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Friday, September 17, 2010

EDITORIAL 17.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 17, edition 000628, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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













































































Given the country's brisk economic progress over the last decade and the strong fundamentals of the national economy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's desire for an annual growth rate of nine to 10 per cent may well be realised, if not this year, then maybe in the following year, unless things go horribly wrong both at home and abroad. But the unfortunate truth is that such milestones of 'progress' have had little impact on the well-being of the overwhelming majority of our population that continues to struggle for two square meals a day and is yet to get assured access to the most basic health and civic amenities. The so-called 'trickle down theory' has apparently not worked because funds meant to reach beneficiaries down the ladder have been stealthily stolen and stashed away abroad by dishonest politicians and unscrupulous corporates. A report prepared by Global Financial Integrity — an international organisation that keeps track of illicit conduct of business — suggests that Indian politicians and corporates have siphoned off more than $ 125 billion from funds earmarked for inclusive growth across the country between 2000 and 2008. This is not surprising, given the all-pervasive corruption in our country. Somehow we seem to have come to terms with this shameful reality: This is evident from the fact that as a nation are becoming increasingly indifferent to corruption and its impact. To his credit, veteran BJP leader LK Advani did try to raise the issue of tracking India's stolen wealth stashed in Swiss banks by individuals and entities. But it was made fun of by the Congress and the urban elite which sees nothing wrong with public funds being used for personal aggrandisement in the most brazen manner. That the Congress-led UPA regime has not taken any steps to either track the money or get it back tells its own story, although Swiss banks have offered to cooperate with Governments seeking details of secret accounts.

One of the fallouts of cornering of wealth through illegal means has been the widening of the income gap among people. The GFI study reveals that income inequality has risen from 0.32 to 0.37 on a scale of 0-1 in 2000-05. Since there is nothing to suggest that things have changed for the better over the last half-a-decade, we can assume that the income gap has further widened, sabotaging well-meaning efforts to uplift the underprivileged. As a result, only the elite gets to enjoy the benefits of development. An underground or 'black' economy may be a spin-off of robust economic growth without appropriate tax reforms, but this is not something that the Union Government should be proud of or flaunt as one of its 'achievements'. How can it ignore the fact that siphoning of funds in this manner is possible only through a corrupt politician-bureaucrat-corporate nexus? It's no wonder that India is ranked at 84 in a list of 180 countries in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perception Index. The only way to move away from the 'least transparent' tag is to encourage greater openness through legislative protection to whistleblowers and exercise all available options to get hold of funds illegally parked abroad. But this is unlikely to happen. For evidence, look at the loot in the name of the Commonwealth Games. 








At its much-celebrated Millennium Summit, attended by world leaders with much enthusiasm, the United Nations had set eight 'Millennium Development Goals' for all member-countries to deal with what were — and still remain — the most pressing humanitarian problems in a manner so as to halve the rates of affliction in such areas of concern as disease, poverty and lack of basic education by 2015, compared with 1990. A decade later, a review of global realities suggests that although there has been a perceptible decline in poverty in most developing countries, some are still lagging behind. The UN now predicts that the percentage of people living in extreme poverty in developing countries is expected to fall to 15 per cent by 2015. If that were to come about, it would amount to considerable success in fighting poverty: In 1990, the comparable figure was 46 per cent. Understandably, much of the success is on account of the tremendous economic growth in China and India, but other smaller countries, for instance Thailand, have also performed well. On the other hand, there are countries like Pakistan and Philippines which have lagged behind for a variety of reasons endemic to their culture, society and politics. For instance, much of Pakistan's resources, a bulk of which is mobilised by way of development aid, especially from an obliging America, strangely disappears after it reaches that country. It would not be incorrect to suggest that a large portion of it gets diverted to fighting imaginary and real wars by an Army whose Generals maintain healthy bank accounts (though not necessarily in Pakistani banks), but a part of it also goes into facilitating that country's politicians keeping up appearances, most noticeably with diamond cuff-links.

But it's not Pakistan alone whose failure to meet the Millennium Development Goals (compounded by this monsoon's devastating floods which have pauperised millions living on the margins) that will drag down the grand project for a better world, free of hunger, disease and illiteracy. Other factors will have a telling impact too. For instance, the ever-rising cost of food on account of speculators thriving on the misery of millions and the price of oil, hostage to great power politics, continue to play spoilsport for countries that have also failed on another crucial front: Population stabilisation. As today's opeditorial on poverty reduction explains, countries like India and Philippines are caught in a vicious circle of poverty breeding further poverty. India's impressive economic growth has enabled it to cope with poverty but not necessarily reduce it significantly, as China has done with great effect. Are we then moving towards a situation where the political class will have to take a call on what has been kept off the agenda of governance till now — namely, forcing the population to stabilise? 








Fellow travellers of causes Left and Right have long been a political hazard. The occupant of the British throne, Edward VIII, was a Hitler sympathiser; other exalted Britons were under Mussolini's spell because the Duce made Italy's "trains run on time". The eminent Cambridge economist Joan Robinson uttered rhapsodies to Chairman Mao's Great Leap Forward and People's Communes. She wrote a Penguin eulogy to the Cultural Revolution. Just before her death, Prof Robinson remarked plaintively that she had no understanding of China, Beijing having invaded Vietnam, in February 1979, "to teach it a lesson as India had been taught a lesson in 1962". Things fell apart for a distinguished intellect. 

The blood-dimmed tides were loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence was drowned, as credible stories of a tragedy without parallel in human history began to emerge. Frank Dikotter's deeply researched tome — Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 estimates that 45 million people perished during those bitter years. 

Today, sections of the British media, including the BBC, and a gaggle of Left-wing activists are, like many useful idiots before them, apologists, this time for Islamism and its burden of victimhood. They believe they are befriending the underdog. 

In the aftermath of the London bombings of July 7, 2005, The Times's Europe Correspondent, Anthony Browne, fired this broadside: "Islamic radicals, like Hitler, cultivate support by nurturing grievances against others. Islamists, like Hitler scapegoat Jews for their problems and want to destroy them... Hitler divided the world into Aryans and sub-human non-Aryans, while Islamists divide the world into Muslims and sub-human infidels. Nazis aimed for their Thousand Year Reich, while Islamists aim for their eternal Caliphate. The Nazi party used terror to achieve power, and from London to Amsterdam, Bali to New York (and Mumbai)... Islamists are trying to do the same... Even post-bombing, Britain has a long way to go in its understanding of Islamic fascism. The tragedy is that we start daring to understand it only when innocent lives are lost."

These words should constitute a warning to the Indian establishment in their ritual hunts for the philosopher's stone of political correctness even as the barbarians muster at the Kashmiri gate. VP Menon, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's principal aide, apropos of the Pakistan-sponsored Pathan invasion of the Kashmir valley in October 1947, wrote of centuries-old descents into India of marauders from Central Asia. The first thing the new Islamic state of Pakistan had done was to repeat the exercise: Srinagar today, Delhi tomorrow, he warned. A nation that forgets its history and its geography will be condemned to suffer the fraught experience of its past. India cannot be afraid of its own shadow, concluded this wise servant of state, whose ripe wisdom India's present guardians will ignore at their (and the country's) peril.

Kashmir's separatist jihadis have issued a primordial challenge to the Government in New Delhi: Their goal is the creation of an Islamic state complete with sharia'h: Death by stoning, beheadings, floggings, amputations and much else to follow in due course, including the mandatory burqa. The exalted musings of the Persian Sufi poet Rumi have not prevented the appearance of an Ayatollah-ruled Iran, so be warned. Hallucinogenic twaddle about human rights and governance is an opiate to dull the pain of Kashmir's ultimate severance from the Indian body politic. 

A disingenuous BBC radio programme involving the Corporation's Srinagar stringer Altaf Hussain and anchor Julian Marshal was notable for stock cliches, elisions and evasions and myriad economies with the truth. Burning Christian schools and Government buildings are presumably an accepted spectator sport; police retaliation is an un-constitutional response. No mention was made of the ethnic cleansing of Kashmir's Hindu Pandit community — theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die. Amy Kazmin, the Financial Times Delhi-based correspondent, wrote sourly of "de facto Army rule in Kashmir", among a multitude of other Indian failings compared to the striking successes of the Chinese, Herrenvolk associates of the West. 

For an antidote and restorative turn to Fidel Castro, who told his Atlantic magazine interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg that the Iranian Government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. "I don't think anyone has been slandered as much as the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims... they (the Jews) are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything. The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares with the Holocaust," said Fidel.

The late Nahum Goldman, Jewish patriarch extraordinary, in a newspaper article in 1979, a few years prior to his death, referred to the generosity of democratic and Communist nations towards the Jewish people after the defeat of Nazi Germany. He wrote: "To illustrate this, I quote the talk which Benes (the Czech leader and former President) had, on Chaim Weizmann's (first President of Israel) and my request, with Stalin during the Second World War, asking for Russian support of a Jewish state. Stalin then answered him: 'We know what the Jews suffered during the war and we will do our best to repair it'. " And so it came to pass that the USSR voted for the creation of the state of Israel at the United Nations in November 1949. There is no good reason for Left-wing amnesia.

At the conclusion of a recent visit to Russia, the Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told his hosts in Moscow: "We know the truth: The state of Israel would not exist if the Red Army had not defeated fascist Germany." Russia and Israel have signed a landmark defence accord. Such news items do not as a rule find favour with Western agencies.

The writer and journalist Patrick Cockburn, a man of the Left, as it happens, writes: "The persecution of Christian communities across the Muslim world has escalated rapidly since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." The Christian population in West Asia has declined, he said. Mr Cockburn related the horrific case of a Pakistani Christian family, in the Punjabi town of Gojra, burned to death on the false rumour that that a local man had set fire to a copy of the Quran.

Zaid Hamid, a Pakistani defence analyst, much given to ranting at Zionist-Hindu conspiracies on television, roared recently of Pakistani nuclear retaliation against Israel and India, should either nation dare attack Pakistan. With floods and suicide bombers wreaking havoc, why should any country wish to undertake this unnecessary expense? 

"A whiff of grapeshot" was Napoleon's prescription for unruly mobs. It doesn't require genius to bring the Kashmir jihadis to heel, a firm hand will do. Remember Shakespeare's words: "Be bloody, bold and resolute."









Instead of creating such hype over the Commonwealth Games, India should have long ago stopped participating in such slavish events. Given this view, one shouldn't be writing about the Commonwealth Games at all. However, a flood of e-mails requesting me to write on the Games made me change my mind.

But I do not plan to write about all the corruption-related allegations, as a lot has been said by senior journalists in the most hard-hitting manner already. Also, for everything in India, we have a scam. 


How could one ever expect that the Government will plan such a huge event without politicians making money? I will end my reference to the scam by citing one of the many SMS messages on CWG doing the rounds: "What a lovely anagram... Unscramble 'Sir, u made lakhs', and you get 'Suresh Kalmadi'."

Having said that, let me now tell you why I detest the very idea of the Commonwealth Games. Of course, I agree with Mr Manishankar Aiyar wholeheartedly when he says that instead of spending so much money on the Games we should have developed sportspersons and made investments to create an environment conducive to world class sports in India. 

The money spent on CWG would have sufficed to develop world class sports facilities not just throughout India, but perhaps the whole of the developing world. 

We know that the Chinese did not participate in the Olympic Games and waste money till they became competent enough to do justice to the size of their nation. In the history of Olympics, we are the nation with the least number of medals. But that doesn't shame our Ministers or tempt them to do anything about it — the lure of corruption, however, always works.

The Commonwealth Games were not called 'Commonwealth Games' till 1978. They began as the British Empire Games in 1930. That's the origin of the CWG that India is so meaninglessly getting excited about. In 1954, the Games were renamed the British Empire and Commonwealth Games; and then the British Commonwealth Games in 1970.

The event was meant to celebrate the British Empire. And it brought together all the nations that Great Britain once ruled, to play and feel like equals for a fortnight. It was officially suggested as a means to increase the goodwill and understanding of the British Empire and the first games took place in 1911 as the 'Festival of the Empire'.

The big event before the CWG is called the Queen's baton relay and is supposed to be like the Olympic torch relay. Why is it called the Queen's baton relay? Well, what else do you call the relay around the world before the games to celebrate the British Empire? The baton carries the message from the head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II. 

Till 1994, the relay, but obviously, was restricted to England to remind the English about their past colonial power. The baton now travels through some 20 countries where celebrities fight with each other to run with it to carry the message of what was once the British Empire and is at present referred to as the Commonwealth of Nations! 

Only two erstwhile colonies of the British Empire — Burma and Aden — decided not to become members of the Commonwealth of Nations after their independence. All the 54 countries, barring these two, which form the Commonwealth, are part of the erstwhile British Empire.

By 1978, the world had grown mature enough to be critical of colonialism. And with changing times, it was only intelligent enough to change the name of the games to Commonwealth Games to keep the old colonial games alive. Thus the new name. But it still remains a game of erstwhile colonies. The only two states that were not British colonies but have been granted membership of the Commonwealth of Nations to change the colonial flavour of the organisation are Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, and Rwanda, a former German colony. Their admission was considered exceptional. 

Perhaps, the biggest insult of being a member of the Commonwealth of Nations is that originally, when the games started, it required acceptance of dominionhood; this was later modified in 1949 when it was made mandatory for member countries to recognise the British monarch as the Head of the Commonwealth. Of course, there are also so-called greater values that the Commonwealth stands for — world peace, racial equality, human rights, etc.

After reading all this, if you still want to be a part of the celebrations around these slavish games, then please go ahead. In my opinion, we have the United Nations, we have the non-aligned nations. We don't need Commonwealth. It's time India considers withdrawing its membership from the slavish Commonwealth of Nations itself. It's a shame that instead of doing that, we are busy celebrating the CWG which are nothing but a celebration of the erstwhile British Empire. 

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








Investors, when denied permission to set up big projects in ecologically fragile zones, often resort to arm-twisting in a bid to have their way. Promoters of the European Technology Park in Manger, Faridabad, a green haven in Haryana's battered Aravalli hills, are threatening to take their project elsewhere after being denied clearance by the Union Environment and Forests Ministry and Haryana forest department. Mr Harish Mehta, director (Indian affairs), of the Dutch Haryana Business Consortium, said as much, referring to the "huge investments from Europe", which are meant to create a plethora of fancy residential units, villas and low-rise multistoried apartments, and an academic zone over an estimated 500 acres. 

However, with nearby Gurgaon being replete with similar structures, with many lying vacant in the absence of buyers, there can be no justification for colonising a rich biodiversity zone. Supply is already more than the demand, given the exorbitant cost of housing. Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Corporation is reportedly scouting around for another site in Faridabad or Gurgaon for promoters of the European Technology Park. A memorandum of understanding had apparently been signed between the promoters and the Corporation in the Netherlands in October 2006. Activists had dismissed HSIDC as 'a property dealer', out to grab prime land in forest areas and an agricultural belt by divesting local people of ancestral land and houses. They also pointed out that instead of letting land owners negotiate prices directly with the promoters, HSIDC's intent was to acquire land cheap and hand it over to the promoters. 

Equally reprehensible was the fact that part of the earmarked area belonged to a forest zone, as notified under the Punjab Land Preservation Act, and so, could not be used for non-forest purposes. The stray leopard still appears, and wild hares, jackals, mongoose, snakes and other wildlife abound. The preponderance of peacocks and their mates are a reminder that the region is the gateway to Brajbhumi, the land where the divine Radha-Krishna story unfolded. However, further afield in Uttar Pradesh, townships planned along the Yamuna Expressway by the Mayawati-headed BSP Government, threaten to demolish an important part of this great heritage. Indiscriminate development in Vrindavan and its surroundings already threatens the mystique of Brajbhumi, with green cover and water bodies disappearing, and hills being dynamited, pitted and levelled. Conservationists have raised the alarm over this senseless destruction, which, if not arrested, will change the character of Brajbhumi. 

In the case of Manger, many local people opposed the project also on religious grounds as a section of the forest, called Mangerbani, is considered sacred. It was home to Gadaria Baba, a mystic, over five centuries ago, and by his order, not a twig can be broken or any living creature harmed in the bani. His followers even today offer worship at his shrine, inside the bani. They had submitted a petition against the project to the concerned authorities. In order to protect the area against future assaults and encroachment, declaring it a wildlife reserve may be the best course.

It is with great difficulty and after prolonged litigation that environmentalists managed to get the relentless mining in these hills, which stretch from Haryana, through Rajasthan and Gujarat into Pakistan, stopped or reduced. In May 2009, after sustained campaigning by opponents, the Supreme Court extended the ban on mining in an area of about 450 square kilometres, across Faridabad, Gurgaon and Mewat districts of Haryana. The apex court this February banned mining in 157 mines in the Aravallis. Applications for renewal of their lease were pending with the Rajasthan Government. Even judges presiding over cases against continued mining in the Aravallis acknowledge that this range acts as a buffer between the capital and the Thar Desert, which, otherwise, may well creep upon Delhi. Given their importance, it is all the more necessary for policy-makers to initiate remedial measures for their revival.

Perhaps, what is needed is a development ethos, suited to India's needs, historical legacy and culture. Deriding the mania for mindless westernisation, Swami Vivekanand long ago observed: "They (Japan) have taken everything from the Europeans, but they remain Japanese all the same, and have not turned European; while in our country, the terrible mania of becoming westernised has seized upon us like a plague".


It is the crux of the problem, exacerbated by the huge inflow of funds from outside for development projects. For the growth agenda laid down does not necessarily conform to ground realities. And as the nation chases the chimera of greatness, the swami's words are as relevant today as they were over a century ago. 







When Mr Omar Abdullah took over as Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir in January 2009 after a well-turned out Assembly elections, there was a ray of hope that things may look up in the Kashmir Valley. It was expected that the young Chief Minister might usher in peace and development in the State. However, what is happening since June is a saga of disappointment. The State has plunged into a first class crisis owing to mishandling of local issues and callousness. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's initiative in involving all political parties in decision-making is a good move. He is trying to reach out to separatists and send the message that the Union Government is willing to talk to all groups provided they shun violence. Everyone has agreed that dialogue is the only way forward but has held on to their divergent political views. The immediate follow-up is the visit of an all-party delegation to the Kashmir Valley to interact with the local people and find out their grievances first hand. Unless political parties both at the national and the State levels rise above petty politics and arrive at a consensus to implement a bold political process, there can be no way forward. As the Cabinet Committee on Security had noted, priority should be placed on addressing trust deficit and governance deficit. The other important demand made by Mr Abdullah to dilute or withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is also on hold, awaiting consensus. 

Although Mr Singh is dreaming of finding a solution to the Jammu & Kashmir issue, any forward movement on the matter is still eluding him. Mr Singh, himself, admitted recently that he could not produce a rabbit out of his hat and counseled patience. What is disappointing is that he had convened a round-table three times and had set up five working groups on the subject which have submitted their reports but these are gathering dust. Mr Singh has visited Kashmir six times but his trips have led to no tangible result. During his June visit, the Prime Minister desisted from picking up the threads of his earlier parleys with the State leaders in order to allow political space to the young Chief Minister. 

If those in power in New Delhi and Srinagar believed that a good turnout witnessed in the Assembly polls signified popular approval to Kashmir's integration with India, they have been proved wrong. Neither the Union Government nor the State Government has been able to read the signals correctly. Protests have been simmering since June and have taken weeks to assume its current explosive dimensions. 

A number of factors have led to the present crisis which is, to begin with, a culmination of two years of drift and inaction since Mr Abdullah took over. Poor governance and lack of development have disenchanted the people. The frustration of the youth who want jobs, health and education has added to the crisis. The new generation of youth resents the presence of security forces as it grew up in a climate of militancy and repression. Moreover, the security-mindedness of the Union and State Governments has irked the people of the Kashmir Valley. Above all, Mr Abdullah has turned out to be a misfit in Kashmir politics. His failure to develop effective administrative instruments and resentments brewing in the rank and file of his party ensured that the National Conference ceded authority to secessionists. His style of functioning and continued weekend trips to Delhi was not welcomed by all. His choice of advisers and inability to reach out to the youth is also a major reason for the unrest. In fact, Mr Abdullah is currently being held responsible in many ways for the turmoil in Kashmir today. 

Neither the National Conference nor the Congress has tried to bridge the gap between the people and the Government with the result that young protestors have filled the vacuum. The All India Hurriyat Conference which had been in a shambles has used this opportunity to revive itself. For decades, Pakistan has been trying to claim Kashmir by sponsoring militancy in the State. Its job has been facilitated by the widespread disillusionment and disappointment among its people. 

The Government is now looking at its options in its bid to end the crisis in the Kashmir Valley. A takeover by National Conference president and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah would mean the end of the road for Mr Omar Abdullah. A second solution could be in the form of an alternative Chief Minister from the party but there is no one of that stature among its leadership. The Congress could nominate a Chief Minister in such a situation but the high command is not keen to do so. The fourth option for the Congress is to join forces with the People's Democratic Party and form Government but it does not have the required numbers. Governor's rule in the State is the last resort. However, the Congress is not keen on the same as it prefers a buffer between the State and the Centre. For the present, it has decided to merely prompt Mr Abdullah to take requisite action. It has asked him to restore law and order in the State and promised all help for the purpose.


However, a bigger economic package and resumption of dialogue may not be enough to resolve the present situation. The Government should provide confidence to the people that they will find a solution. Restoring law and order, resolving political and economic problems and, above all, guaranteeing security to life and freedom of movement are the real issues for the people. Any delay in reaching out to them may be construed as insensitivity of the Government to their sentiments. In short, it is time to act and instill confidence in the people of the Kashmir Valley. Dialogue should follow this exercise. With the impending visit of US President Barack Obama to India, the situation is likely to get worse as separatists have always utilised such occasions to their advantage. Hence, the Government must act now and act decisively. 







It is lunchtime, but the cooking pots are empty outside Nurain Dimalao's shack in Manila, capital city of the Philippines. Her seven-year-old son plays amid the flies in garbage-strewn sand. She worries where his next meal will come from.

Baseco Compound, a shantytown of 50,000 people on the edge of Manila Bay, is the familiar face of poverty in villages and urban slums around the world. Yet there's also good news, albeit qualified: Worldwide, the poor are getting less poor, although not everywhere.

The share of the population of developing regions whose people live in extreme poverty is expected to fall to 15 per cent by 2015, down from 46 per cent in 1990, according to the United Nations. The gains stem largely from robust economic growth in countries such as China and India, the world's two most populous countries.

Ten years ago, the UN set eight 'Millennium Development Goals' to tackle the world's most pressing humanitarian problems by halving rates of affliction in such areas as disease, poverty and lack of basic education by 2015, compared with 1990. As leaders will hear next week at a UN summit in New York, the overall success in cutting extreme poverty is patchy from region to region.

According to the World Bank, much of Asia already has met or is on its way to meeting the goal, and Latin America is on track to more than halve its rate from 11 per cent in 1990 to five per cent in 2015; sub-Saharan Africa is likely to fall short at a projected 38 per cent. It was 58 per cent in 1990.

In China, whose economy this year officially surpassed Japan's as the world's second largest, the number living below the international poverty line fell from 60.2 per cent in 1990 to 15.9 per cent in 2005. By 2015, it is forecast to be five per cent.

By a UN measure of living on less than $ 1.25 a day, some 254 million Chinese remain in extreme poverty. The Chinese Government uses a poverty line of $ 190 in annual income, or about 52 cents a day, and 40 million Chinese fall below that. Those bedrock poor are mostly farmers and nomads, mainly from minority ethnic groups in remote areas.

Farmers in central China's Funiu mountains were among the poorest just a few years ago. In Chongdugou village, families wove bamboo mats to peddle for food.

Change came as it did to many villages in China — through an idea and a road. A local official thought the area's forested mountains and waterfalls could draw tourists, so he drummed up funding to pave the dirt track that was the sole path in and out of Chongdugou.

Today almost all the village's 350-plus families are involved in tourism. In the 1990s, "people could only feed themselves, and some even starved. Children could not afford to go to school, and many could not even finish primary school," said Liu Jiandang, a 41-year-old former farmer, "Now, we've got paved roads, new houses, phones and vehicles."

India has not been as successful, but the UN says it is nonetheless on track to cut its poverty rate from 51 per cent in 1990 to 24 percent in 2015. India's economy grew 8.8 per cent in the second quarter of this year. But as in most places, the prosperity is not shared evenly.

Even if the poor comprise only 15 per cent of the developing world's population by 2015, as the UN projects, that would still leave 920 million people in extreme poverty. Dimalao, in the Manila slum, may well be one of them.

The Philippines issued a progress report this month that lowered its chances of meeting three out of four poverty-related goals by 2015. The report said 32.6 per cent of Filipinos were below the poverty line in 2006, and suggested the Philippines could miss the UN goal for 2015. The Government blamed rising food and oil prices, slower income growth and faster population growth and warned that bleaker times may lie ahead.

United Nations officials point out that some nearby countries, such as Thailand, which has tempered its population growth, increased economic output and reduced poverty rates, already are setting bolder targets above the Millennium Development Goals.

In India, the Union Government runs the massive National Rural Employment Guaranteee programme that guarantees all rural families 100 days of work a year at a wage of `100 a day.

In the village of Suwana in Rajasthan, Vimla Sharma said her family scraped by on her husband's meagre earnings from working at a temple before she signed up for NREGS two years ago. The extra money has allowed her to add a room and a kitchen to her house and send her teenage daughter to school. The programme "has made it possible for us to take care of our household needs."

She only wishes the NREGS could be extended. "There are 100 days of work in a year," she said. "Once these 100 days are over, what will the women do?"

-- AP writers Charles Hutzler in Beijing and Shivani Rawat in Suwana, India, contributed to this report. 








THE government has clearly caved in to political and trade union pressure in announcing a one per cent hike in the interest payable on employee savings held in provident fund accounts.


While the salaried, a percentage of whose income is statutorily pre- empted under the Provident Fund Act, have welcomed the increase in interest to 9.5 per cent, which will offset to some extent the erosion in the real worth of their savings caused by more than a year of sustained double digit inflation, they would be well advised to balance the benefits of an immediate short- term increase in the notional earnings of their savings versus the growing long- term threat to the safety of their capital as a result of the move.


The fact is that the Employee Provident Fund Organisation, which manages the savings held in the provident fund accounts, is in no position to pay out even the earlier rate of 8.5 per cent interest, leave alone 9.5 per cent.


By overruling the EPFO board's earlier recommendation of maintaining the interest at 8.5 per cent, the government has put a staggering Rs 716 crore deficit in the EPFO's account.


Paying out an enhanced interest rate at this juncture is financially foolish. Paying out the money from the ' forfeited' funds of PF account holders — which is how the EPFO is proposing to bridge the gap — is tantamount to a Ponzi scheme, using Peter's money to pay Paul.


After all, no employee willingly forfeits hardearned money. The reason there is unclaimed money in the coffers is because of the red tape and bureaucratic inefficiencies of the EPFO, which makes transferring or withdrawing funds tedious. The interest of employees would have been better served by investing this reserve fund in cleaning up the EPFO's act.







TRUTH to tell, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit's September 15th deadline for the clearing of debris and completion of civic works across the city was already cutting it a little too fine, with the Commonwealth Games less than three weeks away. That the civic agencies have failed to meet even this deadline is a cause for serious worry.


Ideally this period should have been reserved for testing systems and procedures, performing security drills, examining hospitality arrangements at the Games venues.


The first major batch of delegates is due to arrive next week and the city seems in no position to welcome them.


Even though it was Ms Dikshit who announced the deadline, much of the uncompleted work like the renovation of Connaught Place is the responsibility of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation which doesn't fall under the purview of the Delhi government.


It is this lack of coordination between the various civic agencies that is the main reason behind the mismanagement of the Gamesrelated construction.


Having said that, work at most of the Games venues as well as construction across the city have significantly picked up over the last few weeks and the engineers and other on- site workers deserve credit for accomplishing this in spite of the unprecedented rains.







THE inadequacy of India's food safety regulations has been exposed once again with the damning evidence about the presence of antibiotics in branded honey sold in the market.


The Centre for Science and Environment had earlier done a similar expose about pesticides in bottled water and soft drinks.


Existing regulations such as the Honey Grading and Marking Rules define honey as a ' natural product' and do not prescribe standards for antibiotics or other contaminants in it.


Clearly, our regulators are oblivious of ground realities. Honey is no more a natural product made only of nectar and beekeeping no more a cottage industry. Beekeeping has become an industry which feeds large manufacturers of so- called natural products.


Antibiotics — including those banned in the West — are being openly used to control and prevent outbreaks of diseases in honeybees.


Consuming such honey poses grave threat to human health. It is high time the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India wakes up from its slumber and sets standards for pesticide content in all food products.








India is already lagging in the competition for satellite- based mobile services


EVEN before the dust has settled in the 2G spectrum allocation scandal — in fact, with the Supreme Court serving notice to Telecom Minister A Raja and others on the issue, it looks like the last word is a long way from being said on the scandal- ridden issue — another controversy could well be around the corner.


This time, it is on the issue of the use of the spectrum available with India's space agencies for space- based communications.


This is threatening to not only derail India's thrust into satellite- based mobile services, but its hard- won advantage in utilising space- based spectrum.


There is also considerable risk to India's long term strategic interests if the current bid is scuppered, something which the government has been inexplicably silent on.


Typically, the ' controversy' has so far been restricted to the media. The department of space, the Indian Space Research Organisation, Devas Multimedia, the company which has leased spectrum for satellite based mobile services — have all been silent on the issue, as indeed the existing mobile service operators or their lobbies.




But it is not too difficult to see who the interested parties are. Terrestrial mobile service operators are clearly upset that after paying over Rs one lakh crore for 3G spectrum in the recently concluded auctions, an alternative, space- based spectrum option is going to someone for what appears, on the surface, to be a significantly lesser sum.


The issue, unfortunately, is not as simple as that. Space may be the final frontier, but it is a frontier which does not enjoy the happy absence of rules and regulations to be found in old- fashioned frontier country. Yes, here, as in any frontier, fortune favours the brave pioneer.


First come is first served, so those nations which make the effort to put physical assets into space do reap the bounty.


But the laws of physics remain the same for everybody, and the available radio spectrum for any space- based application is limited. And, unlike terrestrial networks, any asset in space — like a satellite — has a footprint much larger than the sovereign territory of the country which has put it up there, so there have to be some rules everybody has to play by.


These rules are very simple. First come is first served. Space based spectrum is allocated between competing nations on a ' take it or leave it' basis. If India doesn't occupy a certain spectrum or orbital position, within a time span of some eight years, that is given to anybody else who wants it.


That is not all. In order to prevent the ' hoarding' of a scarce global resource, one more rule is applied — use it or lose it. In other words, once a country has filed for a certain spectrum allocation, if it fails to operationalise assets and services in that spectrum within the timeframe specified by the International Telecommunications Union ( ITU) — a global body which oversees telecommunications affairs — then it has to make way for anybody else who is ready and willing to occupy that space.


Of the entire spectrum allocation for space services, the 1- 3 gigahertz ( GHz) frequency range has special significance.


The physics of radio waves is immutable, so only a certain range of spectrum is suitable for certain types of services. So, spectrum in the C band is used for television, as India successfully managed to do with its INSAT series of satellites and the nationwide spread of television services relayed from these satellites.


The Ku band is more suited for smaller aperture terminals and has been used by direct to home ( DTH) television and VSAT operators.




For any kind of mobile service, which would rely on a hand held or at best manually portable receiving device, only the S band offers the necessary technical and operational characteristics. The mammoth C band satellite antennae are still not an uncommon sight in Indian cities — just imagine a ' mobile' device which requires an antenna that size! India has already lost much headway in this area. Only three sub bands ( L band, 2 GHz S1 band, 2.5 GHz S band) in the 1- 3 GHz frequency range are used for space services, out of which India has access to only one band i. e. 2.5 GHz S Band. India has permanently lost the right to use any spectrum in the E, L, extended L and L2 bands, as well as the S1 bands, due to past errors of judgment and inaction.


In the remaining part of the S band, of the 247 filings currently with the ITU, 106 are by India. This places us in an advantageous position in exploiting spacebased spectrum for mobile services.


But here too, there is a catch. Two catches, rather. First, the fact that ITU Radio Regulatory procedures are based on a " first come first served" and " use it or lose it" basis. You have to be not only first in filing for spectrum, but you also have to actually begin using it.


This is not as simple as it appears. The ITU Radio Regulatory procedures also include due diligence process in order to facilitate the actual use of orbit- spectrum and prevent hoarding of resources.


Therefore satellite systems need to be brought into use within the time limits specified in the ITU RR provisions.


Once a filing has been received, a country has to co- ordinate with other nations which will be covered by the satellite's signal to ensure that there will be no interference with another nation's services.


Then one has to build a satellite, deploy it in space and start using the spectrum.


Here, catch number two appears. The orbit/ spectrum resource is the new ' black gold' of the post Industrial economy. It is " orbit/ spectrum" because its value can only be realised through the simultaneous exploitation of both the geostationary orbit and the spectrum.




The geostationary orbit, a ring of space 36,000 kms above the earth, is where a satellite needs to be placed to ensure that it occupies the same spot relative to the earth at all times. These fixed ' geostationary' positions are extremely desirable because a non- geostationary satellite — the so- called low earth orbital satellites or LEOS — drift out of ' sight' of a terrestrial receiver, which means they cannot function as a fixed relay station signals between geographically separated devices.


Such parking slots are limited. Here too, in order to prevent hoarding, one has to not only claim a slot, but actually have a satellite occupying the space within that specified time to avoid losing it.


But putting a satellite into geostationary orbit is not the same as erecting a telecom tower. It takes years of preparation and planning to do so. If we do not have satellites utilising the S band spectrum within the next couple of years, we run the very real risk of losing this asset.


Currently, ISRO is building a satellite, the first of a series, which is scheduled to be launched by the end of this year or early 2011. If this satellite fails to go up on time, we will be sent back to the end of the queue, which could mean several years.


This is the reason nations lobby decades in advance on such regulations.


India needs to have its own satellites in space for strategic and economic reasons, and needs to be using them as well. We have already lost irreplaceable space and spectrum by dithering on these issues. By now attempting to compare the apples of terrestrial spectrum with the oranges of space- based spectrum, we are once more busy shooting ourselves in the foot.







PRESIDENT Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani have both recently said that they are sanguine democracy will not be derailed in Pakistan.


Mian Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader, has also confirmed his support for the democratic system at hand. The US Af- Pak envoy visiting Pakistan these days, Richard Holbrooke, has pitched in with continuing US backing for " civilian democracy". Why is everyone suddenly so concerned about " democracy"? Is it under some sort of threat from non- democratic forces in the country? Conspiracy theories are choking the airwaves.


It is darkly rumoured that the military is weighing its options to " save the nation" once again from the " clutches" of " political vultures" operating under the guise of popular democrats.


Credibility is attached to the judgments, no less than the courtroom remarks, of the judges of the supreme court of Pakistan, which are increasingly eroding the legitimacy of the Zardari government. The scathing anti- democracy remarks of Altaf Hussain, the leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, exhorting " patriotic generals" to save the country through a ' bloody revolution" are grist for the rumour mills.


" Political Game theory" has overnight become a national pastime. One hotly debated option pits the supreme court and army against the government and parliament. Some people argue that, under Article 190 of the constitution, the SC can ask the army for " assistance" in compelling the government to implement its decisions, failing which it may approve its overthrow for " violating" the constitution! But this seems like a bizarre way of legitimising a coup in advance. Others are now putting forward a novel " in- house" solution to the problem of a " dysfunctional democracy". This is how it goes.


THERE are 342 members of the National Assembly. A majority of 172 is required to form and retain a government. The PPP has 127 MNAs, PMLN has 90, PMLQ has 51, MQM has 25, ANP has 13, JUIF has 8, FATA has 18 and there are 8 assorted ones. Two by- elections are pending. The current PPP led coalition government comprises the PPP, MQM, ANP, JUI and FATA. If the MQM, JUI and FATA were to pull out on a signal from the " coupsters" and launch a vote of no- confidence — for which 20 per cent or 68 votes are required — the PPP government would fall unless the PMLN or PMLQ were to rush to its defense. Since the PMLQ is " the army's party' and is likely to fall in line with the anti- PPP move, everything would then depend on Nawaz Sharif. If he is ready to make a coalition government with the PPP, parliament can be saved. If he isn't, fresh elections will have to be called.


But there's the rub. The SC can conceivably be petitioned to step in and postpone the elections on one pretext or another — as happened in 1988 after the death of General Zia ul Haq — and facilitate an interim government of technocrats, generals and judges to sort out " dysfunctional democracy" and " corrupt politicians" — especially in the PPP and PMLN — before enabling a better lot of politicians to enter the electoral stream.


The problem with this scenario is its critical dependence on Mr Sharif. Why should he opt for regime change and fresh elections if his own fate may hang in the balance? Equally, why should the " coupsters" launch a vote of no- confidence against the PPP if it ends up compelling the PPP and PMLN to embrace each other for the sake of their own long- term survival? Whatever the holes in these theories, one thing is clear. Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif, notwithstanding their strategically antagonistic positions and competing claims, desperately need each tactically in the short term. That is why they are both clutching at the coattails of the " moth- eaten democratic system" that is portrayed by the resurgent media as the bane of everyone's life for failing to deliver on any count.


The US, too, is lamely going along with the system because it cannot afford any disruption or instability that undermines the focus of the ruling party and army on the war against the Taliban in the run- up to next year's deadline for some troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as pledged by President Obama. It is significant that Mr Holbrooke has indicated, in the midst of offering flood relief and reiterating support for democracy, the implicit approval of the Pakistan army and government for the increased number of drone strikes in North Waziristan ( 17 so far this month).


Meanwhile, the economy, which is supposed to be the mainstay of democracy no less than that of national security, remains shipwrecked. The one option that can lay at rest all conspiratorial options is not being sufficiently explored.


WHY can't the government and opposition agree to jointly field a team of competent and honest politicians — and there are some who fit the bill admirably — to man the critical ministries that are bleeding? The appointments of the new finance minister, Hafeez Sheikh, governor of the state bank, Shahid Kardar, and deputy chairman Planning Commission, Nadeem- ul- Haq, are steps in the right direction.


Next in line should be Commerce, Energy, Production and Privatisation. If a true reform agenda is undertaken, there will be no need of, or demand for, regime or system change.


The writer is the editor of The Friday Times



I NEVER thought that I would live to see day when I would be saving gormint of Asif Zardari, hain ji. Butt far me, he was goner. It's been like this from Day One.


Going, going, gone! Why I should corroborate in his early departure, hain ji, when I want to establish principle that gormints should complete their fife years. And this is exactly what faujis don't want.


This is my rule of thum: what faujis want, I don't want. What they don't want, I want. Hain ji? Holbrooke he is here again. I think so he is gatting a bit fad up. One thing he has made clear, that oye, don't prattle on and on about Drons. All bombing in North Waziristan is done with blassings of faujis.


Clearly, Faujis have given permission to Amercans to drop their bums in FATA. On top, on top ( oopar, oopar say) they are having relations ( faujis and Amercans) but I know that inside their lentil is not boiling. Daal naheen gull rahee. Far both it is in armpit knife, in mouth Ram Ram. That is why faujis are keeping chanels open with Chinese. I heard recording of Fauji talking to Chinese general.


" Hi Fao Ji", said Chinese general, " Sum Ting Wong?" Fauji replied, " Yan- Ki Fa Kin Si Li". Chinese said, " Ai No". Fauji said, " Yan- Ki Stin Ki Pu". Chinese said, " Ai No". Fauji said, " Yan- Ki Say Kum Hia Nao. Wei Wa Na No Wei O Sa Ma. Yu No Wei O Sa Ma. Yu No Wei Mu La O Ma". Chinese said, " Wa Yu Du?" Fauji said, " We Lei Ying Lo. Ho Ping Yan- Ki Go A Wei". Chinese said, " Yan- Ki No Go A Wei. Yan- Ki No Dum Fuk. Zhe No Hu Yu Hai Ding." Fauji said, " Hu Wei Hai Ding?" Chinese said, " Ha Ka Ni". Fauji said, " Fa Kin Lei! Wi No Hai Ding Ha Ka Ni!" Chinese said, " Wai Yu So Dim? Yu No Yan- Ki No Dum Fuk. Yu Say Tu Ha Ka Ni No Pah King Hia". Fauji said, " If Ha Ka Ni Li Win, Yan- Ki Wi Ning. Zhen Yan- Ki Mun Ching Pa Kay Tan A Mei.


Yu Wan Dat? Yu Tink Dat Fa Kin Su Pah?" Chinese general said, " Wai Yu So Si Li? Wai Yu No Mai King Ma Ni? Wai Yu Go Wing So Lo? Yu Zhu Be Mai King Ma Ni So Yu Kan Say No Tu Yank- Ki." Then fauji said, " Hao Wei Kan Be Mai King Ma Ni Wei Dao Peace Wei Hin Du?" Chinese said, " Ma Ni, Ma Ni, Ma Ni! Iss A Rich Man's Wall!" PS: I am going to China far face lift because last night Chairman Mao is coming in my dream and saying, " Chin Tu Fat!" Love, NS








The roster of winners at the 57th National Film Awards for 2009 makes for interesting reading. The best actor award has gone to Amitabh Bachchan for his role as a progeria-affected adolescent in Paa the movie also won the best Hindi film award. 3 Idiots, a movie about the higher education system's shortcomings among other things, snagged the best popular film award. Going by their themes, these films represent Cinema with a capital C, moving meditations on socially relevant issues. Yet, as their box-office takings proved, they are anything but. They have a message, yes, but they are not just message movies. Their social conscience is polished to a glossy sheen, and tailored for mass consumption. This is a clear indicator of Hindi cinema's evolution over the past decade-and-a-half or so. 

A look at past National Film Award winners provides some insight into how the paradigm has shifted. Among those whose movies regularly took home the honours were names such as Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen and Govind Nihalani, directors with impeccable parallel cinema credentials. At the other end of the spectrum were the likes of Yash Chopra and Sooraj Barjatya, purveyors of the brand of frothy, mass entertainment that had ruled the box office for decades. They bagged the almost-comically named National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment year after year. The distinction was clear. 

Since the early part of the past decade, this distinction has blurred. Hindi cinema can no longer be so clearly classified. This is partly to do with the economics of the industry: the multiplex model means shorter runs at the theatre as well as shorter running times to minimise the turnaround period between shows and to maximise collections. This has naturally led to a tightening of the formula plots that have dominated Bollywood for so long. The other factor is the emergence of a generation of directors whose artistic sensibilities have been shaped post-liberalisation. They operate in a changed socio-political milieu and are as familiar with the quirky cinematic idiom of, say, the Coen brothers or Tarantino as they are with Bollywood potboilers. This breed of directors makes experimental cinema of a kind that may have been seen as an impossible gamble in the era of single-screen theatres. 

Innovation is work in progress, of course. Countries such as Iran and South Korea have been turning out cinema on par with the best the West has to offer for a long time now. But not only has Hindi cinema come a long way, it has demonstrated its capacity for reinvention. The best is yet to come.







The move to include Mandarin in the CBSE curriculum is welcome. However, lack of teachers proficient in this Chinese language and standardised texts could hamper the effort. Steps were initiated to overcome these hurdles during HRD minister Kapil Sibal's China visit. What the minister said in Beijing makes a lot of sense. The two giant neighbours, which are also partners in trade, need to understand each other to make the best of each other's needs and strengths. 

What better way than to introduce each other's language in their respective education systems. The proposal to institute an exchange programme of scholars between the two countries and cooperation among universities also has a similar logic to it. There is an urgent need in both countries to know each other better. People-to-people contact must supplement interactions among state officials and could help build mutual trust. One way to facilitate such interaction is to create avenues to learn each other's language and familiarise with the cultural coordinates of the respective societies. 

Culture, of course, is a manifestation of a country's soft power. There's fear in some circles that Beijing could use its soft power to promote its political and economic interests. These fears are exaggerated. It is in India's long-term interest that there are avenues and platforms to know more about China. Learning Mandarin is just one of them. 

There needs to be more initiatives public and private to understand Chinese culture and minds. The economic benefits of knowing the language of a people who are soon to become the world's largest consumer block are too obvious to be stated here. But even from a strategic perspective it is useful to be familiar with developments and debates within China. Beijing, with its emphasis on teaching English and even languages like Hindi to Chinese citizens, is doing precisely that.








It is estimated 142 million Indian children are denied access to primary and secondary education due to inadequate schools or social and family conditions. That number is bigger than the entire population of Japan. If 'out of school' Indian children had a country of their own, it would be among the 10 most populated in the world. 

These children are tomorrow's workers part of India's 'demographic dividend' for the early 21st century. Yet, if they are left uneducated (or undereducated), India will not achieve many of the social and economic goals it has set itself. As such, getting them into the classroom has to be a national priority. 

In theory, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act known more conveniently as the Right to Education or RTE Act seeks to achieve this. Its aspiration is noble, but progress since the law came into effect on April 1, 2010, has been decidedly slow and confusing. It has recommended that 25 per cent of all seats in every school be set aside for free education to children from economically and socially weaker sections.

Since education is a concurrent subject in India, the implementation of RTE provisions is really in the hands of the states. Each state government has to frame rules on how it plans to roll out the RTE law and achieve its aims. In the past few weeks, several states have released their draft rules. The Union human resources development (HRD) ministry has also offered its opinion on a number of issues. 

Astonishingly, almost the entire RTE-related debate has been confined to how to enforce the 25 per cent quota in private schools. That aside, the education bureaucracies in the state governments are using the excuse of RTE to introduce clauses that have nothing to do with providing access to 'out of school' children but are simply control mechanisms meant to constrict the autonomy of private schools. 

For instance, the director of education, government of Delhi, already has wide-ranging powers under the Delhi School Education Act, 1973. The RTE draft rules harden the director's authority still more and give him unrestrained miscellaneous powers. The draft rules in Karnataka allow the state government to "fix the scale of fee...that can be collected by a private unaided institution". Since poor students admitted under the RTE Act won't be paying fees at all, why is this sentence needed?

There are other, pan-Indian angularities. The RTE Act is applicable from ages six to 14 or classes I to VIII. Should a municipal birth certificate not be available, how would the age of the child be determined? Some states have recommended legitimate alternative documents. For example, Goa has mandated a baptism certificate. 

Most states have ruled schools also accept self-declaration of a candidate's age by his parents. Some states have directed that "the school at its expense shall cause a medical examination of the child by a qualified doctor and enter the date of birth as certified by the doctor". All this is liable to create distortions and potentially lead to ridiculous situations such as an eight-year-old in class I. 

Further, there is the question of what happens to a child admitted to a private school under an RTE free-ship when he turns 15 or enters class IX. At this point, the subsidy offered by the state government to the school will cease. The school will be free to tell the pupil to pay full fees or leave. This will be legally correct but morally abominable. It will drive home India's essential inequality and non-egalitarianism to a young teenaged person and leave him to raw social conditions while three-fourths of the class moves up to the next opportunity. Neither the RTE law nor state-specific rules have any answer to this almighty conundrum. 

Frankly, this obsession with the admission leeway or otherwise to private schools is inexplicable. As recently as mid-August, the HRD minister added another twist when he announced that private schools would be permitted to admit the 75 per cent non-RTE children under various categories, provided selection within these categories was not in itself discriminatory and did not entail screening. This has set off another round of argument between education administrators and school principals. 

The tragedy is even if all private schools in India became optimally RTE-compliant, it will not mean much. Across the country, 93 per cent of school-going children go to government or government-aided institutions. In Delhi, the number is over 90 per cent. In Maharashtra, as per a government report of 2005, 90 per cent of the state's 67,885 primary schools are run by zila parishads and municipal bodies and charge no fees. 

If the RTE mission is to succeed, this is where the focus must lie: on augmenting the public school system. If all of those 142 million children currently out of school enrol for admission, India simply doesn't have the school buildings, the classrooms, the trained teachers and as one principal said only half-facetiously the sticks of chalk to cope. A massive supply-side problem is not being seriously addressed. Instead bureaucrats are manufacturing phantoms and pushing private schools, RTE activists and state governments towards inevitable litigation. In the process, one of the UPA government's flagship social sector initiatives is being derailed. 

The writer is a political commentator.



                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




Director of Rang De Basanti and Delhi-6, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, believes that Indian cinema needs to change to survive the onslaught of Hollywood. Mehra, who's just won a National Award for Delhi-6, speaks to Subhash K Jha: 

How far away are we from taking Indian cinema to the West? 
It's not happening at all. In fact, the reverse is happening. If you see the Indian box office last year, among the five biggest hits of the year the second biggest hit right behind 3 Idiots is Avatar. 

Earlier, even those Hollywood films, which broke records in other parts of the world, did not do so in India. Films like 2012 are being dubbed in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Bhojpuri. Hollywood cinema gives first-rate entertainment that we unfortunately can't. We have no reason to feel happy about Indian films going to 42 countries, blah blah. Only Indians are watching Indian films in those 42 countries. 

You recently spoke on the subject at the Wharton India Economic Forum in Philadelphia. What are your views? 
We need to forge a direction where we can Indianise entertainment even more. The more Indian we get the more global would our appeal be. And by Indian i don't mean the Bollywood song-and-dance formula. I tried to change the perception of Indian cinema with Delhi-6. I failed. I was far more successful with Rang De Basanti. 

For the first time in 100 years in a commercial Hindi film, all the songs were in the background. It worked. In Delhi-6 we took the musical form a step forward. We actually had the actors singing the songs. When we talk about entertainment, the question is, can India export our culture through movies? We've done it through music, literature and food, but not so much with movies. But to get the West interested in our curry we had to reduce the spice. Maybe that's what we need to do with cinema. 

But you feel Indian cinema has failed to make a global impact? 

We're living in a pond while there's an ocean out there. And we know nothing about swimming in that ocean. The West has effectually invaded the East through music and new media. Can we do it? Yes. But we need to do away with musicals. I think a gangster or a police officer, housewife or prostitute should not break into a song for every occasion. It's about time we broke out of folk theatre. 

We need to evolve as storytellers. When we make musicals let's go the whole hog and make musicals. India has gone global. So must cinema. We can't move forward with our eyes wide shut. Are we going to let Hollywood completely destroy Indian cinema like it did European cinema? Our cinema needs to provide more than just entertainment. And it needs to be definite about its identity? 


What is the identity of Indian cinema? 

There's no one rule and genre for Indian cinema. What works in metropolises may fail miserably in the smaller towns. I need to understand what would work in 2025. 

I can't delve into our past for inspiration. Also we need to cast in our films more carefully. We end up burdening Shah Rukh, Aamir and Ranbir Kapoor. You can't live off your stars. Don't expect stars to feed the directors. We need to be more careful with the writing and casting. The Economic Times houses need to set up funds for films where stars don't need to be cast. 






Roads in Delhi and the NCR now have a special lane meant only for Commonwealth Games-related traffic i.e., coaches carrying athletes, vehicles carrying officials, etc. Anyone else caught using this special lane will be slapped with a hefty fine.


This is an excellent idea and should be enlarged on. Indeed, many roads in Delhi already had a dedicated lane for buses the BRTS or Bus Rapid Transit System much before the city got the special CWG traffic lane. And, of course, much, much before it got the BRTS traffic lane, Delhi had the special VVIP lane, meant for netas, their numerous kith and kin, and even more numerous hangers-on, who travel in vehicles with phoo-phaa sirens and revolving red lights on their roofs, and which take up not just one special lane but the whole road as all other traffic is brought to a standstill by police personnel specially deployed for the purpose.

Having specific traffic lanes for specific categories of road-users makes a great deal of sense, considering the chaos and congestion that afflict not just Delhi's thoroughfares, but all our roads, all over the country. The special lane for the CWG traffic is only a temporary measure which will be done away with when the Games are over. But taking a tip from the CWG example, mightn't others jump onto the reserved lane bandwagon?

As experience in other fields has shown, reservations are a uniquely Indian phenomenon which is not just self-perpetuating but self-proliferating. In India, reservations tend to breed faster than jackrabbits. According to the laws of nature, you need at least two jackrabbits in order to get a third jackrabbit, followed by a fourth, fifth, and so on. Not so with reservations. You needed only one reservation for SCs/STs and before you can say Mandal there are as many different categories of reservations as there are Indians. In fact, if people like Lalu and Mulayam have their way, there may soon be more reservations than there are Indians because some individual Indians could lay claim to not one but two reservations.


For instance, if L and M get what they've been demanding, there'll be parliamentary reservations not just for women but also for OBC women. Similarly, there could be reservations for a number of minority communities, and within those reservations there could be another set of reservations like those Russian Matryoshka dolls that fit into each other, in smaller and smaller sizes for OBCs who belong to minority communities, as distinct from OBCs who belong to the majority community, and who've already got their own reservations.

In India, nothing succeeds like reservations. As such it's only logical to extend the reservations principle to roads, not just in Delhi, but all over the country. Apart from special lanes for minorities, OBCs, women, etc. there could be other reserved-lane categories. For example, in Mumbai, Raj and Uncle Bal might want a reserved lane for the exclusive use of Marathi manoos. Animal rights supporters led by Maneka Gandhi might demand a reserved lane for animals. However, as stray dogs, cows and other species of livestock already like Delhi's VVIPs with impunity make free with the whole road, restricting them to a single lane might be deemed to be a retrogressive move and, as such, get dropped.

Road reservations are a great idea. Except for one small problem. Road reservations presume the existence of a road, on which these reservations would apply. And, as of now, there are no roads, at least in Delhi. Thanks to the preparations for the CWG there are excavated trenches, pits, crevasses, chasms, canyons and what look like the ravines of the Chambal valley which have tippy-toed all the way from the badlands of MP to relocate to the capital. But roads? Heck. Where did the darn things disappear? They were there just the other day. Weren't they?

As in other walks of life, that's the trouble with reservations. You end up with all reservations, no road.








The defined contribution pension plan most widely available in India, the state-run provident fund, has stumbled upon Rs 1,700 crore that it intends to pay its members as a bonus this year in an extra percentage point interest. But this is a one-off, unless more such goodies are lying undetected in suspense accounts. Although the employees' provident fund defines contributions on paper, it has morphed into a defined benefit plan where the returns are declining over time. The world has realised it is time to retire the defined benefit pension that worked as long as far more people were joining the labour pool than were leaving it. By 2020, the average Indian will be 29 years old, with 30 years of work ahead of him. Enough to pay for his father's pension, but he will leave a load heavier than he inherited as population growth eventually slows.


Every one of the 47 million contributors to provident funds today has the freedom to save more and to choose where these savings are invested. Available pension products cater to a broad range of risk appetite, from treasury bonds to equity markets. The returns can safely be expected to be higher than the 8.5 per cent the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation — bound by law to invest only in debt issued by the government or its enterprises — offers its customers on the Rs 317,000 crore it has invested on their behalf. In comparison, the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), the largest public pension fund in the US, had a composite return of 260 per cent in three years since it began investing $1 billion (Rs 5,000 crore) in Indian stocks in 2004.


