-colonial struggle. The Congress, which retained the leadership of the anti-colonial struggle throughout its decisive phase, was largely a modern force during that struggle and, for a while, even after Independence. The leaders were more or less equal, debate was free, and sycophancy, let alone dynastic politics, conspicuous by its absence. Dynastic politics entered the Congress at a later date.


The Hindutva group, in contrast, never had anything to do with the anti-colonial struggle; its political formation always was, and still remains, a front for an organization that is fundamentally pre-modern in its orientation and appeal. But while modernity was absent from the one and abandoned by the other, it still characterizes the CPI(M) as a political force.


Both the non-Left formations have also, at different times, sought to abrogate the democratic nature of our polity. The Congress imposed upon this country the infamous Emergency, which ended only because of a miscalculation on its part and not because of any change of heart — indeed, to this day, it has not expressed any contrition on this score. And the Hindutva formation toyed for long with the idea of altering the Constitution of the country and even set up a commission to suggest recommendations for doing so, until K.R. Narayanan, then the president, stepped in to end that effort. The CPI(M) was in the forefront of opposition on both these occasions. Although the CPI transgressed on the earlier occasion, for which it was later critical of itself.


The CPI(M)'s systematic defence of the democratic rights of the people has paradoxically been somewhat belied by its own reticence in theorizing the nature of democracy in societies like ours, and by the pervasive association — derived from historical experience but lacking any theoretical justification — of communism with one-party rule. But this defence has been as steadfast as it has been forceful. In contrast, on the issue of secularism, where the party, free of any historical baggage, has been more forthright in theorizing its praxis, its role in defending secularism has been more widely acknowledged.


Critics often point to this or that misdemeanour on the part of the CPI(M) cadre, this or that action on the part of the CPI(M) 'hoodlums' to contest the CPI(M)'s commitment to democracy. But even if each of the alleged misdemeanours happens to be true, it would be crass empiricism — or, what comes to the same thing, crass moralism — to deny the CPI(M)'s historical commitment to democracy from a set of individual incidents of the sort that all political formations at the ground level can be accused of.


But even more significant than the two features mentioned above is the CPI(M)'s consistent commitment to anti-imperialism, which indeed constitutes its real differentia specifica. Imperialism is more than 'the Empire', and anti-imperialism is more than mere Bush-bashing, opposition to the Israeli aggrandizement in Palestine or American aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anti-imperialism, in short, is not moral opposition to this or that venture on the part of the hegemonic power of the time. It is a whole approach to politics that sees every issue of the day from the perspective of globally-spanning class relations of domination and subordination. And the CPI(M), and the Left in general, is the only force in India, that does so consistently. It sees the Indo-US nuclear deal not just as a 'nuclear deal' but above all as an 'Indo-US deal'. It evaluates the deal not in terms of the costs and benefits of nuclear power (although the deal is questionable even on this score), but in terms of what it portends for India's relationship with American imperialism.


Many would not agree with what they would see as the CPI(M)'s 'obsession' with imperialism, an obsession that even made it withdraw support from the United Progressive Alliance government, in spite of the obvious short-term political costs of that withdrawal. Many would not even subscribe to the concept of imperialism itself, the most radical among them remaining satisfied with the concept of the empire or the 'evil empire'.


But, if one sees imperialism as a global system and not just as the evil actions of this or that American president, then one cannot help admiring a party that can stake everything on a principled opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal. Indeed, the very lack of 'pragmatism' that characterized its total opposition to the deal — which political pundits and commentators to this day have seen as sheer folly — is what marks it out as a political party and endears it to the thousands who do subscribe to the concept of imperialism. It is this consistent and principled anti-imperialism on its part that makes writers like Noam Chomsky feel concerned when 'progressive' sections in India launch a no-holds-barred attack on the CPI(M).


The ultra-Left is, at best, lackadaisical in its anti-imperialism. What it thinks on a whole range of issues concerned with imperialism today is anybody's guess (buried, perhaps, in arcane pamphlets). And the fact that it treats the CPI(M), which is a consistent anti-imperialist force, as its main enemy, suggests the secondary role, at best, that it assigns to imperialism in its calculations, highlighting once more the difference between the ultra-Left and the CPI(M) on the issue of imperialism.


The central question of the last hundred years has been the nature of the modernity brought by imperialism to the periphery. The national movement was fought on this issue. The progressive elements of the national movement, who split off to form the Communist Party, believed that authentic modernity could come only by an alternative route, socialism. While the promise of socialism has been belied for the moment, and many (perhaps including even Amartya Sen) have seen in neo- liberalism the promise of a progressive modernity, the CPI(M) has never given up its perspective on imperialism. It has seen in neo- liberalism the form that imperialism takes in the current epoch, and has continued to hold up a vision of an alternative anti-imperialist modernity. (This, notwithstanding a passing phase of naïve 'developmentalism' in West Bengal, for which it has been self-critical.) Anti-imperialism, it believes, is not a 'fundamentalist' but a modernist position. And that, in my view, is what is right about the CPI(M).

The author is professor, Centre for Economic Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi








Thirty-three years ago, Hong Kong expert Leung Chun-ying recalls lecturing to Chinese bureaucrats on transforming Shenzhen from a fishing village into an industrial centre. Chairman Mao was dead; Deng Xiaoping, desperate to link China to the Western economy, was in charge. Two fishing villages in South China — Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, and Zhuhai, bordering Macau — were chosen as China's first special economic zones, where foreign investors would enjoy concessions and avail of cheap Chinese labour.


Today, Shenzhen is mainland China's counterpart to Hong Kong, boasting of the highest annual economic growth rate on the mainland. A lot of people live here and work in Hong Kong and vice versa, crossing the six entry points between the two cities everyday. In 1980, there was just one such crossing. Leung recalls having to dispose of his Chinese currency before re-entering Hong Kong. He also had to go through a half-hour entry procedure and report to the police station in Shenzhen everyday, apart from coping with the village's rocky roads, hard bicycle seats and lack of public toilets.


For seven years — starting 1979 — the 24-year-old, UK-returned Leung lectured Chinese bureaucrats older than him. Speaking Cantonese to a Mandarin-knowing audience, he needed an interpreter for the first three years. But that wasn't the only reason for the silence with which his lectures were received. It was his subject — land use systems and practices of land, property and planning in the West and in Hong Kong — that made his audience uneasy, said Leung in an interview to Beijing Review. Not many were comfortable with the proposed auctioning of land that was inevitable under Deng's decision to loosen a planned, agricultural communist economy. It was only in 1980, when it was decided to turn Shenzhen into a SEZ, that they accepted the idea. Leung, now a member of China's top advisory body, recalls planning for a targeted population of 300,000, a figure that seemed impossible to achieve. Today, Shenzhen's population, comprising mainly of migrants, stands at 14 million. And cycles are hard to find in the sea of swanky cars on the city's streets.


Another time


In 1982, a giant poster bearing the words, "Time is money, Efficiency is Life", was put up near Shekou Industrial Zone, Shenzhen's first industrial centre. It soon replaced Mao's "Serve the people" as the slogan of Deng's China.To mark 30 years of Shenzhen, China Daily has a photo feature tracing the transformation. The black-and-white pictures show a simpler era, the faces fresh and innocent. In one, a young girl in a frock seated on a chair in a street talks on one of the mainland's first oversized mobile phones, while a man kneeling before her polishes her shoes. Then there are migrant factory girls practising ballet dancing between bunk beds in an overcrowded dorm.


Many of Shenzhen's migrant workers have ended up as millionaire entrepreneurs. Today, Shenzhen boasts of the highest minimum wage on the mainland: one of the factors that has made foreign companies move to the interior. But the real story of Shenzhen lies in the Shekou Incident of 1988. Communist League workers had just finished lecturing youth at the Shekou Industrial Zone on upholding the party's revolutionary ideals. One young man sprang up and retorted: "We have come to Shenzhen to make money. Here, we find work on our own; if one factory fires us, another hires us the next day," even as the audience clapped. This retort spread across the country, carrying its exciting message: the State-run work unit that controlled a Chinese citizen's life, was about to collapse. But along with it, went the lifelong security provided by the State.







With the image of a murdered leader, private horror and grief inevitably turn political, writes Ipsita Chakravarty


Afterwards, Gulam Mola would recall the night with horror — "Hai, ami ki dekhlam [Alas, what did I see]!" When Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated on August 15, 1975, Mola had been the only journalist to slip inside the slain leader's house and take photographs. He would never recover from what he saw. Just one photograph survives from that night. To look at this photograph, a trace of what Mola saw, is to replicate this sense of horror, over and over again. For apart from the pain and brutality of a violent death, of the thing itself, is the trauma of seeing it — a purely visual assault that profoundly affects the viewer. Images wield their own power.


In the image from Mola's camera, Mujib's bloodied corpse lies eternally slumped at the bottom of the staircase in his house. The familiar iron-grey helmet of hair is dishevelled, the glasses are gone, the crisp waistcoat has been discarded, his eyes are closed. It is almost intimate. As if the leader had been caught in a quiet moment at home. But suddenly, there is a stab of recognition. It is not just the blood. Maybe it is something in the yielding softness of the body, the awkward angle of the legs or the downward plunge of the steps. You know you are looking at death.


This must have been what Mola saw that night, all those years ago. And this is what must have floated before his eyes every time he thought of it, for memories often return as images. Perhaps the power of a photograph lies in the fact that it mimics the process of memory. In the absence of actual memory, a photographic image, if it is persuasive enough, may step in to take its place. And when memory falters, the photograph remains, a relentless reminder of "this-has-been", to borrow a phrase from Roland Barthes. The image of Mujibur's body is not just a part of Mola's recollection anymore; it has made its way into collective memory. Like Banquo's ghost, the bloodied face of the leader returns to haunt us. The photograph will not let us forget. We have all been made witnesses. We must all mourn. The image has been resurrected, time and time again, to keep this terror, this collective guilt and grief, alive.


Soon after Mola returned to the newspaper office, the negatives of the pictures he had taken that night were seized by the army. But the negatives of the one that survives were somehow leaked to a Western media house. A decade later, Mujib's daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, tracked down the negatives of her father's picture and retrieved them.


It must have been a morbid memento. About a century earlier, the Victorians would take photographs of loved ones who had died. In these pictures, lifeless faces lie wreathed in flowers, mothers hold dead infants and stare grimly into the camera, little girls are stretched out on beds, their dolls arranged around them. There is a terrible, cloying sentimentality in such pictures. They speak of an obsessive need to remember, to fix a moment, to fix identity. The person in the picture lived and died and was loved — the photograph must be proof of that. It is a private grief, just like that of a daughter seeking out the last photograph of her father, needing to know him even in death. But Sheikh Hasina's memento is a more savage one, and Mujib's death changed the course of a nation's history. Grief, in this case, would play a very public part.


When people bear witness to a traumatic event, they must choose how to remember it and how to deal with what they have seen. In the 1970s, a photograph titled Accidental Napalm became one of the iconic images of the Vietnam War. A small girl, her clothes burned off by napalm, tears towards the camera. Soldiers loll behind her as she runs crying out in pain. The impact of the photograph is heightened by a nightmarish sense of anonymity. There was no way of knowing, immediately afterwards, who the girl was or what happened to her. This image, which intensified public outrage against the war, has tormented collective memory for years. Decades later, the girl re-emerges in another picture. She now has a name — Kim Phuc. Her scars still show, but she is holding her child, a beautiful and healthy baby. Some viewers feel that the impersonal horror of war seems to seek its antidote in a private narrative of birth and regeneration.


With Mujib's photograph, the private narrative of loss and grief has been projected into the public arena to generate reactions that are politically relevant. The picture was actually produced as evidence in the trial of Mujib's assassins. The grisly image is complemented by pictures of a tearful Sheikh Hasina emerging from a courtroom after the judgement is announced. In November, 2009, five of the assassins, who were mostly from the army, were put to death after their last minute pleas for mercy were rejected.


Sheikh Hasina and her party still use the photograph in election campaigns in Bangladesh. The image of a man in that most private of moments — death — has been installed in a web of living political relations. It seems to urge the morbid sentimentality of Victorian mourning, the rhetoric of a heroic martyrdom and the apotheosis of a popular leader. People must not be allowed to forget what they have seen. For the collective guilt, grief and anger that this seeing evokes are potent agents of political change.








Surrounded as we are by a profusion of still and moving images, we can scarcely imagine now how the world must have looked before the invention of the camera. How did pre-photographic people preserve the vestiges of life and death? What did their archives look like? Beyond familiar conventions of memorializing — monuments, busts, death-masks and portraits — there were other, less obvious, ways of preserving history.


The narrator of Proust's novel, In Search of Lost Time, tells us about his grandmother's rather unusual project of keeping the past alive: "Even when she had to make someone an ostensibly practical gift, when she had to give an armchair, a dinner service, or a walking-stick, she would look out for 'old' ones, as if these, purged by long disuse of their utilitarian character, were able to tell us how people had lived in the old days, rather than serve our modern needs." In the absence of photographs, she could revive, and archive, the traces of lost time by going back to objects that had belonged to another era. In her perception, the armchair or the walking-stick stands in, as it were, for the photograph — a medium that had also evolved out of the need to record the way people of another time lived.


Unlike photographs, which are visual documents divested of the physical circumstances of life, antique objects are charged with distinctly individual spirits. The teacup or the walking stick is haunted by the hands that had once held them. Layers of time and memory accumulate on these objects, turning each of them into a memento mori. If a death-mask captures the fact of death, these objects embody the meaning of death by making the absence of their users all the more acute in contrast to their solidity and sensual presence. So mundane heirlooms, or everyday items once used by the great, acquire an aura of almost fetishistic value. Goethe's writing desk, preserved in the house in Frankfurt where he was born, is such a revered object, which conveys a keener sense of the writer as a private individual than of the public persona that is depicted in the famous portrait by Tischbein.


A portrait, like a photograph, depicts a face, or a body, at a certain moment. But can it convey the essence, the personhood, of the individual it depicts? Is it possible to capture life in its entirety visually? Or can it be only done in words? Such questions have been raised and pondered in theory and in practice throughout history. Writing and the visual arts complement, enrich and feed on each other. We find artists repeatedly compelled to revisit the scene of Socrates' death that Plato had described vividly. It is as though the final moments of Socrates' life must be reconstructed in paint in order to capture the truth of his entire existence in all its fullness. In Proust's novel, into which history, autobiography and fiction are finely intertwined, we notice the opposite urge — to paint, in the finest detail, the passage of a life through time. Proust's life-writing draws on the Horatian principle of Ut pictura poesis — as is painting so is poetry. In the 16th century, when Michel de Montaigne retired to the country after a busy public life in the city as a lawyer, he decided to devote his time to writing essays, an activity that he likened to painting. "It is my own self that I am painting," he tells the reader in the prologue to his book of essays.


Fiction, painting, biography, sculpture and the world of everyday objects not only fill up the void left behind by death but also those gaps in time that history failed or forgot to record. They help us re-imagine the essence of those people, places and events that no photographer was around to preserve from oblivion. So the absence of a visual archive often turns itself into a fount of inspiration. In the work of Louise Bourgeois, for instance, especially in her body of work called Cells, we find old clothes, rags, beds and other objects thrown in together as if into the chaotic backyard of the mind. A lifetime's associations and feelings suddenly come sharply alive in these assemblages — and make photography redundant to this work. Bourgeois, who, like Proust's grandmother, attached great value to the bric-a-brac of the past, once admitted as much, when she said in an interview, "I don't need a photograph to remember."





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





The decision by the US state of Ohio to ban the outsourcing of government information technology work to companies outside the country is the latest in the series of US actions to stem the outward flow of US jobs. New Jersey and Virginia have already resorted to similar measures.

They have been accompanied by claims by President Obama that the US has given billions of dollars in tax breaks that helped companies to export jobs and keep their profits abroad. He has raised the rhetorical level against outsourcing in the recent past. The US had also recently raised the cost of H1B visas through legislative action which was clearly intended to raise the cost of outsourcing and thus reduce the scope for US companies shipping out their jobs.

Though the federal and state governments in the US claim economic rationale for their offensive against outsourcing, the reasons are predominantly political. Obama's popularity has been waning and the Democrats are jittery about their prospects in the coming Congressional elections in November.

Populist measures can give a boost to the party and the president, but they can also do harm to the economy in the medium to long term. US companies actually save billions of dollars by outsourcing their jobs and many of them stay competitive because of this. They cannot afford to pay for their jobs according to American wage standards.

In fact there are not enough qualified persons available for the jobs. Outsourcing is therefore a rational and sensible economic device but the continuing failure of policy prescriptions to lift the economy has forced the US establishment to conjure up political non-remedies. The US economy has shown signs of a turnaround but growth is still weak.

Unemployment rules at about 10 per cent and therefore an obvious villain who can be invented is outsourcing. Obama even claimed recently that the nascent American recovery is on account on the fall in the outgo of jobs. The claim however is not supported by facts. The drive against outsourcing also exposes the hypocrisy of the claimed US commitment to the free play of economic forces. It is openly protectionist.

The worldwide consensus in the wake of the economic slowdown was that no country should adopt protectionist policies. It is an economic truth which cannot be falsified by appeals to nationalist sentiments and recourse to rhetoric. The US may have to learn the lesson the hard way.








A referendum on amending the constitution that has won a strong 'yes' vote will enable Turkey to take decisive steps towards democratisation. The current constitution was made when the country was under military rule. The proposed changes include ensuring greater accountability of the military to civilian courts. The immunity that leaders of the 1990 coup have enjoyed so far will go. Besides, parliament's power to appoint judges will be enhanced, and gender equality will get a boost as will the rights of workers to participate in trade union activity. People will have the right to strike on political issues. 

Roughly 58 per cent of those who participated in the referendum have endorsed changes to the constitution. Of course, given the narrow scope of referendums, where voters have a choice between voting 'yes' or 'no' only, it is hard to say how much support individual changes enjoy among the population. For instance, some of those who voted in favour of constitutional changes are concerned about the subordination of the judiciary to the executive. There is concern too that the right of parliament to appoint judges could open the doors to politicisation of the judiciary. Opposition parties fear that the ruling 
Justice and Development Party (AKP) will stuff the judiciary with loyalists.

The shaking off of a military-era constitution will mark an important milestone in Turkey's transition to a democracy. The country has struggled with decades of military rule, either direct or indirect. Military rule was supported by the west as it was seen to be a modernising force, an important bulwark against Turkey's slide to religious conservatism.

They were wrong. Turkey's Islamist parties, especially the ruling AKP, have shown that they are not conservative. The proposed reform of the constitution that was spearheaded by the AKP government has thus won international support. With a new constitution that is more democratic and sensitive to human rights, Turkey will move closer to European Union standards. Its chances of becoming an EU member have brightened considerably.

Simply having a democratic constitution isn't enough. Turkey's parties and politicians must function democratically, ensure that no arm of the government dominates the others and respect civil rights. The military has been significantly sidelined. It is unlikely to be happy with the changes and will be waiting for opportunity to return to the political arena.







Let us end the war lest both sides suffer vast casualties and innocent Kashmiris become colossal victims of these fratricidal clashes.


In life and in games, we, the people of India and of Pakistan are brothers. I received an email communication from my son in the US quoting the 'Miami Herald' newspaper. It gave a glowing account of Aisam-UI-Haq Qureshi, the Pakistani, and Rohan Bopanna, the Indian, playing together as a doubles team in the US Open tennis, which inspired me to write this piece.

I salute Bopanna and Qureshi, the two great stars playing tennis with superlative brilliance. They are a marvel and a model of statesmanship for the politicians of India and Pakistan. I appeal to the political tribes of the two countries to play the great game of Indo-Pak friendship in Jammu & Kashmir's bleeding fields.

Today, they kill each other, not the politicians but the soldiers, day after day adding to the number of cadavers, both with the same red blood aggravating bitterness. The alternative is obvious. We can be strong twins of South East Asia if we play together instead of destroying each other to the profit of the 'big business' of the USA who sell weaponry to both the countries. The foreign ministers of the two countries must stop this suicidal game and follow the glorious example of Bopanna and Qureshi, the great young patriots of the two countries.

What we need today is what was mentioned to me by Nijalingappa, the one-time Congress president.

Soon after independence, the Jammu & Kashmir state became the scene of bitter battles between India and Pakistan and assumed communal flare-ups with no prospect of termination of killings. As a statesman, Nijalingappa thought that the only way to end the war and the flood of blood of both brethren of the two nations was to make the line of effective control the formal international line of division with sovereignty on both sides.

He was unwilling to express this view publicly as a politician and desired me to do it. He conveyed it to me through my friend Chief Justice of Karnataka. But not being a politician I did not venture to make a public policy statement of such importance since I belonged to no party.

After a few score of years, the butchery and bloodshed have continued with no end in sight to the carnage. China is supporting Pakistan covertly and the USA is granting large sums of money to Pakistan surely knowing it will be used in the Kashmir war to buy arms. India also expending its scarce resources on buying arms from many foreign big businesses, including the US was a costly experiment.

Today, I firmly believe Nijalingappa's formula is a practical measure that deserves serious consideration and acceptance. Let us end the war lest both sides suffer further vast casualties and innocent Kashmiris become colossal victims of this horrendous fratricidal clashes. Sanity has difficult chance of acceptance when tension is mounting and how dangerous when both sides have nuclear weapons, history will prove astronomically.

Jinnah's wish

I once again pray to the presidents and the prime ministers of India and Pakistan to remember what Jinnah long ago said in a speech: "We are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilisation, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendar, history and traditions, aptitudes and ambitions. In short, we have our own distinctive outlook on life and of life. By all cannons of international law we are a nation."

On a later occasion he said: "India is not a nation, we are told. We were one people when the great war was going on and an appeal was made to India for blood and money. We were a people when we were asked to be a signatory to the peace treaty in France. But the imperialist Britain made us two people fighting each other."

"Alas, the time has come for us to be together again in a creative confederacy of historic comity composed of Delhi-Srinagar and Islamabad. Politics in both countries is poison. We have politicians but no statesman and this generates malignancy and forbids unity, fraternity and common humanity from the two instrumentalities namely the executive and the legislature branches."

"So, I turn my fervent plea to the judiciary. Kindly do fraternal justice to our two people who were once a single population. We must have judges from both countries meet together and discuss common issues on August 14 and 15 every year since we became free together from British imperialism."

It would be an extraordinary experiment if politics will permit us to have a special bench consisting of the Chief Justices of India and Pakistan and their two senior most brethren. Six judges to hear the nationally important cases with the consent of the parties and the national bars at the supreme court level.

This may seem fantastic. But I have a vague recollection of a long ago visit to Kenya where I was told that four independent east African countries had a common appellate court manned by European judges. Then why not India and Pakistan? We can promote a great cause of the people of both the countries affirming their faith in the judicial institutions of the two countries.


Similarly the Indian and Pakistani bars should hold conferences periodically when issues of common concern will be discussed including the feasibility of an Indo-Pak bench for a few rare cases sitting in Delhi and Islamabad. Why not such a bench to hear cases from Jammu and Kashmir in appeal from J&K high court?

This looks incredible but if the judges and advocates of our two countries campaign for its feasibility we can make it a reality. A change of heart will reverse history and save lives instead of continued slaughter, butchery and terrorism.

(The writer is a former judge of the supreme court of India)








An organisation should be constantly reviewing its structures, procedures and practices.


Expectedly, media coverage of the inquiry into the Mangalore accident addresses the sensational rather than the substantial. As a result, the real contributors to the accident have been pushed backstage while limelight seeks and chases the obvious.

James T Reason had very lucidly expounded on accident causation through a theoretical 

'Swiss Cheese' model according to which various layers of a hierarchical organisational structure are visualised as linearly aligned slices of cheese. If each layer has holes (failures), negative activities weave through the holes in successive layers to cross the last layer and cause an accident.

Non-availability of a radar at Mangalore airport — which should have positioned the flight in an ideal air position for a safe landing — was the first 'hole'. However, by itself, non-availability of the radar was not critical; alternative procedures existed, and were followed.

Probably due to this factor, at a certain point of the approach, the flight was higher than what the ideal approach path (indicated by the Instrument Landing System (ILS) indicator in the cockpit) demanded. The excess potential energy of the massive aircraft was not dissipated in time and the crew probably found themselves over the runway threshold with an overshooting, higher-and-faster-than-prescribed approach.

Written incident report

Lo and behold the next layer of structural cheese, is replete with holes. The airline had an operational circular in place which ordained that every missed approach (aborted approach, with the aircraft going around for another attempt to land) be conveyed to the airline management as a written Incident Report.

As the rendering of such a report was followed by an investigation and a possible escalation to the DGCA, the captain would have been inhibited from a decision to go around by the consequence associated with an investigation. So, faced with two choices — a bad approach (possibly followed by a bad landing), or raising an incident report and facing an investigation, the captain chose the former.

With his impressive flying experience he might still have managed a reasonably safe landing albeit it might have been harder than normal. The high speed would have necessitated an early touchdown with a high downward velocity (euphemistically termed by pilots as 'firm' landing). However, another 'hole' in the organisational cheese lay ahead. The airline had another operational circular (both these circulars have since been withdrawn) that made the reporting of a hard landing mandatory; general opprobrium and an investigation logically followed the submission of such a report.

So again, the captain would have decided to wash off some of his excess speed by floating extra, crucial distance after having rounded off over the runway. Eventually the situation became critical, and all systemic defences broke down leading to the late and wrong decision to go around, and thence the pile up. There were other 'holes' too. The Crew Resource Management in the cockpit — a term encompassing, inter alia, the behavioural aspects of captain-copilot interaction under normal and abnormal circumstances — was apparently a weak area.

Apparently, the co-pilot repeatedly advised the captain to go around — an advise that was ignored, possibly due to a high trans-cockpit authority gradient ie the huge difference between the flying experiences of the captain (over 10,000 hours) and the co-pilot (2,000 hours). The circumstance of the captain dozing off to sleep has generally been glossed over by media and aviation discussions as a common practice; the term 'controlled rest' has been used to condone the act.

It is apparent that such a practice is commonplace on long flights; it is equally apparent that this is in violation of procedures. There is another 'hole' here inasmuch as there exist practices in the field which represent a departure from procedures as defined by the management.

James T Reason's accident causation model, albeit projecting weaknesses in organisational structures, is not a systemic model but is essentially premised on human errors which take place at various organisational levels, finally leading to an accident to some action against which there are nil or weak defences in the structure.

The ongoing inquiry, being ably conducted by a professional with huge aviation experience, will undoubtedly dwell on these (and other) organisational and structural aspects of this accident's causation. The quintessential message that will undoubtedly emerge would be that an organisation ought to be constantly reviewing its structures, procedures and practices so as to detect 'holes' created by human error.

(Gp Capt Sachdev is a former Air Force officer)







My eyes opened to a world that doesn't see people who cannot see.


There comes a time in all our lives when the world is blurred. No, I don't allude to the phenomenon caused by the insane pace at which some choose to spend their days, but that of the faculty of sight. Having first experienced the need to clarify myopic vision back in my school days, I depend on my spectacles to help me see, hear, smell and even think clearly.

Recently I found myself squinting at printed material, peering over the lenses of my spectacles or even recklessly filling forms with the hazy hope of being correct in my entries. Finally, an appointment with the ophthalmologist saw me sitting with my eyes closed, thanks to the dilatory atropine eye-drops. I settled down in my chair and allowed my thoughts to drift randomly.

After a while, other than the sound of occasional traffic, the conversation between my husband and son was all that was audible. A heated discussion regarding our holiday plans was in progress. I listened to the options with an amused smile and hoped for a consensus. 

There was, but another clause dampened the mood. "She won't like it," featured prominently in the next exchange and I realised that the 'she' referred to me. Torn between amusement at their assumptions and irritation at not being asked directly despite sitting in the next chair, I decided to keep quiet and let them talk. And so I came to know where they thought I would like to go on holiday and what I would like to do.

After a while I was asked to open my eyes, the tests completed and the prescription collected. As we walked out, my question regarding our holiday destination was met with a surprised "You heard us?"

Don't they say that a cat laps up milk with its eyes closed in the belief that the world cannot see it? Well, I know that the cat isn't correct, since I have chased away many such felines. But as I sat there that day, temporarily blinded, my eyes opened to a world that doesn't see people who cannot see!








The police has only itself to blame for the prodigious innuendo exacerbated by its one-sided leaks and paucity of supporting physical evidence.


Any murder is reprehensible. A child's murder inevitably arouses even greater emotion, and when such a murder occurs in a school – where safety is assumed – it is all the more shocking.

Thus when 13-year-old Tair Rada was found slashed to death in her Katzrin junior high nearly four years ago, the entire country understandably grew alarmed.

The ensuing investigation and trial generated a media feeding-frenzy, replete with alternative theories, second- guessing of police hypotheses and independent investigative ventures by reporters.

After they unanimously convicted handyman Roman Zadorov of the murder on Tuesday, the three Nazareth District Court judges issued caustic criticism of the role of the press in the affair. The media was accused of bias, manipulation, stirring up sensation and controversy, fabricating headlines and grabbing ratings. A harsh charge sheet, indeed.

The court left little doubt. It fully trusted the prosecution's version and ascribed ostensible uncertainties to doubts sown tendentiously by "irresponsible journalists."

In fact, however, neither the judicial system, nor the police, nor the press can afford to place themselves above criticism.

SCANDAL-MONGERING isn't unique to this case, of course, though the nature of the crime contributed to the commotion and the lurid hype. But in this particular instance of "trial-by-the-press," it wasn't the defendant who was on the receiving end of what the court all-too-plainly considered to be inordinate and misdirection journalistic attention, but the quality of police work – a field where media criticism has proved thoroughly justified in some recent cases.

The impact of the media on due process is a weighty concern, especially when the reputation of the accused and the right to a fair trial are compromised. Here, certain reporters were focusing on the law-enforcement authorities themselves. Whether this was done with mercenary intent, as the judges opined, is moot.

The ideal of a trial conducted exclusively in court was never practicable and, in many cases, thankfully so.

Back in 1898, journalist Emile Zola exposed the injustice meted out to Alfred Dreyfus via his open-letter "J'accuse" on the front page of the Paris daily L'Aurore.

More recently and locally newspapers were instrumental in helping overturn questionable convictions, like that of Amos Baranes for the 1974 murder of Rahel Heller. Seemingly meddlesome reporters had done a great deal of good by getting on police nerves.

That's not to say that crass exploitation by the media isn't objectionable. Unfortunately, however, reality doesn't provide us with clear, demarcation lines between legitimate defense against injustice and obstruction of justice. An extremely delicate, hard-tomaintain balance is mandated, which demands extra circumspection and self-control by reporters – and more so by responsible editors – in a era when conscientiousness isn't a commonplace commodity.


Hackneyed as freedom-of-expression catchphrases are, nobody wants a muzzled press. Tarring the media with one brush is counterproductive. Criticism of journalistic conduct must be specific, leveled in real time and with the realization that, particularly nowadays, it's pointless for law-enforcement to expect a sanitized "interference-free" environment.

BUT IT's too facile to focus only on the press. The police itself is hardly innocent. It and the prosecution are serially the most egregious of leakers. Often we learn of what went on during interrogations while suspects are still being grilled. In the Rada case, the police has only itself to blame for the prodigious innuendo exacerbated by its one-sided leaks and paucity of supporting physical evidence.

In the final analysis, the buck stops with the police.

In this country, when police investigators deem someone guilty, odds are that person won't get off: Incredibly, in serious felony trials, our judges accept the police premise 98.9 percent of the time. This puts special onus on policemen and prosecutors to clean up their acts.

Foremost, this should mean less reliance on "confessions."

In the 2003 kidnap/murder of soldier Oleg Scheichet, the police arrested several Arab youths, actually conducted a "re-enactment" of the crime and was well on the way to securing a full conviction, when the real killers were inadvertently apprehended with the dead soldier's weapon.

Confessions can be notoriously unreliable. They can be forced – obtained by unacceptable psychological ploys, pressure, entrapment or deceit. Too little weight is unfortunately placed in our system on corroborating physical evidence. Circumstantial evidence, when properly gathered and interpreted, is most trustworthy.

Invariably, though, it entails hard work, rather than "leaning" on suspects.








Canada's minister of state for foreign affairs of the Americas says his country stands by Israel's right to defend itself.


Talkbacks (2)

It may be mere protocol, but Peter Kent sports a badge with Israeli and Canadian flags on the lapel of his jacket with a pride surely far greater than that required by diplomatic custom. Canada's minister of state for foreign affairs of the Americas is as staunch an ally as Israel could possibly hope for.

"Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper has adopted, I think, what is a very principled stand with regards to Canada and Israel," says Kent when asked why Canada has been unflinching in its support. "From virtually the first months of his administration in 2006 he articulated very clearly that his position on issues with regard to the Mideast and Israel's neighbors would be based on principle, and he demonstrated that during the Lebanon war and since at the United Nations in the annual votes that attempt to single out Israel over countries with far less solid reputations for democratic principles and practices and the rule of law, and try to victimize Israel on an annual basis in selective resolutions.

"Prime Minister Harper made very clear... that there is no moral equivalence between terrorism and oppression and democracy. There are some in the Canadian political spectrum who talk about a more balanced approach to the Middle East, but in fact there is no balance when it comes to rockets from Gaza on Sderot; there is no balance in attacks like the south Lebanon border incident [the August 3 killing of an IDF officer by a Lebanese army sniper]; there is no balance between those who would seek to destroy Israel and those who are willing and have demonstrated any number of times over recent years to come to a negotiated resolution."

Kent, 67, is no stranger to Israel. He first came here in 1973 as a war correspondent in his previous incarnation as a journalist – a profession he left just over two years ago to make the transition into what he calls "the responsible side of public policy." The current visit, which ended last week, is his first in his present capacity.

Kent recalls the Yom Kippur War when he followed Ariel Sharon's tank column across the Suez Canal – "albeit in a taxi." Since then he has been here many times. "I've had an opportunity as a former journalist to spend a lot of time here, admittedly more often in bad times than good," he says. "But I've made a point of also trying to celebrate with my colleagues in Parliament and also with Canadians at large that Israel is not only a country often besieged by its undemocratic neighbors, but is also a country of great scientific, intellectual and cultural accomplishment."

ELOQUENT AS A journalist, Kent has quickly mastered the language of diplomacy.

Following his statement on Canada's "principled stand" for Israel, he adds that its support for the latest round of peace talks is "solid and unwavering" and that it "supports the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas in terms of our investment of financial and human resources in trying to institution build in the PA to prepare for that eventual day of an independent Palestinian state."

Canada, says Kent, has made a $300 million investment in that institution building effort with most of the money going into Operation Proteus, the Canadian contingent to the US-led mission to train and build the PA security forces. Canada is also putting funds into development assistance in the area of justice, specifically codification of a justice system appropriate to an independent state, renovation and construction of courthouses and knowledge in forensics and crime scene investigation for the prosecution of civil and criminal cases.

Kent adds that, as he told his counterparts in Ramallah and Jerusalem, "Canada stands ready to assist in whatever capacity as the peace talks go forward and preparations go forward, hopefully, toward a two-state solution."

From your talks with Palestinian leaders, how willing are they to proceed, especially on the difficult core issues? 

I don't think anyone glosses over the core issues, the final status issues, but certainly in meetings with [PA Foreign Affairs] Minister [Riad] Malki and officials in the Foreign Ministry they are speaking from the same script that President Abbas laid out in Washington, and there is a commitment to make an effort to go the extra mile to achieve what has been so difficult to achieve."

On the other hand, the other script coming from President Abbas has been "push me one bit and I'm going home."

Well both leaders have the domestic environment to deal with in their respective communities. President Abbas also has to deal with Hamas and the very destructive obstructionism that Hamas is attempting to derail the talks.

Washington was an important start and I think that [in] the fact that both leaders have agreed to meet every two weeks there is at least a momentum and a commitment at least at this point to move forward.

We make clear at every opportunity that we are prepared to offer to both sides whatever we might, whether it's refugees, Jerusalem, security. In any of these areas we stand ready to provide assistance in any way we might be able to.

What about Israel? Is Israel in your impression ready to make the necessary concessions? 

Being in Israel and reading a cross section of the Israeli media, there is a spectrum of opinion of approval, criticism, skepticism, endorsement, and again it's for Israeli and the Palestinians through their leaders to move toward that ultimate goal, however difficult.

It's too important not to try, and I think the coming months are going to be interesting, they are going to be challenging... it's a time of hope.

Would Canada be willing to put troops on the ground to back up a peace agreement? 

Canada stands ready to assist in any way in the achievement of a negotiated two-state solution. It's hypothetical to address at this point, but our commitment over the years has been continuous.

Canadian forces have served in the region in peace observation and various UN capacities and continue today. We have the largest number of military personnel taking part in Operation Proteus; it is our second largest deployment after Afghanistan.

Canada has been very vocal on Iran. What is Canada's position on Teheran's nuclear weapon's program? 

We embraced and enacted the provisions of Security Council Resolution 1929 in June and in fact enacted sanctions which go further in specific areas with regard to oil and gas and relations with financial institutions and provision of listed personnel, including the Revolutionary Guards. We hope the international community will remain unified in its positions on the sanctions, and if broader, deeper sanctions are required, Canada will again consider those as they may be necessary.


And if sanctions fail? 

Again we are into the hypothetical here, but Canada is as concerned as the other democracies who support Israel, who support the Security Council resolution in terms of ending [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's nuclear weaponry adventurism.

Time will tell. We hope that the sanctions will do the trick.

And if Israel were to decide to go it on its own? 

I think I would leave that as a hypothetical question with a hypothetical answer which I can't answer. But again Canada has made it very clear over the years that we defend Israel's right to defend itself.

You have been quoted as saying that an attack on Israel is an attack on Canada.

What I was saying was not as much literal, what I was talking about was an attack on the values that we share: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In that area Canada is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel.


WHILE MUCH of Kent's visit focused on the peace process, the reason for his visit was in fact to discuss areas of interest and concern in Latin America and the Caribbean, which fall under his umbrella as minister of state for foreign affairs of the Americas.

Canada has represented Israel's interests in Cuba since 1973, when diplomatic relations were severed after the Yom Kippur War, and in Venezuela since Israel's ambassador was expelled during Operation Cast Lead.

On the Venezuelan front, Kent expresses concern about an upsurge of state-promoted anti-Semitism. "This is an election month in Venezuela and the official media has again fired up some of the anti-Semitic slurs against the Jewish community as happened during the Gaza incursion," he says.

"There has been, I understand, an agreement by [President Hugo] Chavez to meet with members of the Jewish community in Caracas, and Canada would hope that he encourage the media to lower the tone. We don't like to initiate criticisms, but Canada has on a number of occasions expressed its concerns over the shrinkage of democratic space, not only in general society with regard to the media, opposition political parties and individuals, but with regard to the community which we are proud to represent in Israel's absence from the country."

On the Cuban front, he is more optimistic.

"The story from Cuba is a good story," he says. "Since the years of religious repression and official atheism there has been a relaxation with regards to all religions in Cuba. The Jewish community is approximately 1,500 these days, down from its previous much larger congregation [some 15,000 before the 1959 revolution].

The community that is there, although without rabbis and cantors, is a vibrant community. When I was there last I had a chance to see that the community was unhindered. Two families made aliya while I was there, and it was done without harassment and without interference."

In an almost unveiled criticism of American policy toward Cuba, Kent cites US sanctions as a major obstacle to the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel.

"The principal problem is the Helms- Burton Act, the American legislation which isolates Cuba, and which is used by the Cuban government on the one hand as a defense from more open domestic politics, and on the other hand by some in Congress to maintain what Canada believes is an outdated [policy]."