The naysayers appear to have the upper hand in the drawn-out debate over whether the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation should be allowed to invest as little as 5 per cent of its corpus in the stock market. Just about 15 per cent of India's provident fund corpus is held by 85 per cent of its contributors. This weighs in against the move to earn better returns on the funds invested. The trade unions warn of vulnerability to market risks of the overwhelming majority of provident fund contributors who have accumulated under Rs 20,000 in the scheme. The government, on the other hand, finds little to justify subsidising what is essentially a middle-class perk: barely one in ten of the country's 422 million workers pays into a provident fund. So hope for more piles of cash being unearthed if you want a higher return on your provident fund account.







In a pati, patni aur woh situation, would you accuse the woh (read: woe) factor of mental cruelty as strictly defined in that legal tomes of the country? Before you assume that this editorial space has suddenly metamorphosed into an agony aunty/uncle column or a trends/lifestyle sensor about whether such number of cases are going up or down, be assured that nothing of that sort has happened. We are reacting to a Supreme Court order on the same question. The court says that a wife, the legit one, cannot accuse her husband's girlfriend or 'concubine' of cruelty but such a three-cornered fight can be a ground for divorce.


Along with welcoming such felicity of expression that has actually jazzed up what could otherwise some very stoic court language, we agree with the court that instead of going on about cruelty, there are other ways of addressing such prickly situations. Ask a marriage counselor, they will give sane (mostly unworkable) ideas like determine the root cause (other than the woman, of course), take a break (it's already a bit rusty, isn't it?), establish rules and develop trust again (you just saw how easy it is to break all rules and trusts), yada, yada, yada. So find out other meaningful ways of handling the situation, may be threatening him with a golf club (cricket bat, if you are India), cutting up the new line of fall collection or deleting his phonebook in the mobile phone. Then just wait and see who cries cruelty.


As we think up some more innovative ways of tackling the situation and not cry 'cruelty', there's one suggestion for the court too: may be it should brush up its language skills – "girlfriend or concubine" left us a bit cold.


.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES




We have to keep up appearances given that we are on the verge of superpowerdom. We have to put our best foot forward even if it means that anyone who gets in the way may come off worse for the wear. So as we were digging, retiling, retrofitting and beautifying the capital's already tony Connaught Place, this newspaper reported that a woman died amid the rubble in full public view after giving birth to a sickly baby girl.


Did this send a frisson of shock down the collective spines of the ministries concerned? Or, for that matter, shock many of us? No, because we have more pressing tasks like sweeping beggars into tents so that the Commonwealth Games visitors won't see these eyesores. To make all this possible, day after day, malnourished mothers dig away at construction sites leaving their wasted babies exposed to the elements and to wandering animals. Yes, these are productive women, they will be instrumental in helping us hold up our heads high when the Commonwealth aerostat goes up.


To die in order to give life is the ultimate cruel irony to be visited on any human being. But this is what is happening to millions of unfortunate women in India. It is as though an uncaring health system has abandoned them even as the government quibbles about how best to 'control' the population. For many rural women in India, the birth of a child, normally an occasion for joy and celebration, often means the difference between life and death. For both the mother and the child.


At last count, at least 78,000 women die from pregnancy-related complications each year. This is among the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The solutions to saving both mother and child are quite simple, and cheap. Just deliver what has been promised in all government programmes. Care and supplements for the expectant mother, health checks through the public health system and professional care for both mother and infant after delivery. In India we are hobbled on many counts. Women are simply not a priority in the health system such as it is. So accustomed have women become to being marginal in the scheme of things that even a pregnant woman does not think herself important enough to deserve special care. The others in the family come first.


So we have the prospect of the malnourished and often underage mother giving birth in unhygienic conditions to a baby whom she does not know how to care for. For most rural women, a clinic is a trek away and often they are denied entry in these places. We have often read reports of women having to give birth outside clinics after being turned away by doctors. It is all very fine to talk of keeping population numbers down, always with the underlying assumption that it is poor who breed like rabbits. But how about caring for the babies on the way and their mothers before planning to stop future infants from being born?


It is appalling that while the government, and indeed many of us, keep worrying about the rising population, we pay no heed to one vital fact that could keep the numbers down. The assurance to a mother that both she and her child would be born into good health. Has any health worker gone around to the many thousands of women who are working day and night on the Commonwealth Games to enquire whether either they or their infants have any access to healthcare? In village after village, the story of our dismal healthcare is the same. The public health clinics, such as they are, are usually locked for the better part of the year. There are no health workers worth the name. Those few that do function give out the ubiquitous pink pills that are meant to treat a variety of illnesses from iron deficiency during pregnancy to fevers.


As we have often written in these columns, the bane of the UPA, whether in its first avatar or second, has been health ministers who have cared too much for all the wrong reasons or cared too little. The feisty Anbumani Ramadoss spent all his time tilting at windmills in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences trying to slay dragons like the then director whom we could well have done with. The present incumbent believes quite clearly in being neither seen nor heard. Except if it is to entertain us with his unique family planning advice like giving people access to television to stop them breeding.


As the ebullient Jill Sheffield, president of Women Deliver, put it to me recently, women's health is never top of the agenda for anyone. She spoke of how she made an impassioned plea to the World Bank on the issue of maternal health complete with facts and figures. At the end of her presentation, where she felt she had literally slain them in the aisles with her emphasis on women's health and its direct correlation to economic worth, the officials asked her if she could provide them with all the data on a format which could fit into a pocket. For a professional of so many years, this was disconcerting. But she did just that and the World Bank, in a sort of epiphany, understood what she had been saying for so many, many painful hours.


Maybe this would be good idea in India. Let us not have lengthy policies on maternal health. Let us just have some back of the envelope calculations. It shouldn't be too tough for Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to figure out that no woman should be allowed to die producing a child, which will add to the demographic dividend that we are so proud of. That a woman's health is pivotal to the economic productivity that has catapulted us near-great nation status.


But it does not do us proud to tell the world that while we are zooming down our exclusive Commonwealth lanes, a woman gave birth to a child who will never know who her mother was and how painful it was for her to bring her little daughter into this world.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





Director of the Asia Programme at the Centre for International Policy Selig H. Harrison's report on the recent deployment of Chinese troops in the Gilgit region of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) has caused concern in South Asia. By way of denial, Pakistan and China haven't refuted the presence of the troops but their purpose. Pakistan claims they were there to assist in "flood control". Zhao Gang Cheng of the Shanghai-based Institute of International Studies stated that the purpose was for considerations of economy and energy and not to pose a threat to anyone.


The Chinese are conscious of the vulnerability of their Sea Line of Communications (Sloc) to disruption by any hostile navy in the event of a conflict. China's dependence on imported oil is now to the tune of 56 per cent. By 2015, it will go up to two-thirds of China's energy needs and by 2030 it would touch four-fifth. Hence the Chinese paranoia over the vulnerability of its energy imports. To achieve a supply chain that is less vulnerable to disruption from outside factors, China has devised a 'Malacca Bypass Strategy' that seeks to re-route its oil inflows via overland routes and pipelines. A key component of this strategy hinges upon its investment in the Gwadar Port of Pakistan and the frenzied construction/upgradation of a triple-tier rail and road highway along with a gas pipeline that will carry Iranian gas to China's Western Provinces. This will reduce a 16,500-km journey to just 2,500 km. This Chinese oil and gas artery via Pakistan and the Shia rebellious province of Gilgit in PoK has become a core Chinese interest.


But China has an ingrained habit of defining core interests and vital communications arteries. Over time it becomes prepared to launch 'self defence' counter attacks to 'safeguard' these arteries. For example, in the 1962 India-China war, a key Chinese concern was its perceived threat to the Aksai Chin highway that connects Tibet with Xinjiang. It perceived India's 'Forward Policy' (of establishing its claims by token posts in disputed areas) a threat. If Pakistan persists with its terrorist provocations, a limited war between the two nations could erupt. China could view it as a threat to Gwadar–Karakoram energy lifeline and intervene militarily.


This is not mere conjecture. There has been an alarming shift in the Chinese stance over Kashmir. From complete neutrality in the Kargil war of 1999, China now assertively claims J&K as disputed territory. It's even rejecting visas to Indian citizens from J&K. It has now deliberately escalated the level of provocation by denying a visa to Lt Gen. B.S. Jaswal (Army Commander Northern Command) on the plea that he commands troops in J&K. The same logic didn't apply to the Eastern Army Commander, who commands our forces in Arunachal Pradesh. This is not a minor shift of stance or nuance. It's a major, and deliberate, provocation.


The Chinese troops in Gilgit are reportedly involved in the upgradation of the existing Karakoram Highway to double-lane status and adding a new railroad and a gas pipeline. What's most baffling is the construction of 22 tunnels to which even Pakistani troops are not allowed.  One speculation is that these are designed to store the new aircraft carrier killer Dong Feng 21 anti-ship missiles, which can move down the Karakoram Highway to attack America or Indian aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. If true, then it would be a strange way for Pakistan to repay its American patrons for their generous aid. The positioning of the missiles will also have a significant impact on our naval operations in the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.


China's moves have long-term implications that we can't afford to overlook. There is an urgent need to speed up our arms acquisition process. We can't postpone them to a distant date in 2025, the date line being based on the presumption that we must complete our economic reconstruction first and then build up our military muscle by 2025. Will our adversaries patiently wait and watch till then? This decade could be critical in terms of sudden and non-linear changes. The reports of a sizeable Chinese military presence in Gilgit and its change in stance on the status of J&K are an ominous shift of pattern that is cause for serious disquiet.


G.D. Bakshi is a retired Major General of the Indian Army


The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES




When I read in the papers that hospital blood banks across Delhi were running low on their supply of platelets because of the number of dengue cases flooding the capital, I was taken back to a cold January day over two years ago. My father, in the last stages of cancer, was admitted to hospital because he had had a brain haemorrhage. The doctors couldn't operate because he was running low on platelets. The next two days were spent trying to find people who were willing to donate platelets.


Ignorance is where the problem began. In a conventional blood donation, the blood bank technician inserts a needle into your arm and drains one unit of blood into a plastic bag. For platelet donation, you have to have a sufficient number of platelets to be eligible to donate. So it means a little nick on your finger to check the platelet count. Most people have around 200,000 or more platelets. To be eligible to donate, you must have well over 200,000. If you're found eligible, you'll then have to be strapped to a centrifuge machine where, through one needle, your blood exits the body. Then the machine extracts the platelets and the remaining blood is sent back to your body through a second needle. It takes the body about two to seven days to replenish the platelets extracted.


Most of my colleagues, friends and relatives were tested but weren't eligible for platelet donation. Almost all of them donated 'whole blood' anyway. About five people were eligible. But the minute they heard that they'd have to be strapped to a machine for two hours, the fear of the unknown kicked in. And the fear was visible on their faces: 'Blood in and blood out could equal HIV/Aids'.


One potential donor remembered that he had had jaundice six months back, another had an urgent meeting the next morning. A third remembered that he had taken antibiotics last week, after a helpful friend told him that the process was very painful. (It isn't). One friend plaintively asked me why he couldn't just donate the blood from which the hospital could then extract platelets. He didn't want the leftover blood to be sent back to his body. The doctor explained that extracting platelets without the centrifuge process takes too much time — something that my father just didn't have.


The blood bank technician wouldn't consider even testing my sister or me. He was of the considered opinion that women are squeamish about blood donation.


But we did get lucky. We found three people who were eligible and not squeamish. But by then three days had passed. And less than 30 minutes after the platelets were extracted, my father was dead.


Not every one is blessed enough to be eligible for platelet donation. So please do go and volunteer for blood donation. And if you are able to donate platelets please, please, do. It could just as easily be your father, or your baby who needs it.








The family of Chinese languages — Mandarin, Wu, Cantonese and Min — is spoken by over a billion people. Standard Mandarin, Beijing's preferred version, is spoken by over 800 million. For some years now, the country where these languages are spoken has been India's largest trading partner. As our large northern neighbour continues to rise, we will have to work to find ways to live together in Asia. Thus a dispassionate assessment of any young Indian student's future would suggest that Chinese is the foreign language — given English is hardly foreign, now — most likely to be necessary for them to know.


Why would it take, then, a statement from HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, currently visiting China, to open up a chance for that young student to learn Mandarin through the Central Board of Secondary Education? There is little doubt that this is a welcome step, and the minister is looking to the future. But should it take a nudge from the very top for such a thing to happen? This is another symptom of how our educational structures — in this case, the CBSE — stifle individual initiative. That young student's school should have been able to make the shift to teaching and testing Chinese without a go-ahead from the minister to their school board.


There are methods that exist to combine rigour in testing with school-driven requests for new subjects. The CBSE's all-India competitor, the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations, for example, has rules on its website for a generic "modern foreign language" that lay out the structure the examination must have and the skills it should test. No exhaustive list of languages, however, is laid out: the guidelines merely state that "papers will be set in French, Spanish, German and other foreign languages on request." Some similar flexibility is what the CBSE needs.







Good ideas tend to look like they have been around forever. But when the idea in question is for a crucial infrastructure link, that statement is something of an indictment. A sea-link between Mumbai and Navi Mumbai was first planned in 1962. We're now in 2010, and it still has not been built, even as the need for it grows exponentially yearly, along with Greater Mumbai's population and its traffic. The 22-km bridge — the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link — is more necessary now than it ever was.


The first reason it needs to be built is that it is a crucial part of the connectivity to the best location for Mumbai's second airport, Panvel in Navi Mumbai. Constricted air traffic is choking India's financial centre; as important as building a new airport is easing getting there, in a city famous for endless traffic snarls. There's another reason, too, which speaks to the largest constraint on Mumbai's growth — real estate. Mumbai's housing needs are just not being met. One reason is the opaque, unreformed nature of its land economy: restrictions on slum rehabilitation or on the development of new residential or office space, the inescapable grip of politics on the mechanics of land transfer. But another reason is that Mumbai just can't spread out the way megacities need to: it has too few arteries, and those are clogged.


This is a new artery, one that would reorient Mumbai's commute, its very sense of space. Great projects, city-altering links, can do that. Yet Maharashtra's politics, as in so many other things that matter to Mumbai, stands resolutely athwart any broader vision of the future. A link that was once contended for between the Ambani brothers stands delayed by a political tussle, between the Congress and the NCP. The coalition government has shown itself in the past to be either lackadaisical or unconcerned about Mumbai's development. This is a test case: will they be able to rise above squabbling over which tame agency gets to build it, who controls the flow of funds — and just get it done?







The Reserve Bank has tightened monetary policy further, this time with an increase larger than the incremental ones of the recent past. This is welcome and will help curb inflationary expectations that have been building up. The new Wholesale Price Index, according to new weights in value-added non-services GDP, has also shown high inflation. In addition, the Consumer Price Index has been high, at an average value of 10 per cent on a month-on-month basis for the last six months. This has hurt people across the country and controlling it needs to be at the top of the government's agenda.


The RBI's policy rate increase will help curb inflationary expectations. Consumer price inflation can push up wages if people expect higher inflation in coming months. Also, the increase in dearness allowance will ultimately lead to a rise in wages and higher cost of production across the economy. When inflation enters into a wage-price spiral it can acquire a momentum of its own. So even when the inflation is caused by commodity prices, food prices, a drought, fiscal imbalance or developments in global markets such as oil price changes, if they feed into higher consumer price inflation, they can feed into overall inflation. It is important for the central bank to take action and it is good news that it has done so. A credible commitment to inflation control and delivering low and stable inflation can be achieved only through monetary policy. The RBI has also done right in narrowing the corridor between the rates at which it lends to banks and borrows from banks. The corridor, being too wide, reduced the effectiveness of policy changes. While a committee has been set up to look into the monetary policy framework, RBI Governor D. Subbarao has done well not to wait for its decision to fix some of the things that were deviations from the old framework. This will improve the transmission mechanism of monetary policy.


The government needs to take various other steps to curb price rise, such as freeing up agricultural prices and improving rural infrastructure so that supply can respond to demand. At the moment, despite the increase in food prices, the distorted structure of agricultural markets, and curbs on them, do not encourage the farmer to move into higher-risk non-cereal cultivation. If, in high-value food production, supply is lagging behind demand, conditions need to be changed so that this response can be encouraged, even with a lag.









On Thursday, the RBI hiked interest rates and the government hiked the dearness allowance for Central government employees by 10 per cent in response to higher inflation. While most other countries in the world are witnessing low and falling levels of inflation, inflation in India has risen in recent months.


Other than food prices, most of the prices in the Wholesale Price Index (WPI), both the old index based on 1993-94 weights and the new index, are determined in international markets. Other than the exchange rate of the rupee, policymakers in India can do little about controlling price rise in these. Nor surprisingly, when policymakers focus on the WPI as the index to try to control prices, they feel helpless. No one wants to be held accountable for controlling WPI inflation. Statements are made about how it is caused by a drought, or international commodity price movements, or the rising demand in China or rain in Brazil.


What should be done differently so that policy in India can effectively control inflation? One element in the puzzle is to identify the inflation rate that matters to people, one that policy can impact upon, and controlling which would have the greatest impact. The WPI does not fit this requirement. First, the WPI is not meant to represent the consumption basket of the average citizen, urban or rural. For instance, about one-fourth of the WPI represents food, while the average basket contains about 50-60 per cent food. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a better option for telling us what is happening to the purchasing power of the aam aadmi.


Further, even if the WPI rises by 6 per cent, but if the CPI rises by 10 per cent, the government would have to raise dearness allowance by 10 per cent. Changes in the CPI represent movements in the purchasing power of the rupee. At present, there are many consumer price indices in India but since they mostly move together, there is no conflict in which one is chosen. The Consumer Price


Index for Industrial Workers has the most recent weights, and while it is not perfect and there is much scope for improvement, it is a reasonably good measure. It impacts people's welfare.


Another important question is whether policy, in particular monetary policy, can do anything to impact prices as measured by this index. One oft-heard argument is that since half of the CPI consists of food items, there is nothing that can be done about the index. This argument needs to be reversed. Since nearly half of the CPI consists of non-tradables such as services, in contrast to the WPI, these are items whose prices are determined in India rather than in world markets. Indeed, if domestic policy action can have an impact, it is more likely to have an impact on the CPI rather than on the WPI. Prices of non-tradables, goods and services that cannot be traded internationally, are determined in the domestic economy.


Salaries and wages, whether in the formal or in the informal sector, are likely to be linked to the cost of living. Being a better representative of the cost of living, the CPI feeds into wages. Expectations of a higher cost of living often mean that wages rise. As a consequence, in the following year, there will be a higher cost of production which will result in higher prices. This "wage-price spiral" can go on. What might have started as food price inflation can spill over into non-food prices.


Recent trends in India show that this is already happening. The issues of food prices are highly complex and, in the short run again, policymakers feel helpless. As long as various distortions exist in food and agricultural markets and institutions, there is a sense of doom when faced with higher prices. So does this mean that there is no way to prevent the spillover from food inflation to wage inflation, that the economy will inevitably face higher inflation?


This question has been a bigger issue in countries in Europe or Latin America where the bulk of the labour force works in the formal sector. Wages in the formal sector are negotiated economy-wide and the spillover from consumer prices to wages is very strong. In India this is less of a problem as the bulk of the labour force works in the informal sector and countrywide powerful trade unions negotiating wages for the year ahead do not exist to that extent. Yet, while of a smaller dimension, the problem is not absent.


Many countries have addressed this issue by setting up institutional mechanisms to curb expectations about inflation. So even when a country can do nothing about the international price of oil, or food demand in China, if it is able to tell its citizens that it will do whatever it takes to curb inflation, then compared to countries that do not say so, it is able to curb inflationary expectations. These prevent high cost-push through wage increases and the consequent spillovers. The commitment to deliver low and stable inflation has to be credible and is often accompanied by institutional mechanisms such as a commitment on low fiscal deficits and a mandate to the central bank to "target inflation". Each of these countries chooses the appropriate inflation index to focus upon, and the mechanisms to make the central bank accountable for it.


Recent developments in India suggest that it is time for the government to devise such a framework. A framework that delivers low and stable inflation, is pro-growth, and can increase the welfare of the aam aadmi as well as provide a favourable business environment.


The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public


Finance and Policy, Delhi








Large numbers of children die every year during autumn months in and around Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh, from a disease popularly called brain-fever, now labelled acute encephalitis syndrome (AES). Local hospitals get overwhelmed with cases in bad years like this one.


Unfortunately, this disease has not been diagnosed exactly yet — we do not even know if the outbreak is a single disease or a combination. Japanese encephalitis is endemic to the area, but without a spinal tap it is difficult to distinguish viral encephalaitis from other brain diseases like encephalopathy in which the pathology is not in the brain, but biochemical changes affect brain functions. For all the talk about "enteroviruses" in Gorakhpur, that is common all over India and is unlikely to cause such annually recurrent encephalitis. Systematic investigations are needed to unravel the real cause of these outbreaks.


There was a huge outbreak of AES in 2005, and the dominant diagnosis was Japanese encephalitis (JE). In 2006, there was a mass campaign to give JE vaccines to all children below 15 years of age, and since then vaccination has been available to children through the national immunisation programme (NIP). However the coverage is low for a variety of reasons including the low functional efficiency of NIP, occasional vaccine shortfalls, disputes about the vaccine's quality, and so on. Reliable information is not available in the public domain. However, it appears as though JE is not as widespread these days.


On the ground, there are several problems. The exclusive dependence on the media for information illustrates the lack of an official source of authentic information on health events and outbreaks. The government does not take the public into confidence. This absence of a definitive diagnosis illustrates the sub-optimal performance of our public health system. Every disease has a name and a code number in modern medicine — brain-fever and AES are only colloquial terms, not accepted diagnoses. Every disease-causing microbe has also been identified and diagnostic tests defined. That large numbers of children die annually without a precise diagnosis tell us that either technical expertise is not available or there is a lack of leadership in the health system to assume responsibilities and obtain available expertise. Neither the Central nor state governments have taken charge.


Modern medicine has advanced on two fronts — healthcare and public health. Doctors and hospitals, in the public sector or private, provide individual healthcare after an illness has occurred. The initiative is taken by the person or the family, and the cost borne out of pocket or covered by the government through hospital budgets. There is no equity promised, or quality assured, in either sector. Public health, on the other hand, is not concerned with specific individuals but the whole community. Public health staff must work within the community to intercept the outbreak, for which three pieces of information are essential. What is the identity or nature of the disease-causing microbe? Most cases of encephalitis are caused by viruses, such as the JE virus.


Second, where do the causative microbes multiply? Is it in mosquitoes, animals or only in humans? Third, what is the exact transmission channel? Is it mosquito bites, or water-supply contaminated with human excreta, or is it directly transmitted between persons? Only with these three pieces of information can public health officials take appropriate action to stop the multiplication or cut the transmission chain of the disease-causing microbe. Obviously, all three remain unanswered in eastern UP, as indicated by uncontrolled annual outbreaks of the same disease.


It is not difficult to get a team to dedicate itself to understanding the recurrent outbreaks. In western UP, there used to be a disease called "Saharanpur encephalitis" that killed hundreds of children in the post-monsoon months every year, over two decades. The Indian Academy of Paediatrics put a team together to investigate the outbreaks, which revealed that it was not "brain fever" or AES, but plant poisoning of young children who ate the seeds of a common weed, Cassia occidentalis. Once public education was undertaken, the outbreak disappeared.


Who is accountable for outbreak control? Healthcare and public health are concurrent subjects, shared by the Centre and the state. That is a certain part of the problem, with both deflecting blame. India must reorganise its public health system so that diseases are diagnosed more effectively and information is shared through official alerts, which requires better coordination between the Centre and the state.


The writer is former head of the department of clinical virology, Christian Medical College, Vellore








The all-party meeting convened by the prime minister and the chairperson of the UPA on September 15 reached a consensus to send an all-party delegation to Kashmir to interact with all Kashmiri parties, including the separatists, and report back to the prime minister to enable the government to adopt various measures which would at least partially satisfy the agitators in Kashmir and initiate a dialogue under peaceful conditions. The prime minister referred to the fact that while some violence in Kashmir was spontaneous, some was orchestrated. The UPA chairperson stressed the need to understand the causes for the anger of the youth in Kashmir and called for magnanimity. It appeared that most of the participants, not all, proceeded on the basis that the agitators in Kashmir had genuine grievances and they will be amenable to discussion and a rational solution of those grievances. On the other hand, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the separatist leader, had already asserted that he did not expect any positive result from the all-party meet. The demand that unconditional dialogue should be initiated by the government with all Kashmiri leaders, including the separatists, has been reiterated and there was no emphasis on a specific grievance redressal. The PM emphasised the need for restoration of peace as a necessary condition to dialogue and for grievance redressal.


If the agitation in Kashmiri towns is about redressable grievances and the agitators are interested in dialogue and having their grievances addressed, then there should be peace in the next few days in Kashmir to enable the authorities to restore normalcy and allow the all-party delegation to move about freely and meet all Kashmiri leaders including the separatists. There is an alternative hypothesis referred to by the PM, that at least part of the violence was deliberately orchestrated. Underlying that hypothesis is the assessment that there are elements in Kashmir who are opposed to any grievance redressal or dialogue and are more interested in converting the Kashmir situation into an intifada to coincide with the opening of the UN general assembly session run-up to the Obama visit. If that hypothesis is correct then there may be no reduction in violence to facilitate the all-party delegation's visit to Srinagar or meetings with the separatist leaders. One should instead expect non-cooperation from the separatist leaders and resurgence of violence. The issue will be tested from today and we may not have to wait long for an answer.


There are demands for unconditional dialogue with all Kashmiri parties and the prime minister agrees that there is no alternative to dialogue. But there are no commitments that the deliberate, provocative violence will stop. Analyses of riots all over the world reveal that a trigger group of 15 to 20 persons can instigate a mob to violence. Such large-scale police casualties indicate pre-planned provocations. One report mentions that more than 1600 policemen have been injured in the "non-violent" protests in Kashmir. A careful assessment is needed on whether the trading community in Srinagar and other towns would submit to continuous curfews, but for external threats to them to not come in the way of the provocative, high intensity stone-throwing planned as sustained campaigns.


Not much thought appears to have been given to the structure and process of Kashmir-Delhi political dialogue. In Kashmir, there are a large number of national and regional parties functioning within the framework of the Indian Constitution and are represented in the legislature and in Parliament. There are also separatist groups who have boycotted elections and whose popular support is not determinable but who are vociferous in their demands and are behind the agitations. The elected Kashmiri parties want the separatists to be included in the unconditional dialogue. In Delhi too there is no consensus on how the Kashmir problem should be addressed and on various component issues, such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or the degree of autonomy to be extended. It is obvious a Srinagar-Delhi unconditional political dialogue assembling all the stakeholders on both sides may only result in each party or group restating its known position and posturing for its constituency. Such an unstructured dialogue would not produce any result for eons to come.


The recently released Ipsos MORI poll conducted by the London School of Economics showed that while in the Valley separatist sentiment may be relatively stronger, in the whole state of J&K the majority want to stay with India. In regions other than the Valley opposition to separatism is very strong. In such circumstances a rational approach to a political dialogue will be for all parties in the state, non-separatists and separatists, to evolve a consensus among themselves and present it to Delhi, where it could be discussed at a national all-party meeting to evolve a consensus decision. Within non-separatist and separatist parties and groups in the state there is at present no consensus and internal differences are deep, some based on personality clashes.


Delhi will not be able to arrive at any peaceful solution to the issue by negotiating directly with a whole host of Kashmiri parties, constitutionalists and separatists. Any concession to one or the other set of parties will be sabotaged by those left out. Nor can Delhi afford to overlook the possibility of Pakistan's ISI initiating and sustaining violence. It looks as though the Kashmiri parties and the separatists are attempting to use Delhi to cover up their own "crypto civil war". Kashmiri crowds are indulging in intense violence to provoke the Kashmiri policemen under an elected Kashmiri administration. The Indian army and paramilitary forces (the CRPF is a police force at the disposal of the Kashmir police) are not involved in the present violence. Delhi should not get itself trapped in the "crypto Kashmiri civil war".


The writer is a senior defence analyst








Balochistan doesn't like Punjabis, Shias and security forces. If one belongs to any of these three categories, one can likely end up dead. Punjabis and security forces are targeted by Baloch terrorist groups, Shias bombed by extremist terrorists. Caught in the conflict are journalists, threatened by all sides, some assassinated, others getting killed on the job.


Right in Quetta, the capital, areas like Saryab, Huddah, Brohi Road and Eastern and Western Bypasses are "no-go" areas for Punjabis. Much of the city, outside the heavily-guarded cantonment area, is dangerous for security personnel. Vehicles move fast and are heavily protected. Since 2009, nearly a thousand people have been killed on all sides and about double the number injured in assassinations, bombings, armed attacks and small-scale security operations.


The situation is getting bad because the federal and provincial governments do not seem to have any viable policy to deal with it. The government blames India for fomenting trouble. Given the relations between Islamabad and New Delhi, it would make sense for India to exploit the situation but the fact is the fissures are internal.


Last Tuesday Rehman Malik, minister for interior, declared — enough! No more shall the federal government tolerate violence. Between Malik's ability to fumble in all languages known to man and the media's unbridled passion to report the worst, the news said the federal government was planning a Swat-style military operation in Balochistan.


Next day, after emerging from a meeting with the Balochistan chief minister, Nawab Aslam Raisani, and all the CM's men, Malik said he had never talked about a sweeping operation; that there would be selective use of proportionate force contingent upon credible, actionable intelligence. He also said that the federal government had authorised the Balochistan chief minister to vest police powers in Frontier Corps (FC) to deal with the situation.


Even as TV channels were flashing this story, the Balochistan government delivered its riposte, saying no such decision had been taken in the meeting Malik was referring to, there would be no operation of any sort in the province, that FC had been violating its legal mandate and would be held accountable for that, and all issues would be resolved through dialogue, thank you.


In walks Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, the inveterate head-in-the-sand all's-well I-am-only-for-dialogue boss of Malik, declaring that Balochistan is the bailiwick of the provincial government and it can do what it thinks best. No operation was in the offing. The same sentiment was voiced by opposition leader Nawaz Sharif.


So, finally we have a consensus: no operation and Quetta taking the lead on Balochistan? Yes, if dramatic stasis can be called that.


No one wants the government to go into Balochistan shooting from the hip. But neither is chinwagging with multiple actors the only solution. It is now in the interest of separatist elements, minuscule though their numbers, to subvert any effort by the governments, federal and provincial, to address Balochistan's grievances. Jaw-jaw needs to have a stick behind it.


The federal government's Balochistan Package, announced with much fanfare in November 2009, hasn't materialised on the ground. The provincial government, which immediately rolls up its sleeves every time Islamabad talks about Balochistan, is both inefficient and unwilling to do anything. Balochistan is caught in the radicalism of militant youth and the anarchic tribal traditions of the sardars. The provincial government represents the latter and is averse to doing anything that would break the status quo.


The fact is that the army and FC have been trying to fill the vacuum by appealing to the Baloch youth and initiating schooling and recruitment programmes for them. The army has given a complete concept paper on the development paradigm to both the provincial and federal governments and asked them to take ownership of these initiatives. These efforts have run into a wall. Technically, it is correct to expect Quetta to take the lead. In reality, Quetta is singularly incapable of that.


What should be done? First and foremost, Islamabad and Quetta have to be on the same page. Sparring of the kind we have just seen is not going to resolve anything. Also, dialogue doesn't mean pacifist inaction. Those who use absolutist arguments against the use of force resort to dissembling. What can be done today with much less cost, if not done, will extract a much higher cost tomorrow. Use of force and dialogue are not mutually exclusive; they are complementary. Talking is supposed to reduce reliance on use of force and such use is meant to open up space for more meaningful talks.


Islamabad needs to follow up on its 39-point Balochistan Package which is currently in limbo. It was largely agreed upon by political actors in Balochistan and provides a good basis to move forward. Islamabad and Quetta also need to take the lead on initiatives begun by the army to educate Baloch children and increase Baloch recruitment in the security forces.


If Quetta wants to take the lead, it will have to show itself to be up to the task. So far, Raisani has done nothing to prove he can lead from the front or is even interested in doing anything other than nothing.


The writer is Contributing Editor, 'The Friday Times', Lahore.


Views are personal







RBI has once again caught the market off guard with an aggressive increase in interest rates—50 bps in reverse repo and 25 bps in repo rate. Expectations were generally in the range of 'no change' to 25 bps change on one or both sides. Conditions since July have not really changed significantly so it is difficult to understand RBI's stance. If anything, inflation growth has dampened, more so after appropriate adjustments are made for seasonality. The IIP picture is also uncertain. Growth was slowing down until June and then rose in July, but the manner in which it rose—a sharp surge in the capital goods index that actually went into negative territory in the previous month following a revision—doesn't make it completely convincing. The picture on bank credit also doesn't quite jell with the changed growth trajectory the IIP projects. What complicates things is the IIP is, in any case, so unrepresentative of what's going on—its base is the weights finalised in 1993-94—that it's difficult to arrive at a decision on what's actually happening to growth, either in terms of acceleration or deceleration.


But monetary policy has to be forward-looking and this is where we get the hint that RBI is not comfortable with the inflation numbers and it has clearly stated that we will have to live with these high numbers for some time. This is notwithstanding the good harvest—which is expected—that will bring down the absolute level of prices. Maybe the recent announcement on increase in interest rates on provident funds was another factor that played a role as growth in deposits have been tardy and RBI would not like to see household savings get diverted to the small savings circuit. After all, if credit is to grow, banks need deposits to anchor industrial activity.


Will these hikes affect industrial growth at a time when there are mixed signals of a major revival in quite a large number of sectors? If investment is driven by animal instincts, as Keynes would have said, then the rate should not matter as the environment is quite cheerful. But, for the CFO who is trying to match the internal rate of return with the interest rate, it could be a shoulder shrug.







The public accounts committee (PAC), which scrutinises government and PSU accounts, has asked the DoT some tough questions about the deteriorating financial performance of the two state-run telecom firms—BSNL and MTNL. As is known by now, both the PSUs have run into losses—BSNL posted its first annual losses for the fiscal 2009-10 and MTNL slipped into the red during the April-June quarter of the current fiscal. The PAC is not the first one to ask such questions with several MPs in the past routinely asking the same and the government responding each time with an elaborate set of measures taken by the two PSUs to stem the rot.


It is nearly impossible to rescue the two PSUs from going totally sick unless the government does not come around with a time-bound revival plan. The telecom market has changed drastically and the USP of these two players—low tariffs and wider coverage—has become an industry norm. The two companies are not run on commercial lines and decisions on behalf of them are taken by the government. So, while a company like Bharti Airtel went for 3G spectrum only in 13 circles because of cost factors, BSNL has been given spectrum for the whole of country, barring Delhi and Mumbai where MTNL operates. The two got 3G spectrum two years ahead of the private operators but could not make much out of it.


The government did try to fix the problems of BSNL by appointing the Sam Pitroda committee, which submitted its report in February this year. The report is simple but has not been implemented yet. The seriousness of the government in fixing the problems of these firms can be gauged from the fact that instead of selecting a new chief for BSNL in advance, it constituted a selection panel for searching the right candidate closer to the retirement date of the previous CMD. Result: the company has an acting CMD today. And MTNL has been headless for several months now.


Though the Pitroda committee suggested a host of sensible measures, it did not recommend the merger of the two PSUs stating that it would deal with it separately later. This was the biggest mistake. At a time when all private telecom operators have carved out national foot print the government has adopted a different yardstick for its firms. If the government is really serious about reviving the two firms the first thing it needs to do is merge them. The time for it is ripe now since the two are headless so there are no ego issues involved.







What will happen if Reliance's CFO discovered the firm had an additional Rs 1,731 crore he hadn't seen before? Will Mukesh Ambani reward him? Unlikely. He will have to quit the firm. So, why shouldn't the same be done with S Chatterjee, the chief executive of Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO)?


While nearly 50 million subscribers of EPFO may have got a surprise bonanza of 9.5% interest on their corpus for 2010-11 as compared with 8.5% being paid to them for the past 5 years, the hike was made possible after the organisation discovered a calculation mistake of Rs 1,731 crore in the interest suspense account. A calculation mistake of that magnitude in an organisation that 50 million people bank upon!


The discrepancy stems from the very fact that EPFO is probably one of the few organisations in the world that still follows a single entry method of book-keeping as against the commonly followed double entry method. This antiquated book-keeping system permits a growing problem of theft, and the balances may not ever tally. Even reports submitted by field offices to regional offices and the head office never reflect the true picture. There are reported cases of fraud such as removal of balances from inactive accounts with the connivance of EPFO staff.


The health of India's largest provident fund organisation is symptomatic of the malaise in the country's pension system. More than half of the total account holders draw far less pension than they are entitled to, as around two-thirds of the registered companies with EPFO do not contribute to their employees' provident fund savings. The default figures, in any case, do not include the thousands of moribund firms that have stopped complying altogether.


The EPFO doesn't even have the facility to allow subscribers to keep track of their balances online and do not provide its subscribers a unique number to use across the country in case the subscriber changes job or location. As a result, people do not stay with EPFO each time they switch jobs, or migrate to other cities and it defeats the very objective of long-term savings to provide sufficient old-age income. Nor can they check if their employers have deposited their savings in their EPF account.


A unique number to an EPF member, as done for New Pension Scheme—it allocates a unique 16 digit Permanent Pension Account Number to each investor valid for life—will help members to transfer their fund...  in case of change of job or location and will reduce the documentation process to open a new account every time. A couple of years ago, the organisation had initiated a process called Reinventing EPF India, which among other things, envisages to allocate a 13-digit Business Number to every covered establishment—exempted and un-exempted under the PF Act, 1952. This number would replace the current code number allotted to the establishment and will be linked to all the branches of the establishment located anywhere in India. The process needs to be streamlined across all regional offices.


Online tracking of EPF balance is an important area that the needs to be addressed by EPFO. Notably, a beginning has been made by the regional office in Thiruvananthapuram that has developed and installed an interactive voice response system where a subscriber is guided through voice messages after punching the PF account number. The subscriber can access information regarding settlement of claims, pension, balance in their EPF account and other details over the telephone. Such a system must be put in place across all regional offices. And as we have argued before, why can't employees have the option of opting for the NPS instead of the EPFO—this way, they can even decide how their savings are to be invested, and who is to manage them.








Another fortnight and the frenzy of the second quarter financial results will begin in all earnest. Sector, and company specific sales, profits, order books and operating margin figures will be dissected ad nauseam by analysts, brokerages, fund managers, investors and sundry others. Judgements will be passed, winners will be picked and positions taken on the stock—buy, sell or hold.


Amidst all this quarter-to-quarter performance anxiety that most business stakeholders have, justifiably, learnt to live with, it's interesting to step back once in a while and try to look at the long-term historical trend. How have India's top sales and profit grosser fared in the last 10 or 20 years, compared to not just each other but the broader economy? And have their sales and profit growth resulted in a commensurate growth in their (corporate) tax outgo—a measure of their relative criticality to the economy at large?


Analysis of decadal performance of the current top 10 listed companies on net sales, profit after tax, market capitalisation and tax outgo present an interesting picture. Take the first decade of economic liberalisation, for instance. The country's nominal GDP grew at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.88% and central government's gross tax revenue at around 12.9% for the decade ending March 2000.


Reliance Industries topped the sales growth chart in the 1990s, and Infosys, which listed in India in 1993, topped both profit and market cap growth, perhaps reflecting the sunrise status of the Indian IT sector at that time—remember that it was only later in 2000s that both Wipro and TCS listed on the Indian bourses. Some may point that a more like to like comparison is between measures of value-added, profits in case of companies and GDP for the economy.


Tata Steel's profit growth was the weakest in 1990s, just over 11% CAGR, edging it out of the top 10 sales and profit list in 2000, a position it won back in the 2010 list on the back of global expansion and rising demand for steel as a result of massive infrastructure push in the country. Interestingly, SBI's net revenue growth, TCS's net profit growth and SBI and BHEL's market cap and tax outgo growth lagged even government tax revenue growth (12.9%) in 1990s.


Cigarette major ITC's tax outgo jumped most sharply in the 1990s (around 30% CAGR growth year-on-year between 1990 and 2000), not surprising, given its... growing ambitions outside tobacco in packaged food and hotels. And though RIL was growing its profit and market cap by around 40% year-on-year all of 1990s, and sales by over 25%, thanks to tax sops, it was a zero tax company right till the middle of the decade, prompting the introduction of minimum alternate tax regime to 'correct' this anomaly.


Economic growth accelerated in 2000s, with GDP growing at a CAGR of 12.31% and tax revenue at 13.9%. New growth leaders emerged in tandem with the changing structure of Indian economy—Bharti Airtel on sales, TCS on profits, NMDC on market cap and yesteryears zero-tax company, RIL, on tax growth. While private sector saw huge jump in profits, for public sector power major NTPC profit growth was relatively muted, in single digits, 2.5% below GDP growth. Recollect that NTPC's profit had clocked an impressive over 66% CAGR in the 1990s.


Shift the metrics to 20-year period (1990-2010), and the picture that emerges is, well, not very different. GDP growth in this period was 13.6% CAGR and tax revenue grew at 13.4%. Much like the 1990s, RIL emerges as the sales leader with around 28% growth, and Infosys as profit and market cap leader (a caveat here: please bear in mind that Bharti and TCS were not listed in 1990s).


Again, in 2000s, many state run companies sales, profit, market cap and tax outgo growth lagged the government buoyant tax revenue growth of 13.9%. Whilst Indian Oil, Hindustan Petroleum, SBI and NTPC net sales growth was lower than 14%, NTPC's profit and market cap growth also was sub-par here. Even tech darlings TCS and Infosys were unable to grow their market cap at a rate at which government's tax revenues grew in 2000s. Perhaps the only company that outgrew both the GDP and tax collections consistently between 1990 and 2010 is RIL, but remember that for the first four-five years of this period it paid no taxes on all that was adding to its bottom line and valuation.







The high ground Nokia occupies in India is in sharp contrast to markets like the US, where it has been reduced to just 3% of the cellphone market. Within six months of Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo taking over as CEO in 2006, Steve jobs unveiled the iPhone. For the company that had unveiled its first GSM phone back in 1992, still boasts the industry's largest R&D budget at $7.7 billion and clings on to the biggest share of the global smartphones market at 37.4%, that was D-day. As Nokia ceded its cutting-edge image, Kallasvuo began to look like dead man walking. Now, the company has hired its first non-Finn CEO—the erstwhile Microsoft executive Stephen Elop. But the market buzz goes, this man has no proven record of knowing phones, and he is not going to able to turn around a company whose shares have fallen about 70% over the last three years.

Finland stays dark for around half the year. Nokia's rise symbolised the country's rise as one of the world's most advanced economies. But after the worst performance in the euro area last year, it's now looking at darkness continuing to loom over its flagship company. Anssi Vanjoki who headed the mobile solutions division is abandoning ship; more of the same looks inevitable.







It is well known that the all powerful Ahmad Patel, political secretary to the Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and Digvijay Singh, All India Congress Committee general secretary and current agent provocateur in the party, do not see eye to eye on many things. It was, therefore, a surprise to senior Congress leaders to find that both were suffering from conjunctivitis at the same time. Congressmen, being the biggest conspiracy theorists, sawthis as proof that the two are now getting "closer" perhaps.



Minister of state for health, Dinesh Trivedi, happens to be a prolific "book launcher", especially those that have chapters related to "health". So, it wasn't very surprising when he accepted an invitation to release another book on "health" by a certain Dr Kothari, after fellow MP Vijay Darda asked him to. It was only a few days before the launch that another friend of Trivedi called him up to inform that the book on "health" was actually by Dr Prakash Kothari and dealt with "sexual health". Which is when Trivedi made a frantic call to friend Darda and said: "I agree we all practice it, but sorry I cannot preach it."








The resounding 58 per cent 'Yes' vote in Turkey's referendum on constitutional reforms marks a turning point in the history of a country trying to shed its image of a praetorian state. A secular democracy with a 99 per cent Muslim population, Turkey has long defied the stereotyping of Islam and its followers as being inherently incompatible with modern political systems. Paradoxically though, the military has had a massive influence on how the nation has evolved, partly because Mustapha Kemal, the founder of modern Turkey, was himself a soldier. The military, which sees itself as the guardian of the Kemalist vision of a secular Turkey, staged four coups between 1960 and 2000, and has remained an influential political voice in the country, even drafting the 1982 Constitution. Among in the 26 amendments to which the people have given their assent are changes to make the military accountable to civilian power. The referendum itself was held on the 30th anniversary of the 1980 coup, and one amendment explicitly does away with the bar on prosecuting the generals who led it. The amendments also seek to curtail the judiciary, which has often acted as a limit on the powers of parliament, in tandem with the military. This radical reforms package comprises several measures to strengthen individual freedoms, and brings Turkey's Constitution closer in line with the European Union requirements for accession. Indeed, it may not have been possible to pull off such a package without the country's aspiration to join the EU.


What really complicates this referendum is that the political party steering the changes is rooted in political Islam. The 'yes' vote is a political victory for the conservative Justice and Development party (AK), which has sought to change the Constitution from the time it first came to power in 2002. Its relations with the military and the Constitutional Court, the country's highest judicial body, have been strained, particularly over the government's attempts to remove the ban on women wearing headscarves in public institutions. The referendum victory is a personal boost for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of next year's parliamentary elections. Not surprisingly, it has raised concerns for Turkey's famed secularism. These fears formed the basis of the opposition campaign and led to 42 per cent voting against the changes. It is to be hoped that Prime Minister Erdogan and his government will use the referendum result in a way that will not detract from Turkey's standing as a modern secular and democratic nation of Muslims that can fulfill its role as a bridge between east and west in these troubled times.







Mobile wireless technologies have the potential to aid speedy disease detection, treatment, and monitoring in remote communities. When combined with the power of computers and special software, they can work in real time and enable interventions by health authorities to prevent communicable diseases from turning into epidemics. The experience gained from a two-year bio-surveillance programme in Tamil Nadu's Sivaganga district indicates that this elegant idea, of using mobile phones and computers to generate and analyse health data, can deliver good results. The project, led by the Rural Technology and Business Incubator of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and LIRNEasia, a Colombo-based ICT policy think tank, is worth studying as a model. Central to the initiative is a team of health workers, who used simple java-enabled mobile phones equipped with a custom application to record and transmit disease symptoms reported by patients. The combination of data and computer analysis mapped the disease patterns for health administrators who then worked on interventions. The Tamil Nadu trial, which will be scaled up to connect more secondary and tertiary care institutions, makes one thing clear: measurable public health benefits can flow if governments take greater interest in the emerging area of mHealth, or mobile health. In fact, the benefits can go beyond disease-tracking and extend to such areas as remote patient monitoring, health education, and creation of community-level health profiles.


With recent advances in wireless, governments can today launch mHealth initiatives in several countries, notably those with weak health infrastructures in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The platform is supported by the GSM Association, the umbrella organisation of the mobile communications industry, and by non-profit organisations such as the United Nations Foundation-Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership. The mHealth initiatives undertaken so far also highlight the barriers to scaling up. Lack of good broadband mobile connectivity is the main obstacle. For India, the anticipated rollout of 3G and Wimax facilities should help resolve this problem, as should the fact that a number of States already have a broadband State-wide area network for exchange of data. There are major advances in public health and preventive medicine to be made with policy that is informed and empowered by a comprehensive mobile-enabled health database. For a complete picture to be available, private medical institutions, which cater to a large number of patients, should also be roped in.










Last week, on the Monday before Eid, Mohammad Shafi Wani opened his grocery store in Srinagar's Karan Nagar neighbourhood. Each of his gestures —rolling up the shutter, dusting off the shelves, opening the long-locked cash till — was an act of defiance, perhaps even suicidal rashness.


Kashmir's Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, the anti-India Islamist coalition spearheading the protests that have claimed more than 80 lives in clashes with police this year, had decreed that shops would remain shut until 2:00 pm; Wani had opened for business at mid-day. "Get lost," a local resident recalls Wani saying to two young men who showed up to warn him, "I'm not having a bunch of kids telling me what I can do." The boys left — but returned with reinforcements. Wani ended up in hospital; the police watched him being beaten but did nothing.


Early this week, the Tehreek decreed that day would henceforth be night. It ordered that businesses and factories work through the hours of darkness to make up for the time spent protesting. Many fear that September 21, when the Tehreek-i-Hurriyat has called on volunteers to march on military outposts, will see horrific violence. That is precisely what the New Islamists seek: for them, Kashmir's streets are the crucible in which a new generation of jihadists, who will wage a this-time successful war for independence, are being forged.


Islamist patriarch Syed Ali Shah Geelani's Rudad-i-Qafas, or 'Records of Jail,' an 800-page, two-volume reflection on politics and life written while he was incarcerated at New Delhi, Jammu and Allahabad from 1990-1992, gives some insight into the ideological underpinning of the street rebellion.


In a 2004 appraisal of the Rudad-i-Qafas, scholar Yoginder Sikand pointed to Mr. Geelani's concerns that the independence movement in Jammu and Kashmir had "actually gone out of the control of the political leadership and into the hands of militant youth who, though fired by a passionate sense of zeal, have little understanding of the problem as well as the uphill task of resolving it." He argued that "the youth ought to have entered the movement under the leadership of a truly Islamic and honest political leadership." Instead, Kashmir's young jihadists had acted "unfettered by any authority above them as if they have 'sworn not to accept any political leadership at all'."


"They have," he concluded, "apparently miscalculated the enormity of the demands of the struggle and the strength of the power they are fighting against, fondly imagining that their goal would be achieved in no time."


Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, in the years that followed the publication of the Rudad-i-Qafas, threw its resources behind the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen — led, in the main, by figures drawn from the Jamaat-e-Islami. But as the conflict dragged, the Jamaat sensed defeat — and drew back. In 1997, the then Jamaat chief G.M. Bhat called for an end to the "gun culture." Three years later, dissident Hizb commander Abdul Majid Dar declared a unilateral ceasefire. Although the ceasefire fell apart, the Jamaat itself continued to marginalise Mr. Geelani. In May 2003, Jamaat moderates led by Bhat's successor, Syed Nasir Ahmad Kashani, retired Mr. Geelani as their political representative. In January 2004, the Jamaat's Majlis-e-Shoora, or central consultative council, went public with a commitment to a "democratic and constitutional struggle."


Mr. Geelani, cast out from the mainstream of the Jamaat, set about building a new political movement; the kind of political movement he believed had led to the failure of the jihad.


Like others in the Jamaat-e-Islami, Mr. Geelani had long believed India posed an existential threat to Islam in Kashmir. In the Rudad-e-Qafas, he castigated India for its failure to hold a plebiscite on Jammu and Kashmir's future; its violations of the democratic process; and its use of the armed force after 1989-1990. But he underlined the growth of Hindu communalism from the mid-1980s, seeing it as an enterprise to erase Islam. Mr. Geelani even found evidence of this enterprise in prison: the 'martyrdom' of Muslim prisoners' beards at the hands of jailers and their being refused permission to pray. "Cultural hegemony," he concluded, "is a logical culmination of political supremacy."


From 2003, Mr. Geelani turned to a new group of lieutenants to fight India's growing "political supremacy": among them lawyer Mian Abdul Qayoom, activists like Mehrajuddin Kalwal and Jamaat apparatchiks like Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai. It was Massrat Alam Bhat, however, who was to become the most important figure in the new Islamic coalition.


Born in old-city Srinagar's Zaindar Mohalla in July 1971, Bhat studied in Srinagar's élite Cecil Earle Tyndale-Biscoe school before joining the Sri Pratap college. He was first arrested by the Border Security Force in October 1990, on charges of serving as a lieutenant to the then-prominent jihadist Mushtaq Ahmad Bhat. He won a protracted legal battle in 1997 and began working at a cloth store owned by his grandfather, graduating the next year. From 1999, Bhat became increasingly active in the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference. He drew much of his core cadre from one-time jihadists who had been released — only to find they had neither prestige, power nor prospects.


Bhat's Muslim League Jammu Kashmir's objective, its website explains, "besides fighting Indian aggression, is to propagate Islamic teachings to fight out socialism and secularism to remove taguti [false leaders; traitors] rule and to extirpate the western ideology."


Just two of the Muslim League's eight-point charter of objectives are, as such, concerned with the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. It seeks the "building up of public opinion about the issue of Jammu and Kashmir on [the] international front," and promises to "organise rallies and congregations to achieve the right to self-determination."


But the bulk of the Muslim League's objectives centres around forging a new political culture. It promises to "inculcate [a] sense of religious duties, character building and make the youth politically conscious;" to "safeguard the youths against any anti-Islamic move;" "to make aware the Muslims about the policies and plans of the aggressors and ensure that they follow the path of the Quran and the Sunnah to become one entity; to resist "misinformation campaigns against [the] Islamic system on the part of various imperialistic forces;" and, more generally, "to work for the welfare of the people."


Now serving a life sentence for the assassination of human rights campaigner H.N. Wanchoo, imprisoned jihadist Muhammad Qasim Faktoo was key to shaping Bhat's ideological vision. Faktoo, who acquired a doctorate in Islamic studies while in prison, founded his religious beliefs on the teachings of the neo-fundamentalist Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith — not Mr. Geelani's Jamaat-e-Islami. Long an anti-India political activist, Faktoo was led into the Hizb by Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo who, many years later, presided over the assassination of the influential Srinagar cleric Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq — father of the current chairperson of the APHC, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. In 1990, Faktoo and Hilal Mir, better known by the code-name Nasir-ul-Islam, broke from the Hizb to form the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, upset with its linkages to the Jamaat-e-Islami.


From jail, the Jammu and Kashmir Police allege, Faktoo mentored a new generation of jihadists. The police say he inspires two organisations — the al-Nasireen and the Farzandan-e-Millat — responsible for the killings of officers last August and September. The name al-Nasireen, a reference to the companions of Prophet Mohammad, is thought to draw on the nom de guerre of Faktoo's Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen co-founder. Farzandan-e-Millat, or sons of the nation, mirrors that of the Dukhtaran-e-Millat, daughters of the nation, an organisation run by Faktoo's wife, Asiya Andrabi.


Ms Andrabi is the youngest child of the prominent Srinagar doctor, Sayeed Shahabuddin Andrabi. The 1962-born Ms Andrabi has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry, and hoped to study further in Dalhousie. Forbidden from leaving home, she turned to religion. From 1982, she set up a network of religious schools and campaigned against obscenity in popular television programming.


Both Bhat and Andrabi played a key role in organising protests against the grant of land-use rights to the Amarnath shrine board in 2008 — a communally-charged campaign that brought tens of thousands of people to the streets. The networks used then were patiently built over years, in the course of struggles against prostitution and alcohol-use; campaigns for the enforcement of social morality targeting western cultural practices; and human rights abuses by Indian security forces.


In 1990, the Time Magazine carried an evocative account of the first uprising, the failure of which Mr. Geelani so evocatively wrote of: "'Brave Kashmiris,' came the summons from loudspeakers in minarets throughout Srinagar, summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, 'the time has come to lay down your lives. Come out and face the occupation forces as true soldiers of Islam.' By the thousands, Muslim separatists answered the call last week. Enraged by the detention of 400 locals accused of terrorism, they surged through the narrow alleys of the decrepit city, chanting 'Indian dogs, go home!' and pelting the police and soldiers with stones. Security forces replied first with tear gas, then with rifle fire. By the week's end, at least 133 people had been killed, nearly doubling, to 279, the death count since the latest round of trouble in Kashmir began 18 months ago."


Those words could also be a prophecy of what lies ahead.










The journalist Justus Ondari wrote recently in Kenya's Daily Nation: "The Chinese influence, in the form of its people, investment and business, is sweeping across the African continent like a wildfire." If China is 'a complex actor' and Africa 'a complex continent', it follows that their relationship is complex too. A staunch opponent of colonialism, China is now being projected by some as manifesting neo-colonialist tendencies. Is the China link a blessing or bane for Africans?

While this debate unfolds elsewhere, it does not receive much notice in India. But it should, because expanding China-Africa relations have global implications.


A look at the past


Western media tend to suggest that China has appeared suddenly on the African stage in recent years. China's publicists would have us believe that the relationship has ancient origins. Neither view is accurate.


The only important chapter in the history of these relations pre-dating the rise of Communist China pertains to Zeng He. Hailed as 'the Chinese Columbus', he undertook eight voyages during the 15th Century to the region west of China, at the behest of Ming Emperor Cheng Zu. A few of these journeys took him across the Indian Ocean to Africa's eastern and southern seaboard, e.g. Mogadishu, Malindi and Madagascar. His aim was to explore and to spread China's influence and trade. Chinese scholars stress that conquest and colonialism did not result from them.


Cut to the 20th century. China-Africa relations were initially driven by common experience and ideology: shared subjugation by the West; a resolve to end colonialism and to launch economic development. Afro-Asian unity was forged at the Bandung Conference, with Nehru's India introducing the new China to African leaders. In 1956, Egypt became the first African country to establish diplomatic relations with China. Premier Zhou Enlai's historic visits to Africa in 1963 and 1964 created a lasting impact. The 'One China' policy took quick strides: in 1960 only five of 22 independent African states recognised the People's Republic of China; in 2010, only four of 54 African states maintain relations with Taiwan. China began extending economic and military assistance to African countries, but the Cultural Revolution introduced aberrations. China's inclination 'to export revolution' amounted to violating its own traditional adherence to the principle of non-interference.


]From the early 1980s, China's policy marked a shift from an emphasis on 'war and revolution' to 'peace and development'. Economic cooperation assumed greater importance. During the 1990s, visits to Africa by top Chinese leaders became progressively more frequent and extensive. Since 1991, the Chinese foreign minister follows the tradition to inaugurate his annual calendar of foreign visits by first visiting a few African capitals.


]Forum on cooperation


Sino-African relations have been institutionalised in the past decade through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). It has traversed through four important milestones, namely three ministerial conferences (held in 2000, 2003 and 2009) and the climax in 2006 — "China's Africa Year" — when the ministerial conference was followed by the first summit in Beijing, attended by leaders of 48 African countries.


Two FOCAC documents stand out. The Beijing Summit Declaration proclaimed solemnly "the establishment of a new type of strategic partnership between China and Africa featuring political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation and cultural exchanges." The Sharm-el-Sheikh Declaration (of November 2009) stressed that Sino-African cooperation had produced "fruitful results", making it "a good example of South-South cooperation."


Relations today


China's relations with Africa cover all facets — political, defence, economic and other areas of cooperation. Shared perceptions on regional and international issues have been highlighted repeatedly. The growing China link has helped put a global focus on Africa. Similarly, relations with Africa help China to project itself as a global power. New assertiveness of the Chinese Navy in the western Indian Ocean is noteworthy. China seems to be working actively to advance the FOCAC process. Over two dozen Confucius Institutes have been established in 18 African countries.


China-Africa trade, valued at $10 billion in 2000, shot up to $107 billion in 2008. China, to a large extent, imports minerals and crude oil, and exports manufactured goods. Currently, China imports over 20 per cent of its oil requirements from Africa. Over 1,600 Chinese companies have investment or an operational presence on the continent today. However, Chinese investment is barely 10 per cent of accumulated investment by foreign countries in Africa. Seven special economic zones being set up by China in five African countries have drawn special attention.


The 'China in Africa' phenomenon has triggered conflicting reactions and assessments. Supporters have argued that China's approach is to promote mutual benefit and a balance of advantages. China does not interfere in internal affairs nor impose conditions and refrains from neo-colonialist actions. Unlike the West, it did not embark on colonialism, impose its religion and languages, conquer territory and practice slave trade. China has only challenged the exploitative Western dominance of Africa. It has contributed to Africa's integration, enhancement of Africa's importance in world affairs as well as to rise in prices of African commodities and growth in Africa's GDP.


On the other hand, critics have argued that China is an 'exploitative' and 'extractive' mercantilist power with its own neo-colonialist inclinations. It buys raw materials and sells manufactured products. Its economic policy damages Africa's development, delays industrialisation, ruins local industry, does not involve a transfer of technology nor value addition, contributing very little to employment as China prefers to bring its own labour. Besides, the quality of Chinese goods is poor. China jeopardises good governance in Africa, supports dictatorships, corruption, and a violation of human rights (as in Sudan and Zimbabwe). China is basically interested in Africa's natural resources, not in its long-term development.


Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between the two positions. In theory, China's engagement could be beneficial or harmful, with the actual mix varying from country to country. It may largely depend on how an African government manages to enhance benefits and reduce harmful effects.


The India angle


India's relations with Africa have been deeper, stronger and more substantive for long. The two sides were linked through trade, cultural influences, migration as well as shared struggles, ideals and icons throughout the 19th and the 20th Centuries. However, in recent years, the gap between India's and China's profile in Africa has been widening, to our disadvantage. Perhaps China is now a decade ahead of India.


Denying the fact of rivalry with China is not a feasible option. Many Africans are convinced that the two Asian powers are vying for Africa's attention, assets, markets and support for their political agenda.


Neither is it desirable to merely lament nor to suggest copying or 'beating China in its own game.' A balanced view indicates that India should leverage its many natural advantages and core strengths. The most sensible choice would be to closely monitor China's activities in Africa and to intensify and broaden our cooperation with African countries selectively.


Recently a thoughtful African ambassador in Delhi told me: "China is doing more, but India is doing better." China's presence in Africa is set to expand. It is time for India to enhance its engagement wisely and rapidly. A sustained combination of greater activism, sensitivity and synergy is essential. Then, India may be seen as doing both better and more.


( The writer served as India's High Commissioner to Kenya and later to South Africa and Lesotho.)









The two Asian giants, China and India, are gearing up for the next phase of lunar exploration.


Each of them has successfully sent a scientific probe that photographed and studied Earth's natural satellite while circling it.


China now plans to send the Chang'e-2 to the moon at the end of this year. An orbiter like its predecessor, this spacecraft will be equipped with a high-resolution camera that will help identify possible landing areas on the moon. According to a recent report from the Xinhua news agency, it will also "test key soft-landing technologies."


The country then intends to set a rover down on the lunar surface with the Chang'e-3 mission in 2013. A subsequent mission will attempt to bring lunar samples back to earth four years later.


Meanwhile, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is pursuing the Chandrayaan-2 project. This mission, which is currently scheduled for 2013, envisages having both an orbiter circling the moon as well as a lander taking a rover down to the lunar surface. The rover will then trundle about and study the composition of lunar rocks and soil. ISRO recently announced details of seven instruments that would be carried on the orbiter and rover.


India and Russian help


India has chosen to take Russian help for this ambitious project. The space agencies of the two countries signed an agreement to work together on the Chandrayaan-2 mission when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Russia in 2007.


The original idea was that India would be responsible for the orbiter while Russia would provide the lander and the rover. But as things have worked out, Russia will be making only the lander while ISRO will develop both the orbiter and the rover.


The tie-up is intended to take advantage of the wealth of experience that the Russians have with automated missions to the moon. The epic space race between the U.S. and the [former] U.S.S.R. is best remembered for America's triumph in putting a dozen of its astronauts on the moon. What is often forgotten is the latter's belated successes with automated missions involving two rovers and three sample-return missions.


The Soviet Union's programme for manned exploration of the moon never received the sort of wholehearted government backing that the U.S. once did. It was also undermined by feuds between key design bureaus in the Soviet space programme. As a result, a rocket powerful enough to carry humans to the moon could not be developed in time. (See "Soviet Union in the race to the Moon", The Hindu, July 30, 2009.)


Unmanned exploration


Watching the steady progress of the U.S. effort which they could not match, the Soviet leaders and space community turned to unmanned exploration. If their cosmonauts could not go to the moon, perhaps some of their tasks could be carried out by automated rovers and sample-return spacecraft. Their Luna 9 spacecraft had, after all, been the first to achieve a soft-landing on the moon in January 1966.


But even automated exploration proved problematic. In 1969, when Apollo 11 landed the first astronauts on the moon, Soviet space scientists and engineers were struggling with one failure after another.


The new Proton rocket, which was used to launch the automated lunar spacecraft, had a troubled start. (It went on to become a reliable launch vehicle that is still in use today.) A Proton rocket carrying the first lunar rover blew up less than a minute after launch in February 1969.


In June the same year, a spacecraft to bring back a sample of lunar soil was launched, as space historian Asif A. Siddiqi puts it, to "reclaim some glory for the Soviet space programme." But an upper stage of the rocket failed and the spacecraft wound up in the Pacific Ocean.


Another sample-return mission was launched in mid-July that year, just three days before the Apollo 11 astronauts left the earth. After successfully entering lunar orbit, Luna 15, however, crashed into the side of a mountain as it was descending to the surface.


Three subsequent Soviet sample-return missions were also unsuccessful. Finally Luna 16 landed safely on the moon's Sea of Fertility in September 1970. Less than an hour after landing, an automatic drill took a sample of lunar soil, which was then deposited in a return capsule. After successfully lifting off from the moon, the capsule brought some 105 grams of lunar soil back to the Soviet Union.


The rovers


Another impressive achievement soon followed. Luna 17 took a rover, known as Lunokhod 1, to the moon in November 1970. The Lavochkin Design Bureau, which built both the sample-return and rover spacecraft, used a lander that was essentially common to the both. The sample-return mission had an ascent stage fixed on top of the lander. Likewise, the rover too was strapped to the lander, which was equipped with ramps so that the wheeled vehicle could roll off on to the lunar surface.


"The mobile Lunokhod 1 was an extremely sophisticated, self-contained explorer, although its appearance prompted observers to describe it as a bathtub on wheels with two large protruding eyes," remarked Nicholas Johnson in his book on Soviet lunar and planetary exploration.


Lunokhod 1 was an outstanding success, Dr. Siddiqi has pointed out in his book on the Soviet efforts during the space race. It operated for 10 months, during which time it travelled over 10 km, taking 20,000 photographs and over 200 panoramas of the lunar surface. During that period, it withstood the intense cold of the lunar night and the searing heat of the lunar day.


Subsequently, Luna 21 took another rover, the Lunokhod 2, to the moon in 1973. The Soviets also successfully carried out two further sample-return missions, in 1972 and again in 1976.


Since then, no more rovers have roamed around on the moon. Nor have there been any more sample-return missions. Now, China and India are seeking to return once again with automated spacecraft to explore the lunar landscape.








In a refreshing break with the daily dose of gloomy headlines about the current state of British-Iranian relations, there was, at last, something to cheer about last week as the "soft" power of art and culture trumped hard-nosed diplomacy.


In what the Financial Times called a "rare act of diplomatic accord between the U.K. and Iran", the British Museum moved to end a long-simmering row with Tehran over one of its most prized possessions of Persian provenance — the Cyrus Cylinder, a terracotta document written by the Persian king, Cyrus the Great 2,500 years ago and often described as the "first charter of human rights".


Last year, Iran asked to borrow it for an important exhibition and was miffed when the British Museum, after initially agreeing to it, put off the loan at the last minute citing academic reasons following the discovery of two related new objects. There was fury in Iran. The Iranian Government alleged that the decision was politically motivated and its Cultural Heritage Organisation reacted by snapping ties with the British Museum.


However, after some deft diplomatic footwork on both sides the dispute has been happily settled and the Cylinder is now in Tehran — and on show as the centrepiece of a four-month-long exhibition at the National Museum of Iran on great moments in the history of West Asia. The two museums have a history of cooperation and the row over the Cylinder appears to have embarrassed both.


The British Museum sought to smooth ruffled feathers in Tehran by showering praise on its Iranian counterpart for its "generous loans" in the past. It said the exchanges between the two institutions were independent of "political considerations".


"The British Museum has a positive and ongoing exchange of skills and objects with colleagues at the National Museum of Iran which has played a key part in recent exhibitions. The Trustees have reaffirmed their view that exchanges of this sort are an essential part of the Museum's international role, allowing valuable dialogues to develop independently of political considerations," said its chairman Niall FitzGerald.


Neil MacGregor, director of the Museum, said the loan had an "extraordinary value".


"This is a document that speaks of respect for the rights of other peoples and of different ways of worshipping. It is very hard to look at the Cyrus Cylinder without being reminded of that view of government and human relationships," he said.


Links histories


Describing the Cylinder as "a history of the Middle East in one object", Mr MacGregor said: "At this moment, the loan has an extraordinary value. This is an object that links the histories of Iran, Iraq and Israel. Cyrus was a major figure in the Jewish and Christian traditions."


To critics who objected to the loan questioning Iran's human rights records, his response was: "An object that speaks of dialogues between nations and religions is more appropriately lent now that at any point in the last generation. The trustees take the view that it is always important that cultural relations and the dialogue of scholars continue, irrespective of any political difficulties."


Baroness Helena Kennedy, an independent human rights lawyer and a trustee of the Museum, said the loan was an "act of faith".


"To present this particular temporary gift to the people of Iran at this particular time is an act of faith which will have profound meaning and value," she pointed out.


Karen Armstrong, one of Britain's most respected commentators on religious affairs who is also trustee of the museum, called for efforts to develop a culture where "peoples of differing ideologies can live together in respect and harmony".


]"At a time of political tension, it is essential to keep as many doors of communication open as possible. We all have much work to do to build a peaceful world. This cultural exchange may make a small but timely contribution towards the creation of better relations between the West and Iran," she said.


A symbol of tolerance


The Cylinder, written in Babylonian cuneiform by a Babylonian scribe, was found during a British Museum excavation at Babylon in Iraq in 1879, and has been in the British Museum since then. The document has come to be regarded as a symbol of tolerance and respect for other peoples and faiths and, critics say, it has special resonance for our troubled times.


The Museum sums up its historical significance thus: "It (the Cylinder) records that … Cyrus captured Babylon without a struggle, restored shrines dedicated to different gods, and repatriated deported peoples who had been brought to Babylon. It was this decree that allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild The Temple.


"Because of these enlightened acts, which were rare in antiquity, the Cylinder has acquired a special resonance, and is valued by people all around the world as a symbol of tolerance and respect for different peoples and different faiths."


This is not the first time that the Cylinder has caused tension between the two countries. There was anger in Iran when a request for a loan by the Shah in 1971 was turned down by the British Foreign Office. Peace was restored when the British Museum, ignoring Whitehall's advice, obliged the Shah. The Cylinder became the star attraction at an exhibition held in Iran in October 1971 to commemorate 2,500 years of the Persian monarchy.








It is an important positive aspect of the story that the all-party meeting on Kashmir called by the Prime Minister on Wednesday was well attended and marked by an absence of acrimony. Differences between parties on the handling of the recent unfortunate developments in the Valley were not even alluded to. That is indicative of seriousness of approach. While the unsettling phenomenon of the rise of Islamism being a key political element of the situation was not brushed under the carpet (although it was not referred to in direct terms), Congress president Sonia Gandhi stressed the importance of a magnanimous approach in any dialogue in order to assuage the pain of the youth. This undoubtedly has meaning since she heads the ruling party and the ruling all ia nce in New Delhi, and her sentiments are likely to have a bearing on how the government proceeds. In her speech, People's Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti, whose party is the main Op p osition in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and who has pla yed spoilsport in Kashmir so far, went out of her way to ap plaud Mrs Gandhi's sentiments. This is a good start in a volatile situation.

The high level representatives of the key national parties, and the National Conference, People's Democratic Party and the Congress — the three mainstream parties that have a meaningful presence in J&K — at the meeting appeared to make thoughtful speeches, eschewing confrontational demands. It has been decided that an all-party delegation will visit the state shortly to confabulate with all those willing to meet them, whether separatist parties or social organisations, with a view to listen. Who better than politicians to be interlocutors of the people, rather than representatives of the governments, at the Centre and in the state? It has been decided that the inputs provided by the all-party delegation will be factored into policy as key ingredients. This is significant. It is a message to all concerned — to the people of Kashmir and all political parties and other players — that it is the collective will of the people of the country that will drive policy, not just the decision of the government. As far as the people of Kashmir are concerned, this will serve as an assurance; and the clear signal for jihadist ideologues and activists is that they will be challenged and defeated by the full might of the Indian state and society whose progressive and humane aspects they have shown the temerity to confront with the help of their foreign backers.

The Islamists in the Valley would have undoubtedly noted that the all-party meeting refrained from demanding either the resignation of chief minister Omar Abdullah or the imposition of governor's rule. No participant brought up these questions. This is a mature response to the goings-on in the Valley, one that cannot please the extremist mobilisers of religious sentiment. Ms Mehbooba Mufti, who had made it a virtue to be contrarian as the situation in the Valley went from bad to worse, appeared to be a different persona and extended all support to concrete efforts to restore normality. Thus, the takeaway from the five-hour meeting on Wednesday is beneficial. What political actors of all hues, not least the government (in the state and at the Centre), need to keep in view as they go about interacting with the people in Kashmir is the abject failure of the authorities to detect the rise of a buried old tendency in the Valley — that of an Islamist resurgence. A part explanation of this is the callous disregard by the government of people in public life who back the cultural ethos of tolerance native to the Kashmir Valley.








My last column on China (Keep the powder dry, September 3) focused on the geopolitical space between our countries, but as I mentioned, there is a lot more that's positive to talk about in our economic relations. China and India are two countries wh ose development will have a significant impact on the global sy stem, which is why how we can cooperate becomes important.

China and India are the two most populous countries in the world, together making 38 per cent of the world's total population, with Indians set to outnumber Chinese around 2034. Together they account for nearly a tenth of global gross domestic product, a fifth of world exports and a sixth of all international capital flows. China and India are the world's second and fifth largest economies in PPP (purchasing power parity) terms. China holds by far the largest foreign currency reserves in the world, at close to $2 trillion. India's is around $300 billion.
We can say with some confidence that both countries will continue to prosper and pull more millions out of poverty than they have ever done; that they will compete effectively with Western corporations for business, purchase foreign companies and assets, expand their trade and overseas investments, invent and develop new technologies, and displace more economic weight around the world.

The basic task for countries like China and India in international affairs is to wield a foreign policy that enables and facilitates their own domestic transformation. We are both engaged in the great adventure of bringing progress and prosperity to a billion people each, through economic development. At the broadest level, our foreign policy must seek to protect that process of transformation — to ensure security and bring in global support for our efforts to build and change our country for the better.

This is why economic relations are important for both of us. Trade has increased twelve-fold in the last decade, to an estimated $51 billion last year; China has now overtaken the US as India's largest single trading partner. The two governments expect to cross the $60 billion mark in the current fiscal year (a figure that is 230 times the total trade between the countries in 1990, just 20 years ago) and Beijing has already spoken of aiming for $70 billion the following year.

In my last column I described the complementarities that facilitate our cooperation, notably Indian software and services meshing with Chinese hardware and manufacuring. So Mahindra and Mahindra manufactures tractors in Nanchang for export to the United States. The key operating components of Apple's iPod were invented by the Hyderabad company PortalPlayer, while the iPods themselves are manufactured in China. Indian investments in China are nearing the billion-dollar mark. The trade imbalance is two-thirds in favour of China, but this can be addressed if China takes steps to reduce the non-tariff barriers to entry into its market that have been thwarting Indian companies.

But our economic cooperation need not just be in each other's countries. Inevitably our search for markets, technology and resources to fuel our growth will be key drivers of our international relations. This is why we are both looking far afield, to Africa and Latin America, for opportunities.

Energy is an obvious area for cooperation. The US' department of energy estimates that China's oil consumption will rise 156 per cent and India's oil consumption will rise 152 per cent by 2025. While both countries are seeking to expand their domestic production, opportunities for growth are limited, and both countries will become more dependent on imported oil, making them more vulnerable to irregularities of supply and price volatility. This makes the quest for reliable sources of supply and secure sea lanes of communication a shared interest. After all, both China and India are relatively new entrants into the global oil system. They are facing fierce competition from much larger, more experienced, and arguably more resourceful Western oil companies. Cooperation between Indian and Chinese oil firms is essential.

Prior to 2002, India and China competed aggressively with each other to acquire oil and gas fields abroad. Wisdom dawned, however, with improved energy cooperation starting that year, when India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) purchased a 25 per cent share of Sudan's Greater Nile Oil Field, operated by the China National Petroleum Cooperation (CNPC). The experience has been positive and continued cooperation in the global energy sector, including some examples of joint bids and at least one successful joint acquisition, has occurred. The prospects for further collaboration, to jointly explore and develop oil and natural gas resources in third countries, are high.

To take another example: Our demand for food will inevitably rise as well, perhaps by 50 per cent in the next two decades, as a result of our growing population, their rising affluence, and the improved dietary possibilities available to a larger middle class. We will need to multiply our sources of food, including acquiring agricultural land abroad, in Africa and even Latin America. Lack of access to stable supplies of water is reaching critical proportions, particularly for agricultural purposes, and the problem will worsen because of rapid urbanisation over the next 20 years. We will need skilful and creative diplomacy to ensure that interruptions in the flow of water across our borders do not bedevil relations with our neighbours or with each other.

All this underscores that fore i gn policy is basically about fulfi lling domestic objectives. Let us never forget that if we, the two largest developing countries in the world, succeed — when we succeed — in our national transformations we will be inc l u ding more and more of our people in the great narrative of hope that has been the narrative of social and economic developm e nt in the West over the last 200 years.

In his recent book Rivals, Bill Emmott quoted an unnamed senior Indian official as saying, "Both of us (India and China) think that the future belongs to us. We can't both be right". Actually they can both be right — it's just that it will be two very different futures. And there can be room for both in the world of tomorrow.

Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruva nanthapuram constituency








Which creature best symbolises a land depends a lot on who you ask. The answer tells as much about the person or persons who make the pick as it does about the animal, plant, tree, bird or flower they select as emblem.
Composers of the Sanskrit pharmacopoeia were very clear about the links of the land they lived in and what embodied them. It was the Krisna Mrig, the black buck, an antelope of the open country.
The male is a magnificent creature, with swivelling horns. It is elegant and sprightly, and has a leap few can equal. More crucially, it is indubitably and unmistakably Indian. It lives nowhere else on earth.
But their numbers have now shrunk. It once had a range far south to Tirunelveli in the Tamil country and eastward to Bihar. But even half-a-century ago large herds were commonplace in west and central India.
When the Delhi Darbar was held in 1911, Shahu Maharaj, the prince of Kolhapur, who was a social reformer, brought in his hunting cheetahs to course antelope near the banks of the Yamuna. Fresh venison at the table needed some exertion.

But to the brahmanas, whose caste-based order aroused Shahu's ire, the antelope was more than an animal. Its open country was the seat of their culture, of a hierarchy of place as much as of person.
In the Sanskrit epics, which were composed and sung long before they were written and read, the animal was a symbol of a culture. Its home was called jangala. In his engaging book, The Jungle and the Aroma of Meats, Indologist Frances Zimmerman shows that jangala was not what we call jungle today. The latter connotes a place of tangled bushes, thorns and trees.

But the Sanskrit idea of the jungle, jangala, was distinct from the forest, or the aranya. It was the land of the black antelope. It was dry as opposed to wet, could grow cereals and was the place of the grama, the village.
Its polar opposite was what they called the anupa, the marshland with geese and standing water. Here, the black buck did not venture. These were lands and places of the other, of mystical beasts and magical, even dangerous, men.
Anupa was peopled in the epics by creatures which, whether divine or malign, lay outside the pale of the world, of sacrifice. To subdue them was a challenge.

The range of the black antelope coincided, so to speak, with the land of the fire sacrifice, of the Brahmanic culture. No wonder that in the Valmiki Ramayana, Rama asks his brother Lakshmana to sacrifice a fine black buck to consecrate their forest hermitage.

The land of the black antelope was the heart of the fire sacrifice. It was cereal-bearing dry land. But the forest lay beyond this land, not just jungle but, called by a culturally-charged name, the Aryavarta.
It is clear the black buck, or Antilope cervicapra to call it by its Latin name, was symbolic of a culture. It was a culture that excluded and made marginal other peoples and cultures.

Of course, this is a textual reading of the past, and does not do justice to its twists and turns. But it is still notable that till early in the last century, the deer skin used for meditation of the brahmanas was usually an antelope's skin.

The chital or the spotted deer became staple fare only as the herds of the antelope dwindled. The coming of the modern Express Rifles, of the railway and the four-wheel drive sealed the fate of the antelope.
And of course, its best habitat, once watered well, could be turned to crop land. Once this happened its living space shrank. By the winter of 1976, when a small herd of black antelope crossed into the Union Territory of Delhi near the Alipur Block, they made headlines.

But all this raises a question: Why was the black buck so central a symbol for early Sanskritic cultures? Part of the explanation could lie in the geography.

Those who composed the verses identified with the land they lived in, and looked with anxiety to the forested lands to the south, to the hill country and to lands where their culture's supremacy would come under greater challenge.

It is true there are black antelope in the Deccan, in Point Calimere in Tamil Nadu and even in the Guindy Park in Chennai. But historically the really large horns came from males in north-west India — there were huge congregations in the Indus and Ganga valleys. The further west you went, the more antelope there were.
Maybe the practitioners of the fire sacrifice in early Sanskritic cultures were, by making the black buck so central a symbol, seeking to immortalise themselves. The old order has gone, but the antelope lives on.


Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian and most recently was chairman of the Elephant Task Force.








The decision of the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) to raise returns by 1% to 9.5% in 2010-11 is highly irresponsible. The organisation, which looks after the long-term savings of over five crore organised sector employees, discovered a "hidden surplus" of Rs1,732 crore in its suspense account — which is the difference between receipts and disbursements. But there is nothing really hidden about this surplus, since the money partly belongs to employees who haven't collected their dues.


There are three reasons why the EPFO isn't doing the right thing by raising payments. First, one-time surpluses should not be gifted away when everyone knows that the EPFO is underfunded, given its long-term liabilities. Increased payments cannot be sustained without higher returns. In the current interest rate regime, the EPFO's fund managers cannot service payments above 8.5% without investing some money in equity, but this is precisely what the organisation's trustees have refused to allow.


Second, the money is not theirs to give away. The EPFO is trustee to employee savings, and surpluses emerge when employees fail to collect their dues — for whatever reason. When employees change jobs, they often fail to shift their PF accounts, making their accounts dormant. Some employees may also have passed away without leaving nominees. Their inheritors may not be aware that they can claim the PF balances. Whatever the reason, the ethics of distributing someone else's unclaimed money as higher returns to the remaining members is questionable. The decision to stop paying interest on accounts dormant for three years is also unfair.


What if the account holders surface and claim their dues? Even assuming they don't, isn't it part of EPFO's job to find them and give them back their hard-earned savings?


Third, the increase in returns covers privately-run provident funds at many exempted establishments. These funds may not have "hidden surpluses" or lapsed accounts. They thus will have to dip into profits to fund the higher payouts.


For all these reasons, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the decision to raise payments without a commensurate increase in earnings is politically motivated. The UPA government can earn brownie points with labour for this munificence, but the higher payments are neither fiscally prudent nor ethical, since unaware Peter is being robbed to pay Paul. The only long-term way of improving returns is by taking risks — and this means investing a part of the corpus in equity, with appropriate safeguards. The EPFO's trustees should take that call sooner rather than later.







By the middle of next year, new passport holders will no longer have to stand in long queues at immigration counters, for they will simply need to swipe their e-passports and zip past. Another report tells us that the National Academic Depository (NAD) Bill, 2010, will have our academic records digitised so that they can be easily accessed by us and our potential employers. UIDs (Unique Identification) are slated to arrive by 2011, enabling everyone from NREGA recipients to high net worth individuals to have a digital identity. Our voting went electronic years ago.


Indians have been some of the fastest adopters of technology in Asia, and that is saying a lot. As people who were bombarded with too much too soon, we have taken to technology like fish to water. But at the same time, we have thrown caution to the winds when uploading our lives online. This indiscretion is justified if we are to compare the ease of using e-options to standing in line for just about everything.


Electronic transactions are what suit us best, as evidenced by the number of ATMs in India when compared even to the developed countries. Besides, there are social pressures to keep on digitising. It's the master narrative. Just like you weren't seen as progressive if you weren't pro-liberalisation, you are seen as a fogey if you are not in with technology.


But there are caveats to digital nirvana. We may love technology, but we have not taken basic precautions on safeguarding privacy and guarding our digital information from intruders. With so much of our personal information getting stored in cyberspace and hard drives, we stand to lose both money and privacy if these fall into the wrong hands. Not only do we need a strong law to regulate how our digital data is stored and shared, but there needs to be strong deterrent punishment for transgressors. Leapfrogging the digital world can be heady, but we now need to be prepare for the downside.







The battle with our mortality just got a little more interesting. All this while, we were told that to live longer you had to lead aboring life. The less of the good things you indulged in, the more you prolonged your life. But this research into longevity says it has nothing to do with diet and exercise: it has to do with socialising. The more friends you have, the longer you will live.


All right, maybe we already knew this: that lonely people had a disadvantage. But having studied people and their relationships for over three decades, this new research adds an interesting rider for our cyber-connected times. The friends in question have to be real people; they can't be spooks on the internet with whom one can have virtual meals, chats or sex. This is a challenge for our days and puts a real spanner in the works.


Because just when we thought that we could go hell for leather at our Facebook and Second Life accounts, it turns out we have to do the old-fashioned thing if we want to add 3.7 years to our lifespan. No man is an island, said a wise man a long time ago. Turns out, as the bell tolls for us, that he was right.








Einstein famously said that 'God doesn't play dice'. He meant that the order and predictability of the natural universe negated the idea of luck or chance. The disorder, cruelty and sheer amoral destructiveness of the world of the living convinces me that God may not play dice but he does play video games.


Even the insurance companies designate freak tornadoes hitting your house in the middle of London (as happened to my distant cousin) as 'acts of God'. And so with the ground opening up under one's feet, tectonic plates under the sea colliding and causing 50-foot high floods, etc. Any modern kid who fiddles with computers will be able to tell you which video game God has his thumbs on.


It is bound to be one that, at the push of a button, can bring on floods, earthquakes and hurricanes, give rise to babies with crippling genetic defects, cause wars, famines and even the general injustice of socio-political systems such as capitalism.


Semitic monotheistic religions, from Zoroastrianism through Judaism, Christianity and Islam, conveniently contend that God has allowed its humans free will so that they can be tested by choosing good or evil. These religions have no explanation for why a little baby is born without arms or is born blind and deaf.


Other religions, which believe in karma, may say that the blind and maimed baby must have done something in its past life to deserve being born crippled in the next. A logical but cruelexplanation. These metaphysical thoughts are occasioned by a shocking family tragedy that reached the courts in Britain this week.

The tragedies of families are two a penny.


Billions of pounds are spent by the Welfare state of Great Britain on caring for the families that have fallen apart or on hard times owing to sickness, alcoholism, drug-addiction and the choice by parents of an unsuccessful criminal life.


In the case that came to court, a single mother with three children aged 13, 11 and 9, was charged with criminal neglect of the children. Her neighbours, suspecting that all was not well, looked through the letter box, noted the signs of squalor and alerted the social services — a branch of that same welfare state. The


police obtained permission to gain entry and found three starving children, the rooms in a filthy state and the corpses of two pet dogs which had died of starvation.


The mother, who attempted to stop the police discovering this shameful truth was not an alcoholic, drug addict, disabled or associated with crime. What they did find was a high power computer loaded with games. The mother confessed that she had become addicted to these games and couldn't force herself to


abandon the virtual reality even to wash, eat, feed her children or her dogs. She would, she said, sleep an hour or two and then get back into the almost fatal game.


New technologies bring new addictions. This particular case is, we must hope, an extreme and unique example. The courts, judging the woman to be sane, sent her to prison and took the starving children into 'care' which means the jurisdiction of the welfare state, which will feed, clothe, school and entertain them as a foster parent. The judge said that on her release, she could resume the care of her children under supervision by the social services.


Now I am told by well-wishers that I am getting addicted to texting on my mobile phone. I have so far protested that the texts are strictly necessary ones — but I begin to wonder.








India's discomfort with the Obama administration's AfPak policy is now forcing it to chart a new course towards Afghanistan.


Pakistan's double game of appeasing certain American demands for cooperation while striving to exert influence in Afghanistan through many of the same insurgent networks that the Americans are fighting to eliminate has long been evident to the US military and political leadership.


After all it was Pervez Musharraf who was forced to acknowledge the possibility that former ISI officials were assisting the Afghan insurgency.


Recent revelations have made it clear that India has been systematically targeted by the ISI. The bombings of the Indian embassy were at the behest of the ISI and the Haqqani network sent bombers to strike Indians in Afghanistan.


The ISI paid the Haqqani network to eliminate Indians working in Afghanistan and gave orders to orchestrate attacks on Indian consulates there. That the Pakistani security complex has engendered targeting of Indian interests in Afghanistan is hardly news for New Delhi.


Indian influence in Afghanistan rose significantly as American support for Pakistan shifted and Washington demanded that Pakistan adopt policies that India had long wanted in the aftermath of 9/11.


Moreover, India emerged as a major economic actor in Afghanistan. But by refusing to use hard power India soon made itself irrelevant as the ground realities changed. The Obama administration, intent on moving out of Afghanistan, has managed to signal to Indian adversaries that they can shape the post-American ground realities to serve their own ends. India lost the confidence of its own allies in Afghanistan.


Moreover, Pakistan's weak democracy and powerful military and intelligence apparatus has failed to get a grip on the problem that now threatens to overwhelm the Pakistani state. The three-year extension granted to the Pakistani army chief, general Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, will ensure that a return to meaningful democracy will continue to elude Pakistan and the inflexible India-centric security perception of the army will make a rapprochement with


India a non-starter. Kayani remains wedded to the


notion of "strategic depth" — that is, making Afghanistan the kind of proprietary hinterland for Pakistan which it was from 1992 to 2001.


Afghan president Hamid Karzai's outreach to Islamabad, considered essential to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan by Washington, has caused consternation in New Delhi, Tehran and Moscow. This changing strategic dynamic is forcing New Delhi to reach out to Russia and Iran promptly as they share similar concerns about the emerging power configuration in



New Delhi has made some moves in this direction with the Indian foreign secretary's visit to Moscow that reiterated the two nations' shared positions on Afghanistan and Indian attempts to do business with Iran despite western sanctions on Tehran.


Moscow is refocusing on Afghanistan as Islamist extremism and drug trafficking emanating from central Asia have emerged as


major threats to its national security. Moscow hosted the presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan in mid-August and has promised to invest significant resources in Afghanistan to develop infrastructure and natural resources.


After keeping itself aloof from AfPak for years after the Taliban's ouster, Russia is back in the game and even the US is supporting greater Russian involvement. Russia has openly asserted that the security situation in Afghanistan impacts the security of India and Russia, prompting greater cooperation between the two on Afghanistan.


Iran is the third part of this triangle and India's outreach to Tehran has become serious after signals from Iran that the relationship is drifting. In the second ministerial-level visit from Iran to India in less than a month, Iranian deputy foreign minister was in India in


early August to coordinate the India-Iran approach towards Afghanistan.


Despite western sanctions, the Indian government is encouraging Indian companies to invest in the Iranian energy sector so that economic interests can underpin an India-Iran political realignment. Iran is worried about the potential role for leaders of the almost exclusively Sunni Taliban in the emerging political dispensation in Afghanistan. It has even encouraged India to send more of its assistance to provinces in northern and western Afghanistan that are under the control of those associated with the Northern Alliance.


The rapidity with which events are unfolding in India's western neighbourhood requires a sustained Indian policy response to minimise the adverse effects of America's proposed withdrawal and Pakistan's growing adventurism. It remains to be seen if India's gravitation towards Russia and Iran would be enough to change the situation in AfPak from evolving to India's disadvantage.









Not unexpectedly, the much- hyped all parties meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Tuesday to discuss the current grave situation in Kashmir and evolve a national consensus on the measures needed to resolve the crisis has turned out to be a damp squib. After five and half hours of boisterous deliberations with the leaders of the political parties across the spectrum joining the exercise what came out of it was least related to the genesis, extent and the nature of the problem. Rhetoric and lip sympathy for the suffering people of the besieged Valley apart, the national political parties betrayed their total lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation and urgency for taking immediate steps to restore the climate of trust by putting an end to the people's rage and agony. Not to speak of moving forward for finding a sustainable and realistic solution of the basic political problem of which the present unrest is only an offshoot, the meeting failed even to evolve measures to bridge the trust-deficit and provide immediate relief to the besieged people. If the earlier meeting of the enlarged Cabinet Committee on Security found both the UPA government and the Congress leadership divided even on the issue of repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act and concluded without any decision, the all-party meet as a follow-up of the earlier exercise too was marked by sharp differences among the participants though all of them betrayed a lack of understanding about the gravity of the situation and the nature of the real problem. There was more sound and fury than any substance during the deliberations and the meeting came out with a decision to send an all party delegation to the boiling Valley to meet cross-sections of the people, leaving the real problem under the carpet. At a time when the alienated, humiliated, traumatized and angry people of Kashmir needed healing touch through the necessary confidence building measures and end of the repression let loose by the state and central authorities and grave human rights abuses the decision to send a parliamentary delegation amounts to prolonging their agony and even rubbing salt on their wounds. Tragically, the meeting failed even to take a decision on the scrapping of the AFSPA and gradual demilitarization, demands which are being supported even by the major mainstream political parties in Kashmir like the National Conference and the PDP. While dialogue by providing the people of the state their due space at the negotiating table is the only way out to resolve the basic political problem, the measures like the revocation of draconian laws, release of all political prisoners including the children arrested on the frivulous charges of stone-pelting and withdrawal of all cases against then and appointment of a justice commission to probe all cases of killing are necessary to bridge the trust-deficit and create a conducive climate for pursuing the dialogue process. The meeting failed even to decide on these measures.

Clearly, the all party meeting has failed to come to the grips of the problem and take appropriate decisions to break the logjam. While the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi stressed that the "legitimate aspirations" of the people of Kashmir must be respected and that rising above political differences all should be "magnanimous and mature" in our approach such magnanimity and maturity, not to speak of realism, were missing both from the deliberations and the outcome. Even the Prime Minister emphasized that the dialogue is the only way to move forward but the meeting failed to go beyond the words. Any such dialogue has to be unconditional. It is one thing to talk of dialogue and quite another to walk the talk. Asking any one "who is willing to talk and who does not espouse or practice violence" is indeed no way to initiate any genuine and purposeful process of dialogue to find a solution to the problem which basically concerns the inalienable right of the people to decide about their future. Unfortunately, it is being looked as a territorial problem both by India and Pakistan. The present violence in Kashmir is undoubtedly the outcome of the policy of repression let loose in Kashmir by the Indian state and its puppet regime in Srinagar and the curbs placed on the movements of the people and denial of their right for peaceful protests. For putting an end to the violence and creating peaceful climate for dialogue it is imperative to put an end to repression, scrap draconian laws arming the forces with blanket powers, make the civilian space vacated by the armed forces, release political prisoners, put an end to human rights abuses, provide justice to the victims of atrocities committed by the state, and restore people's right for peaceful marches and rallies. The failure of the all party meeting to deliberate on these issues and adopt positive measures in this regard has naturally caused much disappointment to the people of Kashmir, hoping to come out of the prolonged nightmare. The only one who is not disappointed, on his own admission, is the NC chief Farooq Abdullah. For him the real satisfaction is that his dynastic rule remains undisturbed despite CCS's talking of governance-deficit as one of the reasons for the present grave situation.







Water is the elixir of life yet the attitude of all those matter and shoulder the responsibility of the maintenance and preservation of water bodies across the state is simply despicable. It is this contemptible negligence of helmsmen as well as the ruled which has converted majority of water bodies of the state into garbage dumping stations. Devika river in Udhampur district, too, is certainly no exception on this account. Since ages, this river has been the identity of Udhampur. Having a great historical and religious significance, this water body, considered to be very pious by the locals, is fighting a crucial battle for its survival. Irony is that the citizens treat this river with great reverence yet that respect is not visible in the way it is being treated and used. The trash of all kinds including bio-medical waste from the whole city and adjoining areas, polythene are dumped in Devika and Doodh-Ganga and the concerned authorities are certainly not oblivious to this dismal scenario. But nauseatingly no step is taken for improving the scenario. Occasionally some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) launch awareness campaigns or cleanliness drives by involving students of the schools and colleges but most of these efforts end in a whimper for the simple reason that they are rhetorical in nature and hardly aim at bringing some serious changes. Thus the situation never changes and the water body continues to be more polluted with each passing day. The blatant encroachments, all along the banks of the river are yet another serious problem which too is being simply ignored by the concerned authorities for their vested interests. In the absence of desired political will to check the growing pollution level, the much hyped drives to beautify Devika and to develop it as a major tourism destination are proving meaningless. Given the administrative indifference towards its preservation, a large portion of its protection wall too has caved in during this monsoon. Though on the papers many plans are underway for its conservation, even a huge central grant too was sanctioned for the purpose yet till they are realized on the ground, one cannot pin much hopes. In the meantime, the condition of the river is moving from bad to worse. With the loss of this river, an important cultural and heritage link too will be lost, the helmsmen need to remember that and realize the urgency for its conservation.








Lawyers can be heroes like Atticus in Harper Lee's celebrated classic on racism in southern United States. 
They can be villainous as were Indian advocates who defended an American company responsible for mass murder of thousands in Bhopal. Lawyers are also characters out of a Greek tragedy. 

In British India, they had their highs and lows. They dreamt of India and Pakistan becoming independent nations. But their efforts resulted in unexpected blood and gore. Still they proclaimed their enterprises a laudable hybrid of a peaceful anti-colonial revolution. 

Advocates of Pakistan promised a curious m‚lange of a secular state whose helmsmen were to be primarily liberal, enlightened Muslims. They seemed to be unaware that there were no liberal Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians on the horizon.

The fabulous dream waned early when a supposedly liberal prime minister of Pakistani stock was seen issuing religious edicts to woo Muslim clerics by disenfranchising a minority community. 

Legal eagles of India pushed for a constitution whose idiom was lifted from societies that were struggling to overwrite their past as slave drivers, colonialists and overseers of genocide. 

Congress leaders assumed their borrowed legal prescriptions would help erase India's ancient and deep-rooted caste fault lines, which had spawned a more entrenched form of slavery and racism than the most virulent type of colonialism. India is still shackled by its ancient practices. 

The role of lawyers in post-colonial d‚nouement of politics in India and Pakistan has been like Job's comforters, whose solace heightened Job's agony. 

In Pakistan lawyers helped Bhutto and Zia. In India, they defended Indira Gandhi's dictatorship while arguing against her in a commission that probed her excesses. 

Bangladesh, we hear, has just passed a law making it an offence for army men to stage coups. Can we assume that until now it was legitimate for the military to plot overthrows? 

Pakistan too keeps plugging loopholes in its constitution every now and then to deter ambitious army generals from what seems to be a permanent itch to 'serve the nation'. 

When India felt the heat from an imminent rebellion by its harassed people in 1975, it introduced a legal cover in the constitution by adding 'socialist' and 'secular' to its preamble. 

Just as it is not easy to overturn prohibition in an orthodox polity (Pakistan, India's state of Gujarat), it is difficult to delete populist slogans from the statute books. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's free-market advocacy comes with the hypocritical caveat that all this will happen in a legally socialist republic. He can sell the country's economy down the river, but he dare not change the preamble. 

Similarly, Prime Minister Vajpayee fostered a communal ideology (honed into a more subtle art by the Congress) while serving a legally secular republic. 

In Alice in Wonderland, the queen was effectively judge and jury when she needed to command her subjects to be decapitated. There was no room for legal hypocrisy. 

In modern democracy or for that matter in fascism legal requirements demand a sleight of hand. Hitler needed the Enabling Act of parliament to make him the fuehrer. Jews and gypsies were legally gassed. Americans legally practised racial segregation when they were questioning Hitler's. 

Home Minister Mr Chidambaram was one of India's leading corporate lawyers. He has represented Enron as well as a slew of mining companies in his career as a lawyer. 

As home minister he now oversees the project of handling the civil unrest that has arisen as a result of the government's land acquisition drive to turn over tribal land to these companies. 

That is not where the problem of a conflict of interest of the man who wears three hats - lawyer, ideologue for big business and minister - ends. 

The curious case of the Raja Sahib of Mahmoodabad saw him in all his three avatars. After a legal battle, the Raja Sahib inherited vast properties from his father who had migrated from India to Pakistan a decade after the partition. 

In 1996, the Raja approached Mr Chidambaram for help since he was the minister dealing with disputed property. 

Elections were called within a month of that meeting. But in 2002, Mr Chidambaram the lawyer opposed the Raja Sahib. We may assume that he had with him the privileged information he was privy to as minister. Mr Chidambaram lost the case. 

In June 2010, the Raja secured a loan to refurbish a fabulous hotel he had reclaimed from a businessman. Within days, Mr Chidambaram brought an ordinance (when parliament was going to meet in a few weeks!) to nullify the Supreme Court's decision.

An Indian columnist accused him of overlooking a clear conflict of interest. Mr Chidambaram, the home minister, said he had no memory of having appearing against the Raja of Mahmoodabad. 

"Even if I had appeared in a case," Mr Chidambaram told columnist Karan Thapar in a rejoinder, "it must have been a miscellaneous matter. Senior counsels are briefed in hundreds of matters and only a few are memorable cases. Asking a senior counsel if he had appeared in a case eight years ago is like asking a taxi driver whether his taxi had transported a person on one occasion eight years ago." Supreme Court papers belie the lapse of memory. 

I asked a cabbie, who has driven me for years, about his own memory for passengers. He told me it was not easy to forget anyone who tipped him well, or for that matter those that had grossly shortchanged him after a good ride. In the cabbie's experience lies a useful tip for India's home minister. 

(Courtesy: Dawn)







".Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." 

A long time ago in China , a girl named Li-Li got married and went to live with her husband and mother-in-law. In a very short time, Li-Li found that she couldn't get along with her mother-in-law at all. Days passed, and weeks passed. Li-Li and her mother-in-law never stopped arguing and fighting. 

Finally, Li-Li could not stand her mother-in-! law's bad temper and dictatorship any longer, and she decided to do something about it! Li-Li went to see her father's good friend, Mr. Huang, who sold herbs. She told him the situation and asked if he would give her some poison so that she could solve the problem once and for all. Mr. Huang thought for awhile, and finally said, "Li-Li, I will help you solve your problem, but you must listen to me and obey what I tell you." 

Li-Li agreed and Mr. Huang went into the back room, and returned in a few minutes with a package of herbs. He told Li-Li, "You can't use a quick-acting poison to get rid of your mother-in-law, because that would cause people to become suspicious Therefore, I have given you a number of herbs that will slowly build up poison in her body. Every other day prepare some delicious meal and put a little of these herbs in her serving. 
Now, in order to make sure nobody suspects you when she dies, you must be very careful to act very friendly towards her. "Don't argue with her, obey her every wish, and treat her like a queen." Li-Li was happy. She thanked Mr. Huang and hurried home to start her plot of murdering her mother-in-law. 

Weeks went by, and months went by, and every other day, Li-Li served the specially treated food to her mother-in-law. She remembered what Mr. Huang had said about avoiding suspicion, so she controlled her temper, obeyed her mother-in-law, and treated her like her own mother. 

After six months had passed Li-Li had practiced controlling her temper so much that she found that she almost never got mad or upset. The mother-in-law's attitude toward Li-Li changed, and she began to love Li-Li like her own daughter. Li-Li's husband was very happy to see what was happening. 

And so one day Mr Huang had a visitor, it was Li-Li asking for his help again She said, "Dear Mr. Huang,


please help me to keep the poison from killing my mother-in-law. She's changed into such a nice woman, and I love her like my own mother. I do not want her to die!" 

Mr. Huang smiled and nodded his head. "Li-Li, there's nothing to worry about. I never gave you any poison. The herbs I gave you were vitamins to improve her health. The only poison was in your mind and your attitude toward her, but that has been all washed away by the love which you gave to her..!"







It is a matter of some satisfaction that the all-party meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the national capital on Wednesday has passed off without any acrimony. Each party has stuck to its stand but taken care to ensure that there is no undesirable display of tempers. Much of the credit in this regard should go to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He set the trend for a largely smooth debate by keeping all contentious issues out of his opening remarks. He has walked a tight rope while making all relevant observations: (a) "let us offer our prayers for all those who have lost their lives in the recent violence in the State. Let us also wish early recovery to those who have suffered injury"; (b) "we meet in sadness. Sadness over the loss of lives, sadness over the injuries suffered by the people, the police and the security personnel. Sadness over the huge disruption in the daily lives of the common man and the financial losses suffered by hardworking ordinary people like our tour operators, apple farmers, daily wage earners and houseboat owners"; (c) "the only path for lasting peace and prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir is that of dialogue and discussion. It is indeed tragic that some of our people have forsaken this path during the recent days. I was shocked and distressed to see young men and women --- even children ---- joining the protests on the streets. While some of these protests may have been impulsive or spontaneous, it cannot be denied that some incidents were orchestrated by certain groups"; (d) "…it is also true that meaningful dialogue can happen only in an atmosphere free from violence and confrontation. Discussions can take place only if we have calm and public order; and (e) "we are ready for dialogue with anybody or any group that does not espouse or practice violence."

There is no mention of the political package. There is again no mention at all of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). He knows that he would only trigger a hornet's nest if he touches either of these subjects. In any case he can't make a commitment without taking every political outfit --- at least the most of them --- on board. Obviously he is aware that there are differences, which are certainly not political in nature, between different arms of his own Government on the AFPSA (both the Army and the Air Force have made it clear that they can't do without it in the face of a Pakistan-inspired proxy war). He leaves the field open for the participants to express their views on the situation as it exists. The result is that at the end of it all there is an agreed statement which on the face of it is innocuous but says a lot. There is unambiguous assertion that the leaders have "agreed that the Constitution of India provides ample scope to accommodate any legitimate political demand through dialogue, civil discourse and peaceful negotiations." Moreover, there is an agreement that an all-party delegation should visit the State. "The leaders," it is stated, "agreed that the delegation should meet all sections of the people and gather all shades of opinion.' For his part the Prime Minister has played safe. The statement reads: "The Government will take into account the deliberations at today's meeting while considering measures and initiatives to reach out to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The feedback received from the all-party delegation would form an important input into the Government's evolving response on various issues relating to Jammu and Kashmir." In the end, he leaves no doubt that he is looking forward to benefiting from the "wisdom, knowledge and experience" of others. It can be argued that all this amounts to a clueless Central Government struggling to find a way out of the current impasse in the Valley with the help of others. 

Who will then deny that it is a perfectly legitimate exercise in a democracy? There is nothing wrong in striving to reach consensus in the face of varied opinions. This is like an experiment in a laboratory which if successful can be transferred with confidence to the field. It is debatable whether anything like this has taken place in this instance. Actually in between the Prime Minister's opening remarks and the final statement nothing has happened to suggest that there is an accord on how to proceed further. The visit by an all-party delegation may be a gesture of goodwill but it is to be seen whether it finds any takers. While the Prime Minister's tone has been conciliatory the Union Cabinet Committee on Security has already made it known that there is a "trust deficit" and "governance deficit" in the State. The NC has strongly rebutted these charges and its topmost leader has claimed that the Prime Minister has in reality praised the Chief Minister. However, it can't be unaware that it is because these epithets have been hurled at it that its arch enemy People's Democratic Party (PDP) has felt tempted to respond to the invitation for the meeting. The PDP has gone on to describe the get-together as a "good beginning." Can such politicking address the people who are in the streets of the Valley with pain and anger in their hearts over the loss of kith and kin they have suffered? They wonder why no leader has cared to share their agony. In their fuming mood they appear to have shut their doors on all leaders. They have no love for even those claiming to speak on their behalf. It would need an extremely serious endeavour to bring an end to their alienation --- real and perceived. Who will bell the cat? 








Last week I returned to China for the first time in more than ten years. My ostensible reason for coming was the World Economic Forum's annual meeting that is called its 'Summer Davos' but what lured me more was the thought of seeing how much China had changed in this past decade and if India had changed as much. From the moment I landed in Tianjin I admit to being a little ashamed that in India we have so far been unable to build a single city that is half as modern as this obscure port city a hundred kilometres from Beijing. It is not one of China's more famous cities and yet not one of our four metropolises compare because while ours have grown organically and without any sense of urban urgency Tianjin looks as if it was built overnight. It has fine avenues and modern bridges and has been built in elegant symmetry on either side of a beautiful river. I spent hours driving around the city, its sprawling nature makes this necessary, and nowhere did I see rotting garbage or urban squalor. Within five minutes of driving out of Mumbai airport the visitor is confronted with the horror of our urban failures. You see people living under flimsy shacks on pavements, filthy bazaars and acres and acres of shanties. Delhi offers a better first impression but it takes only a short drive around India's capital to notice that we have been unable to deal with housing the urban poor.

In Tianjin I saw one small cluster of low-roofed dwellings but they were concealed from general view by trees and a high wall. China's totalitarian rulers do not like foreign visitors to see such things as poverty and squalor and in Tianjin you see few signs of it. In Shanghai, when I was last here, the process of modern urbanization had just begun and it was possible to walk down back streets and see the houses of the poor and even encounter the occasional beggar but in Tianjin I can report no such thing. Yet, I found myself strangely disturbed by the city and realized after a few hours here that it was because everything about it was fake. It looked like a Disneyland version of some Western city with nothing about it that indicated China's ancient culture. 
On my first day here I asked to be taken to an older part of the city and was sent off to have lunch in an Italian restaurant in the 'ancient' Italian quarter. About three hundred years ago Europeans came here to trade with the Chinese and set up their own different quarters but little remains of the old buildings. The restaurant I ate in was built just over ten years ago. After lunch I was taken to see the 'ancient culture street' and found myself in a Chinese bazaar that again had about it a Disney feel. I have been to more authentic Chinatowns in Kolkata, San Francisco and New York. 

It made me appreciate the Indianness of Indian cities and hope that one day soon our politicians will realize the importance of preserving this but at the same time recognize that we must improve municipal governance. On this front there is much we can learn from China. The magnificent Meijang convention centre where the Summer Davos meeting is being held was built in nine months. It is bigger than any convention centre I have seen anywhere in the world and was built because the Mayor of Tianjin wanted the World Economic Forum to hold its annual meeting here instead of in Dalian where it is usually held. A WEF official told me that when they came to Tianjin two years ago to see if the meeting could be shifted they found the facilities inadequate. 'The Mayor of Tianjin took this as a challenge and said he would build them and he has. Not only is this convention centre less than a year old, many of the hotels are as well.'