Another area where Israel and Canada are cooperating in Latin America is Iran's involvement. "One of the areas where Canada has worked with Israel," says Kent, "is in encouraging more active prosecution of justice with regards to the AMIA terrorist bombing in 1994 [the car bombing on the Jewish Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires that left 85 people dead and hundreds wounded] and the destruction of the Israeli embassy in 1992, and of course one of the principal parties of interest is today the minister of defense in Iran [Ahmad Vahidi].

Canada would hope that the International Court of Justice might see itself free in prosecuting more quickly what is almost a two-decades-old pair of terrorist actions."








Saudi Arabia's upcoming multi-billion dollar arms deal – the biggest in history – has garnered nary a peep from Israel or AIPAC.


Saudi Arabia is about to make the most expensive arms deal in history – $60 billion for 84 new F- 15 fighters and upgrades for 70 older models plus nearly 200 Apache, Black Hawk and Long Bird helicopters – and there's nary a peep from Israel or its Washington lobby.

In fact, they've privately blessed the sale, according to Congressional, Israeli and lobby sources. Formal notification for the sale is expected shortly, and all indications point to no serious effort to block it.

Maybe just some huffing and puffing from politicians trying to burnish their pro-Israel hardline bonafides.

One big reason is that Israeli defense firms stand to make tens of millions on the Saudi sale by manufacturing key components, including the vertical stabilizers, portions of the wings and the conformal fuel pods for the Saudi F-15s.

"The word from the (Israeli) embassy and AIPAC is they have no objections, just some small concerns," said a senior Congressional foreign policy advisor. In fact, AIPAC hasn't challenged Arab arm sales since 1986 out of fear of impeding its access in the Executive Branch.

"Even if they want to go to the barricades, they don't have the troops up here," said the Hill source.

That was confirmed by others close to the lobby.

Those lucrative contracts for Israel are not the only reason the sale will sail through.

Israeli officials have been praising the Obama administration for consulting closely on the Saudi package and providing assurances the Saudis will not get the same level of avionics and armaments on the IAF F-15, particularly precision-guided, longrange standoff weapons.

Israel's main concern is the possibility that the Apache attack helicopters will be based at Tabuk, the Saudi air base less than 150 miles from Eilat, but they are optimistic that will be solved.

THE SAUDIS also have been helpful in pushing a reluctant Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu(although the administration is still upset that they refuse any public confidence building measures toward Israel).

Israel no longer sees Saudi Arabia as a threat (despite the official state of war) but as an ally against their mutual enemy, Iran. Security services of both countries have been exchanging intelligence reports on what's going on in Iran, although I'm told neither one has good sources inside the Islamic republic.

Although the administration is assuring Congress that the Saudi sale won't alter the balance of power in the region, its intention is to do just that. This is a continuation of the Bush policy of beefing up the defenses of friendly Gulf states to show them and Iran America is serious about defending them. But don't look for any of them to attack Iranian nuclear sites; they're still praying five times a day that Israel will do that job for them so they can be rid of the Iranian threat (and still run off to the United Nations to condemn the Zionist aggressors).

The Saudi deal is one of two major weapons sales that will be pumping billions of dollars into the Israeli economy. The bigger one is the sweetheart deal the Israelis have negotiated over their purchase of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the world's most advanced and most expensive.

Acquiescing to the Saudi deal may have helped pave the way for the favorable arrangements on the F-35.

Israel plans initially to buy 20 F-35s for about $2.75 billion, which it can pay for out of its annual $3 billion foreign aid grant. Its defense industry will also be getting about $4 billion in contracts, called offsets, to build wing assemblies and other critical components for global sales of the plane by its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. That amount will rise as the number of Israeli orders rises.

SOME IN the US defense industry are complaining that the two deals, which will pump billions into the Israeli economy, will take away American jobs.


One rationale for this unprecedented arrangement reportedly is that the Obama administration and Lockheed Martin believe the Israeli sale gives the F- 35 the prestige of an endorsement by one of the world's top air forces. The offsets, better than given any other buyer, are a sales incentive; final terms remain to be negotiated.

The new Israeli-Saudi connection is born of self-interest.

Don't expect the two to become fast friends – but look for a growing web of security and economic relationships as the Iran threat mounts.








My fellow Jews, what is your problem? To say that Israelis are more interested in making money than in the peace process, that's anti-Semitism?

Talkbacks (19)

In April 1994, I wrote a story titled "The Bourgeoisification of Israel" for the American Jewish magazine Moment. Illustrated with photographs of Israelis lying on the beach, by the swimming pool and shopping at the mall, the story's point was that this was no longer the austere, idealistic, hyper-politicized nation of legend, but a "booming, capitalistic one."

Materialism, I wrote, was the new Israeli ideology, and the Oslo peace process appealed to many people here for just that reason. "There's a lot of money to be made if this peace works out. And if most of the West Bank and Gaza are given up in the process, who goes there anyway?...It's not that most Israelis have suddenly begun caring about the Palestinians; they just want to be left in peace, and they are too busy to be bothered."

I raised a couple of other points, such as "Why should a bourgeois country be the world's foremost recipient of foreign aid, with $3 billion a year from the United States?" and "Why [does] Israel keep schnorring money from Diaspora Jews, and why [do] Diaspora Jews keep handing it over?" 

THE STORY was well received. Forgive me for bragging, but it won the American Jewish Press Association's 1994 Boris Smolar Award for Excellence in International News or Feature Reporting. (In the Jewish journalism racket, we refer to this award simply as "a Smolar.") 

So imagine my surprise when I see that in September 2010, the American Jewish establishment, led by the ADL, AJC and ZOA, is screaming "anti-Semitism!" at Time magazine for writing that Israelis are too busy chasing the good life to care about peace.

"The insidious subtext of Israeli Jews being obsessed with money echoes the age-old anti-Semitic falsehood that Jews care about money above any other interest, in this case achieving peace with the Palestinians," wrote Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, in a letter to Time.

Abe, Abe, Abe, Abe, Abe – I don't know what to tell you, or all the people who made "calls and emails from around the country expressing outrage," or the other Jewish machers and bloggers who agree with you. I read Time's September 13 cover story, provocatively titled "Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace" and illustrated with people lying on the beach and sitting at cafes, and there isn't a molecule of anti-Semitism in it. Not unless you think that telling the most basic, obvious truth about contemporary Israeli life, one I don't think any real live, semi-conscious Israeli would challenge, is anti-Semitism.

"As three presidents, a king and their own prime minister gather at the White House to begin a fresh round of talks on peace between Israelis and the Palestinians, the truth is Israelis are no longer preoccupied with the matter. They're otherwise engaged; they're making money; they're enjoying the rays of late summer," wrote Time's Karl Vick.

Shades of Der Sturmer, right? My fellow Jews, what is your problem? To say that Israelis are more interested in making money than in politics, than in the peace process – which, as the article repeatedly points out, Israelis have no faith in because they don't trust the Palestinians – that's anti-Semitism? 

Yes, the article's tone is critical of the current mood. It depicts people in this country as smug, as being zoned out on prosperity, security and sunshine, as living in a fool's paradise.

You disagree? Fine. But to call it anti-Semitic? Because it makes the claim that Israelis like money? 

Everyone likes money, everyone's politics is colored by money. This is understood as a matter of course in the news media's coverage of every nation in the world – but when they say it about Israel, about the Jewish nation, it's bigotry, it's hate speech.

"This anti-Semitic and misleading cover and article plumbs new depths in Time magazine's long-running historic bigotry toward Israel," said Morton Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America.

Mort, Mort, Mort, Mort, Mort – when are you going to stop trying to scare people stupid? When it's said that Americans "vote their pocketbook," is that anti-Americanism? When someone writes that Americans oppose raising taxes for health care, is the point of the story that Americans value money above human life? When commentators deplore the annual American tradition of mobbing the department stores for the Memorial Day sales, does anyone call this commentary "insidious"?

No. Only when you suggest that Israelis are basically like everyone else, that they're as self-absorbed and materialistic and politically nearsighted as any other nation, and that they may not be doing everything humanly possible in the pursuit of peace and brotherhood, then you're in trouble with the ADL, the ZOA and so on. Then you are up to your neck in American Jewish alphabet soup.

Sorry Abe, sorry Mort, it's 2010. It's a little late to pretend that Israelis are a nation of altruists. Time magazine didn't tell anyone who knows Israel anything new; the story it told was the story of this generation. So stop crying wolf already. There are anti- Semitic lies, but there are no anti- Semitic truths.








Despite all the ritualistic pledges endorsing peaceful coexistence, the likelihood of progress is virtually zero.

Talkbacks (7)


It is once more déjà vu. Magnificent speeches bubbling with visions of reconciliation and goodwill between Israelis and Palestinians. Global media editorials pontificating and debating whether peace in our time is about to be consummated, accompanied by demands for Israel to be flexible and forthcoming.

Yet despite all the ritualistic pledges endorsing peaceful coexistence, the likelihood of meaningful progress is virtually zero.

Fortunately most Israelis no longer delude themselves. They appreciate that our prime minister is obliged to placate the Obama administration by participating in a theater of the absurd and act as though real negotiations were taking place with a genuine peace partner.

To his credit Binyamin Netanyahu has performed superbly and, to the surprise of many of his detractors, united the country behind him. In the face of the brutal pressures exerted against him, it was no mean feat to retain a relationship with an American president unfavorably disposed toward Israel without capitulating on essentials.

In the course of the opening negotiations, Netanyahu reinforced the message that to achieve a genuine settlement, this country is willing to compromise on all issues other than those affecting security. In his Washington address, he said, "We left Lebanon, and we got terror. We left Gaza, we got terror.

We want to ensure that territory we concede will not be turned into a third Iranian-sponsored terror enclave aimed at the heart of Israel. That is why defensible peace requires security arrangements that can withstand the test of time and the many challenges that will surely confront us."

In contrast Mahmoud Abbas was adamant that the Palestinian Authority would not contemplate any compromises. He told Al Kuds newspaper that "we're not talking about a Jewish state and we won't recognize Israel as a Jewish state... you can't expect us to accept this." Interviewed by Al Ayyam he said, "If they demand concessions on the right of the refugees or the 1967 borders, I will quit. I can't allow myself to make even one concession." He also told the Egyptian media that while he would contemplate NATO forces being deployed in a future Palestinian state, he would not tolerate the presence of Jews among NATO forces and "will not allow even one Israeli to live among us on Palestinian soil."

IT IS surely mind-boggling to suggest that a person holding such views be considered a "moderate" or "genuine peace partner." Yet the US is funding a major far-left advertising campaign directed toward the Israeli public promoting the falsehood that Abbas is a true peace partner.

There can be no negotiations when one party refuses to contemplate compromising on anything. The talks will thus inevitably break down either because Israel will refuse to extend a total settlement freeze or on some other pretext.

When that happens, US President Barack Obama will avoid repeating his previous blunder when he publicly humiliated Israel, treating it like a rogue state. But we should be under no illusions. Even before the negotiations began, he publicly called on Israel to make a unilateral concession by extending the settlement freeze. But after the November 2 congressional elections, intensified sophisticated US pressure will be directed toward Israel, if not directly via a wink to the Europeans or the UN.

This will be Netanyahu's greatest challenge. Some critics allege that he is following the path of his predecessors and about to make further concessions without reciprocity. Yet even if that were true, his government will limit the extent to which he can placate the Americans. Netanyahu is also aware that if he became exclusively dependent on Kadima, his survival as prime minister would be limited.

It is also clear that both Fatah and Hamas are likely to intensify terrorist activities. It was disconcerting when the government failed to respond to the recent Hamas murders near Kiryat Arba and made meaningless Oslostyle statements, proclaiming that terror would not be permitted to undo the peace process. We should remind ourselves that previous failures to respond militarily to acts of terror resulted in the erosion of deterrence which emboldened the jihadists.

Israel is undoubtedly the only country in the world which acts with such restraint when its citizens are under murderous attack from its neighbors.

Imagine Mexicans or Canadians cold-bloodedly killing American civilians, holding street parties celebrating the event while their government takes credit for the murders and pledges to kill more American civilians. Under such circumstances any American administration would respond with radical military action. Nor would it be concerned about humanitarian conditions among those seeking to murder its citizens.

NETANYAHU'S OTHER problem is that by continuing to refer to Abbas as "my partner in peace", he discourages people from appreciating that his stance in these negotiations is no different than that of his duplicitous predecessor, the murderous Yasser Arafat. It should be noted that Abbas failed to explicitly condemn the recent killings by Hamas and merely noted that the timing of the assassinations "contradicts Palestinian interests."

We are losing the battle of ideas because we are still reinforcing the illusion that this is merely a conflict over land between two peoples, promoting the flawed belief that peace can be achieved with a society whose leaders' ambitions of achieving statehood are superseded by their primary objective of bringing an end to Jewish sovereignty in the region.

We continue downplaying the criminal nature of Palestinian society such as the sanctification of "martyrs" engaged in appalling crimes against our civilians, as well as incitement against Jews and Israelis in PA mosques, in the media and throughout the educational system. In Ramallah a square was recently named in honor of Dalal Mugrabi who massacred 37 Israelis on a bus.

A few weeks ago Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, participated in a ceremony honoring Amin al-Hindi one of the chief architects of the murder of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics.

Even in the highly unlikely event that Abbas underwent a dramatic change and sought to reach an accommodation,there is no way that his constituency would permit him to deliver. He is politically impotent and has unconstitutionally postponed elections for more than a year knowing that he would be defeated.

What makes these talks even more surrealistic is that we are only negotiating with half the Palestinians. The absent dominant partner Hamas, whose charter calls for the murder of all Jews and boasts of the fact that it will never come to terms with the Jewish state, would already have displaced the PA in the absence of the IDF.

There are difficult decisions to be made. Should we support the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state with interim borders? On the basis of previous withdrawals without reciprocity, even setting aside the internal domestic upheavals arising from forcible settlement withdrawals, this would only serve to embolden the radicals and create major security problems.

The only course is to create interim accommodation and continue to improve Palestinian living standards until such time as leaders emerge who recognize us as a Jewish state and are willing to coexist with us.

When that happens, Israelis will undoubtedly be prepared to make major sacrifices. But until then we must remain firm as it is simply delusional to make further concessions and comply with the Arab strategy of undermining our existence in stages.








On Yom Kippur, we all are asked to perform a very delicate, often painful procedure on ourselves: It's called 'heshbon nefesh.'


What is the commodity that each one of us possesses every moment of our lives, yet we never have enough of it? It is with us as long as we live, yet it cannot be seen or felt or heard. We do everything we can to save it, yet we never stop spending it, and we always run out of it. We make it and cherish it, yet we also waste it, and sometimes even willingly kill it. At times it crawls, and at other times, it flies.

The answer, of course, is time.

Judaism is a religion of time. The first thing which God calls holy is neither a person or a place, but Shabbat, an island, or better, an oasis, in time. The first commandment which God gave to the Jewish people as a nation was the command to establish a calendar and take control of our time.

Much of Judaism's halachic life is governed by time: We have a time by which we must pray each day, a specific time when Shabbat starts and ends, ushering in countless dos and don'ts; the time when we must sever our connection to leaven on Pessah; times during the year when eating is mandated and required, and times when it is prohibited.

In ancient times, we plotted time by the sun, and sometimes by the moon, and we were fairly expert in the movements of the celestial bodies by which we calculated our days and months and seasons. In more recent times, we learned to depend on our watches, an apt name, because a Jew is constantly watching the time. In a sense, we all are "watchmen," ready to guard Jewish tradition.

Jewish life, in many ways, is also a time machine. On Shabbat, we leave the harriedness and hurried-ness of the daily grind and climb into our time machine to travel to the world of Shabbat, the same world of candles and halla and cholent that our parents and grandparents and ancestors inhabited. On Rosh Hashana, we recite the same prayers our extended family has been saying for centuries and listen to the sounds of the shofar that have been part of our collective memory for thousands of years.

And on Yom Kippur, we are transported to a world of teshuva, repentance, in effect locked in a room for 25 hours with God where we can hopefully repair our relationship with Him. We hear the ancient hymns; we join, as it were, with the high priest in his Avoda service in the Holy of Holies; we even fast all day in order to sacrifice some of our own flesh in solidarity with the Temple offering.

Closing my eyes on the holidays, I find myself moving back in time, tasting again my mother's kreplach, choosing a lulav and etrog with my zayde, singing "Maoz Tzur" with my family around the menora, standing in awe of the people holding the Sifrei Torah at Kol Nidre.

I connect across space and time and become a Jew of the ages.

God's greatest gift to us is time. It's what we pray for when we ask God to write us into His Book of Life, to grant us more time. But at the same time, it's what we do with our time that really matters. King David expressed this well when he said, "Teach us to number our days wisely, so that we may attain a good heart and a good name."

For the sages, every moment was precious.

For them, the worst offense was wasting time that could better be used to study or fulfill a mitzva. In fact, says the Talmud, whenever a person experiences a negative event in his life, he should examine his actions. And if he finds that he did nothing wrong to justify that event, he should assume his problem has come about because of the sin of wasting time.

One of the most beautiful Jewish blessings is the Shehecheyanu, in which we thank God for having kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this time. To be a Jew is to see life as a blessing and make a blessing over life. As in all things Jewish, the Hebrew word defines the essence. Z'man, time, is somehow connected to hazmana, invitation. Not because every invitation contains a time (though why Israeli invitations even list the time is beyond me) but because time itself is an invitation to take this gift and use it well, to its fullest extent.

Like the cellphone or the computer, time can be both our servant and our master, depending upon our discipline and approach. "Time is a tyrant," goes the famous saying, but that is precisely why God commands, in that first mitzva, hahodesh hazeh lahem, make this time yours – you control it.

ON YOM Kippur, we all are asked to become surgeons and perform a very delicate, often painful procedure on ourselves: It's called heshbon nefesh, taking stock of who we are, what we are, where we are. It is not for the faint of heart. And a large part of that process is deciding what we do with the time allotted to us. In short, we are to conduct a thorough self-examination to see what "makes us tick."

Our lives are not an open book; they are, rather, like a Torah scroll. When you read from a Torah, you open the scroll to reveal just the part that is relevant for the here and now. Yes, there is a past and we are destined to repeat it; and there is also a future, and we will come to that as well. But for now, the only part of the Torah which is revealed to us is that which we see right in front of us. Time opens up a window of opportunity.

The past, as they say, is history and the future a mystery, but the present is right here and now. It is waiting for us to do something of value, to bring meaning to our lives, to utilize the amazing strengths and talent and potential which God placed in each one of us. Soon, that window will close, that scroll will roll on and that opportunity will be gone.

We have to take time into our hands like the handles of the Sefer Torah and turn it into something beautiful and valuable.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known popularly as the Hafetz Haim, was one of the last century's rabbinic giants. He made the famous observation that life is like a picture postcard.

He noted how when people are on vacation, they often send their friends and family a postcard. Now, the space on a postcard on which you can write a personal message is limited to one half of one side. When the person starts writing, he usually uses big letters and takes up a lot of space with just a few words. But then, as he gets nearer and nearer to the end of the space, and realizes that he still has a lot to tell, he writes smaller and smaller, trying to cram as many words as he can into the tiny area that's left to him.

So it is with life, says the Hafetz Haim. During most of our life, we feel we have all the time in the world, so why rush, why try to do too much? There will always be more time tomorrow. But then, as we grow older, and perhaps a little wiser, we find that we have so much left to accomplish and so little time in which to do it. So we end up stuffing a lot of life into a very small space, and very often run out of room – and time.

The blessing we all hope for is to not only be granted the gift of time, but to know what to do with it, to be able to appreciate it, to budget and utilize it so that the picture postcard of our lives comes out neat and orderly, diverse and developed, yet divinely dignified.