It was hard for me not to compare the speed of construction with our own disastrous record of the Commonwealth Games. Suresh Kalmadi has often excused his tardy progress on the grounds that he only had three years to build the required facilities. May I suggest that he come to Tianjin and find out what the Chinese do right that we in India do wrong. And, would he please bring Sheila Dixit along so she understands that a city does not need to become a construction site to build a few stadiums.

From incredible Tianjin my own humble suggestion is that we move as quickly as possible towards giving Indian cities their own governments. Until our cities are ruled by powerful elected Mayors with full powers to govern and raise taxes we will continue to stumble towards urbanization in the haphazard, chaotic way we have done so far. We cannot afford this disorderly pace if you keep in mind that most experts estimate that India needs 500 new cities by 2050 if we are to accommodate the 600 million Indians who are expected to move to urban centres by then. As an economist the Prime Minister knows this but he is hampered by Sonia Gandhi's kitchen Cabinet of well-meaning Lefties and povertarians whose political ideology prevents them from seeing beyond rural poverty. But, let me end this letter from Tianjin on a happy note. Two days in China was all it took for me to realize that India has much, much more to offer and much, much more going for it. We can bring in foreign urban planners to build our cities as China has done but China is unlikely to be able to import experts to help them build democracy. India has managed to keep Indian temples and monuments alive despite official carelessness. We must not lose this ever in the cause of modernity or urbanization. If we could just clean up our towns and cities and learn how to build infrastructure at a 21st century pace there is no reason why India should not be a far, far better country than China before the middle of this century. But, we must get going now for this to happen. We must begin by acknowledging that things have gone wrong and need to be rectified urgently if the vast majority of Indians are to aspire to a standard of living that matches the century in which they live.











Global warming", is slowly and continuously warming up the Earth's surface air and the oceans. This as a consequence, is creating change in the climate. Since agricultural production is a function of climate, so the production and productivity of various crops will also be much influenced by the changed climate. It is not only the agricultural crops but the production of fruits and vegetables will also be affected under the changed climatic conditions.

As a matter of fact, climate variability has a great impact on agricultural productivity. Extremes in weather rather than averages affect the agriculture sector considerably. Both crops and lives stocks are very sensitive to weather over relatively short periods of time. Annual average of temperature and rainfall do not convey short time deficiencies. Such deficiencies have great impact both on the volume and stability of food output.
The history shows that for the food crops production, warming is better than cooling. However, too much warmth is quite injurious to the functioning of normal growth and development of the crops. Of all the natural climatic hazards, drought is that which hits the production and productivity of many crops, particularly in rainfed and dryland agriculture. Drought like situations were observed in many parts of India since 1998 to 2003 due to monsoon rains failure. Because of paucity of water or moisture in soils, many farmers of Kandi belt of Jammu, Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Punjab and Haryana, could not sow their crops during Kharif. The people of Kashmir also experienced a severe drought of its recorded history during 1998 when the rainfall in the season (March to May) had dropped by 55 per cent of the normal. And as such many peasants could not sow their paddy crop owing to lack of water. It is worth mentioning that the farmers of Kashmir valley used to get the yield of rice nearly 40 qha-1 or even more about 2 decades ago but now many of them have abandoned to grow paddy due to lack of water, and are turning their fields into apple orchards.

The scientists have found that in Asia including India, agricultural production will be adversely affected by change of climate. The production of wheat, rice, maize and soybean would be more seriously damaged as rainfall would become low and temperature would rise. This has become true in India as with an all time record of over 233 million tonnes of food production in 2008-2009, one drought year brought the production down to 216 million tonnes in 2009-2010. This is because, due to rising temperatures, the soil and the plants lose the capacity of general productivity and evaporation of natural moist conditions, thus requiring increasing amounts of water for increasing crop productivity.

The global average air temperature near the Earth's surface arose to 0.74 + 0.18 degree celsius during the last 100 years ending in 2007. There are reports that by the middle of 21st century the atmospheric temperature would arise to an extent of 1.5 to 4.0 degree celsius if emissions of the gases that are trapping heat on the Earth are not curbed. At 4 degree celsius level, production of cereals would be reduced to the order of 9 to 11 percent in the developing countries including India. According to the latest report of Inter Governmental Panel and Climate Change (IPCC), the temperature of the earth would increase by 1 degree to 6 degree celsius in the 50 to 100 years i.e. by the end of 21 century. This climate change is projected as affecting food security with decline in rice yields by 15 to 42 percent and wheat yields by 3 to 4 per cent, loss to agricultural revenues would be 12.3 percent in India. Because of climate change 9 per cent Gross Domestic Product could be wiped out. Changes in temperature and humidity would also affect the production and quality of vegetables, fruits basmati rice and medicinal plants in North Asian regions and crops like tea, coffee and spices in case of southern region, including India.

A study conducted by the scientists of CSK, HPKV, Palampur has shown that apple belt in Himachal Pradesh is getting to shrink owing to rise in temperature during winter and less snowfall. The orchardists of Jammu and Kashmir and Uttrakhand may also suffer due to less rainfall and snowfall in production of apple and other crops. The change of climate of the Valley of Kashmir is likely to occur more in the near future, which could be substantiated by the weather change during Chilla-i-Kalan (40 days intense cold period), scarcity of water vis-à-vis frequent weather change. All these things would definitely affect the agriculture production and allied avocations. A few examples in this connection are as follows:

* Due to intense cold conditions in Kashmir valley, a good population of Malifera indica bee died during 2009 inspite of necessary measures of shelter and food taken by the Apiculture Department.

* Climate change is affecting rainfall and snowfall patterns both in the Valley and high reaches of Jammu, which in turn are taking toll heavy on food grain production (Koul, 2009).

* Vegetable production is sliding. The saffron growing belt is in crisis, while the oil seed crop is down by 70 percent as per the research conducted by a non-government organisation.

* The water level had fallen not only in the river Jhelum and its tributaries, but also in the rivers Chenab, Ravi, Tawi Basantar, Ugh etc.

* Although still there is no certain about the effect of changed climate on forestry sector yet it is imperative to take necessary precautions in this regard well in advance.

In the light of the facts as stated above, it is the time to re-evaluate the agricultural policies that promote water and energy intensive agriculture. We will have to make some changes in our agriculture systems to address some of the fore coming climate challenges. These are as follows:

Forest destruction: As trees play a unique role in the global carbon cycle being the largest land based natural mechanism from removing CO2 from the air, so felling of trees and destruction of forests must be stopped.
Control of population growth: As there is clear link between the problem of global warming and over population i.e. increase in CO2 levels follows growth in population, so all necessary steps are required to control population.

Afforestation: More and more forest trees should be planted in the degraded forest areas. While planting the trees, local tree species must be given preference to grow.

Oganic agriculture: Indian agriculture must seize the opportunity to bid adieu to synthetic fertilizers and adopt organic farming methods.

Agriculture of J&K State also requires new dimensions to raise the socio-economic status of the peasants. This can be achieved by changing crop rotation and using organics. The State can also create an International market for organic fruits - Apple, walnut, almond etc. as well as saffron, black cumin, vegetables.








The situation in the Valley deteriorates and I am not surprised and before we discuss the issue let us be clear that violence generated yesterday which has led to 15 deaths and over a 100 injured was generated by separatist forces and this from the security angle cannot be tolerated by any Government. We can apply the theory of hindsight and apportion blame but I think we should remember that it was the NC and both Farooq Abdullah and Omar who had fought the separatist forces during the last crisis and this required more than sheer courage and I think the Congress took the right decision to align with the NC.

Things have not worked well in the past two years and remedial action is necessary and Omar Abdullah being the CM has to take the responsibility to deliver and in politics it is not development alone which wins the confidence of the electorate. The separatist issue is going on for years and funds from abroad continue to generate dissent in the Valley and should this be allowed in the name of democracy? We have had 80 casualties in the Valley and this is tragic and there is no doubt that the Army should not stay in civilian areas beyond a limited time but no casualties have resulted by any action by the Army and we cannot allow infiltration from across the border and J&K is and will remain a integral part of India and no Government can compromise on this reality. Omar has much to do and despite all the negatives he must be given full support if he is willing to lead from the front but in view of the violence many of the ideal steps being contemplated cannot be implemented and under no situation can we open a window for the terrorists across the border and there is little doubt that the Army have done well in the Valley to control infiltration across the border. PM Manmohan Singh holds a All Party meeting and as things stand each party particularly the NC and the PDP will address their cadres and I cannot see how any National party can dilute any provisions of the AFSPA in the current situation where anarchy prevails. There are no simplistic solutions to this issue and the situation will change with time but the PM and his team have to keep one step ahead and not behind the ground situation.
The Land Acquisition bill is going to open up several issues and all political parties will take the initiative and try to secure the political high ground but the credit will go to the redoubtable Mamata Banerjee and the TMC who fought the land battle in Singur and Nandigram and will almost certainly take the lead in the proposed changes in the law. The fault for the delay in passing the bill earlier is not with the TMC but with the proposal itself and there is little doubt that a fair 'market value' will take the place of a circle rate and hopefully another relic of the Colonial era will pass into the archives and both the Center and the State Government will stop acting as land brokers and commission agents. Public interest over successive governments has covered many close to the Government and include prominent citizens, newspaper owners and many in diverse professions close to those in power and it would be interesting to see the number of public representatives including their immediate family members who have received land at subsidized rates or purchased houses or flats in a 'special quota' and all this is at the expense of the 'Aam Aadmi' No one is against land acquisition for public purpose or for the industrial development of the country but must we deprive a small section of our society for the benefit of many and has any politician or official who has drafted and passed these laws suffered personally from these decisions? The concept of giving fair market value for acquired land is the only solution and this is inevitable in the current public mood and I see the opposition combining on this issue and CM Mayawati has already taken the lead after the recent agitation in Agra and Mathura. 

There are disturbing media reports on Afghanistan and the excessive assets generated by close relatives of President Hamid Karzai and Kabul Bank the largest private bank is in serious trouble and is run by Mahmoud Karzai the Presidents brother and has financed purchase of 700 crore of property in Palm Jumeirah in Dubai amongst many other real estate assets and can all this be true? The USA and allies are pouring in billions in aid and where is this going ? We see again alarming photographs of a 31 acre property owned by YSR Reddy's son Jaganmohan Reddy MP with a huge mansion and 200 armed security guards and there are media reports of thousands of crores of assets and this is very sad and where are we heading in the future? We have a huge 9 percent GDP growth and a huge generation of surplus wealth but pools of money based on illegal activities be it corruption and fraud, extortion or tax evasion will all pose a serious challenge to political authority and will compromise the best talent we have unless the political system fights back and has transparency in political connections.Criminality is there in any system and is often generated by a real estate boom and you can trace a similar situation in most of the Developed nations and even in China and Russia in recent times and you need leadership levels today with high integrity levels to fight this menace on a sustained basis. We have high integrity levels cutting across party lines and should we be surprised that Narender Modi, Naveen Patnaik, Raman Singh, Shiela Dixit, Tarun Gogoi, Nitesh Kumar, Shivraj Singh Chauhan are able to win electoral verdicts despite the anti incumbency trend and in the UPA Government at the Center there is no shortage of individuals with a high degree of integrity starting with the PM and his entire Economic team. The financial mafia will destroy political authority.









THE decision arrived at Wednesday's all-party meeting on Kashmir, held in New Delhi, on sending a delegation to the valley to study the situation there is a welcome move. Since the delegation will comprise representatives from different political parties, including the BJP and the PDP of Mehbooba Mufti which participated in the deliberations to find a solution to the latest crisis, it will be easier to implement the recommendations made for the purpose. There is no reason why a feasible solution taking in view people's aspirations and legitimate demands cannot be found within the Constitution of India. In any case, the unrest in Kashmir can no longer be allowed to persist.


The suggestions of the all-party delegation can serve as the basis for a fresh dialogue on how to establish peace in the valley. Issues like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the grant of autonomy can be discussed threatbare once talks are under way. However, a meaningful dialogue cannot be possible unless the cycle of violence comes to an end. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed out during the all-party meeting, "discussions can take place only if we have calm and public order". The state government has been assured of all kinds of help from the Centre for creating a congenial atmosphere for a dialogue on Kashmir.


The toning down of their stand by the BJP and the PDP on the AFSPA, withdrawal of troops, etc, provide an opportunity that must not be allowed to go waste. Only when tempers are cooled down can our efforts lead to any positive outcome. Anyone from the separatists' camp willing to join in the dialogue process should also be welcomed. Those who refuse to cooperate should be dealt with separately. There is need to take steps immediately to address the increasing alienation in the valley. A process of "healing touch" can be initiated by declaring that all cases of human rights violations will be looked into quickly and the guilty will not be spared. This may send a positive signal to the people in general and help blunt the weapon of the separatists, who have been thriving because of lack of efforts to heal the wounded psyche of the people.









THE employees in the organised sector have a reason to smile: They will get a 1 per cent hike in the 8.5 per cent interest rate on their contributions to the provident fund during the current financial year. At a time when fixed deposits in banks do not yield more than 6-7 per cent interest income, getting a 9.5 per cent interest rate on the employees' savings in the PF is a major relief. However, the employees' joy may be of short duration only. A review of the PF accounts since 1952 has led to the discovery of Rs 1,700 crore unclaimed money. The Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has decided to pass on the surplus amount to the 4.70 crore members. This will entail an outgo of Rs 1,600 crore.


The trade unions are not very ecstatic about the one-time windfall. They want the returns on the PF to be linked with inflation. When the PF interest rates were reduced from 12 per cent some years ago the justification given was that inflation had gone down. When inflation again went up and turned double digit the PF interest rates did not go up accordingly. The EPFO trustees, managing about Rs 3 lakh crore, are under tremendous pressure to deliver higher returns on the huge corpus they handle.


However, opinion is divided on investments in the stock markets, which usually give higher yields than other safer options. Though the Union Finance Ministry favours such investments, the risk-averse oppose the idea. The returns on the investments made at present do not support even the 8.5 per cent interest rate, which has been kept up under political pressure since the employees constitute a vocal vote bank. For the past some years the EPFO has been dipping into the reserves to meet the financial commitment. The employees should consider themselves lucky since a huge workforce in the unorganised sector does not get any PF or other post-retirement benefits.








BOLLYWOOD has once again proved its mettle at the 57th National Film Awards announced the other day. Its presence has been duly acknowledged and lauded. Not only has the portrayal of a 13-year-old suffering from Progeria in the movie Paa won the iconic film star Amitabh Bachchan his fourth National Award (third as the best actor), a host of Hindi movies like 3 Idiots, Delhi- 6, Lahore and Well Done Abba have emerged winners in different categories. The victory clearly underlines that the mainstream Hindi cinema is coming out of the mould, winning over the National Awards jury in the process.


Hindi cinema has always held the nation in a thrall both reflecting and shaping the collective national consciousness. But when it came to National Awards it was only a rare Hindi movie or an actor that picked up the national award. Known at best for its commercial success, critical acclaim by and large eluded Bollywood. Caught in the boxoffice formula few directors dared to take the risk and continued to read the beaten track. In the best of times there was a clear-cut divide between commercial and parallel cinema. However, in the recent past things are changing for sure. Meaningful cinema has gained a firm toehold in Bollywood. The line between critical acclaim and commercial success is fast fusing. Not surprisingly 3 Idiots that broke all boxoffice records has been adjudged the best popular film providing wholesome entertainment.


What is even more heartening is that the awards have not only gone to veteran film makers like Shyam Benegal, the pioneer of new wave cinema, who has already won 17 National Awards, but to younger ones as well including Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. First-timer Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan has won the Best Debutante Director Award for Lahore. Their films are an affirmation that the new brigade is ready to hold the torch of purposeful cinema. As R Balki whose film Paa has been adjudged best Hindi Film said," I just wanted to make a good film in the form of celebration." On a celebratory note, Bollywood has every reason to rejoice. National Awards are no mean achievement. Hope the present harvest (of awards) sows the seeds for many more.

















THE government, the Opposition and the public in general are rightly in panic awaiting the verdict on Babri


Masjid by the Allahabad High Court – a situation brought about by the faltering non-secular stand by the governments concerned. The High Court is to give its verdict on the following points: (1) Was the place under Babri Majid the birthplace of Lord Ram? (2) Was there a temple on the land on which Babri Masjid was built?


Now it is obvious to the meanest intelligence that it is impossible to prove that the birthplace of Lord Ram was under the masjid — it may be a matter of faith, genuine or contrived or otherwise, but that is no proof, nor can it ever be put forward as a legal ground to take away the land from the mosque.


If the finding is that the masjid was not built on a temple, then the Muslims get the land back and will be free to use it in any way, including the building of the mosque.


In the alternative it may be held that there was a temple on the land of Babri Masjid. But even with this finding the suit by the VHP/RSS has to be dismissed. Admittedly, Babri Masjid has been in existence for over 400 years till it was demolished by goons of the VHP/RSS in 1992. Legally speaking, the Sangh Parivar would have no right even if a temple had been demolished to build Babri Masjid.


I say this in view of the precedent of the case of Masjid Shahid Ganj in Lahore decided by the Privy Council in 1940. In that case there was admittedly a mosque existing since 1722 AD. But by 1762, the building came under Sikh rule and was used as a gurdwara. It was only in 1935 that a suit was filed claiming the building was a mosque and should be returned to the Muslims.


The Privy Council, while observing that "their Lordship have every sympathy with a religious sentiment which would ascribe sanctity and inviolability to a place of worship, they cannot under the Limitation Act accept the contentions that such a building cannot be possessed adversely", went on to hold "The property now in question having been possessed by Sikhs adversely to the waqf and to all interests there under for more than 12 years, the right of the mutawali(caretaker) to possession for the purposes of the waqf came to an end under the Limitation Act". On the same parity of reasoning even if a temple existed prior to the building of the masjid 400 years ago, the suit by the VHP etc has to fail.


There is another reason why in such a situation, the suit will fail because in common law, even a rightful heir, if he kills his ancestor, forfeits his right of inheritance. In the masjid case too there was a "murder most foul" and hence the murderer cannot be allowed to take the benefit of his own dastardly deeds, whatever the legal position maybe.


It is true that sometimes some Muslim groups in a spirit of large-heartedness and as a measure of mutual accommodation, suggest that if it was found that the masjid was built on the site of a temple, they would not like to now build a mosque on the said site because the Koran forbids the Muslims to build a mosque by demolishing any other religious place. But even then if the Muslims choose not to build a masjid on this site, the ownership and use of the land remains with them. The Hindus cannot under any circumstances lay a claim to this site which was under Babri Masjid.


Some well-intentioned persons come out with an apparently neutral suggestion of building a multi-religious

complex on the site. To me this would be a surrender to the rabid Hindu communal sentiment. Whatever explanation you may give, a Muslim then would feel a less equal citizen if even after he has won, he is asked to share this site with the goons who destroyed the holy mosque. This would be a defeat of secularism and against our Constitution, which mandates that all citizens — Hindus, Muslims and others — have equal rights and are equal before law.


A multi-religious complex or a multi-culture centre or a hospital can obviously be built by the joint free will efforts of both Hindus and Muslims. But such a complex, if it is to be built necessarily, must be on the land away and outside the masjid complex, and that too only if the Muslims give their consent — obviously as the vacant land belongs to the Muslims. But under all circumstances, the site under Babri Masjid must remain in the exclusive possession of the Muslims, who should be free to use it in any way the community decides.


I feel that the government should start doing an exercise of consultation and preparation on these lines – to await helplessly trying to anticipate what the verdict would be is like a pigeon who on seeing a cat closes its eyes with the delusion that the cat would go away — the result is obvious.


Equally, I feel that leaders of all communities, political parties and social groups should start planning to meet the situation because the matter requires the involvement of people at the grassroots level and the matter does not brook any delay.


The legal position is clear. It is only the weakness of political will that is responsible for the Ayodhya imbroglio to continue as one of the bitterest disputes within the country. By keeping the Ayodhya issue alive, the country has been kept away from addressing its most urgent task — how to meet the challenge of the growing pauperisation of the masses. And that includes both Hindus and Muslims.


The writer is a former Chief Justice of the High Court of Delhi








AS the chief guest entered the venue, the organisers scurried around to attend to the thousand little things that would make their 'function' a success.  Bouquets surfaced in the hands of a minion and the dignitary smilingly accepted them. He bowed his head politely to enable people to garland him.  The flowers were handed back to another outstretched hand, perhaps because they weighed a ton. Girls in dance costumes anointed his forehead with a tilak.


The auditorium was half empty; so the wily organisers ushered the chief guest into an anteroom for tea.  The chief guest knew that this time would be used to hustle people into the hall.  It suited him, for it would do his image no good were it reported that the numbers were sparse. Also, to express annoyance was no longer a VIP's prerogative. Throwing attitude was considered very bad form, so our man sipped tea and fielded cashewnuts without actually eating any. 


The event began with paeans and platitudes and the chief guest accepted them with patient courtesy.  A Tanjore lamp was lit in broad daylight and a raucous orchestra belted out a devotional song.  In his speech, the chief guest thanked everyone present and  said all the right things.  'Reuse, recycle, regenerate' – the universal principles of conservation — could apply to his speeches as well. He said the same kind of things everywhere, though his speech honouring a local achiever would be different from one made to rehabilitated drug addicts, of course.


The organisers then presented him a memento, even as the chief guest raised his eyes in a 'Why me' expression. He betrayed no irritation at the sight of the ugly metallic object he had just been saddled with. He could not even chuck it at the nearest roundabout on his way back home, since the offensive thing had his name on it.  Sometimes people gifted him an equally vile object they euphemistically called a 'utility item'. The audience would curiously eye it, not knowing that it contained only a tiny glass bowl packed in bulky thermocol.  "Mass is inversely proportional to value" — our man had learnt in the initial years of his career.


A vote of thanks was finally offered by an obnoxious character who had so far been kept away from the stage. Thankfully it was time for the National Anthem.  The chief guest's face wore a solemn look as he lip-synched his way through Tagore's immortal creation. Unfortunately, the captive elements in the restless audience had commenced their exodus and were outside the exit before the first of the 'Jaya Hey...s'  resounded in the confined space.


"Phew, tough work!" grimaced the hapless man as he was driven away in a hail of "thank you's" and barely completed soundbytes directed at a battery of TV mikes under his chin.  Another day, another event, another saga of ceremonial monotony.  "Great stuff for a middle, though," he thought. His eyes crinkling into his first genuine smile of the day, his Mont Blanc raced over the notepad he always carried in his car for just such an occasion.








WHILE discussing urban development, one must keep in mind India's present phase of development and its future direction. After nearly 60 years of planned development, India has left the category of low-income countries and joined the low medium-income countries. If the present rate and trend continues, India would join the category of upper medium-income countries.


At the same time, a vast majority of people (77.8 per cent) is poor and vulnerable living at a per capita per day consumption of Rs.20 or less. The income divide between the poor and the rich is accompanied by a wide social divide of population consisting of upper castes, OBCs, SCs and STs. The population is further divided between rural and urban settlements of various sizes. Urban development and planning in our country is expected to take cognizance of these divisions and plan development for all of them, which is called inclusive growth.


Recognising that India has a far greater capacity to handle its urban development compared to the years immediately after Independence, policy-makers must think at a different level. Emerging from the colonial past with a very low per capita income, the country now is one of the low middle-income countries.


At the aggregate level, India has emerged as the fourth largest economy of the world in terms of purchasing power parity income. Now the US, China and Japan are ahead of India. With this confidence of fast-growing per capita income reflecting an increased capacity to handle various problems, India has to tackle the issues of urban development and planning taking a futuristic view.


At present the world is urbanising at a very fast rate. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) projected in 2007 that the world's more than half population (3.3 billion) would be living in urban areas by 2008. This figure is expected to increase to five billion by 2030 and will constitute 80 per cent of the world population.


In India less than 28 per cent of the population lives in towns and cities as per the 2001 Census figures. As the decadal growth of urban population is higher than the rural population, it is expected that India's urban population will grow from 286 million in 2001 to 468 million in 2026 and it will be about 33 per cent of the total population of 1,399 million.


The maximum growth of population is likely to take place in large and medium towns without adequate infrastructure and services. Slums, the segregated and deprived human settlements, represent a very dark and grim face of India and will continue to do so in future also.


Physical deprivation is followed by social and human deprivation. It is well known that the extremely deprived and the poor live in urban slums. The tackling of urban poverty and the removal of slums require public support and a range of institutional and participatory approaches. It requires a provision of social and economic infrastructure in poor areas. It also requires a broad-based provision of basic urban services within slums.


There is an emerging urban development problem of accommodating a large population migrating from the rural areas along with the existing urban poor. The development process has put high stress on the rural population leading to "depeasantisation" of the poor peasantry on one side and a shrinking labour absorption capacity of agriculture is forcing both agricultural labour and poor peasants to shift to urban areas in search of employment and livelihood.


This is accompanied by the displacement process of development strategy, where agricultural land is being acquired for infrastructure development (highways, dedicated railway corridors, SEZs, mining, dams, thermal/nuclear plants etc.), urban expansion, industrial development, modern shopping malls and other services.


Thus, the development process is initiating migration flows from the rural areas. This has two consequences: (i) it is leading to the development of squatters/slums within the existing cities and (ii) the emergence of Peri Urban Areas (PUAs). The PUA is defined as the location consisting of a mixed population, which disproportionately comprises poor households and producers on the one hand and environment degradation on the other. These are byproducts of unplanned development in PUAs.


Specific health hazards arise when agricultural and industrial activities are mingled with residential use. Environmentally, PUAs serve as dumping grounds for urban waste and are recipients of polluting industries that are relocated from large cities. Often common property resources get eroded and exhausted by urban uses and a gradual loss of interest in maintaining them.


Institutionally, PUAs are a challenge because rural and urban institutions, norms, laws, practices and a code of conduct co-exist. There are many problems for which a solution is difficult because they neither fall in the jurisdiction of the urban nor of rural authorities.


The writer is the Director General, CRRID, Chandigarh







A PARADIGM shift in government policy in 1991 led to the adoption of the National Housing Policy in 1998, which was further reviewed and adopted as the National Urban Housing and Habitat Policy in 2007. These policy documents have provided a significant role to the private sector as a provider of housing and the government as a facilitator. This approach led to the formation of more than 2,000 housing companies in the real estate between 1999 and 2009.


This has also led to what is popularly called the emergence of builders' mafia interested in making quick profits at the cost of common people, building bylaws, environment and squeezing of urban services. At the same time, this created a property market boom during 2005-07 and led to high prices of houses/flats and residential plots making them beyond the reach of even the lower middle class.


This approach has created a situation, where urban development has led to the exclusion of a vast majority of urban population from the housing market. Therefore, there is a great challenge for urban planners to make urban development inclusive in nature.


Urban planners must think afresh on urban development in the light of land becoming scarce and farmers resisting attempts to acquire land by the government/developers. There are several issues, which make this point relevant. First, in view of the country's concern for food security, urban planners must give a serious thought to keeping urban boundaries within limits and avoid extending urban areas to fertile agricultural land in the urban peripheries. This may require urban planners to think in terms of more of vertical growth and less of horizontal growth. They would have to keep a strict watch on the private players developing unauthorised colonies.


A serious thought needs to be given to plan cities in such a way that when they develop and provide space for well-off sections of the population, they also develop capacity to absorb the urban poor. It must be ensured that 15 per cent of the developed residential space or 20-25 per cent the floor area is earmarked for the low segment of population through the instrument of cross-subsidisation as stipulated in the National Urban Housing and Habitat Policy (2007).


The norms and standards must ensure above and underground infrastructure provisions, cost-effective technologies and methodology to make settlement development operate effectively. City planning and management should fall under one authority to have coordinated efforts and ensure efficient management. The culture of starting a job and completing without break must be introduced. The practice of road cutting by one party, leaving the project unattended for six months, leaving the work of laying pipes to another party and road repair to the third party must become history now.


Once the operational department begins the job, the group engaged in it should not leave the site till it is completed and the road is brought to its original status. Development and urban planning for inclusive cities will eliminate "complementarity" between the growth of Peri Urban Areas (PUAs) and low-cost living. An efficient management of the delivery of services such as sanitation, water supply, solid, liquid and air waste disposal, provision of cheap education and health facilities, electricity and multiple mode and efficient connectivity and transport etc is necessary to ensure healthy urban development. It could act as a big check on the development of PUAs if urban development is ensured for inclusive growth.


Government policy has given a considerable role to the elected representatives of urban local bodies. They have to be sensitised on efficient governance and resource mobilisation. They have to be made conscious that those who have the paying capacity must pay for urban services while those who are poor can be exempted from payment or can pay for services at subsidised rates. The culture of freebies must be done away with. Except for the BPL families and those living in the houses for economically weaker sections (EWS), all others must pay for urban amenities.


It is with the involvement of people through their elected representatives of urban local bodies, their sensitisation towards efficient urban management and planning and making them financially self-sustaining that inclusive and sustainable urban growth is possible. Such growth will not come in conflict with the farming community nor pose a threat to national food security nor will be complementary to the development of Peri Urban Areas. Such development will also hasten the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in this country. — SSG










Harlan Ellison is an iconic writer of what has come to be known as speculative fiction – not quite science fiction, yet set in a cold-blooded and heartless future. Deathbird Stories, a collection first published in 1974, is something of a cult classic. Each story, superbly written, is horrifying. Ellison cautions readers not to attempt reading the entire book in one go. 


The first story, The Whimper of Whipped Dogs, is based on an event that took place 10 years earlier. Early one March morning in 1963, a 29-year-old woman in New York, Kitty Genovese, was brutally stabbed multiple times by Winston Moseley, a machine operator. Moseley stabbed her, fled when a neighbour shouted, returned and assaulted Genovese again and, as she lay dying, raped her. Finally, someone called the police, who arrived in seconds, with an ambulance. Genovese died on the way to the hospital. Later investigations showed that nearly a dozen people heard or saw portions of the attack (though none saw it entirely). There was a witness to both the first and the second stabbings.     No one came to her help. 


Ellison's story is a marvel of precision, and horror. He describes the attack, and the screams, and then there's this: 


"Lights came on in dozens of apartments and people appeared in windows. 


"He drove the knife to the hilt into her back, high on the right shoulder. He used both hands. 

 Beth caught it all in jagged flashes – the man, the woman, the knife, the blood, the expressions on the faces of those watching from the windows. Then lights clicked off in the windows, but they still stood there, watching." 

Moseley was sentenced to death a few months later. On appeal, the sentence was reduced to a life-term. Serving out his sentence, Moseley escaped, seriously injuring and maiming several people, raped a woman in front of her husband and beat a policeman nearly to death. He is presently serving his sentence without parole. 

He also now has a BA in sociology. 


The Genovese incident did more than inspire a great story. Widely viewed as the unique apathy that marks large cities, it spawned an entire area of research in social psychology, even generating a name for the observed behaviour: the bystander effect, also known as the Genovese Syndrome, an event where, when other people are present, individuals fail to come to the help of someone in distress. The more the spectators, the less the chances of help. One explanation for this behaviour is the diffusion of responsibility, where everyone assumes that it is someone else's problem, and so does nothing. Increasingly, bystanders do not want to get involved, fearing hassles with police and possible legal consequences. 


In large cities with complex structures and systems, this can become a very real problem. In April 2010, Alftedo Tale-Yax, a Guatemalan immigrant, rushed to help a woman being attacked by a knife-wielding assailant. Tale-Yax was fatally stabbed. As he lay dying on the pavements of New York, at least 20 people walked past, all caught on video. 


Cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai pride themselves on being 'safe', especially for women, and especially in contrast to cities like Delhi. We like to claim that there is safety in numbers, and in a city as crowded as Mumbai, the 'public'– always at flashpoint – will respond spontaneously to prevent a crime. Our cities are more open than those in the West. There's far more informal and casual interaction with our neighbours on a daily basis, less individual isolation, and an unstated contract or understanding between us that when someone's in a jam, we put aside differences and help the one who needs it. Of course there have been terrible exceptions – the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 perhaps most of all – but this is not typical of life in our cities. Very likely this is because the way our cities have shaped there is an inescapable confrontation between those who have it all and those who have nothing, and yet the two coexist. It is this contract or understanding that keeps us whole. 


When this understanding of what it means to be a fellow citizen is breached, it is not just an aberration. It is something profane, something that damages the city, and all of us who live in it. Every time we allow apathy and indifference to the distress of others to overwhelm us we lose our right to call ourselves citizens. Every step away takes us closer to the terrible world of Harlan Ellison. 


Last week, my teenage daughter's friend was mugged. Her attacker grabbed her from behind, crushed her toes with his boots. He stole her cellphone and wallet. 


This happened at D-Road, near Churchgate. It was 11.30 in the morning. There were several people around. Not one came to her help, not one responded to her cries. They stood there, watching.



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The Reserve Bank of India's (RBI's) decision, in its first ever mid-quarter monetary policy review, to hike the repo and reverse repo rates was along expected lines, even though the new inflation numbers made some salivate that the central bank may hold back on rate hikes. Some would argue that the half-a-percentage increase in the reverse repo rate was somewhat higher than expected but the increase appears to be driven by purely technical factors (narrowing the corridor between the two short-term rates) rather than the need to send an aggressive policy signal. In a world fraught with uncertainty, this predictability is welcome and the RBI's consistent approach to interest rates policy needs to be applauded. The rationale for the rate hike was clear. The economic recovery seems to be consolidating as most macroeconomic data suggest. Thus, RBI does not need to fret as much about higher interest rates hurting growth as it did in the past. On the other hand, inflation still remains uncomfortably high and that gets top priority in monetary management. The central bank elaborates on this a little. High inflation is translating into negative real interest rates that, in turn, is hurting deposit growth. That could potentially impinge on credit growth going forward if banks find themselves starved of funds. The objective of the interest rate hike would nudge banks into hiking deposit rates and bring the system back to a more sustainable equilibrium.


How much more will policy rates go up? RBI points out that there were two facets to monetary policy over the past year. One was the need to bring monetary policy back to "normal" from the ultra-expansionary mode of the post-financial-crisis period. The second facet was the need to respond to macroeconomic developments, specifically on the fronts of growth and inflation. The review points out that the process of "normalisation" is almost complete. Thus the remit of monetary policy would now be to respond solely to emerging and expected macroeconomic conditions. While the policy emphasises that the absolute level of inflation is uncomfortable, it also concedes that the acceleration in inflation has stopped and the first signs of a downturn in non-food manufacturing inflation are visible. It attributes some of this moderation to the policy actions it took in the past. The implication is that if headline inflation does abate by the end of the year as most economists predict, RBI is likely to come to the end of its rate cycle. There are some risks though. While the central bank seems comfortable with developments in the global economy, it points to the risk of global stability leading to higher commodity prices and hence higher inflation. This is a step back from the optimism it exuded a few weeks ago about global commodity prices softening on account of global demand factors, especially China's expected slowdown. Better news on the world economy, and from China, might put capital flows back on track but might just force RBI to intensify its inflation vigil.


 Finally, RBI is known for its candour when it comes to discussing the dire state of the country's fiscal balances. However, for once, it seems reasonably sanguine that the near-term fiscal situation is somewhat comfortable. "Higher than expected realisations on 3G and broadband wireless access (BWA) auctions combined with buoyant tax revenues," it points out, "have virtually eliminated the risk of the fiscal deficit overshooting the targeted 5.5 per cent." If inflation risks dissipate going forward and the fisc stays in check, interest rates and bond yields might not move much higher from current levels. If inflation, however, refuses to be tamed, RBI is unlikely to take its hands off the monetary lever.








The clarification by a United Nations' climate change official that the Kyoto protocol will continue even after 2012, when its scheduled emission reduction commitment period ends, provides only cold comfort. Unless there are fresh binding commitments for reduction in the emission of environment-injurious greenhouse gases (GHGs), the continuation of the toothless Kyoto accord will be pointless. In any case, even the action stipulated in the Kyoto accord for combating global warming fell far short of putting an end to global warming, though it was deemed a good beginning towards that end. Sadly, even the modest GHG reduction targets set for the developed countries under the Kyoto pact are unlikely to be fully met. This apart, the carbon market-based clean development mechanism (CDM) launched under the Kyoto protocol has also been found to suffer from several imperfections. It, thus, needs to be either suitably modified or replaced with another better-conceived one. Its key objectives of lowering the overall carbon footprint of the environment and spurring cleaner development in developing countries have remained, by and large, ill-served. By allowing the industrialised countries to meet emission-slashing goals by buying carbon credits from GHG-reduction projects in other countries, it has let them get away without actually cutting down their emissions. Worse still, some of the key claimers of carbon credits in countries like China and India, which together account for 80 per cent of the carbon credits supply, face the accusation that they deliberately produce more than needed amounts of GHG, notably hydro-fluorocarbons like HFC-23 used in refrigeration, in order to burn it to earn carbon credits.


It is, therefore, imperative to thrash out a new global climate change agreement to succeed the Kyoto pact, instead of either taking the Kyoto protocol forward or merely putting it in a different mould.


 This, unfortunately, does not seem to be happening. Differences remain between rich and poor countries on shouldering the responsibilities for curbing global heating. The failure of Copenhagen to provide a road beyond Kyoto has also not helped. Though Copenhagen laid down only a non-binding, minimalist goal for countries to take suitable action that would help limit the increase in global temperature to below 2°C, its proposal to create a green fund to finance clean projects in the poor countries has still not made much headway. It is still uncertain whether donor countries will meet their commitment to provide $30 billion in next three years for this purpose. No contribution worth the name has so far been made. If the next climate conference, scheduled for November in Cancun, manages to get donors to cough up what they promised for this year, it can be judged a success








If anybody thought respecting your people was some warm and fuzzy new-age management fad and that the boss must be someone whose mood ranges from sour to apoplectic, it would be a good idea to read Stanford Management professor Bob Sutton's article "Why good bosses tune in to their people", published in the August edition of McKinsey Quarterly.


According to Sutton, whether you are a CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a head chef at a restaurant, your success depends on staying in tune with the people with whom you interact most frequently and intensely. Being a boss often resembles the role of a high-status primate: your subordinates watch you constantly, so they know more about you than you know about them. Likewise, anthropologists who study chimpanzees, gorillas, and baboons report that followers devote far more attention to their leader than he devotes to them. (Studies of baboon troops show that typical members glance at the dominant male every 20 or 30 seconds.)


 Bosses matter, also because more than 95 per cent of all people in the workforce have bosses, are bosses, or both, and because many studies show that for more than 75 per cent of employees, dealing with their immediate boss is the most stressful part of the job. A 2009 study tracking over 3,000 men/women for 10 years found that those with bad bosses suffered 20 to 40 per cent more heart attacks than those with good bosses.


That's not a surprise as there is enough evidence to show that there are a huge number of bosses who either take all the credit for themselves or give out too many tasks with impossible and constantly changing deadlines.


Unfortunately, too many bosses use "brainstorming meetings" to conduct "blamestorms" where the goal is to point fingers, humiliate the guilty, and throw a few overboard.


Then there are the workaholic bosses who enjoy their job so much that they just work, and work, and work. They find that appealing; but their subordinates mostly find that appalling. Psychologists refer to them as people with an obsessive compulsive disorder.


These CEOs have boundless energy and expect their people to have the same. They also want to be the best on too many parameters: cost, quality, product innovation — everything. But this is simply wrong. Most of them suffer from the indispensability syndrome and are addicted to the adrenaline high that accompanies the job.


Fortune ran an article about Howard Stringer, CEO of Sony, who was quoted as saying at a company meeting. "I don't see my family much. My family is you." A reader wrote back saying, "My gosh, if your boss is referring to you as his family, run!" There are also stories about bosses who are pathological liars or control freaks. Some bosses also seem to be having the spine of a jellyfish — someone who would never stand up for you. There is also the obsessive micro-manager who would give assignments but then manage them to death. He trusts his people the way you would trust a five-year-old behind the wheel of the car.


Though no organised surveys have been done on this issue, an informal study in India a few years ago found that almost 75 per cent of the employees surveyed identified their boss as a lousy manager. Many blame wrong promotion policies for this state of affairs. Firms like Microsoft would promote even an average accountant to a manager because he has the potential to outperform an outstanding accountant in the same managerial position. This does not mean that the outstanding accountant should be ignored, but that the career ladder for him may possibly lie sideways rather than head upward.


Of course, there is a flip side too to all this argument about a majority of the bosses being employee-unfriendly. Many feel boss-haters generally suffer from the "everyone-is-dumb-but-me" mindset and are unable to see the value in any person above them in a hierarchy. Too many companies perform well everyday — returning billions in profits by inventing, making, selling and distributing products and services — for bosses out there to be total nincompoops.


It's true there have been many bosses who pushed performance boundaries. The best example of all times is GE under Jack Welch. When the legendary CEO was warning that the sky was about to fall, GE was posting record financial results. Net income was up sharply and only nine corporations in the Fortune 500 earned more. Yet, Welch didn't get tired of alarming everybody who cared to listen that GE had to change fast.


Most employees took this as a big yawn initially and thought Welch was being insane. But what Welch saw and others didn't, was that GE's comfortable order book position was mostly due to backlogs and the obscured the fact that winning new orders was becoming increasingly difficult. So GE had to change, the CEO said. The rest, of course, is history.










Continued high currency volatility and costly lessons learned over the years have certainly driven more and more companies to increase their focus on forex risk management. Our third annual forex risk management survey found that as many as 66 (out of 100) companies had documented risk management policies; this was up from 54 per cent last year.


 Of course, simply having a risk management policy is hardly a sufficient condition for effective risk management. Policies must be both tailored to the company's operations and have a sound understanding of the market environment in which the business functions; again, the effectiveness of the policy must be reviewed from time to time to ensure that it remains relevant in the hard light of market realities.


Many companies begin the evolution of a policy with the statement that they want to minimise the risk they carry, and so need to build in as much of a natural hedge as possible. While I fully agree with this statement, there are two practical issues that limit its effectiveness. First of all is the unwritten fact that everyone — or, almost everyone — wants to capture opportunity; in fact, 77 per cent of companies in the survey acknowledged this. Running a natural hedge limits this possibility.


The second issue is that many companies misunderstand the concept of a natural hedge, as a result of which they sometimes end up increasing rather than reducing the risk on their businesses. The most common misconception is that you can "naturally" hedge payments due on foreign currency loans with export receivables. Indeed, some companies go so far as to determine their borrowing currency based on the currency of net revenue inflows. A dollar is a dollar is a dollar, they say, so we can minimise our risk by simply matching dollars (or euros) in with dollars (or euros) out.


While this is true on a cash basis, in reality, a dollar earned out of exports is not the same as a dollar to be paid in debt service since each of these two streams has a different business genesis and, most likely, a different target rate. For instance, if you contracted a dollar loan when USD/INR was 40 and your then one-year rupee borrowing cost was 10 per cent, your obvious forex risk management goal should be to ensure that you buy dollars at no higher than 44 to repay this loan. In contrast, the exchange rate at which you need to sell your export dollars would, in all likelihood, be different from this rate since it would depend on the rate prevailing at the time you contracted the export, the sensitivity of your costs to USD/INR, the sensitivity of your dollar selling price to USD/INR, and so on.


In other words, you have different target rates for the payment and the receipt, which means that each exposure should be hedged at different market levels. So, while you obviously shouldn't buy and sell at the same time, simply netting the export against the loan payment is not the correct solution — doing that results in subsidising one side with the other. If the rupee depreciates sharply, your export sale subsidises your borrowing (which you should have hedged at no worse than 44), and vice versa.


Perhaps more importantly, carrying unhedged foreign currency debt on the balance sheet (with the intention of paying it off with export receivables) would lead to substantial ballooning of liabilities if the rupee weakened. This could trigger a whole raft of structural issues having to do with covenants on borrowings, leverage limits, etc.


The situation is compounded in the case of companies with commodity exports, since the dollar price of many commodities is directly linked to the strength (or weakness) of the dollar, resulting in possibly significant economic risk. A critical case we studied was of a Brazilian sugar exporter that had taken on a significant dollar debt believing it was naturally hedged through its large USD exports. Now, Brazil is the largest sugar exporter in the world, as a result of which the global price of sugar is very highly correlated (88 per cent) with the value of the Brazilian real. In other words, when the real depreciates against the dollar, the price of sugar also falls, and vice versa.


In the case of this company, when the dollar appreciated by nearly 25 per cent in 2008, the price of sugar fell dramatically, and the net value of its sugar exports in real rose only modestly — by about 5 per cent. As a result, the company's real earnings grew by just 5 per cent while its debt service payments in real increased by around 25 per cent.


Clearly, the "natural" hedge turned unnatural; the company almost went bankrupt and was recently taken over.









The trade trajectory between India and China has dazzled the observer in recent years. Since 1990, two-way trade has increased 230 times to the $60 billion target for the year ending March 2011. For two countries that are often portrayed as rivals, this is nothing short of remarkable. Despite the euphoria over a globalised age, nation states still care about the relative effects of their economic interactions. The prudent ones learn the art of keeping their books balanced. India, it seems, has been doing neither, especially vis-à-vis China.


Over the past five years, India has been drifting into an unsustainable trading arrangement with China. China is now India's biggest source of imports, accounting for 11 per cent of the total imports. For every dollar that India exports to China, it imports merchandise worth $2.6. China also accounted for 18 per cent of India's overall trade deficit last year.


 Only an artist could paint the picture above as one of "interdependence". India is probably the only Asian economy that runs a trade deficit with China. China's other neighbours are running manufacturing surpluses that are then rerouted via China to western markets.


To be sure, it would be far-fetched to classify China's relationship with its east-Asian neighbours or the West as one of symmetrical interdependence. This is because the sophisticated R&D and various high-tech components that feed China's assembly factories continue to be manufactured in Japan, South Korea or Taiwan or by US multinationals operating on the mainland. Also, since approximately 40 per cent of China's exports flow to North American and European markets, China's current model is so far dependent on the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) economies. Nevertheless, China has given itself the opportunity to reverse-engineer and, ultimately, even acquire the capabilities to build its own sophisticated industries.


India is altogether absent from these manufacturing supply chains that have connected the rest of Asia. Over the past decade, foreign direct investment in the Indian electronics sector has touched a paltry $750 million, underscoring India's perceived competitiveness.


Let's turn to the quality of trade between the two Asian powers.


For outbound merchandise, iron ore has been the top export item to China. Last year, iron ore accounted for $5.1 billion or 44 per cent of India's total exports to China. Almost all of India's iron ore exports go to China, averaging 115 million tonne per year or about 25 per cent of China's total iron ore imports.


Why should India be selling unprocessed commodities to steel producers in China or elsewhere? That the Indian state receives next to nothing for the limited natural resources that are leaking from India makes this even more appalling. To top it all, India imported $1.3 billion worth of steel from China — it accounted for 16 per cent of India's total iron and steel imports last year.


The Karnataka Lokayukta report on illegal mining is instructive. At an export price of Rs 7,000, the state was receiving Rs 27 in royalty. That's a royalty rate of 0.39 per cent! Lokayukta estimated the total cost for an iron ore exporter could not exceed Rs 427 per tonne, giving the miner a 94 per cent profit margin. For India, this lost revenue could have been dedicated to the welfare of the displaced tribal population, for improving infrastructure in resource-rich regions, and perhaps even investing in R&D in the steel industry.


On inbound trade, electronic goods top the list of imports from China. Last year, India imported $9.4 billion, or 45 per cent of its total electronic imports, from China. If this continues, India would be importing 55 per cent of its total electronic imports from China by 2012. The second-largest category is machinery products. Last year, India imported $4.5 billion or 23 per cent of its total machinery imports from China. One in four new power plants in India currently rely on Chinese equipment.


India's qualitative and quantitative trade imbalance with China is now abundantly clear. The blunt truth is that India's economic relationship with China is also a reflection of its distorted domestic economy. Last year, India recorded a merchandise trade deficit of over $115 billion, suggesting the problem lies at home.


Why does India's manufacturing sector lag its peers? Manufacturing, especially in labour-intensive sectors, is underpinned by fundamental prerequisites that apply to most successful manufacturing locations: a basic literacy in the workforce upon which further skills can be imparted, physical infrastructure (i.e. power, roads, railways and access to ports), access to financial capital and, crucially, policies that encourage the allocation of resources towards export-oriented manufacturing. Since all these structural attributes are absent in India's case, it does not receive the amount and type of investment that the rest of Asia has witnessed over the decades.


India's services sector, in contrast, has performed relatively better because it had access to the nation's small pool of qualified workers and did not require too much physical infrastructure. Thus, while India's share of services in overall gross domestic product (GDP) has increased from 37 to 49 per cent in the last two decades, the share of manufacturing has remained at 16 per cent. In contrast, the share of China's manufacturing sector to its GDP is 35 per cent; it is 30 per cent for South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia; even Argentina and Brazil's manufacturing sectors contribute 24 per cent to their national economies.


Services inherently require a skilled workforce and, therefore, cannot absorb the majority of the "youth bulge", thus, laying the burden of job creation upon the manufacturing sector. This developmental pattern has historical precedence: the rise of the European great powers, America at the turn of nineteenth century, Russia in the first half of the twentieth century, East Asian tigers after the 1960s, Japan in the 1980s, and China in recent times. All these economies demonstrated manufacturing growth that restructured the erstwhile agrarian polity.


India's low-end manufacturing — the type that can provide mass employment — has become so inefficient that, as The Economist recently noted, "It is currently cheaper to export plastic granules to China and then import them again in bucket-form, than it is to make buckets in India." The same is probably true for organic chemicals, steel and a variety of processed commodities. No wonder Indian iron ore is being dumped into ships that transport it to China's 700 million tonne steel industry.


Despite all these systemic flaws, countermeasures are available. First, if natural resources are going to be unwisely exported, a reliable system of collecting royalties supplemented with an export tax must be erected to re-alter the perverse incentive structure that prevails in the mining industry.


Second, diversifying our exports by pushing for greater market access in China in sectors where India Inc claims it is competitive — pharmaceutical, IT-enabled services and higher-value engineering products. If China's telecom companies like Huawei and ZTE can earn $3.5 billion and $2 billion respectively in revenues (2010 estimates) in India alone, surely we can use that to leverage reciprocal advantages for Indian companies in the mainland.


Third, focus on manufacturing R&D: according to the ministry of science and technology, India spends an irrelevant $100 million (1.4 per cent of its total R&D spending) a year on research in the electronics sector.


Fourth, link Chinese FDI to tie-ups with Indian state- and private-sector firms (a practice followed scrupulously in China) and create conditions for technology transfers and job creation.


Finally, China's manufacturing juggernaut is buttressed by massive implicit subsidies in the Chinese economic system that have lowered the opportunity cost of the major factors of production — the value of the yuan, financial capital, electricity, transport infrastructure, natural resource use and labour costs. Competing with such a system requires a combination of superior innovation, strong public policy support for labour-intensive manufacturing sectors and a commitment to address India's infrastructure woes.


India's current discourse over its economic relationship with China is nothing short of self-deception. To correct course, let's recognise the problem.


The author is a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Alternatives and co-author of Chasing the Dragon: Will India Catch up with China?, Pearson Education, New Delhi, 2009









THE Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has done well to continue with its steady withdrawal of extra policy accommodation to meet the financial crisis, with a tinge of urgency that reflects its concern over inflation. In its maiden mid-quarter Review, the Bank has hiked both the repo rate at which it pumps in liquidity and the reverse repo rate at which it absorbs liquidity. However, in keeping with its new-found aggression in fighting inflation, the hike in the reverse repo rate is higher (50 basis points) than the hike in the repo rate (25 basis points), signalling that the Bank is in a liquidity absorption mode. Unlike in the past, both rates have been hiked with immediate effect, underscoring the urgency with which the RBI intends to tackle the continuing price rise. Not without reason, it would appear. As if on cue, the wholesale price index (WPI) for primary articles and fuel and power for the week ended September 4 showed an alarming increase to 16.22%, up from the previous week's 15.43%, even as the WPI for all commodities for August 2010 (base 1993-94) showed only a marginal fall to 9.5%. True, the new WPI (with 2004-05 base year) gives a slightly lower rate of inflation — 8.51%. But this is also unconscionably high in a country with 37% of the population below the poverty line; especially since it comes on the back of high inflation rates during the previous year as well. The Bank estimates that about two-thirds of the August inflation is due to items other than food and food products mainly driving the price rise. Hence the Bank's pitch for monetary tightening to restrain demand. 


Thursday's review follows some high growth indices — 13.8% for industrial output in July, including a 63% jump in capital goods, 22.5% for exports in August, 8.8% for first quarter GDP — and a surging Sensex, all of which pitch for tighter interest rates. Tepid world growth and the need to boost investment to create the additional supplies that would dampen inflation pull in the opposite direction. But sustaining negative real rates of interest could discourage bank deposits, hurting banks' ability to finance growth. So, the RBI has done well to continue its march to neutral rates. That leaves the ball in the government's court, for policy reform to boost growth.







THE 9.5% rate of interest announced on employees' provident funds is a double indictment of the scheme as it stands, not a reason for cheer as the labour minister and the unions would have us believe. True, it is an improvement over the 8.5% that the EPF Organisation has been paying out these last five years. But it is a ridiculously low rate of return compared to what is achievable by efficient investment of a corpus as large as . 1,70,000 crore, large enough to be diversified across asset classes to minimise risk and maximise returns. And the manner in which the EPFO is financing its higher payout — a surplus that a newly exposed accounting error had hidden away in the interest suspense account — is acidic testimony as to how efficiently employees' savings are administered. Huge amounts collect in suspense accounts because the law forces people to sequester a fifth of their earnings into the EPF but the Fund's management is so opaque and bureaucratic that hundreds of thousands of poor workers are incapable of taking their money out of the Fund. This is criminal. That criminality is now financing the higher returns that warm the cockles of our labour aristocracy's hearts. It is time this entire sorry arrangement was wound up and workers' savings entrusted to professional management. Luckily, a professional arrangement does not have to be invented anew. It already exists in the form of the New Pension System (NPS), supervised by the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority. The NPS allows workers to choose their fund manager, as well as the risk profile of the allocation of their savings to different investment instruments, enjoy regulatory oversight, pay the lowest fund management and record-keeping fees in the world and enjoy superior returns. 


If winding up the EPFO and merging it with the NPS is thought to be too drastic, amend the law to allow voluntary migration of individual workers from the EPFO to the NPS, which managers the pensions of post-2003 recruits to the civil service. Forcing workers to accept suboptimal returns on their savings is a crime against the aam admi.






L" OVE," said James Thurber, "is the strange bewilderment which overtakes one person on account of another person." And throw in some marital issues as well as some peculiar local realities, and the bewilderment can attain stunning proportions. One has, over the years, heard of cases which make one wonder about the torturous travails of two people trying to get together in the face of rather strange impediments — say, to do with family, religion, caste, or some other knotty stuff. Or maybe just a case of Indian-style love triangles and quadrangles. One would think the passage of time would allow the emotion of love some more space. But often quite the reverse seems to be happening. Take a look at all those honour killings and khaps and whatnot. And then there spring up cases that seem a veritable whodunit. A recent report highlights the case of a Delhi twosome where the man involved happened to be already married, but in the process of getting a divorce, which, in turn, seems to have been a messy, tangled affair. So the bright chap, in order to stave off the prospect of his lady love being married off to someone else, asks her to 'marry' his best friend. Which the lady apparently did. So, while the man and woman were technically married to someone else, they started living together. Till the time, the 'best friend' files a case stating that his 'wife' is missing and has been abducted by her family. 