We ask God to grant years to our life, and life to our years. When we look back, will we have that secure feeling that we did all we could to justify the life which God gave us? Did we fill up our years with value and values? The answer to those questions awaits us in a better place, where only time will tell.

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana.









The all-or-nothing approach of a permanent agreement spells failure.


Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are back – for the third time. Most observers believe success to be highly unlikely, with failure causing the two-state solution's possible demise. Major amendments, even a paradigm shift, are necessary.

A common view holds that the decisive moment for political negotiations arrives in their last phase. In the present context, this may be by the end of the agreed time frame, in a year. The principle of nothing-is-agreed-until-everything-isagreed creates the illusion that the parties have full freedom and low risk until they face the yes-or-no moment.

Yet, in reality, the negotiations' overarching structure determines the scope of possible outcomes. The parties' statements and positions made along the way increasingly constrain their discretion.

Sometimes, at the critical moment, they can only choose between bad and worse.

The paradigm of the present political process is that of a comprehensive permanent status agreement (PSA). Its objectives are to resolve the issues outstanding since 1948, establish a Palestinian state in permanent borders and set the principles for future relations between Israel and Palestine – thus terminating "occupation," "ending the conflict" and establishing "finality of claims."

Past experience highlights the significance of managing expectations. First, there is a limit to what even the most skillful of negotiators can achieve. Second, heightening political energy and anxiety often turn into violence when frustrated. With the PSA paradigm dominating the negotiations, the bar for success could not be set higher.

Israel should be gravely concerned by this. Its convenient reality in the West Bank, whereby it controls the external perimeter but does not carry full responsibility for the Palestinian population, remains dangerously fragile and will end if the Palestinian Authority implodes. This would present a major setback to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's objectives of securing both Israel's security and identity.

THE HISTORY of the peace process suggests that Israel can reap great benefits from presenting a strategy that sets clear objectives, sequencing and benchmarks.

Whenever Israel led, it was able to shape the political agenda. Otherwise, it was pushed to outcomes that not only compromised its interests, but reaffirmed the view that it only budges under pressure.

The time for Israel to present such a strategy may be near, but the seeds of an alternative paradigm must be sown now.

If some have a strong feeling of déjà vu, it is because the PSA paradigm that dominates present negotiations governed the Camp David and Annapolis processes as well.

This approach is founded on a powerful mind-set. It assumes a "zone of possible agreement" exists, with the challenge of negotiators to articulate it. It blames past failures on bad timing, management, personal skills or judgment.

One may expect that, given the stakes, the structure of a renewed process would be designed based on an extensive deliberation of past experience and recent fundamental changes in the Middle East.

There could have also been a serious debate on the different strategies for reaching permanent status: The dominant PSA paradigm; the road map approach aiming to establish a Palestinian state in provisional borders through an agreement; or an alternative approach, coordinated unilateralism, which calls for upgrading the PA in the West Bank to de facto statehood and then recognizing it de jure without a formal agreement.

Yet, no such reassessment seems to have taken place in Washington, assuming that its first year of missteps cannot be an outcome of such a process. Instead the US dove headfirst into the PSA paradigm, failing to create a political space where other ideas could be explored.

If the US strategy sounds both lofty and dangerous, that's because it is. One common reason for debacles is working within powerful worldviews that blind us to reality. Another is seeking to improve ourselves within a dominant paradigm, when the world has actually transformed.

The most evident transformation is the constitutional and political crisis on the Palestinian side. Hamas' Islamism and Fatah's secular-nationalism, split between two geographical and political entities, have locked horns on ideological, constitutional and political levels. Their confrontation is permanent for the foreseeable future. Unsurprisingly, repeated attempts to address this divide have failed.

The decisive battleground is the PLO, a "political shell company," with no real activity but one prize asset: Recognition by the world as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Fatah rejects Hamas's participation in the PLO unless it accepts existing agreements with Israel. Accordingly, Hamas challenges Mahmoud Abbas'sclaim that his being the chairman of the PLO grants him legitimacy to negotiate with Israel as being merely a legalistic one and not anchored in the political reality. Needless to say that Hamas, contained in its Gaza province, also lacks the authority and legitimacy to represent the Palestinians.

This is everybody's problem.

The danger is that the backlash against historic compromises that lack legitimacy may be violent. It may not only derail the process, but also lead to a breakdown of law and order in the PA to the point of collapse and necessitate reentry of Israel into the Palestinian areas. Paradoxically attempts to pin down the two-state solution may lead to its very demise THERE ARE other concerns. It is often stated that outstanding issues, such as Jerusalem, refugees, security or borders have been thoroughly discussed and that the outline of their resolution was proscribed by the Clinton parameters.

The reality is that there is an additional and equally contentious set of yet unexplored issues, such as management of joint airspace or access to and sovereignty of Hebron.

Moreover, radical parties such as Iran, Hamas or Hizbullah remain staunchly opposed to any agreement granting Israel legitimacy. They will not stand idle as their strategy experiences a setback.

Indeed, we have already seen their first wave of terrorist response.

Achieving a PSA is a monumental political project in the best of conditions, let alone when faced by powerful opposition and in the aftermath of tectonic changes on the Palestinian side.

Its major weakness is that failure to resolve the issue of Jerusalem, for example, prevents the creation of day-to-day agreements on practical matters such as trade and economics. Unfortunately, it is an all-or-nothing affair, with the latter being the likely outcome.

Many call for the parties to embrace the road map approach and to negotiate a long-term interim agreement that brings into being a Palestinian state with provisional borders.

However, this approach would encounter most of the same pitfalls as the PSA strategy. It would have to address the multitude of issues stemming from the provisional nature of borders, and balance Israeli security concerns with Palestinian sovereignty. For example, it would need to establish an interim regime for remaining disputed territories, settlements and Jerusalem. In addition, it would still require ratification and will be shadowed by the aforementioned Palestinian constitutional crisis.

BASED ON the above, is the political process an exercise in futility whose dangers exceed its opportunities? The answer is no. There is an alternative logic with a much higher likelihood of success, security and stability: coordinated unilateralism.

Coordinated unilateralism calls for reversing the political sequence. It views Palestinian statehood as the anchor for resolving the conflict, thus severing the Gordian knot around Palestinian statehood, PSA, end of occupation, end of conflict and finality of claims.

At the core of coordinated unilateralism is a set of back-to-back unilateral Israeli and Palestinian actions leading to the PA reaching de facto statehood, declaring it and receiving de jure recognition by Israel, the US, Arab countries and the UN. This is compounded by bilateral assurances from the US to both parties with regard to the permanent status of Israeli-Palestinian relations and the process of getting there. This requires a new level of American leadership, able to orchestrate a trust-based political process.

Coordinated unilateralism has two political foundations: First, a solid majority in the Knesset would support any proposition by Netanyahu that would serve the logic of ending control over the Palestinian population. Second, the PA has gone through an impressive process of institution and capacity building and of economic growth.

This logic requires Israel to take bold steps. Initially, and in parallel to the negotiations, the parties must continue to upgrade PA institutions. Israel will need to go as far as unilaterally relinquishing some restrictions on PA sovereignty relating to issues such as international representation, currency or customs.

At a later phase, Palestinian territory will have to become contiguous including not only Areas A and B, where the PA already has security or civil responsibilities, but also parts of Area C that are presently under Israeli control. This requires dismantling 15 to 25 settlements and some illegal outposts, as well as providing direct territorial access to Jordan with appropriate security arrangements.

Finally, Israel would have to allow for elections in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. It would require Abbas, as president of the PA, to establish new laws for elections of legislative and executive bodies, which would become the government of the Palestinian state until the split with Hamas is resolved.

When the PA becomes a state de jure, Israel and the PLO would have to accept well-coordinated constructive ambiguity that reflects their conflicting views on the different issues of permanent status, but do not compromise its outcome. For example, while Israel will have to tolerate PLO declarations that the permanent borders of the Palestinian state will be based on the June 4, 1967 Lines, the Palestinians will have to tolerate Israeli statements on not returning to the these lines.

A Palestinian state will usher in a new era and transform the relationship.

Henceforth, Israel and Palestine could address many of the outstanding issues such as security, water, economics or trade on a direct state-to-state basis.

Why should the parties strive to avoid a formal agreement? While, naturally, the framework of coordinated unilateralism does not offer a perfect solution to every issue, it does provide an approach that is holistic enough to challenge the prevailing PSA paradigm for six notable reasons.

First, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The PA in the West Bank has made significant strides toward statehood, balancing institution and capacity building with security for both parties. This is a successful working model that can be developed further.

Second, lower risks for lower rewards: Coordinated unilateralism, while not ending the conflict, will take Israeli-Palestinian relations forward, with a much lower risk.

Third, most unilateral actions fall under the jurisdiction of the governments and do not require endorsement by the legislators – the Knesset or the Palestine National Council. This point is relevant primarily to the frail Palestinian party, whose only historic decision in this process would be declaring statehood.

Fourth, this framework defers addressing the split between Gaza and the West Bank. While their principled political integrity is a cornerstone of the political process, their reality is of two separate units. This gap stretches the PSA paradigm to its limits, for example when discussing Palestinian de-militarization while Gaza is armed to its teeth.

Fifth, the PSA paradigm would entail very complex implementation arrangements that are systemically interdependent and interrelated to a point of being highly unrealistic.

Finally, Palestinian statehood will accelerate the dissolving of Palestinian refugeeism. With a Palestinian state, many refugees may feel that they finally have a home that realizes their collective desire for self-determination. Furthermore, the Palestinian state is the most effective platform for offering a permanent resolution to refugees that seek it.

As it stands, the parties may have to continue down that well-travelled road of the PSA paradigm, even if results appear inevitably dangerous. Notwithstanding this, they should also open the door to the alternative paradigm and create a safety net to the political process.

The writer is the president of the Reut Institute. He served as the secretary of the Israeli delegation for the peace negotiations between 1999 and 2001 and at the Camp David summit.








Airplanes from Israel land in Kiev, but some good souls 'decided' that the way from the Ukrainian capital to Uman does not pass through Babi Yar.

Talkbacks (4)

Shortly before every Jewish new year, tens of thousands of Israelis stream into Uman in what seems like an air convoy.

Most, if not all of the travelers are Breslaver Hassidim, many newly religious, headed to the tomb of Rebbe Nahman in Uman. As they make the pilgrimage to the tomb, most speak about repeating a unique spiritual experience. But this flow of hassidim to Uman once again emphasizes how alienated haredi Judaism is from the Holocaust and how it ignores the horrific events that shaped the faith of most of the Jewish people (except for its haredi faction) in Zionism, its values and its loyalty to the state.

Not far from Uman is one of the largest killing fields in Europe – in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. This is Babi Yar, where some 30,000 men, women and children, the majority Jews, were murdered by German- Ukrainian machine gun fire.

The slaughter took place In September 1941 over three days and nights. After the Jews were shot, they fell into pits that had been dug in advance. Very few survivors lived to tell the horrific tale.

The planes from Israel land in Kiev daily during the holiday season, only a few kilometers from Babi Yar. Visitors do not take the trouble to first visit the mass grave to recite Kaddish. The journey from Tel Aviv to Uman and back again is organized with excellent logistics, and the organizers leave nothing to chance. Travelers are whisked directly from Kiev to Uman and back without any stops in between – not even to any nearby sites.

This attitude is a reflection of how the haredi community refers to the Holocaust and thus to Zionism. Some haredim "explain" the Holocaust as a temporary concealment of divine providence, which hid its face from the Jewish people and its distress.

Assisted by those learned in religion, I looked into whether the corpus of Jewish prayers refers specifically to the Holocaust. If you guessed it does not, you are correct.

Historians of the Jewish people have always been skilled in censoring past chapters of Jewish life which were likely to contradict the story they wished to tell, and perhaps correctly so. History described by Jewish historians is not without manipulations, but perhaps all historians with national religious goals do so. But no one before has dared to conduct such a huge manipulation regarding events that involved the fate of millions.

OTHER PAINFUL events in the history of the Jewish people have made their way into the Jewish canon. Part of the High Holy Day liturgy is a prayer that shocked me when I was a boy, opening with, "Let us now relate the power of this day's holiness..."

and ending with, "And repentance, prayer and charity avert the evil decree." Could one have said this during the Holocaust? And is this possible to say post- Holocaust? The aforementioned liturgical poem, attributed to Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, refers to the pogroms by the crusaders of the First Crusade in Mainz. Various versions of what happened exist, but the main assumption is that about 700 Jews were murdered in one pogrom. This event has been the focus of heartrending attention in the High Holy Day prayer book, which makes it even stranger that there is no reference to the Holocaust in the canon of prayers, no mention of the genocide of six million Jews.

People who wonder about this can ask the leaders of the haredi community, who know how to dispatch their flocks to lifesaving jobs, such as protecting graves thousands of years old (many belonging to non-Jews), but who fall silent about the Holocaust, since it contradicts their stance on Zionism. Even on official remembrance days, some of the most extreme haredim defile the Israeli flag in a no-holds-barred struggle against Zionism.

Step by step, course by course, with Zionist deeds, thought and financing, the haredi ghetto is being rebuilt in the Zionist state.

The writer is director of the Jerusalem-based OT Institute.















This week, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev started bringing students who were involved in on-campus demonstrations before a disciplinary tribunal. Students involved in demonstrations for the university's cleaning workers and the Gaza-bound flotilla have already been brought before a tribunal, and more such hearings are expected.


The university says these demonstrations were not approved and their organizers did not act according to regulations. The students say obtaining the university's approval is a long procedure and the demonstrations were organized in response to current events.


The university only allowed a small area for the demonstration for the cleaning workers, so the event's organizer called on his colleagues to send protest letters to the university president. For this he was charged with "violating the approval conditions for holding a demonstration."


Israeli students are an indifferent community. While throughout the world students spearhead public campaigns, in Israel their struggle has narrowed to tuition levels. University administrators would be expected to be concerned about this situation. An indifferent, uninvolved student does not bode well either for society or the institution where he studies. Students who are focused on grades who don't venture out of their ivory tower will contribute very little to society in the future as well.


And lo, when students shake off their indifference and want to demonstrate against what they see as injustice, the university administration rises against them and puts them on trial.


It appears that Ben-Gurion University's administration is clutching at bureaucratic trifles to muzzle students. The right to demonstrate is an important component of the freedom of expression, which the High Court of Justice has determined is "a supreme right."


Instead of encouraging students to demonstrate, the university is intimidating them to deter them from organizing further demonstrations. This conveys a negative message. The university's administrators would do well to revoke the tribunals immediately, as well as the penalties handed down to those who have already been tried.


Ben-Gurion University should be proud of its students for their desire to be involved in society and events in the country. It shouldn't threaten them and punish them on various outlandish administrative pretexts.









A large pot stands on our windowsill, full of plastic flowers. The colors are bright and loud, but anyone coming close can see that the flowers are not real. They are rootless, lifeless, without an ounce of grace, and they obscure the real landscape. Anyone visiting our home immediately notices the plastic flowers that make our home unrecognizably ugly.


Our guests seem to be asking: Why do you need them when there are so many real flowers infinitely more beautiful? But we insist on keeping them, no matter what people say. For years we have struggled to add more plastic flowers to that flower bed; we even surround them with barbed wire lest someone try to uproot them and save us from their ugliness.


Yes, the settlements are no more than plastic flowers - wedged into foreign soil and never producing anything but their own ugliness. Artificial and out of place, they have never managed to grow anything but the damage they have caused. Consumed by the spat over the theater in Ariel, we didn't notice the most important thing: Around 40 years have passed since the settlement project began, and the settlements still need to import art from sovereign Israel.


They haven't managed to produce anything of their own. No theater, no museum, no music and no dance, very little literature and no meaningful creative work. To freeze or not, build or evict - the entire struggle is about a large lump of bedroom communities in the real sense of the term.


These are comatose cities in which no advanced or meaningful industry has ever grown except one bagel factory and a few workshops, most of them imported from central Israel, despite all the benefits and discounts lavished on the settlements. They're migrant villages that haven't established serious agriculture, except some spices and mushrooms. Ghost towns during the day, since most settlers work elsewhere, except their countless lobbyists. Their desire to spend as little time there as possible is understandable: The architecture in the settlements is best left unmentioned.


You might say, this is how it's like in any peripheral town. Wrong. We have many peripheral towns that have produced important creative work, but not from the settlements, even though their budgets are so much richer than in any Israeli town. Holon has a museum, as do Bat Yam, Petah Tikva, Ashdod, Herzliya and Ramat Gan. Be'er Sheva has a theater, Acre, Metula and Safed have festivals, and Sderot has a cinematheque. Wonderful music has come out of Haifa's Krayot suburbs, and the kibbutzim have produced not only impressive agriculture and industry, but real art.


The periphery produces competitive sports teams, but the settlements don't even have that. Hapoel Ariel? Beitar Ma'aleh Adumim? Yeah, right. True, there's one university center there, but even this is artificial. Many of the lecturers and students come from Israel proper. There are certainly many religious seminaries of all sorts, but what comes out of them but religious studies accompanied by education geared toward nationalism and hatred?


"Baruch the man," a song praising Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Muslims in the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, and "Torat Hamelech," a theological treatise licensing the killing of Gentiles, are the fruit of settlement literature. Their icons are powerful dealers who could frighten governments, and rabbis who are not considered particularly revolutionary but are radical and even somewhat insane. And not one important religious seminary has come out of there. Their contribution to society in recent years boils down to providing the Israel Defense Forces with more and more combat troops, some of whom threaten to refuse to carry out orders.


Crowded but empty, this should have been the ultimate proof of their uselessness. Such a vacuous project should have collapsed on itself years ago. But though plastic flowers don't live a real life, they never wither, so they need to be removed. This then is the project we're fighting for and paying for. So we're perfectly allowed to ask: What are we fighting for? What has this project given the country and society? And above all, why do we so insist on not removing this ugly plastic flowerpot from our windowsill?









"The time has come for you to get used to reality," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle during a recent visit to Serbia. Westerwelle is asking the Serbs to come to terms with the fact that Kosovo is today an independent state. It has been two years since Kosovo severed itself from Belgrade and declared independence. Sixty-nine states have recognized it; the United States heads this list, which includes most European Union states.


The International Court of Justice at the Hague stunned the world last July when it rejected Serbia's appeal and tendered de facto recognition to Kosovo's independence. Though this independence was declared unilaterally, and without a vote at the United Nations Security Council, it does not represent a violation of international law, ruled The Hague court.


Washington and Brussels welcomed this decision, and several states announced they would recognize the independence of the new state. Even Serbia started to internalize the defeat. For the first time since Kosovo's declaration of independence, Serbia is slated to open direct talks with Kosovo in accord with the UN General Assembly resolution that was accepted unanimously last week. This is the beginning of the end of one of Europe's most complicated problems in the new era, commentators opined. Israel, it appears, follows a different reality. Amazing as it might sound, there are those who believe that on this issue, at least, Russia, Belgrade's long-standing patron, has more influence on Jerusalem than the United States and Europe. "Israel will not be among the first states to recognize Kosovo's independence," it declared in February 2008. Two years passed, and Israel's position solidified. "We have no intention of solving the world's problems," officials say in Jerusalem. They add: "We will fall into line with the international community the moment recognition of Kosovo's independence passes the minimal threshold." What exactly constitutes that threshold? Eighty states? One hundred? More? "It remains unclear," admit officials of a state that has chosen to keep a distance from the circle of enlightened states, which recognized the oppressed Kosovo residents who have endured massacre, rape and ethnic cleansing. The formulas coined by Israel's policy actually conceal genuine apprehensions. Yet these worries have been allayed, one after another, during the past two years. For instance, anxieties about a descent toward local struggles and bloody wars in the Balkans and beyond have dissolved. The Basque underground's recent declaration clarifying that it does not view armed struggle as a means of attaining its goals is just one example refuting the snowball thesis.