 There the matter rests, it seems. And a local court, suitably bewildered, has now asked the Delhi police to fetch the lady in question as "only she can unknot the puzzle." Quite sagacious, that. But, the curiousness of the case apart, one wonders if the couple has chanced upon Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary, which, under the letter L, has an entry: "Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder."








THE Prime Minister has underscored concerns over the perceptible hardening in China's stance towards India. With its defence spending having grown almost twice as fast as its GDP, China is now beginning to take the gloves off, confident that it has acquired the necessary muscle. Rising power is emboldening Beijing to pursue a more muscular foreign policy not just against India, but also in the region extending from the South China Sea to Northeast Asia. 


This has been exemplified by several developments — from China's inclusion of the South China Sea in its 'core' national interests, an action that makes its claims to the disputed islands non-negotiable, to its bellicose reaction to the South Korean-US joint anti-submarine exercises in the Sea of Japan. And just the way China has staked its claim to India's Arunachal Pradesh, it has asserted its sovereignty over Japan's Senkaku Islands, which were part of Japanese territory all along, even during the US occupation of Japan. 

Little surprise then that China's neighbours are increasingly uneasy about the implications of its growing power.

Beijing aspires to shape a Sino-centric Asia, but its actions hardly make it a good candidate for Asian leadership. Leadership can come not from brute force, but from other states' consent or tacit acceptance. 

China's belligerence, significantly, poses a greater threat for India than for any other Asian nation for several reasons. One, China is mounting both direct military intimidation (as underlined by the abnormally high level of continuing cross-border incursions) and proxy threats against India, including by shoring by its longstanding strategic nexus with Pakistan. Two, the largest real estate China covets is in India. Arunachal is almost three times bigger than Taiwan. Three, India has no formal security alliance with any other power and thus must depend on its own defence capabilities. And four, by seeking to badger India on multiple fronts, China is signalling that its real, long-term contest is more with India than with the US. The countries around India have become battlegrounds for China's moves to encircle India. By assiduously courting these countries as proxies in its geopolitical competition with India, China has managed to make deep inroads into India's strategic backyard — from Sri Lanka to Bangladesh, and Nepal to Burma. 

Yet, the world knows more about China's moves in the South China Sea and East Asia than its actions against India. At international conferences, even some experts on Asia are surprised when told simple facts, such as China's increasingly assertive claim to an entire Indian state and its cross-border military incursions. 

It is now a year since the Indian government put a lid even on the domestic press coverage of the Himalayan border situation. It was in September 2009 that senior government figures, from the PM down, spoke out against the strident Indian media reporting on Chinese border incursions. Since then, sources of information have dried up and newspapers and television networks have carried little news. It is not that the Chinese crossborder forays have ended or even moderated. It is just that Indian media organisations have little information to report, even though the incidence of Chinese incursions remains high. 

SUPPRESSING news on the border situation serves no interests other than China's. It suits the Chinese agenda that the border situation is kept under wraps. Even in the pre-1962 period, India had made the same mistake by playing down China's aggressive moves along the border. In fact, there are important parallels between the pre-1962 situation and the one now. Border talks have regressed, Chinese claims on Indian territories are becoming publicly assertive and their cross-border incursions are common. In fact, commentaries in military journals suggest that some in China believe that a swift, 1962-style victory in a border war with India is attainable to cut to size a peer rival. 


Take another example. It was in June that the Chinese notified their refusal to allow the Indian northern army command chief to visit Beijing. But the Indian side leaked this notification to the press only in late August. It is still unclear what has been India's response to the snub. Beijing has said flatly that it "has received no word that India has stopped military exchanges between the two countries". 


In the midst of such developments, the Indian external affairs minister gratuitously reiterated on August 21 that Tibet is "part of China". That the Tibet issue remains at the core of the India-China divide is being underlined by Beijing itself by laying claim to additional Indian territories on the basis of alleged Tibetan ecclesial or tutelary links to them, not any professed Han connection. There is absolutely no need for India to periodically renew its commitment to a 'one China' policy when China not only declines to reciprocally make a 'one India' pledge, but also mocks at India's territorial integrity openly. Little thought has been given that by bringing India's Tibet stance in complete alignment with China's, New Delhi has undercut its own leverage while boosting China's. 


Without contributing to the rising tensions with China, India has to gently allow facts to speak for themselves — whether on the border situation, Tibet's centrality or China's overt refusal to accept the territorial status quo. Facts indeed are an anathema even to schoolyard bullies. By not hiding its intent to further redraw the frontiers, Beijing only highlights the futility of political negotiations. After all, a major redrawing of frontiers has never happened at the negotiating table in world history. 


India should learn how Vietnam has managed to turn the diplomatic tables on China by not shying away from spotlighting the latter's aggressive designs. In the process, China stood isolated at the last Asean Regional Forum meeting. 


A stable equation with China is more likely to be realised if India puts premium on leveraged diplomacy and avoids a trans-Himalayan military imbalance. More broadly, China's trajectory will depend on how its neighbours and distant countries like the US manage its growing power. Such management — independently and in partnership — will determine if Chinese power does not slide into arrogance.









Associate Fellow CSDS Look at the issue in all its complexity 


THIS essentially normative question could be responded to in two ways. One might say we must move on from Babri Masjid/Ram temple (BM/RT) to explore other serious existential issues. But this simple and politically safe answer is problematic. It ignores the complex texture of political questions and leaves us with an ethical message, mistakenly understood as 'secular'. We need to relocate the BM issue in the domain of actual politics to find out a complex answer. 


The Hindutva rightwing did not pose the BM/RT issue as a historical a question. It proposed an argument, which had three layers. The central core of their claim was based on the notion of faith — the conviction that the BM site is exactly the place where Ram was born. The middle layer was related to amemory of Islamic iconoclasm — an imagination that Muslims desecrated Hindu temples not only due to political reasons but to assert the supremacy of Islamic monotheism. The third related to justice and equality. It claimed the faith of Hindus had been relegated to the margins in post-1947 India and that's why they had to fight to liberate the 'birthplace of Ram'. 


The self-claimed secularists , however, raised adifferent set of questions mainly related to historicity of Ram and his birthplace. The scientific history and archaeology of BM/RT were evoked to counter the Hindutva argument based on political categories. So, the Hindutva argument gradually acquired a political capacity to influence electoral arithmetic. Muslim groups on BM articulated the issue as a question of minority rights. That's why they came out with two demands — quick solution of the title suit and a central law to protect the basic character of all places of worship. 


Interestingly, all the 'stakeholders' benefited — a de factoRam temple established on the site; title suit referred to a special bench; and a law passed to protect religious places! BM issue, thus, is a remarkable example to map out the performance of modern politics in India. We can certainly move on from BM but the complexities of India specifically political modernity, religion, memories, justice and rights, need to be understood before taking any 'politically' correct position.





A WHOLE new generation of young India has emerged ever since the demolition of the Babri structure in Ayodhya more than 18 years ago. This two decade-long intervening period witnessed India's renaissance and its emergence as a key global player. 


The period also saw a change in the nation's mood. From being a nation of angry and despondent people, our disposition has become decidedly confident and positive. People across all castes and communities are now craving for progress and development. 


At the core of the Ayodhya-Babri issue is not a legal or historical question. Not a political question in the least. But it has been a source of communal discord for many years. In tune with the nation's upbeat mood, the issue needs to be settled amicably by the communities. This is particularly crucial at a time when the spectre of separatism is raising its ugly head again in Kashmir and our inimical neighbours are eager to accentuate communal discord in the country. 


In most parts of the country, Hindus and Muslims live together in neighbourhoods and in perfect harmony. They even celebrate many religious festivals together. For Hindus, Ayodhya is sacred and the birthplace of Lord Ram. Lord Ram is a symbol of good governance and building a Ram temple is actually reinforcing the nation's desire for good governance. 


I believe that ordinary, progress-minded Muslims will be willing to forget the acrimonious past and cooperate in a spirit of brotherhood if a proper atmosphere is created for discussions. The real problem is with the pseudo-secular political parties chasing minority votebanks that want to stoke communal trouble to shore up their politics. 


The world looks at India today with much greater respect and awe than ever before. We would be sending a very positive message to the world if both the communities resolve this dispute amicably. The initiative of the Allahabad High Court ahead of next week's judgment over the land title to arrive at an amicable out-of-court settlement is welcome. One hopes that this effort helps resolve the vexed issue amicably. 


(The author is also media adviser to the CM of Madhya Pradesh)








THE Reserve Bank of India (RBI) action of hiking the repo rate by 25 basis points (bps) to 6% and reverse repo rate by 50 bps to 5% was somewhat hawkish, but the accompanying statement was softer compared to the July policy meeting. The central bank stated that the tightening carried out since October 2009 'has taken the monetary situation close to normal'. In our assessment, with this policy action and accompanying guidance, the RBI is entering a wait-andwatch phase, where it will be closely monitoring both domestic and global incoming economic data and act accordingly. 


The current macroeconomic environment in the country is characterised by consolidation in recovery after an impressive rebound since March 2009. Inflation has stopped accelerating and is broadly trending lower. The build-up in inflation in the current recovery phase has been substantially driven by imported inflation, domestic food inflation due to bad monsoon last year and low base effect — and not so much due to domestic demand overheating. With global growth facing rising uncertainty, global commodity prices are likely to remain soft, and this along with high base effect will lead to inflation easing further through the rest of 2010-11, reaching 6-6.5% by March 2011. 


Meanwhile, money supply growth is running below the RBI's indicative trajectory and credit growth has also not been strong enough to suggest overheating in the economy. Against this backdrop, a relatively softer stance by the RBI going forward is appropriate and in line with central banks of other emerging markets such as Brazil and South Korea, which are also adopting a wait-and-watch approach as domestic recovery consolidates and external uncertainty rises. 


Emerging economies, including India, are much more resilient and their outlook remains more robust than developed economies. Whether emerging markets are strong enough to sustain pace of economic expansion despite anaemic growth in Western economies is a scenario yet to be fully tested. In some Asian economies, heavy dependence on export continues to be the main point of vulnerability. Recent Japanese intervention in the yen market and the reluctance of Chinese authorities to allow meaningful appreciation of the yuan are some examples. 


The logical assumption here is that Asian economies are still closely guarding their export-oriented growth models despite the clear need to move towards boosting domestic consumption further. With external demand weakening, Asian countries such as China and South Korea are seeing their PMI (manufacturing indices) softening and, in some cases such as Taiwan and Singapore, PMI indices have slipped below 50, suggesting contraction. 


For countries such as India, high share of domestic private consumption provides a good hedge from sluggish external demand. Yet, India is increasingly getting integrated into the global business cycle and the main concern arises from balance of payments channel. In recent quarters, the country's current account deficit has been widening with trade balance deteriorating to a 23-month high in August. This has largely been the result of weakness in external demand, relatively stronger domestic demand and strong appreciation in the rupee on real effective exchange rate (Reer) basis since April 2009. While capital flows to India have been impressive in recent months, the deteriorating global macroeconomic environment poses a near-term risk. 


In the US, the uncertainty has increased over economic outlook, further policy responses — fiscal, monetary and regulatory — and, more importantly, the effectiveness of additional policy measures. It is worthwhile to note that despite massive fiscal stimulus and unprecedented monetary policy response from the Fed, the US economy is slowing again. Data indicates outstanding consumer credit is contracting, unemployment remains sticky at elevated levels, housing market is seeing renewed weakness and the US bond market, with yields trending lower, do not seem to be sharing the optimism of equity markets. 


In Europe, economic growth has improved but remains heavily lopsided towards Germany. If this uneven recovery continues, monetary policy challenges for the European Central Bank (ECB) will mount. The renewed widening in sovereign bond spreads of peripheral countries against Germany, despite the stress tests, suggests that European debt problems have not gone away. 


At the fundamental level, the issue with global economy is one of macroeconomic imbalances. This is characterised by overconsumption in Western economies led by US and overproduction in some Asian economies led by China. Cyclical fiscal and monetary response may help in the near-term but restoring global growth rate to pre-crisis levels will require adjustments in trade and currency misalignments. Such a process will apparently be slow, long and painful. India is certainly better positioned than other emerging markets in this regard, but not completely isolated. 


(The author is chairman of Edelweiss Group)








AS THE marriage of a London couple unravels in Woody Allen's latest film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, the wife begins to seek comfort in the supernatural which has unforeseen consequences on the marriage of her daughter and her husband. The reason for the film's premise is because the director — a man who admits he doesn't think the existence of God is plausible — believes all of us need some delusions to keep us going and the people who successfully delude themselves seem happier than the people who can't. "To me," says Allen in an interview with The New York Times, "there's no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any of the organised religions. They're all equally valid or invalid, really. And equally helpful." 


Yes, we heard that right. The famous director is indeed suggesting that the pavement quack's unbranded mumbojumbo and the magisterial dignity of the world's greatest scriptures actually serve the same purpose: deluding some people into seeming happiness by deceiving them out of their discontent. At the same time, perhaps one should pause to consider, too, that if an existential malaise can be so easily allayed by emotional fraud, then it hardly speaks volumes of our capacity for intellect. 


 Of course, delusion alleviates unhappiness, or at least seems to do so — a fact well-known to all psychotherapeutic caregivers. But is the solace a psychotic schizophrenic, for instance, finds in an invalid construct of the world or that an addict discovers in alcohol, sex, drugs or violence, productive or beneficial to lasting wellbeing of the person? At best, they help induce a transiently successful soporific lifestyle; the happiness of a zombie maybe. 


Yet, these are still all delusions of minor religions. The major invalid construct, as the Buddha himself noted, was the delusion of grandeur that affects the overwhelming majority of humans in which the ego is perceived as the ultimate being of significance residing in the self. Get rid of that invalid nonexistent concept, he said, and you get rid of the delusion of a non-existent happiness. Or else, sleepwalk through life till you really wake up. It's something like what Woody Allen also says about the wife in the same interview: "... all of a sudden it turned out that a woman telling her fortune was helping her. The problem is, eventually, she's in for a rude awakening."





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




It is an important positive aspect of the story that the all-party meeting on Kashmir called by the Prime Minister on Wednesday was well attended and marked by an absence of acrimony. Differences between parties on the handling of the recent unfortunate developments in the Valley were not even alluded to. That is indicative of seriousness of approach. While the unsettling phenomenon of the rise of Islamism being a key political element of the situation was not brushed under the carpet (although it was not referred to in direct terms), Congress president Sonia


Gandhi stressed the importance of a magnanimous approach in any dialogue in order to assuage the pain of the youth. This undoubtedly has meaning since she heads the ruling party and the ruling alliance in New Delhi, and her sentiments are likely to have a bearing on how the government proceeds. In her speech, People's Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti, whose party is the main Opposition in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and who has played spoilsport in Kashmir so far, went out of her way to applaud Mrs Gandhi's sentiments. This is a good start in a volatile situation. The high level representatives of the key national parties, and the National Conference, People's Democratic Party and the Congress — the three mainstream parties that have a meaningful presence in J&K — at the meeting appeared to make thoughtful speeches, eschewing confrontational demands. It has been decided that an all-party delegation will visit the state shortly to confabulate with all those willing to meet them, whether separatist parties or social organisations, with a view to listen. Who better than politicians to be interlocutors of the people, rather than representatives of the governments, at the Centre and in the state? It has been decided that the inputs provided by the all-party delegation will be factored into policy as key ingredients. This is significant. It is a message to all concerned — to the people of Kashmir and all political parties and other players — that it is the collective will of the people of the country that will drive policy, not just the decision of the government. As far as the people of Kashmir are concerned, this will serve as an assurance; and the clear signal for jihadist ideologues and activists is that they will be challenged and defeated by the full might of the Indian state and society whose progressive and humane aspects they have shown the temerity to confront with the help of their foreign backers. The Islamists in the Valley would have undoubtedly noted that the all-party meeting refrained from demanding either the resignation of chief minister Omar Abdullah or the imposition of governor's rule.


No participant brought up these questions. This is a mature response to the goings-on in the Valley, one that cannot please the extremist mobilisers of religious sentiment.







My last column on China (Keep the powder dry, September 3) focused on the geopolitical space between our countries, but as I mentioned, there is a lot more that's positive to talk about in our economic relations. China and India are two countries whose development will have a significant impact on the global system, which is why how we can cooperate becomes important.


China and India are the two most populous countries in the world, together making 38 per cent of the world's total population, with Indians set to outnumber Chinese around 2034. Together they account for nearly a tenth of global gross domestic product, a fifth of world exports and a sixth of all international capital flows. China and India are the world's second and fifth largest economies in PPP (purchasing power parity) terms. China holds by far the largest foreign currency reserves in the world, at close to $2 trillion. India's is around $300 billion.


We can say with some confidence that both countries will continue to prosper and pull more millions out of poverty than they have ever done; that they will compete effectively with Western corporations for business, purchase foreign companies and assets, expand their trade and overseas investments, invent and develop new technologies, and displace more economic weight around the world.


The basic task for countries like China and India in international affairs is to wield a foreign policy that enables and facilitates their own domestic transformation. We are both engaged in the great adventure of bringing progress and prosperity to a billion people each, through economic development. At the broadest level, our foreign policy must seek to protect that process of transformation — to ensure security and bring in global support for our efforts to build and change our country for the better.


This is why economic relations are important for both of us. Trade has increased twelve-fold in the last decade, to an estimated $51 billion last year; China has now overtaken the US as India's largest single trading partner. The two governments expect to cross the $60 billion mark in the current fiscal year (a figure that is 230 times the total trade between the countries in 1990, just 20 years ago) and Beijing has already spoken of aiming for $70 billion the following year.


In my last column I described the complementarities that facilitate our cooperation, notably Indian software and services meshing with Chinese hardware and manufacturing. So Mahindra and Mahindra manufactures tractors in Nanchang for export to the United States. The key operating components of Apple's iPod were invented by the Hyderabad company PortalPlayer, while the iPods themselves are manufactured in China. Indian investments in China are nearing the billion-dollar mark. The trade imbalance is two-thirds in favour of China, but this can be addressed if China takes steps to reduce the non-tariff barriers to entry into its market that have been thwarting Indian companies.


But our economic cooperation need not just be in each other's countries. Inevitably our search for markets, technology and resources to fuel our growth will be key drivers of our international relations. This is why we are both looking far afield, to Africa and Latin America, for opportunities.


Energy is an obvious area for cooperation. The US' department of energy estimates that China's oil consumption will rise 156 per cent and India's oil consumption will rise 152 per cent by 2025. While both countries are seeking to expand their domestic production, opportunities for growth are limited, and both countries will become more dependent on imported oil, making them more vulnerable to irregularities of supply and price volatility. This makes the quest for reliable sources of supply and secure sea lanes of communication a shared interest. After all, both China and India are relatively new entrants into the global oil system. They are facing fierce competition from much larger, more experienced, and arguably more resourceful Western oil companies. Cooperation between Indian and Chinese oil firms is essential.


Prior to 2002, India and China competed aggressively with each other to acquire oil and gas fields abroad. Wisdom dawned, however, with improved energy cooperation starting that year, when India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) purchased a 25 per cent share of Sudan's Greater Nile Oil Field, operated by the China National Petroleum Cooperation (CNPC). The experience has been positive and continued cooperation in the global energy sector, including some examples of joint bids and at least one successful joint acquisition, has occurred. The prospects for further collaboration, to jointly explore and develop oil and natural gas resources in third countries, are high.


To take another example: Our demand for food will inevitably rise as well, perhaps by 50 per cent in the next two decades, as a result of our growing population, their rising affluence, and the improved dietary possibilities available to a larger middle class. We will need to multiply our sources of food, including acquiring agricultural land abroad, in Africa and even Latin America. Lack of access to stable supplies of water is reaching critical proportions, particularly for agricultural purposes, and the problem will worsen because of rapid urbanisation over the next 20 years. We will need skilful and creative diplomacy to ensure that interruptions in the flow of water across our borders do not bedevil relations with our neighbours or with each other.


All this underscores that foreign policy is basically about fulfilling domestic objectives. Let us never forget that if we, the two largest developing countries in the world, succeed — when we succeed — in our national transformations we will be including more and more of our people in the great narrative of hope that has been the narrative of social and economic development in the West over the last 200 years.


In his recent book Rivals, Bill Emmott quoted an unnamed senior Indian official as saying, "Both of us (India and China) think that the future belongs to us. We can't both be right". Actually they can both be right — it's just that it will be two very different futures. And there can be room for both in the world of tomorrow.


* Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliamentfrom Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency








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 denuclearisation 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 normalisation 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 denuclearisation 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 honoured. They wanted me to come in the hope that I might help resurrect the agreements on denuclearisation 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' 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 manoeuvres with South Korea.


Still, they said, they were ready to demonstrate their desire for peace and denuclearisation. They referred to the six-party talks as being "sentenced to death but not yet executed".


The following week I travelled 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 of the US, is the founder of the Carter Centre and the winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize








Which creature best symbolises a land depends a lot on who you ask. The answer tells as much about the person or persons who make the pick as it does about the animal, plant, tree, bird or flower they select as emblem. Composers of the Sanskrit pharmacopoeia were very clear about the links of the land they lived in and what embodied them. It was the Krisna Mrig, the black buck, an antelope of the open country.

The male is a magnificent creature, with swivelling horns. It is elegant and sprightly, and has a leap few can equal. More crucially, it is indubitably and unmistakably Indian. It lives nowhere else on earth. But their numbers have now shrunk. It once had a range far south to Tirunelveli in the Tamil country and eastward to Bihar. But even half-a-century ago large herds were commonplace in west and central India.


When the Delhi Darbar was held in 1911, Shahu Maharaj, the prince of Kolhapur, who was a social reformer, brought in his hunting cheetahs to course antelope near the banks of the Yamuna. Fresh venison at the table needed some exertion.

But to the brahmanas, whose caste-based order aroused Shahu's ire, the antelope was more than an animal. Its open country was the seat of their culture, of a hierarchy of place as much as of person.


In the Sanskrit epics, which were composed and sung long before they were written and read, the animal was a symbol of a culture. Its home was called jangala. In his engaging book, The Jungle and the Aroma of Meats, Indologist Frances Zimmerman shows that jangala was not what we call jungle today. The latter connotes a place of tangled bushes, thorns and trees.


But the Sanskrit idea of the jungle, jangala, was distinct from the forest, or the aranya. It was the land of the black antelope. It was dry as opposed to wet, could grow cereals and was the place of the grama, the village.


Its polar opposite was what they called the anupa, the marshland with geese and standing water. Here, the black buck did not venture. These were lands and places of the other, of mystical beasts and magical, even dangerous, men.


Anupa was peopled in the epics by creatures which, whether divine or malign, lay outside the pale of the world, of sacrifice. To subdue them was a challenge.


The range of the black antelope coincided, so to speak, with the land of the fire sacrifice, of the Brahmanic culture. No wonder that in the Valmiki Ramayana, Rama asks his brother Lakshmana to sacrifice a fine black buck to consecrate their forest hermitage.


The land of the black antelope was the heart of the fire sacrifice. It was cereal-bearing dry land. But the forest lay beyond this land, not just jungle but, called by a culturally-charged name, the Aryavarta.


It is clear the black buck, or Antilope cervicapra to call it by its Latin name, was symbolic of a culture. It was a culture that excluded and made marginal other peoples and cultures.


Of course, this is a textual reading of the past, and does not do justice to its twists and turns. But it is still notable that till early in the last century, the deer skin used for meditation of the brahmanas was usually an antelope's skin.


The chital or the spotted deer became staple fare only as the herds of the antelope dwindled. The coming of the modern Express Rifles, of the railway and the four-wheel drive sealed the fate of the antelope.


And of course, its best habitat, once watered well, could be turned to crop land. Once this happened its living space shrank. By the winter of 1976, when a small herd of black antelope crossed into the Union Territory of Delhi near the Alipur Block, they made headlines.


But all this raises a question: Why was the black buck so central a symbol for early Sanskritic cultures? Part of the explanation could lie in the geography.


Those who composed the verses identified with the land they lived in, and looked with anxiety to the forested lands to the south, to the hill country and to lands where their culture's supremacy would come under greater challenge.
It is true there are black antelope in the Deccan, in Point Calimere in Tamil Nadu and even in the Guindy Park in Chennai. But historically the really large horns came from males in north-west India — there were huge congregations in the Indus and Ganga valleys. The further west you went, the more antelope there were.


Maybe the practitioners of the fire sacrifice in early Sanskritic cultures were, by making the black buck so central a symbol, seeking to immortalise themselves. The old order has gone, but the antelope lives on.


 Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmentalhistorian and most recently was chairman of the Elephant Task Force.








India has been a land of temples for millennia. And most people regularly visit temples even in the modern age. But they rarely spare a thought as to what a temple actually means and how one should pray.


Our texts prescribe several rules and restrictions while visiting temples. Since a temple is considered the body of the deity, the practices dictated are to be observed strictly.


Purity of the body is a must when one visits a temple. The devotee should wear clean clothes and should have high devotion for the deity as s/he enters the temple. Women devotees should keep their hair tied.


Smoking, betel chewing and use of liquor within the premises are to be avoided. Within the temples, don't use obscene words. Never get angry with anybody. Your voice should be used exclusively for chanting hymns or mantras. Even that chanting should be audible only to the devotee.


Women devotees are not supposed to enter temples during their menstrual periods and for seven days after that.


According to old texts, death of a close relation, the birth of a child in the family, all cause impurity. The number of days the impurity stays and is observed varies for communities. But one should not enter temples during those days.


Devotees have to perform a circumambulation of the temple before entering it. This gives him/her immense grace."Padaal Padanugam Gachchet Karouchala Vivarjithou
Sthuthirvachi Hrididhyanam Chathurangam Pradakshinam"

This shloka insists that while circumambulating, one should walk step by step, keeping the hands still and chanting mantras.

After completing the circumambulation, the devotee should face the idol with folded hands chanting the prayer. Saluting the deity with a single hand will deprive you of all the glory you have attained since birth. The mantras should be chanted with the legs placed close together, arms cupped like a lotus bud and eyes closed. It is believed that cosmic energy will enter the body of a devotee through the finger tips if s/he prays properly.


"Janmaprabhrithi yat kinchit Chethasa Dharmamacharat
Tatsarvam Vibhalam Njeyamekahasthabhivadanat"
While prostrating, a male devotee has to lie on the floor with legs, knees, chest and forehead touching it and hands folded above the head. Women devotees need not prostrate before the deity.


A devotee can receive prasad (the remnants of the offerings to God) from the temple. The theertha (holy water), deepam (lighted camphor with which the deity is worshipped), dhoopam (fragrant smoke), flower and sandal wood paste are the prasad.


Theertham should be received into a cupped palm and consumed. The remaining theertham can be sprinkled on the head and body. The camphor fire can be saluted in reverence — palms should be pressed to the eyes to get its divine warmth.


The dhoopam (smoke from incense sticks) should be saluted and its effect left on the face with a gentle caress. Sandal paste, however, should be worn on the forehead only after having left the temple's sanctum sanctoram.


Again, the texts insist that the holy ash, sandal paste or the saffron powder should be worn on the forehead using the ring finger and not with the index finger as many of us often do.


As many ardent devotees will tell you, strict observance of the dictates for visiting temples will yield miraculous results in the long run.


— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the authorof Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals.He has also written books on the Vedasand Upanishads. The author can be reachedat [1]







In an exclusive interview with Ramesh Ramachandran, Sri Lankan defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa says that his country's military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) offers lessons for the international community.


Q. Recently you visited India for defence talks. There was defence cooperation for years before and during the conflict, so what are both sides talking today?

A. India could not do certain things, meet certain needs of the Sri Lankan armed forces, like supply of weapons, because of the sensitivities during the conflict period. Now that issue is no longer there, so we can think of going beyond that. The whole idea is to improve the defence relationship, to strengthen regional security, to improve maritime security in the Indian Ocean.


Q. There are concerns in India about China looking to beef up its presence in Sri Lanka, particularly its role in the Hambantota port project.

A. It is purely a business arrangement, nothing beyond that. I don't think there is any issue in that sense. Wherever possible, when India has faced any security concerns, we have always bent backwards to accommodate them. With India, we are not looking at government-to-government relations alone; we are interested in people-to-people ties and trade. I know that Indian investors are interested in infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka. We are studying India's successful PPP (public-private partnership) model.


Q. There has been criticism of the delay in the rehabilitation of the displaced Tamils.

A. I don't think any other place in the world has so quickly resettled people in their original habitats in such a short period. In one year we have resettled a majority of the three lakh internally-displaced persons (IDPs). Very few are remaining, and that is because of the delay in clearing landmines. We cannot solve problems overnight but the government has aggressively invested more money in the north and east than in other provinces.


Q. Sri Lanka has also been criticised for not minimising the civilian casualties of the war.

A. India knows what is LTTE but most of the outside world does not. It was the most ruthless terrorist organisation. Some think the attack on USS Cole was the first attack by a terrorist group, but by that time the LTTE had attacked many ships. It had executed more suicide attacks in one year in Sri Lanka than all the suicide attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq put together. The LTTE's weaponry was equivalent to that of the armed forces — heavy artillery guns, mortars, machine guns, missiles, naval suicide boats and, ultimately, even small aircraft. That was the magnitude of its military strength. So it was not a small insurrection or a civil disturbance. By defeating the LTTE, we have stopped the killings of innocent civilians.


Q. How are you dealing with the former LTTE combatants?

A. We have rehabilitated about 500 child soldiers. We started a skill development programme for the 11,000 former combatants who surrendered, some of whom have completed this programme and joined the society.
This is the truth but the other side does not know the true story.


Q. What can the world learn from Sri Lanka's experience with terrorism?
A. What we have done is to defeat the terrorists. I'd say, any country which faces terrorism should follow the Sri Lankan model. I think in fighting terrorism as well as humanitarian assistance in a conflict like this, there are lots of lessons for others to learn, rather than criticise. There were concerns about humanitarian assistance during the conflict. Our military operations and humanitarian assistance ran parallely.
We had no-fire-zones and restrictions on use of heavy weapons which is not normally done anywhere in the world in this type of situation, but we did that.


Q. Looking back at the last days of the conflict, would you have done anything differently? There were reports that some LTTE leaders wanted to surrender but they were shot, there was also talk of ceasefire.
A. Prabhakaran did not want to surrender. Even the night before they were defeated, they tried to launch a counter attack and escape.

There would have been no problem if they had surrendered, but we came to that last minute, after a hard battle and a lot of sacrifices, so we were not ready for ceasefire.

Did they inform the UN? Nobody informed us about any surrender. We took time to defeat the LTTE because of civilians. If we had no such concerns, we could have bombarded the place, used all our artillery and walked through within a day, but we took over two months. So the international community must consider the risks that we took.


Q. Looking ahead, do you have a political solution of the ethnic problem, a devolution package?
A. Political jargon alone will not bring about a solution. We have created an environment for everybody to live peacefully, as Sri Lankans, as one nation. All other issues are for politicians. The ground reality is that we must give people the opportunity to live peacefully, with jobs and education. That is what they want and the government will ensure that is there in Sri Lanka.


Q. What will be your message to the Lankan-Tamils living in India and abroad?

A. Some of them left long ago; others, more recently. The second and third generations have concerns about their children's education. I know it is difficult to give all that up and come. But if they come, they are most welcome. I think they must bring their know-how, knowledge, and invest their wealth here because development is the main requirement.








VOLATILTY in the Valley, and the need to present a façade of unity at a time of crisis, served to ensure that the all-party meet on Jammu and Kashmir did not degenerate into strident presentation of oft-stated differences. Yet little of the positive spin that was put on those deliberations has been echoed in the troubled region, thereby reinforcing the image of a massive distance between the jaw-jaw in a conference hall in the Capital and the cities and towns where a vicious circle of violence has caused prolonged disruption of what passes as normality in that strife-ridden part of the country. The agreement on an all-party delegation to J&K is hardly a "development". Indeed, the theory of a first-hand assessment being desirable indicates how little of the state's travails have impacted on the "national" leadership; it is an insult to the intelligence of the people of J&K to suggest that a brief visit will enlighten the delegation on issues unresolved for decades, or that a breakthrough will be effected. To hail the all-party meet as a "good beginning" is over-simplistic: it is not the first venture of its kind ~ though the much-lauded speech of Sonia Gandhi creates an impression that she learnt of the troubles only a couple of days ago. The questions she raised have been asked before, never answered. And so there is every reason to apprehend that the meet yielded only the "cosmetic" results that Mehbooba Mufi cautioned against (her participation being one of very limited plus-points), and more of the promises that the home minister admits have not been delivered. It was not long before the goodwill at the meet dissipated, and entrenched positions were reinforced courtesy the media. So just who will the delegation meet, and what purpose the visit will serve remains questionable.

There can be little quarrel with the official statement after the talks: because it said so little, and offered no indication of what retrieval formula was being contemplated. The exercise was rendered little more than a goodwill gesture or photo-op when the government failed to present a series of possible policy-initiatives and seek endorsement/disapproval. No indication of how the violence was to be curbed to facilitate dialogue, and more importantly the scope of that dialogue. No roadmap, short or long-term was on offer. No admission of the all-round failure to cash in on the public goodwill manifest through the unprecedented turnout in the last election. Just how low have things sunk since then is evident from most sections of Kashmiri leadership going back to insistence on azadi, self-determination or autonomy, the issue that New Delhi has consistently proved too "chicken" to actively address.




FOR a university that has gone on overdrive to enforce discipline on the campus, the faculty decision to cease work chimes oddly with the professed aims and objectives. Teachers of Jadavpur University did not teach on Wednesday to buttress their demand for a raise in the retirement age and "immediate" payment of arrears. In one stroke, the faculties ~ some of them among the finest in the country ~ reduced themselves to the level of agitators.  Granted that the Supreme Court has observed in favour of a higher retirement age for teachers in colleges and universities; yet the final decision rests on the state governments and the UGC.  Which is as it ought to be lest the judiciary is blamed for formulating policy. The Centre, the states and the UGC may be dragging their feet on the matter; yet there can be no defence of the course of action in JU, even if restricted for a single day. The campus atmosphere, surcharged as it is over the introduction of CCTV and identity cards, is bound to be further disrupted.

The faculties, it would appear, have taken off from the point where the students relented.  Their decision to cease work comes immediately after the students ended their three-day class boycott. The loop of disruption was thereby extended. The teachers also need to reflect on whether it is reasonable, let alone professional, to take it out on the students. The answer must be an emphatic 'no'. The demands relate to the tenure of service and salary arrears after the recent bounty that, at certain levels, has surpassed the pay-bands of the IAS. How are the students concerned?  The teachers' sit-in demonstration and the cease-work appear to be directed against the state government and the UGC (for raising the retirement age) and the Union HRD ministry (for the payment of arrears). The Jadavpur University Teachers Association has picked on a soft target. The question survives: Is it really necessary to raise the retirement age to 65? Neither the teachers nor the UGC nor for that matter the Centre and the states have offered a convincing argument.




When the chief minister declares with a sense of pride that government hospitals reach out to 70 per cent of the population, something no other state can claim, there are many who know that figures don't tell the real story. In a state where income levels are abysmally low and private establishments dedicated to health care are concentrated in cities and district towns, it is only to be expected that health care centres particularly in villages would be the only choice. To claim credit on the basis of figures without ensuring that those for whom the services are intended can make the best use of them is the red herring that the Left government has used to cover its failures on the health front. It is thus not surprising that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, for all his efforts towards high-profile projects that he hopes will generate employment, finds that doctors are part of a public health protection committee demanding decisive action from the state. The name itself shames the health system in the sense that hospitals have failed consistently to provide the kind of "protection'' that would justify the claims.

The chief minister of course covers his tracks, in the style of veterans, by saying that there is "more'' to be done. What he does not say is that the "more'' includes elimination of rampant corruption that prevails because his government cannot deal with the unionised culprits. Patients seeking admission are at the mercy of touts. Information on facilities available for the poor are deliberately concealed. Medicines needed for emergencies are seldom available in hospitals. It isn't the needy public that is protected. The protection only covers the state's health minister, all bluff and bluster when scandals come to light, and staff who have the right connections. The chief minister perhaps refuses to accept that public perceptions on his government's performance produce the sort of cynicism that greets the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital's desperate efforts to display makeshift infrastructure to convince a team of regulators it can start a post-graduate course in physiology. But the bottomline is that no one is deceived. A government that has failed to exploit the potential of government hospitals, with doctors left helpless, is only deceiving itself.








THERE are some in the media who think that the centre of world civilisation is shifting towards Asia: witness the emergence of China as the second biggest economy in the world, with Japan being the third biggest. And yet there is something deceptive about this phenomenon. In all the years that Japan was the second biggest economy in the world, it practically did not win any Nobel prizes for the sciences or for literature and there is no reason to think that China will be any different. 

There is, therefore, a gap between wealth and greatness. A great society is one that is known for its great writers, poets, artists, musicians, philosophers and scientists. By this reckoning, only the advanced capitalist countries of the West can be called great. A country concentrates on the feature of the West that it thinks is critical, foundational and then imitates that feature. Both China and Japan think that the West is great because it is fabulously wealthy. So they concentrated on their economies. The Arabs or the Muslim world thinks the West is great because of its  military technical prowess and they concentrate on building up their military technical capacity. They are all mistaken. The West is great because it is culturally mighty. 

What one needs in order to become a great society and not just a wealthy one (which is   easy) are two things. Firstly, freedom. People must be free to interrogate and reject existing value-systems and belief-systems. They must be capable of radically questioning and overthrowing established norms and conventions. A society that bans Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses or James Laine's books on Shivaji can never aspire to greatness.
There must first be a cultural revolution such as the one that Mao experimented with in the Sixties. But more than just mere artistic and intellectual freedom, there must be one other thing: an acceptance of the intellectual primacy of the West. What do we mean by that? Let's look at three examples of this primacy. 
All over the world there is a mad rush to learn the English language. This is because in many ways English is the language of commerce and of international diplomacy and not because England is wealthy. Of course, there is a background to this and that background is colonialism. But colonialism was itself an expression of the cultural supremacy of the West and not just brute military power. The universal learning of English is proof of the cultural supremacy  of the West. In China, at least 300 million  people have studied English as a major course or a first language. Twenty-three million students are enrolled in English courses in Chinese universities, colleges and institutes of higher learning. There is no corresponding rush to learn Chinese or Japanese just because they happen to be wealthy countries. 

The second example of the cultural supremacy of the West is ~ migration. People from all over the world seek to converge upon the West in search of a better livelihood. But in doing so they are not simply attracted by the West's wealth. If that were so then there should have been as many people landing up in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, etc, and now China. People go West because they know they will be accepted as culturally equal and their children will be integrated and assimilated into Western culture.  

Which  brings us to the third example of the cultural supremacy of the West. Through North America and Europe, one finds people drawn from migrant communities running for elected offices and winning, whether it is Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, the Indian origin  governor of British Columbia, the several Congressmen  in individual  states of the US and now the tide of Asian MPs in Britain.

This is a declaration that in principle migrants and their children can run for and occupy the highest offices in the land, they can become  Prime Ministers, Presidents, Chancellors and what have you. Can one even dream of such a thing happening in China and Japan? This is the miracle of Western openness. 

What all this means is that Western culture is the mother culture for all of humanity, that even where tradition is concerned, there must be a Westernizing critique to accompany it. What this means, more concretely, is that a  certain degree of cultural deracination, and even alienation, is a necessary condition for the existence of intelligence outside the Western world. To write a novel, for instance, is to be disconnected from one's "own" history and  then to be reconnected to it through a Western prism. 

The West continues to be the centre of the global civilization in the making because it continues to be the creative heart of human progress, constantly inventing and reinventing a future that the rest of the world has to adopt whether it likes it or not. Unless China or India or Japan can come up with an idea that is superior to the idea of an industrial civilization, the West will continue to steer the global ship.

The writer is a freelance contributor







Peace movements generally become more active only at the time of crisis situations. In India whenever the communal situation becomes serious, we see several citizens' groups actively working for communal harmony. In Europe the peace movement was able to mobilise people in very large numbers at protest rallies just before the invasion of Iraq.

However, generally it has not been possible to maintain the strength of such peace movements after the crisis situations have passed. There is a feeling that, within the present-day limits of such movements, it is difficult to achieve more. However, more can certainly be achieved if the peace movement maintains its continuity and acquires a wider base. On the one hand, there is need for peace movements to maintain a continuity beyond crisis situations. On the other hand, these movements need to have a wide base of support. To achieve this, the concerns of peace movements also need to be expanded.

For some people, a peace movement is mainly an anti-war movement. Others see this mainly as a movement for communal harmony. For some others the main concern is disarmament. Actually the peace movement is all this but it is  much more.

At the heart of the peace movement, there is a strong belief that all conflicts should be resolved in a peaceful way, and that the possibility of conflict itself can be minimised by avoiding greed and promoting harmony. Although the context may differ widely, this precept is essentially as true at the international level as at the street level. Closely related to this is the spread of life-style based on limited needs, an attitude of sharing and a respect for the needs and viewpoints of others.

So while the peace movement opposes war, sectarian violence and proliferation of weapons as its more obvious concerns, it also needs to be integrated with the daily life issues of ordinary citizens in such a way that domestic and street-level violence or conflict is reduced and people generally find relief and creativity by getting rid of violent altitudes and thinking.

It is not only the violence of large-scale wars that causes mass distress. It has been pointed out that, on a daily basis, even more distress is caused by domestic violence. If to this we add work-place and school violence, street-violence and crime, the daily distress caused by all this is huge. Any movement which is successful in reducing this distress will also get supporters and volunteers who will also contribute to the wider peace movement against war and weapons of mass destruction. It is the grassroots work of the peace movement which can create the mass base needed to be effective at the national and international level.
A firm faith in peace should never be confused with acceptance or tolerance of injustice. The understanding of the path of peace is that peaceful methods to oppose and finally overcome this injustice are available. Commitment to peace is helpful in personal life to avoid all needless conflict and thereby release creativity for contributing to betterment of society.

The spread of the peace movement involves the creation of more and more supporters and volunteers committed to a peaceful way of living whose example inspires more people to join the path of peace. These are people who depending on their conditions can give  a little of their time and resources on a continuing basis to tie up with others to work for communal harmony, disarmament, good relations with neighboring countries and other important aspects of the peace movement.

In this way linkages can be established between the concerns of the peace movement at the personal and street level, on the one hand, and the wider national or international concerns, on the other. The grassroots work to reduce violence and conflict in the family, in the neighborhood, in villages and city neighborhoods will be very helpful in itself and in addition will contribute to the wider national and international tasks. On the other hand, the success of the peace movement in contributing to solving international issues will also help strengthen its grassroots work. It is thus possible (although difficult) to create a peace movement which has a very wide base and functions with continuity (instead of merely responding to crisis situations).
While such a peace movement has been always talked about, the need is perhaps the greatest now when the accumulation of WMDs has created the destructive potential of annihilating most forms of life. In addition, we are entering critical stages of serious, life-threatening global problems like climate change to tackle which we badly need a situation which is as free from violence and conflict as possible. In fact the peace movement with its emphasis on sharing and harmony can create the mass base needed for resolving such hotly contested issues. Also the peace movement with its emphasis on limiting needs and caring the needs of others can help to create conducive conditions for reducing inequalities and meeting the basic needs of all.

Again, the same concerns of the peace movement can lead to more concern for the needs of other forms of life. Thus the peace movement also creates helpful conditions for the movements of justice, environment protection and animal rights. The increasing cooperation of these movements can prove  fruitful in solving the most serious problems and creating a better, sustainable world.

The writer is a Fellow at the Institute of Social Science, New Delhi.








Never mind if the government is following a good China policy or a bad China policy. The question is, does it have any China policy? Recently government ministers including the PM conveyed to the media their concern about China's current policies reflected by its military build-up, its role in Kashmir and Arunachal, and its maritime strategy. The Prime Minister said: "China would like to have a foothold in South Asia and we have to reflect on this reality." So, how is the government addressing this worry?

Minister for Road Transport and Highways Kamal Nath is in Beijing. He encouraged Chinese firms to step up investments in India's road projects. He elaborated that there was no concern about Chinese investment in the roadways in the North-east which is troubled by insurgencies and in J&K. If the government doesn't mind Chinese workers in our part of Kashmir one wonders why it bothers about Chinese workers in Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region? 

At the same time, the cap put on importing unskilled Chinese labour to work on China-aided projects in India has been lifted. Forget the security aspect which had impelled placing the cap in the first place. India can now be flooded by unskilled Chinese workers. That does not worry the government which doubtless believes that there is no unemployment among India's unskilled workers. 

To facilitate China's eventual overlordship of India, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal is working out modalities for a training programme to be monitored by his Chinese counterpart Yuan Guiren to develop an army of Indian teachers well versed in Mandarin who might impart the language to Indian school children. "The best way to introduce China in India is to introduce its language at the primary level so that our kids develop interest and knowledge of China…I told Yuan…I cannot do that unless… I collaborate with you," the Minister said. Existing facilities to teach Indian regional languages to children in schools apparently are so good that they do not require any attention from the HRD Ministry. 

Is the UPA government following a carefully crafted policy to confuse its foreign competitors, or is it dreadfully confused itself? Has the PM's writ ceased to run, or is he giving a long rope to his ministers to outwit our foreign competitors? Is the PM deceiving the world, or is he deceiving himself? Someone should enlighten the public. 

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







So the Starbucks culture has infected the groves of academe. Cambridge, university city of ancient colleges, spires and towers, of hidden gardens and river vistas, is betrayed by its high street shops, a new report claims. Their lack of variety, and their domination by big chains, make Cambridge Britain's top "clone town", says the New Economics Foundation.

Five years ago the foundation came up with the concept of clone towns – urban areas which had lost their identity as global and national chain stores drove out local businesses. In a national survey in 2005, Exeter was highlighted as the worst offender, with allegedly the blandest high street in Britain. 

But in an eyebrow-raising verdict in a repeat of the survey, Cambridge, one of the UK's best-loved cities and top tourist attractions, takes top spot. "While Cambridge University celebrates eight centuries of academic excellence and intellectual diversity, a bland homogeneity and encroaching vacant premises characterise the city's shopping centre," says the new report, entitled "Re-imagining the High Street".

It goes on: "Diversity is a stranger in Cambridge's clone zone; our pollsters counted a meagre nine varieties of shop (the lowest diversity of all 128 of our surveys) with 25 of the 57 surveyed being clothing multiples."
A spokesman for Nef, Paul Hurst, said: "Cambridge is full of wonderful buildings and I've no doubt, wonderful people, but the actual shops don't reflect the diversity you will find in Cambridge as a town. Tourism is a factor in this – it is leaning more towards the international tourist market. But what are the tourists going there for – the sort of shops they will find in Heathrow Terminal Four? This is a warning that local diversity needs to be actively maintained and supported and won't necessarily survive on its own."

But the report was immediately blasted as "nonsense" by Cambridge's head of tourism and city centre management, Emma Thornton. "It is quite apparent that the authors have either not visited Cambridge at all, or did not spend very long here," she said. "Any serious shopper knows that what sets Cambridge apart as a shopping destination is the fantastic diversity of shops, many of which are independent retailers and real gems .To label Cambridge a clone town is pure nonsense." She added: "I will certainly be following this up with the report authors."

The report claims that 41 per cent of UK towns are clone towns – where more than half the shops and stores are chains. It says that Richmond has the most cloned high street of London's "villages" with only five independent shops. The opposite of clone towns are "home towns" and the best performing one in the survey was Whitstable, Kent.

the independent








The contention between the judiciary and the executive on what to do with rotting foodgrains has got increasingly strident. It began with an order passed by the Supreme Court on a PIL petition filed by the People's Union for Civil Liberties. It asked the government to distribute foodgrains free to the poor. The minister of agriculture chose a meeting of his party in Mumbai to reject the Supreme Court's direction, citing the Rs 66,000 crore subsidy the government was giving on the public distribution system. He seemed to think that the government could not spend more. He also blamed the state governments; according to him, they took away the foodgrains they needed for distribution in the Antyodaya scheme, which they got at Rs 2 a kilogram, but did not take grains for other rationing schemes for which they had to pay more. The Supreme Court sent Sharad Pawar a message — that its direction to give the poor foodgrains free was an order, not a suggestion. The agriculture minister rushed to Parliament and assured it that he would carry out the Supreme Court's order. But then, Somnath Chatterjee piped up to say that the Supreme Court had exceeded its jurisdiction; buoyed by his expert opinion, the prime minister told the Supreme Court to keep out of policymaking. And buoyed by Mr Pawar's expert opinion, he also said that free distribution was not practical.


The prime minister's exasperation is understandable. But there is something more here than the judiciary overreaching itself. Rotting foodgrains are a graphic picture to pin on a government, and its chief cannot be comfortable with it. He also obviously thinks that the government's case has not been understood by the judges. But since the entire debate is being conducted in public, he has the choice of putting his case to the public. And if he takes the time to do that, he may find that he does not have a case.


The government is already giving foodgrains to those whom it chooses at throwaway prices; to give it at zero price requires no greater effort. He surely cannot take the cost argument seriously. The government runs enormous fiscal deficits, and has disregarded all rules to limit them; surely it is within his power to spend some more thousand crore on foodgrain subsidy. And his agriculture minister has said that the state governments take all the grain they are offered at prices of Rs 2 a kilo, but baulk at paying more. So all the government has to do is to offer all the grain free to them. What holds the prime minister back?








It is typically audacious of the government of West Bengal to make tall promises after failing to meet a deadline that was set by the highest court of the land. Last year, the Supreme Court had ordered states to demolish all unauthorized religious structures on public land. In compliance with the order, most states filed reports detailing where such structures exist. But West Bengal, of course, failed to do so. Yet, not to be deterred, it has promised that the list, which could not be drawn up in one year, would be ready in a month's time. Even if the government, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is able to achieve its ambitious goal, there is little hope that putting together a list will entail decisive action. For a party that swears by secularism, the CPI(M) has habitually dithered over taking decisions, even perfectly legitimate ones, that might upset religious sentiments. In the process, it has allowed vote-bank politics to ride roughshod over public good. It is also characteristic of the CPI(M) to use the "public" as an alibi for inaction, as it has, once again, done in this case.


While excusing itself to the court, the government pointed out that it "may not be feasible in all cases" to summarily execute the judicial order, given the "sensitive nature of the problem". It also added that the list, which is being compiled, will mention the "extent to which the public want" a particular structure to be removed, and even explain possible grounds for sparing it. But what sort of an argument — which is, presumably, an appeal based on reason rather than passion —would persuade the administration that a particular case is worthy of exemption? In fact, this proviso clearly reflects the Left Front's non-commitment to enhancing public safety. Indian roads are already menacingly cluttered spaces, which barely allow much security, let alone comfort, to pedestrians. Sundry structures jutting out in the middle of busy intersections or crowded streets often prove to be potentially dangerous for the common man. So, rather than using the public as a convenient shield against judicial reprimand, the government should try to shield the public from such perils — which is, after all, its proper function









In January 1993, barely a month after the Babri structure built by one of Babur's commanders in 1528 was demolished, Girilal Jain, a former editor of The Times of India, made a spirited intervention in the pages of the weekly, Organiser, run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In view of the Allahabad High Court's scheduled judgment, on September 24, on the title suit of the disputed site that has been pending for over 50 years, it is instructive to revisit that debate.


"The structure as it stood," Jain wrote, "represented an impasse between what Babur represented and what Ram represents... In fact, in my opinion, no structure symbolised the Indian political order in its ambivalence, ambiguity, indecision and lack of purpose, as this structure. The removal of the structure has ended the impasse and marks a new beginning."


Jain wasn't alone in viewing the events of December 6, 1992, in Ayodhya as the Indian equivalent of, say, the storming of the Bastille. Both the votaries of Hindutva and the beleaguered defenders of the Nehruvian order were united in viewing the demolition as a point of rupture. For the former, the change would herald a Hindu reawakening; for the secularists, it threatened to destroy India's pluralism and transform the country into ade-facto confessional State.


Both sides of the confrontation, it would now seem, were guilty of hype. India wasn't transformed into a Hindu Pakistan and the Constitutional edifice established in 1950 remained strong and intact. To borrow A.J.P. Taylor's description of the 1848 revolution in Europe, the Babri demolition was a turning point in Indian history when history refused to turn.


This is not to suggest that the temple movement, an event that L.K. Advani prophesied in 1990 would become the "greatest mass movement" in history, was a passing show, creating the proverbial ripples on the surface. The series of events beginning with the opening of the locks in 1986, the Ram shila pujas and Advani's rath yatra, right down to the abstruse dispute over 2.77 acres of land and the final demolition, made a profound impression on public opinion. Apart from the spate of Hindu-Muslim riots, the churning over Ayodhya contributed immeasurably to the end of Congress dominance, the Bharatiya Janata Party's emergence as the principal non-Congress party, the creation of a nebulous Hindu vote bank and a strengthening of Muslim religious identities.


But the movement didn't turn India upside down. Like the furore over the Mandal Commission report, the Ayodhya movement resulted in political turbulence and even a substantial measure of regroupment. But its consequences weren't revolutionary. As the six years of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance indicated, the upheaval triggered a change of government five years after the demolition; it didn't lead to a regime change.


With the benefit of hindsight it would seem that the contemporary misreading arose from the premise that the Ayodhya movement was overwhelmingly an explosion of faith and sublimated Hinduness. The implication was that a new religiosity had penetrated the popular psyche and begun influencing secular life.


That veneration of the epic hero of the Ramayan and the desire to commemorate the spot where local belief suggested he was born played a role in motivating religious Hindus to back the movement is undeniable. It is difficult to envisage any other post-Independence movement when so many Hindu religious figures across the land, ranging from the heads of important mutts to neo-literate purohits of village shrines, came together for a common purpose. This heady emotionalism was unquestionably the main factor behind the mobilization of rural India (and particularly women).


However, what sustained the movement, and gave it an extra- religious dimension, was the support it received from the Hindu middle classes. It was this middle class groundswell in both the cities and the small towns that led many contemporary observers to suggest that the Ram temple had become the metaphor for a more far-reaching transformation.


In retrospect, it would seem that the middle class endorsement of a movement that appeared to liberal India as being retrograde and antediluvian was located in a specific context. By the late-1980s, the pillars on which the Nehruvian order was constructed had developed deep cracks. Particularly evident was the bankruptcy of the socialistic approach based on the licence-permit raj. By the time Indira Gandhi fell to the assassins' bullets, the public sector-led, State-regulated economy was yielding diminishing returns, unable to cope with rising expectations for a better life. Rajiv Gandhi emerged as a ray of hope but his record was soured by his Shah Bano retreat and the stench of corruption from the Bofors deal. To urban India, the system had run out of steam. The physical mortgaging of India's gold reserves in 1990 epitomized the bankruptcy of an economic system.


The Ayodhya agitation encapsulated protest, millenarianism and modernity under one roof. It didn't usher in Hindu National Socialism as its aesthetic detractors were convinced it would (leading to some facile comparisons of inept boy scouts in khakishorts with Hitler's stormtroopers). But it drove a stake through the heart of an incapacitated socialism.


In the past two decades — Advani has helpfully reminded us that the high court verdict will coincide with the 20th anniversary of his rath yatra — India has changed far more than politicians are willing to acknowledge. The sense of Hindu dejection and defeat that was so marked in the early-1980s — a consequence of India's overall underperformance — has given way to a cockiness that comes from a sudden rise in economic prosperity. Whereas in 1990, historical memories of temple destruction rankled, today's mood is governed by the belief that the future belongs to India. The optimism may be based on a bubble but it is nevertheless real.


The high court verdict isn't going to be the last word in the Ayodhya saga. The disappointed parties are bound to appeal to the Supreme Court and the political class as a whole feels that the dispute should be put into a judicial slow cooker for another decade. There is a functioning makeshift Ram temple that has existed at the site since the 'mysterious' appearance of the idol in 1949, and it is inconceivable that this state of affairs will change in the foreseeable future, whatever the court decides later this month. As long as the denominational status quo in the Ayodhya site is maintained, India is unlikely to experience another bout of civil unrest and sectarian conflict.


Yet, there are two sides to the dispute. If the Hindu middle classes that nurtured and sustained the Ayodhya agitation are focused on worldly matters, a section of the Muslim community has also been infected by a globalized mood of victimhood which, in turn, has bred a nothing-to-lose assertiveness. In the event the court rules in favour of the Sunni Waqf Board and overturns the 1940 Privy Council judgment in the Shahid Ganj Gurdwara case, it is entirely possible that a radical section of the Muslim community may feel that a further reference to the Supreme Court is just a ploy to deny it overdue justice. Whether this frustration will trigger a wave of radicalization is not known, but the danger is real and could in turn lead to a countervailing response.


As always, the Ayodhya bomb carries with it many deadly delayed fuses. It has been that way for the past 482 years, ever since a conquering Mughal general rode roughshod over the feelings of the vanquished.







Russia, still suffering the trials and tribulations of a society adjusting to liberation from suffocating State control, has done more for its cultural institutions than India has done for its own. The 'command' performance of Indian bureaucrats handling culture has let us down in an unimaginable manner. Our National Museum, the repository of our extraordinary legacy, is in a shambles. It is uninviting, dark and dingy, with unaesthetic and careless displays, disorderly signage and with an unmistakable aura of neglect and rot, when compared to the museums of Moscow. The comparison is instructive because both countries, while being ruled by babus who find reasons to stall and disallow change and growth, have achieved dissimilar results. Russia respects its past, its historical and cultural traditions, in spite of having endured dictatorial regimes and upheavals that could have destroyed everything. The Russians have put culture on a high pedestal, conserved and protected their art, buildings, and even their icons and churches through the decades of communist rule.


We in democratic India, professing to care and conserve, have managed to destroy with impunity within the framework of democracy, with the freedom of expression intact. It is shameful. The National Museum belongs to India and is held in trust by the State. Its condition is pathetic, to say the least, and wholly unacceptable. There is no excuse whatsoever for its condition. The standard excuse, offered year after year, has been that most of the senior positions are lying vacant and that the directors holding temporary charge have no time to spare. This is shocking for a start, and reveals how inept and unconcerned the authorities are about India and its many legacies. Pride is necessary for any kind of development and growth.


Rotten boat


India is constantly tortured with unpleasant realities ranging from wholesale corruption in the public domain to efforts to keep a redundant and consumptive status quo alive. Bureaucrats wallow in this comfort zone much like large buffaloes in a village pool. Because they are well-versed in the government rules and regulations, they actively stop and destroy any initiative that is taken to lift India out of the quagmire.


The bureaucrats institute committees with their cronies and colleagues — some of whom are on the lookout for support and succour from the government — but never with any professional who may dissent. The committees pronounce judgements and papers are drawn up, but nothing ever happens beyond that. In the bargain, simple clean-up operations are suspended and decay sets in rapidly. The incompetent amongst thebabus endorse the 'standstill' lest their fundamental ineptitude is revealed. The entry of fresh ideas is seen as unacceptable intervention because new concepts and qualified initiatives are bound to rock the rotting boat and display the truth. The truth has become an anathema for the bungling bureaucracy.


Projects are stalled just when they are about to be completed. Babus always scheme and plot to stop change in its tracks. They are, after all, in supreme command. This manipulative stance is totally wrong, and insulting for all citizens. There is no reason whatsoever for the National Museum to be in its present state. All the problems plaguing the museum must be remedied immediately to allow the dignity of culture to prevail. The museum's pitiable state is truly shameful and at the same time, hurtful, because it is demeaning for us all. It makes one feel angry to see Indian heritage being insulted by the State itself. It is time to forge partnerships with professionals from civil society who can restore the museum till restructuring takes place.



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





The ruling BJP and chief minister B S Yeddyurappa have reasons to be happy with the no-loss-no-gain outcome of the byelections to two Assembly seats in the state. While the BJP failed to retain the Gulbarga South constituency, it scored a handsome victory in Kadur, snatching the seat from the Congress. The BJP would perhaps have bagged Gulbarga South as well had it played the 'sympathy card' by fielding the wife of its member Chandrashekar Revoor, whose death caused the byelection. But the opportunistic JD(S) snapped up Aruna Patil Revoor as its candidate at the last minute and reaped the reward.

The Congress party's woes, which began with the debacle in the May 2008 general elections, don't seem to end as in both the constituencies its candidates finished in third place. While the loss in Kadur was not unexpected, the defeat of its candidate in Gulbarga South, Ajay Singh, son of former chief minister Dharam Singh, was a bigger blow, signifying the rapid decline of the party.

Both Dharam Singh, now a Congress MP, and Union labour minister Mallikarjun Kharge, who treated Gulbarga as their pocketboroughs for over three decades, suddenly find that their writ no longer runs and they can't ensure safe political passage even for their kin.

The political decline of these two stalwarts is symptomatic of the general disarray the Congress finds itself in ever since the BJP's rise, starting with the 2004 elections. That even the successfully organised padayatra of recent vintage did not have a positive impact on the polls should make the Congress high command seriously rethink its strategies and the quality of state leadership being projected if the party were to have any future.

No doubt, local factors usually play a dominant role in byelections, but the results of as many as 16 bypolls since May 2008 clearly point to a trend. The BJP has won eight, the JD(S) six and the Congress only two of them. Yeddyurappa might feel happy that the scandals surrounding his government have had little impact on the electorate.

But he will do well to remember that the BJP's victories had more to do with the weaknesses of the Opposition than serving as a certificate to his government and the public mood could change any moment. The chief minister should use the opportunity available now to reshuffle his ministry and try to give a better administration than he has been able to offer so far.








The wholesale price index (WPI) with 2004-05 as the base year, released by the government this week, is an improvement on the existing one with 1993-94 as the base year, but is still not the best tool to measure inflation.

The new index is more representative as it includes many more items of consumption than the old one did. As an indicator of consumption patterns which have changed drastically in the past many years it is a step forward but it does not capture the spending levels and the costs incurred by consumers over a wide range.

The number of commodities included in the index has been increased by more than half to 676, after dropping many items which are not in common use now and including others which are part of the current consumption basket. It gives the index a middle class slant, reflecting the spending power of that rising class, but fails to encompass the majority of people.

The WPI however is now more indicative of the composition of the GDP, as the weight of primary commodities will be less. The manufactured goods now have a more important place in the GDP than 15 years ago and therefore the index can track their price movements better. But the biggest lacuna in the new index is that it does not include services, like educational and health expenditure.

The services sector has expanded phenomenally and the cost of services has also increased. There was a proposal to develop a separate index for the services and integrate it with the WPI. But this has not been done. An index that does not cover the services will not correctly reflect the consumption patterns of the people.

There are methodological and structural problems too. The prices that go into the making of the index are sometimes wholesale prices and sometimes retail prices. Even minimum support prices are included. This distorts the nature of the index. The correctness of the data collected for the index is sometimes in doubt as the methods are often unreliable. 

This affects the integrity of the index and detracts from its value as a faithful indicator of the cost of living of an average household. While inflation in India is among the highest in the world, the new series does not reflect that. It needs to be perfected further.








I had an interaction with some Kashmiri young men at Delhi this week. There was no doubting of their indignation and exasperation. The killings in the valley, more than 80 since the beginning of stone pelting in June, were very much on my mind and I wanted to know what could be done.

"Why don't you leave us," one said. Another was more specific: "We want azadi. Please include Muslim areas of Jammu and Ladakh." This would come to about one crore or a little more. They said: "It is not the question of numbers but that of feeling. We just do not want to be part of India." Yet another said: "We want to make it clear that we don't want to be part of Pakistan either." I vainly argued with them that how a country with one crore population would sustain itself without any help from India or Pakistan. "There is the entire Muslim world to help us," they said.

This is what bothers me, I told them. The religion which you have brought to your protests shows clearly that you want to establish another Muslim state on India's border.

What will be its repercussions in India which is trying its best to float above the waters of communalism and stay secular? All that they said in reply was: "We want azadi."

I have not visited Kashmir for more than six months. Yet I have kept myself quite up to date by watching on television several incidents of stone pelting, burning of government buildings and firings by the security forces.

It looks as if the whole valley has come on to the streets, the angry young men leading the mob. Maybe, it is a particular group of people which is instigating them but whatever its number, it is a determined lot. And it would be foolhardy not to take into account their anguish, particularly of those who have lost their dear ones in the firings.

The government, particularly J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah, believes that the anger would be assuaged if the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), which gives extraordinary powers to the military in a disturbed area, is amended suitably or abolished.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh's remark — there was need to address issues of trust deficit and government performance — cannot remedy the situation. By shifting the responsibility of its follies to the ruling National Conference, the Centre is only proving that it has gone from one mistake to another, without realising that it would have to pay for them some day.

Every time the economic package or creation of youth employment is considered a panacea for all the troubles. The challenge from the days of Sheikh Abdullah to Omar Abdullah is how does New Delhi give Srinagar a sense of identity, without letting Kashmir to translate that status into independence?

Exploiting religion

That there is no alternative to the talks goes without saying. But the talks with the fundamentalists, who are in the forefront in the valley, will be difficult because they are the ones who excite the people in the name of religion. They have pushed the Kashmiriyat, into the background and brought fundamentalism to the fore. So much so, a fabricated news item saying that the Holy Quran was burnt in America cost 14 lives.

Yet New Delhi has to separate these elements from those who want to rule democratically and in a pluralistic way. But this does not mean that India has all the time to sort out who are fundamentalists but parade to be democratic. Ultimately, it depends on what New Delhi is willing to offer in terms of political power.

The prime minister is willing to go to any limits within the constitution. Good enough if there is a solution within the constitution. But if it is not possible, it should not matter if the terms of agreement go beyond the constitution. Delhi should be ready to give back whatever subjects it may have taken beyond defence, foreign affairs and communications, the three subjects which Srinagar gave New Delhi when the state acceded to the Union.

The BJP is the biggest impediment. It has politicised the issue and refurbished parochialism. At the back of its mind is Hindutva philosophy which, it believes, cannot cope with a Muslim-majority state.

Some argue that panacea for such problems is to concede the right of self-determination. No state can accede to this principle because it gives sanction to the centrifugal forces and fissiparous tendencies. Were the principle of self-determination to be applied in south east Asia, many states in the region would face the prospect of disintegration.

New Delhi's mistake is that it has left the Kashmir problem hanging in fire for such a long period. It proves the charge that many elements have come to develop a vested interest in the status quo. The prime minister is quite right when he says that he was willing to talk to any party or group so long as it does not project or support violence.

Once New Delhi and Srinagar have come to terms, they should talk to Islamabad. Even otherwise, all the three can sit across the table. The participation of Pakistan is necessary because all the agreements, beginning with the one at Tashkent to the Shimla, mention Pakistan as one of the important parties.








Both female candidates in Brazilian presidential elections have indisputable ethical gravity.


In a providential first, two of the candidates in Brazil's upcoming presidential elections are women: Marina Silva and Dilma Rousseff. The latter is favoured in the polls to win in the vote, set for Oct 3. Brazil has never had a female president.

At the start of the millennium in 2001, the United Nations Population Fund wrote in its annual report, "The human race is plundering the Earth in an unsustainable manner. Giving women greater decision-making power on the future can save the planet from destruction."

This statement reflects the recognition that Earth and humanity have entered a zone of grave danger. The increase of poverty constitutes injustice on a planetary scale; global warming of the earth's ecological system is irreversible; and human beings consume 30 per cent more than what the planet can regenerate, a clearly unsustainable situation. 

Given the above, if we want to continue living on this small, old planet, we will have to take some major decisions.

All of these questions are tied to life. Who better than women to care for life and create the conditions for perpetuating it?

God complex

Men, in contrast, are proving themselves confused and powerless, and according to eminent German psychoanalyst Horst-Eberhard Richter, are suffering from a 'God complex'. They take on divine tasks: dominating nature, organising all forms of life, conquering space, and remaking humanity -staggering undertakings. Excessive arrogance, which the Greeks defined as hubris and punished with death, has overthrown them.

A new equilibrium must now be established by women. World feminism has provided a fundamental critique of the patriarchal system that has dominated since the neolithic age 7,000 years ago.

The patriarchy gave rise to institutions that still today are shaping human societies according to the instrumental-analytic reason that separates nature from the human being, leads man to dominate natural processes in a devastating manner, creates state bureaucracies organised around male interests, devised a mode of education that reproduces the patriarchal structure, created armies, and provoked wars. It affected religions, whose gods and figures are almost all masculine.

The 'manifest destiny' of the patriarchy is the domination of the world with the intent of becoming "the masters and owners of nature" (Descartes).

International meetings demonstrate that governments are more interested in business than in saving life and protecting the planet. Thus the urgent burning need for the intervention of women to save the world.

While different in many ways, both female candidates in Brazilian presidential elections have indisputable ethical gravity and a vision of politics as service to the common good and not to systems of conquest and the use of power to benefit elitist interests and vanity that still dominate Brazilian democracy.

Dilma Rousseff, an economist of Bulgarian origin, was chief of staff in the current administration, leading political actions and overseeing the largest national programme: the Project to Accelerate Growth, with more than $500 billion of investment in infrastructure and industry. Rousseff is an excellent executive with moderate ecological credentials. She represents the Workers Party of President Lula, and polls say she has the support of 50 per cent of voters and will likely win the presidency in the first round of voting.

Marina Silva has the same humble origins as Lula, an ex- metalworker. She was born to a poor family in the heart of the Amazonian jungle, worked as a rubber tapper, and taught herself to read at 16. She helped form church communities in the state of Acre to spread a message of liberation.

After being elected senator, she served as environmental minister for five years under Lula and was a charismatic, tireless, and eminently competent advocate for the environment. Her Green Party has little popular support so her message has not received the play that it deserves. However, she has succeeded in placing the issue of the environment on the agenda of all parties and in the national conscience.

The fact that there are two women candidates running for the presidency of Brazil is both profound and providential. They embody a call from Mother Earth for preservation and are a response to the urgency of this moment in history. What is most important is not saving the economic-financial system but rather saving human life and protecting the well-being of the planet. The economy should serve this higher goal, not the other way around.







The truth hit me when an employee came and touc-hed her on the shoulder.


I was at the beauty parlour the other day. I badly needed a haircut, and that morning was the only time available to me. I had cadged a lift from my husband and ended up at the parlour half an hour before the opening time. I knew I would be early, but who can turn down a lift?

As I sat on the stairs waiting for the establishment to open, I began to feel bored. I had forgotten to bring a book to read, and had nothing to do but look around. Since this place was located in a shopping plaza where most of the shops hadn't opened their shutters either, this was easily accomplished and was not very satisfying. I cleaned my purse, but even that job was done too quickly.

Just then, a young woman appeared. Aha, I had company.  Like me, she too must have decided to come early. At least, now I had someone to talk to. I decided to make an overture of friendship, and so smiled genially in her direction and said 'good morning!' Oh, was I ever disappointed. She didn't respond to my friendliness, she didn't even look in my direction. She looked straight ahead and walked around the bend in the staircase where she could not be seen. I heard her set down her handbag and umbrella and could safely assume that she had sat down too.

I was disgusted and furious as well. What kind of person would not even show another the smallest courtesy of a smile?  Was it so hard to say a pleasant 'good morning' or exchange a few words about the weather?  All right, I am a friendly person, but I do understand that some people may not want to talk. How about just a 'Hello' instead? The woman's dourness soured me. I began to speculate on her background. Probably she had a disgruntled husband and horrid kids as well. Who could be happy around her, hmmm?

The arrival of the owner of the beauty parlour broke into my thoughts, and I discovered something. When she began helping open the shutters, I realised that the dour woman was an employee there! That did put a slightly different slant on things, but still didn't excuse her unnecessary reserve. I just hoped that I wouldn't be stuck with her to do my hair.

Luckily, I wasn't. The girls who did my haircut, manicure and pedicure were very chatty and I had a wonderful time being pampered. When I went to pay the bill, guess who was standing at the counter looking a magazine? You got it. It was my nemesis of the day. As I waited for my bill, I saw two other employees gesticulating furiously at her. Yes, I thought gleefully, "she is in trouble all right. They must be angry with her. Now let us see what happens."

Just then, another employee came and touched her on the shoulder and pointed her toward the gesturing duo. That was when the truth hit me. The woman was a deaf-mute. My feelings of remorse are impossible to describe. There was only one way to atone for my boorishness. That day, I quit making snap judgements.








Let the memory of those lost encourage us to prevent the next accident from ever happening.

Their bloodstained schoolbooks were strewn along the side of the road, the detritus of young lives cut short. The sheer force of the impact scattered vehicle parts a distance of 200 meters, paramedics who arrived on the scene said.

The victims were young. Idan Kiffer was 11, Niv Nasav 13 and Daniel Amram, 14. They lived in Mevo Dotan, a settlement in north Samaria, and studied together at Omer, the regional elementary school. According to the Judea and Samaria Police, not all of the three boys were wearing seat belts.


Idan's father Amos, who was driving the truck carrying a load of compressed gas canisters that collided with a tractor, is still in critical condition. Ata Muhammed Namarani, 35, the Palestinian driving the tractor reportedly lacking lights for night travel, was also killed.

Yet another road accident that took its toll on Wednesday night. Since the beginning of the year, 279 people have died in road accidents, up 13 percent compared to the same period last year. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, nearly 31,000 people have died on our roads – 31,000 people – more than the combined number of close to 23,000 soldiers killed in wars and almost 4,000 civilians killed in terrorist attacks.

THIS YOM KIPPUR, as we take stock of ourselves and strive for self-improvement, let us all reflect on road safety.

In Kol Nidre, a declaration that opens the Yom Kippur services, we state, "In the tribunal of heaven and the tribunal of earth, by the permission of God – blessed be He – and by the permission of this holy congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with the transgressors."

"Transgressors," the rabbis teach, include those who disobey various public regulations, such as, for instance, traffic laws. How many of us are guilty of driving too fast, of rolling through a stop sign, of passing a slow car on the right or when it is otherwise forbidden to do so? How many of us are truly conscious of the preciousness of our own lives, those of our passengers and the lives of pedestrians, bicyclists and fellow drivers? When we get behind the wheel we should realize that while an automobile makes things easier by shuttling us quickly across vast distances, it is also a heavy steel projectile that can wreak havoc and cause unfathomable pain and destruction. We should be aware of the seriousness of the driver's responsibilities, be focused on anticipating potential dangers and be vigilant against distraction – even for a second – from the task at hand.

Judaism holds us responsible for our actions, which makes them worthy of merit or censure. Contemporary rabbis such as Re'em Hacohen, head of the Otniel hesder yeshiva, have called to disqualify known reckless drivers from serving as witnesses in rabbinical courts or at weddings.

"Anyone who blatantly and intentionally commits traffic violations, thus endangering human lives, is also purposely transgressing Halacha," Hacohen recently told The Jerusalem Post. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has ruled that a kohen, a member of the priestly class, who kills due to negligent driving is disqualified from blessing the congregation. After having served as a vehicle of destruction, the kohen can longer become a conduit of God's blessing, argues Yosef.

Cognitive dissonance causes drivers to skirt responsibility.

Faulty roads or badly planned road signs are to blame, we claim, as are Arab drivers, who are disproportionately represented in fatal road accidents. (Arabs made up over a third of road accident fatalities in 2009.) But if we are sincere, which we are supposed to be on Yom Kippur, we know deep down that preventing accidents depends on us.

Women, for instance, were involved in only a quarter of road accidents in 2009 and caused only 16% of severe or deadly crashes. The fact that there are fewer female drivers explains only part of the discrepancy. Experts say that women tend to obey traffic laws more than men, drive slower, drive less under the influence of drugs or alcohol and take fewer risks.

Perhaps all of us should be more feminine in our driving habits. Surely every driver should remember that seat belts save lives, and make sure that before the vehicle moves, everyone in it is buckled up.

On Yom Kippur during the Yizkor prayer, we remember our deceased loved ones. Let us also remember little Idan, Niv and Daniel and the thousands of other victims of automobile accidents. Let their memory encourage us to do our utmost to prevent the next accident from ever happening.










It's been a long time since negotiations elicited as many smiles and as positive an atmosphere as the Washington-Sharm-Jerusalem round of talks. The leaders, including two presidents and one king, enter closed sessions and emerge smiling, as though the meetings have turned into joke-telling competitions. Those setting the tone are U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington and his envoy here, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her figure somewhat fuller now than when she sweat out the contest against Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, she has hardly been photographed without a Sara Netanyahu-type grin from ear to ear.


Quite unusually, at least up until this point, there haven't been any leaks from the long talks either - only assessments given by veteran political commentators. The optimism is dictated from above, i.e. by Obama, who has decided to take our subject in hand, demonstrating a blatant change in his almost hostile attitude toward Israel.


In light of his eroding status around the world, the impression is that it is very important to the American president, both personally and strategically, to succeed here. And when the secretary of state emerges from a meeting with President Shimon Peres and declares that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are serious in their intentions to renew the peace process, for the time being this represents more a wish of Obama's than a realistic impression of the round of talks thus far.


Netanyahu demonstrated leadership when he agreed to freeze construction in the territories for 10 months. Nobody believed he would dare to stick to that decision until the end. The fact is, he not only passed the decision in the cabinet, but not one of his ministers - including those from Yisrael Beiteinu - resigned.


Still, we must recall that the prime minister not only made a commitment to the Palestinians and the Americans; he also made a promise to the Israeli public that he meant 10 months, "and not one day more." While he can be praised for doing something nobody did before him, there will almost certainly be those in his camp who won't forgive him if he breaks his promise to the Israelis.


In addition, the Palestinians refused to enter direct talks and wasted nine months. Had they conducted negotiations during the freeze, we might now be standing in another place entirely. The talks in Washington also made clear the profundity of the gaps between the two sides. Now that the sides have begun to speak directly under Obama's sponsorship, the entire issue of the freeze as a condition to talks is passe. It's possible to talk face to face and not to build at one and the same time in territories that we will evacuate in any case.


Now, when rockets are being launched from Gaza on an almost daily basis and the commander of the Hamas military wing, Ahmed Jabri, is threatening us with war, the question confronting us is whether the time has not come to do everything in our power to reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, instead of heading downhill toward a "war for the peace of the settlements Yitzhar and Tapuah." An extension of the building freeze is not essential to renew the direct talks under American sponsorship, based on an understanding with Obama that it will be "light" construction if any, to avoid creating chaos in the territories before we reach an overall agreement with the Palestinians. In the agreement with Egypt, we also signed first and later removed the Rafah Salient settlements.


The U.S. administration is maintaining a fog of war, but it is clear that Obama will be the one to decide whether white smoke will emerge from the White House chimney. The fact that Israel is starting to distribute gas masks at an accelerated pace implies that both we and the U.S. administration are worriedly keeping track of those same threats with which we will have to deal sooner or later.


Whether the Palestinians want to and can achieve a peace agreement is still up in the air. The same doubts exist regarding Netanyahu as well - does he have the stuff to make major decisions? Most of Likud is standing behind him, despite Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom's threats. And if Netanyahu managed to pass the freeze, he can pass anything in his cabinet - certainly with massive support from most of the public, which aspires to peace.


On Yom Kippur 37 years ago, we buried 2,700 fallen soldiers too many, in order to reach the conclusion foreign minister Moshe Dayan reached when he signed the peace treaty with Egypt: only a donkey never changes his mind.









Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. It is the most important day for penitence and forgiveness. But even if you fast all day, recite all the prayers and torture your soul, that is barely enough for God to grant you forgiveness. It is not sufficient unless you also get forgiveness from your friends. For that you have to ask the forgiveness on a personal basis of everyone whom you harmed during the year.


From this we can understand that the interior minister, Eli Yishai, will have an enormous task. He will have to ask forgiveness from seven and a half million citizens of Israel because of the injustice and damage he caused them this year. And it is not certain that they will agree to forgive him.


Only this week it transpired that the computer people in his ministry have been instructed by Yishai to do away with the possibility of making payments on the ministry's website on the Sabbath or holidays. Why does he care? Why does he insist on invading the individual's privacy in so callous a way? After all, making the payment on a Saturday does not force anyone to work on the Sabbath. The action on the website happens automatically on the computer system and is meant to assist all those who work long hours during the week and have time to take care of their accounts only over the weekend.


This annoying and vexing move affects our quality of life and is reminiscent of backward regimes like those in Iran and Saudi Arabia. But why should we be surprised? After all, that is exactly the way in which Yishai acted over daylight saving time. Yishai said we shouldn't be impressed by the fact that daylight saving time continues in Europe until the end of October, because we are a Jewish country here. But who said that a Jewish country must also be a crazy country?


Behind Yishai's insistence on the daylight saving time issue lies his desire to prove to the public that he is the one who decides, that he is the decision maker. From his point of view, any public organization in favor of lengthening daylight saving time is nothing more than a caprice on the part of some annoying Ashkenazis from Sheinkin Street whom it is a "mitzvah" to screw so as to gain another few points with his voters.


But now it transpires that not everyone in Shas thinks like Yishai. The housing and construction minister, Ariel Atias, proved his independence when he stated this week that from his point of view, daylight saving time could continue throughout the winter. Knesset member Chaim Amsellem of Shas said there was no advantage for those who fast in moving the clock, and in fact there were some disadvantages. It appears that even Rabbi Ovadia Yosef does not see any religious problem in this issue, and also does not object to extending daylight saving time. So we are simply left with Yishai's intransigence.


But that is not the only sphere in which Yishai has to ask for our forgiveness. He must ask forgiveness for disgracing Judaism and turning it into a parasitic and exploitative religion and thus distorting its substance. Judaism does not mean life without working, at the public's expense. Judaism is not merely studying the Torah, without mathematics and without English. Judaism is not shirking the need to defend one's home and country like a coward.


There is no instruction in halakha (Jewish law ) that one must not serve in the army. In "A Strong Hand" in Hilchot Melachim (The Kings' Laws ), Maimonides rules that in a holy war, it is the duty of every person to go and fight, "even a bridegroom in his bedroom or a bride under the marriage canopy." But it is much more pleasant to leave this dangerous obligation to the secular and [regular] religious populations.


The parasitic approach that Yishai espouses is not just about evading military service. The yeshiva students in the kollel (adult study center ) do not work for a living. They live off stipends and donations. In "A Strong Hand" Maimonides writes that anyone who believes he should study the Torah but not do any work, and lives off charity, is in fact desecrating the Lord and degrading the Torah. Studying the Torah without working leads to idleness and brings with it misdemeanor, Maimonides says, and a person like that ends up robbing others. Could anyone have said it better?


But Yishai not only sanctifies evading work, he also does not make it possible for ultra-Orthodox youths to study mathematics, English, science, history and civics. He wants his public to be unable to support itself and remain forever dependent on others for a living. For three sins of Yishai, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath, the prophet Amos would have said had he known Yishai. We are not prophets. We are prepared to forgive. Only before that Yishai must repent and ask for forgiveness.









The prayer "For the sin we sinned before you" recited on Yom Kippur includes a confession in the sphere of social and public morals - between two people and also between a public figure and the public. The range of sins it covers goes from sins that stem from malice and deception, falsehood and untruths, to those that stem from wielding power and arrogance.


In the past year, the trial began of the former prime minister, Ehud Olmert. Olmert was accused of a series of serious crimes in the public sphere. This is the first time that so severe an indictment has been submitted in Israel against someone who has served in such senior positions. Alongside the indictment, the concluding document in the police investigation of the Holyland affair points to "independent evidence" and documents that testify to what appears to be an extensive network of corruption, perhaps unprecedented in its gravity and deployment.


According to the police statement, it involves people who bribed and those who were bribed, including two former mayors of Jerusalem, Olmert and Uri Lupolianski, who apparently joined forces for the serious crimes of giving and receiving bribes. The never-ending march of suspects would not have shamed even the least enlightened countries of the world.


Parallel to the public watchdogs - the state comptroller and the attorney general - who found themselves up against the ruling powers, stood the Supreme Court. For its part, the government did not really raise its voice at phenomena such as the throwing of a shoe at Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, the slashing of a magistrate's court judge's car tires and the ongoing threats against judges. On the contrary. The state refrains from enforcing various High Court of Justice rulings and has not applied rulings meant to prevent racial, religious or sectorial discrimination.


The justice minister, Yaakov Neeman, who is supposed to defend the judicial system, did not hesitate to attack the High Court ruling that obligated the Turkel committee, which is looking into the Gaza flotilla incident, to appoint a woman among its members. It should be pointed out that the inability to find a suitable woman worthy of sitting on the committee arouses ridicule, as do the plethora of government maneuvers, which ultimately failed, to mold the committee into a council of sages devoid of authority or significance.


Despite the attacks on it, the High Court has continued the trend of strengthening its defense of individual rights. The most prominent decisions in this field are the ruling which annulled a clause in the criminal code that prevents a person detained for security offenses from being present in the process of extending his remand, because of the disproportionate damage to his right to a fair proceeding; a ruling that annulled a clause in the annual Budget Law because it discriminates in favor of yeshiva students as compared with other students; and a ruling that permitted supervised traffic of Palestinian vehicles along Route 443.


In the existing anti-High Court atmosphere, it is not surprising that these rulings once again spurred proposals to curtail the High Court's authority, supervise decisions of a security or budgetary nature, and authorize the Knesset to once again revive, with a majority of 70 MKs, laws that were disqualified by the High Court (and even to make them immune for several years from legal and judicial criticism ).


It is possible to assume that this year there will be similar proposals that will enjoy greater momentum in the corridors of power and the Knesset.

The decisions that it can be assumed will be handed down in the coming months about bringing to trial Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and in the trial of the former president, Moshe Katsav, will place the judiciary in the center of the public discourse. This discourse requires self-examination, so as to avoid confusing legitimate criticism of this or that ruling with harming the supremacy of the law and its institutions - an essential building block of a democratic society.









The sentencing phase began yesterday in MK Tzachi Hanegbi's trial, in which he was convicted of perjury and swearing falsely. The main element of the hearing is whether Hanegbi's offenses carry moral turpitude, in which case his political career will be cut short, or whether he will be able to fill senior posts and even serve as a minister.


Ahead of the hearing, Hanegbi won the support of senior public figures, who lavished praise on him and were recruited to extricate him from the imposition of moral turpitude. Prominent among them was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called for Hanegbi to be allowed to fill public posts; Defense Minister Ehud Barak who called on the judges to "consider not imposing moral turpitude;" and Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who asked that the scales be tipped in Hanegbi's favor.


There is no doubt that the three know Hanegbi well and can express an opinion on his personality and functioning. But it is in bad taste and a conflict of interests to interfere in the judicial process by joining the efforts to prevent moral turpitude from being imposed. Hanegbi is chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which oversees the government and intelligence community for the Knesset. The committee participates in approving the budget of the Defense Ministry and the secret services, approves regulations and orders that Barak issues, debates Netanyahu's decisions and hears reports from Dagan about the activities of the Mossad, including operational mishaps. Thus, the three people who Hanegbi oversees are the ones helping extricate him from moral turpitude.


Netanyahu also has a political interest: Hanegbi is a key member of Kadima, the major opposition party, which Netanyahu wants to dismantle or maintain in reserve for the coalition. If Hanegbi is suspended from the Knesset following a decision that his offenses carry moral turpitude, it might make Netanyahu's political maneuvers more difficult. If the court decides in Hanegbi's favor, Hanegbi will be in Netanyahu's debt.


Netanyahu's and Barak's position is flawed in terms of values: The prime minister and the defense minister, the heads of two major political parties, are sending the public a message that there is no moral turpitude in perjury and that a lie that is uncovered will not be an obstacle to career advancement.


Netanyahu, Barak and Dagan should not approach the court as long as they are under the oversight of the guilty party.









As more time passes since the war of October 1973, whose deputy chief of staff Yisrael Tal was laid to rest this week, it becomes that much more clear that it should be positioned as one battle in the saga of the Seven-Year War, which lasted from June 1967 to June 1974.


The Six-Day War claimed the lives of 760 Israelis; between the major wars 970 were killed, over 500 of them in the heart of the War of Attrition, from March 1969 to August 1970; and 2,600 during the Yom Kippur War, until the separation of forces with Syria. In all, over 4,300 dead - the vast majority of them soldiers. This was a dizzying period in terms of the feelings it caused, from existential distress to heady victory, from relief to depression (the lot of the generation subjected to the mandatory draft ), to complacent relaxation, and once again to existential distress and the loss of confidence in the military and political leadership.


Despite the understandable temptation to personify these periods with prime ministers' images, it is interesting in this case to observe not Golda Meir, nor her predecessor Levi Eshkol, nor his predecessor David Ben-Gurion, who undermined Eshkol and terrorized chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin; the focus is the Israel Defense Forces, and the writer would do well to search for six characters within: Rabin, his deputy and successor Haim Bar Lev, Lev's successor David (Dado ) Elazar, Tal, Ariel Sharon and above all Moshe Dayan.


The Seven-Year War is a circular story, fascinating in its human vicissitudes, such as the Rabin-Dayan seesaw. The first act begins with Rabin's collapse, which intensified the paralysis within the Eshkol government and contributed to the security portfolio being transferred from Eshkol to Dayan. June 1, 1967 was the first day of the Dayan era. The third act ends on June 2, 1974, the last day of the Dayan era and the first day for Rabin, the new prime minister brought in from the far reaches of the second rank of the leadership, no. 20 on the slate - in the shock wave of the collapse of the Dayan school of thought on Yom Kippur.


Rabin, who promoted both Tal and Sharon to the rank of general, recognized their military talents and knew how to exploit them to build and operate the force. As deputy chief of staff in 1961, Rabin favored Tal over Elazar as the commander of the tank forces; but the outgoing commander, Bar Lev, had chief of staff Tzvi Tzur sign up his man, Elazar, who thereby received three years of seniority over Tal.


Dayan, who in May 1967 wanted to command the southern front at the expense of the head of the command, Yeshayahu Gavish, claimed two years later that a candidate for chief of staff must have experience in the south, and therefore Gavish should be appointed the deputy of the chief of staff of the War of Attrition, Bar Lev, and Elazar transfered from the north to the south; Gavish and Elazar were nearly twins, born just two days apart. Dayan, as usual, did not insist, and when Tal refused to inherit stationary fighting on the Bar Lev line from Gavish, Sharon wound up with the appointment. Three and a half years later, he moved into politics, armed with the command of a reserve division.


For a moment, Bar Lev politically overshadowed ambassador Rabin in Washington and rose to greatness as the chief of staff, and the favorite of Golda Meir and Pinhas Sapir, but he collapsed along with the fortification line named after him. When Dayan momentarily threatened to resign, while Meir was forming her government that was about to fall, Rabin was about to be appointed defense minister. In that position, had he accepted Elazar's resignation - as the Agranat Report recommended - he would certainly have worked to appoint Tal as his chief of staff. Rabin would not have rejected Tal due to his rivals' claims about how he'd functioned in the Yom Kippur crisis.


None of them, with the exception of Sharon who is now in a coma, are still with us. The personal and military relations between all of them have the makings of a fascinating and instructive narrative.









The following scene is completely imaginary: Mossad chief Meir Dagan appears before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to report on the Dubai assassination, which was attributed to Israel. He offers his explanation, the meeting ends, and Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi turns to him. "Meir, can you stay for a moment? I have to ask you something."


"What can I do for you, Tzachi?" Dagan asks.


"Can you write a letter to the judges asking them not to add moral turpitude to the list of offenses?"


"No problem, Tzachi, whatever you want."


"Thanks, Meir. I'll see you next week at the meeting on the Mossad budget."


Sounds unlikely? Perhaps. But even if such an exchange did not literally take place, the outcome is the same. Dagan and the Mossad are under the authority of the committee headed by Hanegbi. The subcommittee for intelligence and secret services, which is subservient to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, approves the Mossad's budget and plans.


So while it is true that Hanegbi cannot of his own accord stop Mossad operations, cut funding to Dagan's office or cut his car allowance, he can pester the Mossad for explanations or initiate investigations that would embarrass the organization. He could even propose legislation to limit its freedom of movement. And when the Mossad gets into trouble, it's good to have politicians like Hanegbi around to protect it on the radio or during background briefings.


In this case, though, it was Hanegbi who got into trouble and Dagan wanted to save him from the moral turpitude charge that would end his political career.


Earlier this week, Dagan was in no hurry to supply the Turkel committee investigating the raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in late May - and only did so after the committee reprimanded him and released the reprimand to the press. Hanegbi, by contrast, needed no such pressure to obtain Dagan's recommendation letter. Now he owes the Mossad chief a favor.


Last year, Hanegbi published a booklet detailing the functions of the committee he heads. Among its powers, it states, is "to supervise and monitor the activities of the executive authority in a variety of areas of security, intelligence and foreign relations. The committee, both through its plenary and its subcommittees, thoroughly examines the conduct of all the security branches under the direction of the government: the army, the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad, the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Security Council. At the same time, the committee closely follows the actions of the Foreign Ministry, Israel's embassies throughout the world, and the Center for Political Research."


Hanegbi's booklet goes on to explain the regulations and orders the committee authorizes - from the drafting of the reserves to determining work procedures in the Shin Bet to setting the format for inscriptions on tombstones in military cemeteries. It also approves the budgets of the defense establishment (together with the Knesset Finance Committee ).


Three of the people under Hanegbi's supervision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Dagan, wrote to the judges in support of Hanegbi, stressing his positive qualities.


It is interesting to note those people under Hanegbi's supervision who did not write such letters: IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, Israel Atomic Energy Commission Director General Shaul Horev, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Yossi Gal, the director general of Hanegbi's ministry.


The letters from the senior officials demonstrate that Hanegbi is the same Tzachi from the Likud Central Committee, who knows how to do favors for friends and get favors in return. After all, this is precisely what got him into trouble in the political appointments affair. The letters also reveal the double standards at the top: Brig. Gen. Moshe Tamir and Brig. Gen. Imad Fares were dismissed from the army for giving false reports about car accidents, much less serious than the perjury and false swearing of which Hanegbi was convicted.


But for Barak and Netanyahu, perjury is no reason to stop advancement when it comes to a political colleague and a potential future coalition partner. In fact, they explained to the judges that Hanegbi has a great future in senior public posts.











For almost a generation, the argument against allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military rested heavily on the claim that they would damage the morale and readiness of America's armed forces.


judicial opinion last week by Virginia Phillips, a federal trial judge in California, musters compelling logic and persuasive evidence to show that the policy has done the opposite and has damaged the interests of the United States. Judge Phillips also made a strong case that the federal statute enacting the "don't ask, don't tell" policy violates the Constitution.


President Obama and leaders of the military and of Congress have repeatedly said that they are committed to ending the policy by repealing the statute. The House approved a bill doing so in May. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said he intends to bring a bill to the floor next week that would dovetail with the House measure.


Meanwhile, the prohibition remains on the books, endangering the careers of men and women in the military at a time of war. While the administration waits for Congress to repeal the statute, it should halt enforcement of "don't ask, don't tell."


On Thursday, the plaintiffs in the case, the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay organization, proposed that Judge Phillips keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others from enforcing the statute or applying the policy and suspend any pending investigations or discharges. The Obama administration must now decide how to respond. It would be in keeping with the judge's opinion for her to do just what the plaintiffs propose.


It is commonly reported that "don't ask, don't tell" has led to the discharge of more than 13,000 men and women in the 16 years since the law was enacted. That statistic, as deplorable as it is, understates the cost. Judge Phillips found that it has contributed to "critical troop shortages" and caused the discharge of members with critical skills like fluency in Arabic, medicine and counterterrorism.


The enormous investment has been squandered. The cost of replacing them also is high. While the military was discharging gay soldiers, it was redressing troops shortages in wartime by giving "moral waivers" to convicted felons who lacked the required education and physical fitness to serve and were more likely to be drummed out because of misconduct.


The judge found no convincing evidence that men and women known to be gay have undermined unit cohesion. She found striking evidence that the military has often tacitly agreed with this view. After 2001, her opinion said, when the United States went to war, the number of annual "don't ask" discharges declined markedly, "because of the heightened need for troops."


The ruling was one of three this summer by federal trial judges reinforcing gay rights. Another judge in California ruled that Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages, is unconstitutional. A judge in Massachusetts struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Some lawyers have compared the rulings to the desegregation cases — when federal judges, one by one, moved the law away from separate-but-equal and toward full equality.


It is too soon to tell whether these rulings presage that kind of sea change. There have been recent federal and state-court rulings that have gone in the other direction. What is clear is that, with Mr. Obama and other leaders pledged to end "don't ask, don't tell" and the administration in favor of repealing the Defense of Marriage Act on grounds that it is discriminatory, the summer's rulings and federal policy are increasingly in alignment.


Some crucial political steps are required, like the Pentagon's review of the likely effects of repeal, due by December. But Judge Phillips need not wait. She should issue a strong injunction to enforce her decision. Not one more of America's military men and women should be harmed by "don't ask, don't tell."







The Census Bureau's latest report on poverty and health insurance coverage is bleak. With millions of Americans out of work, it could hardly be otherwise.


The record number of people last year without health insurance — 50.7 million, up from 46.3 million in 2008 — provides stark evidence of why the country desperately needs the health care reforms enacted in March. It is also another reminder of why government safety-net programs, despite all of the recent demagoguery, are so essential in times of trouble.


The report details the recession's huge human toll. The number of people living in poverty last year climbed to almost 43.6 million, up from 39.8 million in 2008. The percentage of people living in poverty also climbed — to 14.3 percent, the highest rate since 1994. Poverty was defined as pretax cash income below about $22,000 for a family of four.


Federal assistance kept the damage from being even worse. Expanded unemployment benefits helped keep three million families above the poverty line. Food stamps and tax credits helped ease the pain for millions.


The driving force for the huge jump in the number of uninsured was a 6.5 million drop in private health care coverage as employers laid off workers or eliminated health benefits. The percentage of people covered by employment-based health insurance dropped to 55.8 percent in 2009 from 58.5 percent the previous year. That is the lowest level of employer coverage since 1987.


Again government programs picked up some of the slack. Medicaid, in particular, performed yeoman work, covering many of the laid-off workers with low incomes. That put a further strain on state budgets.


The new health reform law will ease these problems. It will greatly expand Medicaid for the poor (mostly at the federal government's expense) and will provide subsidies to middle-income people to help buy policies on new insurance exchanges. Most of these changes start in 2014, but some measures, such as tax credits to help small businesses cover their employees, will help people retain coverage right now.


These latest dismal numbers from the Census Bureau underscore why health care reform is vital. And they show, once again, why Republican vows to repeal it are exactly what the country doesn't need.







Turkey, already the Muslim Middle East's sturdiest democracy, fortified its freedoms in a referendum on Sunday, with 58 percent of voters approving a package of constitutional amendments meant to end army meddling in civilian politics. That overwhelming "yes" vote showed that Turks are fed up with ultimatums and coups and want elected politicians fully in charge.


Turkey's Army and its closely allied judicial establishment long considered themselves guarantors of the militant secularism preached by modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. That claim cloaked a succession of repressive military coups — three in the past half-century. President Obama rightly hailed the vote as a tribute to Turkish democracy.


Among the changes are withdrawing immunity from those responsible for the bloody 1980 coup, barring trials of civilians in military courts and allowing civilian courts to try military officers charged with plotting future coups. Other provisions protect the privacy of personal data, allow citizens to appeal cases to the constitutional court and guarantee new rights for women, children, the elderly and the disabled.


The changes also give Parliament a role in selecting some constitutional court judges and roll back the unelected establishment's power to vet judicial nominations. That is normal in Western democracies, including the United States. But to work, it will also require Turkey's political leaders to exercise restraint.


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, from the Islamically rooted Justice and Development Party, has an admirable record as constitutional and economic reformer. But he has also been known to stoke domestic (and international) divisions with inflammatory language. He and President Abdullah Gul must not try to pack the judiciary with political loyalists or religious extremists.


Passage of these amendments, which had the endorsement of the European Commission, the European Union's executive body, show that Turkey is constitutionally ready to join the European Union. Europe cannot keep concocting excuses.







After virtually guaranteeing his election as mayor of Washington by winning a bitter Democratic primary fight, Vincent Gray tried to reassure wary middle-class voters by promising not to "turn back the clock" to when the city government was known primarily for corruption, cronyism and inefficiency.


But Mr. Gray needs to do a lot more to reassure the nation's capital that he will not undermine the school reforms started by Michelle Rhee, the schools chancellor under the incumbent mayor, Adrian Fenty. Mr. Gray can start with the private foundations that have provisionally committed nearly $80 million to support those reforms. To do that, he must resist pressure from the teachers' unions that spent heavily on this campaign.


When Mr. Fenty was elected in 2006, the schools were afflicted by patronage and bureaucrats who subverted reform. The mayor and the chancellor dismissed people who were essentially doing nothing and put in place strong teaching reforms.


The city made quick and impressive progress, as measured both by math and reading tests and by the rigorous federally backed test known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Earlier this summer, an impressive school turnaround plan secured the city a grant under the Obama administration's Race to the Top program.


Ms. Rhee, a staunch advocate of merit pay and merit-based promotion for teachers, has long been a favorite target of the unions, which have disliked her even more since earlier this year when she negotiated a groundbreaking contract that gives the city greater leeway to pay, promote and fire teachers based on performance, not seniority.


The contract, which calls for a 20 percent raise over the next five years, is underwritten by private foundations that are particularly interested in backing performance-based evaluation systems. Some donors have reserved the right to renege if the city chooses a weak school leader or one who is inclined to backpedal.


Mr. Gray should keep that in mind if he decides to name his own chancellor. He should also bear in mind that the voters elected him to act in the best interest of their children.








Many of my liberal friends are convinced that the Republican Party has a death wish. It is sprinting to the right-most fever swamps of American life. It will end up alienating the moderate voters it needs to win elections.


There's only one problem with this theory. There is no evidence to support it. The Republican Party may be moving sharply right, but there is no data to suggest that this has hurt its electoral prospects, at least this year.


I asked the election guru Charlie Cook if there were signs that the Tea Party was scaring away the independents. "I haven't seen any," he replied. I asked another Hall of Fame pollster, Peter Hart, if there were Republican or independent voters so alarmed by the Tea Party that they might alter their votes. He ran the numbers and found very few potential defectors.


The fact is, as the Tea Party has surged, so has the G.O.P. When this primary season began in early February, voters wanted Democrats to retain control of Congress by 49 percent to 37 percent, according to an Associated Press-Gfk poll. In the ensuing months, Tea Party candidates won shocking victories in states from Florida to Alaska. The most recent A.P./Gfk poll now suggests that Americans want Republicans to take over Congress by 46 percent to 43 percent.


Nor is there evidence that the Tea Party's success has changed moderates' perceptions about Republicans generally. According to a survey published in July by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Americans feel philosophically closer to the Republicans than to the Democrats. Put another way, many moderates see Democrats like Nancy Pelosi as more extreme than Republicans like John Boehner.


Nor is there any sign that alarm over the Tea Party is hurting individual Republican candidates. In Ohio, Republican Rob Portman has opened up a significant lead on his Democratic opponent. In Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul is way ahead, as is Marco Rubio in Florida. In Illinois, Republican Mark Kirk has a small lead, and Linda McMahon has pulled nearly even in Connecticut. Sharron Angle, a weak candidate, is basically tied with Harry Reid in Nevada.


This does not mean that moderate voters are signing up for the Glenn Beck-Sarah Palin brigades. Palin has a dismal 29 percent approval rating, according to a June Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. But it does mean that the essential dynamic of this election is still the essential dynamic. Voters are upset about the economy, the debt and the culture of Washington. The Democrats are the party of government and of the status quo. They have done their best to remind people of that. This week, Democratic voters renominated Charles Rangel, the epitome of Washington scandal. Democratic voters in the District of Columbia ousted Mayor Adrian Fenty, one of the nation's bravest education reformers, and replaced him with an orthodox pol.


Most voters want a radical change in government but not a radical change in policy. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll released this week, only 34 percent of Americans say their own representative deserves re-election. This is an astounding number.


It doesn't matter that public approval of the G.O.P. is now at its all-time low. It doesn't matter that the Tea Party rhetoric is sometimes extreme. The poll suggests that roughly 50 percent of Americans haven't thought about the Tea Parties enough to form an opinion. They're not paying attention because they don't see it as one of the important dangers they face. Who knows? Maybe they even sort of like the fact that a ragtag band of outsiders is taking on the establishment and winning.


This doesn't mean that the Tea Party influence will be positive for Republicans over the long haul. The movement carries viruses that may infect the G.O.P. in the years ahead. Its members seek traditional, conservative ends, but they use radical means. Along the way, the movement has picked up some of the worst excesses of modern American culture: a narcissistic sense of victimization, an egomaniacal belief in one's own rightness and purity, a willingness to distort the truth so that every conflict becomes a contest of pure good versus pure evil.


The Tea Party style is beginning to replicate itself in parts of the conservative world. Dinesh D'Souza's Forbes cover article, "How Obama Thinks," contained the sort of untethered assertions that have become the lingua franca of this movement. Obama got his subversive radicalism from his father's grave, D'Souza postulated: "He adopted his father's position that capitalism and freedom are code words for economic plunder." The fact that Newt Gingrich embraced this offensive theory is a sign of how severely the normal intellectual standards have been weakened.


But that damage is all in the future. Right now, the Tea Party doesn't matter. The Republicans don't matter. The economy and the Democrats are handing the G.O.P. a great, unearned revival. Nothing, it seems, is more scary than one-party Democratic control.








"Nice middle class you got here," said Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader. "It would be a shame if something happened to it."


O.K., he didn't actually say that. But he might as well have, because that's what the current confrontation over taxes amounts to. Mr. McConnell, who was self-righteously denouncing the budget deficit just the other day, now wants to blow that deficit up with big tax cuts for the rich. But he doesn't have the votes. So he's trying to get what he wants by pointing a gun at the heads of middle-class families, threatening to force a jump in their taxes unless he gets paid off with hugely expensive tax breaks for the wealthy.


Most discussion of the tax fight focuses either on the economics or on the politics — both of which suggest that Democrats should hang tough, for their own sakes as well as that of the country. But there's an even bigger issue here — namely, the question of what constitutes acceptable behavior in American political life. Politics ain't beanbag, but there's a difference between playing hardball and engaging in outright extortion, which is what Mr. McConnell is now doing. And if he succeeds, it will set a disastrous precedent.


How did we get to this point? The proximate answer lies in the tactics the Bush administration used to push through tax cuts. The deeper answer lies in the radicalization of the Republican Party, its transformation into a movement willing to put the economy and the nation at risk for the sake of partisan victory.


So, about those tax cuts: back in 2001, the Bush administration bundled huge tax cuts for wealthy Americans with much smaller tax cuts for the middle class, then pretended that it was mainly offering tax breaks to ordinary families. Meanwhile, it circumvented Senate rules intended to prevent irresponsible fiscal actions — rules that would have forced it to find spending cuts to offset its $1.3 trillion tax cut — by putting an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2010, on the whole bill. And the witching hour is now upon us. If Congress doesn't act, the Bush tax cuts will turn into a pumpkin at the end of this year, with tax rates reverting to Clinton-era levels.


In response, President Obama is proposing legislation that would keep tax rates essentially unchanged for 98 percent of Americans but allow rates on the richest 2 percent to rise. But Republicans are threatening to block that legislation, effectively raising taxes on the middle class, unless they get tax breaks for their wealthy friends.


That's an extraordinary step. Almost everyone agrees that raising taxes on the middle class in the middle of an economic slump is a bad idea, unless the effects are offset by other job-creation programs — and Republicans are blocking those, too. So the G.O.P. is, in effect, threatening to plunge the U.S. economy back into recession unless Democrats pay up.


What kind of political party would engage in that kind of brinksmanship? The answer is the same kind of party that shut down the federal government in 1995 in an attempt to force President Bill Clinton to accept steep cuts in Medicare, and is actively discussing doing the same to Mr. Obama. So, as I said, the deeper explanation of the tax-cut fight is that it's ultimately about a radicalized Republican Party, which accepts no limits on partisanship.


So should Democrats give in?


On the economics, the answer is a clear no. Right now, fears about budget deficits are overblown — but that doesn't mean that we should completely ignore deficit concerns. And the G.O.P. plan would add hugely to the deficit — about $700 billion over the next decade — while doing little to help the economy. On any kind of cost-benefit analysis, this is an idea not worth considering.


And, by the way, a compromise solution — temporary tax breaks for the rich — is no better; it would cost less, but it would also do even less for the economy.


On the politics, the answer is also a clear no. Polls show that a majority of Americans are opposed to maintaining tax breaks for the rich. Beyond that, this is no time for Democrats to play it safe: if the midterm election were held today, they would lose badly. They need to highlight their differences with the G.O.P. — and it's hard to think of a better place for them to take a stand than on the issue of big giveaways to Wall Street and corporate C.E.O.'s.


But what's even more important is the principle of the thing. Threats to punish innocent bystanders unless your political rivals give you what you want have no legitimate place in democratic politics. Giving in to such threats would be an economic and political mistake, but more important, it would be morally wrong — and it would encourage more such threats in the future.


It's time for Democrats to take a stand, and say no to G.O.P. blackmail.








Los Angeles

ONE evening not long ago, my wife and I were standing in the lobby of a theater when a group of women approached me with "that look." It's a look that I have come to know as the "You are either someone in show business or my former chiropractor" look.


The women smiled bashfully and the brave one asked, "Are you who we think you are?" I responded, fearful of litigation, "That all depends on who you think I am."


She giggled and said, "The actor." I bowed and replied, "Yes, ma'am." She brightened: "The one on 'Lost.'"


I said, "No, no, sorry."


Undeterred, she followed up with, "No, I meant the movie by the Coen brothers, 'A Serious Man.' "


I was not in that movie either, though I auditioned for it and offered to wash Joel and Ethan's cars if they would cast me. I suggested to the women that they had seen me in "Groundhog Day" or "Glee," neither of which they had heard of. At this point I was certain that I had to be talking to visitors from another world or time travelers.


This is an encounter that I have had quite often. I am a character actor: the perfect combination of ubiquity and anonymity. But this particular comedy of errors made me give some serious thought to the strange, occasionally delightful and often humbling path we character actors tread. My thoughts were tinged with the sadness of having recently lost five magnificent companions on that road — Kevin McCarthy,Carl GordonMaury ChaykinJames Gammon and Harold Gould.