Other dark prophecies - for instance, that Kosovo leaders will establish a "Greater Albania," that they will fall under the influence of states like Iran and Saudi Arabia, that Kosovo will turn into a fulcrum for the spread of Islamic terror and that recognition of the new state will foster anti-Semitism in Europe - proved to be false forecasts.


]In Israel, some believe that the international community's conduct is liable to precipitate world support for the country's Arab citizens, in the event (for instance ) Arabs in the Galilee try to sever themselves from the state. There is, however, no similarity between Kosovo's demographic/geographic reality, in which Albanians constitute a 90 percent majority, and that of the Galilee, which has a mixed population. No significant international element would recognize separatist claims made by Israeli Arabs. In any event, Western states declare that recognition of Kosovo's independence is a distinctive, exceptional case.


Israel thus remains without any sound excuses. Perhaps, then, the keys to its policy are to be found in the hands of its foreign minister. On a visit to Belgrade in October 2009, Avigdor Lieberman declared that talks should be renewed about the future of Kosovo. The lips were Lieberman's, but could the voice have been that of the Kremlin?










On October 5, 1995, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin presented the Oslo 2 accord to the Knesset. In the speech he made on that momentous occasion, Rabin pledged that in the final-status agreement, Jerusalem would remain united, the settlement blocs would remain part of Israel and the security border would be the Jordan Valley. He also said Israel would not return to the June 4, 1967 lines and that the Palestinians would run their own lives in the framework of an entity that would be less than a state.


There are only three possible explanations for Rabin having said these things, which a month later became his last political will and testament. One is that he was a fool. He did not understand that there can be no Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement without dividing Jerusalem. The second is that he was a liar. He knowingly said things that were not true about the parameters of the future peace.


The third explanation is that Rabin had a completely different concept of peace from the one attributed to him after he was murdered - a concept opposed to the one the Americans are now trying to force on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.


Rabin was neither a fool nor a liar. He was a student of Henry Kissinger. Rabin and Kissinger believed that the occupation could not last and that the settlements were a disaster, but that peace was distant. Therefore, they thought that instead of seeking an impossible final-status agreement, they should work toward a long-term interim agreement: an agreement that would not end the conflict, but would quiet it down.


Such an agreement would not solve the problems of Jerusalem and the refugees, but it would establish an independent Palestinian entity. It would allow Israel and the Palestinians to live side by side without ruling over each other and without killing each other.


Netanyahu is now to the left of where Rabin was when he was murdered. Netanyahu is prepared to go farther than the point of which Rabin spoke when he stood before the Knesset.


Like Rabin, Netanyahu demands Jerusalem, the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley. But unlike Rabin, Netanyahu has come to terms with the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state. The positions of the leader of the right in 2010 are more moderate than the positions of the leader of the left in 1995.


But there is a problem: In exchange for what Netanyahu is willing to give, he is demanding an end to the conflict. In exchange for an end to the conflict, the Palestinians are demanding what he is not wiling to give.


Thus a stupid situation has been created in which Netanyahu's new willingness to make concessions cannot come to fruition. Even if he wanted to be Rabin, the current trajectory of the peace process does not allow it. The trail that led to the abyss of Camp David and the abyss of Annapolis is leading to the abyss today as well.


A permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace requires the fulfillment of six well-known principles: recognition of a Jewish and democratic state, establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state, the division of Jerusalem, an extensive evacuation of settlements, no right of return for Palestinian refugees and agreement on a border. But there is at least one principle to which the Palestinians will not agree: They will not give up their demand for a right of return. And there is at least one principle to which Netanyahu will not agree: He will not share sovereignty over the Temple Mount.


Therefore, the attempt now underway now to deal with the core of the conflict is like trying to enter the core of Chernobyl. Peace will not emerge. An explosion certainly will.


The only solution is to think out of the box. Not to fail exactly where presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush did, but to return to the pragmatic path of Kissinger and Rabin. To sit Israelis and Palestinians down in a closed room and task them with formulating a long-term interim agreement.


True, the Palestinians are saying no. Ostensibly, they want full peace now. But in fact, they are not prepared to pay the price of peace.


Therefore, they have to be persuaded that sustaining the process Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has begun in the West Bank requires a different approach. Saving sane Palestinian nationalism requires a different political idea.


Instead of U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special Mideast envoy George Mitchell making fools of themselves in a vain effort to reach a barren agreement, they should immediately start preparing an alternative plan: division of the land now, peace later.









Most opinion leaders, both abroad and in Israel, have developed a personal dislike of Benjamin Netanyahu. This prevents them from dispassionately analyzing, with intellectual honesty, the huge ideological about-face he has undergone, and which is sweeping him in the direction they themselves so strongly favor.


Practically speaking, Netanyahu is the only figure in Israel who is both willing and able to lead the country toward major concessions in Judea and Samaria and the establishment of a Palestinian state.


Supporters of withdrawals and evacuations claim that Netanyahu is a hypocrite, that he is maneuvering and juggling and making unreasonable demands of the Palestinians (though if Israel is to withdraw in order to preserve the state's Jewish majority, why is the demand that they recognize Israel as the national home of the Jewish people unreasonable? ), or demands that they cannot possibly accept, such as conceding the right of return (though if the demand for withdrawal is justified by the desire to preserve a Jewish majority, why not make forgoing the right of return, the Palestinians' chief instrument for thwarting such a majority, a sine qua non? ).


When the head of the Likud party uses the term "two states for two peoples," or calls Judea and Samaria "the West Bank," these terms reflect an ideological turnabout. And the logical consequence is a strategic turnabout: The prime minister is trying to outmaneuver not the Americans or the Palestinians, but rather the members of his own party - that large political camp that chose him as its head to conduct a policy antithetical to that of the Kadima-Labor government, just as he repeatedly promised to do.


Netanyahu's dramatic turnabout is being dismissed - or at best, improperly understood - because many of his critics never adhered, as he did, to a fervent, binding belief, and do not understand the inner storms in the heart of a leader who is abandoning beliefs he imbibed with his mother's milk. They are alienated from the historical significance that Netanyahu, in his writings and speeches, attributed to those parts of the country they so ardently desire to transfer irrevocably to the sovereignty of another people. Thus they cannot grasp the fact that Netanyahu, via his statements, has embarked on a road from which there is no turning back.


For what is the uprooting from Gaza, which destroyed 25 settlements, compared to what is coming in Judea and Samaria, where communities and individuals will be evacuated from the heart of the land in which we became a people, in which we developed our identity and culture, and to which we returned at such a heavy price in blood? If they treated Ariel Sharon as an etrog - a precious object to be carefully guarded - then they ought to be treating Netanyahu as the most valuable etrog of all.


If Netanyahu still adhered to the Likud's principled position, he could explain his willingness to make concessions as stemming from American pressure, especially since Israel faces an existential threat. Any rabbi would agree that when it comes to saving the nation from the Iranian bomb, national pikuah nefesh (saving a life ) takes precedence over Judea and Samaria.


But a man like Netanyahu, a man of dignity and honor, would not take the path of deceit. His heart and his mouth were one in the past, and they are one now.


Perhaps in Yom Kippur's "Kol Nidre" prayer, Netanyahu can find something to help him cope with the cognitive dissonance caused by the dramatic turnabout in his political personality. The thrust of the prayer is the worshiper's declaration that he repents of all his vows and obligations, including those from the past. These, the worshiper declares, are "absolved, forgiven, annulled and void, and made of no effect."


And God, we are promised, accepts, understands and forgives. If that is true in heaven, it is all the more true of the Likud party and the cabinet.










Democratic operatives are ablaze with excitement over the victory of two particularly dubious Tea Party candidates in Tuesday's Republican primaries, envisioning smoother paths to victory in the races for governor in New York and United States senator in Delaware. But for voters of all stripes, Tuesday's primaries should illuminate the growling face of a new fringe in American politics — and provide the incentive for level-headed voters to become enthusiastic about the midterm election.


Republican leaders have to decide if they want the tiny fraction of furious voters who have showed up at the primary polls to steer them into the swamp for years ahead. They have a chance to repudiate the worst of the Tea Party crowd and show that they can govern without appealing to the basest political instincts. So far, they have preferred to greedily capitalize on the nuclear energy in the land without considering its destructive effects.


Democrats, especially beleaguered incumbents and the White House, need to counter the toxic message of the Tea Party so voters have an alternative.


For both parties and certainly the broad swath of independent voters, defeating this new crop of Tea Party nominees has become imperative to avoid the sense of national embarrassment from each divisive and offensive utterance, each wacky policy proposal.


Take the new Republican nominee for United States senator from Delaware, Christine O'Donnell. She founded a group called the Savior's Alliance for Lifting the Truth, with a curious focus on sexual purity, and claimed there was scientific evidence that God created the world in six 24-hour periods. She lied for years about being a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University, having earned a degree only in recent weeks, 17 years after she left campus. She has no steady source of income and has a substantial trail of unpaid bills, battles with the Internal Revenue Service and questionable use of campaign donations for personal expenses.


Ms. O'Donnell defeated Mike Castle, a veteran congressman and example of the moderate and conciliatory approach that Northeast Republicans once brought to Washington. Her campaign ridiculed him for being 71 years old with a history of heart problems. Ms. O'Donnell called Mr. Castle "unmanly."


Or consider Carl Paladino, the Republicans' new nominee for governor of New York, who has transfigured the state's justifiable disgust with Albany into a malevolent snarl at the world. It is one thing to promise to shake up state government; it is very much another to thuggishly proclaim that he intends to clean up Albany "with a baseball bat" and turn the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, upside down to get his blood flowing and then send him "to Attica." This is the man who has vowed to send welfare recipients to state prisons to pick up their checks and be given lessons in hygiene. He has defended an ally's comparison of Mr. Silver to Hitler or the Antichrist and is known for forwarding e-mail messages to friends with racist or pornographic images.


In both cases, the Republican establishment did everything possible to avoid having the party be represented by these two, lest the link to the Tea Party become evident. Karl Rove, long the party's tactical mastermind, dismissed Ms. O'Donnell as "nutty."


But, in fact, the party's hopes for retaking Congress are deeply bound up with the fate of Tea Party candidates across the country, and the party's leaders have done little to distance themselves from the extremism that now constitutes mainstream conservative policy.


When the House Republican leader, John Boehner, voiced a possible compromise on tax cuts, he was immediately shouted down by other party officials and pilloried as weak by right-wing blogs. Mr. Rove noted that Ms. O'Donnell is unlikely to win in November, possibly preventing the Republicans from taking over the Senate. He is now a pariah himself in those same circles.


On Wednesday, Mr. Boehner invited Tea Party activists to help "drive the debate" in Washington and shape the legislative agenda. That invitation act should be a dose of adrenaline to dispirited Democrats, independents and mainstream Republican voters who had not fully grasped the stakes in November's election.







We found some good news in the primary results in our home state of New York, despite being appalled by the Republicans' nomination of Carl Paladino for governor and sorely disappointed that Democrats renominated far too many incumbents to the state's corrupt and incompetent Legislature.


Most notably, Democrats rejected two of New York's sleaziest politicians: Pedro Espada Jr., the State Senate majority leader, and Hiram Monserrate. Mr. Monserrate, who was ousted from the State Senate this year after he was convicted of assaulting his companion, was hoping to claw his way back with an office in the Assembly.


]Mr. Espada's loss was an especially important victory for all New Yorkers. Bronx voters made clear that they would not be bought off again with free food and jobs on Election Day. By a spread of almost two to one, they chose a promising opponent, Gustavo Rivera, as their candidate in November.


Mr. Espada's sleaze knew few if any bounds. He and others are accused by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of milking his own publicly financed health clinics of $14 million. For years, he routinely violated the state's campaign finance law by failing to report donations. With Mr. Monserrate's help, Mr. Espada famously played both Republicans and Democrats for fools last year, forcing each party to trade leadership posts for his vote and sending the Senate and the entire state into a monthlong stalemate. Above all, Mr. Espada's defeat should be a warning to other New York politicians that voters want a better, cleaner, fairer and more open government.


There is no doubt about what is needed:


¶A campaign financing system that dramatically limits contributions and requires full, timely reporting about who is giving what to whom. The law must have real enforcement muscle so some future Mr. Espada could not just let $500 fines pile up for years.


¶Ethics legislation that would establish real oversight of the behavior of both legislators and the governor. It would require lawmakers to reveal outside income; being a lawyer cannot be an excuse for not coming clean.


¶A nonpartisan redistricting commission that would draw districts fairly — to ensure competitive elections, not the automatic return of hacks.


The entire package should be called the Pedro Espada Laws as a reminder of why such reforms are necessary and what should happen to politicians who talk reform but do everything they can to ensure it never happens. When they go to the polls in November, all New Yorkers should make that clear: by voting against legislators who have not served the public's interest in many years.







Voting in New York City was an ordeal, pure and simple, but don't blame the new optical scanner machines. Put the blame where it belongs: on the city's patronage-encrusted Board of Elections.


Confusion was rampant across the city, with early voters stranded for hours or abandoning polls because machines were not ready. At some precincts, election workers waved and flashed supposedly secret ballots on their way to the scanners.


Board officials were full of excuses: machines were new; workers calling in sick was not unusual (on such a vital workday?); and voters should be patient. That added insult to injury. Particularly since the board — a 10-member, two-party bastion of clubhouse lickspittles — chose not to participate in a pilot program test of the system last year. Most upstate counties did take part, and they had far fewer problems on Tuesday.


]After the nation's hanging-chad disaster, it took the board six years — and millions in lobbyists' swag — to choose the $50 million scanning machine vendor. That decision was followed by a federal criminal investigation reportedly focusing on the board's operations.


The Bloomberg administration has skewered the board, documenting assorted rules violations reported in The Village Voice. There's the high-priced board executive who lived in the suburbs yet voted loyally for the Bronx machine that delivered her her job; the worker who politicked from his desk; the seven workers with criminal records still on the vox pop payroll.


Board members, accountable to no one but party bosses in the five boroughs, are rubber-stamped by the City Council — guaranteeing hackdom. The board obviously needs oversight and accountability by some outside agency. Most immediately, city and state authorities need to investigate and repair the board's latest mess. The November elections are less than two months away.







The Corn Refiners Association has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to change the name of high-fructose corn syrup to "corn sugar." The association says that the phrase "high fructose" is misleading. It became part of the name to distinguish the ubiquitous corn syrup from another kind that contains less of the natural sugar called fructose.


We suspect that the trade group was far more concerned about the drop in sales of high-fructose corn syrup — now at a 20-year low — thanks to consumer worries, and some consumer confusion, over a possible link between the syrup and obesity.


In fact, when metabolized, high-fructose corn syrup is no different than sucrose — ordinary sugar made from cane or sugar beets. Its main values for food processors are the fact that it's liquid, sweet, cheaper than sugar and there is a lot of it because it's a byproduct of corn.


There is a clear link between obesity and the consumption of full-calorie soft drinks, which are generally sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. But the soft drinks would be just as fattening if they were sweetened with regular sugar. When it comes to obesity — when it comes to the modern diet generally — the culprit is too much added sugar of any kind.


A number of large food processors have stopped using high-fructose corn syrup, largely because of consumer concerns. This doesn't mean their products contain less added sugar, only different sugars. That's why we think this name change is a good idea. Calling high-fructose corn syrup "corn sugar" makes it easier for consumers to tell that sugar has been added — and easier to choose another product with no added sweeteners.








Early this year I wrote a column from Zimbabwe that focused on five orphans who moved in together and survive alone in a hut.


The eldest, Abel, a scrawny and malnourished 17-year-old, would rise at 4 o'clock each morning and set off barefoot on a three-hour hike to high school. At nightfall, Abel would return to function as surrogate father: cajoling the younger orphans to finish their homework by firelight, comforting them when sick and spanking them when naughty.


When I asked Abel what he dreamed of, he said "a bicycle" — so that he could cut the six hours he spent walking to and from school and, thus, take better care of the younger orphans. Last week, Abel got his wish. A Chicago-based aid organization, World Bicycle Relief, distributed 200 bicycles to students in Abel's area who need them to get to school. One went to Abel.


The initiative is a pilot. If it succeeds and finds financing, tens of thousands of other children in Zimbabwe could also get bicycles to help them attend school.


"I'm happy," Abel told me shyly — his voice beaming through the phone line — when I spoke to him after he got his hands on his bicycle.


Before, he said, he wasn't sure that he would pass high school graduation exams because he had no time to study. Now he is confident that he will pass.


The bicycle project is the brainchild of a Chicago businessman, Frederick K.W. Day, who read about Abel and decided to make him and his classmates a test of a large-scale bicycles-for-education program in Zimbabwe.


Mr. Day is a senior executive of the SRAM Corporation, the largest bicycle parts company in the United States. He formed World Bicycle Relief in 2005 in the belief that bicycles could help provide cheap transportation for students and health workers in poor countries.


At first, his plan was to ship used bicycles from the United States, but after visits to the field he decided that they would break down. "When we got out there, it was clear that no bike made in the U.S. would survive in that environment," he said.


After consulting with local people and looking at the spare parts available in remote areas, Mr. Day's engineering staff designed a 55-pound one-speed bicycle that needed little pampering. One notorious problem with aid groups is that they introduce new technologies that can't always be sustained; the developing world is full of expensive wells that don't work because the pumps have broken and there is no one to repair them.


So World Bicycle Relief trains one mechanic — equipped with basic spare parts and tools — for every 50 bicycles distributed, thus nurturing small businesses as well. Abel was one of those trained as a mechanic this time.


In the world of aid, nothing goes quite as planned, and it's far too early to know whether this program will succeed. World Bicycle Relief tried to get around potential problems by spending months recruiting village elders to oversee the program (it helps that the elders receive bicycles, which they get to keep after two years if they provide solid oversight). Elders will ensure that fathers and older brothers do not confiscate bicycles from girls on the grounds that females are too insignificant to merit something so valuable.


Parents sometimes try to save daughters the risk of walking several hours each way to school by lodging them in town. But the result is sometimes sexual extortion; if a girl wishes to continue her education by staying in cheap lodgings, the price is repeated rape. With bicycles, those girls will now be able to stay at home.


World Bicycle Relief has given out more than 70,000 bicycles so far, nearly 70 percent to women and girls. It expects to hand out 20,000 bicycles this year. And if all goes well, Abel may be the first of tens of thousands of Zimbabwean students to get a bike.


So, for Abel, this is something of a fairy-tale ending. But one of my challenges as a journalist is that many donors want to help any specific individual I write about, while few want to support countless others in the same position.


One obstacle is donor fatigue and weariness with African corruption and repeated aid failures. Those are legitimate concerns. But this column isn't just a story about a boy and a bike. Rather, it's an example of an aid intervention that puts a system in place, one that is sustainable and has local buy-in, in hopes of promoting education, jobs and a virtuous cycle out of poverty. It's a reminder that there are ways to help people help themselves, and that problems can have solutions — but we need to multiply them. Just ask Abel.









Autumn in Alaska. Leaves are falling. Glaciers are melting. The walruses have abandoned their vanishing ice floes and are piled up along the coast in a formation that is apparently not dangerous, unless one rolls over at the wrong time.

We do not generally compare Republicans to walruses, but things are unusually crowded in that quarter, too. The Alaskan Republican Party expected to float to an uneventful victory in November with its incumbent senator, Lisa Murkowski. Then she got dumped in the primary by Joe Miller, a Tea Party candidate who wants to eliminate everything federal — from the Department of Agriculture to the student loan program.


Taxpayer rage has, of course, been the rule in Republican primaries lately. But it was hard to predict that the fury would spread to a state that has virtually no taxes.


Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader who is looking like an endangered species himself lately, threw in with Miller and announced that Murkowski should "move on." But where can she go? She's already in Alaska.


Instead, Murkowski is contemplating a write-in candidacy, a dim prospect that became slightly brighter when election officials allowed that they would probably count "Lisa M."


Meanwhile, Scott McAdams, the Democratic candidate, is introducing himself to the voters. This will take some time because McAdams's big claim to fame is being mayor of Sitka, a town of 8,700 with no road access.