What makes the character actor different from our brethren who handle the leading roles? My fellow actor and writer Larry Miller described it perfectly: "The definition of a character actor is anyone in the movie not kissing Renée Zellweger."


I tend to think of it a little more scientifically. There is one thing that Kevin, Carl, Maury, James, Harold, Larry and I have in common: we have all played parts that didn't have names.


When you are Harrison Ford you play Richard Kimble or Han Solo. You have a first and last name, and the writer has thought enough about you to give you a life. Harrison Ford's characters eat, sleep, drink coffee, shave, shower (from the back only, waist up), read the newspaper, get dressed, drive to work, run for their lives, shoot guns, deliver stirring oratory to alien warlords and possibly kiss Renée Zellweger — all because they have been named.


Compare that with James Gammon, who assayed the roles of "Texan," "Paps" and "Double D." Or Carl Gordon, whose characters were sometimes identified only by a job description like "Foreman" or "Luther the Pimp," or simply age and location like "Older Man on Train." Harold Gould was stuck with his location on the family tree when he played "Grandpa" in "Freaky Friday."


I personally have felt the bite of having no name. In my time, I have played "Ranger Bob," "Ringmaster Bob," "Dr. Bob," "Father Jon" and "Father Joe." For the TV movie "Last Flight Out," my name was "Tim" in the first half of the script and "Jim" in the last half. One of our stars was Richard Crenna, the funniest man who ever lived; he would always call me "Tim Jim" with a straight face during our scenes and in serious discussions with the director. No one noticed.


The career of Kevin McCarthy, who was somewhat of an icon for his performance in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," proves this rule. When he was younger, he was a leading man; he had his hair and his good looks and almost always played parts that had first and last names. He became a character actor only after he outlived all the leading ladies he could have plausibly kissed. When that happened, Kevin's characters began to lose their names, though he was so respected that they were almost always given a higher education: "Dr. Jones," "Professor Ragnar," "Professor Weaver," "Bishop Ryder," "Pastor Waltz" and "the Monk."


Do not be deceived, however: the onscreen life of Paps or the Monk or Older Man on Train had to be just as full and vibrant as that of, say, Capt. Jack Sparrow or Don Corleone.


The only difference is that the parts with no names have been somewhat abandoned by the screenwriters, so it is the job of the character actor to bring substance to the role. That may take imagination, research or just plain prayer. But it has to be done. The character actor has to bring the complete person to the set, ready to roll with the punches.


My first day on "Groundhog Day," Bill Murray shook hands with me and said, "Hello, nice to meet you — now show me what you're going to do." I jumped into a few enormously energetic moments of Ned Ryerson and Bill held up his hand. "Fine, fine, you can do that," he said. "It's funny." Bill walked away.


I then asked the director, Harold Ramis, if I should play Ned a little more down to earth. Harold laughed and said: "No. Bill is the lead. He's the stew. When you are a supporting character, you are the spice in the stew. Have fun."


Maury Chaykin was the epitome of the spice in the stew. One night in Montana, when Maury and I were shooting the family comedy "Josh and S.A.M.," we were chatting as we waited for the cameras to get ready. Maury was playing "Pizza Man" with his usual deranged flair. I asked him how he was enjoying the movie. He shrugged and said: "It's a part. Every part is an opportunity." I asked, "An opportunity for what?"


Maury grinned like the Cheshire Cat: "I guess we'll find out tonight."


Like Maury and the rest, the very best character actors are made of equal parts discipline and madness, and the fact that our faces are more familiar than our names is not our curse, but our blessing. The character actor's goal, after all, is not to earn the adulation of the public; it is to give lives to a hundred nameless spirits who make us laugh or cry, who are both familiar and new, who show us that their journey is our journey, and who, like everyone in the audience, never get to kiss Renée Zellweger.


Stephen Tobolowsky, an actor, is the creator of the Tobolowsky Files, a podcast.








WHILE Americans are right to be alarmed by the rising numbers of roadside bombs and suicide attacks in Afghanistan, we can't overlook a more subtle campaign that has been a key element of the Taliban's strategy for years: disrupting access to schools.


Close to 1,000 schools have been bombed or burned since 2006, and hundreds of teachers and students have been killed. The Taliban, who when they were in power banned education for women, attack girls' schools disproportionately, and in some southern provinces the proportion of girls attending middle school has dropped to less than 1 percent.


These attacks are made easier when there is a physical school to take aim at. But education is not about four walls and a roof. Many nongovernmental organizations have been promoting schooling without school buildings as the best strategy to increase enrollment quickly in the poorest rural areas of the country.


Thousands of these community-based education programs, housed in existing community structures, are bringing education to girls and boys across the country. According to a report released by CARE last fall, there has been only one recorded physical attack on such a community-based school.


Yet these schools have received little attention. Most attention and money has gone to the "Three Cups of Tea" strategy of constructing schools. While shiny new schools make for great photo ops, they are very expensive and some provide the Taliban with easy targets. In the short term, we should de-emphasize that approach in favor of more flexible, cost-effective approaches in community-based education.


It works like this: Villagers provide a space for the school, usually in a large house or mosque, and choose teachers from the community. An aid organization delivers government-approved textbooks and stationery, and provides training for the teachers and parents who help oversee the schools. The Afghan government integrates the community-based schools into the larger educational system, certifying teachers and, eventually, paying their salaries.


Each community-based school serves only the village in which it is situated; schools are widely dispersed, making attendance more practical for children spread across remote regions. Many aid workers have long favored such schools since they are quick and inexpensive to set up, and because communities develop a sense of ownership. Parents visit classes regularly, checking attendance and observing lessons.


With aid from Washington, nongovernmental groups have started approximately 3,000 community-based schools in roughly 1,400 communities in more than a dozen provinces in Afghanistan. In a study I carried out with Leigh Linden of Columbia from 2007 to 2009, we found that children in rural Afghanistan are almost 50 percent more likely to attend classes if there's a community-based school available. Most important, when a community-based school is an option, the rate of girls' attendance in most communities goes up by 15 percentage points more than that of their male counterparts, virtually eliminating gender disparities in primary education.


Community-based education is not a panacea: rural teachers may not have much in the way of training, and most schools offer only the early grades. Still, it is a practical medium-term solution to the lack of conventional schools in Afghanistan.


Despite impressive increases in enrollment since in 2001, some 60 percent of young Afghans are not in school; two-thirds of them are girls. Conventional schools are scarce, expensive and likely to remain under threat of attack. To best help Afghanistan, we need to support safer, cheaper and more effective ways to educate all its children.


Dana Burde is a professor of education at New York University.









Last year's crash of a Colgan Air commuter plane, which killed 50 near Buffalo, exposed several of the airline industry's dirty little secrets: Ridiculously low starting pay at some regional airlines. Regionals that fly under the banners of major carriers. And, perhaps most worrisome, pilots who are tired at the controls because they travel thousands of miles just to get to work.


The Colgan captain, who lived in Florida, had spent the night before the crash in the airline's crew room at Newark, a place not suited to sleeping. The co-pilot, who lived inSeattle, had taken two cargo flights overnight to Newark and had grabbed some sleep in the crew room, too. Both died with everyone else on the plane.

While the National Transportation Safety Board didn't cite exhaustion as a formal cause of the Buffalo crash, it

found that the pilots' performance was likely impaired by fatigue. Lack of rest has been a factor in several crashes since 1997, in which 249 people died, and in many incidents where, perhaps only through luck, no one was killed. On one commuter flight over Hawaii in 2008, the crew overshot its destination because the pilots were asleep.


Most passengers have no idea that pilots are allowed to work 16-hour days, and sometimes longer. Or that it doesn't matter whether they're flying a grueling schedule that runs through the night or requires repeated takeoffs and landings. Or that pilots are expected to get to a hotel, sleep, eat, dress and get back to work — all within their required eight-hour rest periods.


Calls to reduce these dangerous practices had languished for years, but the Colgan crash finally prodded theFederal Aviation Administration to rewrite its five-decades-old fatigue rules. A week ago, the agency made groundbreaking proposals based, for a change, on scientific research rather than the often competing desires of airlines and pilots.


Under the new rules, pilots would get at least nine hours off between shifts — and the clock wouldn't start until they got to their hotels. Pilots could be on duty no more than 13 hours a day; those who worked overnight or flew many short hops could be limited to nine. Taking these real-world circumstances into account is a huge breakthrough.


Even so, the FAA failed to fully address one of the most contentious issues contributing to fatigue: pilot commutes. Pilots can fly for free, and many commute long distance to their home bases. It's a job perk for some, a necessity for others, particularly regional airline pilots whose bases frequently change and whose low salaries can make it tough to live near big cities. The FAA skirted a common-sense starting point — long sought by the NTSB— of explicitly requiring airlines to keep records of which pilots commute and from where.


Pilots oppose such regulations. And for airlines, it would no doubt make scheduling tougher. By glossing over commuting times, however, the FAA puts the pilots' and industry's convenience above public safety.


Safety advocates worry that the proposed rules — vastly superior to what's on the books — could still be undone by stiff industry or pilot resistance. Some fault lines are starting to appear. At a House aviation hearing Thursday, the Air Transport Association, representing major airlines, objected to "a one-size-fits-all" approach. And, in a news release, the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations asserted that the proposal would create less rest for some pilots.


Fifteen years ago, the FAA tried revamping fatigue rules and gave up in the face of overwhelming opposition. Doing so again would surely invite more tragedies.








The Federal Aviation Administration's proposal for new flight- and duty-time limits, and minimum rest requirements, for airline pilots marks a watershed moment for aviation safety.


The proposal is based on science and applies to all airline pilots, regardless of their aircraft size and whether they carry passengers or cargo. It signals a sea change in how our industry thinks about pilot fatigue.


This FAA proposal and new advisory circulars make dealing with fatigue a joint responsibility of the individual, airline management and the regulator. Airlines must have proper policies. Pilots, as always, bear responsibility for making certain that their activities before work and their general health are conducive to safe operations. We take that responsibility extremely seriously.


Commuting is one factor in the reporting-fit-for-duty equation. For decades, our country has maintained an extraordinarily safe air transportation system while pilot commuting has been commonplace.


Commuting is a function of economic circumstances or quality of life decisions. Crew domiciles open and close often, sometimes with little notice. For pilots with working spouses, children in school, or elderly parents to care for, commuting spares their families constant upheaval, while others don't have the means to relocate.


The FAA has comprehensively addressed any fatigue risk posed by commuting in its proposed regulations and advisory material. The new policy lays out requirements for monitoring and managing fatigue and contains serious consequences regarding practices that prevent pilots from reporting fit and ready for work. Airlines will now be required to internally audit for pilot fatigue and, if it does occur, determine why. Awareness, education and pilot professionalism will ensure pilots are fit for duty.


FAA has taken historic steps to combat pilot fatigue. Education and training, formal fatigue risk management systems, and a joint responsibility to ensure fitness for duty will take aviation safety a significant leap forward.


Capt. John Prater is president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International.









This is anniversary month for three of our country's most historical newspapers. One was the most notorious and the shortest lived. The second the most prestigious and one of the longest lived. Third, the youngest but biggest.


Each was born in September to try to fill the need that most people have for more intensely interesting activities when the summer "lull" ends.


In the olden days those were covered mostly by newspapers. Radio and television followed. Now the Web is a big player. Whichever form of media, the most intense coverage ranges from entertainment and sports to government, politics and religion. The three noted newspapers:


•Publick Occurrences, Foreign and Domestick. It was published for just one day on Sept. 25, 1690 in Boston.


The New York Times, first published on Sept. 18, 1851, now with a circulation of 951,063.


•USA TODAY, founded on Sept. 15, 1982, now with the country's biggest newspaper circulation nationwide of 1,826,622.


Publick Occurrences was published by Benjamin Harris, who escaped after being jailed in London for publishing pamphlets mostly attacking Roman Catholics and Quakers. In Boston, he was suppressed by authorities after criticizing the expedition of a Massachusetts militia against the French in Canada. He returned to London.


The New York Times was started by George Jones and Henry Raymond, previously associates at The New York Tribune. Their call was "splendid public service and a successful financial enterprise."


USA TODAY was founded by the Gannett Co., owner of dozens of newspapers. Its stated goal was "to serve as a forum for better understanding and unity to help make the USA truly one nation."


The one thing the three had in common was to try to capitalize on the September hunger for more activities after the comparative summer lull. That hunger still exists.


Feedback: Other views on newspapers


"I dream of a September when a national newspaper can transfer its brand name and public trust to the new social media that younger citizens prefer. Only then can we become 'truly one nation.' "


— Philip Meyer, author, The Vanishing Newspaper


"Let's hope The New York Times and USA TODAY can survive and thrive as they reinvent themselves in the digital age."


Rem Rieder, editor and senior vice president, American Journalism Review









I'm not a fan of the Jonas Brothers' music, but I am a fan of what they did Sunday and why they played in a softball game at a place I pass nearly every day — the Dr PepperBallpark in Frisco, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.


To millions of teenage girls, the Jonas Brothers are talented, cute and will make softball more fun. To parents like me, who have a hard time getting through to their kids, the musicians' "X the TXT" campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of teen texting and driving is a godsend. Teens need to know that nearly 6,000 deaths a yearare linked to distracted behavior. A National Safety Council study blames texting and talking on cellphones for 28% of the 1.4 million accidents annually.


Still, there is nothing like hearing this information from one of their own. Thousands of Jonas fans will get the chance to take an oath to not text and add their thumbprints to a traveling banner showcased on the national tour, which has hit about 25 cities, with three to go.


According to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, adults drive and talk on their cellphones more than teens: 61% of adults compared with 43% of all 16- and 17-year-olds. This might explain the surge in new laws that restrict or ban the use of cellphones while driving.


Thirty states and Washington, D.C., have laws banning some form of text messaging for drivers of all ages. Eleven of these laws were enacted just this year. Federal legislation also has been proposed that would require states to collect crash data related to distracted driving in order to qualify for federal funds.


Every day when I hit the roads in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I encounter drivers of all ages with heads down or gadgets positioned on steering wheels. Not everyone has bought into the Bluetooth concept of hands-free talking. I've seen drivers who are talking or texting and nearly colliding with motorists — like me.


But I am sometimes guilty, too. As hard as I try to limit my cellphone use to "emergency only" calls, the temptation to answer when I hear my ringtone (the Rolling StonesBeast of Burden) is almost too great to ignore. Parents need to set an example, but of the more than 2,200 Pew study participants, 47% of adults admit texting and driving compared with 34% of teens.


My 17-year-old and I may not listen to the same music, but we do have to drive the same roads. I'm glad the Jonas Brothers are reaching out to our kids. Now, if only someone would set us adults straight.


Joyce King is a freelance writer in Dallas.







Lynn Zinser, columnist, in The New York Times: "You have to hand it toReggie Bush. You really do. As


elusive as he might be on a football field, he is at least equally talented at eluding responsibility. ... Is it really possible to be the first person to give back a Heisman Trophy — just ahead of it being pried from your hands by the Heisman Trust after having obliterated NCAA rules — and paint yourself as a noble, selfless teammate and role model? Of course it is! If you're Reggie Bush."


Dexter Rogers, columnist, on online sports hub, Bleacher Report: "Bush should have kept his Heisman Trophy. That's right. He should keep his Heisman Trophy because he earned it. If Bush was forced to give up his Heisman Trophy, then former USC head coach Pete Carroll, former athletic director Mike Garrett and the university president should have to forfeit their salaries for 2005. Furthermore, every dime USC made off selling Bush's jersey and the money they generated from ticket sales in 2005 should be forfeited as well. Those funds can be utilized as seed money to set up a fund to provide collegiate athletes with a monthly stipend from here on. ... Bush has been unfairly targeted to draw individual attention to him while keeping the spotlight off those whom it should shine. ... Athletes are expected to work their collective butts off to generate billions of dollars in revenue yet are not compensated. That is why athletes like Bush are made examples of, so the real crooks can camouflage the real problems with the current system."


Ivan Maisel, columnist, on "Bush's gesture is as empty as the last four years of his answers. ... (Some) suggest that the role of Bush should be filled by Vince Young, the Texas quarterback who finished second to Bush in the 2005 Heisman voting. Giving Young the Heisman is a bad idea, and not just because he wasn't the best player in the nation that year. For one thing, that trophy would look funny with an asterisk on it. For another, those who want Bush to pay for his misdeeds should realize that giving Young the Heisman would lessen Bush's humiliation. As long as the record books read 'Vacated,' Bush will be remembered."


Mick Garry, columnist, in the Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus Leader: "(Bush) didn't break any major laws when he got in trouble to begin with, people should remember. ... Bush was a kid when he was making all the decisions regarding agents that have caused all the trouble for USC. He was making his school tons of money back then as college football's poster boy, playing for what at the time was the nation's most glitzy program. His poor judgment then and now points toward an odd arrangement in the sport. Kids ... who are movie-star famous are supposed to abide by the same rules the walk-on backup kickers play by as far as the exchange of cash is concerned. There's something strange about that."


Blair Kerkhoff, blogger, on Campus Corner of The Kansas City Star: "Bush did the right thing by returning his Heisman Trophy. It saves him further embarrassment of having the award stripped away and this way he controls the message, which was to work with the Heisman Trust on an education program that will help others avoid the same mistakes. Not Having Your Hand Out 101 would be part of the core curriculum. ... We can't and shouldn't delete the memories of Bush's greatness in 2005, but erasing the symbols of achievement is the right call."







WASHINGTON — Democrats have just unveiled a fancy new logo, which some might say is tantamount to renaming theTitanic just after the captain yelled, "Iceberg!"


All levity aside, there are only two labels that count this year.






Everything else —RepublicanDemocrat, liberal, moderate, conservative, extremist — is being swept to the background.


Democrats who have been through this before are bracing for serious carnage, although they take solace in believing both parties are about to hit the iceberg. The public mood, as measured in polls, rallies, rhetoric and voting patterns, is likely to result in banishment for a fair number of Republican officeholders, too.


Even though this city has been on Code Red political alert for more than a year, the outlook just six weeks before the election is that the carnage will be deeper, and more widespread, than many in Washington are willing to comprehend.


The signs are undeniable, and building. And it's not just about Tea Party sympathizers, although that group of voters — about one in five, according to polls — is getting a lot of the attention.


A CBS News-New York Times poll released Wednesday showed that 55% of Americans want a new representative in Congress. That's eight points higher than 2006, when the Democrats swept back into power, and 20 points higher than in 2004. Congress' job approval is a dismal 21%.


The 55% is a stunning reversal of the long-term trend of Americans tending to like their own member of Congress while labeling the other 434 House members scalawags. It is evidence that far more than a Tea Party rebellion is brewing.


Paul Begala, the CNN commentator and Democratic strategist who advised President Clinton when Democrats lost the House in 1994, is advising Democratic candidates to "build an arc."


"It is not a wave election, it is a tsunami election," he told a Democratic Governors Association audience earlier this month. "Now, you can survive."




By running as far from Washington as fast as you can, by contorting yourself as not one of "them" as well as you can, or by convincing voters that you have learned your lessons and will do better.


Much has been written about the "civil war" inside the Republican Party between Tea Party newcomers and establishment Republicans. The tensions might help Democrats hold onto marginal seats they might not have been able to retain against a more unified opponent. But the Democrats are split, too, as exemplified by candidates campaigning against the signature policies of President Obama.


Status quo is the primary target, and a Republican civil war is not likely to fully break out until after Nov. 2, when reassembling Republicans must fold in the insurgents who are likely to win. This is where the fight over leadership, ideology and the 2012 presidential nomination will expose the depth of the splits inside the GOP.


Some Republicans relish that moment. One is Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who angered fellow Republicans when he jumped in with a late endorsement of Tea Party-backed Christine O'Donnell in the Delaware Senate primary. She defeated a shell-shocked moderate, Rep. Mike Castle, on Tuesday.


"As you see all around, the primaries are reflecting what I call the great American awakening," DeMint told reporters the next day. "People, really of all parties, are sick and tired of what's going on in Washington and are taking back their country. I think what happened in Delaware is a good thing and an important thing because the people of Delaware love their country and they're not stupid. They know we're on the edge of a complete financial disaster, we're on the edge of bankruptcy."


The Delaware Republican establishment came after O'Donnell harder than any potential nominee perhaps since white supremacist David Duke was trying to run in primaries in both parties in the late 1980s. Republicans feared that personal problems — what The (Wilmington) News Journal columnist Ron Williams described as being a "verifiable liar and cheater with no means of employment than her campaign money" — doomed O'Donnell. The state Republican chairman famously said O'Donnell could not get elected dogcatcher.


But being attacked by the establishment in an anti-status quo year may be the best thing for someone like O'Donnell. Of all the labels that are likely to be hung on her, outsider may be the most potent of them all.


(Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett. Contact him at, follow him at or join in the conversation at










Whenever the talk in Georgia turns to the availability of water in the state, it seems that the Tennessee River is automatically included in the discussion. That was true a couple of years ago when extended drought threatened Atlanta's water supply. It was true again later when a federal court ruled that Atlanta and the surrounding metropolitan area had little right to tap into Lake Lanier for water. And it was true this week when members of the Coosa-North Georgia Water Planning Council in Rome included the possibility of transferring water from the river for use in Georgia as part of a regional plan.


When completed, the regional plan will become part of Georgia's first statewide, comprehensive plan to meet future water demands through planning, conservation and stewardship of the environment. The goal is admirable, but developing a viable water plan will be difficult given the state's available resources and growing demand. Once the plan is approved, adhering to it could pose problems — especially for those who prefer an easy way out rather than engaging in the hard work such a plan would require.


That's why it is important not to overlook one of the recommendations quietly included in a presentation at the Rome council meeting on Wednesday. It said the group would address an "appropriate role for interbasin transfer" including the Tennessee River. In other words, tapping the bountiful Tennessee River near Chattanooga to supply water for Georgia remains on the agenda. That's a reminder, if not a warning, to Tennessee officials. They should be prepared for renewed challenges about the legality of the state border that separates the state — and the river — from its neighbor to the south.


The Atlanta metropolitan area's need for water is well known. Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin admitted as much in a talk here a while back. She told the audience that she coveted Chattanooga's access to the Tennessee River. The remark was accompanied by a smile and drew a laugh, but it was far more than a jest.


Georgia's demand for more water than is readily available is not limited to the Atlanta area. Other areas of the state have similar needs. Gov. Sonny Perdue has addressed the issue on various fronts. He's been involved in lawsuits with Alabama and Florida about water. He's promoted various conservation programs and urged more long-range planning to conserve and preserve water and watershed. He's the driving force, in fact, behind the current effort finally to develop a long-term solution to the water issue rather than to continue to rely on short-sighted and stopgap methods to ameliorate the problem.


That doesn't mean, though, that he or anyone else in Georgia concerned about possible water shortages has forgotten the Tennessee River and its copious supply of water. History suggests otherwise. Though the governor hasn't mentioned the river lately, it likely has not been forgotten. How could it be?


Perdue has said that he considers the river a possible source of water. He also hired lawyers to see if it was feasible to sue Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley Authority for access to the river. Nothing has come of that endeavor so far, but there's always the possibility that a similar effort by either Perdue or his successor to be elected in November could occur.



The Coosa-North Georgia Water Planning Council tacitly acknowledged that when it included a phrase about the possible role of water from the Tennessee River to cover projected shortfalls from the creeks and rivers that currently supply Northwest Georgia residents. The region and the state would be better served by officials who give up the dream of obtaining water from the Tennessee River and instead craft plans to build infrastructure and develop policies to ease the threat to an increasingly scarce natural resource.







It's troubling that our president, many members of Congress and many judges on our federal courts do not always uphold the Constitution of the United States. It is a brilliant document designed to protect individual liberty and restrain government power, but it cannot accomplish those goals when federal officials ignore it.


Today, Sept. 17, marks the 223rd anniversary of the 1787 signing of the Constitution. So this is a good occasion to call on judges, lawmakers and the president to adhere to the Constitution by doing things such as ending unconstitutional spending and — in the case of judges — by not substituting their personal political or philosophical views when they issue rulings on laws enacted by duly elected members of Congress.

The Constitution is a wise "rule book" for America — if we obey it.







Many thousands of Chattanoogans, and visitors from our surrounding area and from far away, long have enjoyed attending a wide variety of events at our city's Memorial Auditorium on McCallie Avenue.


There have been such things as school graduations, Broadway shows, concerts, sporting events, industrial and auto shows, Easter sunrise services and many other events.


But some of our people may not remember that its "full name" is the "Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium." It was built after World War I as our community's lasting salute to veterans of that conflict, and has continued to be a very valuable institution for our community.


It surely will continue to serve our people for many decades to come. But it does need some renovation and tailoring for current and future needs. So a committee — headed by retired Rear Adm. Vance Fry and including representatives of varied civic interests — has been convened to work with Missy Crutchfield, administrator of the Chattanooga Department of Education, Arts and Culture, for long-range planning.


The main Memorial Auditorium hall can seat about 4,000 people — but did you know there is an escalator rising to a Community Theater designed to serve smaller audiences? And there are spacious areas for varied displays, as well as smaller meeting rooms.


We have a jewel in our Memorial Auditorium. It serves us in many ways — and should become even more useful. Members of the long-range planning committee are working together, inviting your suggestions for more Memorial Auditorium uses, and for financing improvements to continue its use for many years to come in honoring the veterans of our United States military services.







Most of the provisions of Obama-Care have not yet taken effect, but we are already seeing the need to head off some new costs and bureaucracy that ObamaCare will impose.


It's of great concern that such problems are arising, since the Obama administration, congressional Democrats and frequent news reports claimed that ObamaCare would reduce — not increase — costs and bureaucracy. But maybe it is not so strange that troubles are showing up, since the law runs many hundreds of pages — and few in Congress even claim they have read it.


One little-noticed part of the new law is a requirement that businesses file "1099" tax forms for every vendor from whom they buy more than $600 worth of goods. They also have to send copies of the filings to each vendor.


The Democrats who wrote the ObamaCare legislation inserted this requirement to make sure vendors weren't getting away with paying too little in taxes, and to raise $19 billion or so in revenue. They planned to use the extra taxes as a way to help fund ObamaCare.


But Democrats and Republicans alike have been flooded with complaints that the tax form requirement will heavily burden businesses and the IRS with additional paperwork. The IRS itself has sounded the alarm, with its "taxpayer advocate" noting that the rule could "turn out to be disproportionate as compared with any resulting improvement in tax compliance."


So now, there are efforts in Congress to change the requirement. But Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on how to do so. Republicans want to repeal the new rule altogether and cut spending in other parts of ObamaCare to make up for the lost revenue. But Democrats want only to narrow the rule to hit fewer businesses — and to raise taxes on "Big Oil" companies to make up for the lost revenue. What they don't mention is that raising taxes on "Big Oil" would raise taxes on "everyone" by increasing the price we pay for gasoline.


So far, efforts to correct this bureaucratic nightmare have failed.


Ironically, The New York Times pointed out that the new tax-reporting requirement "drew little attention" when ObamaCare legislation was introduced, "and many lawmakers were apparently unaware of it when they voted for final passage of the legislation."


We can only imagine how many more "surprises" ObamaCare will be springing on American businesses and taxpayers over the next few years.







For the 67,000 Americans who got new private-sector jobs in August, getting those jobs obviously was good.


But for many others, there were job losses in various sectors of the economy, including the loss of temporary Census Bureau jobs. So there was a net loss of 54,000 jobs in the United States last month. That helped drive the unemployment rate up from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent.


OK, that's clearly not "good news." But let's suppose for a moment that there aren't further cuts in government jobs this month. In that case, shouldn't the kind of private-sector job creation we saw in August start reducing unemployment?


Unfortunately not.


Let's say the private sector creates another 67,000 jobs this month and government employment levels stay the same. While it may seem odd, that would actually increase overall unemployment.


Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, a former associate editor of The Wall Street Journal and a professor of economics, explains why: "(I)t takes approximately double the reported 67,000 private sector jobs gain each month just to stay even with the growth in the work force," he wrote in a piece for The Trends Research Institute.


In other words, the natural growth of the labor force from high school and college graduates, immigrants and others entering the job market is consuming private-sector jobs twice as fast as they can be created! The anemic current rate of job growth has our nation losing rather than gaining ground.


While President Barack Obama continues to claim that his and Congress' big "stimulus" spending has America on the right path, it's hard to believe all that spending would not have started reducing unemployment by now if it were going to do so. It's even harder to believe that the tens of billions of dollars more he wants to spend will work if the original $862 billion stimulus didn't — much less that his plan to raise taxes will jump-start the economy.


Isn't it past time for Congress and the president to reverse their disastrous course — or for the American people to elect lawmakers who will?








We have our doubts that Ömer Çelik, deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is

intimately familiar with Lewis Carroll, the 19th century British author known for his facility to toy with words and to challenge logic. But we could not help summoning to mind Carroll's most famous work, "The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland," upon reading Çelik's analysis of Sunday's referendum.


At a meeting with foreign journalists Çelik was asked about the much-discussed polarization in Turkey as evidenced by Sunday's referendum results.


]"There is no such division in Turkey," Çelik responded. "The AKP addresses no such question. It is only the AKP, which exists all over Turkey, that can cover all regions in Turkey."


This all takes us to Wonderland's Chapter 6, in which Alice has her now iconic conversation with Humpty Dumpty, as he sits on his famous wall and expounds on his philosophy:


"And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!"


"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,'" Alice said.


Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't – till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"


"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument,'" Alice objected.


"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less."


"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."


"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master – that's all."


Change a few dates around along with the context, Çelik sounds an awfully lot like Humpty Dumpty.


His remarks stand in marked contrast to those of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who impressed us with his inclusive rhetoric after the vote, his emphasis on the goal of creating a new constitution for all of Turkey, not just those supporting the AKP. Erdoğan's approach and measured rhetoric, we believe, is precisely what the country needs to overcome it deep division.


But divisions cannot be healed by declaring them non-existent, the fiction of "elitist" imaginations. Turkey is a deeply divided society. It is divided culturally, politically and geographically. This is something far more profound than a difference of opinion created by greater democracy, as Çelik sought to argue. Beyond the "yes" vs. "no" split in the referendum, fissures are reflected across a spectrum of issues as illustrated in a report by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, which we also published yesterday.


On European Union membership, on relations with Iran and the United States, on the reunification of Cyprus and reconciliation with Armenia, Turks are poles apart. The word for this is polarization. We hope the AKP recognizes this and deals with this.







A somewhat clearer picture is beginning to emerge from Sunday's referendum as the dust begins to settle. A "post mortem" of the results points to a number of factors that will no doubt be determinant in the lead-up to the general elections next summer.


The first thing to strike one is the map of how votes were distributed regionally. This shows that the Aegean and Mediterranean coastlines overwhelmingly rejected the package of constitutional changes prepared by the Justice and Development Party, or AKP.


Apart from three exceptions – and discounting the predominantly Kurdish southeastern provinces of course – the majority in the rest of Anatolia, including the traditionally conservative Black Sea region, cast a "yes" vote in the referendum.


Given that this referendum was taken by most people as a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Erdoğan, one can comfortably assume that the next general elections will produce a similar map, even if the percentages of the votes may vary.


What makes one more confident in this assumption is that the map that came out this referendum is more or less the same map that came out of the July 2007 general elections in terms of regional vote distribution. This means that the AKP held its ground in the interim period, despite some highly controversial policies that under normal circumstances would have lost any party the government in Turkey.


But this map also tells us is there is a new fault-line in Turkey in the shape of "regionalism," and this can now be added to the other fault lines that already exist. In addition to the division between the Kurdish Southeast and the rest of Turkey, we now have the staunchly secular Aegean and Mediterranean Coastal regions, as opposed to the conservative and religiously oriented "inner Anatolia."


Another major development that has increased confidence among AKP executives prior to next year's general elections is the fact that it effectively beat the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, in its own fortresses. While the MHP was vehemently against the package of constitutional changes, the majority in all the regions where it was in local government voted for the package.


The question is why did the MHP vote go to the AKP? Is it because ultranationalists have become more liberal or because they have become more religiously conservative and therefore the AKP appeals to them because of its strong positions on topics like Israel, Hamas and Iran, let alone its highly visible Islamic identity at home?


One would have assumed that the government's Kurdish initiative, at a time when the struggle against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, is ongoing, would have been enough to turn ultranationalists away from the AKP. This is what the MHP was banking on, anyway. But this does not appear to have been much of a consideration among elements who voted for the MHP in the last general elections.


Some are also arguing that by voting for a package of constitutional changes that will also bring benefits to the Kurds, ultranationalists also signaled that they want a political settlement to the bloody conflict in the Southeast.


Whatever the case is, it is a fact that there are more people in Turkey today who are questioning why their sons are dying in a war that has been continuing for a quarter of a century and has no end in sight if things go on as they are. The military is also under increasing scrutiny in this respect and people are asking questions they would not have five years ago, let alone a decade ago.


This does not alter the fact, however, that it is the AKP's conservatism, and not liberal pretensions, that is most probably attractive to MHP supporters who voted "yes" on Sunday. If this is the case the AKP's task becomes even more difficult, because it will have to appear liberal on the one hand, in order to be true to its campaign claims prior to the referendum, while at the same time appearing conservative in order to increase its appeal among ultranationalists in "inner Anatolia."


All that can safely be said at this stage, after the results of the referendum, is that there are many questions that still have to be answered prior to the elections. It is nevertheless an undeniable fact that the proverbial Pandora's Box has been opened in Turkey, and this will require good governance by the AKP – which has now strengthened its hand politically – if it wants to contribute to the unity of the country, rather than causing new divisions to emerge.









Constitutions are human-made (like software). And there are endless human-made means to 'hack' constitutions (like viruses). Mankind has always been more than prepared and willing to bypass, twist and corrupt even holy scriptures. In comparison, constitutions are a piece of cake.


No constitution talks about imposing poverty and oppression on citizens. No constitution promises injustice, torture or cruelty. No constitution is ever written to make sure individuals are NOT equal before the law. No constitution promises systematic breaches of individual rights. But executive abuse has been in abundance even in countries that have the most elegantly-written constitutions – and vice versa.


For example, the Americans did not need to scrap their founding fathers' roadmap in order to get rid of racial discrimination. They did not need a new constitution to have a black president half a century after blacks were not allowed to sit on the same benches as whites. The British did not even need a constitution to establish one of the world's finest democracies.


One cannot decide whether to laugh or cry out reading out the now much-hated but less than 30 years ago much-beloved 1982 Constitution. The evidence is there:


Article 5, for example, promises "to ensure the welfare, peace and happiness of the individual and society (and) to strive for the removal of (obstacles) which restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms." I don't want to think about the misery if these qualities had not been under constitutional guarantee!


Article 6 states that "sovereignty is vested in the nation without reservation or condition." Why, then, did the Turks amend their constitution on Sunday under the slogan "sovereignty will now be vested in the nation"? Did the military constitution say that sovereignty was vested in the King of Turkey?


Article 10 is one of my favorites. "All individuals are equal before the law without any discrimination irrespective of language, race, color, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect or any such consideration." That one is so very chic in language. And it probably needs no further comment other than loud laughter. To complete the joke, Article 10 also stipulates that "no privilege shall be granted to any individual."


Article 15 affirms that "the individual's right to life and the integrity of his material and spiritual entity shall be inviolable." Forget countless mystery murders, just note that the Turkish government – 28 years after Article 15 was written – has been found guilty by the European Court of Human Rights for failing to protect one of its citizens, the journalist Hrant Dink. But Article 19 puts a noble touch on Article 15: "Everyone has the right to liberty and security." And makes it even more amusing..!


Article 20 states that "everyone has the right to demand respect for his private and family life. And Article 22 guarantees that "secrecy of communications is fundamental." But it's true that the Constitution does not say governments should not build empires of fear. So, the systematic tapping of hundreds of thousands of individuals with or without court warrants does not violate articles 20 and 22. How many illegal video recordings of politicians, military officers and judges, all known to be critical of the government, must have fallen into the public domain over the past few years? Not easy to count.


Article 23 safeguards "everyone's right to freedom of residence and movement." How many Kurdish villages have been burnt since the 1990s? How many Kurds have been evacuated from their birthplaces? We cannot possibly count that one either.


When read in 2010, Article 24 is probably the funniest in the whole charter:


"Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religious belief and conviction…


"Education in religion and ethics shall be conducted under State supervision and control…


"No one shall be allowed to exploit or abuse religion or religious feelings… for the purpose of personal or political influence, or for even partially basing the fundamental, social, economic, political and legal order of the State on religious tenets."


Article 24 must have been put there so that the Turkish charter could one day compete in the world's funniest constitution contest. Has anyone ever seen a Turkish politician exploiting or abusing the people's religious feelings for influence? I never have. Probably because it has never happened. Any illegal Quran schools? I haven't seen any!


Article 25 guarantees that "no one shall be compelled to reveal his thoughts or opinions for any reason or purpose." Remember that one from somewhere? No, not the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or TÜSİAD, the club for the elite businessmen. True, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly threatened TÜSİAD "to take sides or be eliminated" in reference to the club's muteness on the referendum. But I am sure the prime minister's remark was not a violation of Article 25, but a benevolent reminder to businessmen who may have forgotten how to avoid elimination.


Article 28 claims "the press is free, and shall not be censored." The multi-billion dollar tax fine on the media group that publishes this newspaper? It doesn't count. Article 28 rules out censorship. It doesn't say anything about tax fines.


Article 42 affirms that "no one shall be deprived of the right of learning and education." Did the Kurds have the right of learning their own language until Mr Erdoğan's government wisely removed the legal barriers against it? Are girl students wearing headscarves (or any student wearing religious or political symbols) allowed on university campuses? Greetings to Article 42!


Another article, 69, naively maintains that "a (political) party which has been dissolved permanently cannot be founded under another name." Can anyone remember how many pro-Kurdish and Islamic parties have emerged under new names after their predecessors had been dissolved? I cannot.


It's funny to cheer up because on Sunday we got rid of the 1982Constitution. Relax, gentlemen. That charter was never in effect. It's not anyone's fault. Constitutions do not work unless people make them work. And countries do not become decent places because their constitutions promise all possible elegance.








European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stephan Fule's spokeswoman Angela Filote made an announcement last week that has grabbed the attention of the Turkish community.


"We regretted that this reform proposal was not preceded by a wide, inclusive consultation process across the political spectrum and society at large," she said. Then she added: "A key condition in any democracy is that people voice their views freely and vote the way they think is best, without any fear of repercussion."


Dialogue expected for the draft law


At first this seems a general statement; however, as she emphasized the word "authorities" in her speech she was obviously implying the government circles and trying to express the disturbance they feel at some unexpected moves or (the prime minister's) remarks like, "Those who remain neutral will vanish." But I might say that the EU welcomed the approval of the constitutional amendment package at the Sept. 12 referendum, so Filote's criticism might be forgotten along the way.


Through Fule the European Commission issued a clear-cut statement on Monday, expressing contentment and stressing that the changes are a step taken in the right direction of meeting full membership criteria.


In Fule's statement the key wording was as follows:


"However, their impact on the ground will depend on their actual implementation. A number of implementing laws will be needed and we will follow their preparation very closely. Meanwhile, we encourage the Turkish government to show the utmost transparency as well as a spirit of dialogue on the substance of this implementing legislation."


What did Fule ask of Erdoğan?


In addition, the commissioner stressed the EU's expectation of a civilian constitution and said:


"Finally, the commission emphasizes that any future constitutional changes should be prepared through the broadest possible consultation, involving all political parties and civil society in a timely manner and a spirit of dialogue and compromise."


Fule, in an interview to the daily Today's Zaman the other day, repeated his supporting remarks:


"We had a series of very good meetings with the prime minister. I recall in the first meeting in March I already asked him to do everything in his power to make sure that the process leading to the constitutional reform package would be as inclusive as possible…"


He also adds, "[W]e were concerned … that this kind of process of accepting a very important document could actually add to polarization within Turkish society."


Fule says that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told him "he would do whatever possible." How much Mr. Prime Minister was able to fulfill this statement is the subject of yet another article.


The European Commission welcomes the approval of the package, all in all. However, it is also concerned about the fact that polarization may deepen.


 The EU waits to see the HSYK's performance


In the meantime, we read the signs of how the EU views the law on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, through a letter Enlargement Director General Michael Leigh sent on Sept. 6 to a group of Turkish intellectuals and civilian society representatives.


In the letter on behalf of the commission, Leigh said that although they mostly welcome structural changes in the HSYK, there are two issues that require more vigilance.


According to Leigh, one of them is that the justice minister will chair the HSYK and the other one is that the investigation authority of the board will be subjected to the minister's approval.


Leigh adds that Fule, for these various reasons, stated that the commission will determine if the new HSYK will stand for independence, impartiality and the principle of separation of powers after seeing if these are in full accord with the EU standards.


As seen, the commission does not give a blank check in advance when it comes to implementation. They first of all want to see if the HSYK acts in accordance with the EU standards and if it remains independent in the presence of the government.


How much the preparation process of the HSYK law draft and its content will limit the minister's authority will be the EU's first test.


*Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.








The Kurdish question is about to take a very critical turn. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, declared a unilateral ceasefire lasting until Sept. 20. Now, everyone is asking the same questions: Will it end or continue? Will arms be used again?


As a matter of fact, some circles prefer armed struggle, for they benefit from terrorism, which satisfies both terrorists and a part of the official camp.


However, another major part of the community wants an end to the killings. People in the southeast in particular take a pro-ceasefire stance. They insist on finding a solution to the Kurdish conflict through politics. But why is it not happening?


The reason is that the state of Turkey cannot reach an agreement with the PKK by bargaining. The PKK is willing to stop terror only if the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, stops military operations against the organization. They want a mutual laying down of arms.


The TSK, on the other hand, stresses that no bargaining will take place and that it is their duty to continue military offensives against armed terrorists up in the mountains or in rural areas.


If we read the situation backward, even if it is not admitted, there is some sort of bargaining going on. That is to say, the TSK rests its case: "If you want an end to operations, withdraw your men, do not lay landmines and do not organize raids."


If you pay attention, these two approaches are not so very different. They are only one step away from each other.


I wonder if this "one step" will be taken. I wonder if we will have this opportunity to solve the Kurdish question not through armed struggle but through politics.


On Turkish side, this does not depend on the TSK the way used to. The TSK has a say, of course, but the final decision rests with prime minister.


On the PKK side, there is a chaos though. The organization has a multi-headed decision mechanism and it is very difficult to reach a conclusion.


To all these, if we add a lack of communication, it can be seen easily how difficult the situation is.


What a pity, is it not? Will we not be able to take that "one step," especially when we are this close? Will we seek the solution with arms? Are we not fed up by this issue? Can we not see that we cannot go anywhere with an armed struggle?


]My candidate for ombudsman: Kemal Derviş


We welcome a new institution into our lives: Ombudsmanship. The concept is widespread in northern Europe especially and ombudsmen are respected officials.


The ombudsman will have his team, act like a mediator between society and the state. He will lend an ear to the problems of the people. The ombudsman will convey people's complaints and ask what is necessary. He will not have any kind of imposition over any institution, but if he manages his position well, the ombudsman will be able to claim people's rights. We might liken him to a modern Robin Hood.


An ombudsman is expected to have three characteristics:


Independence: He shouldn't be a government's spokesman or pro-government or pro-opposition. He shouldn't have any political expectations and should create a public image that he acts independently. Impartiality: He neither praises the state not takes sides with other institutions. Prestige: He should be prestigious in the eye of community.


As you may have guessed, in a divided country such as Turkey finding a person who is independent, neutral and prestigious and on whom everyone agrees is very difficult. No matter who is selected as the ombudsman other sects will regard him as non-neutral.


Another thing is that the government in Turkey has a tendency to place their own men in such institutions. The approach, "If he is not one of us, then he is trouble," is adopted by governments. If the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government adopts a similar approach, it will all be wasted. The ombusdmanship will go down the drain from the beginning.


After considering all balances, the first name that pops up into my mind is Kemal Derviş.


I think no one is against his neutrality, prestige and independence. We have seen his personal aura and influence for years. He is accepted with respect and applause. Derviş certainly has his own rivals, but no one can deny his balanced approach to issues.


"Let him be one of us," or "let's have someone whose wife wears a headscarf" criteria will be a waste of time. Whereas our criteria should be the candidate's international position, accumulation of knowledge and ability to embrace every section of society.


Let's carry an institution above all social levels.


Frankly, if we agree on Derviş, we'll have to convince him. It will not be easy to convince Derviş to take a position which many others will be eager to pursue.








Whenever the issue of the timing of general elections is raised, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says they will be held in July 2011 at the latest. I wonder if Erdoğan will change his mind following the two developments that occurred in the last three days.


One of these developments is that the "yes" votes of the constitutional amendment referendum held on Sept. 12 went beyond any expectations and reached 58 percent. The other one is about the economy. And perhaps the latter is more important for the ruling Justice and Development Party's, or AKP. Gross National Product, or GNP, in the second quarter grew 10.3 percent. In the first quarter, it was 11.7 percent. Therefore, the economic growth in the first half of 2010 settles at 11 percent.


This extraordinary development is way beyond estimations.

According to the Finansinvest, that means the Turkish economy returns back to the production speed before the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the economic crisis in the period 2008-2009. According to the Royal Bank of Scotland researcher, economic performance of Turkey has made it the fastest growing country in the region.


The analyst says "The economy will probably grow 7 percent this year. And that means Turkey will grow twice more than Russia and Poland as centers of attraction for investors."


Economic performance


Following these two developments Turkey's rating might be upgraded by 1 point, which will facilitate its borrowing. If it doesn't come, that doesn't make much difference. A jump in growth shows that the AKP remains at top and will most probably remain at top after the next elections.


A while ago I mentioned about a research by Bender Securities, a Deutsche Bank affiliate, on connection between the economic performance and re-election of a government party. Bender examined all multi-party election results since 1950 and revealed that economic performance is of critical importance of a government party. Accordingly, economic shrinkage also causes such party's failure. But if there is growth in two consecutive years, a ruling party doesn't lose elections. There is no exception. If current tendencies continue, the economy will be growing for the last one-and-a-half year when the elections are held. This is enough.


The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu will face difficulties: Against him there is a political party which never loses popularity although it is approaching the end of the second period. No matter what "Recep Bey" does, he continues to be a vote magnet. Because I think he is the first "prime minister of the people". With his belief, style, attire, family life, way of communicating and conservatism, Erdoğan is a leader closest to the people of Turkey. He is one of the people. And he represents what people yearn for: stability.

Independent from other conditions, stability is critical and people who have suffered through military coups and unhealthy coalitions have learned this very well. For this reason, Erdoğan will not go for an early election, no matter how good it feels for the AKP today.

Metin Münir is a columnist for the daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.







 The assertion by President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday that his party knows how to defend democracy has been heard before. We also know why the rumours about the threat to democracy are everywhere. The feeling that the present government is incapable of offering people competent leadership is quite clearly a key factor in triggering the talk of change. His refusal to comment on the rumours, because they are rumours, will not alter realities or people's perception of the current situation. The real issues we confront in this regard were not taken up by Mr Zardari, at his joint press talk with Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Nor did he choose to acknowledge that he himself stands at the very centre of the current row and, through his own actions, has been largely responsible for triggering it. The phrases from the president have been heard before. Stating that democracy needs to be defended has not changed anything so far. As a result, frustration has grown and people are less and less willing to accept the situation they face at present. No solution was offered as to how we are to escape this state of affairs-and right now it is solutions we most need to hear.

On a somewhat more positive note, the signs of agreement between the Pakistani and Afghan heads of state on the need to confront terrorism are positive. This can only happen if the two countries work together to resolve a problem that presents a huge threat to them and has been a major cause of instability and chaos in the region. Afghan help for flood relief also comes as a gesture of cooperation which we hope will grow in time. But for now, in our own country, the focal point of attention is clear. The president will have noted that many of the questions directed to him by the media focused on the survival of the PPP government. As has been the case in the past, no real attempt was made to defend the government's performance. Are we then to assume it is indefensible? This is certainly the implication from Mr Zardari's words-with emphasis placed on the existence of a conspiracy but not on why this may have cropped up, in the first place. Unless there is thinking within the government on this aspect of the crisis there can be little hope of betterment in things.







 The EU and the UK may not be keen to put cash in our governmental pockets, but they do seem willing to at least consider freeing-up the logjam that has surrounded our trading relationship with them. The EU is our most important trading partner, accounting for over 20 per cent of our total trade. In 2009 the EU imported our goods to the value of 3.3 billion euros. Today, as we begin to recover from the floods both Britain and Denmark are lobbying on our behalf for the granting of trade concessions to help us back on our feet. Their support is going to be important at the upcoming EU summit in Brussels, because the countries of the EU have divergent views on how Pakistan should be treated vis-à-vis trade and bridging the gaps has historically been difficult.
The EU is in some ways no more united than ourselves, and regional and vested interests all come into play when trade is on the table. Britain and Germany, for instance, both have large numbers of troops fighting in Afghanistan and both will back the push for concessions. Other EU countries, less regionally engaged than Britain and Germany, are less likely to support concessions especially where they have textile industries whose product is in direct competition with our own. Conditionalities have always hedged around our trade with the EU, and in recent years the 'must do more' mantra has been chanted in our direction. It is thus welcome to hear that Foreign Secretary William Hague does not believe that it is appropriate to make trade concessions conditional upon us making greater efforts than we already are in the fight against militants. For our own part we need to look at freeing up impediments to trade that exist here. It is expensive for foreign companies to do business with us, our regulatory environment is overly complex and poor infrastructure adds to costs and cuts profits. 'Trade not aid' needs to be revised to 'trade plus aid' in the coming months and years. 






The ban, imposed on the full facial veil or the burqa, by the French Senate, which voted 246 to one in favour of the decision already approved by the National Assembly, brings up some huge dilemmas. It is quite extraordinary that such a decision has been taken in a "liberated" European country, where the wearing of the veil will become a crime from early next year unless courts overturn the legislative decision. The fact of the matter is that the whole debate surrounding the veil concerns not the garment but women's right to freely choose what to wear. If a woman opts to cover her face, there should be nothing to prevent her from doing so. The law is, for this reason, as retrogressive as the measures imposed by the Taliban in Swat and elsewhere to make the wearing of a head-to-toe covering mandatory for women. The French government has projected the law as a means to protect women from being forced into a veil. But it can become extremely difficult, notably in family situations, to decide which decisions are forced and which voluntary.

It is also already becoming obvious that the ruling will help fundamentalists by promoting extremism. There is a need for rationality and clear thought. The possibility that other European countries could follow France is especially disturbing. We must hope better sense will prevail. The whole burqa issue has in fact been played up way too far. There are other matters which are far more fundamental to the cause of women's emancipation and their welfare. These include literacy for the millions of women in the world who are still deprived of it. Education and the empowerment it brings could play a far more significant role in allowing women to gain control over their lives than any ban on the kind of clothing permissible to them.








As idiocies go this about takes the cake. Every intelligence outfit is entitled to its share of rubbish and cock-and-bull stories. Without half-fiction and lurid drama to thrive on most intelligence outfits would shrivel, twiddling their thumbs and seeing time hang heavy on their hands.

But the Punjab Special Branch report about the supposed plot to assassinate the Lahore High Court chief justice, the amiable if also often surprising Justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif, goes beyond the bizarre and actually highlights Pakistan's most serious problem, more pressing than anything else: the lack of intellect and the lack of humour in the higher echelons of government.


Whether in the inspector general of police's office or the Home Department, if this report had even vaguely encountered anything resembling intellect it would have been thrown into the nearest dustbin or consigned to the endless shelves reserved for forgotten things.

If it had met anything close to humour it would have been laughed out of court. Or it would have served as zestful topic for mirthful conversation in the never-ending tea breaks observed almost as a religious ritual in all government departments.

The bureaucracy at large, as any keen observer of the phenomenon knows, stopped working a long time ago. Without its tea breaks even the pretence of work would disappear. (Come to think of it, tea is another of our serious problems: too much tea and too little of anything else. Then we complain of the nation's sluggish blood circulation. With our heavy reliance on tea what else do we expect?)

But to return to our story, this being Pakistan, and in this particular case this being Lahore, this report had to be taken not just seriously but portentously, with the IG police solemnly visiting Justice Sharif and informing him—-not hard to imagine his doleful expression—-about the dark plot afoot against his august person.
And moderation not being one of our prime virtues, the outlines of this heinous plot had to fall into the media's hands, to become another item of alarm in the long list of all that is going wrong with Pakistan today. If even chief justices are to be assassinated, can things get any worse? And if things are coming to this, shouldn't something be done to save Pakistan? Where is the C-in-C? Why is he sitting on his haunches? You get the drift of the argument.

Pakistan is forever being saved. Four soldier-presidents have tried doing so, with what happy results we all know. If we could spend less time saving Pakistan and more in trying to run it, things would be different. Some of the clouds on the horizon would lift.

Lahore, it should be noted, has a split personality. The ordinary Lahori is a creature of fun, he/she, more often than not she, given to a raucous, bawdy sense of humour. Lahore's dancing and singing girls are like no other in the subcontinent, or at least that's what my sense of patriotism makes me want to think. Although one would have no qualms in admitting that Pakistan's cultural workers, dedicated to the pursuit of culture in its most primal aspects, would vastly improve matters if they were a bit more Thai about their bathing habits. But about this arcane subject more on some other occasion.

Here's the split personality: if the average Lahori is a creature of fun, the Lahore sarkar, the bureaucracy presiding over the affairs of Punjab—Pakistan's largest province, not in terms of area but in terms of everything else—could be a publicity poster of how not to get things done. No one could have invented the Punjab bureaucracy. The unmoveable mass of inertia it has become could only have evolved over a period of time.
I mention this to underscore the point that only in a surreal atmosphere, contributing to a suspension of disbelief, could something like the Sharif assassination report be taken seriously. Now if the Special Branch had pointed a finger at the Taliban that would have been different. It would have shown that after striking at other targets in Lahore—Data Darbar, Ahmedi places of worship, the Karbala Gaamay Shah procession, etc—the Taliban were out to spread more mayhem and chaos, Justice Sharif hardly being a small target. Apart from anything else, he is a popular figure in Lahore, with a wide circle of friends and admirers, and famous for his Kashmiri hospitality. (Although being mortal, he also his detractors.)

But the finger here has been pointed not at sinister killers from the Taliban badlands of Waziristan but, and this is the hilarious part, at a secret cell within the PPP conspiring to hire hardened criminals to kill Justice Sharif. "Some key federal government elements were named in the report as plotters," as one newspaper story puts it.
If this were imagination running wild there would still be some excuse for it. But this is stupidity on the loose. If this were a film script, there would be no takers for it even in Lollywood, not famous for rejecting implausible scripts. Even the media stories sound a bit forced, as if desperate to arrive at conclusions even when not fully supported by the evidence.

Why should the PPP, otherwise quite capable of the greatest folly—President Zardari's famous helicopter ride to his French chateau even as floodwaters were rising in much of Pakistan, still fresh in public memory—be out to destabilise itself? It takes little genius to figure out that any plot emanating from whatever quarter in the PPP against Justice Sharif would lead instantly to the federal government's dismissal, at the hands of the army no less.