"I'm a big guy from a small town," he told a group at the Anchorage Senior Activity Center.


"Will you have the courage to tell us what we don't want to hear?" demanded a man with a long, gray beard.


This sounded like a trick question. Obviously, the bearded man wanted to hear, "yes." Did that mean McAdams should be brave and say "no"?


McAdams said that he would definitely have the courage to say no to lobbyists.


The mayor's big adventure began when it was Sitka's turn to hold the Democratic state convention this year and the delegates were looking under every rock, melting glacier and sleeping walrus for a respectable candidate to face Murkowski. Voilà! A star was born, sort of.


For weeks, McAdams ran in obscurity with no staff and a budget adequate to cover a meal for four at Red Lobster. Then the Tea Party struck, and now he's Mr. Smith, trying to go to Washington. Unfortunately, even in the movie, Mr. Smith had a pretty limited agenda; he wanted to start a camp for boys, which was a nice idea, but, good grief, the Depression was on.


McAdams is on a quest to do stuff for Alaska. Like the late Ted Stevens, whom he admired, McAdams believes that, as a "young state," Alaska deserves to be covered with roads, bridges and septic treatment plants like other states. "There was a time," he says frequently, "when the transcontinental railroad was a Railroad to Nowhere."


This scenario is playing out around the country: the new, empowered Tea Party Republicans preach their national agenda, which seems to involve not spending federal money on anything George Washington didn't personally shop for. The Democrats respond with a hymn to crop subsidies and infrastructure improvements.


The rest of us may yearn for a new budding statesman, but the folks at the Anchorage senior center had more practical concerns. Such as the fact that Miller does not seem to feel George Washington would have approved of Social Security payments.


"What about resources?" asked a woman who was worried that McAdams lacked the cash to take on the might of Miller, George Washington and Sarah Palin combined.


The national Democratic establishment has been ignoring McAdams. So many crazy Tea Party candidates to take advantage of, so little time. If places like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee forgot about Alaska before this week, they must be totally distracted now that the Republicans in Delaware have decided to nominate a woman who won't tell anybody where she lives because she's afraid her political enemies will come and hide in the bushes.


McAdams may be an imperfect candidate, but he's also an extremely inexpensive one. An Alaskan political campaign costs less than a tenth of one in big-media states like Florida and New York. He could probably run a competitive race for a million dollars, which is about the equivalent in California of Barbara Boxer's postage budget.


McAdams theorized that the national Democrats are hanging back because people in the Lower 48 mistakenly believe that Alaska is superconservative — "this far-off land of Palin." His own view, he told his audience, is that the state is full of "independent moderates."


"A man who stands in the middle of the road gets hit going both ways," called out a woman. It was one extremely tough group of senior citizens.









DURING my recent travels to North Korea and China, I received clear, strong signals that Pyongyang wants to restart negotiations on a comprehensive peace treaty with the United States and South Korea and on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.


The components of such an agreement have been fairly constant over the past 16 years, first confirmed in 1994 by the United States and Kim Il-sung, then the North Korean leader, and repeated by a multilateral agreement negotiated in September 2005.


The basic provisions hold that North Korea's old graphite-moderated nuclear energy reactor, which can easily produce weapons-grade plutonium, and all related facilities and products should be disabled under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency; that while the reactor is shut down, the United States should provide fuel oil or electric power to North Korea until new power plants are built; that the United States should provide assurances against the threat of nuclear attack or other military actions against North Korea; that the United States and North Korea should move toward the normalization of political and economic relations and a peace treaty covering the peninsula; that better relations should be pursued by North Korea, South Korea and Japan; and that all parties should strengthen their economic cooperation on energy, trade and investment.


The comprehensive agreement reached by the Clinton administration was disavowed in 2002 by President George W. Bush. Nevertheless, although North Korea reprocessed fuel rods into plutonium and tested nuclear explosives in 2006, good progress was made in its talks with the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.


But conditions have since deteriorated: the talks stopped in 2009, and that same year the United Nations imposed sanctions on Pyongyang after it conducted a second nuclear test and launched a long-range missile. North Korea also prohibited reunions between North and South Korean families.


Tensions grew still higher this year when North Korea detained an American, Aijalon Gomes, whom it accused of crossing into its territory, in January and a South Korean fishing crew in August.


However, there are now clear signals of eagerness from Pyongyang to resume negotiations and accept the basic provisions of the denuclearization and peace efforts.


In July, North Korean officials invited me to come to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, and other officials to secure the release of Mr. Gomes. Those who invited me said that no one else's request for the prisoner's release would be honored. They wanted me to come in the hope that I might help resurrect the agreements on denuclearization and peace that were the last official acts of Kim Il-sung before his death in 1994.


I notified the White House of this invitation, and approval for my visit was given in mid-August, after North Korea announced that Mr. Gomes would soon be transferred from his hospital back to prison and that Kim Jong-il was no longer available to meet with me. (I later learned that he would be in China.)


In Pyongyang I requested Mr. Gomes's freedom, then had to wait 36 hours for his retrial, pardon and release. During this time I met with Kim Yong-nam, president of the presidium of the North's Parliament, and Kim Kye-gwan, the vice foreign minister and chief negotiator for North Korea in the six-party nuclear talks. Both of them had participated in my previous negotiations with Kim Il-sung.


They understood that I had no official status and could not speak for the American government, so I listened to their proposals, asked questions and, when I returned to the United States, delivered their message to Washington.


They told me they wanted to expand on the good relationships that had developed earlier in the decade with South Korea's president at the time, Kim Dae-jung, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan.


They expressed concern about several recent American actions, including unwarranted sanctions, ostentatious inclusion of North Korea among nations subject to nuclear attack and provocative military maneuvers with South Korea.


Still, they said, they were ready to demonstrate their desire for peace and denuclearization. They referred to the six-party talks as being "sentenced to death but not yet executed."


The following week I traveled to Beijing, where Chinese leaders informed me that Mr. Kim had delivered the same points to them while I was in Pyongyang, and that he later released the South Korean fishing crew and suggested the resumption of family reunions. Seeing this as a clear sign of North Korean interest, the Chinese are actively promoting the resumption of the six-party talks.


A settlement on the Korean Peninsula is crucial to peace and stability in Asia, and it is long overdue. These positive messages from North Korea should be pursued aggressively and without delay, with each step in the process carefully and thoroughly confirmed.


Jimmy Carter, the 39th president, is the founder of the Carter Center and the winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.







THIS summer's revelation that New Jersey had misled the public about the health of its state pension funds is only the latest incident in a looming nationwide crisis.


Public pensions at the state and local level are underfunded by more than $1 trillion; in many cities, pension obligations will soon consume a quarter or more of the annual budget — money that will be unavailable for parks, libraries, street maintenance and public safety.


Part of the problem is that pension funds need significant new financing to cover the growing number of retirees. But the real issue is the lack of incentive to improve pension performance. What we need, then, is a federal program that combines stimulus with serious fund reform.


The pension-fund crisis is rooted in the intersection of excessive optimism by fund managers and the funds' influence on the political process. Funds regularly overestimate their future performance: Calpers, California's giant state pension fund, assumed, and still assumes, it will earn 7.75 percent annually on its investments; in fact, its returns over the last decade were, on average, less than half of that.


But Calpers wasn't left holding the bag. Instead, it was able to force the state to increase its contribution to the fund; indeed, the state's 2010 share will be about five times what it was forecast to be in 1999.


The Calpers case is hardly unique; the same story has been repeated across the country. Often, though, pension funds — including, until recently, New Jersey's — have been able to hide their liabilities behind clever, nonstandard accounting methods.


This charade can't last. Eventually debt-heavy governments will begin to default, which will disrupt the municipal bond market by blocking access to new capital for even the most credit-worthy public institutions. Ultimately, Washington may have to add local governments to the list of institutions it must bail out, next to banks and car companies.


But given how poorly pension funds have managed themselves, the federal government can't simply hand out checks. Instead, borrowing a page from the Education Department's Race for the Top initiative, which provides money to states that propose significant reforms for their public school systems, it should strike a grand bargain with city and state pension funds: in exchange for capping their liabilities and adopting better management practices, they could cover their costs through tax-free, federally guaranteed securities.


Here's how it would work. A city, county or state facing insurmountable pension costs would appeal to the Department of Treasury for relief. As a first step, it would have to adopt standard accounting practices to accurately portray its current and expected financial health, including realistic projections of its investment returns and the discount rates on its debt.


Second, the applicant would have to take action to assure it can meet the debt service on its bonds, including placing a permanent cap on its pension liabilities. This means raising the retirement age, increasing employee contributions and preventing employees from manipulating their salaries in the last years before retirement to increase their pensions; it would also mean restructuring the fund's health-care spending, which has been a significant drain.


Finally, the fund would have to move all new employees to 401(k) retirement plans, which have fixed employer contributions and therefore reduce future taxpayer liabilities.


In exchange, the Treasury would authorize the fund to issue tax-free "pension protection" bonds which, for a fee, would be guaranteed by the federal government. Proceeds from the bond sales would cover its liabilities, providing a quick resolution to the underfunding crisis.


Today's bond market is the perfect environment in which to introduce a new security like pension-protection bonds. With their tax-free status, a federal guarantee, accurate accounting and the promise of a permanent fix, these securities might even be priced lower than Treasury bills, which are yielding 3.8 percent for 30-year bonds.


A Race to the Top for public pensions would offer something for everyone. The federal government would get a voluntary, low-cost way to avoid paying trillions down the road. Cities and states could cap their pension liabilities and close their funding gaps with inexpensive long-term debt, allowing them to get back to the business of providing needed services. And public-employee unions would get a federal guarantee behind their increasingly uncertain pension benefits.


The Obama administration's Race to the Top initiative has been a bold experiment in education reform. The White House and Congress now have the opportunity to apply the same idea to the public-pension crisis. Otherwise, chaos is just around the corner for our cities, counties and states.


Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles, was the California secretary of education from 2003 to

2005. Alexander Rubalcava is the president of an investment advisory firm.









Tuesday's primary elections in seven states and Washington, D.C., certainly had their share of stunners. Topping the list was the decision of Delaware Republicans to go with a long-shot Tea Party outsider, Christine O'Donnell, over veteran congressman Mike Castle, in their the bid to win the Senate seat once held by Vice President Biden.


But perhaps no one should have been all that surprised. The results were consistent with recent trends. Republicans are still in astate of civil war, with insurgents generally getting the better of establishment candidates. And voters of all stripes are still disaffected with Washington. Polls show only a quarter of Americans trust the federal government to do the right thing all or most of the time, down from 40% a decade ago.

O'Donnell's win might turn out to be good news for Democrats, who now are seen as far more likely to hold on to Delaware's Senate seat and thus control of the Senate in November. But the continuing purge of moderates such as Castle is bad news for anyone who is not on an ideological crusade and just wants pragmatic solutions to the nation's divisive problems. Progress on those problems — particularly the trillion dollar federal budget deficit — becomes even more difficult when trying to find common ground with the other party turns into a career-ender.


Nor should Democrats be too smug about the victories of O'Donnell and other Tea Partiers whom they consider weak general-election candidates. The Tea Party movement reflects the tip of a wave of voter discontent and anti-incumbent fervor that could sweep Democrats out of power in the House, if not the Senate, in November. If so few people trust Washington, the discontent isn't confined to conservatives. Tea Party success could do more to encourage new movements than to achieve party goals.


To the extent there is an upside to the movement, it's that it serves as a wake-up call about the skyrocketing national debt and the ways of Washington in general.


]One reason that Republican voters are going after their own this year could be that recent Republican presidents and congresses have been at least as fiscally irresponsible as their Democratic counterparts. As much as insurgent Republicans dislike President Obama and Democrats for their expansion of government, they also recognize that the current crop of GOP leaders does not represent a dramatic departure from past practices. The Tea Party's success sends a strong message that Republicans can no longer continue their habit of cutting taxes without making substantial, and potentially unpopular, proposals to pay for them with spending reductions.


But another part of the Republican revolt has little to do with fiscal policy. It's a generalized sense among conservatives that social and economic currents are taking the nation in the wrong direction — that elites in government, academia, media and big business wield too much influence; that people with modest levels of education can't get ahead; that the nation's growing diversity, brought on in part through illegal immigration, is robbing the U.S. of its heritage; and that growing acceptance of same-sex relationships and the continued legality of abortion are undermining its moral values.


Whatever the root causes of the voter rebellion, there are few reasons to believe it will end soon. It's rare that one party gets control of the government, much less one faction of one party. Change requires compromise, particularly when the change that's needed — less spending and more taxes — is guaranteed to be unpopular. If the two parties are polarized, the 40% of voters who identify themselves as independents might start lookingfor new places to go.







Yuval Levin, National Review: "Has the Tea Party done more harm than good for Republicans? Um, no. It has done far more good for the Republican Party than anything Republicans could possibly have done on purpose. ... ... This has been a very good primary season for Republicans, and looks to be a very good election season. The changes forced on the party have mostly (though not entirely) been for the good, and the effect on its electoral prospects has been nothing short of stunning. The country's response to two years of Barack ObamaNancy Pelosi and Harry Reid has been about as good for conservatives and Republicans as they could possibly have hoped given the circumstances, and may well give them the chance to meaningfully stand athwart the leftward march, and even turn it rightward some (though that may have to wait another two years). Obviously the Tea Partiers have not been a complicating factor in that process, but a primary moving force."


OUR VIEW: Purge of GOP moderates makes gridlock more likely


Kathryn Jean Lopez, The New York Times: "Tuesday night was absolutely a precursor to November. It was absolutely a continuation of what we've been seeing since Scott Brown was elected to 'Ted Kennedy's seat' inMassachusetts. It's a confirmation that voters are in an anti-establishment mood. But it's more than simply being anti-establishment. It's a vote against the current liberal rule in Washington. In that way, it is a vote for authenticity in philosophy. And it is a warning to moderate Republicans."


Jamie Court, The Huffington Post: "Anger, not hope, is the fuel of political and economic change. As things grow worse and worse, public rage grows more intense — and so does the energy for making things better. And in 2010 in America, anger rules, but it needs to be vectored and focused if it is to succeed in fueling the type of change that the majority of Americans believe in. If progressives walk away, rather than engage, the Tea Party and GOP will capture the popular anger and turn it against government, rather than focus it rightly back on the targets of the 2008 election: Wall Street, health insurers, polluters, the military-industrial complex and the politicians they buy. If we want progress, the kind that polls show 60% of Americans believe in, we need to do more than vote every two to four years or wait for Obama to learn the tactics of confrontation. We need to make demands. We need to raise some hell. The alternative is giving up the reins of government to a flash mob that wants to do nothing but destroy it."


Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen, The Washington Examiner: "The Tea Party movement has become one of the most powerful and extraordinary movements in recent American political history. It is as popular as both the Democratic and Republican parties. It is potentially strong enough to elect senators, governors and congressmen. It may even be strong enough to elect the next president of the United States — time will tell. But the Tea Party movement has been one of the most derided and minimized and, frankly, most disrespected movements in American history. Yet, despite being systematically ignored, belittled, marginalized and ostracized ... the Tea Party movement has grown stronger and stronger."


Jonathan Rauch, National Journal: "Tea Party activists believe that their hivelike, 'organized but not organized' structure is their signal innovation and secret weapon, the key to outlasting and outmaneuvering traditional political organizations and interest groups. They intend to rewrite the rule book for political organizing, turning decades of established practice upside down. If they succeed ... (their) most important legacy may be organizational, not political. ... From Washington's who's-in-charge-here perspective, the Tea Party model seems ... bizarre. Perplexed journalists keep looking for the movement's leaders, which is like asking to meet the boss of the Internet. Baffled politicians and lobbyists can't find anyone to negotiate with. ... If you think moving votes and passing bills are what they are really all about, you have not taken the full measure of their ambition. No, the real point is to change the country's political culture, bending it back toward the self-reliant, liberty-guarding instincts of the Founders' era."









Those of us who love the sport insist that baseball's status as our distinctive "national pastime" means that a visit to any major league game can help place America's present predicament in proper perspective. That's particularly true if your favorite team has been going through a lousy season that mirrors the nation's own recent economic and political struggles.


My hometown Seattle Mariners certainly qualify as major flops in the world of baseball: Though tabbed by many pre-season experts as likely winners in the American League West, they're mired deep in last place, 25 or so games behind the division-leading Texas Rangers, while scoring fewer runs than any team in baseball. If any club could sour you on the pleasures of the game, this listless, punchless, strikeout-prone gang of overpaid underachievers would be the group.


Nevertheless, my wife and I went to a Mariners game in late August and enjoyed a grand and glorious time. Of course the hometown anti-heroes managed to lose (5-3 to the Los Angeles Angels, another disappointing team) but 20,545 excited fans still made their way to handsome, 11-year-oldSafeco Field, a few blocks from glistening blue Elliott Bay, on a golden, sun-kissed evening of late summer. They watched fan favorite David Pauley (who won his first major league game a few weeks ago at age 27) struggle through five gutsy shutout innings (before allowing three Angel home runs in the sixth, but that's another story). The familiar foods (hot dogs, peanuts, pretzels, beer) and the more exotic offerings (sushi) all looked fresh and tempting. The crowd happily indulged, high prices notwithstanding. A few alert fans made impressive catches of foul balls that found their way into the stands, drawing big applause. The mood remained cheerful, despite the Mariners' stinking season and their 89th loss to date.


We're not doomed


Leaving the stadium with our friends (we stayed till the final out, with the Mariners scoring one tantalizing, futile run in the ninth), I couldn't help contrast this pleasant experience with the dire pronouncements about our national condition that have become a staple of news media and political discourse.


Anyone who says America is broken, dysfunctional and doomed hasn't been to a ballgame lately. The people who come out to such sporting events aren't just the superrich or the privileged few: They represent every economic and ethnic segment of the society. When 20,000 enthusiasts can still find the money to come out to cheer a last place team, it's inappropriate to peddle apocalyptic visions of a nation made up primarily of the destitute and desperate.


Our recent visit to Safeco Field highlights the fact that America still works for most people, most of the time. Yes, millions of citizens face painful challenges in paying their rent or feeding the kids, but supermarket shelves are still stocked with affordable goods, the majority of planes land on time, factories still hum and lead the world in manufactured goods (China isn't even close), hospitals perform daily miracles in helping the sick, and schools manage to teach the basics to the great majority of their students.


That doesn't mean that everything's perfect in the nation at large, and it doesn't absolve our leaders or institutions for manifold displays of incompetence and corruption. There's also no excuse for Mariners management shelling out one of the higher payrolls in baseball for an epically anemic offense. But strikeouts and losing streaks don't erase the irresistible fun of the game — any more than a wretched economy and stumbling political leadership eliminate the joys and blessings of daily life in America.


Watching the Mariners lose, I came away with two profoundly reassuring messages about our country at large.


First, the traditions of baseball remain precious and satisfying regardless of the on-field fortunes of any particular team. Watching the batters limbering up in the on-deck circle, the conferences on the mound, the manager storming out of the dugout to argue a questionable call — it's all timeless, virtually unchanged from the games I used to attend with my late father some 50 years ago. That's also true of the nation itself, even in this turbulent era: the protest, the indignation, the resilience, the defiant activism, the dark humor about politicos and their misdeeds — all reflect familiar American themes that we could recognize from ancestors some 200 years ago.


Our comeback


Then there's the ever-lasting chant of any fan saddled with a losing team: "Wait till next year." Fortunes turn around quickly in sports, economics and politics. In the '80s we went from one of the sharpest recessions in recent history, to one of the most ballyhooed booms by the middle of the decade. Less than two years ago, Republicans looked doomed to permanent exile as an irrelevant minority, but polls now promise them a major comeback.


In that spirit, there's no guarantee that the Mariners' performance will improve dramatically next season; in Pittsburgh, the Pirates have fielded losing teams without letup for nearly a generation. But in most other places losers transform to winners almost overnight, and every new opening day brings indomitable new hope. The United States may suffer a few consecutive losing seasons, but even citizens who don't follow baseball can understand that before long we'll be back to reclaim our time-honored standing as the world's greatest winners. And meanwhile, it's still a joy and a privilege to watch the game.


Michael Medved, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, hosts a daily, syndicated radio talk show and, for the past 14 years as a resident of the Northwest, has loyally cheered the Seattle Mariners.









I used to be a cog in the wheel of corporate America.


I worked for GE in Jack Welch's heyday. I worked hard; I am pretty sure GE invented the 60-hour work week along with light bulbs and MRIs. But GE paid me gobs of money, trusted me with responsibility that stretched and challenged me, surrounded me with tons of awesomely smart people and flew me all over the world to learn about global business. And next year, I will receive a pension from these people who have looked after my retirement investments like they were the queen's jewels. Sweet, huh?


Now I teach. I am on the faculty of a university filled with kids who are often the first in their families to get a college education. They pay me less than GE did when I started as a product manager in 1984. Don't tell them, but I'd do this for free.


My university doesn't fly me anywhere, or give me any retirement savings, but it surrounds me with awesomely smart people — both dedicated faculty and students. Yes, those jeans-wearing, cellphone-toting, tattooed, tired-from-two-jobs-to-pay-for-school kids in my classes are wicked smart.


Scared business students


With backpacks and flip flops, they plunk down on plastic chairs I think we bought in 1962 and try to make sense of the marketing stuff I am trying to explain. They think this will help them get jobs. The ones where they will have to work with the marketing lunatics on some team at places like GE.


Teaching them is the hardest job I have ever had. The stakes are super high. Way higher than at GE.


When I messed up there, all hell broke loose. Customers and stockholders yelled and then big shots hauled me into ginormous offices, pounded on huge mahogany desks and yelled some more. Then they slashed budgets for my team or bonuses for me that year.


When I mess up here, some kid's chance for a job that pays enough to have a family, a house, a few vacations, some dignity and a sense of purpose could be gone. But lately, I'm thinking I am not the biggest threat to these kids. Not enough jobs is. This is scaring the heck out of them. And it should be doing the same to you.


There are more than 80 million of these kids. Soon, they will be flooding the market looking for work. Maybe you haven't noticed, but they have already begun gushing out of the gates.


Make the jobs


These kids have to have something decent to do with their energy and skills and talent. And make no mistake about it: America's twentysomethings have loads of that stuff. It may be a little hard for us Boomers to make sense of a sentence with 600 "likes" in it, but don't let that fool you. These kids are awesome. They will make more of an impact on business in the next 15 years than you and I did in the past 30.


Here's my message, corporate America types: Make the jobs they need. You will handle it when bosses, customers and stockholders yell. Just make the jobs. Quit being afraid of tax hikes, or health care or losing your bonus and make the dang jobs. Here's how: Grab your budget and squeeze out one new ad. Then pop in a kid. Squeeze out one executive retreat and pop in four kids.


How many kids are in those Super Bowl trips for your best customers or in reward dinners for your best salespeople? Hey, they'll get it. These are their kids, too.


This is not just some tree-huggy idea. While you're making jobs, you will be making consumers. They will buy your stuff. And other people's stuff. Cool, huh? That's how this economy thing works, dude.




Donna L. Crane is on the faculty at Northern Kentucky University and was an executive with GE.









Republicans have grown increasingly confident over the summer about their chances of retaking control of the House, and possibly, the Senate. Before they choreograph their victory parties, they'll have to figure out how to handle the tea party's insurgents, who have frustrated mainstream Republicans and riven the party's ranks by pulling off primary victories over moderate candidates that the GOP had hoped would appeal to independent voters in November.


Results Tuesday in the last round of primary elections across the country before the November balloting added to the toll. The most notable tea party victory came in Delaware, where Christine O'Donnell, whom the state's GOP had flatly labeled as "unqualified," swept aside the favored GOP star, Rep. Michael N. Castle, in the race for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat held previously by Vice President Joe Biden and his interim successor.


Rep. Castle, a former two-term governor in Delaware, has for decades enjoyed wide support among Republicans and independents in a variety of offices. The predictability of his success may have been his undoing. In a light turnout — just 55,000 of the tiny state's 182,000 registered Republicans bothered to vote — Mrs. O'Donnell won by only 3,000 votes.


But that slim margin, and an endorsement by Sarah Palin, was enough to scoot her past Castle, never mind the hammering she had taken from GOP leaders over her notorious talk about masturbation and charges that she had misused money from a previous campaign for personal expenses.


In New York, another Palin-endorsed tea party underdog candidate, Carl Paladino, toppled former congressman Rick Lazio to become the Republican candidate for governor of the Empire State. The Buffalo multimillionaire, a political novice, played hard on voter disenchantment with the power structure in Albany, ranting against "the ruling class" in the state house, blustering about a "people's revolution" and basking in his admitted "anger."


His schtick — he roamed the state with a pit bull and promised to take a baseball bat to the capital — earned him a two-to-one victory margin. It also apparently erased concerns over reports of his e-mails to friends with racist jokes and pornographic pictures, and his proposal to convert prisons into dormitories for welfare recipients and give them lessons in hygiene.


Establishment Republicans fear that tea party activists have taken too much control in the primaries, giving victories to far-right candidates who will have a harder time talking seriously — or being taken seriously — on nuts-and-bolts issues of education, taxes, health care and infrastructure that centrist swing voters worry about.


Their dilemma is that they feel hostage to tea partiers' grip. They're in a quandary over whether to disavow tea party favorites, sit on the sidelines in the election, or get behind them because they wear the GOP banner. Given the startling image the Republican party is getting for having tea party candidates for the U.S. Senate like Nevada's gaffe-ridden, Sharron Angle, who proposes to dismantle Medicare, and Kentucky's radical neoconservative Rand Paul, who suggests relabeling mountain-removal mining so it won't sound so bad for the environment, it's no wonder the GOP is concerned.


And now there is Christine O'Donnell, whose glibness seems naturally suited to the Palin script. Indeed, the GOP's problem with Tea Party destroyers could well become a national concern. What will happen if the nation begins to elect as senators people whose aggressive prescriptions for national policies are so destructive or off-the-wall that they can't be taken seriously?


The nation needs credible, adult solutions to complex problems, not frightful fantasies. If the tea party and GOP can't agree on that, they should require their candidates to follow the medical maxim: first, do no harm.







On the surface, ongoing peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders seem to be promising. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met amicably at a summit hosted by Egypt on Tuesday. Wednesday, Netanyahu amiably played host to Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at his Jerusalem home. Appearances, though, can be deceiving. Despite the apparent cordiality, the major players in the Mideast are no closer today to resolving the issues that separate them than they were a month or a year ago.


The old problems — Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, the status of Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugee question, the borders of whatever Palestinian state might emerge from the talks and guarantees of Israeli security — remain. Discussing them, though, might be difficult given events elsewhere in the region on Wednesday.


Almost at the same time that Netanyahu, Abbas and Clinton were meeting in Jerusalem, Gaza militants hit Israel with eight mortar rounds and a rocket. There were no reported injuries, but the timing and severity of the attack — the highest daily total since March of 2009 — is hardly a coincidence. It is a signal that Hamas, the terrorist group that denies the right of Israel to exist and that opposes any Palestinian peace plan, will carry out its promise to escalate violence in order to subvert any discussion of peace.


Israel's response was swift. Jets bombed smuggling tunnels on the Egypt-Gaza border. Hamas reported one dead and four injured. The tit-for-tat exchange is unlikely to derail talks. It certainly makes them more difficult, however, in an atmosphere already strained by concern about what will happen when a 10-month Israeli moratorium on new housing construction in the West Bank expires Sept. 30. The fate of the talks and the political power of all involved, in fact, could turn on the answer to that question.


]Abbas says he will leave the talks if building resumes. Netanyahu, pressured by the Israeli right wing, now s

ays he'll end the moratorium but hopes to somehow limit the scope of construction. That is unlikely to mollify Palestinians or to sit well with the Obama administration, which has made Mideast peace a focal point of its foreign policy. Clearly, the settlement issue will have to be addressed before the two leaders can begin serious talks about a permanent peace.


The current meetings have produced little discernible movement. Not to worry. There's still time for the first

direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians since 2008 to prosper, even with sounds of rockets and bombs in

the background. Indeed, the fact that Netanyahu and Abbas met at all should be counted as a triumph in the

difficult world of Mideast diplomacy. Many knowledgeable observers predicted such an event would never take place.







It shouldn't take a "veteran political observer" to discern that there is widespread political dissatisfaction throughout the United States these days. Scattered primary elections in several states this week emphasized that fact.

The tide seems to be running against liberals and for conservatives. But where is it going to take us?


We are hearing a lot about "tea party" voters. References to them are not usually capitalized, because they are not an official party. Their informal name comes, of course, from early American history, when American political dissidents dumped tea into Boston Harbor to protest a tax imposed by the British.


There are numerous signs of similar general political unrest these days, as many people believe that taxes are too high, that government spending is too irresponsible, and that government is part of the reason the economy is sluggish, to say the least.


]Many voters expressed dissatisfaction in varied ways in elections Tuesday.


Perhaps the most notable of several examples was Delaware's Republican senatorial primary. Conservative Christine O'Donnell, described as unknown just a month ago, won the Republican nomination over nine-term liberal-to-moderate GOP Rep. Mike Castle.


There were similar indications of dissatisfaction in other states — among both Democrats and Republicans. There was, however, no "throw the rascals out" sweep, by any means. In some cases, it would be hard to define with accuracy what some voters disliked. It's just that many Americans seem to be unhappy with "politics as usual," preferring "something" or "somebody" different. Some candidates were criticized as not being conservative enough. Many voters just didn't like "things the way they are."


Such sentiments have shown up within both parties. How will Democrats, Republicans, independents and "tea partiers" express themselves in the November elections?


Though President Barack Obama won handily in 2008, now he is in mid-term, and he is polling less than 50 percent approval.


When many voters are dissatisfied with some incumbents and some policies in both parties, what will that mean for President Obama's future as his approval is lagging?


What impressive Republican presidential challenger will emerge? None has yet!


The general political unrest has not yet been expressed as any clear, unified, cohesive, philosophic trend — much less as a particular presidential preference — yet.


But the signs are there, begging for more substantial and responsible leaders for Congress — and for a presidential aspirant deserving an enthusiastic majority in 2012.







All of us — especially parents — are very much interested in having happy and successful futures for our children and our young people in general. So there is special interest at this time of year when outstanding high schoolers are honored — and have opportunities opened for them — by winning semifinalist status for National Merit Scholarships.


We salute the 31 semifinalists in our areas of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama!


In Tennessee, they are:


Baylor School — Johnathan Bowes, Junnie Kwon, Ryan Riedmueller, Sydney Rupe and Megan Thompson.


Boyd-Buchanan School — Siri Alay.


Chattanooga Christian School — Daniel Adams.


Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences — Matthew Collum and Sarah Hilling.


Cumberland County High School — John Garland of Crossville.


Girls Preparatory School — Michelle Bangson, Archer Brock, Danielle Chirumbole, Shelby DeWeese, Laura Higbee and Blair Stewart.


Hixson High School — Jason Burford.


Homeschoolers — Briana Wever of Collegedale and Dale Hoagland of Sewanee.


McCallie School — Nathan Bird, Noah Olenchek, Mark Taylor and Carter Ward.


McMinn County High School — Katherine Edwards and Colin O'Malley of Athens.


St. Andrew's-Sewanee School — Marianne Sanders.


In Georgia, the semifinalists are:


Dalton High School — Yea Bae.


Darlington School — Stephanie Kehl of Rome.


Homeschoolers — Melanie Kehrer of Ringgold and Stephen Wunrow of Rossville.


In Alabama, the regional semifinalist is Andrew Cookston of Scottsboro High School.


Congratulations to them all. May this be just the beginning of bright and successful futures.







Crime is a nagging problem that affects us all. We don't like to have to worry about being in personal danger. And we don't like to worry about our homes being invaded, our businesses being burglarized, nor our cars and other property being stolen.


So it is of special interest that Chattanooga had the third-lowest violent crime rate — but the highest property crime rate — among Tennessee's six biggest cities in 2009.


The best defense against violent crime is to avoid being in places and situations where violence may occur and where we may be victimized.


Protecting against property crimes means locking our homes, businesses and cars, not creating appealing targets

for thieves, having plenty of lights, and generally just being careful.


Our police do their best to protect us and to solve crimes if they occur. But we have a big responsibility to try to discourage the too-many people who may attack us and our property. Take precautions. Be careful.

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Although the Tennessee Valley Authority manages to provide lower electric power rates than people in much of the rest of the country have to pay, TVA is still vulnerable to many variables — temperature being one of them.


TVA produces electricity from nuclear plants, generators at its dams, coal-burning steam plants, etc. There are many cost variables.


With August having been extra hot and TVA being limited in discharging hot water from Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant into the Tennessee River, Browns Ferry had to cut its production. That meant higher TVA costs.


So blame hot weather — and hot water — for TVA's need to raise wholesale electric rates 6.4 percent, which will be passed on to us all.







]So much of our economy is involved in the car business — jobs, steel, electronics, tires, etc. And with General Motors having long been a major car company, some used to say that "What's good for General Motors is good for the country."


GM's performance used to be a reasonably accurate "thermometer" for the well-being of our nation's whole economy.


Lots of things have changed, but there's still much interest in what GM is doing. So it is good news for Tennessee, and all of us, that General Motors is recalling 400 idled workers at its Middle Tennessee plant at Spring Hill, which builds four-cylinder engines for several GM models.


In this case, what's good for General Motors is good for everybody.









Turkey has no national award for "teacher of the year." Education unions, many schools and a number of foundations offer something akin to this, however. There is no national award to honor the "nurse" or the "team of nurses" who have gone above and beyond in service to Turkey. We are sure, however, a few hospitals have some means to make such acknowledgement.


The "heroes" of Turkey are many. The teacher who upon graduation in İzmir headed to an eastern village and cleared out a coal storage room to make new classroom space for 50 charges. The nurse from Istanbul who rushed to quake-hit Adapazarı in 1999, keeping dialysis patients alive for days with a purloined generator and water pumped by hand. The policeman. The foot soldier. The firefighter.


One need not limit a list of heroes to prosaic professions. Our universities, our diplomatic corps, our foundations and our businesses are filled with people going above and beyond any reasonable call of duty to make Turkey a better place, to present Turkey to the world, to ease a bit of suffering at home. Sometimes, a life's work results in a plaque and a handshake. Most of the time, not even that. Which is fine.


But when a country's prime minister proudly hands a check over to a squad of basketballers totaling, when converted from cash and gold, to more than $1 million per man, this is more than a serious affront to the tens of thousands toiling in lesser vineyards. Certainly we are proud of the "12 Giant Men" who carried Turkey nearly to the top of the world football championship. A half dozen of us made it to the game in fact, cheering our hearts out for Turkey to best the Americans. We join in the heartfelt pride of the nation.


We also think it laudable that a private citizen, Ali Ağaoğlu, has rewarded each team member with a villa for their "bringing team spirit to the nation." Private philanthropy is the province of private philanthropists. If Mr. Ağaoğlu wants to divide his entire fortune up among athletes, that is certainly his right and he deserves at least a plaque.


But what message did PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan give to all those who labor on behalf of this country with an act of such generosity with the money of taxpayers? What is the lesson for the child thinking of becoming a teacher, a doctor, a fireman or a policeman? What message to the unpaid conscript risking his life – or losing it – on a cold mountaintop? That Erdoğan intervened to actually increase this bounty to the basketballers is insult to injury.


Service to the nation on the pitch or the court is laudable and admirable. But the values of a state institution should not place basketballers above everyone else. Yes, they carried our spirit around the world with their triumph. We thank them. This award has telegraphed our immaturity and vanity to the same international audience.







Since Sunday in many different mediums the impact of the new constitution had been discussed. What was mainly discussed, however, was limited to the political analysis. No one really touched on the real implications. But the new constitution promises changes in our daily lives in many ways, the most important of which concerns the ICT industry, especially that of government investments.


We are given the right to ask for the secrecy of our private information kept in the Government ICT systems. Also from now on our personal information can only be accessed if we give the third party permission to do so.


Naturally, no on can argue that these are backward or harmful steps. However, these developments endanger the foundational logic of all government ICT background.


In 1972, the idea for a unique ID assignment to each and very individual-born Turkish was generally accepted. In 1976 the plan for the project The Central Civil Registration System, or MERNIS, was laid out and Turkey could only complete it in 2009. The Turkish Identity Number plays a key role enabling the exchange of information among public agencies. The Identity Information Sharing System, or KPS, went into operation in 2005 as an extension of MERNIS. Public institutions and agencies can access ID information stored in MERNIS database via the KPS under strictly specified conditions in the respective access protocols. KPS works over a Virtual Private Network and every user is assigned with a user name and password. The system keeps logs of every user and the conducted enquiries. 


KPS offers the following enquiry services: 




• Enquiry of personal information using the TR Identity Number 


• Enquiry of TR Identity Number using personal information 


• Enquiry of identity information based on information of the place of registration 


• Enquiry of copy of civil status records using various criteria. 


Another very vital system is linked to MERNIS. The Address Registration System, or AKS, is a centrally administered system established by the Civil Registration Services Law No. 5490 where up to date domicile and other address information of Turkish nationals and foreigners domiciled in Turkey is maintained electronically. 


The system is integrated with MERNIS where records such as the "Name, Surname, Mother's and Father's Name, Place of Birth and Information on Civil Status Events" related to the identity of the person are stored and accessed using the Turkish Identity Number.


The information above means that anyone who has your Turkish ID number can access all the vital information about you. Last month I wrote about the theft of the database of all the ID numbers. The thief sold many copies to various people for as low as 257 TL. Also our government while giving permission, issued the ID numbers of 8 million Turkish people on websites.

In conclusion if anyone of us sued the government on the basis of breaching the safety of personal information, the government would have to issue new ID numbers and change the system altogether to avoid third parties from reaching our personal information – even if they acquired our new IDs.


This could mean that all we have done in the last 40 years as ICT investments could become rubbish.









"The runner up in the referendum is the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP. They managed to distinguish themselves as 'boycotters' in between 'yes' and 'no' votes and showed everyone that they represent a different 'reality' in the country. I will go into the details of this later," I wrote in the paper the other day.


And today, I am here to share my assessments.


The BDP kept its promise. Thanks to the "boycott," which reached over 51 percent in several provinces in southeast Turkey, it showed us a profound reality of Turkey and that they are its representative in Parliament. 


The BDP in Parliament is, at the same time, a political extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.


The "boycotters" are perfectly aware of the situation.


My evaluation is beyond any kind of prejudices and only for determining the situation.


]Therefore, in provinces with over 51 percent boycotters, people sympathize with the PKK; it pointless to deny the fact.


Whether we like it or not, this is the situation!


The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, tried to enact the Kurdish initiative last year. However, the AKP hesitated because of its own grassroots, the sensitivities of "Turkish nationalists" and the possibility of losing a serious number of votes, so it failed to deliver the essence of the initiative.


Let alone having talks with the PKK, the AKP did not even meet with the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, in Parliament then.


I kept insisting on it.


If we do not want "mothers to cry anymore," the armed organization has to be considered as the interlocutor of this conflict. In order to have talks we have to have courage.


However, the Sept. 12 constitutional amendment referendum results show that neither the supporters of the National View nor Turkish nationalist sensitivities in general did turn their votes into votes of no-confidence even though they objected to the scandal that took place at the Habur border gate last year.


The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, has shattered into pieces in provinces where they feel most confident.


According to two critical results of Sunday's popular vote: 


1) The grassroots of the BDP-PKK is well-established.


2) It is a mistake for the AKP to hesitate because of nationalist sensitivities while pursuing the "Kurdish initiative."