We've been hearing rumours since the middle of last year that sections of the establishment—for which read ISI, etc—hand-in-glove with sections of the media were out to get Pakistan's embarrassment of a president. Those rumours subsided earlier this year but with the floods and the seeming incapacity of government at all levels in the face of this crisis, they have picked up again. Indeed, the country is awash with fresh rumours about something cooking in the shadows. But if there was any truth to the Sharif story, no further excuse would be needed for Pakistan's highest constitutional court, 111 Brigade, to move. Zardari and company would be out in a trice and even the United States would not know what to say.

Which all goes to show how dumb this story-line has been. In Julius Ceasar when the mob catches the wrong Cinna and he says he is not Cinna the conspirator but Cinna the poet, someone from the crowd shouts, "Hang him for his bad verses." Someone deserves to be strung up for this bad script.

I wouldn't blame Col Ehsan, the then Special Branch chief, who sent this report to the provincial government. It is the duty of intelligence outfits to pass on what they gather, however far-fetched or outlandish such reports, of course with their own assessments superimposed. But at some point up the chain such reports have to pass the test of common sense. Do they add up? Are they plausible?

If the report was leaked it should have been handled in such a manner as to suggest that the provincial government was not giving it much credence. This is not the impression one gets. Instead, news stories suggest the provincial government was taking this matter very seriously which only makes a laughingstock of the entire chain of command.

All sorts of conspirators, a proliferating breed in Pakistan, are out of the woodwork. Anchor-persons with little else to do are earnestly analysing the imminent or probable demise of democracy. President Zardari, grist to the laughter of the gods when he chooses to speak off-the-cuff, says that any attempt to subvert democracy will be foiled. And floodwaters continue to wreak havoc in Sindh. This should be no time for kite-flying.
Justice Sharif made a name for himself during the anti-Musharraf lawyers' and judges' movement by his steadfastness and adherence to principle. He has spread himself a bit thin as Lahore chief justice but that's another matter. Due to retire soon, long may he preside over his generous cups of Kashmiri hospitality (strictly tea, lest anyone get the wrong idea). As for threats, Lahore has enough real ones to contend with. It can do without invented ones.










On the eve of this Sept 11, the Bipartisan Policy Center released its report on homegrown terrorism, stating that the greatest threat to US security stems from Islamic fundamentalists living in the United States. The report seems to have discovered America's "Achilles heel, in that we currently have no strategy to counter the type of threat posed by homegrown terrorists and other radicalised recruits... America is thus vulnerable to a threat that is not only diversifying, but arguably intensifying."

The fear of growth of indigenous terror in the United States relates to isolated incidents of violence or potential violence. These incidents are an exception, yet they tap into reservoirs of hatred and intolerance. Vandalisation of mosques and the stabbing of a Muslim cabdriver in New York are reflections of this deep-rooted prejudice. Was the call for the burning of the Quran an isolated incident, or did it symbolise a growing anti-Islam sentiment in the US? More importantly, are these fears based on reality or do they serve as a diversion from pressing societal issues?

Estimates available at the internet demonstrate that in the aftermath of the 2007 economic downturn about 1 to 2.5 million people fell to poverty within a year in America and by 2008 nearly 40 million (13.2 per cent) lived below the official poverty line; expected increase in 2010 is a record 15 per cent. The unemployment rate in the United States in August was reported at 9.60 per cent, approaching the 1960s levels when Lyndon Johnson had to declare war on poverty in America. California, traditionally one of the United States' most affluent states, is $19 billion in the red. 

Unemployment translates into diminished consumer spending that normally accounts for two-third of American economic activity. Job loss is therefore a significant contributor towards economic insecurity and it breeds feelings of vulnerability among Americans; the huge nativist movement against immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries substantiates such anxiety.

For all their freedom rhetoric the Americans suffer from periodic paranoia: The Red Scare of the interwar period was provoked by fears of an "imminent" Bolshevik revolution in the United States, post-World War II McCarthyism was based on suspicions of a "genuine" communist threat to American institutions, and the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942 occurred because civilian and military officials in the United States suspected the loyalty of people of Japanese origin. 

These are events that demonstrate America's proclivity for demonisation of the external "other," rather than its focusing on internal weaknesses. 

The American media whipped up xenophobia during the Red Scare and McCarthyism episodes. The post-9/11 media hysteria in the United States, the stereotyping of Muslims, and the treating of the widely diverse Islamic world as a menacing monolith have not been helpful in forging interfaith harmony. The controversy over the "Ground Zero Islamic centre" has been politicised by the Christian right and the Republicans in the run-up to the mid-term elections in November. 

A political system driven by corporate interests is ready to indulge in irresponsible behaviour where short-term gain blinds the politicians to future societal disharmony as a consequence of exploitation of existing divisions; it is a disservice to their nation.

The fears of American Muslims is highlighted in recent a article in The New York Times, "American Muslims Ask: Will We Ever Belong?" A vast majority of them are law abiding "regular folks" who abhor violence and bloodshed like all civilised human beings. 

American Muslims, the article says, are "scared not as much for their safety as to learn that the suspicion, ignorance and even hatred of Muslims is so widespread. They liken their situation to that of other scapegoats in American history: Irish Roman Catholics before the nativist riots in the 1800s, the Japanese before they were put in internment camps during World War II."

Scapegoating of a group is defined by psychologists as a social phenomenon in which people may become prejudiced towards a section of their society to give vent to their anger at unresolved problems not directly related to the target group. According to the scapegoat theory, Germans used the Jews as scapegoats for all their national problems, including their country's economic woes. 

The United States needs to focus on its internal economic and socio-political problems to avoid falling into the trap repeatedly. If the melting-pot phenomenon is not working at a certain level of American society, then US domestic and foreign policies require some serious scrutiny.

In their supposed moment of unipolarity in the 1990s, Americans were too engrossed in triumphalism to listen to voices of reason, such as that of Charley Reese a columnist for The Orlando Sentinel. "Terrorism is a political act, a response to US foreign policy," he wrote in 1998. "It is an act of war waged by people too weak to have a conventional army, or one large enough to take on the United States."

Unfortunately, such voices are often neglected in the heat of the moment. Today, post-9/11 American foreign policy is perceived by the Muslims as demonisation of the Islamic world and America is rightly seen as occupier of Muslim lands. Trillions of dollars have been spent on wars which the massive American military has not even been able to win. And the returning "boys" from the battlefields are sure to add to social and psychological problems back home. So the scapegoating of Muslims may become an attractive national pastime.

In 1988, the Reagan administration issued an apology for the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942. The action was based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership," it admitted. Will a US government offer a similar apology to American Muslims 46 years down the road? That is a question that the American public and politicians need to consider now.

The writer is a PhD student at Leicester, UK. Email:








 The golden rule of reform is that real reform only takes place when there is a "burning platform." Only when one is forced to choose between certain death, and changing course, do people, organisations and governments actually begin to think about change. 

Perhaps this government's do-or-die moment has arrived. It is tragic that to get to this point, it has taken a full-blown war against terrorists, a Biblical flood, a cynical extension of the tenure of a military chief and the accumulated burden of the venomous rent-seeking system inherent in the phrase "the revenge of democracy." Still, the only possible way to interpret the appointment of Shahid Kardar as the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan is that the government is finally, after more than two years, looking at the right place for answers to difficult questions. 

There will be little nitpicking about Mr Kardar's credentials, even though he is not a purely monetary-policy man. His work as finance minister for Punjab, as the head of the Punjab Education Foundation, as a board member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and numerous other assignments are an embodiment of his depth and breadth of expertise. What is less visible on his resume perhaps, is who Shahid Kardar is, and what he represents. 

The first thing to understand about Kardar is that he doesn't owe the Pakistani elite any favours. This means that when he sits at the table with the legitimate and powerful leaders of this country, he doesn't need to hide his opinion about the facts before him, under a layer of niceties. He can be truthful and to the point, without worrying about the social or economic consequences. In Pakistan's culture of power this is a unique attribute. 
The second thing to understand about Kardar is that in addition to the fortitude that his independence lends him, Kardar values time highly. He likes to get to the point and he likes to move on. A lot of his new colleagues at the State Bank will become automatically more productive because Kardar doesn't treat time like a limitless commodity, but rather like a scarce good. 

The third thing about Kardar is that he has clear ideas about markets, about the role of the state and about how those two forces, the market and the state, should interact. I've often disagreed with his enthusiasm about markets, while partly sharing his reservations about the idealism of state-led development. It hardly matters whether you agree or disagree with Kardar-you'll be treated respectfully. His positions on issues are based on hands-on experience, and close observation, rather than on trite ideological frameworks. Make more sense than Kardar makes, and you'll have your way. 

Finally, Kardar is a humble man. He'll be embarrassed, and possibly even upset that someone he knows would write so effusively about him, in the public domain. So why then have I shared what I know about Shahid Kardar so unabashedly? 

Simply put, because this is the kind of positive news that deserves wide-scale recognition. Kardar's appointment is not about Kardar. It is about the Pakistani government's willingness and ability to find, recruit and appoint people of competence and integrity to the most important jobs in the country. Competence and integrity. Those aren't words you would associate with this government very often. So let's say them again. Competence and integrity. Competence and integrity. 

Cynically speaking, Kardar's appointment is an indicator of the desperation and helplessness of a government faced with bankruptcy and a severe lack of credibility. In a much more positive light however, the fact that a competent man of integrity was persuaded to come and take over as the State Bank governor is a tremendous credit to a government that has struggled mightily to project competence and integrity. 

The only way we will know whether or not this is a one-off accident, or a harbinger of serious reform is by watching Islamabad closely over the next few weeks and months. If the DMG-dominated top layer of the bureaucracy keeps pulling stunts that slow down the pace of the people and reforms that Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh wants to bring about-we'll know that this appointment (as well as the inspired choice of Nadeem-ul-Haque as deputy chairman Planning Commission) was an accident. 

If on the other hand however, Shaikh is able to lasso the wild horses of the senior bureaucracy, and continues bringing in people of competence and integrity into the wider circle of the economic policy in Pakistan-we'll know that there is a plan. 

We should all have tremendous respect and admiration for Pakistan's civil servants, especially the under-paid, and demonised officer class (including the DMG). However, there is a peculiar manner of operating that has taken hold within the upper echelons (Grade 22) of all three of the All Pakistan Unified Grades that is sucking the life out of Pakistan's state structures. 

Ensuring that the bureaucracy does not impede the paths of reformers like Shahid Kardar is desperately difficult however. In the three-way collision between bureaucrats, politicians and technocrats-the technocrats have the least stakes, the least-administrative power and expertise, and the least-valued legitimacy (technical, rather than political, or structural). 

Still, if you're interested in Pakistan becoming an effective state, this is a moment to savour. It is hard to overemphasise what a different kind of an appointment Kardar's really is. If this becomes a trend and we start to see the stripping away of bureaucrats from positions that have undue influence over autonomous bodies like the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, then real change might actually be in store. 

Perhaps the most important incentive for the government to sustain the momentum and hire only Kardar-esque professionals to important jobs is that doing so can dismantle the ticking atomic bomb (real or imagined) of an impending national/technocratic/military government. One of the first things these governments do to right the ship is find top-shelf talent and, at least for a little while, let them do their job-which is how both Shahid Kardar and Hafeez Shaikh fixed the Punjab and Sindh economies between 1999 and 2002. 

Rather than allowing the military and the press to appropriate these symbols of technical legitimacy and authority, this government can pre-empt the discourse. Find the most competent people with the greatest integrity and plaster them all over the public sector. Spare no effort to include competence and integrity in government today, so that when anti-democratic forces in this country go looking for talent tomorrow, they find it all sitting in government already. That's how you dismantle an atomic bomb. 

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy.








 It is a problem that India wants the world to forget, but it fails to go away. Even after 63 years of political manipulation, sweet promises and brutal repression, the Kashmiri will for freedom refuses to die.
The flame of resistance burns bright despite a harsh occupation. It chastises the international community for its neglect and lack of care for tens of thousands killed, countless women raped, homes destroyed and lives shattered.

It also shows up us liberals in Pakistan who want peace with India at any price. Friendship between neighbours is a good idea and there are many compelling reasons why it would be helpful to both countries and also contribute to regional development.

But should it be at the price of Pakistan's commitment to the Kashmiri people? Should we just forget what is going on there? Are the candles we light at Wagah every Independence Day unwittingly keeping dark the killing fields of Kashmir?

Too many lives are at stake for us to push this reality under the carpet. It is therefore important to have the correct perspective. Otherwise, it would be a typical example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. And, in this case, the hell being visited on the people of Kashmir. 

The only way to conceptualise this conundrum is that it is not an either/or proposition. We want peace with India. We want the two neighbours to trade and have cultural and sporting exchanges. We want easier visa regimes so that the mindsets of hatred are replaced with genuine understanding. We also want the two countries to fight terrorism together. 

But we cannot want all this at the cost of ignoring India's brutal hold on Kashmir. Support for the struggle of the Kashmiri people and outright opposition to India's brutal tactics in the state has to coexist with our desire for peace and friendship with India. 

We cannot keep peace hostage to a settlement of the Kashmir dispute. At the same time, we cannot shut our eyes to what is happening there. It is a tough act to balance the two, but there is little choice. We must push for a resolution to the Kashmir problem acceptable to its people and to India and Pakistan. And we must continue to build bridges in all other spheres. 

The current spate of unrest in Indian-occupied Kashmir has demonstrated once again, more to India than to anyone else, that without an acceptable settlement there is no way forward. And this time the bogey of outside interference and foreign-inspired militancy cannot explain away the genuine yearning of the Kashmiri people for an end to Indian military occupation of the state. 

In some ways, the situation resembles that of 1989, when there was a spontaneous uprising in Kashmir. This, a genuinely popular movement, lost its way because of outside militants who infiltrated the state and started an armed assault on the Indian forces.

Whether this interference was inspired by the Pakistani state in the 1990s or whether it was a result of its deliberate turning of a blind eye to the activities of the Pakistani-based Jihadi groups is debatable. But of this there is little doubt, that it hurt the genuine struggle of the Kashmiri people. 
Outside militants not only engaged the Indian forces but also started to impose their own version of a code of life on the Kashmiri people. There was also internecine fighting and killing that turned many indigenous people of the valley away from the struggle.


I remember the late Eqbal Ahmed telling me then, something that I did not quite buy at that time, that outside interference always harms a genuine people's liberation movement. Besides having a brilliant mind, Eqbal spoke from his experience of the Algerian, and perhaps Vietnamese, struggle for independence.
Such fine points were, of course, lost on those who were determined to remove Indian occupation of Kashmir through force. This led to a massive Indian deployment of military forces there and much consequent hardship for the Kashmiri people.

If the purpose of some was to tie up large parts of the Indian military in occupying the state of Jammu and Kashmir, it was achieved. But if there was any genuine desire for liberation of the state, it was a setback. It was so bad for the people of the valley that Mir Waiz Umar Farooq asked me in New York whether Pakistan would fight to the last Kashmiri.

That was then, some fifteen years back. Much has changed since. After Musharraf's accord with India in 2004, there has been negligible infiltration into the valley from Azad Kashmir. Pakistan has cracked down on jihadi groups and there is no evidence that any kind of proxy war is being perpetuated from this side.
This has given a fillip to the struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The movement to rid the valley of Indian occupation has once again been indigenised. It is also not an armed struggle but a political resistance. The most lethal of weapons that the protestors have is a stone. 

The struggle morphing itself again into a popular liberation movement has had two major impacts. It has divided the Indian establishment, with more voices rising for a settlement acceptable to the Kashmiri people, and it has robbed India of the propaganda tool that this is foreign-inspired terrorism.

It is also instructive that, with the change in the ethos of resistance, the international media has also started to take greater interest in what is happening there. This has affected India's effort to keep its repression of the Kashmiri people hidden. There is much greater global awareness of what is going on. 

It is understandable that, with the Pakistani government busy fighting floods, its attention is diverted. But there is no reason for a complete silence on what is going on in occupied Kashmir. We must ramp up our political and diplomatic support for the genuine struggle of the Kashmiri people. 

It is important to repeat that this does not mean moving away from the composite dialogue process. In fact, diplomatic efforts must continue to engage India and keep pushing for dialogue and more dialogue. It has to be a more thought out and consistent process than tit-for-tat point scoring, as happened during the last meeting of the foreign ministers. 

The resilience of the liberation movement in Kashmir should also be a wakeup call for India. So far, its attitude has been to keep a lid on it and hope that, over time, it will go away. This is not going happen.
The people of Kashmir with their sacrifices have once again created necessary conditions for a settlement acceptable to all parties. Do the leaderships of India and Pakistan have the will to rise to the occasion?








 International Democracy Day is celebrated on 15 September. Marred by dictatorial rules, democratic order and national identity remain the two fundamentally unresolved questions for our state and society. In present day Pakistan, increasing helplessness of the masses and impatience of a part of the intelligentsia once again threatens the nascent democratic rule. A rationalist would tell you that history neither repeats itself nor does it follow a flow-chart. 

Nevertheless, in Pakistan we see action replays in some sense too often. General Zia took over power in 1977. The year 1988 saw restoration of democracy, general elections and the formation of a PPP government. For eleven years we saw four elected governments and three caretaker-setups. Then came 1999 with another military takeover by General Musharraf. In 2008, democracy was again restored like in 1988, general elections were held and the PPP came to power with its allies. At this juncture in 2010, we are again being told by some political players and commentators that change is in the offing. Some want the ground to be levelled for another decade like the 1990s. We are being prepared for a system which is a little different outwardly but similar from within, i.e. a period of an unrepresentative rule comparable to the one under Moeen Qureshi but perhaps longer in length. 

President Asif Ali Zardari came out with a clear position in response to some questions raised during his joint press conference with his Afghan counterpart besides issuing a statement to mark the International Democracy Day. He said that the entire nation had contributed in the restoration of democracy, we had achieved it after a long struggle and we knew how to defend it. He also said that Bonapartist and undemocratic adventures in Pakistan finally ended up as footnotes in history. He added that for democracy to gain strength, we need to work in a spirit of harmony and reconciliation. 

The president is right when he stresses that democracy is the only way forward for a state to survive and develop in the long run. This is a lesson from the contemporary political history of humankind. But when the president says that the PPP and other ardent believers in democracy know how to defend it in Pakistan that is a bit of an unfounded claim. Who doesn't know that, in order to succeed, any representative government in this country, particularly the one led by the PPP, has to work against unusual odds in addition to the ones normally offered by a democratic process generically? But the incumbents have to face the challenge if they choose to fight for democracy and opt to form the government. It is not just about the conspiracies hatched against the government. 

To be able to defend a system one supports ardently, one has to fulfil its basic requirements to start with. Better law and order, food security and provision of basic services to the general populace are a bare minimum. Limits are placed on the well-being of people at large due to a combination of the economic paradigms we follow for some years, the internal and external security policy we pursue for decades and the elite-capture of resources from day one. But even if it is not a revolutionary government, it must function where it can, and more importantly, it should be seen as functioning and delivering to the extent it can. The PPP and allies urgently need to take stock of where the government is failing and why, make amends, and do their bit for saving us from another undemocratic era. 

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, political analyst and advisor on public policy. Email:








TWENTY-ONE more people were killed and several others sustained injuries in two more deadly attacks by the United States spy planes in a couple of villages in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) on Wednesday. It was thirteenth attack by CIA-operated drones in North Waziristan in September in which 11 planes were used and according to eyewitnesses they had never seen such a large number of drones in the past. 

As people are getting furious over these attacks the frequency of which has increased significantly as is the number of casualties including those of civilians, visiting US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke claimed that these attacks were being carried out in close collaboration with the Pakistan Government. Holbrooke is a responsible persons who is supposed to be in the know of what is happening in relations to the ongoing war on terror and, therefore, there is every reason to believe in what he has revealed. This is also borne out by the fact that the Government has adopted mysterious silence over these highly provocative attacks that not only kill innocent people but also injure feelings and sensitivities of the nation. It was only on Wednesday that during his press briefing Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who is spokesman of the Government, was confronted with this question of intriguing silence and people watched him over television screen evading a direct answer to the question. If one also recalls the infamous statement of worthy Defence Minister Ch Ahmad Mukhtar on this burning issue then one can draw the conclusion that all this is happening with the tacit understanding of the government. The Minister while refuting reports that the drones were operating from within Pakistan had remarked "they do land on Pakistani soil but do not take off'. Drone attacks clearly constitute violation of the country's sovereignty and are seen as crude humiliation by proud Pakistanis. Had there been one or two isolated incidents then these could have been ignored considering them as hot pursuit or unintentional developments but repeated killings of Pakistanis and others day in, day out on the pretext of targeting the so-called sanctuaries of terrorists is totally unacceptable. It is incumbent upon the Government especially the Foreign Office to come out with a clear-cut statement on the issue because the disclosure has caused a severe dent to the credibility and image of the Government.








IN the backdrop of unending rumour-mongering about a possible change including imposition of Martial Law, President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed his firm resolve to defend the democracy. Addressing a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday, he brushed aside such an eventuality saying democracy has not come as charity but was achieved after relentless struggle of the people and they know how to defend it.

The President was quite firm and categorical on the issue and his confidence and choice of words reflected the reality that he was in full control of the situation. Indeed, as the President pointed out, the entire nation struggled and suffered for democracy and it is the only system that keeps the hope alive. Asif Ali Zardari himself and members of his family have suffered immensely for their struggle for the democracy and it is necessary to defend the system as experiments in this country and elsewhere in the world have proved beyond any doubt that perhaps it is the only acceptable and respectable system of governance for a civilised society. However, we would point out to the President that mere verbal defence of democracy would not do and he and his colleagues will have to make conscientious efforts to prove to the people that the incumbent system is able to deliver. This is because there is a growing debate on the issue of democracy vs good governance with people getting disenchanted with the system as presently it benefits only the rulers and their blue-eyed people and nothing significant is trickling down to the common man. We hope that this reality would not be disregarded terming it as mere propaganda of rivals and the Government would undertake a comprehensive review of its performance so as to identify the weaknesses and formulate a strategy for effective delivery.






MQM Chief Altaf Hussain has demanded the restoration of Nazims of the Local Government system throughout the country to enable them to extend a helping hand to the flood affected people. In an address on Wednesday, Altaf Hussain said that had the Local Government system been in place, people affected by floods would have been better attended by their elected representatives at the local level.

There is no doubt that absence of Nazims was badly felt by the people as they had no channels to communicate their problems and get them resolved as Government functionaries were too busy in evacuation of the stranded people and related matters. Millions of people in villages who suffered the most were left at the mercy of the nature, as they had no information where to go for shelter or seek food assistance. Altaf Hussain is right to say that eighty-eight thousand elected public representatives would have solved the problems of the flood affected people in a better and efficient way as they would have served as a vital link between the Government and those in distress. In the absence of Local Government system issues of all sorts are also cropping up at the district and local level because the administrators have failed to deliver particularly due to lack of financial resources. Experts on Local Government like Daniyal Aziz had all along been sensitising the Government that the system could be improved with minor amendments in the law and its wrapping up was dangerous. LG system had taken roots and was very useful in resolving the day to day problems of the people at the local level and in fact there was a visible development in urban and rural areas due to personal interest taken by Nazims. After the arbitrary winding up of the system, there is a vacuum, which needs to be filled urgently. With no sign of Local Government elections in the near future, we endorse the proposal of Altaf Hussain that Nazims be restored for at least one year and associated with the task of rehabilitation and reconstruction in the flood affected areas.









Till two centuries ago, China comprised about 35% of the global economy while India accounted for around 26%. Only after the grip of European powers became strong in the 19th century that their economies contracted. The mentality of the European powers was that only they had the right to prosperity, while the rest of the world needed to be content as slaves. In India, Britain ensured the destruction of almost all of local industry, thereby seeking to create a market for its own manufactures. Certainly this brought some prosperity to the UK, but the wealth generated there would have been much more had India been allowed to continue to be a prosperous country. The markets for British produce would have been far larger. As for China, by squeezing revenue out of channels such as the opium trade, the European powers ensured the fall of the Imperial Dynasty and its replacement with a series of fractious and incompetent warlord regimes, a phase that ended only with the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949. 

While China entered into its current period of economic growth through reform in the 1980s, till today India has continued with its colonial-era laws, that transfer obligations to the population and authority to the state Today, despite corrupt and incompetent governments at both the central and state levels, the Indian economy is growing at a speed of almost 10% annually, because of the savings of its people and their zeal for education and betterment. India is called a "free" country, while China is authoritarian, with no elections and single-party rule. However, here in Hong Kong, where your columnist has been since the beginning of the week, it would seem that people here have as much - if not more - freedom than people in Mumbai or Delhi, all of whom have to get permission from multiple authorities (usually in triplicate) before being allowed to do the simplest tasks.

In India, especially after the Sonia Gandhi-led United Progressive Alliance government came into power in 2004, there are a cascading series of taxes. Income-taxes, surcharges, service taxes, commodity taxes, octroi, state sales taxes, stamp duty, capital gains taxes and many, many others. Recently the "reforminst" government of Manmohan Singh unveiled a Direct Taxes Code that disappointed those who had hoped that India's honest and brilliant PM would have been allowed by the Congress Party bosses to dismantle at least some of the many restrictions that have been a feature of the Nehru Era. Contrast the sorry situation in India, where the combined tax burden on a citizen sometimes reaches 70% of his or her income because of taxes at different stages, with Hong Kong. The residents of Hong Kong pay only income-tax, that too at a low rate. There are no taxes on capital gains or dividends, nor on interest and even the winnings from gambling. 

In India, the web of regulations is so dense that most innovators either get nervous breakdowns or migrate in order to preserve their sanity. At every stage of any productive process, the citizen has to run the gauntlet created by officials (and their political masters) eager to enrich themselves at his or her expense. In Hong Kong, by contrast, most permissions can be secured online, while bribes are unheard of. The civil service in Hong Kong is well paid, and pensions amount to almost the full salary last earned,so that the incentive for graft is minimised. For a metropolis of 7 million residents,there is only a corps of 130,000 civil servants,or about as many as there are in a single district in the Subcontinent. Those resident in Hong Kong can move money anywhere they want,and convert it into any currency they wish. Even those coming from outside can set up businesses freely, getting permission online to do so, rather than in offices populated with corrupt staff, the way it is in Pakistan and India. Indeed, those investing in a business in Hong Kong of a level of around a million HK dollars can get Permanent Resident status and thereby ensure that staff from outside be given permission to come and work in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).As for visas, Commonwealth citizens are allowed visa-free entry for two weeks, while citizens of most of the major countries too are allowed visa-free entry. Had any government in India had the common sense (or good intention) to set up a Free Trade Zone in India on the lines of Hong Kong, several tens of billions of dollars of investment would have flowed in. However, such a project seems beyond the imagination of those politicians in India who are comfortable with poverty, because they believe that it is easier to fool the poor with false promises than to trick the middle class (which in India does not vote as strongly as it should). Recently in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, a politician who is now Union Railway Minister, cost her state more than 200,000 jobs (direct and indirect) by forcing the Tata Group to relocate its revolutionary small-car (Nano) factory from West Bengal to Gujarat. 

Last month, Heir Apparent of the Congress Party Rahul Gandhi ensured that more than $1.3 billion of annual taxes would be blocked from flowing into the coffers of the (Opposition-administered) Orissa state by getting halted the setting up of a $15 billion enterprise, on the grounds that around 600 tribal people "needed to preserve their religion". By this, Rahul Gandhi signalled that he would like to freeze this population at its present low level of subsistence, rather than give them the chance for modern education and employment. His recent actions and statements - which are coincidenally in tune with the vociferous demands of a clutch of Western NGOs active in India that would like development in India to stop and the country remain permanently in poverty - have shaken the belief within the middle classes that Rahul can modernize India. Interestingly, at the very time when he is campaigning against development, his cousin Varun Gandhi is stressing an economic agenda that focusses on high growth. 

By allowing Hong Kong to be the freest economy in the world (a status that it has enjoyed for the past sixteen years, according to the Index of Economic Freedom), the Communist Party of China has shown a pragmatism that is absent in the neighbouring democracy of India, where Prime Minister Singh is having to tolerate both corruption and flawed policy as the price for remaining in office. After Hong Kong, the freest economy is Singapore, followed by Australia and New Zealand. While the US comes eighth in the list, this seems another example of how international rating agencies mislead the international community about the US and several countries in the EU. For the reality is that the US is today very tightly regulated, with several restrictions that were absent in the past.

As for "freedom", the recent detention by US authorities of an Indian (Hindu) citizen on suspicion of being a terrorist (after all, he had a beard, brown skin and carried literature about Wahabbism ) is another example of how unwelcoming the so-called "Free World" is these days to people from underdeveloped countries An even worse example is France, which has shown its concept of civillisation by brutally expelling those Europeans who come from the Roma group. This small pool of people, who were significantly exterminated by the German state during the early part of the 1940s without getting any compensation, are the "untouchables" of Europe. Last year, a Roma girl was allowed to drown off a beach in Italy to cheers from the other beachgoers, while across Europe, their houses are firebombed and their women insulted. All this in a "free" society. Freedom, it would seem, means the freedom to deny rights to those who look different from others and who have been deprived of modern education and the opportunities that come with it Which country is really "free"? Here in Hong Kong, which is part of a country that is called "authoritarian" by the world, it is hard to give an answer. This columnist had dinner with a member of the territory's. Cabinet (or Executive Council).The cabinet member came in a taxi, without any of the paraphernalia that accompanies those of a similar rank in the Subcontinent. Unless the citizen be given the right to ensure a prosperous and productive life for his or her family, just giving the right to vote every few years does not translate into a genuinely free country. India and Pakistan have a lot to learn from China, and its international financial hub, Hong Kong.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








Iran and Pakistan are two neighborly states. Both are prominent members of OIC representing Muslim Ummah. There is a long history of contact and mutual influence between the two nations, with segments of Pakistani culture directly influenced by Iranian cultures. In 1947 Iran was the first country to recognize the newly independent state of Pakistan and the Shah of Iran was the first foreign Head of State to visit Pakistan in March 1950. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who was the architect of the policy that Pakistan was to pursue with regard to Iran, its closest Muslim neighbour, in a letter written to his cabinet colleague, Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan, dwelled at length on the importance of fostering cordial relations with Iran in particular and the Muslim world in general. In this connection Quaid-i-Azam pointed out with great vision that Pakistan could look forward to a genuine and lasting relationship with Iran for which he named Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan as Pakistan's first Ambassador to Iran with a directive to forge fraternal ties based on genuine respect for each other. The Quaid told him that he was going to a country, which already had the most cordial relations in the world with Pakistan.

During the Shah's era, Iran moved closer to Pakistan in many fields and the two nations worked closely with each other, including defence, trade, commerce, education, agriculture and cultural exchange programs. The best example of Iran's help to Pakistan came during the September1965 war with India. Iran sent Pakistan fighter aircraft and other defence hardware, nurses, medical supplies and a gift of 5,000 tons of petroleum. Iran also indicated that it was considering an embargo on oil supplies to India for the duration of the war. After the suspension of the United States' military aid to Pakistan, Iran was reported to have purchased 90 F-86 Sabre Jet Fighters from West Germany and to have sent them to Pakistan along with tanks, spare parts and other arms. Iran has supported Pakistan on Kashmir and other disputes with India. Pakistan was the first country to recognize post revolution (1979) state of Iran. Unfortunately Pak-Iran relations are complex, driven by their geo-political aspirations, religious affiliations and internal/external factors. Iran is cognizant of Pakistan's leading mediatory role in the Islamic Peace Committee of the OIC to end the Iran-Iraq war, which erupted on September 1, 1980. This clearly exemplified the deep respect and regard that the Islamic regime had for Pakistan; the latter's new found US connections notwithstanding. In terms of the people to people relations, particularly in the shape of the cultural and linguistic impact on Pakistan, Iran is way ahead of many countries of the Muslim world and the world at large-even more than Turkey and China. It is because, in addition to their common faith and current shared interests, Pakistan and Iran also have deep cultural and linguistic ethnological affinities. Both countries are threatened by external forces and there is a need of their mutual cooperation. 

Iran and Pakistan must resolve their grievances and irritants through a process of comprehensive dialogue addressing their real interests and reaching agreements to respect their mutual interests. Unfortunately they supported the opposite sides in 1991-2001 Afghan Civil War. Pakistan supported the Pashtun Taliban while Iran supported the Tajik Northern alliance. When Taliban took over control Iranian diplomats and residents were executed. Similarly Shia–Sunni gun battles started inside Pakistan and relations between Iran and Pakistan got strained. Situation in Afghanistan suggests that both Iran and Pakistan must cooperate to bring stability in Afghanistan. 

Pakistan and Iran must cooperate to fight the menace of terrorism. In this context Iran must show restraint as Pakistan is being targeted by the terrorists supported by anti Pakistan forces. Conditions are being created for sectarian sensitivities; Lahore suicide attack on Shia rally and the Quetta assault on the Al-Quds rallies are a point in case. Religious scholars' call to ask people to remain peaceful as anti Pakistan elements are involved in such crimes, are laudable. Surely Iran would demonstrate harmonious spirit and solidarity with Pakistan at such a difficult time. Media in both countries must play its role to enhance cohesiveness between the neighbours. Both Iran and Pakistan are members of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), a derivative of Regional Co-operation for Development (RCD), which was established in 1964. As part of this regional organizational framework both countries continue to cooperate on trade and investment. IPI gas pipeline is a major development between India, Pakistan and Iran. India appears to have withdrawn after signing nuclear deal with US. International sanctions on Iran may derail the project altogether. The possibility of having a similar gas pipeline from Iran to China through Pakistan will go a long way in cementing the already solid ties. Iran has expressed its willingness for the design of a comprehensive mobile communication network in Pakistan. Moreover, there is a scope of cooperation in maintenance of ports, maritime, commercial navigation, shipbuilding and repairs, post and telecommunications. Both countries have also agreed to expedite the establishment of a joint shipping company.

One country's relations with another should be gauged in times of tests and trials to be very sure and clear about them. Going through all those years, it can be safely and confidently said that Iran and Pakistan, as a whole, have maintained and demonstrated over the years; particularly since the revolution pretty satisfactory level of consistency and progress in their relations. They have indeed passed the tests of time.

The best part of Pak-Iran relations is that both countries have been cognizant of the difference of opinion between them and instead of brushing them under the carpet; they have displayed maturity and dealt with their differences with a view to resolve them. Pakistan has not yielded to western pressure to isolate Iran and has continued to pursue its relations with its western neighbour. It is hoped and prayed that the brotherly ties between the two neighbours continues to grow (Ameen).








Islam's message is plain and profound. It starts as a seed and blossoms into a garden. Seven years after the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had been charged with the duty to convey the message, the Makkans banished and confined him and and his kith and kin of the Banu Hashim clan to the Valley of Abi Talib. The message had been spreading, despite all opposition and oppression, and, therefore, the oligarchs of Makkah had decided on a policy of boycott and isolation. It was assumed that while the people outside would hear no more of Islam, those under siege would recant. In any case, they hoped, the message would die a natural death. There cannot be a Kind and Just God Who creates a whole humanity and a complex environment around it, but does not provide it with rules and guidance and leaves it in a state of total anarchy.

The besieged had to subsist by eating leaves and roots of desert plants or boiled or roasted hide. The wail of hungry infants could be heard outside the Valley, but the sanction-keepers were unmoved. The blockade lasted around three years. However, if anyone happened to stray by, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) would say to him, 'Qul La Ilaha, tuflahu!' - Say there is no deity (but Allah, and) prosper! These were four few words, but their meaning was clear and complete.

The success and prosperity, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was inviting them to were not so visible but seemed implicit and inevitable. The Arabs were by now so well familiar with the Kalima, the basic statement of Islam, that the listener had no difficulty in relating the two words La Ilaha to its complete form - There is no deity but Allah, Muhammad Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam is the Messenger of Allah! There cannot be a Kind and Just God Who creates a whole humanity and a complex environment around it, but does not provide it with rules and guidance and leaves it in a state of total anarchy. The belief about God and messengership has, therefore, always gone together. The first man on this planet, Adam, was a vicegerent and messenger of God. So were Noah, Abraham, David, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and thousands of others whom we do not know of today, alayhimu salam. They all spoke of One God.

First there is subjective evidence within ourselves. Since we all come from God, there is within all of us a fine sense of awareness that there is God. There is more evidence outside. You try a 'null hypothesis', that there is no God, and you can't think of a perfectly designed and perfectly ordered Universe and everything contained therein without everything made according to a plan, behaving according to an integrated system of rules and laws, all without a Master and Creator. It would be absurd to conceptualise anything otherwise. But if there is God, and there surely is God, then what does He mean to us? Just Someone merely out there somewhere without any continuing relationship between Creator and the created? It is easy to be aware of God, but you cannot determine simply on the basis of your subjective cognition of what that relationship requires of you. Hence all that long line of messengers from God, from the first one, Adam, to the last one, the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Otherwise we would have no certain means of knowing God and knowing what He wants of us.

The Qur'an tells us that God is Kind and Beneficent, Just and Merciful, Lord and Provider, Sovereign and Law-Giver, Wise and True. He is Original. He is Eternal. He does not retire or sleep. He has no partners or kin. He is All-Knowing and All-Seeing. No one can escape His reckoning and He will punish or reward each one according to his deeds. His justice is blended with mercy. His mercy is blended with justice. Every child that is born, is born a Muslim, with a clean slate. It is not condemned at birth. Muslim means one who submits, submits to God, of his own volition. The test, therefore, lies in the future, when the child has grown up and has the ability to act any way he or she likes, to obey or not to obey. God does not impose Himself. People are free to believe or not to believe. And many do not. They invent their own deities and worship their own desires. Naturally there are consequences to both belief and unbelief. No system of law or discipline treats those who abide by the law and those who do not in the same manner. It cannot be otherwise.

There is, therefore, the Akhirah, the Hereafter. Nothing is as sure as death, and it is only logical that people are judged at the end of the Day and rewarded or punished accordingly. The best reward is the Pleasure of Allah and the worst punishment is His Displeasure. But Humans are also very much bone and flesh. The rewards and punishment are, therefore, tangible too: Heaven and Hell.

It is a long journey from Here to the Hereafter. You have to have your bearings right, the right sense of destination, the right navigational equipment, and an inbuilt system of correcting the course and raising an alarm, in case one begins to go dangerously astray. You need to have your limits (Hudood) defined which you may transgress only at your peril, because otherwise you may be endangering the whole society. You need a very powerful social vehicle to carry you through a long, arduous and not unoften hazardous journey. Islam offers the ability to relate directly, without any intermediary, to God Islam is, therefore, not just maxims and precepts, about being nice and good; it is also about social and personal discipline, a system of law and punishment without which maxims and precepts could become meaningless outside a small and limited area of individual morality. But an Islamic society is not governed by laws alone. Just as the lock on the door is fixed only for the thief or someone who may otherwise feel encouraged to steal, laws in Islam are directed at the wicked fringe, or the weaker ones who may feel tempted to break the law and once having done so with impunity, may find it difficult to get out of the vicious circle. The aim is to keep the wicked fringe as much narrowed down as possible, to punish the actual guilty, deter the potential breakers of law, and protect society and its economic, social and moral fibre.

One knows what happens otherwise: a geometric progression of crime, which neither the courts and nor the prisons are able to cope with. We also need to reckon the sheer economic cost of laissez faire morality! The contemporary focus on the Islamic state, by Muslims who want to regain their lost freedom and by those who are somehow afraid of Islamic state and Islamic Shari'ah, tends to convey a fallacious impression of a polity that is saddled with a plethora of laws. It is not true. The number of laws that would govern an Islamic state are very very few as compared to those hundreds and thousands we find otherwise. It would be an instructive exercise if someone was to count the number of Islamic laws that used to govern the former Ottoman caliphate and compare them, for example, with the number of laws on the statute book of the then British Empire.

Islamic laws are based on conscience and conviction and not on legislation and imposition and there is little scope for conflict between the interest of the individual and the state. No one is above the law and everyone is governed by the same law. The Islamic society is a self-regulating society. You don't have to abide by a law because someone is watching and you don't mind breaking it if you feel you can do so with impunity. An individual is answerable in his own cognition. Whether under watch or not, the person knows for sure that he or she is answerable before God. There is no way one can escape His notice, His Pleasure or Displeasure.










One wonders why the Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who is neither a politician nor an elected representative of the people, flew to Quetta and opened another front of conflict with the progeny of late Nawab Akbar Bugti and other Sardars of Baluchistan, who are already simmering with anger and revolt. He announced at a press conference telecast live on all TV channels that Baloch Liberation Army and four other Baloch Militant Organizations have been banned and their accounts and other assets have been frozen. He said from now on targeted operation against these organizations will be launched forthwith.

One wonders, what was the urgency to take on Baloch rebel elements particularly when Pakistan is confronted with the ravages of unprecedented floods, making hundreds of thousands of people homeless. They are shelter-less, hungry and sick and the government does not have enough resources to meet their awesome requirements. They are angry and belligerent against the performance of the government to provide them relief. The economy is on the verge of collapse. Hundreds of people have been killed in suicidal attacks in various parts of the country including Baluchistan

The country is on the verge of instability, but Mr. Rehman Malik considered this the most suitable time to take on the belligerent Baluchi youth. The army which is involved in the rehabilitation of the flood victims is also fighting the terrorists in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. One would like to ask, who will fight Baluchi rebels. Mr. Malik said that the federal government has empowered the provincial government to give police powers to Frontier Corps and the provincial chief minister has been given the powers to deploy the Frontier Corps whenever required. Otherwise all raids and actions against militants would be led by police. It seems Mr. Malik has, surprisingly, very good opinion about the performance of the police which may control militancy in Baluchistan. Referring to the case of missing people he said some disgruntled youth reported to be missing are in Afghanistan, they were carrying out subversive activities in Baluchistan. It seems the Interior minister has a very simplistic view of the long struggle of Baluchi people for their rights and their lawful place in the federation of Pakistan. If he thinks that Baluchi movement could be controlled by the police force he is sadly mistaken. It may be recalled that General Yahya Khan thought that he could control the Bengalis with a massive military action, but he lost East Pakistan in the process. The only way to end Baloch insurgency is to give them their rights as citizens of Pakistan along with their due share in the country's resources and governance. Several military operations in Baluchistan have failed. They are a proud and brave people and cannot be intimdated by force. Some time back the government announced an Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e- Balochistan package with great fanfare, but nothing has come out of it. When it proved to be just a gimmick, insurgency got a further boost.

Militancy raised its ugly head in Balochistan when late Prime Minister ZA Bhutto came to power and raised the slogan to abolish Sardari system in Balochistan under which the Sardars want to keep their fiefdoms in tact and keep their subjects ignorant and poor.

This reminds me of 1972 when Mr. Bhutto went on his first tour to Balochistan which I covered for PTV. I am an eye witness to the widespread agitation and violence against the government. Mr. Bhutto landed at the Quetta airport amid tight military security while outside people were raising anti Bhutto and anti Pakistan slogans in the streets of the city. The city was in turmoil because the coalition government of NAP and JUI was in constant confrontation with the Center on the issue of the abolition of Sardari system. Frequent demonstrations against the Shah of Iran were also taking place in Quetta, which were of great concern to Mr. Bhutto who wanted cordial relations with Iran. 

The burning of Khana-e-Farhang-e-Iran in the provincial capital added fuel to the fire. As a measure of damage control he invited the Shah to visit Quetta. He did not come but sent his sister Ashraf Pehlavi as a gesture of goodwill. Mr. Bhutto gave a banquet in her honor at the Governor's House. A group of prominent singers including Farida Khanum and Mehdi Hasan were invited to perform along with a Sindhi dance group of Ho Jamalo. The Governor Mr. Bizenjo and Chief Minister Mr. Mengal seemed very tense and furious. 

In his welcome speech at the banquet, Governor Bizenjo made certain remarks which offended Mr. Bhutto. At around midnight the Secretary Information Nasim Ahmad advised the media representatives that the offensive remarks may be censored from the story. Bizenjo on the other hand insisted that his views would be printed in all the papers published from Quetta. Consequently, next morning all Baluchistan papers carried Bizenjo's remarks, while they were blacked out in all national newspapers. The following day as Mr. Bhutto was flying to the village of Wadh in an army helicopter along with the TV crew, including myself; two rockets were fired at the chopper from a hill top by insurgents. They luckily missed and all of us barely escaped with our lives.









Lee Hamilton remembers that when he came to Washington 45 years ago as a freshman Democrat from Indiana, he made a dumb parliamentary error that would have scuttled the bill he was advocating. The House Republican leader at the time, Gerald Ford, sent over one of his colleagues to help Hamilton fix the mistake. 

The story sounds almost unbelievable in today's bitterly partisan climate, and Hamilton smiles and shakes his head as he tells it. Was there really a time like that, when party interests were subordinate to making the country work? And how could the America of 2010, a nation with an increasingly dysfunctional political system, ever get back to that Arcadia? I asked Hamilton to ruminate about these questions recently, for two reasons: First, because at 79, he's one of the wisest and most experienced people in Washington, and second, because he will be packing his bags in November and returning home to run an institute at Indiana University. People like him, who know what it was like for government to operate effectively, are a dwindling resource in the capital. "The big question in politics today is, 'What happened to the centre?' " he says. That erosion was evident in Tuesday's primary elections, in which dissident Republicans backed by the Tea Party movement toppled establishment Republicans in Delaware and New York.

Hamilton offered a simple formula for maintaining sanity in this period of insane politics: Put the interests of your country first. "You must encourage the mind-set that if you're elected, your first obligation is to see that America works and succeeds," he said. Political loyalties must come second. That may sound naive — like telling someone who's depressed to cheer up. But it conveys a larger point: If a politician's goal is to enhance the country's success, then he must retain the flexibility to make the pragmatic compromises that can solve problems. "If you get a politician locked into a position, it reduces his freedom of manoeuvre," warns Hamilton, and it becomes impossible to achieve consensus.

Hamilton has fought to defend the ground for compromise and consensus during this divisive decade, as vice chairman of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission and co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group. He has also served as president of the Woodrow Wilson Centre since he retired from Congress in 1999. Hamilton still manages to look like someone from the middle of America, even after all these years inside the satanic Beltway. He leans back in his chair and stretches his gangly legs out as if he's sitting on a porch back home. And then there's that trademark crew cut, which bespeaks an America when haircuts were cheaper and blow dryers weren't a politician's best friend.

The Indiana Democrat remains unflappable, even at a moment when American politics seems to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown. The problem with politics today, says Hamilton, isn't just that it's partisan — the reigning ideologues when he arrived in Washington, Hubert Humphrey and Barry Goldwater, were partisan, too — but that it has become "mean-spirited" and bitter. The decline of governance has coincided with the rise of interest groups. Hamilton takes the example of agriculture policy: When he came to Congress, there were three big lobbying groups — the Farm Bureau, the Grange and the National Farmers Union. And business groups, while denouncing government in general, all want their own particular breaks.

Hamilton has been a supporter of President Obama. But he offered some constructive criticism, too. Looking back on the health-care debate, Hamilton said, it's clear that there wasn't yet consensus on a reform package — and "you don't have a solution to a problem in this country unless you have a consensus." He faults Obama, too, for not yet finding a pastorly voice that could unite Americans in crisis. "Obama is still reaching for that," he said. I asked Hamilton if he thought that America, with its political problems, is a country in decline. He quoted Lincoln's famous Civil War speech asking whether a divided nation "can long endure." "That was the question at Gettysburg, and it's the operative question today," he said. "It's not written in the stars that we'll always be No. 1 and we'll always prevail." But regardless of whether America is up or down, Hamilton said, "our responsibility is the same, which is to make the country work." —The Washington Post








AFTER predicting that parliament is "going to be ugly, but it's going to be beautiful in its ugliness", independent MP Rob Oakeshott wants to preside over the chaos as Speaker.


Or add to it.


After rejecting a ministry on the grounds that somebody with "less thorns on them" would have a better chance of getting regional reforms through parliament, Mr Oakeshott is happy to accept a $100,000 pay rise, extra staff, an entertainment allowance and a lavish office because the new parliamentary reforms allow the Speaker greater participation in debate.


But after only two years in the House of Representatives, and without the support of the opposition, Mr Oakeshott would not be the best person to usher in the changes. He lacks current Speaker Harry Jenkins's experience of procedures, standing orders and reading the mood of the house, which will be vital in the new, unpredictable parliament.


He also lacks another vital qualification -- knowing when to shut up. After taking 17 minutes to say that he was supporting Labor, Mr Oakeshott's elevation would create a problem. Who could tell him to resume his seat when he rambled?







IF Julia Gillard thought she could flick-pass Labor's climate change policy to a cross-party committee and take a breather, she was mistaken.


Wednesday's intervention by BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers puts the future of Australia's carbon-based economy back on to centre stage, with politicians under renewed pressure to sort it out. Mr Kloppers's call for a carbon tax now, not later, underlines the hunger for certainty. Going public on the need for action ahead of any global consensus on a carbon price is a strategic move by BHP Billiton to deal itself into the debate and ensure it enjoys the consultation missing from the mining tax debacle. It also challenges both major parties to take a fresh look at their policies, although yesterday it was left to the Greens who, let us not forget, helped vote down the Rudd government's emissions trading scheme last year, to welcome Mr Kloppers' "common sense". The Prime Minister appeared to leave the door open for a tax rather than a market-based scheme, but overall our political representatives seemed to miss the inconvenient truth that we desperately need clarification in this policy area. The reality is that if John Howard had been re-elected in 2007, the nation would have been on track by now for the introduction of a carbon price.


Not everyone in business agrees with Mr Kloppers that we need a tax rather than a market-based ETS but there is a growing belief that without certainty, business is in limbo, unwilling to commit to long-term investment when future imposts are unclear. On Wednesday as Mr Kloppers spoke, Michael Fraser, the chief executive of the nation's biggest energy retailer, AGL Energy, warned that uncertainty on climate change could cost the economy $2.1 billion a year by 2020, with consumers facing soaring power bills. The rundown of power generation infrastructure around the country will not be efficiently addressed until there is a clear indication from government on coal's future. New Climate Change Minister Greg Combet's promise this week that the coal industry "absolutely" has a future illustrates Labor's challenge in trying to protect jobs while meeting its obligations on emissions reduction.


Mr Kloppers wants early clarity on the architecture of a carbon price with safeguards to ensure trade-exposed sectors are not disadvantaged. He says tax generated on exported carbon needs to be rebated in full until there is consensus on a global price. This has always been the tricky part of transitioning to a low-carbon regime and The Australian has long warned against making our industries uncompetitive. We urged former prime minister Kevin Rudd to wait until after the Copenhagen summit before pushing ahead with his ETS. His hubris in forcing the issue proved disastrous for Labor, with the ETS voted down and then deferred, leading voters to flood to the Greens at the election. Given the slow-growth policies espoused by Bob Brown and his colleagues, who are now in alliance with Labor, it is not surprising that big mining is keen to get on the front foot and recast the climate debate around economic reality. The suggestion from Mr Kloppers that we need a suite of measures for carbon reduction also makes sense.


As one of the world's biggest and most diversified miners, BHP Billiton is well-placed to manage the transition to a low-carbon world. As some commentators noted yesterday, the company's uranium reserves position it for a nuclear future. Mr Kloppers is not alone in recognising the global trends against coal in mature economies. This week, Origin Energy announced that it would undertake a feasibility study with PNG Energy Developments of a proposal to transmit hydro-electric power to Queensland from PNG.


That there is self-interest in BHP Billiton's intervention is a given. Mr Kloppers owes it to his shareholders to make a judgment call based on his company's operations. He has been upfront about the need to be reimbursed via a rebate scheme, and his support on carbon action came with a warning to Labor not to mess with the mining tax. Even so, there is much to welcome in this intervention. We need to know where we are going on carbon, not wait until the rest of the world takes action. Involvement from across business is essential in this debate.







VICTORIA'S near-toothless police watchdog, the Office of Police Integrity, has trotted a well-worn path in its annual report, attempting to whitewash a disastrous year in which the collapse of high-profile cases confirmed its reputation as a dud.


After admitting that its prosecution of former assistant commissioner Noel Ashby for perjury failed because of a "highly significant" procedural error, the report lapsed into "persecution complex" guise, with director Michael Strong lamenting that OPI's failures had "become a vehicle" for its critics, causing OPI to be portrayed unfairly as "part of the the problem" in Victoria.


Conveniently, the report glosses over the details of the collapse of the case against Mr Ashby, in which evidence from OPI was inadmissible due to a legal oversight. Nor does it forensically examine the failure of the case against former Police Association head Paul Mullett due to lack of evidence, but it claims OPI had "courage" to pursue the case. Long-suffering Victorians, who have put up with decades of police corruption and incompetence, would think that OPI was doing no more than its job in pursuing an alleged chain of high-level leaks, said to have compromised a murder investigation.


While OPI is coy about the details of its blunders, it recklessly accused The Australian of subjecting it to "sustained attack" intended "to be intimidatory" because OPI was investigating whether or not a police source had illegally given Cameron Stewart a tip-off about a raid on suspected terrorists.


Yet again, however, OPI has skated over serious issues of public interest. Far from trying to intimidate OPI, we have shown that the organisation has played favourites, treating Chief Commissioner Simon Overland like a protected species over his passing on secret intelligence from phone taps related to a murder investigation, inadvertently starting a chain of events that ended with the collapse of the case. Unlike Mr Ashby and Mr Mullett, whom it pursued, OPI airbrushed Mr Overland's role to effectively ensure he would face no questioning. Regrettably, Melbourne journalists failed to identify this. Serious issues, including the rule of law and whether there has been a prima facie breach of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act are at stake. But the OPI report, more intent on accusing The Australian of bullying, ignored the issues. The real problem, as we have said for years, is OPI's close links to the leadership of the force. Until Victoria has an independent watchdog, its police will not be accountable.








HAVING turned down the offer of a portfolio in the Gillard ministry, the independent MP Rob Oakeshott has let it be known he would not mind being speaker of the Federal Parliament. Other things being equal, there are good arguments for having an independent as speaker - someone who can adjudicate procedural disputes in the House of Representatives, and manage the resources of the House, from a position outside the major parties. Other things, though, are not equal - not the least of them being Oakeshott's desire to vote while in the chair on matters that come before the House.


Oakeshott's fellow independent, Tony Windsor, has said he would not take the job because of the risks of being ''inside the tent'' as he put it, either as a minister or as speaker. His view reflects the unfortunate reality of Australia's Parliament, that the speakership is seen as under the control of the majority party in Parliament, not of the Parliament itself, and therefore partisan. But to their credit, recent speakers, including the speaker of the last Parliament, Harry Jenkins, have been doing what they can to remedy that problem and to assert the speaker's independence. We have already welcomed the opposition's stated desire to carry it further, and copy the House of Commons tradition of a truly independent speaker who is not opposed by the major parties in his or her constituency at elections.


No doubt Oakeshott would do his best in the role, too, to nurture Australia's flawed tradition of impartiality. Would he be a good speaker, though - better than Jenkins? Jenkins has been quite capable at managing Parliament in all but its rowdiest moods, and was intent on maintaining a reasonable impartiality despite his party allegiance. The opposition has no objection to him continuing in the role. It has already expressed doubts about Oakeshott's desire to vote for or against particular measures if he is speaker - and rightly so.


The government has sought advice on that point, but the constitution is clear. Section 40