Turkey can benefit from such an opportunity if it is willing enough.


In the country divided into three, we have to start to patch things up immediately.


The government should evaluate the results in view of this angle as well and start to have talks with the BDP directly and the PKK indirectly.


Seemingly so, the opposition against the government will not be regarded much by the people.


Rather than follow the maximalist demands of Kurdish nationalists, the BDP must now adapt to a different way of talks by considering common sensitivities for the other two blocs.


I hope Sept. 12 guides both the AKP and the BDP to resume dialogue!








Turkey is going to remove Iran from its official 'list of foreign enemies'. This is a logical result of the Turkish efforts to improve bilateral ties in the recent years, including the vote against new United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear program.


Turkey's desire to have "zero problems with neighbours," as its foreign policy doctrine proclaims, is to be respected. Not so Ankara's steadfast refusal to even mildly rebuke Tehran over its dismal human rights and democracy record. Turkey, under the leadership of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was one of the first (and few) countries to recognize the validity of the fraudulent presidential elections in Iran in 2009. Prime-Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan embraced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a "friend" after the latter presided over a massive crackdown on the Iranian opposition, and the foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu absurdly characterized the post-election events in Iran as a "healthy political struggle."


Turkey's indifference to human rights violations in Iran stands in sharp contrast to its visceral criticism of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. While opposing Gaza´s blockade is entirely legitimate, the silence on the repression in Iran makes the AKP vulnerable to the charges of double standards and highly selective interest in international justice.


A good way to start changing this would be to address the situation of Iranian refugees in Turkey. Iranians can enter Turkey without visas, and according to the Turkey office of the UNHCR, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, there are currently about 6,000 Iranian refugees in Turkey. Most of them are political and human rights activists, journalists, students, members of persecuted faiths, like Baha´is, or simply ordinary Iranians fleeing the repression in their country. Turkish laws, bizarrely, deny asylum to refugees from non-European countries, which means that Iranians have to apply to the local office of the UNHCR in the hope that a Western country will grant them asylum. Their requests can be processed during a period of up to three years, and in the meantime Turkish authorities send asylum-seekers to provincial towns in Turkey for temporary settlement. There they are legally barred from getting a job, but they still have to pay local residence fees of up to $200 every six months, and are responsible for their food and living expenses. Worse still, according to the Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Refugees, a Turkish nongovernmental organization, there have been cases when the refugees were threatened or even attacked by suspected agents of the Islamic republic. 


To Ankara's credit, Turkey does not repatriate Iranians back home, despite pressure from the Islamic republic to do so. In fact, it has allowed several high profile dissidents, including the lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman condemned to death by stoning, to transit in Turkey on their way to Western countries. Some refugees shared with the international press, from the relative safety of their Turkish shelter, valuable details of torture they were subjected to in notorious Iranian prisons.


But some deportations were halted only after the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR. The decisions of the ECHR are binding for Turkey as a member of the Council of Europe. The court has warned Ankara not to return Iranian refugees to their home country because of the harassment or even death penalty they could face there.


In January 2010, the court awarded 20,000 euros in damages to an Iranian woman who had converted to Christianity, after Turkey planned her deportation to Iran without considering her application to the UNHCR for refugee status. Conversion to another faith constitutes the crime of apostasy under the Iranian Islamic law and is punishable by death. In April 2010 the ECHR warned Turkey against expulsion of 10 Iranian refugees.


Particularly frightening is the situation of gay asylum seekers from Iran. Homosexuality is punished by death in Iran, but is legal in Turkey. Still, social attitudes change much more slowly than laws. The Turkish government has re-located a number of Iranian gays to the conservative Anatolian town of Kayseri, no doubt, a bizarre choice. According to the accounts of some of the refugees, they are perceived by local population as degenerates who destroy moral values and promote prostitution. They escaped death in Iran only to face ´concerned citizens´ and occasionally law enforcement agents striving to make their lives miserable.


It is not enough for Turkey to simply tolerate the presence of the refugees in its territory. Under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention, Turkey has a legal obligation to safeguard their basic rights and dignity. Furthermore, as a democratic state, it also has a political obligation to support victims of the repression by the Islamic republic. This means first of all three things: 1) ending the legal limbo, in which the refugees currently find themselves in Turkey and which prevents them from working and sustaining their livelihoods; 2) placing curbs on the activities of the Iranian agents who intimidate and sometimes attack the refugees; 3) not putting obstacles on the way of the politically active refugees who wish to peacefully act against the Islamic republic. Turkey's civil society, media and the opposition should demand that the government act swiftly and decisively in this regard, its friendship with the Islamic republic notwithstanding.


Eldar Mamedov is an international-relations analyst based in Brussels.








Of course the uproar against the Ground Zero mosque in New York is shameful, but America never was a virgin. It savaged the first Catholics and Jews. The initiation rites for newcomers have always been brutal. One can only admire Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his courage in defending the mosque project. One has got to feel empathy for America's Muslims in the climate of suspicion created around the controversy by political opportunists.


Yet there are awkward questions here that U.S. Muslims and non-mainstream people in all countries have to face up to. First, haven't you in effect moved into a new home, and joined a new family, and shouldn't that entail a lot of adaptation? Beyond that, how forcefully, how publicly, have you aligned yourself with that new family and its values, and against its adversaries?


Second, how ready have you been to brave and overcome the misunderstandings and insults that befall all strangers in all strange lands? Did you expect it to be a smooth ride from the start? Hadn't you heard that the U.S. is in many respects a provincial, warts-and-all fundamentalist country? The Florida preacher's lunatic threat to burn Qurans on Sep. 11 is only one instance in a string of vile and outrageous stunts going back to the American Nazi march in Illinois a generation ago.


In democracies as turbulent as America's, you speak up if you want to be counted. If as an American Muslim you have kept your head down, silent, shying away from condemnation of al Qaeda and suicide bombers, why wouldn't crazies and paranoid extremists suspect you of sympathy for the bombers' crimes?


Be reasonable, moderate folks counsel, please don't generalize. But bitter people and racists and those with nativist agendas do generalize. They generalized when they sent Japanese Americans to internment camps. Times are changing around the world; multicultural tolerance is no longer the political fashion. "Become Dutch or leave" – this from openhearted Holland! Sad to say, as long as there is a perceived Jihadist threat, and Islam in America does not shout out against Jihadist violence, the U.S.A. will be as touchy a place for Muslims as it was for German Americans at the outbreaks of the two world wars.


For the outlier, then – in this case, the Muslim in America or other non-Islamic countries – we're left with really only two alternatives to packing up and returning home. Assimilation is one option – assimilation, or ducking under the mainstream surface and adapting, while clinging to your core beliefs and traditions. This route is the easier one, but it's not ambush-free. You'll sense the bigotry even if it doesn't hit you directly. You'll need to suck it up your gut and cruise through it.

]Refusing to adapt is the other alternative. In today's world that stance will get you battered. The pride and honor you feel may not balance out against the damage. And in the end you may become a hater, like the British boys who packed the subway bombs. Who wants to stretch his indignation that far?

Few Muslims in America today will give up and sit wringing their hands as the mosque controversy plays out, any more than interned West Coast Japanese or Jews called "kikes" by prominent 1920s politicians did. Most must see that over time, as Islam in America merges into the mainstream, fools and opportunists will pick at it. But after that settling-in, say well before mid-century, one can be fairly sure that U.S. Muslims will have started to feel like certified Americans, probably as ready as any to find gross fault with the next arrivals from foreign shores. Time will be the proof of that.








It has become apparent from the victory statement of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan political debate during the next ten or so months before the 2011 parliamentary elections as well as the election campaign itself will most probably be centered on a new constitution.


Will the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, insist on writing an "AKP constitution" and shun compromise and consensus politics once again? Or will Erdoğan, for a change, abide with his well-worded victory speech decorated with an unprecedented apology "for any wrong done" during the referendum campaign and really try to draft a new national charter through a widest possible consensus? A similar post-2007 election victory statement of Erdoğan applauded by everyone and his course of behavior since then do not leave much room for optimism. Yet, in awareness that the 58 percent "Yes" was not solely AKP vote and the traditional arrogance of Erdoğan might be an impediment, an Erdoğan who might aspire to run for presidential election can indeed tone down his much-accustomed "tension politics" in the period ahead… Will that be the case?


In any case, discussing a new constitution would require some creative and perhaps magical way out from the fundamental three main dividers of Turkish society. Though it was not an issue in either 2007 elections or in the past referendum campaign, how Turkey will write a new constitution without resolving the perennial religion-secularism standoff? Besides, the state and the ruling AKP has so far failed in embracing all religious beliefs. Turkey is of course not composed solely of Islam's Sunni Hanefi school, there are other sects and religions. Will Turkey finally manage to embrace all religions and soothe worries of secular Turks that the country will not eventually turn into a religious autocracy under AKP and Erdoğan? Even though the religion-secularism quagmire did not figure out in the referendum campaign, the Aegean and Mediterranean shores voting predominantly "No" while the rest of the country voted "Yes" underscores the deep divide in the Turkish society.


The second and equally important quagmire is the ethnicity or identities issue. A section of the Turkish society aspire recognition of their "Kurdish" identity, while another section of the society has been suffering from a "Yugoslavia syndrome" and scared of the probability of disintegration of the country. Will Turkey indeed manage to develop a national compromise, develop an "equality of all citizens" or manage to make all people living in this country feel they are "first class citizens"? An overwhelming majority of people are sensitive on "national and territorial integrity" of the country, while ethnic Kurdish politics has been demanding "democratic autonomy" and converting Turkey into some sort of a federation more and more loudly. Even though more than 25 percent of the country's ethnic Kurdish population did not participate the boycott call of the separatist gang and its political wing the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, referendum results clearly demonstrated the need to somehow engage at least the BDP in efforts aimed at bringing an end to separatist terrorism. The poor referendum performance of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, showed that ultra-nationalism might no longer be a valid currency in Turkish politics. Yet, will the AKP government find an acceptable way of engaging BDP – and indirectly engaging the separatist gang – and reviving its faltered Kurdish opening? Or, encouraged with the relative success of the boycott campaign will the BDP – and the separatist gang – continue and even accelerate the "democratic autonomy" rhetoric – and the gang intensifies violence – and castrate any prospect of success for the Kurdish opening?


Then we have the perennial "power sharing" problem. Unfortunately this country could not achieve to firmly establish separation of powers, a fundamental pillar of democratic governance. With an executive efficiently controlling the legislative and, particularly after Sunday's changes, strongly influencing the judiciary and revelations that the AKP or at least Erdoğan himself, is aspiring to move on to a presidential system of governance, the power sharing problem of Turkey is apparently turning into an even more intractable quagmire. At the heart of this problem, of course, lies the religion-secularism standoff, or the perception of Islamist threat to secular republic and the revanchist designs of political Islam from the secular republic.


A new and effective checks and balances system is needed to be established in this country which besides clearly defining and limiting the powers of the executive, legislative and the judiciary must as well ensure the masses that there can be no existential threat to the secular republic or to their lifestyle. Of course in such a Turkey the place of the Turkish Armed Forces should as well be redefined. Will this be possible at all?








The Hrant Dink murder is a shame, a disgrace of this country.


He was killed blatantly.


Police had received information in advance. They knew it but took not a single preventive measure. Dink was slaughtered just because of uttering words that we may not have liked or just because he had an Armenian descent.


The state turned its back on him. Prosecutors filed claims that he was insulting Turkishness, accusing him of violating Article 301 in the Turkish Penal Code.


Now, hang on there: The initial court acquitted Dink. Do you know who appealed this? The Supreme Court of Appeals.


The Supreme Court of Appeals changed the ruling, determined that he had defamed Turkishness and sentenced him.


How strange! Is it not?


The Supreme Court of Appeals, which should think of the big picture, therefore interpreted Article 301 in the narrowest sense. We clearly saw that the ruling influenced the perpetrators during the trials. The decision had created an image of Hrant Dink as a bad man.


As for the latest decision of the European Court of Human Rights, the court slapped Turkey and ruled that the state of Turkey had failed to protect Dink's right to life.


Turkey obeyed the ruling.


That was good for Turkey. Otherwise, it could've meant self-denial.


Former European court Justice Rıza Türmen put it beautifully and clearly during a CNN Türk program the other day. Let's see what Turkey admitted:


Yes, despite the state knowing of plans beforehand, it did not take measures to protect Dink. Security directorates in Istanbul and Trabzon didn't move a finger although they had information in advance that he could be killed.


Yes, we did not investigate incoming information well enough. The Trabzon Security Directorate informed Istanbul about incoming tips but took no measures themselves, did not take any warnings seriously.


Yes, the Istanbul Police did not pay attention to warnings and take measures. In short, Dink's right to life was not protected. 


With that attitude Turkey has undertaken all the responsibility. The government did not try to cover an old shame but carried the can.


If you don't know the details, please do not get nervous by this approach.


Please, do read Tuba Çandar's book, "Hrant."


She's put together an excellent work. I congratulate her. Learn what happened through witnesses.


What will Turkey do from now on?


Now, should we not ask the following question? After we take responsibility, what will we do from now on? Will we close the case? Or will we reopen it and try to find the real perpetrators in order to seek forgiveness?


My attitude is crystal clear: The perpetrators must be caught and punished.


What do you say?


Shall we close the case?


Or shall we take action?


Can Tekin keep the home fires burning?


I was about to start this piece by asking, "What will happen to the CHP?" I received this information: The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu appointed Gürsel Tekin as the new vice chairman of the party.


Tekin is a very good politician who carefully takes the pulse of the people and carries the burden. He is a young, assertive and worldly man.


But of course all his good qualities do not mean that Tekin will hold up the CHP.


And the reason is that the party administration is going to pieces.


Check out the Sept. 12 referendum results, you'll see what I mean.


If it hadn't been for the one-man campaign of Kılıçdaroğlu, the CHP would've become only a part of the audience, with no active involvement in the popular campaigning process.


Can you imagine an administration that does not care about how and where their leaders cast their votes?


Even though Kılıçdaroğlu politely took all the responsibility for not being able to vote in the referendum, those who closely follow the process have already seen who the responsible party is.


At first I thought the CHP administration and the party headquarters in particular would reshape their structure following the 2011 general elections. But today, I look at the picture and see that perhaps the CHP can't wait any longer. In such an atmosphere and mess, it is difficult to expect anything from the CHP like involvement in elections or gaining votes.


What can Tekin do?


He cannot undertake the party all by himself.


If Kılıçdaroğlu believes and supports him, things might change.


Otherwise, the CHP supporters will be disappointed again.








First, the good news. On Sept. 15, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre will sign an agreement in Murmansk that resolves the long dispute between the two countries over their Arctic seabed. So there will be no military confrontation in the Barents Sea between Russia and Norway, a NATO member, over who owns which part of the seabed, even if oil is discovered there.


Now for the bad news. On Sept. 15, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Norway Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre will sign an agreement that resolves the long dispute between the two countries over their Arctic seabed rights. That means that drilling for oil can get underway in the Barents Sea, in waters that are deeper than the BP well that blew out in the Gulf of Mexico – colder waters in which an oil spill would linger for many years


Two years ago, the military and the think tanks in Moscow were obsessed with the prospect of a military confrontation with NATO over Arctic seabed rights. Mention climate change to them, and you would immediately get a lecture about Russia's right to seabed oil and gas in the Barents Sea and American plots to steal those resources.


About 175,000 square kilometers were at stake. Geologists believe that there may be large oil and gas reserves in the area, but there has been no drilling because for 40 years the two neighbors were unable to reach a deal on their seabed frontier.


During the Cold War the area was tense, with NATO maritime patrol planes regularly overflying the area claimed by Russia. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union the tension continued, leading Norway to carry out a recently completed modernization of its navy that effectively doubled its capacity to operate in Arctic waters.


Russia and Norway have now resolved the disagreement by dividing the disputed seabed evenly between them. The deal was announced in principle when Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, visited Oslo in April, and now it is ready for signature. It will still have to be ratified by the Norwegian and Russian parliaments, but that is a foregone conclusion.


Now that the confrontation is over, the two countries will probably work together to develop the region's resources, since Russia needs Norway's more advanced technology for deepwater drilling in Arctic waters. The returns may be huge, as the Arctic basin is thought to hold up to 20 percent of all the world's remaining undiscovered oil.


But the downside of this development is that drilling, long stalled by the geopolitical uncertainties of the region, can now begin. It will take place in an environment where storms are fierce and frequent, and sea-ice is a regular seasonal phenomenon. The polar ice-cap is retreating as global warming proceeds, but there will still be ice in the area in winter for several decades to come.


The risk of a major oil spill is hard to calculate, but it certainly exists. Norway has a good reputation for minimizing environmental damage when drilling in Arctic waters: Russia's reputation in this area is much less impressive. But the drilling will probably go ahead anyway, because the oil price remains high and both countries need the cash flow.


This is the first part of the Arctic Ocean where large-scale exploitation of hydrocarbons is likely to happen, because the other two promising areas, in the Bering Strait between Russia and the United States and on the seabed north of Alaska and Canada's Yukon territory, are still in dispute. Sporadic negotiations take place between the United States and Canada, but the U.S.-Russian seabed boundary is not even being discussed by the two powers.


This is because back in 1990, when the old Soviet Union was stumbling toward collapse, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze made a deal with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker that accepted almost all of the American claims in the seabed area in dispute between Alaska and Siberia. Russia's own claims were simply abandoned.


It was an agreement made at Russia's moment of maximum weakness, and the Russian Duma (parliament) has never ratified it. It never will, just as the U.S. Senate would never ratify a deal that surrendered all of America's claims.


A compromise like the one just worked out between Norway and Russia is the only way to settle the issue, but which American politician would take the responsibility for giving up seabed territories that belong to the United States under the 1990 accord, however unjust it was? At the moment, the two countries are not even talking about it.


So we may get the worst of both worlds: deepwater drilling in the environmentally vulnerable region of the Barents Sea (which is also home to major fish stocks), and a new cold war over rival American and Russian claims to the seabed in the Bering Strait.


There is also the possibility, of course, that the global response to the threat of runaway warming will be so rapid and effective that the demand for oil and gas will fall faster than existing reserves are depleted. In that case, it might never be economically sensible to start drilling for oil and gas on the Arctic seabed at all. But I wouldn't bet the farm on it.


*Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.








 The comments of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on Tuesday about what he sees as the role of the judiciary in protecting the interest of the country at a crucial time are extremely relevant. Even more significant are his remarks that, although some decisions of the court have not been liked by the government, this will not stop the courts from delivering similar verdicts where required. Other speakers on the occasion, held to mark a new year for the Supreme Court, commented, in particular, on the government's reluctance to implement the verdict on the NRO — with the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association also bringing up the question of the defiance of the courts by the acting chairman of NAB.

These are issues that many people believe are central to the future of our country. The stated commitment of the chief justice to defending the Constitution and protecting harmony among institutions will therefore be greatly appreciated. But the fact of the matter is that the Supreme Court alone cannot create unity. Indeed, the friction that has crept up is a result of actions by the executive or elements within it. If these continue, we can foresee only greater turmoil ahead. There is, for now, no real indication that the steps which lie beyond the Constitution are slowing down, or that there is any change in intent. To prevent the likely fallout from this, it is vital, as the chief justice has said, that the various institutions abide by their constitutional limitations. He has also said that wrongdoing will continue to be tackled by the courts. This is to be welcomed. All institutions should work in accordance with the law. But the court has made it clear once more that, if they choose not to, it will have no hesitation in acting against them and bringing them back on track.


***************************************I. THE NEWS



 Roll up! Roll up! Form an orderly queue and stand in line for the opportunity of a lifetime! You want to be rich? Seriously and disgustingly overflowing with money? Then get yourself elected. Go out there and harvest the votes of your country-fellows and, abracadabra!-a seat in the National Assembly. If carefully invested, those votes turn into money; perhaps not literally, but the analysis published by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) tells us that the average value of the declared